I’ll be so bold as to say that lovers of black metal, or at least those whose tastes aren’t rigidly hemmed in by convention, are in the midst of a musical Renaissance. I don’t mean to say that every band and every variant are worth our time or our devotion — as in all art, there is wheat and there is chaff to be separated. But there are giant bushelfuls of wheat to fall into!
Sadly, out of the many noteworthy releases I discovered during the last week, the timing of which perhaps had something to do with Bandcamp Friday, I only have time to feature a couple, and I chose these two. Even with just these two, time prevents me from going into great depth about them
I’ve been impatiently waiting for a new Misotheist album ever since coming across a preliminary version of a new song named “Benefactor of Wounds” in the spring of 2019. I had thought that Terratur Possessions would release the album that year, but the year passed, and so did 2020, and we continued to wait — though the debut of the album version of that same song last November did bring with it the news that the album would finally arrive this month. And so it has. In a word, it’s stunning.
For the Glory of Your Redeemer is divided into three tracks. The first two are each in the seven-minute range, and the third one is a sprawling work of 16 minutes. As those first two twist and turn, they bring a lot to the table.
The mood swings within “Rope and Hammer” encompass boiling chaos and storming madness, tumultuous upheaval and blind terror, frightening eminence and exotic spells (the chiming tones that cycle for a while are indeed mesmerizing). “Benefactor of Wounds” incorporates similar sensations, though a swirling, hook-laden riff gives the music a more magical and inviting aspect, and the deployment of a heavy pounding cadence makes it more of a head-mover. At times it seems chillingly hopeless; by the end it becomes panoramic in its scale.
The third track, “Acts of the Flesh“, demands a lot more patience than the first two, and not merely because of its extravagant length. As multifarious as the first two tracks are, the third one ups the ante dramatically. Comprehension doesn’t come with one pass through it. Like the preceding tracks, it uses dissonance to heighten the fear factor, and bell-like tones to cast momentary spells. Like those tracks, it also gives the rhythm section plenty of chances to pop your eyes wide open — and a lot more room to switch up what they’re doing, which they do frequently.
All in all, the third track is a much more labyrinthine, head-spinning excursion, even more richly layered and mood-altering than the first two. It becomes dreamlike and hallucinatory at times, seems to dance and cavort at others, and it soars and sweeps in displays of ravishing magnificence. The guitar leads become fluid and steeped in sorrow, but will also cut you like threshers. Trying to anticipate where the song will go from minute to minute isn’t something you should try to do, and the contrasts are sometimes jarring. But the whole thing is so fascinating that it’s unlikely you’ll give up, or count the minutes as they pass. I think it’s a safe bet that this EP will be on lots of year-end lists, and for all its challenges, “Acts of the Flesh” will be a big reason why.
Every time the Iranian band اکوان (Akvan) releases something new, my reflexive reaction is to drop everything and go listen to it. Since I’m not a brain surgeon or a handler of high explosives, this isn’t a dangerous reflex, and in fact has consistently proven to be a rewarding one. Yet somehow I failed to do so when Two Centuries of Silence / دو قرن سکوت was released last November. That EP was a digital and CD release, but now it’s set for a vinyl release on March 21 release by Subsound Records, and that reminded me of my oversight, which I’ve now corrected.
The Bandcamp pages for the EP state that “[t]he title of the EP is taken from Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub’s eponymous book, which provides a historical account of the Iranian people’s bold resistance against the Islamic Conquest of Persia”. Once again, Akvan’s alter ego Vizaresa performed vocals, tar, guitars, and drums.
I felt like I was inside a bell as I listened. The stirring blend of tar and guitar rings with a magical impact, so exotic in their sound and enthralling in their effect, that they become the undeniable centerpieces of these songs. There are, of course, other ingredients, from scathing riffs and booming heavy metal chords to savage snarls and spine-tingling screams, from shrill, wailing leads to neck-cracking back-beats and blistering double-kicks. The heaviness in the low end, which adds both menace and visceral, bone-vibrating strength, creates a wonderful complement to the melodies.
But it really is the wholly immersive quality of those ringing, trilling melodies, and their power in channeling intense emotion in a grand, larger-than-life, way, that stand out. The instrumental “Barbad’s Glory” yields all of the spotlight to Vizaresa‘s masterful performance of the tar, and it’s really just as riveting as the heavier and more harrowing metal-icized songs that precede and follow it.