SHADES OF BLACK (WALPURGISNACHT EDITION): NEGATIVE PLANE, MONDOCANE, NOCTIS AETERNAE
This week’s Shades of Black falls on May Day, the morning after Walpurgisnacht. That night, which of course has a significance that long pre-dates the German name, falls halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, and in old pagan traditions it was celebrated to mark the changing of the seasons, just as Samhain does six months later. And in the ancient folklore traditions, as on Samhain, the veil between the material world and the spirit world was thought to be at its thinnest.
Of course, in northern Europe the Church co-opted the pagan May Day, turning it into the feast day of Saint Walpurga, a German abbess honored for her success in putting an end to pagan sorcery (among other achievements), and on the night before it — Walpurgisnacht — bonfires were built to ward off witches and evil spirits in her name.
Worse still, “Medieval Germany bore witness to some of the largest and most gruesome witch hunts in history”, and Walpurgisnacht “is even sometimes referred to as the Hexenbrunnen (the burning of the witches) due to its bloody past” (per this source). “What had originally been a celebration of spring morphed into a desperate attempt to protect oneself from evil.” (For the Church, fear was always a great tool for conversion.)
Well, time passes, and now for a long time Walpurgisnacht, like Halloween, has been a time of celebration again. Spring arrives and we still revel in the passing of winter, and perhaps relish the thinning of the veil, though few of us work the fields. Here are a few selections of new black metal that I picked in celebration.
NEGATIVE PLANE (U.S.)
Some black metal bands seem quite cognizant of Walpurgisnacht in choosing the timing of their releases, and it’s apparent that Negative Plane are one of those, springing a new album named The Pact yesterday through The Ajna Offensive and Invictus Productions as the band’s first release in a decade.
Conceptually structured around tales of Faustian bargains with the Devil that are organized into a single narrative, and produced with interesting techniques (all discussed in this engrossing interview), the album is accompanied by a rich array of artwork, as well as a 2,500-word explanation of the story and lyrics, and another lengthy document describing the artwork, though it appears those documents won’t be made publicly available.
In terms of the sheer effort devoted to the creation of the music, the words, and the visual imagery, The Pact is one of those albums that seems destined to be thought of as a landmark, or a musical monument, much as Stained Glass Revelations became in the years after its 2011 release. But of course effort alone does not mean the monument will last, rather than crumble soon. That depends on the listening experience of the music more than anything.
I’m not dishonest enough to claim that I have fully understood such an extensive work on the day after its release, or mentally capable of creating a proper review at this point, even based on first impressions and impulse. And after all, you can listen for yourselves — which is mainly the point of me choosing the album to begin today’s collection, to encourage you to listen to these devilish revels.
And yes, that’s what most of these songs are in my mind — wild, extravagant, diabolical revels that will get your heart racing and your head spinning, interspersed with episodes that are sinister, seductive, and haunting. They manage to be both elaborate and primal in their appeal, multi-faceted in their stylistic ingredients, dynamic in numerous ways, and relentlessly head-hooking. And the album does have the quality of a theatrical narrative, like the “rock operas” of yesteryear. It seems diabolically brilliant to me on a first pass.
I took a blind chance on this next selection, since I had no previous experience that I can recall with the music of Mondocane. It turned out to be a winning gamble.
Gloria is the second album by this Stockholm project. Again timed to roughly coincide with Walpurgisnacht, it was released on Friday. Like Negative Plane‘s album, I haven’t spent much time with it, just a single run through the eight tracks, but that was enough to cinch its choice for this collection.
The deep gargled vocals are, as the Church might say, as ugly as sin — except when choral voices gloriously but sadly soar in the fascinating second track. The songs range widely in their sensations, and the familiar tropes of black metal play only one role in the musical amalgams. And so, depending on where you are in the track list:
The songs race and they stagger. They slash and they swirl. They brandish a feral, devilish swagger and they weave powerful dark spells. They’re menacing and dismal, cunning and cruel, and they elevate like witches around a bonfire. The riffing is captivating, and the keyboards and electronica are adroitly used. I’m not adept enough to know if the drumming is live or programmed, but their visceral punch, augmented by a heavyweight bass, is magnetic.
And I hope that’s enough to get you to listen.
NOCTIS AETERNAE (Germany)
To close this collection I picked the self-titled debut EP of this German band. Unlike the two albums that precede it here, its release wasn’t as precisely timed to coincide with Walpurgisnacht — I believe it came out on April 24th via Sol Records — but once I heard it I thought it was a great choice for this witchy weekend.
The two original songs have an epic scale (forgive me for using an overused term), in the sense that they have the atmosphere of an infernal blaze creating a frightening glow high up on pitch-black mountains looming over villages where people huddle in fear. The grand symphonic sweep of the songs carries a deeply sinister and frightening mood, entwined with anthems of hideous nightside glory and spasms of violent delirium.
But make no mistake, while the ring of the trilling guitars, the soaring synths, and the goblin snarls create powerful, hellish visions, the hammering drums strike at a visceral level, causing muscles to twitch.
The third track, a cover version of Zemial‘s “Sleeping Under Tartarus”, fits beautifully with the other two. It seems more like a primitive carnal revel than the original tracks, and the back-beat is strong, but the eerie keyboard layers, and the cruelty that’s near the surface of the melody and eventually flares, give it a demonic ambience.
The pact is already AOTY!!!!!
Right now I’m torn between Starer and Moonknight. Also a big fan of that Thumos record.
This is CORRECT
According to the linked interview, Negative Plane’s founder and lead guitarist is named…
“I took a blind chance on this next selection, since I had no previous experience that I can recall with the music of Mondocane.”