(Andy Synn gazes into the abyss once more and finds four excellent albums gazing back!)
The debate about what is or isn’t “Black Metal” is probably one that’s never going to end.
And, honestly? That’s ok. Because as long as the debate is still going on it means that no-one has successfully codified and constrained the genre, leaving it free to continue to explore and expand its artistic boundaries.
Truth be told, I have less of an issue with bands being called “Black Metal” when they aren’t than I do with this weird idea some people (and bands) seem to have that slapping the label “Black Metal” on something somehow makes it good, or gives it some sort of veneer of credibility.
Let’s be honest, there are quite a few groups out there – some of them quite well-known – whose music would be just as good with or without the tenuous “Black Metal” tag which has been applied to them, but whose fans would riot and protest (online, anyway) if you tried to take it away from them, because they feel like they’d be losing something in the process.
Thankfully we don’t have to play any such semantic games with the four artists/albums I’ve selected for today’s article, as they are all clearly Black Metal, while also showcasing the vivid variety of both voice and vision which the genre embraces.
TERZIJ DE HORDE – IN ONE OF THESE, I AM YOUR ENEMY
The last time we heard from Dutch collective Terzij de Horde was almost six-and-a-half years ago, so you can perhaps be forgiven if you’d forgotten about them a little bit in the meantime.
I, however, most definitely had not, which is why I’m so pleased to be able to report that In One of These, I Am Your Enemy is one hell of a ride.
Whereas the focus of their previous album, Self, was – understandably – one of introspection and introverted existentialism, …I Am Your Enemy finds the band expanding their scope to take in (or take on) the impact which individuals can have on the world around them… for better or worse.
This evolution of perspective is also mirrored in the various sonic nuts and bolts which make up this album, as while the core of the band’s sound is still a crossover between raging Black Metal and ragged Crust-Punk, large sections of both the title-track and the climactic “Precipice” are given over to sweeping Post-Black dynamics which allow the music – and the listener – more room to breathe.
That’s not to say that these elements are an entirely new addition to the band’s repertoire by any means (just give “Averoas” from their previous album a listen, for example), but they’ve certainly been given greater prominence in the grand scheme of the band’s songwriting this time around.
Perhaps as a way of compensating for this, the more “pure” Black Metal side of the band’s sound has been turned up a notch too, so that now whenever Terzij de Horde really cut loose (as they do with face-melting frequency) not only do they do so with even more aggression and intensity but the dynamic contrast between these two sides of their sound makes them hit even harder.
True, at only three songs (one being far shorter, the other two being even longer, than anything off the band’s previous album – another example of the more “extreme” nature of this record when compared to its predecessor) …I Am Your Enemy might appear, at first glance, to be a little too short to truly satisfy, but while I feel as if maybe – and that’s a big maybe – one more track might have tied it off even more neatly, let me tell you… as someone who has been waiting a long time to hear this record, I am in no way disappointed by what Terzij de Horde have produced here.
If anything, it makes me even more hungry to hear even more from them… so let’s hope they don’t take quite as long to produce their next release!
ULTHA – ALL THAT HAS NEVER BEEN TRUE
Whereas Terzij de Horde‘s new record was one I’d been watching and waiting for carefully for quite some time, the release of the new Ultha album came as a complete surprise when it suddenly dropped last Friday.
As a long-time fan of the band I immediately snapped it up and have been analysing, evaluating, and just generally appreciating, all that it has to offer ever since.
Some of you may recall that I was somewhat disappointed by the band’s last album, The Inextricable Wandering, especially in light of how excellent their previous record, Converging Sins, was.
However, you might also remember that I was a much bigger fan of both of the group’s subsequent EPs – Belong and Floors of Heaven – and am thus happy to report that the band’s ongoing “return to form” continues on All That Has Never Been True, an album whose musical and emotional intensity frequently hits new heights (or should that be depths?) in a way which errs closer than ever towards the DSBM end of the Black Metal spectrum, without sacrificing any of the band’s hard-earned identity in the process.
Clocking in at just under an hour in total, these sevens songs certainly place a pretty hefty demand on your attention-span, that’s true, but thankfully are more than capable of rewarding that dedication with an immersive (sometimes overwhelmingly so) musical experience that will leave your nerves frayed and your senses almost numb by the end of it.
With vocals that switch back and forth between a wickedly guttural growl and a wounded banshee howl, coupled to an intense instrumental assault which arguably tops anything they’ve done before, these tracks offer little-to-nothing in the way of quarter or compromise – even their quietest, calmest moments only ever seem like a momentary reprieve from the torment – but aren’t without their subtleties, if you’re willing and able to hear them.
Both “Dispel” and “Bathed in Lighting, Bathed in Heat”, for example, show off some surprising technicality in their eccentric, electrifying guitar work, while “Der Alte Fiend” and “Carrion” both embrace – in different ways and to different extends – more of a “Blackened Doom” feel at times, periodically allowing the album’s punishing pace to dip into gloomier, doomier territories in a way that shifts both the tone and dynamic of the music into even darker territories.
