Well, as you may have noticed, I missed two days in a row for the rollout of this list — the first one because I ran out of time before having to turn to my day job and the second one because the Seattle area where I live suffered a ferocious windstorm that killed the power and the internet at my home for what turned out to be 33 hours. So, I have some catching-up to do, and may do that over the coming weekend.
But for today I have three more songs from 2020 that I absolutely loved, and I have again made this particular grouping because of something they share. In this case it’s the use of unusual instrumentation in black metal (and these aren’t the only examples you’ll find in this list before it’s done). And it happens that those instruments are a big part of what makes these tracks so infectious.
Gavranovi (Гавранови) is a Serbian word that seems to mean “ravens”. The band’s frontman is Nefas, who for almost 20 years was the vocalist for the great black metal band The Stone. A second member, Janković, who seems to be the principal instrumentalist, plays the gusle, a traditional horsehair-string instrument that dates back to the 9th century, and their lyrics emulate the form of Serbian medieval epic poetry. There also seem to be three more members, all of whom also perform vocals — Matković (who’s also credited as a guitarist), Sokolović, and Rančić.
Last year Gavranovi released two singles, both of which seem destined to appear on an EP named Crni (an adjective meaning “black” as applied to a masculine noun) which as far as I know hasn’t yet been scheduled for release. The first one, “Pjevanija prva” (“first song” or “first sermon”), was fantastic, and I thought for sure it would be on this list. But the second single, “Pjevanija duga” (“second song” or “second sermon”), barely edged it out. It too is fantastic.
As in the first single, the exotic wailing tones of the gusle make the song stand out, but it stands out for other reasons too, including the savagely roaring vocals (and the heroic singing), the jolting and writhing riffs, and the blistering drumwork. This one will get your blood rushing, and if you’re like me, you’ll want to come back to it frequently.
Last year also brought us Ogjna prerok (which seems to mean “fire prophet”), the second album by the Slovenian black metal band Srd (whose name seems to mean “wrath”). I really enjoyed the whole record. As I wrote after hearing it:
“It’s packed with interesting experiences and accents and takes many unpredictable twists and turns over the course of its hour-long length — always anchored by the riveting power and inventiveness of the rhythm section, and continuously supercharged by electrifying vocals. Like the one song that lured me all the way in, the album as a whole is full of menace and devilish magic. And it is indeed also home to some highly infectious tracks, most of which find ways to produce sore-neck syndrome”.
That one song that lured me all the way in was “Zlohotne zvezde pleme”, in part because it features an accordion melody — but it hooked me immediately, and not merely because of the accordion instrumentation. The vocals are absolutely astounding; the riffs and leads are menacing and magical; the work of the rhythm section is gripping (and powerfully heavy). The song swings and sways, boils and burns, bounces and thunders. The ethnic/folk influences in the music come through in ways beyond the accordion melody, but the music is also frightening and unchained.
Three years after the epic opus Chaos Philosophorum, the Dutch band Dystopia returned last year with a remarkably multi-faceted new album named Geen Weg Uit. Trying to sum up the album’s kaleidoscope of musical sensations is a daunting task. At its core, the music is black metal, but the band also incorporate elements of death metal, ethereal ambient music, prog-rock, and psychedelia — and they give a prominent role to a brass section. You might wonder how in the world all these moving parts could be joined together into something that makes sense, but banish any doubts you might have, because they do — with spectacular results.
The song that opens the album, “Razernij“, is one of two on the album that’s divided into Parts — four of them, to be precise. We premiered the third of those parts here at NCS, but it’s the first part of “Razernij” that I picked for this list. When I first heard it, it left me pop-eyed and slack-jawed in wonder. To parrot what I wrote about it after that first discovery:
“It combines high, swirling and chiming chords, hard-rocking riffage, and physically compelling drum rhythms. It begins accelerating until it reaches a turbo-charged rush, at which point the vocalist begins stripping the skin from your face with his voice.
“It’s just past the mid-point when trombones and trumpet come in, creating a grand yet somehow funereal sound. They remain a key part of the music from that point forward, even when the drums begin hurtling again and the vocalist begins screaming with terrifying intensity (if he held anything back when recording this, I don’t know what it could have been). By my lights, this first segment of the song is tremendous”.
It’s still tremendous. I still love listening to it. And that’s good proof that it belongs here.