You may have seen that I prepared a long installment of our Most Infectious Song list yesterday. That effort cut into the time available for me to finish the column you’re now embarking upon, especially because I had to leave the house by mid-morning to keep another commitment. So, I’m a day late with this.
What you’ll find here is a recently released complete album, a new video from a previously released EP, a new advance track, a new split, and an album released almost two months ago that I just discovered. There’s more death metal in the mix than usual for this column, but it would be fair to call those entries blackened death metal.
It would be heresy in some quarters for me to say this, but I’m coming around to the view that the new Krallice album Crystalline Exhaustion is one of their best yet. I’m not ready to make my own final pronouncement, because I haven’t lived with this one as long as others, but that’s my immediate reaction.
As I wrote after hearing the new record’s title track, it would be foolhardy to expect people with the talents and interests of this foursome, and the extensive amount of time they’ve spent working together, to do the same thing twice. That title track, which clocks in at a luxurious 14 minutes, moves from a mesmerizing astral ambient excursion (which is both downcast and celestial) into a pulse-quickening gallop enlivened by glittering tones that ring and reverberate, and from there into booming percussive thunder, a wash of swirling guitar and synths that’s both distressing and glorious, and scorching vocal tirades. The feverish intensity and the sweeping grandeur of the sounds ascend in breathtaking fashion, and then we drift away into wonder….
“Crystalline Exhaustion” ends the album. The five that precede it, including the long opener “Frost”, also make extensive use of ethereal and symphonic synths to generate sensations of mystery, wonder, and calamity on a sweeping scale. Their prominent presence will likely strike most listeners as the new album’s signal change from has come before. While the synths sound otherworldly and majestic, the hefty bass permutations and constantly varying drumwork both keep the music grounded and continually provoke visceral responses.
The riffing tends to mesh with the synths, often generating a dense wash of intense, searing sound or tempestuously writhing and roiling. Intricate mercurial leads bright with clarity but tainted with dissonance also create episodes of unnerving discord and blooming insanity, which the synths and harrowing roars exacerbate. Indeed, much of the album throws the listener into elaborate labyrinths of turbulence and turmoil, and it’s easy to feel swept away by the experience, but also to marvel at the extravagantly kaleidoscopic nature of the songwriting and to be dazzled by the execution.
The album creates a sense of unsettling pageantry. As the music ebbs and flows, and twists and turns, it becomes increasingly reminiscent of a modern avant-garde symphony, and not just because of the ways in which the synths are deployed. I can imagine listening to this in a symphony hall (I’m not sure any other live setting would do it justice), and giving a standing ovation at the end.
ANIMA HERETICAE (Finland)
For reasons you may soon understand, I thought this next selection would make a fine follow-on to that new Krallice album.
Last October I reviewed this Finnish band’s stunning debut EP, Ov Behest, which initially seized my attention through a video for the title track. Now the band have released another video, this time for a long but completely arresting song from the EP named “Constellation of Capricorn“. About that song, I’ll crib from my earlier review, with a few revisions:
“Constellation of Capricorn“, is a nearly 11 1/2-minute behemoth, or maybe “saga” is a better word for it, because it definitely has an epic quality. It’s beautifully sad, ferociously violent, and gloriously panoramic in its portrayal of ice-bound melancholy. It’s reminiscent of other doom-inspired Finnish melodic death metal bands (old Insomnium comes to mind), albeit with a prominent symphonic aspect and a blackened char on the edges. The mighty roar of vocalist Ville Rutanen also stands out.
The video combines shadowed footage of the band performing and a mysterious, harrowing, and seemingly post-apocalyptic narrative of a lone figure struggling against the elements, stumbling through an abandoned building, and beginning to mentally disintegrate from inner turmoil. It’s as riveting as the music.
CHTHONIC CULT (Poland)
Man, “Ironclad Nemesis” is an extremely well-named song. It is indeed armored in iron, with a heavy, bone-smashing sound and a lumbering and pounding cadence. It’s also sinister and savage, thanks to the menacing and twisted quality of the riffing and the imperious ferocity of the vocals. Eventually the music boils over into a maelstrom of murderous mayhem and unrestrained insanity, capped by a screaming guitar solo.
