I write a lot of premieres, indeed one or more every damned day. I have many reasons for doing that, but one of them is the opportunity it affords to discover something I might otherwise miss, something out of the ordinary and invigorating, and that’s exactly what happened when we were invited to host a full stream of Zmarłym‘s debut album Druga Fala in advance of its November 21 release by Godz Ov War Productions. It struck me like a bolt from the blue, immediately captivating and head-spinning from the first listen.
The album title is Polish for “Second Wave”, and it does indeed mark this trio’s second release, following a 2020 EP, Ziemie jałowe. The fact that it’s only the band’s second effort makes it all the more remarkable. It provides a rich cornucopia of surprises, a truly adventurous black metal album that pulled this the listener in and didn’t let go. It has quickly become a 2021 favorite of mine.
It’s tempting to label the music “avant garde” because of its distinctive twists and turns, and at times it creates an itch to call it progressive black metal, or even psychedelic black metal. In other words it pulls from different well-springs of influence, both within and outside the boundaries of metal, to create an experience that by turns is exotic, unnerving, viscerally compulsive, and more than a little scary. The band also have a taste for creating atmospheres of diabolical grandeur, not at all “cheesy” but rather used to create a feeling of devilish sweep and magical uplift.
I’m usually loathe to drop names of other bands, because I doubt my memory and always wonder if I’m hearing something no one else will, but at times I got hints of Satyricon, Emperor, Tribulation, Ved Buens Ende, and early Hail Spirit Noir. I also hear programming and synths here and there, but this trio’s performance credits list no such thing, so I suppose you should take some of my descriptive efforts with a grain of salt.
Speaking of which, I’ve succumbed to the temptation to now address the album track-by-track, in a further effort to explain its wonderful thorny branchings.
The title track “Druga Fala” opens the album with a piercing riff that swirls around a feverishly pulsating bass and a hammering drum rhythm. The melodic harmony creates visions of wild, defiant, dangerous exultation, while the serrated-edge vocals that join in are a rendering of cruel savagery. The drums tumble and boom as the chords thunder in ominous majesty and the leads burst through in flickers of incandescence. Massed voices and deep, distorted proclamations lend the music a feeling of solemn infernal grandeur. The song relentlessly burrows into the head deeper and deeper as it goes, even as it also grows increasingly frightening.
The band make a striking turn in their path with the glistening and glitching electronica at the outset of “#zostanwgrobie“, and silky singing. Yet as mesmerizing as these new sounds are, there’s still a feeling of danger in them, which becomes vibrantly manifest as the riffing boils and soars, the rhythms thunder, and the harsh vocals expel sounds of maleovolence and murder. These contrasting sensations repeatedly trade places until an unearthly guitar solo rings and writhes in the midst of the brazen storming.
The two-part “Życie Wieczne” begins in brazen fashion as well, propelled by potent drum-and-bass maneuvers and grand, blaring chords that ring like brutal bells. A feeling of tension and beleaguered hopelessness seeps through the music as it unfolds, with those imperious growls amplifying the cruelty of the song. The rippling leads and blasting drums create a fever, but the music also soars as this happens, generating a sweeping tapestry of anguish. There’s also an arena-ready extended guitar solo in this song that lights up the mind over rocking grooves.
Part 2 of “Życie Wieczne” begins in haunting and mysterious fashion over deep solemn beats, the guitar (or perhaps it’s a synth) tuned to sound almost like a plaintive violin crying out in grief. Like every melody that the band incorporate into their songs, it takes firm root in the mind as it cycles through its ruined refrain. The effect is entrancing, but disturbing, and increasingly so as the rhythm section begins to rumble and rattle. Stricken spoken words and strident harsh howls only deepen the feeling of downfall and despair in the music.
The unsettling spell created by Part 2 of “Życie Wieczne” is quickly broken as “Spacer” surges immediately, in a torrent of piston-driven drums and bass, and waves of scathing, sweeping riffage. The experience is pulse-pounding and fearsome, like being caught in a gale-driven blaze. The rhythm section switch to a neck-bending groove, but the guitars continue to seethe and boil, and those harsh growls are as bestial as ever. The song rises in a semblance of magnificent chaos, creating a “wide-screen” vision of convulsive violence and paralyzing fear, a feeling underscored by a cacophony of screaming, desperate voices at the end.
The band do an excellent job organizing the flow of the album to create contrasts, and so “Naszym i Waszym” initially spins out a glittering and beckoning aura of sound, like a fascinating dream. But soon enough the music begins to jolt, and the guitars dart and oscillate in exotic fashion over head-hooking beats. “Naszym i Waszym” brings the band’s prog and avant-garde influences to the fore, and wailing singing again creates a tandem with the vicious growls. The pulsing bass and a neck-snapping snare kicks the song into a compelling groove, creating the full-throttle drive-train for waves of searing, sweeping, and sparkling guitar (and/or synths) that elevate the music — and cause it to levitate in mysterious and threatening fashion. There’s another clarion-clear extended solo in this one, whose exotic radiations seem like the sinuous movements of a melodic cobra, swaying to its piper.
To close this fascinating album, the band take another turn in “Czy to już“, with a siren-like melody and a post-punk electro-groove in the driver’s seat. The vibrancy of the riffing and the seductive swirl of the synth, coupled with the big bouncing beats, create contagious (and dare I say, danceable) energy. Even the come-for-your-throat vocal viciousness doesn’t diminish the song’s highly infectious, body-moving impact, though it does continue the through-line of danger and diabolism that unites all these tracks.
Druga Fala was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Mariusz Konieczny at Heavy Gear Studio, with Zmarłym. The eye-catching cover art was rendered by Maciej Kamuda Art. You’ll find pre-order and band links below.
Andrew – Guitars, Vocals
Marcin – Bass
Młody – Drums