SHADES OF BLACK: DEADSPACE, SVARTULVEN, ASCENDED DEAD, ATOMICIDE, TSALAL, GRAVATUS, RAZÖRSCHRIECK
Time to blacken the christian Sabbath again, as is our want. I decided to be lazy yesterday rather than compile the usual Saturday round-up of new songs and videos, but I did devote some time to browsing blackened metal, including some music that’s been out in the world (but not in my head) for many months, and you’ll find the results below.
I would say there’s a more disturbing and depressive feel to these choices than might usually be the case. I’m not in therapy so I don’t know for sure if this is a reflection of changes in my usually sunny mood, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. It might just be that the first song took me down that path, and everything else simply fell into place.
We lamented the split-up of Deadspace when that was announced last year, but celebrated their final album, A Portrait of Sacrificial Scars, as the band’s best work of all. Happily, however, Deadspace have reunited, though I somehow overlooked that announcement, first disclosed in March, until yesterday. I also overlooked that in June the band released a video for a new song named “Moksha“.
When the video was released the band described “Moksha” as one that features “melodies and textures reminiscent of last year’s A Portrait of Sacrificial Scars and 2015’s The Promise of Oblivion“, a closing chapter to the band’s previous musical incarnation as they begin a new chapter.
The grieving and distraught melody in the song’s piano overture carries over into the much heavier and more intense variation that follows when the entire band join in. The vocals, as usual, are shattering in their display of torment, and the riffing sears the senses as the rhythms alternately hurtle and steady beneath sweeping synths and glimmering piano keys. The music is relentlessly gripping as it channels broiling anguish and haunting despondency.
The disorienting accompanying video, beautifully made by Anett Gebauer, enhances the intensity of the music. The band walk off at the end, but thankfully they’re not entirely going their separate ways again: Deadspace have announced they’re now at work on a new record, and they say this about the next direction: “We look forward to shifting our focus on a deeper exploration of fringes that were somewhat uncovered in the Dirge record, using this as a foundational gateway into new and darker dimensions.” We eagerly await the fruits of these new labors.
Now I’m turning to a song by a new Greek band named Svartulven. As their Nordic name suggests (a name which seems to mean “black wolf” in Norwegian), the music isn’t an example of what we think of as classic Greek black metal but instead seems to draw its inspirations from northern climes.
The riffing seethes and writhes, creating feelings of emotional splintering under pressure and at times becoming almost hallucinatory in the disturbances it creates. As the song ebbs and flows, a powerful rhythm section joins with the shivering, shining, and grating guitars to create sensations of dread and riot, of hopelessness and frenzied desperation. The vocals are tremendously terrifying, using an intense array of growls, howls, and strangled screams to underscore and amplify every trauma in the music.
“The Crystal Scythe of the Old” comes from Svartulven’s forthcoming debut album Ruins of Desolation, Transcendense for the Other Side. It’s projected for release in September or October 2021 by The Chalice Productions.
ASCENDED DEAD (U.S.) / ATOMICIDE (Chile)
With this next split we’re moving into more deathly shades of black, presenting the ravaging works of two west-coast bands, one from the Pacific side of the US, one from the Chilean coastal town of Iquique.
Ascended Dead‘s three original tracks collectively make for a jaw-dropping turbocharged attack, one that’s twisted and tumultuous, capable of wrecking your bones and messing with your mind. The effect of the music is strangely mesmerizing even though it’s also ruinous in its abrasive, freaked-out contortions and convulsions. Perhaps the thrills and chills of just following the methods of ruination, which include vocals that are just as unhinged as the deranged riffing and soloing, is what makes it mesmerizing. And make no mistake, the drum- and bass-work is brutishly bludgeoning, but also transfixing. My favorite of these is probably “Bestial Vengeance”, because it includes a soaring melody that’s striking in its channeling of terrible tribulation.
In addition to the three slaughtering and mind-bending original songs, Ascended Dead also include a cover of Sarcofago‘s “Christ’s Death”, and it’s just as hair-raising and pulse-pounding as what precedes it. I can still feel the bass rumbling my guts, and still hear the terrorizing vocals echoing through your cranium. The song is the only one of the four when the band turn off the after-burners and drag you into a stinking charnel pit.
If I were a band, I would not want to follow those four Ascended Dead tracks, because they set such a high bar and are so tremendously adrenaline-fueling. But Atomicide don’t flinch from the challenge. Their music, which consists of three original tracks and a death-thrashing and doom-stomping cover of Sepultura‘s “Warriors of Death”, is also ruinous — and electrifying. The barbaric savagery of the riffing, the lunacy of the soloing, the gut-busting impact of the bass, and the maniacal changes in the drumming ensure that, along with the haughty, monstrous, catacombs-deep roars of the vocalist.
The songs also reveal a knack for dynamism in the pacing, and for embedding hooks that dig deep. Even in the midst of the blazing and the bombardments, they’ll also give you a chance to work your neck, so get it loose.
In sum, this is a fantastic hell-raiser of a split — explosive, ferocious, and relentlessly exhilarating. It was released by Dark Descent on August 27th.
There’s more than one extreme band named Tsalal out there, but this one is from Brazil, and Invocations to the Void is its debut EP. The EP was released this past January but I was unaware of it until Rennie (starkweather) urged me to give it a listen, characterizing it as “Gnaw Their Tongues black death industrial drone”.
The opening track is a relatively short one, which ends abruptly, and the second exceeds 12 minutes. You’d probably never characterize this as atmospheric metal but I will, and not just because of the creepy ambient intros to each of the two tracks. It’s just that the atmosphere is one of terror.
There’s some primitive carnal brutishness in the clattering drums and pounding grooves in the first track until it briefly goes crazy, but the second track is calculated to make mincemeat of your sanity. It creates a near-grooveless collage of mangling and glittering noise, a combination of sounds that encompass abrasive mauling noise, deep and dire riffing that yowls and moans, screaming celestial tones, grand symphonic blasts, deliriously bestial howls and shrieks, and a closing dose of electronic static.
As mentally mutilating as the second track is, it’s also spellbinding — or at least it was for me. You might have to shake yourself like a wet dog after it’s finished with you, just to get your bearings back.
Gravatus is a Romanian one-person band whose name roughly translates as “sick” or “burdened”. In 2016 I briefly reviewed the band’s second album, LI_E, and then subsequently cobbled together some words about the third album, Et Omnis Insipientia Aperuit Os Suum. I was quite taken with both of them.
On August 24th I was thus excited to receive a Gravatus Bandcamp alert that pointed the way to a new self-titled EP, but was then quickly made somber to read these accompanying words from Gravatus‘ sole creator: “It brings me no pleasure to present you my final album. It is certain that everything dies eventually. Today my songwriting has come to an irreversible cessation. ‘I do not fear death.’ – Thomas Blood – 24 August 1680″.
It brought me no pleasure to learn of this band’s internment, but if it must end it has done so in shattering fashion with this final EP. It is an unbending and unflinching manifestation of severe loss, agony, and despair, a severely devoted representation of human existence in the perpetual shadow of death.
The dense layering of sounds sometimes includes brilliant sweeping sonic arrays that wondrously shine like ice fields in the sun, but there’s no mistaking the tragedy and the pain in the broken-hearted riffs, the anguished trilling leads, and the deeply stricken vocals. A cappella choral voices provide a change in the midst of “Second” — still the sounds of mourning, but reverent and celestial instead of wrenching — and swelling symphonic cascades further add an element of classicism to the song’s multifarious ingredients.
Dissonance and discord rein in “Fourth”, which is the most unnerving of the tracks, even when it gives way to a minor-key piano melody. The closing track, marked “Last” instead of “Fifth” returns to the formulations of the early tracks — it’s both enthralling and crippling.
I’ll miss Gravatus.
I’m going to end this column with a single track from Tragedies, the sixth album (and the first in five years) by this band from the Ivanovo Oblast, which was released on August 28th through Dark East Productions.
Like the Gravatus EP that precedes it in today’s collection, “Faded Away” is powerfully grief-stricken — and I’ll warn you that it’s damned hard to get out of your head. Mainman Hikksvoesatt’s voice is an incredibly tormented and harrowing instrument. The misery-drenched main riff burrows into the head deeper and deeper as it cycles through the song, augmented by the beseeching wail of the harmonized leads and the sweeping tragic grandeur of unearthly synths. (The song also includes an entrancing flute performance at the outset, accompanied by a primal bass-and-drum duet, which flows beautifully into the song as a whole.)
Where else might Razörschrieck take us on this new album? I’ll willingly find out later today, and hope you’ll be tempted as well.
Just curious, why is Deadspace considered an international band when only one member is from a different country (S. Africa)? The rest of the members, and it would seem the band itself, are from Australia.
Good stuff by the way!
I was mainly thinking about the fact that Chris Gebauur moved to Germany, where he started Exitium Sui and became a member of Humanitas Error Est. I haven’t researched whether he is still there but assume he is.
Real uncool to introduce me to something as awesome as Gravatus only to immediately slap my hand and say “NO MORE!”
I get where you’re coming from. The sliver lining to the cloud is that you have the past releases of Gravatus to dig into — and they’re well worth the digging.
I really like that Tsalal. Brings P.H.O.B.O.S. to mind.