SHADES OF BLACK: KAMPFAR, WATAIN, CHAOS MOON, MORTE FRANCE, GRAVKVÄDE, JZOVCE
Making choices for this column is always difficult. This week the choosing process was more difficult than most, in part because I wasn’t able to write one of these last Sunday, causing the possible choices to really stack up.
It’s hard to explain why I chose the music of these six bands and not others. It was more a matter of instinct and impulse than careful ranking. The intensity of all the experiences had more than a little to do with that. The vocals alone, from beginning of this collection to the end, were stunning too, significantly contributing to the rush of emotional intensity.
I’ve started with three individual songs and followed those with three complete releases.
Kampfar have written a new album and recorded it. As they say: “It was created and partially captured at home, in our little refuge, among the trees, below the mountain tops, right there by the river that is never silent”.
The album includes “six parts, six stories, six conflicts, collected under one banner”, but Kampfar haven’t disclosed the name of the album, and they’ve decided to release each song on its own, one-by-one, before releasing the album as a whole.
The first single was “Lausdans Under Stjernene“, which they revealed in February, and I’ve already burbled some words about it. The second one, “Urkraft“, surfaced last week.
I haven’t committed to memory all of Kampfar‘s tracks spread across an 8-album discography. I’ll just say that I can’t recall any song in their repertoire that stunned me on a first listen like “Urkraft” did. Listening to it this morning, I was stunned all over again.
Rumbling and sinister at first, the music begins to blaze like a rapidly kindling bonfire, accompanied by truly extravagant screams. The rhythmic punch of the song is potent, but the band shift the music into a passage of sorrow before it rises again in torment, with near-sung vocals and ferocious chants that are just as extravagant as the cries and shrieks.
There are ebbs and flows in the song, but it always comes back to the direction of its arrow — toward heights of gripping, heart-rupturing intensity.
The video created by Carl Eek suits the epic expansiveness and harsh contours of the music.
At the outset I mentioned that the unusual power of the vocals was a consistent theme across the music I picked today. That carries through into the next song I’ve chosen, in both the sinister and spine-tingling impact of the singing by Farida Lemouchi (ex-The Devil’s Blood) that opens the track and in the grim savagery of Erik Danielsson‘s ensuing snarls. They make significant contributions to a song that’s a grand infernal anthem designed to intoxicate, to create a thrall state, and to bring the house down when performed live.
Gottfrid Åhman (ex-In Solitude, PÅGÅ) must also be singled out for his guitar solo, which gives the song an unexpected additional dimension. It made me think that Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour had made a surprise appearance (which is intended as very high praise).
“We Remain” is the third and final single to make way for Watain‘s upcoming album The Agony & Ecstasy of Watain. It will be released by Nuclear Blast on April 29th.
CHAOS MOON (U.S.)
Chaos Moon released their album Languor into Echoes, Beyond more than 14 years ago. I didn’t start this blog until two years after that, and I wasn’t listening to black metal then anyway. I didn’t start paying attention until the band’s 2014 album Resurrection Extract (which followed an earlier interment of the band and then Alex Poole‘s revival of it as a solo project). Even then, I didn’t go back to listen to Languor into Echoes, Beyond.
Well, now I will, because on June 21st Bindrune Recordings is going to re-release it, on vinyl for the first time as well as digitally. So far all I’ve heard is the first advance track, “De Mortalitate“, but man does that song stand up well nearly 15 years later.
Poole’s screaming, baying, and snarling vocals are scalding, and constantly threaten to come apart at the seams, like a fabric being violently torn to pieces. The writhing and darting riffage is mercurial, both exhilarating to hear and also fraught with extreme peril. The tempo changes are sudden and dramatic, but no less surprising than the appearance of Mark Walker‘s deep chant-like pronouncements, which accent a mystical passage in which the music both gleams and descends into hopeless agony.
MORTE FRANCE (France)
Now I come to the first of the three complete releases I decided to recommend today.
You’ve probably forgotten that in early February I devoted some space in another one of these columns to a single from a debut EP by this anonymous French trio. That EP, Sola Fide, was finally released on March 31st by the Ukrainian label Archaic Sound. From that first single (“Agape”) I had high hopes, and they were rewarded by the EP as a whole, which turns out to be an avant-garde stylistic blending of old eras (including medieval ones) and modernity.
