SHADES OF BLACK: ABYSSFIRE, BÂ’A, GAVRANOVI, AT THE ALTAR OF THE HORNED GOD, ERRANT, SVARTKONST, AUTOMB
For this column I originally picked six tracks from forthcoming albums or EPs. I thoroughly enjoyed all these songs, and they have the added benefit of being very different from each other, with highly variable (and sometimes only tenuous) connections to the traditions of black metal (the column is called SHARES OF BLACK for a reason).
At the last minute, however, I also added one new album. I discovered it upon waking up this morning, thanks to a message from Rennie (starkweather). It was an explosive way to wake up, but man, it did wake me the fuck up. So I’m starting this column with it. I also hope I’ll have time to write a few words about some additional full-length releases I want to recommend from the blackened realms. But I have a lot on my plate at the moment, so I’m not daring enough to call this Part 1. Fingers crossed that I’ll get a companion to this column finished at some point during the coming week.
Yesterday, on Leap Day, the Russian death/black band Abyssfire vomited forth their blasphemous debut album, adorned with hellish artwork by Nether Temple Design. I have listened to it once, so far, and the music is completely in keeping with the album’s title: The Raging Hearts of Hell.
Produced to deliver skull-crunching, brain-mutilating power, the album is brutal and deranged, but also devilishly inventive. Delivered with scalding ferocity and top-shelf technical skill, the songs are intricate and ever-changing, packed with fleet-fingered fretwork, acrobatic drum agility, and frequent tempo changes. The riffing is often spidery and frenetic, dissonant and disturbing, but also eerie and slithering, and the solos range from shrieking mayhem to mesmerizing magic.
In their slower movements the band also deliver momentous, gut-busting grooves, and they also lace many of the tracks with grand heavy metal chords, blazing thrash outbursts, and moments of moody reverie and occult spellcasting. Not to be outdone by the exuberant instrumental performances, the vocals of Morkh (Serpentrance, ex-Sickrites) are demonically violent and unhinged.
The songs really are marvelously multi-faceted and unpredictable, but for all their highly variable permutations, they also hold together as songs, and the album as a whole makes for an electrifying experience from beginning to end. It’s the kind of record that draws so seamlessly on so many heavy metal traditions, without at all sounding scattershot, that it should appeal to a big cross-section of fans. Out of nowhere, we have a jaw-dropping album that holds the potential for landing on lots of year-end lists. For me, it was an immediate purchase.
My introduction to the French black metal trio Bâ’a came through an evocative review of their music by our friend HGD in a guest edition of this column in September 2018. Back then, the subject was a song that Bâ’a had contributed to a split with Hyrgal and Verfallen. That was their first public release, and now a debut album is nearly upon us.
The central theme of that album, Deus Qui Non Mentitur, is described as “the relationship of man to the divine, and the damages caused to this connection by man’s selfish pride and Ego”. The advance track below, “Titan“, brings back great memories of Bâ’a‘s contributions to that previous split.
The full-throttle drumming and searing, soaring, senses-surrounding riffage, laced with maniacally flickering leads, collectively channel great emotional intensity, with a mood of torment verging on terror. Not to be outdone, the throat-lacerating vocals are a match for all that disorienting firebrand intensity. When the music slows into tortured chords and introspective bass lines, the vocals become moody spoken words that escalate into screams, and an engrossing piano melody significantly adds to the haunting and harrowing textures.
You hear this song only once, and you don’t forget it. It seems full of world-ending calamity and wrenching pain, but it keeps pulling me back into it.
Deus Qui Non Mentitur will be out on April 24th in CD and LP formats via Osmose Productions
I’m indebted to my Serbian friend Miloš for the discovery of this next song, which is the first release by the band Gavranovi (a word that means “ravens”). I know very little about the band, except that Gavranovi’s frontman is Nefas, who was the vocalist for the great black metal band The Stone for almost 20 years. He may be more than the frontman in Gavranovi. The video accompanying the song (which is a feast for the eyes, in which ravens do appear) shows a second member, but it’s hard to tell exactly who does what.
What’s clear is that the second member is playing a traditional Serbian instrument. After some research based on its appearance, I’ve concluded that it is the Gusle, a horsehair-string instrument played with a bow, and it dates back to the 9th century. The use of that instrument is not the only ancient feature of the music; both the words and the lettering in the lyric video are also in an archaic language (according to Miloš).
The song, “Pjevanija prva” (“Cry of Yore”), is an adrenaline rush of hurtling drums and ravaging riffs, which is all well and good, but what makes the song really stand out are the entrancing melodies performed with the Gusle, the wild, dervish-like soloing, and the vivid growls of Nefas (sometimes paired with a singing voice). All together, these ingredients make the song an unusual and unusually charismatic piece of music, one that has a foot in the old world and another in the new.
Based on the YouTube title of the video, it appears that “Pjevanija prva” will appear on an EP named Crni. I haven’t yet learned when or how it will be released. An English translation of the lyrics accompanies the stream at YouTube (here).
AT THE ALTAR OF THE HORNED GOD
I’ve been following the creations of the Spanish avant-garde black metal band Mystagos with great interest since the beginning, reviewing and premiering music from each of its releases, including last year’s full-length Azoth. I’ve now happily discovered that the man behind Mystagos, Heolstor, has a new project named At the Altar of the Horned God.
The first album to be released under that name, Through Doors of Moonlight, is described as “an ode to Nature”; “a collection of dark hymns, nocturnal chants and pagan prayers addressed to Pan, Cernunnos, Bacchus and other ancient divinities that guided humanity in times before time”; and “a summoning ritual to the Cloven One”. The album will be released by I, Voidhanger Records on April 17th.
