(In this post you’ll find a collection of reviews by Andy Synn, focusing on seven black metal albums released during the first two months of the year.)
It’s now just over two months into 2020 and I am already ridiculously behind when it comes to covering new albums.
That’s a particularly galling admission to make considering how great some of the records you’re about to read about are, many of which I’ve been listening to religiously since the start of the year but which, for various reasons, I’ve not gotten around to writing about before now.
Still, the advantage of grouping all these records/reviews together is that if you happen to already like one (or more) of these artists already then there’s every chance you’re going to discover something else to love too.
So, without further ado…
BLAZE OF PERDITION – THE HARROWING OF HEARTS
The biggest and most (in)famous band on this list, Blaze of Perdition, have been harrowing hearts and transmuting sin into sound since 2007 and, along the way, have produced at least one stone-cold classic album, in the form of 2017’s Conscious Darkness (which, as it happens, is also one of my favourite Black Metal albums of all time).
Wisely BoP refrained from attempting to recreate the same experience on their latest effort, The Harrowing of Hearts, and instead have opted for a more focussed and more immediate approach – while also incorporating some subtle Post-Punk influences and a slightly more glamorous, gothic aesthetic (that closing cover of “Moonchild” by Fields of the Nephilim is no coincidence) – to produce an album which is more instantly impactful.
That doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly started writing three-minute pop “bangers” by any means (the shortest song here, not counting the cover, is still almost six minutes long) but there’s a bigger focus on insistent chorus refrains, hypnotic rhythmic hooks, and catchy melodic licks, all designed to work their way under your skin much quicker than ever before.
Parts of “With Madman’s Faith”, “Transmutation of Sins”, and “What Christ Has Kept Apart” (to name but three of the album’s many highlights) actually remind me quite a bit of Nachtmystium at their best – albeit with a greater focus on spiritual self-realisation than drug-induced self-destruction – as the Polish quartet display significantly more swagger, and a significant increase in shameless, strutting riffery and morbidly addictive melody.
That being said, this is still a Black Metal album down to its bones, just one that rejects the iron-clad rules and restrictions of the genre in favour of a greater sense of artistic freedom, resulting in a record which might very well be the band’s second modern-day classic in a row.
GLACIATION – ULTIME ÉCLAT
While both of Glaciation’s previous two records were solid enough, neither really set the world of Black Metal ablaze (either at home or abroad). All that may be about to change though as, following a five-year gap (and a significant number of line-up changes, with only vocalist Hreidmarr remaining), the band are back with what is easily their biggest, boldest, and best effort yet, in the shape of their new album, Ultime éclat.
With a meaner, heavier vibe – both the vocals and the heftier guitar tone often remind me of Horizon Ablaze – and a truly electrifying sense of atmosphere (whose darker, more menacing tone is more reminiscent of The Great Old Ones than the vaguely Alcest-ian vibe of previous records) tracks like “Ultime éclat” and “Le Rivage” blend blistering intensity and bleak beauty so seamlessly that it’s practically impossible not to get swept up in the sheer sturm und drang (or whatever the French equivalent is) of it all.
Not only that, but there’s an argument that the album actually gets even better as it goes along, whether it’s the moody atmospherics of “Acta Est Fabula”, the punishing intensity and grim grandeur of “Ce Qu’Il Y A De Chaos”, and the slow-burn, scorching catharsis of “Vers Le Zéro Absolu”.
That being said, the decision to close with the melodramatic (and, ultimately, anticlimactic) instrumental strains of “Les Grands Champs D’Hiver” is a slight misstep (especially considering how cleanly the ending of “Vers Le Zéro Absolu” ties everything together), and the album would definitely be tighter, and stronger, without it.
Still, Ultime éclat really is such a “brilliant display” of searing intensity and soaring melody that I absolutely guarantee it’s going to find quite a few fans among our readership.
GRIMAH – INTRICACIES OF BOWED WISDOM
Riffs, riffs, and more riffs… oh, and did I mention the riffs?
This Spanish three-piece have been garnering multiple (and wholly justified) comparisons to bands like Mgła, Uada, and Misþyrming, ever since they dropped this, their first full-length album, at the beginning of the year.
