SHADES OF BLACK: KRIEG, CRUCIFIXION BELL, TE RUKI, GNIEW, THE SUN’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE NIGHT
Greetings to all on another Sunday. This time I’ve chosen a mix of advance tracks from two forthcoming releases plus two complete records (a new EP and the reissue of an album-length demo). All but one of the bands are known quantities to me based on the high quality of their previous works, and that new one has made a startling first impression. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this varied excursion into the black metal underground as much as I have.
I’m beginning with songs from a new split by Krieg and Crucifixion Bell that will be released on April 29th by UK-based Death Prayer Records (on CD, cassette tape, and digital formats). The split includes four tracks from Crucifixion Bell and three from Krieg. The first of Krieg‘s songs launched for streaming is “Incantations of Suffering Souls“.
I don’t think I need to belabor the point that over a quarter-century of work Krieg has already cemented its place as a cornerstone of US black metal. Here at NCS we’ve also benefitted over many years from sharing Neill Jameson‘s writings and musical recommendations. So of course I rushed off to listen to “Incantations of Suffering Souls” as fast as I could!
In this new song, writhing ambient tones set a chilling stage for a ravishing outburst of hammering drums, turbulent bass tones, broiling guitars, and Jameson‘s scalding vocals. The combined impact of all that frenzy scorches the senses, and its derangement is so viciously intense that it’s unnerving as well as electrifying. Time may have aged Krieg‘s members, but it definitely hasn’t dulled their knives or moderated their musical savagery.
Crucifixion Bell hasn’t been around nearly as long as Krieg, but the creative fires of the band’s sole member The Astral Serpent have been burning white-hot since the project’s inception. The new split with Krieg is the fifth split release since the band’s 2021 debut album Eternal Grip of the Nocturnal Empire and the ninth release overall since 2020. About that album, Neill Jameson wrote this in a column for NCS last summer:
Finding projects that make sure that no second of their music is wasted or a throw-away can feel like a fucking needle in a haystack at times but, like Kommodus, Crucifixion Bell fits that description perfectly. Utterly scathing black metal that is fucking relentless from start to finish, without becoming a chore. For better or worse we’re neck deep into this new wave of American black metal and Crucifixion Bell wields the sharpest weapon of all of them.
The band’s first advance track from the new split, “Void of the Merciless“, solidifies the impressions that Neill wrote about in the context of the debut album. Propelled by a thunderous and throbbing drive-train, the song’s whirling and buzzing riffs channel a feeling that’s somehow both ecstatic and dismal. Meandering and mercurial arpeggios add a strange yet captivating feeling of dementia, while voracious snarls and hideous shrieks add sensations of throat-cutting ferocity. The song drills its way into the head, and all the quivering and queasy melodies turn out to be… catchy.
TE RUKI (French Polynesia)
When I reviewed Te Ruki‘s 2020 debut album E Tika Mateu, I prefaced it with a story about my decade-long personal connection to French Polynesia and the use of my skin as a canvas for Marquesan-style tattoos. That led someone to accuse me of cultural misappropriation, though I really just meant to explain why Te Ruki‘s music meant so much to me, just as the tattoos do. This time I’ll skip past those explanations and go right to the band’s new music, which I’m fairly sure you’re allowed to enjoy even if you’re not Polynesian.
What we have now are two songs available for streaming from the band’s new album Marako Te Ruki, which will be released on April 21st (it features fantastic cover art by Khaos Dictator Design). Both of those songs, “Te Aka Tamaki” and “Komeri a Kamahi“, are enormous thrills to hear.
In “Te Aka Tamaki” the sound is powerful and cutting. The layered riffing is both crazed and cruel, the drumming both bone-smashing and boisterous, and the growled vocals absolutely ferocious. Eerie, soaring keyboards and vehement Tahitian chants also add an air of chilling grandeur to a savage attack.
Polynesian drums play a role in Komeri a Kamahi“, a song that immediately creates sensations of fiery and sweeping splendor, but for the most part it drives just as hard and fast as “Te Aka Tamaki“. The swirling guitar leads are electrifying, the keyboard cascades are magnificently sinister, and the song as a whole gets the heart pounding. The track also includes a contrasting instrumental break in which the combination of Polynesian percussion, Tahitian nasal flute, guitar, and bass create a mysterious allure.
(Thanks to eiterorm for making me aware that these songs were out in the world.)
“Gniew” means “wrath” in Polish, and it’s the name chosen by this Polish band, whose line-up includes three members of Plaga.
Their debut EP, Konsylium Oprawców (released on March 25th), pulls the trigger on a musical flamethrower, with fireworks exploding high overhead. The songs are marked by frequent changes in tempo and riffing. At their zeniths of ecstatic intensity the music rockets, drums blasting at superhuman speeds, the guitars whining and whirling like diabolical dervishes, the vocals a scathing torrent of caustic shrieks.
In between those breathtaking bursts of delirium the band swagger and rock, batter and slash, giving you plenty of chances to get your head nodding. They also quell their riots with music of heart-stricken grief and despair, and you’ll hear extended guitar solos that become magnificent arena-ready anthems, even when their themes sound like tragedy.
As I listened, the overused word “epic” kept springing to mind. Gniew do such a fantastic job blending together black metal with classic heavy metal and rock, with a fine ear for catchy and involving melodies, and an equally formidable ability to go on rampages of impressive ferocity. From beginning to end, it’s electrifying.
(Thanks to Miloš for linking me to this terrific EP.)
THE SUN’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE NIGHT (UK)
This UK solo project of the mysterious “No One” independently released its second demo in a tiny cassette run in May 2021, in between the band’s second and third full-lengths. Just a couple of days ago NY’s Crown and Throne Ltd. reissued it digitally, and thus gave people like me a chance for a delayed discovery of its 40 minutes of music.
Yes, there’s a lot to discover here, through three tracks of increasing length. Raw black metal hysteria greets the listener upon the launch of “Clawing at the Gates of Heaven“, a song that then seamlessly transitions into sensations of crushing and haunting anguish, with high crystalline tones ringing in the mind like bells of glass. It’s a startling contrast between scathing and ethereal sounds, but not the last one you’ll encounter in the demo.
Through a union of dense, harsh, black metal riffing and mesmerizing ambient and organ keys, the next two tracks create an even greater amalgam of experiences, running the gamut from music that seems vast, celestial, and cold to onslaughts of scarring abrasiveness and cauterizing fieriness, accompanied by throat-ruining vocals of terrible torment. Feelings of loneliness and abandonment come through, as well as intense pain and despair, but with elegant and reverent glimpses of wonder in their midst.
P.S. The band’s most recent release (via Church Road Records) was a February 2022 single called “The Black Pyramid“, which we reviewed here, and it’s well worth checking out too.