(Andy Synn is here again to celebrate three fascinating recent releases you may have missed)
Maybe it’s the contrarian in me, but I’m finding that even as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer (much, much warmer, in point of fact, if this week is any indicator) I’m actually listening to even more Black Metal than usual.
Oh, sure, I know the genre is traditionally associated with ice and snow and northern darkness, but I’ve definitely found that some bands – some, not all – also serve as the perfect soundtrack to burning days of blazing skies and blistering heat.
There’s just something about the seething buzz of the guitars, the ringing melodic arpeggios, the windswept howl of the vocals – something primal and elemental – that so often fits my mood during the searing summer months, which is why I’ve decided to dedicate today’s column to three artists and albums who’ve found themselves in regular rotation for me in recent weeks.
ANGRRSTH – DONIKĄD
The debut album from this Polish quartet is a perfect example of the importance of good artwork. After all, if the album’s cover hadn’t caught my eye then there’s a very good chance I might have overlooked this record… which would have been both my loss and yours.
Comprising seven menacingly severe yet also melodically seductive tracks, Donikąd (“Nowhere”) is just under thirty-six minutes of existential angst and exothermic aggression, both fiery yet forlorn, which serves as a musical meditation on life, death, and the transcendence of the flesh.
From the very first notes of opener “Ciało me wklęte” you’ll immediately notice how big this album sounds, possessing both a rich, resonant guitar sound and a knack for subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) synth embellishments, as well as an impressively powerful rhythm section whose thunderous drum work, combined with the prowling, almost predatory growl of the bass, gives the album the sort of seriously hefty, and seriously heavy low-end that too many Black Metal records still neglect.
Amusingly I’ve seen a few writers/reviewers describing this album as “raw”, and while there’s definitely a sense of “raw” intensity to each of these tracks, it’s not the word I’d choose to describe the band’s style… in fact, I’d go so far as to call it “refined” Black Metal instead, not in the snooty, pretentious sense of the word, but to suggest that it’s been (s)melted down and refined into its purest and most potent form.
Whether it’s the devastating deluge of whip-cracking snare and neck-wrecking riffs which make up “Niebiański pogrzeb”, or the murderous grooves and moody grandeur of “Niech się zaprze samego siebie”, these songs work on both a visceral and a cerebral level, constantly shifting the dynamic to keep you on your toes while still remaining spitefully, almost sadistically, catchy.
The riffs in particular are a bombastic blend of electrifying energy, razor-sharp melody, and impressively barbed hooks, while the pounding (not to mention often subtly proggy) percussive artillery provided by the drums maintains the album’s sense of unstoppable moment while also throwing in some clever, catchy rhythmic twists of their own (“Pierwszy jest strach” in particular is an absolute tour-de-force of raw power and riveting precision).
And then there’s the vocals, whose mix of snarling savagery and gravel-throated grit – as well as the occasional unexpected (though not unwelcome) hint of dark melody – gives the whole record a real and instantly recognisable sense of cathartic character.
I simply cannot say enough good things about this album (especially titanic closer “Ostatni akt”, which has, dare I say it, more than a hint of Immortal’s grim grandeur to it) and recommend that anyone who considers themselves even a little bit of a fan of Black Metal give it a listen ASAP.
GENUNE – INERT & UNERRING
It’s a little-known fact, but we do actually communicate with one another behind-the-scenes here at NCS, sharing tips and recommendations (plus the occasional bit of salacious gossip) to keep each other in the loop.
Islander in particular is very good at reaching out to the rest of us when he thinks he’s found something we might like… and 9.9 times out of 10 he’s right on the money.
So I have him to thank for introducing me to Genune and their wonderful new album, Inert & Unerring.
Taking its name from a passage in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (“History knows no scruples and no hesitation. Inert and unerring, she flows towards her goal. At every bend in her course she leaves the mud which she carries and the corpses of the drowned…”), the record features four immensely immersive, mesmerisingly melodic tracks whose blend of sombre atmosphere and blackened fury strikes your nerves and tugs at your heartstrings with every passing moment.
Dealing as it does with themes of history and heritage – the sins and suffering passed down from generation to generation, the knowledge and guilt we inherit from the crimes committed against, and by, our forebears – Inert & Unerring is a record of both deep melancholy and resolute fury, crafted and composed by a band still living and toiling in the ashes of their own tumultuous past.
Whether it’s the sombre slow-burn intro of “Unworthy Sons & Daughters”, whose enthralling opening eventually erupts into a writhing torrent of blackened fury and bleak melody reminiscent, in part, of early Satyricon, or the moody majesty and haunting ambience of “To Drown Within Yourself”, each of these tracks both demands your full attention and rewards your dedication with layer upon layer of cathartic emotion and expansive vision.
And while, at just over thirty-three-and-a-half minutes, it may seem a little short, it also packs in an impressive amount of creativity and variety along the way, particularly during the climactic pairing of “The Pyres of Autumn” and “Eastern European Discontent”, which transitions seamlessly from the former’s subdued acoustic flow to the dreamlike, Drudkh-meets-Alcest melodic grandeur of the latter.
Long story short, this is an absolutely captivating and incredibly moving piece of work, which even those of a less “blackened” persuasion would do well to check out.
SORDIDE – LES IDÉES BLANCHES
There’s something deliciously sinister about Les Idées blanches, the fourth album from French trio Sordide.
Kicking off with the slithering riffs and serpentine melodic licks of “Je n’ai nul pays”, the record quickly reveals itself to be a clever (and cruelly catchy) amalgam of punky Black ‘n’ Roll grooves and devilish, DsO-style melodic dissonance (or dissonant melody, depending on how you look at it) that’s both nimble of finger and light on its feet but also capable of hitting damn hard when it wants to.
“Ruines futures”, for example, is a reckless blackened gallop which switches tactics halfway through to focus more on proggy, off-kilter instrumentation and moody melody, while “L’atrabilaire” is just under four minutes of pulsing rhythms and piercing melodic hooks (reminiscent of Feral Light at their best) that builds to a truly furious and fiery crescendo.
But, just when you think you have a handle on who the band are – and what they’re capable of – Sordide demonstrate that there’s more to them than meets the eye, and the second half of the record, as epitomised by the doomy strains of “Ne savoir que rester” and the simmering acoustic intro of the title track, finds the terrible trio pulling a bunch of unexpected new tricks out of their collective sleeve.
Don’t think for a second, of course, that the band have gone soft. “Les idées blanches”, for example, balances out its more meditative melodic moments with an added layer of discordance, while “Le silence ou la vie” takes their traditional Black ‘n’ Roll assault and injects it with a fresh burst of aggression and adrenaline (making it one of the best tracks on the album in the process).
And then there’s closer “Vers jamais”, which combines all of the elements mentioned above – doomy melancholy, punky swagger, gloomy grooves, blazing blasts, and so on – into the sort of intricately arranged, instantly impactful, finale that is practically guaranteed to bring even the most jaded listener back for more.
It’s not breaking any moulds, that’s for sure, but it’s also got that x-factor which means it doesn’t need to. It is what it is, and that’s all it needs to be.