Thankfully I was able to finish the second installment of today’s column before having to turn to other things. But I have to make that turn quickly, so I’ll dispense with any further introduction.
SNOW WOLF COMPILATION
I’ve been meaning to write something in support of this extravagant compilation for the last week, ever since the official announcement of it last Monday, and then it occurred to me that putting it in a SHADES OF BLACK column would be the most fitting way to do that anyway.
The name of the compilation is This Wretched Earth. Presented by Snow Wolf Records, it includes tracks by 16 bands from 14 countries across 6 continents, and adds up to almost an hour and a half of music. It includes a number of groups I’ve written about in other editions of this column, as well as a lot of names that are new to me. It also includes a number of exclusive tracks not available anywhere else; I’ve determined that 10 of them aren’t listed on Metal-Archives.
It’s not easy to review something like this without writing a track-by-track commentary, because there’s so much variety on display. It opens with the absolutely electrifying and explosive “Black Metal Invasion” by Canada’s Spectral Dance, which takes about 10 seconds of flame-throwing madness and massed artillery to kick your heart into overdrive (I hope you have defibrillator paddles handy for this one), and then keeps the pace high and heated with the raw, scathing, skull-hammering black ferocity of “Worth” by the Egyptian band Of Two Lands.
The path turns, with a frightening, cinematic, and enthralling track from the fantastic Iranian band Akvan (whom I’ve written about more times than I have fingers), and turns again with an even more chilling piece by Poland’s Mistral, which is vast and vanquished, a sinkhole for hopes that features both shattering vocal intensity and Blade Runner-esque futurism.
The vocals in the panoramic track by Malaysia’s Gestorven will also blister your skin, but the shining synths and glittering riffs lift it off the planet’s surface too, yet the mood is despairing as well as wondrous. And then it’s time for another turn in the path, with a raw black metal assault from Chile’s Funeral, which is both ravaging and (as the band’s name implies) as wretched and dismal as a sucking chest wound — and as demented as a cavorting demon.
Damn, I really didn’t mean to do this track-by-track, but what the fuck.
I’ve heaped praise on the Egyptian band Lycopolis before, especially since they began to bring into play the melodic traditions of the Middle East, and their track on the comp is a new one. “Great One From the Throne” is a raw and rapacious onslaught, unmistakably infernal in its blazing and brazen barbarism, and with a whiff of the jinn in the sandstorm sound. The abrasive riffing will make your heart want to erupt from your chest.
The riffing in the racing song by Australia’s Drugoth also carries a mauling tone, deep and dire as well as fevered, and with two-toned vocals that are uglier than gargoyles. Scary stuff but heart-palpitating, and eventually soul-sucking when it drops you into a suffocating mass grave. And then, once again, another turn in the path as Columbia’s Melabstra pulls the trigger on a maniacal burst of scorching black speed metal — a glorious jet-flight of ripping mayhem, with a fantastical guitar solo that ensures you’ll be left gasping.
You won’t have much time to grab a quick gasp before Hungary’s Nekrofilia throw you into a war zone of blasting drums, typhoon riffing, and flesh-eating screams. But the song changes and becomes immense, stomping, and magisterial, but pretty heart-breaking too. A thrillingly dynamic, gripping, and shattering song.
The comp then moves to a song by one of only two U.S. bands on the album. Starer’s track is a big eye-opener, one that includes sweeping cinematic synths and bits of darting electronica to go along with a moving wall of riffing abrasion, flickering guitars, prominent bass lines, and hair-on-fire vocal extremity. The song’s symphonic bombast will also shake you like a rag doll, in addition to transporting you into a dream of ecstasy and pain. Completely breathtaking.
That’s a tough song to follow, but the track by Grecian Odyrmos was an ingenious choice. It links arms with Starer in its use of soaring and sweeping synths, but creates a more gleaming, chiming, and astral ambience. No vocals can be heard, but you can’t help but feel the pulse of the drums or be blinded by the roiling silver of the riffing.
