Welcome to Part 14 of this list, in which I’ve turned again toward black metal, with two songs that made a deep impact the first time I heard them and haven’t loosened their grip over the months that have followed. To explore the songs that preceded them on this list, you’ll find them all behind this link.
“In the midst of a time when it is all too easy to feel desperate and demoralized by forces both human and viral that seem bent on crushing both life and hope, it is worth remembering that humanity has been here before. Remembering such times, and the efforts of valiant people who survived and transcended them, can itself furnish hope. And maybe we can learn something about how this is to be done, as well”.
Those words are how I began a review of Forthcoming Humanity by the Greek band Yovel, which preceded our premiere of a full album stream. In that remarkable album, Yovel devoted themselves to remembrance of such times. A concept album, it is based upon the poems of Tasos Leivaditis, a brilliant poet and a revolutionary, who himself lived through harrowing periods, including the second World War. Born in 1922, he died in 1988.
I went on at great length about this album, doing my best to explain the events that inspired the songs as well as to describe the music, because the subject matter and the sounds are so intertwined. I devoted so much space to it because of how deeply it affected me, and at the end of the year it remained one of my hands-down favorite records of the year. My friend Andy was taken with it too, putting it at the No. 4 position on his 2020 Personal Top 10 list, and I’ll share some of his thoughts too:
“Driven in equal amounts by both raging frustration and revolutionary fervour, Forthcoming Humanity is almost as much a political polemic as it is a Black Metal album, yet never comes across as preachy or pretentious – it’s too heartfelt, too harrowing, too painfully human for that.
“And while I understand that many of our readers perhaps prefer to separate politics and music, it honestly doesn’t seem like that’s an option for Yovel. For them the very act of creating music is an act of resistance, their art is their expression, their beliefs inseparable from their passion. And that’s what makes this record such an inspiring, engaging, and uncompromising piece of work.”
Not all great albums are necessarily home to “infectious” songs, but I do think “Epitaph” deserves recognition as such. The song unfolds in two parts, “Revolutionary” and “Homeland”. The acoustic melody that begins the first part is scintillating yet sorrowful, and Yovel then create a riveting transformation, albeit without abandoning that opening melody. The swirling and darting riffs sound both feverish and forlorn, both desperate and devastated, and those sensations become powerfully immersive, transporting the listener into a time and place of turmoil and travail. The discordance of the music seems to capture the discord among people. It flares into fight, the chords blazing over galloping drums — but the band also make a softer space for a grim radio news report from another age. The music flares again in electrifying fashion, through pummeling drums and febrile fretwork that seems to soar in agony, overpowering the listener with its wrenching vitality.
This next song by Sweden’s Ov Shadows also happens to be one that we premiered. It put me in its grip the first time I heard it, and it’s still gripping to hear, despite how sad it is, because it’s so powerfully moving and indelibly memorable. By way of further introduction, I’ll paraphrase what I’ve already written:
Immediately, “Under Dödens Vingar” (Under the Wings of Death) will surround you with dense waves of tremolo’d riffing accompanied by enormous drum detonations and heavyweight bass pulsations. The music has a majestic but sorrowing resonance that immerses the senses, its wrenching gloom shredded by caustic shrieks and increasingly electrifying drum patterns.
As the vibrating chords rise and fall, their penetrating sounds seem to become manifestations of mourning and weeping, mounting in intensity and growing even more mesmerizing, with that effect counter-balanced by carefully-chosen dynamic changes in the drumming, whose nuances are well-worth focusing on in subsequent listens. The music really is spellbinding, and as it evolves, it gloriously soars in its expressions of grief-stricken agony, even as the blast-furnace vocals become a flame of pain. It’s an all-encompassing experience, wrapping us in its dark embrace, subsuming us in its lament, carrying us away in its crescendo beneath wings of death.
The album, released last September, is I Djävulens Avbild (In the Devil’s Image).