And, with good reason too, because while no-one is claiming that Intricacies of Bowed Wisdom is going to break the mould or reinvent the wheel (or vice versa), there’s absolutely no denying the fire and fury behind this band’s hot-blooded, burning passion for Black Metal.
That being said, the actual introduction to the album, “Vacuous Trip” is, well… a bit vacuous itself… however, once you’re past that the record drops straight into a relentless, galloping groove with the bombastic “Blaze Against Grime” – all fluid, melodic riffs, rippling, rapid-fire drums, and gruff authoritative vocals – and then refuses to ease up on the intensity (or the quality) for the next forty-odd minutes.
The guitars, of course, are the real stars of the show here, from the urgent, infectious lead work which permeate “Thou Spake the Stone”, to the twisting tremolo patterns that run through “Veiled By Blossom’s Essence”, to the seamless trade-off between melody and dissonance which marks out fantastic closer “Péndulo de agonía y desdén”.
However, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the instruments are short-changed by any means, especially the drums, which demonstrate a keen eye/ear for both creative complexity and precise, pin-point displays of power.
Obviously no-one is going to deny the more obvious Mgla-isms of some of these tracks (especially penultimate prowler “Façade of Futile Reflections”), but Grimah simply do what they do so well that it’s impossible to begrudge them a little bit of artistic thievery here and there.
Mark my words, this is one hell of a debut, and a band to watch very closely in the coming years!
IZTHMI – THE ARROWS OF OUR WAYS
While everyone gets caught up debating the difference between “Post-” and “Atmospheric” Black Metal”, and bickering over which Deafheaven album is their best (the answer is Roads to Judah, FYI), a lot of people seem to have forgotten that it was Agalloch who really helped to define this particular movement (whatever you want to call it) during its early years (although, yes, I would also accept Wolves In The Throne Room as an answer to the unspoken question above).
But while Agalloch may be no more, their legacy certainly lives on, and Seattle quintet Izthmi are the latest band out to prove that there’s more left to be said, both with and about, this particular sound.
I doubt that Izthmi themselves would be offended by the comparison either, as not only is it meant as a compliment but it’s also impossible to deny, especially during the more acoustic and/or ambient moments of songs like “To Traipse Alone…” and “…This Listless World” (which, in case the ellipses didn’t give you a hint, are definitely best listened to in one continuous movement).
Of course if this album were nothing but an Agalloch knock-off it wouldn’t be worth a mention, and thankfully the band’s addition of a dash of Death Metal here and there, along with a penchant for some shamelessly proggy and grandstanding lead guitar work (which together remind me, every now and then, of both Izthmi’s distant cousins Amiensus as well as some of the less rigidly formulaic moments of Ne Obliviscaris), quickly elevates The Arrows of Our Ways above mere tribute status.
It’s not a perfect album – both the underwhelmingly named “Interlude” and “The Angels are Lost” do little more than pad out the record’s run-time, and there are certain occasions where the group’s proggier ambitions result in some slightly disjointed periods of “riff salad” — but when it shines (as it does on “Useless is the Song of Man, From Throats Calloused by Name” and the climactic title track, as well as the previously mentioned duo of “To Traipse Alone…” and “…This Listless World”) you can already catch a glimpse of just how far the band’s vision might one day be able to take them.
KVAEN – THE FUNERAL PYRE
A lot of solo projects, at least in my experience, can be very hit or miss. While there’s definitely a benefit to being able to pursue one singular artistic vision, the lack of feedback, the inability to bounce ideas off your collaborators, does tend to promote an awful lot of self-indulgence unless you’re very, very careful.
There’s no such self-indulgence on display on The Funeral Pyre, however, which delivers a tight, forty-five (and a half) minutes of rip-roaring, Thrash and Speed injected, Black Metal that takes no prisoners and shows no mercy.
While the influence of seminal acts like Bathory and Hellhammer (and maybe even early Metallica) is obvious, especially during songs like utterly irresistible opener “Revenge By Fire” and its grimmer, more majestic companion “Yee Naaldlooshii”, as the album progresses the more “blackened” vibe becomes even stronger, and tracks such as “Septem Peccata Mortalia” and “Bestial Winter” could easily give bands like Taake, Dissection, and Immortal a run for their money.
