(The nights are growing darker, and the hour grows late, but Andy Synn is still finding time to cover a few obsidian gems from the Black Metal scene that you may not have checked out yet)
It’s looking like my annual week-long litany of year-end lists will commence either on the 6th or 13th of December this year, depending on whether or not I end up doing some last minute shows with my own band during either of those weeks.
Either way though, that means there’s very little time left to write up and review some of the various albums which are going to appear on those lists, so some harsh decisions are going to need to be made regarding what gets reviewed, and what gets left by the wayside, over the next few weeks.
Case in point, selecting the three artists/albums which I’ve chosen to cover here today meant I had to skip writing about several big and/or highly anticipated new albums from the likes of Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Plebeian Grandstand, Ars Magna Umbrae, and more.
Hopefully someone else from the NoCleanTeam™ will be able to find time to pen a few thoughts about some of them (and, even if not, at least one of them is scheduled for a Synn Report some time soon) but, in the meantime, I’d like you to instead turn your attention to this trilogy of blackened terror by Bornholm (HU), Demonic Temple (PL), and Whoredome Rife (NO).
BORNHOLM – APOTHEOSIS
Bornholm’s fifth album is also their first in just under five years, so while there’s no doubt that the band are old hands at this sort of things, this gap between releases suggests that perhaps the Hungarian heathens might well have changed somewhat since the release of Primaeval Pantheons.
And in some ways they have, although it’s more of a refinement of their existing sound rather than a total reinvention (and is all the better for it).
What you’ll find then is that this time around the band’s bombastic, blast-tastic Blood Fire Death-derived sensibilities have been tempered by even more melody – whether that be in the soaring solos, shining keys, or sombre clean guitars that make such a welcome appearance during songs like “My Evangelium”, “Sky Serpents”, or “To The Fallen” – and a slightly more progressive outlook, which collectively recalls the best of early-mid Enslaved and/or Borknagar.
Of course, it’s not that these are totally new to the band, it’s more that they’re just that much more seamlessly integrated and, at key moments, that much more prominent – the majestic clean vocals in particular are subtly scattered throughout the record, but really soar on the central triptych of “Black Shining Cloaks”, “Spiritual Warfare”, and “Darkened Grove” – that the group’s sound just feels that much more reinvigorated in turn, without robbing it of its traditional fire and fury.
It’s also worth noting, though perhaps this was never in any doubt, that Apotheosis is such a consistently strong album – only the scene-setting intro, outro, and interlude tracks seem destined for the skip button at this stage – that picking out specific highlights is surprisingly difficult.
That being said, the fact that each track offers something distinctive to the track list – from the blazing blasts and majestic melodies of “Sky Serpents”, to the brooding stomp ‘n’ swagger of “Black Shining Cloaks” or the riff-heavy grandeur of “I Am War God” – should make it easy for anyone and everyone to pick out their own favourites… even if practically every single song is a potential contender!
DEMONIC TEMPLE – THROUGH THE STARS INTO THE ABYSS
Whereas a lot of Black Metal can be somewhat solipsistic – I am my own god, only I matter, all else is mere distraction or delusion – certain strains of it have a much more outward-looking attitude.
Dark-hearted Polish duo Demonic Temple, for example, are less concerned with looking inwards and have instead turned their eyes upwards and out, gazing in both fear and wonder, into the vast and heedless darkness of a cruel and uncaring universe.
Harsh, yet hypnotic, aggressive, yet atmospheric, brooding, yet blasting, much of this albums is reminiscent of bands like Blut Aus Nord and Leviathan, dragging you along in the wake of its seething drums and swirling tremolo, spinning you head over heels until you no longer know which was is up and which is down.
But it’s not all single-minded venom and velocity by any means. The title track, for example, may be a whirling dervish of abrasive aggression, yes, but it also conceals some eerie, understated synth work that subtly adds to the moody ambient aura of the song, whereas “Night of Everlasting Fire” lets things simmer a little longer before finally combusting, while also opening up a little more (especially in its second half) to give the song a greater sense of depth and space.
Even the individual performances are more nuanced and creative than they first appear, especially the drums which – when not blasting you into submission like a rain of sub-orbital debris – showcase some surprisingly slinky stick work and punchy, precise foot patterns (the opening of “Secret Temple of Invisible Light” in particular really gives the drums space to show off more than just their ridiculous speed).
Concluding with the merciless melodic guitars, raw-throated rage, and immersive, irradiance of “Proclaiming the Truth of the Other Side”, it’s clear to me that Through the Stars and Into the Abyss is the perfect title for this album, as this is one record where you can truly feel a haunting intelligence gazing back at you throughout.
WHOREDOM RIFE – WINDS OF WRATH
Whoredom Rife may only have been an active band for a mere seven years at this point, but they’ve already produced three EPs and two, now three, albums of intense, electrifying, and often surprisingly introspective Black Metal that has consistently stood alongside the best of the best that the genre has to offer.
Winds of Wrath continues this seemingly relentless run of killer quality, albeit with a few subtle shifts, some of which are immediately apparent on storming opener “Curse of the Moon”.
While the track is still, once it kicks in at least, pretty much an all-out assault on the senses – guitars writhing, vocals snarling, drums blasting, all without mercy or restrain – there’s a bleaker atmosphere to the music this time around, as well as a bone-chilling grandeur to the melodies, that makes it clear that the band aren’t simply trying to replicate 2018’s Nid – Hymner av hat.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still striking similarities to the band’s previous work – the vocals in particular possess the same blend of moody malevolence and cruel charisma they always had – it’s just that the way it’s all presented is not only a little bleaker but also a little sharper around the edges.
The scything guitars and seething malice of “A Thousand Graves Endured”, for example, cut through the murk and menace with horrifying ease, while the powerful, pounding drums which underpin “Gospel of Hate” provide a firm foundation for a series of spine-tingling synths and soaring, progressive lead parts which lift the song to a whole new level.
Obviously, the duo haven’t forgotten their roots – “Hav av Sykdoms Blod”, for example, is an old school riff monster with a more organic and lively production that sits somewhere between Mayhem and Keep of Kalessin in the way it electrifies and enervates the furious fundamentals of the genre – but they’re clearly not just trying to recapture some mythic “golden age” of Black Metal, they’re simply playing it, in its purest form, right here and now.
This is particularly obvious in the closing pairing of “Winds of Wrath” and “Einride”, with the former serving as a timeless example of how this particular style of music, when played with both intensity and integrity, still retains its ability to thrill, while the latter explores its darker, doomier, and more atmospheric boundaries, while still staying “true” to its core tenets.
So if you need a reminder as to just why you fell in love with Black Metal in the first place, then give Winds of Wrath a listen.