NOTES MADE WHILE LISTENING: HOLY DEATH AND MOONWORSHIPPER
I am always behind in listening to what I want to explore, but have fallen further and further behind this week, chiefly due to the malaise that many of us have felt from the protracted lockdown, which is only just beginning to lift where I live.
In genuinely random fashion I decided to listen to only two releases this morning out of the hundreds I could have chosen, both of them peaking my interest for different reasons. And I made the gamble of recording in words what I was hearing as both releases unfolded, not knowing in advance whether that effort would be worth the time, because I wasn’t sure going into them how I would feel about their worth.
It was a gamble that paid off. Both of these choices proved to be very good ones, and well worth recommending to you. As it happened, both are also very dark and dolorous, albeit in very different ways. Along with the recommendations, I’ll share the notes I made, not that you need them, but because I generally hate to throw anything away.
The first release I chose is a 20-minute song named Celestial Throne ov Grief by the death/doom trio Holy Death, who came to us out of the Nevada desert by way of Los Angeles. It was digitally released on June 5th. I picked it because (as I explained here) I was so impressed with the band’s second EP (released in March), Supreme Metaphysical Violence. And now for my notes:
At the outset, feedback puts its ice-pick in your ears and becomes a deep moaning abrasion that vibrates your teeth, the slow chords creating an atmosphere of oppression and hopelessness. A rhythm emerges — a methodical hammering pulse formed by the union of the riff and the booming drums — as do the vocalist’s savage growls and flensing howls. That visceral pulse will get your head going, but the leads moan and writhe in their sickness, sucking at your soul with their powerfully penetrating misery.
The pulse evaporates, allowing isolated bass notes to ring out above windy backdrop, a sensation that might cause you to close your eyes and become entranced, despite how desolate the sounds are. But the music becomes monstrously more heavy and mentally mutilating in its plaintiveness as the band turn up the volume and the distortion. It’s as if some leviathan beast is rising from earthen depths and shivering the ground in its terrible torment. The music heaves, groans, and gouges. It becomes an exhalation of death on a seemingly massive scale.
The wailing guitar lead that takes over after that crushing interlude has narcotic qualities, and its psychoactive properties persist even when the harsh vocals return, the drums hit a syncopated beat, and craggy chords rain down like slow-motion boulders. The guitar solo that arrives is both miserable and riveting, and the crashing, reverb-ed chords and head-moving beats become a primal, riveting force as well, one that becomes more and more irresistible as it continues to cycle through your head, notwithstanding how apocalyptic those chords begin to seem.
Feedback begins to claw at your mind over the murmuring of the bass, and that becomes the prelude to a final sequence of crushing, radioactive chords, punishing drum blows, and scorching vocal intensity. The music looms like a black monolith of armageddon… and then devolves, in harrowing fashion, into the silence of the tomb.
I picked this next release for different reasons than the first one. Unlike Holy Death, I knew nothing about this French project Moonworshipper, but was intrigued by the description given by the releasing label (Hypnotic Dirge) to its debut EP, 13 Fullmoon Nights of Loneliness (which is being released today):
“Truly avantgarde and genre-bending releases are still a somewhat rare phenomenon, especially those few who are able to retain a strong narrative and cohesion despite the confluence of various sounds and influences.
“We believe that the French act Moonworshipper is one such act, blending together lo-fi black metal, with trip-hop, soundtrack music, doom, post-rock, and jazz.”
The label also recommended the EP for fans of netra, Ulver, White Ward and Manes. So I listened.
The EP is presented on Bandcamp as a single track, but instead seems to be a sequence of four individual compositions, separated by brief periods of silence. So these may be four individual songs, but they do fall together into a cohesive whole. And here are my notes:
In the beginning, slow, fuzz-bombed notes extend outward in abrasive reverberations over a measured, knee-moving drum rhythm, joined by a wash of searing, whining guitar and harsh, tortured howls, which transform into near-screams. The music becomes more sweeping in its aspect, but also more desolate and anguished. The drums begin hammering, and the guitars generate an ice-squall of despairing sound. Wailing leads shiver through ponderous rhythms. And then the music changes dramatically, presenting a beautiful piano instrumental with a melody that seems like an introspective reverie shrouded in gloom. It drifts away into silence…
When the music resumes, wretched, bleeding-throat screams carry over low-frequency, sandpaper-rough notes and slow, punishing drum blows. And then female singer Raphaëlle Sauer joins in, her intense, wailing voice forming a harrowing duet with the tortured screams of Lycaon. The song drifts into silence again…
When the music resumes the next time, it’s with a slow, glistening guitar (and perhaps keyboard) harmony that’s wistful and haunting in its resonance and mesmerizing in its effect, like an audio depiction of the pale shine of a half-moon through black and barren limbs. Ghostly guitar emanations swirl through, accompanied by a heavy, warm bass line, a measured drum cadence, and Raphaëlle‘s seductive voice, honeyed and soulful. This sequence seems to straddle a line between a torch singer in a jazz lounge and a trip into a dimension of spirits.
But the music becomes much heavier as those abrasive low-end chords intrude, the drums go off like bombs, and those scarring harsh screams return. The music builds in intensity, channeling misery and despair as a voice speaks in somber and measured tones. The guitar chimes above the increasing, mind-excavating turbulence below… and silence descends again…
When the music resumes, it’s a collage of deep electronic pulses and glinting and shimmering guitar reverberations, which again provide the backdrop for Raphaëlle‘s alluring voice, similar in its atmosphere to the preceding track. But here, she pitches her voice into falsetto, and the guitar similarly rings high and shimmers, and the combined effect is to make the music both more anguished and more mystical.
But like the preceding sequence, this one becomes much heavier as the serrated-edge, low-frequency chords and the scorching screams return, segmented by jolting percussive bursts and Raphaëlle‘s words. The guitar lead that surfaces is fevered with pain, a semblance of emotional splintering that matches those harsh screams in their debilitating despair. And then the final silence falls….
Hypnotic Dirge reports that this EP “is the start of a planned conceptual trilogy which will be resolved over the coming months”. I’ll be waiting.
Celestial Throne ov Grief is seriously good.