Last Thursday I seized on the chance to insert SHADES OF BLACK into the work-week with a trio of EPs as a way of trying to clear out a backlog of reviews that had been percolating in my head. I’ve decided to do the same thing today. Rather than include the usual scattering of advance tracks from forthcoming releases I’m focusing entirely on albums and EPs that are already out in the world.
Having said that, I have to confess that these reviews may not qualify as thorough reviews in the minds of some people. They’re more like brief previews and recommendations, leading all you horses to water and hoping you’ll drink.
The name Crocell has stuck in my head on the strength of their past releases (five albums over the course of a decade), despite the absence of anything new for the last 3 1/2 years. If you’ve been haunting NCS for a while, you’ve seen how often we’ve written about them. And so I didn’t waste much time reacting to the news that the band had released a pair of EPs, Funeral Bliss and Baptized in Bullets, on the same day near the end of September.
Why they chose to release two EPs rather than combining all those tracks into a single album is a question to which I don’t have an answer based on any inside knowledge, other than what I’ve quoted Crocell saying below. Perhaps they would have all fit well together in a single release, but after listening to them I think I understand why the band released them separately. Both are well worth your time.
On Funeral Bliss, Crocell discharge four tracks of blazing, electrifying fury, leavening the contagious conflagrations with tempo dynamics, occasional punk grooves, and variations in mood that shift the emotional through-put from unchained savagery to grim defiance, oppressive gloom, and wrenching despair. They lean into the blackened side of their brand of blackened death metal with rabid vocals, turbulent drumming, and blizzard riffs, but never forget the pull of ringing guitars delivering a memorable melodic hook.
If you’re looking for slashing, adrenaline-fueled ferocity coupled with icy episodes of emotional downfall, all of it delivered with veteran songwriting skill and high-powered execution, this EP delivers.
Baptized In Bullets includes four intense tracks too, but overall the music sounds more desolate and wretched, and even more pronounced in their incorporation of black metal traditions from the cold north. Moreover, some different ingredients also surface — haunting ambient synths, martial drumming, string-like symphonic accents, and torrid vocal pain in the godforsaken “Chariots of Hellfire”; sweeping melodies of shattering anguish and towering tragedy in “Lustrous Bayonets” and “Cauldron of Attrition”, coupled with vibrant trilling riffs that channel hopelessness, as well as spasms of desperate derangement; and movements of harrowing grandeur in “By Demons and Devils”, which also includes an absolutely epic guitar solo and eruptions of shattering violence.
The two EPs are available digitally, and they’re also available in a 2xCD or 2xVinyl edition from the Mephisto record store (linked below). Here’s what Crocell have written about them:
“Baptized in Bullets and Funeral Bliss are two separate EP’s, but they are released on two CD’s or two vinyls in one physical package. We think of the release as a kind of ‘split with ourselves’. What’s the point? Well, with five full-length albums behind us we felt like approaching the writing process from different angle. So we did, and when we suddenly had written more material – and more diverse material – than expected, we found that the songs followed two distinct paths. Instead of forcing it into one album, we decided to stay true to the music by splitting the whole thing in two and record the music in different studios with different producers. We could have released the EP’s a year apart (which every marketing guru would probably have recommended), but we feel that the two EP’s belong together, and that they both capture the essence of CROCELL anno 2021, despite all their differences.”
HEATHEN DEITY (UK)
It took a very good interview of Heathen Deity guitarist Azrael by Comrade Aleks that we published in late September to turn my attention to the band’s long-awaited debut album True English Black Metal, which came out last June.
It’s not an easy album to sum up with a small basket of words, because the songs do bring in a pleasing degree of variety — and moreover, the album is roughly 75 minutes long spread across a dozen tracks! Some of the songs date back to compositions in the early 2000s, and others are of more recent vintage, and that may also account for the feeling of variety that helps keep attention magnetized as one track moves into another.
Produced in a way that lends piercing clarity, the songs deliver compelling melodic riffs and impassioned solos that ring in the head with immediate immersive power, though the band also regularly prove their capacity to discharge blazing and battering firestorms as well — drums blasting, voices shrieking and roaring, and guitars igniting in wild, thrilling conflagrations.
Heathen Deity throw the listener into devilish, dervish-like (and levitating) whirls of mad ecstasy, and pull the mood downward into desolating grief or reveal vistas of tragic or infernal grandeur, but also accent some of the songs with beguiling, mood-altering acoustic instrumentation, ancient folk influences, and heroic or solemn singing, which collectively hearken back to mythic ages (the instrumentation in the album’s most entrancing and melancholy song, “Beneath the Fires of Albion”, is an entirely acoustic amalgam of guitars and violins). If you’re after one song that comes close to pulling all the ingredients together in one place, the epic closing track “The Shards of Winter” is your best bet (though it’s no substitute for listening to everything).
Maybe it’s enough to say that these are real songs, with individual personalities, penned with skill and delivered with conviction. Collectively, they make the album well worth staying with for the entirety of its significant length.
I’ve written on several past occasions about the music of this powerhouse band from Melbourne. I attempted to sum up their 2017 debut album JIM as “a dose of sludge, a dose of doom, a dose of black metal, big handfuls of arsenic, the aroma of burning cities… a convincingly bleak, black, and brutal experience, harrowing to the point of blotting out the sun and making you question the future, or whether there will be one”.
Now we’ve got a second album from BØG. Entitled GROWTH, it came out on October 1st.
This trio, all of whom contribute vocals, once again demonstrate a mastery of catastrophe. The new album includes episodes of titanic pile-driving power and earth-gouging riffs that are as bleak and incurable as a sucking chest wound. They engage in paroxysms of unhinged, mind-mauling violence, maniacally clubbing the skull and discharging eviscerating guitar frenzies. They create moods of implacable cruelty, shattering pain, and soul-plundering hopelessness, augmented by varying vocals of jaw-dropping, terrorizing intensity. They claw at the concept of sanity with mutilating instrumental cutlery, at the same time as they’re splitting the ground with immense crushing force.
The assaults on sanity come in different forms. The most freakish song on the album, the hallucinatory “NHILL”, is composed of a massive growling bass line, shimmers of acidic ambient sound, and eerie female and male spoken words. The bass is at the vanguard of “COW LAWS” too, a stomping and discordant song that will mess with your mind while the vocalists gnaw on your bones and scream in your face. Even the lonesome acoustic picking at the outset of “THE TRUNK” sounds a bit unnerving, but it’s blasted to smithereens by the destructive typhoon that follows it, and by the segments of apocalyptic pounding and throat-shredding screaming that subsequently ensue.
GROWTH is not easy listening, even though it affords opportunities for your head to bob and your body to lurch, but its brutal intensity is transfixing.