The Infernal Sea
(Andy Synn again focuses on the music of bands from his homeland, this time leaning into black metal with reviews of three new albums.)
As the sole British member of the NCS crew (and therefore the only one who can actually write worth a damn… kidding!) it’s my responsibility, and my privilege, to use the platform afforded me here to highlight some of the best and brightest bands who hail from these green and pleasant lands.
Of course, that responsibility is kind of a double-edged sword.
If I’m too critical of a band or album there’s always someone more than happy to attack me for “not supporting the scene”.
But if I’m too positive about someone/something then I’ll inevitably get accused of being biased because I’m a part of the scene.
Hell, it’s actually a blade that cuts three ways when you think about it, because even when I don’t write anything at all about a band’s new record it inevitably leads to people to assume I have something against it/them… it’s a classic lose/lose/lose situation!
Still, as masochistic as it may seem, none of that’s going to stop me from continuing to separate the wheat from the chaff, and today’s column features a bountiful harvest of British Black Metal for your ears only.
DECOHERENCE – UNITARITY
Last year’s full-length debut (Ekpyrosis) from enigmatic void-dwellers Decoherence was a real dark horse of an album, and quickly became one of my favourite and most listened-to records of the year.
Unceasingly harsh and unremittingly hostile from start to finish, it was the musical equivalent of staring into the abyss… and finding only empty, endless nothingness staring back.
Unitarity, however, has a little more colour and (half) life to it – though the colour in question lies firmly on the infra-red part of the spectrum, and is barely (if at all) perceivable by the human eye.
Ominous opener “Final Boundary State”, for example, suggests that the unforgiving depths of space are not as empty as they may appear, while the howling anti-melodies and fissile momentum of “Equilibrium Unreached” are a reminder that prolonged exposure to this sort of atmosphere (or, strictly speaking, absence of atmosphere) without proper protection can be fatal.
Of course, that’s all very well and abstract you might think, but what does it ctually sound like?
Well, much as on the previous album, Unitarity is built around an unstable core of abrasive, post-Industrial, post-Blut Aus Nord, Black Metal, but this time around tracks like the aforementioned “Final Boundary State” and the volatile “Metastable Phase Transition” find the group expanding the spiky dissonance (particularly in the former) and irradiated ambience (as in the latter) of their sound while still maintaining all the coruscating riffage and mechanised blasting from their debut.
Whereas Ekpyrosis painted everything with a different shade of black, however, songs such as discordant dervish “Torsion Formed” and the brooding, blast-scorched bombardment of “Remnants” positively crackle with radioactive energy, to the point where you can almost see the gloomy, poisonous glow coming off each track.
Concluding with the destructive strains of “Unitarity Violation” – whose first half is a disturbing fusion of distorted ambience and disharmonic wave-forms, and whose second half is the sonic equivalent of nuclear annihilation – Unitarity proves itself to be a more than worthy follow-up to the band’s arresting debut, one which builds upon its predecessor’s grim charms without simply repeating the same predictable patterns.
PS: I highly recommend also checking out the two EPs which the band released earlier this year – Formulation and Solution (which has a more overtly machine-like vibe to it) and the more angular and slightly more abstract Nucleosynthesis.
THE INFERNAL SEA – NEGOTIUM CRUCIS
Here at NCS we’ve been big fans of The Infernal Sea for a long time now.
And, speaking of lengths of time… it’s been five long years since the band’s last album (2015’s The Great Mortality), with only a single three-track EP being released in the meantime, so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the band have evolved, or devolved, into something a little bit gnarlier, a little bit nastier – think 1349, rather than Satyricon – since then.
Oddly enough, however, it has to be said that the first half of Negotium Crucis is a little rough around the edges, with the band making some slightly questionable (or, at least, oddly ineffectual) creative/artistic choices that don’t always work in their favour.
Don’t get me wrong, opener “Destruction of Shum” is one seriously eye-popping blast of unfiltered extremity, which instantly captures the band in all their newfound rawness and primal glory.
But, sadly, there’s a moment, right around where the “whoa-oh” backing vocals start up, where the song starts to lose focus. And while the intention here was clearly to add a touch of moody, “folk-horror” atmosphere to the track, the execution is ultimately pretty flat, and proves to be little more than an unwanted and unnecessary distraction in the end.
