News flash: If you don’t get shit-faced at night, sleep half the next day away and wake up with a crippling hangover, you can get more stuff done. Unlike last weekend, I didn’t do any of that this weekend. Turns out that parking on the couch with snoozing cats and watching movies while sipping moderate amounts of booze works out a lot better when it comes to writing for NCS the next day. And so I got this column done in time to blacken the sabbath, as usual.
The following selections are a reminder that lots of new music is still coming out near year-end, even though it’s less likely to get noticed now. We still have the winter solstice ahead of us, and especially in the pagan-influenced realms of black metal we’ll undoubtedly see a surge that day, even with only 10 days left in 2021 at that point. By all means, enjoy all the YE lists that are coming out here and elsewhere, but don’t completely take your eyes off what else December is bringing us.
Anything connected to the NYBM band Yellow Eyes is going to be worth a listen, and that’s certainly true of Ustalost, even if you missed the project’s tremendous full-length debut in 2016 (The Spoor of Vipers). The connection in this case is that Yellow Eyes vocalist/guitarist Will Skarstad is the man behind Ustalost. Under the Ustalost name he released a new album named Before the Glinting Spell Unvests on December 17th (via Gilead Media).
It’s tempting to call the album “over the top”, in the sense that its blazing extravagance and sense of exhilarating flux stands out. The guitar and synth performances are elaborate and continually mercurial. Their swirling fire-bright tones and bell-like ringing sensations, coupled with prominent and beautifully nuanced bass motifs, relentlessly seize attention, manifesting a broad array of moods and visions.
As the songs flow within themselves, and flow into each other, they inspire the imagination, creating soundscapes of heavenly sweep, haunting mysticism, and bacchanalian madness, of dreamlike beauty and unsettling discord. There’s muscle and grandeur in the music, but also feelings of the ethereal and evanescent that are sometimes sublime but just as often unnerving. Skarstad‘s vocals, which range from savage snarls to reverent choral performances, enhance the richness of this fascinating, baroque tapestry of sound.
Pardon the pun, but it’s very easy to get lost in Ustalost, to be carried away (spellbound) as if mounting a ghost horse that’s exulting in its frolics and races on plains un-tethered to the earth. Until the end of this magnificent new album dismounting is out of the question. Like Funeral Mist‘s new album released on the same day as this one (and reviewed here), Before the Glinting Spell Unvests is likely to up-end the thinking of lots of people who haven’t yet finished their year-end lists.
DIABOLISCHES WERK (Germany)
Here’s another album released on December 17th (via Uprising Records), swathed in the darkness of year-end time. Of the three December 17 releases I’ve written about so far, it’s probably the most likely to get overlooked — but it definitely should not be overlooked.
The music of Diabolisches Werk is often characterized (including by the band) as a blend of death and thrash metal, but I’m including their debut album Beast in this column despite that because its spirit is completely devilish.
The songs are full loaded with hard-slugging, jackhammering grooves and propelled by feral energy, and guttural death growls are to be found within the vocal cornucopia (which also includes hair-raising howls and extravagant singing), but blasting fusillades and vicious tremolo’d chords are in the mix too. Moreover, there’s something about the maniacally twisting and turning riffage and demonically cavorting and viper-like leads that gives the music the sulfurous aroma and sinister, torch-lit craziness of a hellish carnival.
In a nutshell, the album is a ton of blasphemous fun, the kind of hell-for-leather thrill-ride that gets the adrenaline flowing, the heart pounding, and the head spinning in evil delight. It’s also insanely infectious, so beware of the contagion that thrives within it.
Now we come to another record that will also punch you in the neck so hard it will loosen your skull, while also giving your grey matter a good spin through the clouds. This is Kosmoksen Morsian, a new EP released earlier this month by the Finnish black metal band Clamosum (through Drakkar Productions), the fourth one released since 2017.
These three songs do have their fair share of blast-beat riots and barbaric howling (in the Finnish tongue), but the spine-shaking rhythmic grooves and slashing riffs that often take the lead are powerfully head-moving. And perhaps most attention-grabbing of all are the spectrum of often surprising melodic accents (some of which are atypical of black metal) that the band embellish around all the more visceral and swaggering attractions.
You’ll encounter grand ringing chords with a supremely sinister aspect, supernaturally swirling and glinting leads, and soaring, sweeping synths that blaze with celestial and hellish light. The music proves to be as emotionally evocative and mesmerizing as it is bone-smashing (the closing sequence of the title track, which is both melancholy and glorious, is particularly spellbinding). Moreover, even though I’ve emphasized the grooves in the music, the songs also display interesting rhythmic variety that adds to their continually surprising variations.
Metal-Archives still labels Clamosum “raw black metal”, but that label is unsuitable to Kosmoksen Morsian, so don’t be misled by it. There’s a lot of clarity and separation in the sound, and to my ears it’s more like an intersection of symphonic black metal, melodic black metal, and avant-garde black metal. Regardless of label, this is well worth your time.
I’ve made no secret of my fandom for this North Carolina solo project, and have been so consistently impressed that I waste little time checking out each new release — which is what I did in the case of yet another December 17 emergence in today’s collection, a single called “This Has No Redeeming Value“. Valravne‘s inspirations have tended to come from real-world events, and I suspect this new song is no different. Based on the lyrics and the cover image I’m guessing it has to do with child abuse.
Musically, the song is multi-faceted. Partly it’s a screaming, enraged riot of skull-clubbing, rib-kicking drums, scorching vocals, and viciously frenzied riffing. Partly it’s a mix of pile-driving, heavyweight groove and blaring fretwork bursts. Partly it becomes a looming monument of menace and misery. And there’s a sample in the midst of this which reinforces my guess about its subject matter.
Based on a Valravne Bandcamp message, this track appears to be a precursor to a forthcoming 2022 album. Bring it on.
Ustalost is fantastic. It sounds the score of retro fantasy novel not yet written but fleshed out in the writer’s dreams!
Oh very well said!