Instrumentally intricate and unpredictable, laced with punishing grooves, and propelled by high-octane fuel, the song is as head-spinning as it is slaughtering.
The track is from Chthonic Cult‘s second album Become Seekers for Death, which follows their full-length debut by a long seven years. It will be released by Putrid Cult on March 28th.
THRALL OF THE WINTER MOON SPLIT (U.S.)
The next choice for today’s column is an excellent four-way split among four U.S. black and black/death bands: Pungent Shroud (Ohio), End’s Embrace (Arizona), Tumultuous Ruin (California), and Darkgem (Oregon).
The four bands all prefer a raw sound, and the title of the EP provides a meaningful clue to the kind of old, cold wells they pull from, but there are still stylistic differences among them that make the split one that holds attention all the way through. What might be less immediately obvious is that RABM (Red and Anarchist Black Metal) is another common thread; the split was recently featured on the Antifascist Black Metal Network.
Pungent Shroud is a raw black/death duo from the Midwest that have put out a string of demos and splits beginning in 2021. Their music on the split melds a booming subterranean low end with scathing riffage, screaming that’s completely unhinged, and bestial roars. It’s both furious and dismal (especially in the necrotic “Necrobiosis”). On the other hand, the raw black metal of End’s Embrace (a solo Native American BM band with a recently released EP and an album to its credit) creates a gloomy, ghostly, and blood-freezing atmosphere, but also becomes desperate and terrorizing (the berserk intensity of the vocals is especially unnerving).
The music of the solo RABM band Tumultuous Ruin is a match for its name. Eerie, mournful notes slowly ring out across the band’s first track, but those are enveloped by a cruel grinding morass of sound, segmented by sharp snare strikes. The vocals are distant and distorted, but add to the music’s chilling effects, and eventually a disturbing sonic seizure occurs. The second track has a soaring, searing, and almost glorious (though still abrasive) sound — but the moods are still very much dark and deleterious, especially when the drums vanish and spoken words unfold across waves of shattering guitar anguish — waves that continue to cascade until the end. (Tumultuous Ruin as released two demos, a split with Eyn, and recently appeared on two antifascist BM compilation albums.)
Darkgem is another solo project, and has previously released a pair of EPs. Its lone witchy track on the split is anchored by lively, toe-tapping beats and pulse-pounding gallops, and there’s a bit of dark post-punk influence in the ringing chords. Glimmering keyboards and weird wailing and warbling reverberations (perhaps a flute, and perhaps some voices) give the song a supernatural aura. The venomous vocals add to the blackening of an interesting amalgam of styles.
The split is available digitally now; it’s a “name your price” download at Bandcamp. Tape editions for the split will be available in the EU and UK on January 21st from Born Too Late Tapes, and in the U.S. and North America on February 11th from Folkvangr Records.
Sadly, I am running out of time now, and so I have to abbreviate my impressions of this final record. It’s a nearly half-hour EP named Beholders that was released by Duplicate Records in early December last year, but that I only discovered recently.
As a preview, I’ll say this about the opening track “Apokalypsis“: Launched by a mournful ringing guitar melody, rabid screams, and bright, heart-palpitating drum rhythm, the song evolves through momentous booming beats into a swath of fire-bright riffs, flickering leads, prominent bass undulations, vicious growls, grim chants, and possessed yells. There’s an immersive, sweeping quality to the music as well as the capacity to channel feelings of fury, derangement, and even pulse-pounding joy. At the end, it radically transforms — and I’d rather not spoil the surprise.
That opening song quickly demonstrates how multi-faceted Endlyset‘s music is, and the rest of the album is at least equally dynamic and reveals many more facets in frequently surprising fashion. It deserves more words of praise than I have time to deliver. Fortunately, you can trust your own ears. Listen: