SHADES OF BLACK: KAMPFAR, SVRM, BÂ’A, SVARTSOT, THE SUN’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE NIGHT, SAQRARUNA, INTUS MORTEM, BEELZEJUD, ARCHVILE KING
My day job has left me alone this weekend so I decided to make hay while the sun shines. Yesterday’s round-up included the music of eight bands and this one includes the music of nine.
There is indeed quite a lot of music in this week’s black(ish) metal column, but even I haven’t heard all of it. The releases I haven’t heard in their entirety are included in Part 2 below, where I’ve revived the strategy I used in the old Miscellany columns (and if those don’t ring a bell I’ll explain when we get there).
I’m beginning with “Lausdans Under Stjernene“, a new single released by Indie Recordings on February 16th by a band who are approaching their 30th anniversary but show no signs of slowing down or playing it safe.
The new single is brimming with sinister power. It heaves and stomps, the slashing riffs are grim and cold, and filaments of eerie melody float across scorching screams. The gleaming notes that ring out just before a typhoon of sound are also eerie – and that typhoon is a breathtaking storm with a sweeping impact, matched by spine-tingling, near-sung vocals.
A Hardanger fiddle weeps and wails in another soft but unsettling interlude, and then the storm breaks again in a searing and battering maelstrom of sound. I wasn’t looking in a mirror, but I bet the whites of my eyes were showing.
Kampfar encourage us “dance like the Devil is watching and there is no morning in sight”, and thus it’s fitting that the cover art is from “Self-Portrait with Death Playing the Fiddle” by Arnold Böcklin.
Like Kampfar, Svrm are a band whose every release I will rush to hear, and their newest one is an EP named Червів майбутня здобич that will officially be out tomorrow but surfaced for full streaming on Bandcamp within the last 24 hours. It includes four tracks that run a little over 17 minutes, and it’s a hell of a good run.
On the new EP (as before), Svrm create atmospheric black metal of sweeping, immersive power with a beleaguered emotional intensity. Feelings of wretchedness and torment on a broad scale flow through the opening track, which itself ebbs and flows but never sheds those tragic moods. Heartbreak and anguish hang heavy on the shoulders of the second track too as it marches, races, and softly hangs its head in soul-stricken sorrow.
Those opening songs, and the two that follow, reach heights of solemn grandeur, and are capable of getting your blood racing fast, but the atmosphere of calamity and downfall is inescapable. It’s just so powerfully created that it’s difficult to resist getting carried away by the music, and lost in these sonic scenes of suffering.
Following up on their very good 2020 debut album Deus qui non mentitur, this French trio will be releasing a new full-length named Egregore on March 24th via Osmose Productions. Its themes are described as follows (and are every bit as momentous as those carried by the debut):
Based on the principle of polarity resulting from the hermetic philosophy and an interpretation of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the band offers here a reflection on Good and Evil as well as the reason for our presence down here below.
I haven’t yet made time to listen to the complete album, but the first single “Urbi et Orbi Clamant” is damned good. The waves of roiling riffage, the pulsating rhythms, and the cracked snarling vocals create an immediate and consuming sense of terror and pain. The tension and turmoil in the music seem relentless, and become panoramic. When the pace eventually slows the song is still a dire and hopeless experience (the agony in the vocals is palpable), but completely riveting from beginning to end.
I’ve been meaning to do something to help spread the word about Svartsot‘s new album Kumbl (reportedly an old Danish word meaning ‘monument’ or ‘memorial’), and at last I have, even though “Drømte Mig En Drøm” is the third digital single to be released from it. The commentary about the song by Svartsot guitarist Cris J.S. Frederiksen is interesting:
“Drømte Mig En Drøm” is the oldest recorded Danish song, which is found written in the manuscript Codex Runicus, a copy of the Scanian Law from ca. 1300 and written entirely in medieval runes. The song exists as only one line of lyrics and primitive written music accompaniment, so we wrote a new, whole song based on that one phrase”.
The acoustic folk melodies in the song are beguiling, but it’s a dark trance they create, and the harsh vocals underscore that darkness. But the bass and drums are so powerful that the song will get you moving too. It builds into a jolting and dancing extravagance, becoming wild in its revels, but there’s still plenty of menace that goes with that hand-in-hand.
Kumbl will be released by Mighty Music on February 25th.
THE SUN’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE NIGHT (UK)
“No One” returns in his guise as The Sun’s Journey Through The Night, presenting a new single named “The Black Pyramid“. One of the longer songs in today’s collection, it’s a gem of many facets. The opening ambient movement is haunting and mystical, but what follows is a ravaging surge of blasting drums, dense and deleterious riffage, soaring keys, and scalding vocal madness.
High whirling guitars add to the feeling of apocalypse and affliction, yet entrancing near-celestial tones make their way through the storm and eventually take a place of mesmerizing prominence. There’s towering splendor in this frightening spectacle, feelings of awe in the midst of disaster.
