SHADES OF BLACK: APOGNOSIS, HRÆ , VENOMOUS SKELETON, ADAESTUO, SCHWERMUT
For this week’s edition of the column I decided to include five complete releases, four albums and an EP, all but one of them released since late January. But my time is short, and so, with apologies to the bands, the only way I’ve been able to manage this is to pursue a strategy of picking only one song per release to focus on, accompanied by just the most general overview of everything else. With luck, this will be enough to seduce people into exploring each release in greater depth, despite the relative shallowness of my own words.
The Greek black metal band Adaestuo is one of two in today’s feature whose past work I was familiar with, and that past work — a self-titled demo in 2016, the Phase 6 debut album that same year, and the Cult of Human Sacrifices EP in 2018 — has been remarkably impressive. The new release is an album entitled Dominion In Polarity. It came out last September, and I really should have written something about it before now, because it’s tremendous.
The song I’ve chosen to highlight is the utterly electrifying and highly infectious opener “Scum of Modernity“. Like the oldest and most hallowed names in Greek black metal, Apognosis is formidably talented in writing “classic” heavy metal riffs, and “Scum of Modernity” includes some of those. But the song is also a blazing extravaganza, both sinister and ecstatic. It whirls and swirls with venomous fire, and jolts the nerves as well, and the vocals are absolutely ferocious and possessed.
The snare beat at the outset of the song is a serious head-hooker, but Apognosis also blasts like an automatic weapon and delivers momentous booming rhythms, paired with a vibrant bass pulse, in the song’s more ominously majestic passages. And as you have probably gathered by now from these descriptions, the song is multi-faceted. The fact that this is all the work of a single person just makes it all the more marvelous.
The rest of the album: It’s just as damned good as the opener, from the head-hammering and mysteriously glimmering “Vectors” straight through to the grand and gloomy occult anthem, “Mydriasis” (which might bring to mind Behemoth in their hey-day).
I heard about this next album, Þar sem skepnur reika (released on February 22nd), from multiple sources who gave it strong recommendations. The mere fact that Hræ are from Iceland would have inclined me to give it a shot anyway, but those words of praise certainly left no doubt (I love the cover art too, which is based on Francisco Goya‘s etching “Fiero Monstruo!”).
The track I chose to highlight here is the same one Hræ chose as the song that streams first at Bandcamp, though it appears fourth in the running order. “Drep” hurtles full-throttle, with a few less maniacally rushing episodes, and the riffing is a wild amalgam of brazen, blaring chords and insanely feverish or desperately beleaguered arpeggios, everything layered together to create the impression of delirium conjoined with sinister grandeur. The vocals are quite an eye-popping cavalcade of unnerving sounds all by themselves, a fitting complement to the music, which may pose a serious threat to your sanity.
The rest of the album: Also insane, and also perversely mesmerizing. Some tracks are more dissonant and deranged than others (though dissonance and discordance are features of everything), others more plague-stricken and hopeless. Moments of relative peacefulness within these calamitous outbursts are a rarity, and when you encounter them, they prove to be chilling.
The main inducement for exploring the debut album of this Israeli band was the discovery that the band’s three members are also members of the staggeringly powerful Sonne Adam. Their debut album, Drowning In Circles, was digitally released in late January, but it has now been picked up for a CD release on April 17th by Everlasting Spew Records, and has also been released on vinyl by Argento Records.
Following my time-shortened strategy of focusing on only one song, the one I picked here is “Chalice To the Other World“. It showcases the dense murkiness and eerie reverberations of the riffing, the bone-breaking force of the rhythms, and the monstrosity of the tyrannical, belly-deep growls and horrid roars. This song also has a powerfully diabolical atmosphere, one that’s frighteningly ominous and infernally majestic, with a symphonic sheen that enhances its blood-freezing qualities.
The rest of the album: Venomous Skeleton are drawn again and again to creating an atmosphere of unearthly peril and pestilential malevolence on a grand scale. While there’s a malignant kind of stateliness to much of the music (and a persistent queasiness), they do pick their moments to engage in plundering eruptions of black/death terrorizing — though terrorizing the listener seems to be the album’s overarching mission. Mission accomplished.
The multinational band Adaestuo is the second group in today’s collection whose past music I was familiar with. It consisted of the Tacent Semitae EP (2016) and the Krew za krew debut album (2018). To that discography must now be added the band’s new full-length, Manalan Virrat, which was released on March 6th.