Of course, as you may have gathered, this means that The Funeral Pyre may not be the most wholly original or forward-thinking album you’re ever likely to hear, but the simple truth is that you’re probably going to be having far too much fun, and banging your head way too hard, when listening to it to care!
There’s just so much love, so much passion, so much fire (and ice) driving this album that you can’t help but fall in love with it. It’s fearless, shameless, and absolutely relentless, in its pursuit of pitch-black perfection, throwing in more riffs, more hooks, and more epic, extravagant solos (trust me, when you reach that point in the title-track you’ll know what I’m talking about) with the sort of reckless abandon that suggests its creator is either a madman or a genius (and I know which one I’m betting on).
Inarguably one of the best albums, front to back, to have been released so far this year.
SOPHIST – DISSOLUTION
In contrast to some of the more melodic/majestic fare featured above, Canadian trio Sophist offer a distinctly nastier, gnarlier take on Black Metal, one which draws almost as much influences from Grind and which features a distinctly ugly undercurrent of distorted, industrialised insanity.
The closest comparisons would be with acts like Anaal Nathrakh (particularly their early stuff), Gnaw Their Tongues, and The Axis of Perdition, with sadistic shades of the former in particular coming though loud and clear during the abrasive assault of tracks such as “Solve et Coagula” and “Tearing Doves In Two”.
As you may have gathered Dissolution is not a pleasant listening experience by any means. In fact, at times, it’s so disgustingly depraved and unrelentingly harsh on the ears that it hovers right on the edge of being physically painful, meaning that it’s sometimes best to enjoy/endure it in small doses, so as to stop your brain becoming overloaded by the album’s sheer toxicity.
In a cruel twist, however, this isn’t always possible, as while Sophist clearly revel in the short, sharp shock-treatment of songs like “It Will All Vanish In An Instant” and “Prima Clavis”, they also sometimes force their listener into more sustained periods of sonic self-flagellation, with the most notable example being “When Hyperventilation Turns to Aspiration”, which inflicts six solid minutes of auditory abuse on its audience without a moment’s reprieve.
What more can I say about this album that you won’t already have deduced for yourselves? The guitars are a constant, discordant deluge of angular, grinding noise, the vocals spew scorn and disgust with every gruesome, garbled utterance, and the drums are an inhuman, migraine-inducing pulse that throbs painfully behind your eyes.
And, if you like the sound of that… seek help… or just go to the band’s Bandcamp page and pick up a copy of Dissolution right away.
WORTHLESS – DARK EXPRESSIONISM
Sticking with the theme of “nasty” and “unforgiving”, the final entry in today’s Black Metal Bonanza may have its more melodic moments (with the numbered instrumental interludes, “I”, “II”, and “III” offering a welcome moment of respite from all the flesh-rending fury) but it’s definitely still on the harsher and more harrowing end of the Black Metal spectrum.
Matter of fact, there’s a distinct DSBM feel to the scalding, shrieking vocals on tracks like “Through A Spectral Gate” and “Those Buried By The Dust” which serves to make Dark Expressionism a distinctly uncomfortable listening experience at times, such is the raw emotion and obvious anguish on display.
There’s a similar rawness to the guitars too, especially in the rough, ragged-edged tone the band have chosen, which gives their music a purposefully primitive, though not entirely unrefined, feel.
By contrast the bass work is surprisingly nuanced and melodic (give a listen to “Feeding the Black Soil With Mortal Blood” for a subtle, but noticeable, example of this) while the occasional injection of some crystal-clear lead guitar simply serves to expand the album’s creative palette without robbing it of its primal intensity.
Many of these tracks, particularly the lengthier, more labyrinthine numbers (two of which, “Dreameater” and “Wake of Negativity”, err close to the twenty-minute mark) also possess an unexpectedly hypnotic aura, making it shockingly easy to lose yourself, and lose track of time, while listening to them.
The same could actually be said of the album as a whole too, as while Dark Expressionism runs to almost eighty-seven minutes in length it doesn’t necessarily feel like an excessively long album, such is the ease with which you can find yourself immersed in its grim and godless waters.
It has its flaws, of course, and its focus on morbid, mesmerising atmosphere does perhaps come at the cost of developing a distinct character for the music/band as a whole, but this is still definitely an album well worth checking out, and one which has (as far as I can tell) flown under quite a few radars up until now.