The flow of the tracks on the comp is beautifully planned, and so with “Humanity’s Tomb” by Pulsa diNura we’re still in electronic territory, but the droning tones that open this U.S. band’s track are oppressive — until the drumming explodes, a voice begins screaming, and the synths transform into a glorious terror.
But we haven’t yet left the reign of keyboards, because Russia’s Astarium depends on calliope-like carnival sounds, undergirded by pummeling percussion and overlaid by possibly the ugliest strangled snarls on the comp. It’s a diabolical escapade that’s over before you know it — which makes the somber and wistful piano chords at the outset of the track by India’s Sounds of Emptiness even more arresting. I might have been happy enough to muse along with the piano for the entire track, but the voice-less song eventually envelops those chords within the tension of rising gothic organ waves, no less entrancing but a damned sight more disturbing.
I know Ukrainian Haissem’s music already, which made me eager for the last of these tracks. Given the drift of the last few tracks, it was yet another astute choice to send the comp out on a monumental pageant — a 10 1/2 minute march of heaving and heavy riffs, increasingly bone-fracturing percussion, and the kind of throbbing riffage you can feel in your core. Coupled with harrowing and heroic harsh vocals, “Deus Volt” becomes both a towering obsidian monument and a defiant, warlike tornado, accented by mesmerizing guitar melodies. It climbs to mythic heights but also punches your heart with no restraint. It might be the best thing I’ve heard from Haissem yet, which is saying something.
As big as this comp is, if you’re any kind of fan of black metal you won’t want to leave the train at any station. I don’t know how the bands and the songs were selected but I’m mind-blown at how good the entire ride is. With a 16-track path, there’s usually a good chance you’ll have a pit-fall at some point, but not here.
There’s only a “preview track” available for listening at this point — but it’s a fantastic medley of extracts from these songs. You’ll get a good sense from it of just how wonderful all the twists and turns are.
This Wretched Earth will be released on August 6th, in CD, cassette tape, and digital formats.
I didn’t know quite what to make of this next album at first blush, and then found myself succumbing. The vocals are certifiably insane, and so are the surrounding sensations, which are warped and weird. It’s difficult to pick out what’s making all the dissonant sounds, perhaps only guitars with a mutant family of effects pedals, but they spawn visions of tortured chimes and fracturing bells, winged serpents and burning banshees, demonic monuments being raised and razed, trash compactors working at a junk yard, or scenes of children gleefully whistling through a spinning fan.
As you might surmise by now, the music is hallucinatory — mostly nightmarish but also perversely enticing, like a drug that’s a frightful mind-altering delight but might be lethal. It upsets your sense of balance, like a disturbance of the inner ear, but still manages to become enthralling. It must be said, however, that a big part of the songs’ visceral appeal consists of the humongous, booming drum beats, which occasionally spasm like heavy-caliber automatic weaponry (but faster), and the striking face-slap of the snare.
You’ve been warned, but hopefully enticed too.
The name of the album is akkurat min kopp te, and it was released on July 23rd.
After that last mind-melter, Quija’s new EP Selenophile Impia (released in April, with cover art by César Valladares) seemed like a fitting follow-on. It’s not as warped as Skorbvstr, and therefore more “accessible”, but still delivers discord and disturbance, with bits of dissonance in the devilishly whirling and swirling riffs, and ravishing ferocity in the vocals, matched by drums that thunder and swagger and roll.
But like the band’s own name and the title of the EP, Ouija pepper the music with glimmering and glittering arpeggios that make the head swim, and episodes of soaring nightside mystery and wonder, magnificent menace, carnal lust, and intense melancholia. They’re equally prone to injecting exhilarating thrash riffs that will stomp on the gas pedal of your pulse, and the vocalist has a spine-tingling ability to send his scary growls soaring into deranged cries.
The EP reminds me that “lunacy” derives from “luna”, and has left me moonstruck. I’m very glad I finally gave my attention to this terrific music — don’t wait any longer yourself.