I’ve read that the new record was the result of a sabbatical that the band took to a hermitage in tundral barrens far north of the Arctic Circle, between Ostara and Walpurgisnacht in 2017. The music itself often has a cold and desolate quality, and although it’s commonplace these days for extreme metal bands to call their performances “rituals”, this album really does unfold in a way that seems highly ritualistic — and frighteningly so. It also seems like the band’s most experimental undertaking yet.
The song I’ve decided to highlight, “Encircling Vultures“, has a beating heart — a cycling drum thump that might get your head nodding — but everything that happens around it is scary as hell. The music is oppressive and unnerving, a wash of distorted funereal chords and freakishly skittering tones. The song groans and grieves, but is scary enough to shiver the spine. Nothing in the song, however, is as bloodcurdling as the vocals, which are a collage of dementia and shattering agony.
The rest of the album: I suppose the most succinct summing up of the record, which is best heard straight through, is that the tracks are geared toward creating atmosphere, and a growing sense of horror and despair. The vocals differ among the tracks. There are chilling whispers, operatic choral voices, and wailing chants, as well as tortured screams. No two tracks are quite alike. To take a few examples, “The Bones Have Been Cast” feels like a dreamlike journey into a hostile void; “Walpurgisnacht” is the most rhythmically vibrant, but things are burning, and other things are roaring and shrieking; “Vaa’as” seems like something Kali-esque from the Indian sub-continent; “Grave Monologue” will pound you into jelly and bone fragments; and the solemn organ music in the closer, “Cage à Pilori”, proves to be as frightening as everything else. But basically, everything is scary.
To close this collection I’m turning to another new name. Here, the band is Schwermut, a German duo consisting of drummer Astrega and guitarist/bassist/vocalist MD, both of whom are also members of the sludge/doom band Babylon Asleep. Their self-titled debut EP emerged on January 6th via the Swiss label Auric Records.
Though I had resolved to focus on only one song from each of the releases I’ve chosen today, it seems maybe especially unfair to do that here, because Schwermut only includes three songs. So, to take them as they come, “Wiederkunft” provides the opening statement, and quickly establishes an emotional atmosphere of dread and misery. The song does accelerate when the guitar begins to buzz and flicker and the banshee shrieks inject themselves into your ears like spikes, but the music remains a bitter potion. Things change again later when the drums begin a ritual pounding. The music seems to weep and wail, and to soar. It becomes heart-breaking, but even more gripping.
Acoustic picking announces “Zehrend“, which rocks and stalks as much as it races, and occasionally seems to blend in elements of post-punk along with the sensations of depressive black metal. The feeling of gloominess never completely disappears, but there is a degree to which the song catches a spark and flares to life.
“Dein Abschied” is as dynamically paced as the first two tracks, galloping as well as marching in a staggered pace, anchored by sludgy bass tones, and it’s also as heavy with sorrow. The riffing channels despondency and angst in strong terms, and like “Wiederkunft” it becomes heart-breaking by the end.
Oh, Adaestuo, what has happened? Theyve gone completely ambient…Not sure if I can follow where theyve gone….Well, at least they’ve evolved.
From this list, Ive enjoyed Apognosis the most; cant believe Ive slept on them before today..! As for the rest…A solid meh from me, but who am I?
You are a person who astutely enjoys Apognosis. Beyond that, I can’t help you. 🙂
Luckily we dont all have to like the same things (equallly)…
And it would be odd if we did… 🙂
Although we should objectively enjoy this 🙂 https://apileofgraves.bandcamp.com/album/gravsatt
I don’t know why but I always seem to be the bearer of “I’ve spotted an error.” Adaestuo in Apognosis review. That aside I’m really enjoying Apognosis.
Thank you! I fixed that goof. These are among the perils of being my own editor.
I’m still figuring out if I like the Hrae. My first instinct is that it is too jangly, too chaotic, too close to the sound he does in his other projects such as Gudveiki. But as I’ve listened more, I do actually enjoy it. Still, much of my recent listening time has gone to the new albums by To Conceal the Horns and Faustian Pact.
Conceal the Horns sounds right up my alley. Or one of the alleys in my medieval medina of musical taste. (Can I enjoy Immortal, Nick Cave, Dead Can Dance, AND Sopor Aeternus?)
I touched on the first single from that Conceal the Horns album last November in another one of those columns and have been meaning to get immersed in the whole record. No doubt, it’s one I’ll be paying attention to here in the near future.