(Andy Synn wrote each of the three reviews collected in this post, singing the praises of the new albums by Afsky (Denmark), Odraza (Poland), and Uprising (Germany).)
Black, as we all know, is the best colour.
It’s slimming, effortlessly classy, and goes with pretty much everything. Which I guess is why Black Metal fans are renowned as the sexiest, suavest-looking motherfuckers on the planet…
All joking aside, while conventional wisdom and common consensus seems to be that 2020 has, thus far, been a big year for Death Metal, it’s also been a banner year for Black Metal too, and I’ve already written about several absolutely stunning entries to the canon (for example, here, here, here, and here) that will doubtless end up on many year-end lists.
Well, now I’m about to add three more contenders for the crown to those lists, with the new albums from Afsky (DK), Odraza (PL), and Uprising (DE).
AFSKY – OFTE JEG DRØMMER MIG DØD
Of all the albums featured here today, this one is likely to be the “purists” choice, because it, is, in many ways, the “purest” out of all three records, delivering six sinuous and scintillating tracks of classic Black Metal sound and fury, heavy in both atmosphere and melody, which hearken back all the way to the early days of the genre.
That’s not to say that Ofte jeg drømmer mig død is a dated or derivative album (“timeless” would, perhaps, be a better word, if you’re willing to go that far), merely that it’s an album fully aware of whose giant footsteps it follows in – with a particularly heavy debt owed to the early, Bergtatt/Kveldsanger/Nattens Madrigal era, works of Ulver.
This, of course, is where the album’s true strength lies, not in attempting to reinvent the genre, but in seeking simply to reinvigorate it, to bring the “then” into the “now”, so as to make everything old new again.
And while I am as keen as the next man to see bands continue to push forwards and progress, sometimes the best way to do that, the best way to express what is in your heart, is to look to and learn from the past.
In terms of the more immediate past, Ofte jeg drømmer mig død is a much more furious, more aggressive album than it’s predecessor, Sorg, although this doesn’t mean that the music is bereft of all subtlety and nuance, as the moody, minimalist break mid-way through “Tyende Sang” or the fulsome, folkish finale to captivating closer “Angst”, so eloquently demonstrate.
It also sounds better – somehow both dirtier and cleaner at the same time – with the drums in particular displaying more raw power and energy, while the guitars possess a touch more bite and belligerence than they did the last time around.
And, of course, there’s the fact that Ofte jeg drømmer mig død simply feels like a much more complete album – with nary a moment of wasted space or misapplied momentum to be found – making it incredibly easy to lose yourself in for the record’s full run-time.
Mark my words, this one is a real underrated, un(der)discovered gem, and well worth checking out the next time you’re in the mood for something which pays loving tribute to the early days of Black Metal, without being totally in thrall to them.
ODRAZA – RZECZOM
If the previous album would be the one I’d recommend to anyone looking for a more “pure”, or traditional, Black Metal experience, then this is the one I’d recommend to anyone looking for something a little (or a lot) more off the beaten path.
That’s not to say that Rzeczom is a total rejection or repudiation of Black Metal – far from it, in fact, as there are enough punishing blastbeats and howling vocals to be found here to satisfy even the most jaded of blackened souls – but the album’s template strays well beyond the usual boundaries.
In this manner songs like pulse-raising opener “Schadenfreude”, with its alchemical blend of abject frenzy and anxiety-inducing tension, and its doom-laden follow-up “Rzeczom”, recall the best of strutting subversives Shining, with whom Odraza share a similar penchant for massive riffs and equally gargantuan grooves.
Yet, at the same time, the Polish duo also display a more introverted and experimental sensibility which is closer to the unorthodox attitude of someone like Imperial Triumphant than the self-obsessed, self-destructive swagger of their Swedish cousins.
But, truthfully, Odraza continue to sound more like Odraza than anyone else, twisting the sounds of Black Metal to suit their purposes, rather than shaping themselves to fit in with the crowd.
