SHADES OF BLACK: CODE, DOLDRUM, ESOCTRILIHUM, NIHTSÎN, GNOSIS, VITRAIL
We had a rare Sunday premiere earlier today, but fret not, Shades of Black has not been forgotten.
I enjoyed figuring out how to arrange the music I picked for today. The music of the first three bands seemed to complement each other, so I started there — and then made a hair-pin turn in the road with the full album stream that follows them. And, given how chilling and unearthly that album sounds, I decided to follow it with a couple of tracks that will give your adrenaline levels a sharp kick in the ass.
As usual, I owe some of today’s picks to reliably tasteful friends. I would have eventually discovered this first one on my own, but listened to it a lot faster because of the enthusiastic message I received from Rennie (starkweather). He called this new song by Code “fantastic”, and possibly his “favorite song of theirs since the first album’s ‘Brass Dogs.'”
photo by Julie Cottrell
To say that Code march to the beat of their own drummer is an understatement. That is manifest in their music, and in their choice of “The Mad White Hair” as the first preview track from their new album Flyblown Prince. It’s not only the album’s closing track, it’s also (as explained by the band) “the longest and most involved song we have ever written… a broiling mix of psychedelia, claustrophobia, desperation and grandiosity”.
I’m going to resist my usual temptation to map the course of this track, which would go on for many paragraphs because it twists and turns so often (it is, as the band describe, “unhinged and gleefully epic”). Even imagining how such a bizarre and extravagant piece of musical theater was conceived is a mind-twister. How this fractured fairytale holds together is a conundrum as well — but, perhaps unexpectedly, it does.
Flyblown Prince is Code‘s first album since 2015’s Mut. It will be released by Dark Essence Records on June 4th. It features cover art by Kristina Pavleska and layout by Costin Chioreanu.
How to follow that Code track? You might think it impossible to find something that would seem like a kindred spirit, but I think I found a great companion in this Denver band’s debut EP, The Knocking, which was released last November but only discovered by me last week.
The title song is psychedelic and diabolical, a skittering, blaring, and menacing piece of avant-garde sorcery that also features terrific drumwork and remarkable vocals that are frightening in all of their varying expressions. The twisted fretwork and the constantly switching drumwork benefit from the clarity of the production.
The EP’s second song, “The Visitor”, sounds like a brazen, devilish romp, more weirdly exultant than the previous song, but no less sinister and no less head-spinning in its hellishly progressive guitar and bass permutations. Shimmering organ tones lend elements of gothic horror to the affair, and the vocals are no more sane than before.
What a great discovery this is for adventurous listeners! More please!
P.S. The Doldrum trio includes Oneiric from Erraunt on guitar and bass, though here he goes by “Jimmy Oh-My-Back“.
(Thanks to Miloš for pointing me to this one.)
With six albums in four years, the young Frenchman (Asthâghul) behind Esoctrilihum has proven himself a relentlessly restless and vibrant creative force, and although the albums aren’t perfect (few things are), each one has commanded attention. Though it sometimes feels easier, given the pace of the output, to just wait for the next album rather than to revisit the previous ones, each new one has revealed growth in quality without sacrificing the head-spinning adventurousness enshrouded by chilling supernatural themes that has become one of Esoctrilihum‘s hallmarks.
The latest of those six albums is Dy’th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath, again coming from I, Voidhanger Records (on May 21st). It’s an hour and 17 minutes long, which may threaten sensory overload. It’s adorned by a marvelous cover painting by Dhomth. The first advance track is “Ezkikur“.
The music booms and stalks like a menacing beast, with gleaming leads swirling around its fanged head. The music begins to rumble, surge, and soar as Asthâghul‘s strangled growls come in, expanding in panoramas of entrancing celestial and symphonic synths that dance and move in grand waves over thunderous percussive upheavals.
As forecast in the introduction to today’s collection, I’m now going to shift gears in fairly radical fashion by moving into the debut album of Nihtsîn, entitled Voidwanderers (released on March 27th). These three extensive songs flow into each other, creating one long, cold, unearthly trip.