The music is often ferocious, propelled by riveting drum attacks, thundering bass-lines, and wild roiling riffage that blazes and sears like an acetylene torch. The vocals veer from deep roars to raw, spine-tingling screams, channeling savagery and madness in astonishing fashion. Yet at the drop of a hat the madness vanishes, replaced by enchanting vocal harmonies that float in stately fashion above both steady and maniacal beats. And that’s just the title track, which provides an electrifying start to the EP.
Four tracks follow that one, and every one of them is equally exhilarating. The guitars come in dense fiery waves, the bass continues to rumble like an earthquake, the drumming is vividly dynamic (and often jaw-dropping in its speed and dexterity). The band switch the tempo at well-planned moments, including times when they inject swaggering, body-moving grooves, and the vocals continue to trade off between explosions of sheer insanity, horrid bestial growling, and beguiling song.
In the middle of the EP, “Paris Ville Ténèbres” provides a bamboozling surprise, melding together a female choir singing in ecclesiastical tones, skittering strings, glitchy electronics, and crazed, cracked snarls. And other surprises lie in wait for you in each of the other songs, including the soft and spellbinding instrumental interlude in the closing track.
I don’t know who is behind Morte France, but based on this dazzling first step, methinks it’s not their first rodeo — and I sure as hell hope they don’t stop here.
Grav|ände is the third full-length by this Swedish band and the conclusion of a conceptual trilogy. I haven’t heard the first two parts and I’ve barely had time to begin thinking about this new one, which was released just yesterday by Transylvanian Recordings. But I felt compelled to say something about it, because it made such a stunning impression on a first listen. I’ll begin by sharing what the band have said about this new album:
The final part of the GRAV-trilogy explores the concept of suffering through time and space. It seems to take into consideration the notion that what we perceive as despair may not exclusively be a construct of man. Perhaps a certain aspect of these emotions precedes human consciousness, or any kind of sentience for that matter.
Our intention behind these songs is to invite the listener to a dimension where this may well be the case. Here, despair did not begin and will not end. Nor is it a product of space or time. It is simply an uncompromising force, a perfect state communicating through the perfect host.
In creating that dimension and inexorably drawing the listener into it, Gravkväde created four very long songs that collectively span 45 minutes. At a high level the music draws from wellsprings of funeral doom and black metal. As you might expect from that description, the band create sensations of massive, towering might, crushing in their heaviness and soul-shattering in their atmosphere of calamitous hopelessness. Ringing chords flow in waves high above the slow, stomping destructiveness, and (as forecast) they transmit feelings of despair and pain.
But as you might guess (and hope), these long tracks create other sensations as well. Slow, clarion-clear guitar and piano instrumentals portray internalized grief. Quivering feedback pierces like ice-picks. Firebrand tremolo’d riffing and rapidly pummeling drums channel deranged anguish. A woman’s half-weeping spoken words haunt the mind. Symphonic waves cascade in tones of inconsolable bereavement. Whistling winds and distant thunder chill the skin.
As you should expect from what I wrote in the introduction to this column, the vocals are utterly shattering, the extreme sounds of a man whose emotions are tearing him apart, holding nothing back. It’s hard to believe he made it to the end of the recording sessions.
The album is a trying experience because it’s so wholly devoted to the concept described in the quotation above. It has the capacity to become spellbinding, both in its beauty and in its ravages, but this isn’t a dimension you visit in search of hope, because there’s none to be found.
And finally I have for you another release by the artisanal French label Distant Voices, whose hand-crafted products are lovely to behold but extremely limited in number. This newest release (it came out on April 1st) is Kezdet, an album by Jzovce (one of the several projects of the label owner Thomas Bel).
As in the case of every other selection of music in today’s column, this one features mind-lacerating and heart-scarring vocal intensity, building to cacophonies of torment. The songs also include beguiling but distressing melodies, elegant but almost relentlessly depressive, as well as assaults of raw, super-heated riffing and hyper-blasting percussion that sounds like mortars firing at the pace of machine-guns.
The songs repeatedly and abruptly switch gears, slowing and accelerating, skipping and jumping, softening and exploding in vortextural typhoons. One song (“Cercle de sel”) includes scratchy monastic chants and a gloomy piano arpeggio as a prelude to pyroclastic catastrophe and reptilian ecstasy. “Fosses” opens like a graveyard haunting before the eerily deranged guitar harmony begins drilling into your skull, followed by bell-like tones and morbid piano keys.
Like a labyrinth of desperation and dementia, the music isn’t for the faint of heart, and at the end you may be left wondering where the hell you’ve been. At least for me, it seized attention and never let go.