Much like the simple yet eye-catching artwork which adorns its cover, Rzeczom is an album of brooding blacks and moody greys which somehow keeps uncovering new varieties and subtle shades of colour within these brittle boundaries, moving effortlessly from the raging riffs and humongous hooks of “W godzinie wilka” to the wicked, carnival-esque waltz of “…twoją rzecz też” to the creepily compelling Black-Jazz of “Długa 24” without ever needing to pause to refresh its palette.
What makes it really special, however, is that for all its strange embellishments and unusual undercurrents Rzeczom is an ear-blisteringly intense album when it wants to be, whether it’s the titanic twists and turns of “Świt opowiadaczy” (perhaps the album’s best track) or the clever way it balances the outlandish weirdness of a song like “Najkrótsza z wieczności” with the prowling, predatory grooves of “Młot na małe miasta” and the lunatic fury of “Bempo”.
Make no mistake, this is an almost/arguably flawless slab of Black Metal (and that’s without even mentioning the effortlessly fluid, superbly slippery structure of closer “Ja nie stąd”) that practically revels in its ability to attract and repel, spellbind and surprise, its listeners in equal measure.
It’s the sort of album which appears simple on the surface, but which constantly forces you to reassess your expectations of it with each and every listen. And it’s a shoe-in for an appearance on several lists at the end of the year. Of that I have no doubt.
UPRISING – II
Out of all three albums this one is most definitely my favourite. It’s seven killer cuts of pissed-off, Punk-inflected Black Metal with an angry, anarchist spirit and more riffs than you can possibly take in in just one sitting.
Stemming solely from the mind (and fret-dancing fingers) of Jan van Berlekom (Winterherz) of Waldgeflüster, every single song here (including short, scene-setting, intro track “Introduction”) possesses a keenly focussed vision and an undaunted, uncompromising message of rage targeted at those who would use their power and position to oppress and abuse the weaker and less fortunate.
It should be obvious, with song titles like “A Lesson in Basic Human Empathy” and “Radical Decency”, that II isn’t your basic, sin and Satan, nihilism without nuance, Black Metal album. Hell, the exceptionally catchy chorus refrain to the title track is both a furious indictment of organised religion, a call to arms against injustice, and a collective plea for unity:
Raise your fists up high / yell a martial cry
Uprise above the skies
Strike off your puppet strings / with a rebellious song to sing
Uprise above all kings
Destroy this book so flawed / unmask this religious fraud
Uprise above all gods
When injustice surpasses / fuel the conflict of classes
Uprise all you masses
Of course you don’t have to fully buy into the band’s ideology to enjoy and appreciate what they do (although lines like “indifference is unacceptable, defend those who cannot, only the weak do not protect”, delivered as they are with such venom and conviction, are almost impossible to deny), and thankfully the music on its own is just as powerful, just as irresistible, as the message it carries.
The previously mentioned “A Lesson in Basic Human Empathy”, for example, is an absolute rager from front to back, with van Berlekom pouring every ounce of scorn and spite, every agitated molecule of vitality and vigour, into the song’s devastating deluge of scorching riffs and pounding drums.
The mix of heaving rhythm guitars and spiralling lead/tremolo melodies, all underpinned by some frantic, almost feverish, drum work and topped off with some brilliantly raw and emotive (not to mention versatile) vocals, makes “Monuments” a fittingly monumental and monolithic slab of raucous blackened rebellion, replete with an aura of immersive atmosphere which gives the track an epic, empowering vibe.
And then there’s the blast-fuelled belligerence and utter savagery of “The Iron Eagles Still Fly”, which is, without exaggeration, easily one of the angriest, and most viscerally hooky, tracks I’ve heard this year.
Trust me on this, you are definitely going to be hearing a lot more about this album, both from me and from a lot of other sources, before 2020 is over. It’s the right record, for the right moment in time, and needs/deserves to be heard by as many people as possible.
In the words of the phenomenal final track, “It’s time to reasses our values, it’s time to practice some radical decency!”