Similarly “Befallen Order” is a thrashy thrill-ride which stumbles right at the final hurdle with an anti-climactic solo that starts off promisingly but swiftly descends into aimless, repetitive shredding that doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go or when it needs to stop.
And while “God Wills It” is a solid slab of devilish groove, “Field of the Burned” is another potential monster whose overall impact is lessened by some jarring (and slightly embarrassing) backing vocals in its second half.
But about 30 seconds into “Devoid of Fear”, when the band drop into that riff (trust me, you’ll know it when you hear it) everything suddenly changes.
With its gargantuan guitars (including a short but sweet pseudo-solo around the three-minute mark), pulverising drums, and utterly ravenous vocals, “Devoid…” is easily one of the best songs the band have ever written, and signals the point where Negotium Crucis finally hits its stride.
It’s followed in quick succession by the sadistic swagger and hellish hooks of the title-track and the visceral, Venom-ous attack of “Unholy Crusade”, both of which showcase the band operating at the very top of their game, after which the album concludes (if we don’t count the impressively beefy bonus re-recording of “Into the Unknown”) with the bone-rattling, spine-tingling strains of “Rex Mundi”, which starts out as a blistering, all-out assault on the senses, before transforming into something altogether more brooding and atmospheric during its final moody minutes.
With higher highs, but lower (albeit intermittent) lows, Negotium Crucis is undeniably a more uneven album than its predecessor. But while it may not be the unstoppable juggernaut we were hoping for, its positives still outweigh its (occasional) negatives, making it more than capable of infecting a whole new audience when it finally hits the streets.
ODOACER – THERE THE VULTURES WILL GATHER
Once upon a time there was a band named Ageless Oblivion, who produced one of my all-time favourite albums (a record which still remains distressingly underappreciated) before internal issues caused them to go on an extended hiatus.
Perhaps the only positive from this situation is that it gave guitarist Dave Porter an opportunity to stretch his blackenend wings with his solo project Odoacer, whose debut album strikes an organic balance between anguish, aggression, and atmosphere.
It begins, in moody, minimalist fashion, with “Den of Fossils” whose slow-burn opening sets the stage, over the course of several dismal, dramatic minutes, for the song’s inevitable (but still riveting) transformation into a blazing conflagration of raw catharsis and ravaging distortion.
This is followed, in turn, by the fire and fury of “The Unkindest Cut”, which eschews the subtle slow build of its predecessor in favour of an instantaneous eruption of heaving riffs, hammering drums, and howling vocals, which call to mind the best bits of bands like Woe and Wolves In The Throne Room (or, if you want to go for an even deeper cut, Weakling and their classic self-titled album).
But, as good as these songs are, they’re dwarfed – both in size, sound, and shameless ambition – by the nearly sixteen-and-a-half minute colossus that is “Dirge Unto Nemesis”.
Whereas the previous songs, at their core, were a dense conglomerate of raw emotion and focussed musical extremity, “Dirge…” feels more open and more expansive and (as befits its extended length) even more willing/able to let things build at their own pace.
It’s a powerful glimpse of what Odoacer is capable of when they throw all caution to the wind, both hauntingly intimate and hypnotically intense in a way which doesn’t rely on an all-out attack to get its point across… and what’s even more impressive is that they’re able to do it all over again, without feeling like they’re repeating themselves, with equally colossal closer “Cyclops”.
Of course before then there’s the scalding dissonance of “Left Only With Your Grief Amongst the Carrion”, probably the harshest and heaviest track on the entire disc, but it’s the dynamic ebb and flow between brooding ambience and cathartic chaos of “Cyclops” which really highlights just how much potential there is in this project.
One thing which has really stood out to me over the past several weeks is how perfectly this album embodies and exemplifies that hoary old cliché that “the personal is political…”. Because while the lyrics may tend towards the abstract, the rage and frustration behind lines like “As the past is forgotten, so the future fails” (“Den of Fossils”) and “Fear masquerades as pride..” (“Left Only With Your Grief…”) is all too raw, and all too real, and communicates the artist’s true feelings all too clearly.
Let me be honest – the lack of any sort of creative sounding board or potential push-back from other members has a tendency to hamstring the output of a lot of one-man Black Metal projects. But there’s no denying that There the Vultures Will Gather has managed to sidestep this issue with aplomb, in the process delivering a striking and singularly focussed first effort which should certainly serve as a firm foundation for Porter’s future artistic output as a solo artist.