SHADES OF BLACK (PART 1): EUCHARIST, VUKARI, LIGHT BEING
This turned into a much bigger round-up of black lights than I had anticipated. It started off shorter, but the predicted “bomb cyclone” in the Puget Sound turned into a big fat nothing yesterday, my wife laughed and went off to pal around with a friend, and I had a chunk of time to myself, with the cats peacefully sleeping. And so I expanded this to include three full albums and an EP, in addition to a couple of exciting advance tracks and a debut demo.
To make this large collection more digestible, I’ve divided it into two parts. I’m confident Part 2 will be ready later today, even though at this point it’s only partially written.
Even with the extra time I found yesterday, I’ve still kept my commentary somewhat brief on the longer releases, though I find all of them thrilling and hope you will too. Same goes for the other songs in this collection. Most of the world is a rotten mess, but musicians are still pulling out the stops. Maybe someday people will look back on these days as a covid Renaissance. We’re a miserable species, but we’re indefatigable.
Having been one of those rare people who came to extreme metal late in life, I’m not someone who experienced the foundational genre movements of the ’90s first-hand. And so it was only by reading that I came to understand the role of Eucharist.
Now I know that their roots go back to 1989, and that the early ’90s brought forth some early demos and then a 1993 debut album, A Velvet Creation, followed by 1997’s Mirrorworlds. It appears that over the course of these releases the music evolved from early melodic death metal to a more progressive take on death. Different people also drifted in and out of the line-up, though it seems that drummer Daniel Erlandsson (Arch Enemy) was a steadfast part of the group, in addition to founding vocalist/guitarist Markus Johnsson.
It looked like Mirrorworlds would be the band’s last release, but a reunion gig in 2016 convinced Johnsson to begin work on new music, and that has now culminated in I Am the Void, the first Eucharist album in 24 years. On this new one he teamed up with Marduk drummer Simon “Bloodhammer” Schilling.
It’s an enormous album — 12 songs and 77 minutes — and I haven’t listened to all of it yet, just the two songs that have been released from it so far. Based on those, the sound of Eucharist is quite different from the works of the ’90s — melodic black metal has taken the reins.
“Mistress of Nightmares” thunders and blazes, ejecting immediately gripping riffs over viscerally compelling drumwork and vicious scorching shrieks. Dynamic in its pacing, the guitar harmonies become anguished in their mood as the song slows, and delirious at full speed. “Shadows” is equally gripping, equally strong in the emotional intensity and contagiousness of the riffing and in the jaw-dropping execution of the drumwork. It sounds both crazed and wretched, dangerous and deleterious, and an air of the supernatural blows through it.
I Am the Void is set for international release on March 25, 2022, by Helter Skelter Productions (distributed and marketed by Regain Records).
This next item in this collection took me by surprise. Maybe I missed some advance notifications. I found it through a Bandcamp email alert, which is the way I find out about lots of things these days, having bought music that puts me on lists. I love that notification system. Social media is unreliable (most of my Facebook feeds give me cats, big and small, which is understandable because I’ve trained its algorithms that way), and lots of bands and labels don’t have PR machines behind all their releases.
So, hail Bandcamp, because I sure as hell would have hated to miss this new release by Vukari for even a few days.
The album art for Omnes Nihil is heartbreakingly bleak, as is the title of this EP, which I think translates to “all is nothing”. The music is also bleak, albeit in differing ways, and it’s all absolutely breathtaking.
“Despondent” is a gale-force storm of calamity, overpowering in almost every way, from the full-throttle mayhem of the drumming to the eerie yet searing tonal waves that wash over the hurtling rhythms, scalding screams, and berserk leads. Choral voices rise up in agony, as if pleading to be saved. The symphonic finale leaves them hopeless.
The title track also drowns the senses in its immense, sweeping power, and if anything sounds even more despairing, to the point of derangement. Yet there is a terrible majesty in the music as it soars above meandering but transfixing bass and guitar arpeggios. It too has a gripping finale, steeped in sorrow.
What follows is an unnamed piece (or maybe it’s just named for the length of the song). Less ruinous in its pacing (and thus the bassist gets another chance to shine), it nevertheless engulfs the senses in towering walls of ethereal and catastrophic sound. It’s too intense to be considered a mere interlude track, but the closer “Saturn in the Eighth House” pushes the intensity to an even higher plane, again bringing to bear colossal symphonic power, shattering vocals, otherworldly guitars, and bone-smashing but dynamically paced rhythms, which collectively create a vision of apocalypse on a vast scale. The band also lock into a jolting groove near the end that will electrify your muscle fibers as rivers of terrible loss flow overhead.
LIGHT BEING (U.S.)
I owe thanks to the cellist Christopher Edward Brown (aka Kakophonix) for urging me to pay attention to the following album, and it is indeed extraordinary, and not just because Kakophonix performs on the last two tracks.
A Way Into Dreams first appeared on Bandcamp as a self-titled release in 2016, but it has been re-recorded and “re-imagined”, and hence the new name. Lyrics have also been provided, given the creator’s conviction that it was important to reveal his personal struggles with mental illness that those lyrics delve into. In keeping with that, the vocals are quite different than before. The creator, by the way, is Lucas Wotawa, who hails from Moorpark, California.
This album is one of those which just intrinsically seems like a deep dive into another person’s headspace, not anything made to check off boxes or to calculate how to provoke a response, but simply something that had to be expressed, come what may. But I don’t mean to suggest it’s simple. To the contrary, it’s carefully crafted, often elaborate, with an attention to detail. I mean to say that it feels honest, and because of that it’s moving, and easy to get lost in.
The gritty yet piercing riffs ring and ravage. They often have an anguished, depressive quality, matched by the shattering pain in the vocals, but as the tempos change and the drumming rocks, they pulse with tremendous vibrancy too, perhaps channeling a desperate kind of hope as well as fleeting moments of exultation, but they also collapse in feelings of beleaguered resignation. Indeed, almost all the songs embody such changes within themselves.
Brief pinging keyboard accents and moments of haunting singing, plus variations in percussive tones (which include an elk skin medicine drum), coupled with the changing tempos and moods and the influence of music beyond the bounds of metal, help keep the mind from wandering as you follow along these dark and distressing pathways. The closing two tracks — the ones that include the participation of Kakophonix — are perhaps the most depressive, but also the most enthralling. “D’wel‘ feels like getting lost in a shaman’s haunting dream; “Petrous” (the best of all these songs) races and jolts, but casts a feverish and forlorn spell as well.
Thanks for the heads up about the new Eucharist. The Marduk influence is definitely there (and welcome). For a good introduction to the band, and to Mirrorworlds in particular, I highly recommend the recent episode from the Radical Research podcast (http://radicalresearch.org/episode-68-minds-no-longer-present-eucharists-mirrorworlds/).
Vukari–so good. Their last album Aevum was in end of year list for 2019.
Not familiar with Eucharist but those 2 songs were killer.