The first song released from the album, “Before the Flames of Undefiled Knowledge“, reminds me of Heilung, which is intended as a great compliment. Largely percussive in its instrumental components, the melodies are carried mainly by voices. Primitive ritual drums and sharp percussive cracks, backed by the pulse and cascade of mystical shimmering tones, provide the setting for an array of male and female voices — solemn chants, reverent wails, and soaring song. The combined effect of this experience is hypnotic. It’s enough to make you close your eyes, to sway, to fall into a trance, even as it seems to channel dark primeval forces. Can hardly wait to find out what else this album holds in store….
The remarkable cover art for the album is a painting by Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule entitled “Time and Fate”.
(Thanks to eitororm for alerting me to this new song.)
Chicago-based Rae Amitay has made a name for herself through Immortal Bird and Thrawsunblat, but she has also recently revealed a solo project named errant, whose self-titled debut EP will be released on April 3rd. She calls it “a vehicle for realizing ideas that exist in a separate space from Immortal Bird“. It also includes a cover of “Saturday Saviour” by the L.A. alternative rock band Failure off their 1996 album Fantastic Planet.
Based on the first single from the EP, “A Vacillant Breath“, giving errant’s music a succinct genre label won’t be easy. Rae croons in beautiful, haunting, gloom-cloaked tones and lacerates the ears with goblin sounds, something like a cross between a growl and a shriek. Ominous yet mesmerizing arpeggios ring out, and become heavier and more head-hooking when matched with neck-bending drum and bass rhythms. The song rocks hard as the music gloriously rises and gloomily falls, and eventually the drums hammer and the riffing becomes more ripping, before the track makes it way through further dynamic changes, culminating in a scratchy solo that digs its dark claws into the head as it goes.
Beautifully written and beautifully performed, the song is so mood-changing, so loaded with hooks, and draws so freely but effectively from different musical styles, that I’ve found myself coming back to it frequently, even though it’s not as extreme as most of my daily fare.
Rae Amitay also created the vivid cover art for errant.
We now have a second track off Black Waves, the second album by the Swedish black/death metal band Svartkonst. You might remember that I wrote about the first one (“I Am the Void“) just two weeks ago (here). That song was a hell of an introduction to Black Waves, but not a shocking one, because Svartkonst had already made such an impressive statement with 2018’s Devil’s Blood.
The newest song, “Death Magic“, will get your pulse jumping in a big hurry, and the chainsawing guitar tone, coupled with Rickard Törnqvist‘s barbaric voice, gives the song a dark and ominous quality. When the track’s jumping rhythms slow, it takes on an oppressive, horror-drenched mood, and the gradually accelerating reptilian solo channels plague.
If you let the player run, it will take you right into the spectacular opening of that previously released song, “I Am the Void“. Together, they make for a potent one-two punch to launch the record.
Black Waves will be released on April 3rd by TNO Recordings.
The untimely passing of Frank “Killjoy” Pucci in the spring of 2018 brought a halt to work on a new album by his long-running death metal band Necrophagia. Necrophagia guitarist Serge Streltsov then chose to turn his full energies to what had begun as a black metal side-project, a band called Automb that he had formed with vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Danielle Evans. They enlisted the aid of Morbid Angel drummer Scott Fuller, and completed work on a debut Automb album named Esoterica, which was released that fall (and for which we did a couple of premieres).
Automb are now following that excellent debut with a new album named Chaosophy that’s set for release on March 27th by Witching Hour Productions, and it’s the title track you’ll find below.
The song is pitch-black and perilous in its mood, even though the rhythm section drive it hard and the riffing flickers and flares in feverish fashion. The track is bursting with vitality and the vocals are those of a vicious beast, but the central melody has a beleaguered, grief-stricken quality, and becomes more evidently fearful and wretched as it evolves. Automb also segment the song with jolting rhythms, accent it with a fret-burner of a solo, and further manage to give the music an overarching air of the occult. Perilous indeed, and quite gripping….
The wonderful cover art for Chaosophy was created by Nestor Avalos.
Thanks for including At the Altar of the Horned God, glad you liked it this track! Can’t wait to be able to show the full album!
I’ve discovered that I have it, thanks to Luciano, and am eager to discover all of it now!
Hope you like it!
The preview track is really good – pre-ordered!
Well it’s late I meant to just have a quick peruse of NCS (like that ever works out). But each release drew me in further and further down the rabbit hole…. so quick thoughts before my brain disappears behind the wall of sleep:
You did warn me that Abyssfire included diverse elements, but when that mellow interlude hit in “Iram Dhat Al Imad” I still did a double take to see if it was the same album. Well played by Abyssfire.
I remember when I stumbled upon Acyl’s first album and there’s this oud solo in Head-On Crash, and I thought: please satan, let there be more oud in metal! Now after hearing Gavronovi I find I’m saying the same thing about the Gusle.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen “goblin sounds” in a description of a vocal line before, but damn it’s a fitting compliment. Indeed it is hard to pigeon hole her sound into a comfortable label, but it’s an intriguing mix and I hope to see more.
As above, At the Altar of the Horned God scratches a mesmerizing itch I never quite knew I had 😉 Not to mention the eye-grabbing artwork.
Thanks for your take on all this! And very glad all this stuff grabbed you as it did me.
Can’t wait to hear the full album of Bâ’a ! I guess the vocalist could be Hreidmarr, former vocalist of Anorexia nervosa and now the leader of this other fine French BM band, Glaciation. Their next album was released last week
https://osmoseproductions.bandcamp.com/album/ultime-eclat). Didn’t have the time to hear it until now but their previous one was so damn good !