“The Endless Circular Procession of Souls” is indeed music to go wandering in, but you won’t be traversing any earthly terrain. Like the figure in the cover art, you float, drifting in spells. Everything echoes. Through glittering synths, tinkling piano keys, and leads and vocals that wail like tortured spectres, mystery oozes across these sounds. Through a miasma of cold abrasive chords and the icepick of frightening screams, nightmares intrude on the spells and become one with them. It’s the kind of trance that continually sends shivers down the spine.
Perhaps it’s a cello that slowly utters its bereft moans at the outset of “Our Towers Have Fallen Long Ago“, backed by the crackle of static. The glacial, staggering beat of the song forms a march to the gallows. Feverish leads and those haunting wails bring the pain, and an abrasive buzz ushers us into blood-chilling audio hallucinations. Gloomy gothic vocals and moaning exhalations join with shining astral waves. The reverberating pop of the drums keeps us moving forward — into ever more ghostly dimensions.
“Through the Ancient Portal I Stride” has no beat at first, only wretched vocal expressions, eerie synths, and a backdrop of abrasion. When the drums do arrive, it’s a lurching, booming cadence. You get another dose of the terrifying vocals, but mixed with somber singing. The tension breaks when a moody yet mesmerizing guitar refrain begins to cycle along with growling bass tones. When the sheen of the synths (or maybe it’s guitar) arrives, it doesn’t really the lift the mood, which is bitter and bereft.
The pulse does quicken when the double-kicks begin, but there’s so much grief and gloom at the core of the music that even then there’s no real reprieve. Deploying shimmering spectral keys, Nihtsin proves again that it knows how to create a trance effect, even when the trance is so dire. Again we float, among the dead.
(I owe thanks again to Rennie for pointing me to this album.)
Okay, now it’s time for the shot of adrenaline I promised, which comes in the form of a Gnosis track named “Conjuration of the Nemesis“.
The song’s jittery lead riff (backed by relentlessly hammering percussion) turns out to be highly addictive as well as pernicious, and the gritty growled vocals are nasty as hell. But the song further includes big, blazing heavy metal riffs and exotic Eastern soloing, which together bring old school Greek black metal to mind. And on top of that, the sound of mournful strings and solemn words add a further dimension to this multi-faceted and thoroughly captivating track.
The album is Omens from the Dead Realm, and it’s the third full-length by this Floridian group. The release date from Godz ov War Productions is June 14th. The cover art is by Vika (Imago Mortis).
P.S. After nearly completing this post I discovered that the album is streaming in full at the Nuclear War Now! Bandcamp page (here), so I guess this is a co-release.
The final track I’ve chosen will keep your adrenaline levels elevated after that Gnosis song. Its name is “Devant l’Autel”, from a forthcoming album by this Québec post-black metal band entitled Les Pages Oubliées, which will be released on April 2nd.
The song may not seem thrilling at first, but it builds from its initial melancholy moods, driven by a jaw-dropping drum performance, and then it becomes grim and vicious. Scalding vocals amplify the music’s frenzied, hard-charging intensity, but glinting guitar leads convey anguish in scintillating (and head-hooking) fashion.
When the band silence the drums in favor of long, slow chords, the music becomes entrancing — and it stays that way even when the rhythm section return to get your head moving. The music builds again, rushing and rocking, through darting, bell-like guitars (albeit edged with grittiness) that increasingly seem to convey a feverish yearning. A thoroughly captivating track that beckons to be replayed without delay….
That Doldrum release is phenomenal. Good call highlighting it even if it’s not super fresh.
Such an amazing surprise. I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on it altogether. Very eager to see what they come up with next.
I mailed them asking if they pooooossibly have a tape left….silly me )
Loved me that Nihtsin album (Urfaust!).
I certainly nodded off on Code after the first 2 albums–this new track once again piqued my interest!
I am TOTALLY buying
what CODE is selling…!
You and me both!
Code sounds like a slightly more insane/metal Radiohead to me.