The new single was released by Church Road Records on February 16th. All profits from the digital and cassette sales will be donated to Birmingham Children’s Hospital charity.
“A powerful black metal release that uses equal parts aggression and depressive atmosphere to tell stories of colonial oppression in Peru”. That’s the beginning of a press release that arrived on Friday along with a promo for Saqraruna ‘s album Under the Light of Mountains. The press release also included quotes from the band, including this one: “Unlike our debut, Obscure and Malignant Rituals, this work seeks to explore new sounds, with longer songs integrating pre-Hispanic instruments to create a pagan sound with contrasting moods”.
All of that was interesting enough to send me in search of music I could share with you, and what I found was a long advance track named “Flight of a Black Serpent“. Like some of the music in today’s column that precedes it, this song also creates a sweeping, panoramic atmosphere that’s both deeply melancholy and grand enough to put your heart in your throat, though the drums often pump like overdriven pistons and the tortured vocals seem larynx-ruining.
The music does slow and soften at times (though the ragged growls there are absolutely bestial), but it’s still steeped in agonizing sorrow. I listened for pre-Hispanic instruments, but didn’t hear them. Perhaps they take a more prominent place in other tracks….
Under the Light of Mountains will be out on March 18th through Super Sargasso.
INTUS MORTEM (Italy)
A Bandcamp alert put this next song on my radar. It’s the first track revealed from an album named Exiled From Light, which will be released on March 21st by the Mexican label Ascension Records. I saw that it was recommended for fans of Watain, Dark Funeral, Setherial, and Marduk, and that was a come-on I couldn’t resist.
The band was just formed in 2021, but the members have quite a lot of other groups on their resumes, and the experience shows. That first advance track, which is the title track, makes the choice of those “FFO” references obvious: The song is a chaotic war zone, filled with blinding-fast percussive mortar-fire, all-consuming waves of searing riffage and synths, and unhinged vocals. Chaos and terror reign on an epic scale. It’s enough to suck the wind from your lungs.
Once upon a time (and for quite a long time) I wrote an NCS column called Miscellany, in which I would pick the music of bands I’d never heard before, listen to a song or two, and write my immediate impressions. It provided a good way of making new discoveries and spreading the word about them. Although there was never any guarantee the music would be worth recommending, most of the time I enjoyed what I found (arguably, I’m easy to please).
What’s ahead of you in Part 2 is something like that old column. I’d never previously heard the music of either of these two bands, both of whom have recently released new records. In each case I only listened to one song from the releases. The difference is that I decided to include them here because those songs made a positive impression, and so I’m recommending that you explore the records in greater depth, just as I plan to do when time permits.
Without intending any offense, I nearly didn’t check out this Iowa one-person project’s new EP Survival Mechanisms because the band name seemed… maybe not serious. But I did anyway because of the description of the music as “extreme metal with punk/hardcore and alt country/folk”. That seemed interesting enough to warrant exploration of the song I’ve embedded below (one of 7 on the EP).
This particular song, “Fire and Disease“, is a multi-faceted piece. At the outset the twanging and wailing guitar harmonies and the somber country singing are dark but enthralling, but although that melody carries forward, the experience becomes orders of magnitude more heavy and intense. The guitars soar, sear, and dart in a fever, the drums pummel and jolt, and the vocals turn to fiery screams. When the dark folk music returns, it’s no less captivating than before, and once again it builds toward another ravaging crescendo.
Just over the course of this one dramatic song I came to appreciate how well Beelzejud integrated the episodes of country/folk and black metal to create music of haunting and harrowing power. I’m very glad I didn’t judge this book by the cover of its name.
You can stream the entire EP, which was released on February 11th, at Bandcamp. I sure as hell am going to do that myself.
ARCHVILE KING (France)
According to notes on Bandcamp, Archville King was created in late 2019 as the solo project of Nicolas “Baurus” M., a multi-instrumental artist based in Nantes. The band’s debut album À la ruine was released on February 18th by Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions, and the association of that label was all the reason I needed to see what À la ruine might offer.
The song I heard is the fifth one on the album but the one that’s set to play first at Bandcamp. Its name is “Dans la forteresse du Roi des Vers“, which according to Google Translate means “In the Fortress of the Worm King”. I translated the lyrics too, which stand as a warning to humankind by the ruler of this cursed kingdom to back away, or to face blood, death, and destruction.
Accompanying those lyrics, Archvile King discharges a torrent of scathing riffs, turbocharged drumming, and famished-gargoyle vocals, intertwined with brazen, demented chords and febrile arpeggios. It reaches heights of terrorizing glory, spins around like an insane dervish, and becomes melodically dismal as well as deranged. But — surprise! surprise! — it includes a sublime acoustic finale that hearkens back to a long-lost age.