SHADES OF BLACK (PART 2); MUKA, EKDIKĒSIS, ERIPHION, HELL-BORN
As promised in Part 1 of this column, Part 2 is devoted to a group of complete new albums that were just released during the last 10 days, most of them unusually unsettling but also fascinating. With apologies to the bands, and maybe to you if you usually bother to read rather than just listen, I’ve resorted to a time-saving strategy of just picking one track from each album to write about in detail, and then adding only the most cursory preview of everything else.
For the first two records I’m again indebted to Rennie (starkweather) for making me aware of them.
Patologija Poniznosti is a new EP by this band from Zagreb that just came out today, so I obviously haven’t spent much time with it. But I’ve spent enough time to learn that Muka have become no more merciful than they were on their 2017 EP, Sveta Stoka, which I briefly reviewed here.
The principal melody of opener “Idolomantis Diabolica” is queasy and emotionally fractured. Though the band do engage in outbursts of frantic blackened savagery, and although the vocals are vicious enough to cause woodland animals to race through the trees for their very lives, the music is seriously unnerving at its core.
The dissonance and discordance of the guitars play tricks with your inner ear (the part that serves a vital role in balance), creating seasick moods of misery and menace in ways that are more viscerally disturbing than the techniques more commonly used by other bands wedded to such dark moods. The fact that they do this with a relatively clean and clear production just makes the achievement all the more remarkable. (The drumming is also pleasingly inventive and unpredictable.)
The balance of the EP is very much in this same vein, but occasionally with more pronounced organ-rupturing grooves. I think of the experience as akin to waking up within a next of vipers, scared shitless but too witless to figure out how to get away, and perversely mesmerized as well.
There is usually a great deal of line-up overlap among Icelandic black metal bands, but I can’t vouch for that in the case of Ekdikēsis, because I don’t yet know who is behind the project, though it seems to be a single person.
The just-released Canvas Of A New Dawn is in some ways a kindred to that Mura EP I began with. After a chilling intro track (“Dead Sun”), “On Stellar Wings” quickly ramps up in a discharge of pummeling drums, deranged bass murmurings, and freakishly dissonant guitars. The poisonous banshee howls seem to echo off crypt walls while the riffing squirms and screams. Without warning, the drums slow and cavort, just as seemingly mad as everything else, as vocal samples (which sound like a snake-handling revival preacher) intertwine with ghostly wails. Also without warning, instrumental spasms and seizures occur, as if the congregants in that tent revival have started speaking in tongues.
The rest of the album leads you deeper into the hellish asylum world of Ekdikēsis, still peppered with those Bible-beating vocal samples (and others). The ways in which the band ingeniously stitch together all the Frankensteinian parts is never quite predictable (and there are some ambient intros and an ambient closing track that are creepy as hell). What does become predictable is the expectation that you’ll experience both mind-mutilating convulsions and genuine nerve-firing thrills, of which there are many, as well as weird, hallucinogenic dream states.
If you visit Bandcamp you’ll see that Ekdikēsis released another album in December (named Schizomenous //).
This Athenian one-man black metal band made a very strong first impression through his June 2018 debut EP Hossana, which I reviewed here, praising it as “a huge surprise, an unusually accomplished and multifaceted creation that sounds years ahead of what you might expect from any band’s first EP”, and then Eriphion followed that with a 2018 debut album (Δοξολογία) that was even more enormously appealing. Eriphion‘s third release was a single named “The Black Flame“, which I also wrote about, and that was followed in December of last year by a fascinating EP named Θανατογραφία.
Now we have a new Eriphion album named Ερίφιον2-ΑναδόμΗση (Anadomisi, meaning “reconstruction”). The album opener “Παντοτινά Πάλι” is even more unconventional than I expected (and convention is never what I expect from this project). The bass plays a very prominent role, sometimes seemingly off in a world all its own and sometimes giving the song a quickening pulse. Meanwhile, the guitars swarm and mutter, writhe and shiver, flay and flicker. The vocals are harsh but rapidly changing, and the drumming rarely follows a straight path. There are even little bits of electronica in the mix. The song has an improvisational quality, and in the course of its strange machinations proves to be somehow both seductive and berserk.
The song sounds experimental, and so does the rest of the album. Three of the tracks are in the 10-12-minute range. At times I got flashbacks to very early Pink Floyd. At others I felt like a participant in a shamanistic ritual under the influence of psychoactive substances. At still others I got flashbacks to the few times I dropped acid long ago, and I hasten to say that’s not a common occurrence. At one point I thought of Leonard Cohen. The ways in which the moving parts interlock, or refuse to interlock, will keep you off-balance all the way through.
Come to think of it, the album itself is a drug. It isn’t easy to get lost in it because it’s very disconcerting, very “challenging”, but once you fall into it, it’s hard to climb out (for better or worse). Perhaps unexpectedly, it does have a powerfully entrancing effect.
I guess I should be clear: I really like the album because it’s so damned fascinating, even though I don’t think it wants me to like it so much as it wants me to open my inner eye to things I perhaps shouldn’t be allowed to see.
P.S. Just as I finished these scribblings I saw that the lyrics are on Bandcamp. They might furnish insights into the album’s inspirations.
I very consciously put this last album here because I felt you might need it after the one that precedes it. At Bandcamp, the stream begins with the second track, not the first one, and so that’s where I’ll begin.
“Axis of Decay” punches in start-stop bursts, with blaring, fire-like riffing in between, and then it begins to gallop and contort. The trilling guitars grimly drill and frantically vibrate over a mountainous bass presence and savage snarls. The mood these manifestations conjure is a conjunction of cold calamity, hot fear, and utter desolation. In its own way, the song is as unsettling as everything else in this Part of the column, but man, does it also sink its claws into the lizard brain we all have. It’s deeply sinister and diabolical, but will get your head moving and your blood pumping even as your temperature drops.
Most of these same ingredients are foundational in the album’s other 8 tracks, which collectively are as charismatic as they are crushing and frightening. There are terrific riffs to be found throughout the record, but you really have to steel yourself to become immersed in swaths of soul-sucking bleakness and the kind of unreasoning cruelty one might imagine in the regimes of Hell. But don’t think the album is turgid or monotonous — far, far from it. It’s intensely gripping all the way through, and every one of these songs creates its own thrills. Plus, the thing is titanically heavy and bludgeoning.
In case you don’t know (and I didn’t), this is Hell-Born‘s first album in 12 years. The band was started in 1996 by Behemoth co-founder Baal and by Les, also a former Behemoth musician as well as a member of Damnation. The album also includes a guest appearance by Behemoth’s Adam “Nergal” Darski.
P.S. Hard to pick a “most infectious” track, because there are many, but at this point I would say “Soulrape” or “Uroboros”, two of the more up-tempo tracks on the record..