SHADES OF BLACK (PART 1): ENSLAVED, SOMBRE HÉRITAGE, KALL, UBUREN, XIFICURK
At the risk of overwhelming our visitors (a constant risk around here), I have again found so many new songs I’d like to recommend that I thought it best to divide today’s column into two parts, and will do my best not to become too verbose so that I have time to finish Part 2 in time to post it today — because Monday is going to be loaded with new things too.
I haven’t tried to find out how Enslaved’s new single is being received among fans and the metal press. I, for one, think it’s fantastic, and would rather not spoil the feeling by coming across some grim cur who’s sour about it. Not because I actually think anyone is entitled to be sour about it, but metalheads being metalheads, it’s inevitable.
You might think Enslaved were eerily prescient in naming this song “Homebound“, but their meaning is different from the first interpretation we will all have in these shut-in times. They explain: “‘Homebound’ is about the greatest reward of exploring and travelling into the unknown territory – to ‘go viking’ if you will, turning Homebound at the end of the journey”.
The song includes many contrasts — between Grutle Kjellson‘s harsh snarls and drummer Iver Sandøy‘s soaring singing, between the neck-slugging opening riff and rocking beat and the battering and swarming sections that trade places with that, between the blaring chord pulses and the fluid beauty of the guitar solo… and like the flashing storm clouds in the accompanying video, the music becomes panoramic and glorious.
“Homebound” will appear on Enslaved’s new album Utgard, which will be released by Nuclear Blast in the fall of this year. But it is also being released on June 26th as a limited 7″ vinyl with an exclusive B-side track, i.e., “Knights Of The Thunder“, a cover of the title track to a 1984 album by the Norwegian heavy metal band TNT.
In a recent NCS guest post about Métal Noir Québécois our friend Speelie spread the news about the forthcoming debut album of Sombre Héritage, which is the project of Québec metal veteran Exu, from Hak-Ed Damm. Now a track from the album has surfaced, and it’s an exciting one.
The song shares the band’s name. The melodies in the track, both fiery and gloomy, are entrancing. The music’s emotional intensity is enhanced by the high, larynx-shredding vocals and the bursts of jet-speed drumming, as well as by the grandeur of what sound like choral voices soaring in reverence. But the song as a whole, even as it brings the blood to a boil, channels the kind of grandeur and reverence that hearkens back to long-lost ages. And it really gets stuck in the head like a spike.
The Sombre Héritage debut, Alpha Ursae Minoris, will be released by Sepulchral Productions on June 24th.
Kall’s second album has been a long time coming, since this Swedish band’s debut full-length was released in 2014. A single named “Fall” (reviewed here) was released in 2015, at a time when the album was projected for release at the end of that year. But better late than never, Brand is now set for release by Prophecy Productions on June 19th.
The first single from the album (“Rise“) was released in April, and I shared some positive thoughts about it soon afterward. And now Kall and Prophecy have released a second single — “Eld“. I’ll again share a statement that appears on the album’s Bandcamp page, because it explicitly refers to this new song, which we can now hear:
“The title Brand (‘fire’) refers to the song ‘Eld‘ as a tale about a violently cathartic experience at a forest fire, making the primordial power of nature a recurring theme. In this sense, the album is a call to overcome suffering by facing it right on….”
Kall have already proven, through the album’s first single, that they don’t feel constrained by genre boundaries, and they prove it again (in spades) with “Eld“. The layered guitar arpeggios and the deep, murmuring bass, when coupled with the vocalist’s harsh near-whispers, quickly create a dark and dreamlike sensation, something like the audio equivalent of a mirage in a barren desert landscape.
The song does periodically become dramatically heavier and more intense — the chords more abrasive, the drumming and bass-work more vibrant, and the vocals more tortured. The feeling of being caught up in a dream doesn’t disappear, but the mood seems both more despairing and more ecstatic, particularly when a spectacular guitar solo goes wild.
