SHADES OF BLACK (PART 2): ONDFØDT, NORDJEVEL, XANATHAR, A PREGNANT LIGHT, VARGSTUHR
Reporting to you today from the hellish Pacific Northwest heat dome, where the second highest temperature ever recorded in Seattle at any time of the year happened yesterday and new records will be set today and tomorrow, I bring you Part 2 of today’s expanded column devoted to black-ish metal. I decided to include three new EPs of very different styles, and to bookend them with one advance track from a forthcoming record and one song that opens a recently released album.
Part 1 of today’s column was entirely devoted to videos, and I thought I’d begin Part 2 with another one. This one is for a song named “Mörkri” from Ondfødt’s new album Norden (their third full-length), which is set for release by Immortal Frost Productions on July 30th.
The heaviness of the bass and the hammering of the drums give the song visceral punch and power, but the mood of the music is severely desolate and distraught, with a haunting feeling of isolation and abandonment that’s matched by the frozen vistas in the video. But the song is a multi-faceted one. A militaristic drum pattern announces a change, with swinging, swaggering, and swirling riffs and scorching blasts of vocal ferocity giving the song a healthy dose of feral, carnal energy — though it becomes cold and cruel before the end.
(Visit Bandcamp here to check out a second song from this release.)
I’m late in getting to the newest EP by these NCS favorites. It consists of five tracks of different origins, and the line-up includes Doedsadmiral on vocals, Destructhor and Valla on guitars, Dzepticunt on bass, and Dominator on drums
Fenriir is the name of the EP. The title track and “Rovdyr” are new tracks that the band decided not to include on their upcoming album, while “Gnawing The Bones” actually will be included on that album. In addition to those, the EP includes a live version of “Det Ror Og Ror”, which was recorded during the band’s performance at Brutal Assault in 2019 by Hugo Alvarstein. And finally, there’s a cover of “Fallen Angel” by Possessed (with whom Nordjevel toured in 2019).
The power of the riff has not deserted Nordjevel on the three new songs, nor has the jet fuel in Dominator’s veins been replaced by real blood. But while “Fenriir” is searing and head-hooking, it’s also stately and gloom-cloaked. “Gnawing The Bones” is even faster, more feverishly berserk, and more brazenly (and breathlessly) glorious. While “Rovdyr” goes on the attack in frightening, preternatural fashion, it’s also an eerie, stalking beast; Dominator’s drumwork is also wonderfully dynamic.
The other two songs are also well worth having. Nordjevel’s rendition of “Fallen Angel” is grand, galvanizing, and grim, and the live performance of “Det Ror og Ror” is utterly savage but the music is also laced with feelings of desolation and grief.
In short, Fenriir is another terrific addition to Nordjevel’s very strong catalogue.
The Italian one-man band Xanathar was born last year and has released two EPs so far this year, both of them lyrically based on the PC RPG game Eye of the Beholder 2, dedicated to the Heroes of Darkmoon. The most recent of those EPs, The Towers, was released two days ago.
The blazing glory of the riffs in the first song, “The Test of Fate”, hooked me immediately. They blare, spasm, swirl, and cascade in tremendously exultant and electrifying fashion, buttressed by hyper-blasting percussion and unhinged screams, though the music also incorporates passages of forlorn darkness through deeper tones, albeit without easing the hell-for-leather pacing. The fusion of epic heavy metal and raw, blasting black metal made me think at times of the music of Rebel Wizard, which is high praise.
“The Test of Fate” is a fairly long song and I thought it might relent at some point, but it doesn’t. The relent comes in the EP’s second track, “Four Winds”, which is a wondrous, panoramic fashioning of dungeon synth, as lush and beautiful as the first song is riotous.
The third song, “Medusa’s Labyrinth”, is another long one, and further evidence of how wide-ranging Xanathar’s musical inspirations and talents are. The crazed, larynx-shredding vocals return, but the track also includes heart-felt singing that reveals a wide range. The beautifully glistening guitar melodies over a steady rhythm are melancholy but enthralling, and that feeling of heart-break and yearning persists in low, balalaika-like riffing even after the drums begin hurtling. I was absolutely mesmerized by the song.
I haven’t yet listened to Xanathar’s first EP, but this one is so fantastic that it won’t be long before I will.
A PREGNANT LIGHT (U.S.)
Damian Master, in his guise as A Pregnant Light, released a new EP on June 18th. I couldn’t help but smile at the title: I Licked It, Now It’s Mine. I also couldn’t help becoming immersed in the lyrics for the four songs, which I read before listening to the music. I don’t pretend to understand all of them, but Master’s wordplay always grabs me, and this EP is no different in that respect. The music grabbed me too, which is also what usually happens when APL releases something new.
Of course, the songs are a rich amalgam of genre ingredients, but there’s enough black metal stylings in the mix that I felt fine about including the EP in this column. Master’s vocals are so white hot in their fury that they send shivers down the spine, and the fusillades of percussive blasting will get your pulse in gear too. But the songs are wonderfully dynamic in both their pacing and their moods.
“My Affections Can Be Bought” moves seamlessly from feelings of wild, heart-in-your-throat abandon to periods of crushing despair. The rhythmic powerhouse of “Do As Daddy Says” amalgamates elements of seductive post-punk (and singing) with boisterous romping and the high-flying trill of beautifully bright melodies. “Still, A Great Deal of Light Falls On Everything” comes across like an anthem of anguish, bereft at times and feverish at others, and thoroughly riveting at all times. And the ringing and racing chords and quivering leads of the closer, “Heart-Shaped Apple”, are unmistakably bleak in their feeling, but the song will also beat you senseless.
I’m ending this column in a peculiar way, focusing on only one song from an album even though the entire record was released on May 31st by Vacula Productions and is available for listening in its entirety. I’m doing this because I want to call attention to the album but just don’t have time to write even a halfway-decent review. (Honestly, there’s so much going on in the album that it wouldn’t be easy for someone like me to write a quick or succinct review.)
The song, “One Dimensional Man“, is the track that opens the debut full-length (Dystopia) by this one-man band from Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Vargstuhr summarizes the concept of the album in this way: “It describes a dystopian future of a technocratic society in which an alienated human being has forgotten the fascination with nature and has succumbed to the myth of science, with all their terrible consequences”.
That opening song is heavy and hammering, and the strangled snarls in the vocal department are convincingly vicious. The drum and bass work are pulse-pounding in all their many permutations, and the riffing is gripping stuff — dark and dire in its feeling, but also bursting with jittery, defiant energy. And near the end, the song becomes stately and sublime. Flute-like tones, folk-like melodies, and reverent singing alter the mood and make the music mysterious and mesmerizing.
But please don’t stop with just this one song. The others are equally multi-faceted and enthralling. A very accomplished, quite memorable, and inventively genre-bending album from beginning to end….
P.S. I couldn’t help trying to sort out what “Vargstuhr” means in English. “Varg” is familiar as the Nordic word for wolf, and “stuhr” seems to be a Germanic slang word for someone who is obstinate or unbending. Of course I have no special insights into what Vargstuhr intended in choosing that name.