It’s also surprising just how effective the ambient, mid-album interlude “He Knew and Did Not Know” is, serving as the eye in this particular storm of blackened bile and vitriol and thus breaking the record up into two distinct halves which allows the grim grooves of the aforementioned “Carrion”, the ecstatic Post-Punk meets Black Metal duality of “Haloes in Reverse” (initially one of the songs I wasn’t so sure about, but now a serious favourite) and the sinister atmospherics and unsettling symphonics of cathartic closer “Rats Gorged the Moon… and All Fell Silent” more room to breathe.
It’s a hell of an album – albeit not an easy one to take in all in one go, that’s for sure – and stands as one of the most welcome surprises of the year so far.
VANHÄVD – VILA
If I were to tell you that Swedish Black/Doom coven Vanhävd weren’t your typical Black Metal act, would you believe me straight away, or would you wait to see/her the evidence?
Well, for one thing, their line-up includes members of metallic-synthwave hybrid Irving Force and Techno/Doom act Starving Insect, which has resulted in a very different sense of form and flow to the eight songs which make up Vila, one which gives them an almost Industrial feel at times, without losing touch with the ugly, organic essence of the music as a whole.
If you want direct proof of this, just give the opening pairing of “Låt köttet dö” and “Likvaka” a listen and appreciate the unsettling juxtaposition of grimy, inhuman atmospherics and anguished, all-too human vocals, all underpinned by a noxious blend of lurching, funereal riffs and stomping, almost machine-like percussion.
As insufferably grim and nihilistic as this album is, however, it’s as much a study in contrasts as it is an attempt to blur the boundary between the organic and the inorganic, as for every passage of doom-laden riffage there’s a counterpoint of eerily infectious, plague-ridden melody, and for each moment of bombastic excess there’s a moment of bleak, brooding calm to provide balance.
“Om Den Vulgära Farsens Nonsens”, for example, blends its sinister synths and gnarly guitars into just under nine minutes of harrowing torment and haunting drama, while “Drömmaren” is a veritable study in doomy density and moody negative-space.
It’s the anti-anthem of “Förkunnaren” and the oppressive, soul-crushing odyssey of “Maskhål”, however, which really demonstrate what Vanhävd are capable of when firing on all cylinders, with the former’s mix of heaving riffs, harrowing hooks, and haunting atmospherics making it the most infectious song on the album – despite its almost nine minute run-time – while the sheer audacity of the latter’s Black/Doom/Industrial amalgam truly has to be experienced to be understood properly.
Truly, this is an album which I think will divide a lot of our listeners (Black Metal being divisive? Heaven forfend…) but those who truly “click” with it may well have discovered one of their favourite albums of the year.
VIMUR – TRANSCENDENTAL VIOLENCE
For some reason I have a clear memory of being much harsher in my review of Vimur‘s last album, Triumphant Master of Fates, than I actually was.
Maybe it’s because Triumphant… came out not long after Vanum released the practically-untouchable Ageless Fire that I remember it a little more negatively than I should, as that latter album really did set a ridiculously high bar that year.
Cut to 2022, however, and the roles have very much been reversed, as not only are Vimur first out of the gate this time around, but Transcendental Violence is – in my opinion at least – the superior work when compared with Vanum‘s upcoming new album, Legend.
It’s not a competition of course, and I plan on reviewing the latter record too sometime in the next couple of weeks, but I just wanted to point out how quickly and easily things can change when a band like Vimur decides to kick things into a whole new gear.
Make no mistake about it, these songs absolutely rip. From the imperious post-Immortal attack of “Aeonic Upheaval”, to the bombastic blend of seething fury and moody melody that makes up closer “The Warrior Seers” – via the infectious energy of the title-track and the relentless riff assault of “Emanations from the Sun Behind” – these seven tracks just do not miss, continually throwing a veritable barrage of visceral riffs, vibrant melodic hooks, and venomous vocal exhortations (all driven by an absolutely devastating drumming performance) at you in a way which reminds me of the unconquerable and inimitable Death Fortress (especially on tracks like “Infallible Contra Animus” and “The Greatest Dying”).
That’s not to say that Transcendental Violence is in any way a one note affair – there are passages of subtly proggy instrumentation scattered throughout the album, while the slower, doomier strains of “Death Absolution” make for a welcome change of pace before the record’s colossal climax – it’s just that, on first listen, you’re likely to be a little too shocked by the sheer intensity of the band’s delivery (which also extends to the tooth-gnashing, throat-rending vocals) to fully appreciate the more subtle elements of the music.
Both a shower and a grower – an album which makes an instant and unforgettable impact and then only gets better with each listen as you learn to appreciate its less obvious nuances over time – this is the sort of record I think we all knew Vimur were capable of. And it’s even better than we expected.