Yet there’s still more to come, with a surprising and sublime instrumental finale that combines soulful saxophone tones, what might be an accordion, what might be a bluesy guitar, and maybe the crackle of a campfire (or a forest fire finally cooling to embers). As you can tell, I’m not positive what instruments are in that mix (other than the sax), but the effect is enthralling. It’s going to be fascinating to discover what else Brand holds in store.
The Norwegian black/viking metal band Uburen have been around for a decade, with three albums and a pair of EPs to their credit. Their fourth album is in the works, to be released by Dusktone, and about a week ago they released a stand-alone single from it named “When The River Breaks“, accompanied by this explanation:
“[The song} is about evoking the Nordic ancestors, creating an imagery of nature and horrid truths. Of knowledge passed down by the fathers of their fathers and trying to understand what it is that they’ve been given as their own solemn fates are woven by the Norns. Knowing the past, living in the present and to pass our thoughts onto that which is yet to come”.
The riff that launches the new single over a measured rhythm is fire-bright, and somehow seems to straddle a line between defiance and defeat. It’s an intense sound, but no more intense than the vocals, which veer from vicious howls to explosive cries. As that fascinating melody continues to cycle through the listener’s mind, it becomes more and more captivating, though it also occasionally morphs into a lower sound that’s more ominous and beleaguered, creating an even deeper sense of melancholy.
The Polish duo XificurK pride themselves on rejecting the expansion of “black metal” as a genre label that has occurred since the early days of the second wave, and they take their inspiration from those early Nordic roots. Their first EP was disclosed in late December 2019, and at some point this year they will release a second EP named 1410.
I don’t know the significance of that title, whether it refers to the year 1410 or to something else, but the first single from the EP — “Vilthaaen” — does have elements of ancient music within it. The prelude, in which bells rings, cartwheels roll, a somber medieval melody reverberates, and a reverent voice brings Gregorian chants to mind — all these ingredients conjure thoughts of another time of plague. The music gradually changes — and then races.
Light-speed drumming provides the hurtling drive as the riffing slowly writhes in agony and the bass moans and bubbles. The distorted vocal shrieking is extravagantly tormented and enraged. When the drumming briefly ceases in its rocketing course, the music becomes even more gloom-shrouded and hopeless. In the song’s mid-section, the feeling of pain and despair grows even more pronounced, yet the effect is also strangely mesmerizing. When the song catches fire again, the vocals become completely insane — though the finale is a sorrowful guitar instrumental that again resonates with the air of ancient music.
It’s a fascinating, multi-faceted song, and one that’s less rigidly rooted in the early phases of black metal’s second wave than I was expecting from what I read, though the spirit of the music is undeniably plague-stricken and pitch-black. It makes me want to go check out the band’s first EP, and to keep a watchful eye on the advent of 1410.
XificurK is really interesting, and yeah, I’m not sure what they are on about with calling themselves “the Blackest Metal.” Seems a little… young. But the music’s good, so whatever.
And the new Enslaved kicks ass!
The Battle of Grunwald happened in 1410, and it seems to be a big historical deal for Poland. I started to read about it, but then I remembered I was a math major and not a history major, so I have no idea how most of Europe was organized in 1410. Seems like Poland and Lithuania jointly and soundly beat the Teutonic Order, which was a German-Prussian thing, and…then other stuff.
Also, the new Enslaved tickles my nether regions.
That Enslaved song is fantastic! Wouldn’t it be swell if the first band I see live again is Enslaved!
I like how the single’s artwork embodies being ‘homebound’, with miniatures of Enslaved albums….It doesnt take a genius to see it, but a nice touch nonetheless. It is amazing, when you think about it, how many different ‘homes’ the Enslaved sound has known over the years. I dont think I think of any band that’s stayed with me for so long…..from the beginning, in fact, which is now 26 years, approximately.
Of course, Mardraum’s where it is really! at )
In that event, “swell” would be a gigantic understatement. 🙂
Yes-thanks much for drawing my attention to the new Enslaved song! It is Awesome and a definite keeper! Can’t wait for the new album.