SHADES OF BLACK: SCARCITY, RAAT, STEINGRAB, LYCOPOLIS, NOCTU, MANTAR
As you could already deduce from the previous two posts at this site, in recent days I found more than the usual amount of time I could devote to new music. My day job left me alone, or I ignored it, and I shrugged off household chores too. Baseball presented the only serious competition, because a certain team in the Pacific Northwest is on a historic winning streak (and I hope I didn’t just jinx them by mentioning that).
Focusing on black metal for purposes of this column, I settled on one dazzling album, a collection of quite varied “singles” from forthcoming records, and a new video. You’ll also find poetry.
Scarcity‘s new album Aveilut (a Hebrew word for mourning) is difficult to describe. In part because it’s a single 45-minute composition, and in part because the trip maneuvers and whipsaws us through a spectacular labyrinth, it defies efforts to explain that “this happens, and then that happens, and then this other thing happens”. How tedious that would be, despite the hope that mapping the album would make it easier to comprehend.
Trying to pick out signal moments as illustrations of the music wouldn’t work very well either, because there are so many, and because they dramatically diverge from each other.
Doug Moore and Brendon Randall-Myers
We could make a list of stylistic ingredients, like a recipe: astral and unnerving electronics, throbbing and tempestuous rhythms, slashing chords and swirling arpeggios, heaving heaviness and explosive detonations, and the voice of a man who seems to have discovered how to turn himself inside out, exposing all the horror and pain such an experience would produce. But how many recipes have you come across that really make you feel like you’ve tasted the dish when you read them?
We could instead resort to descriptions of visions and feelings induced by the music. Some of those could be guessed at from the real-world contexts of death and grief that spawned the album, as described at the record’s Bandcamp page. There, the musical passages are also summed up as “meditations on loss and endurance” and as the representation of catastrophe — “the vastness and inevitability of things outside our control; as well as a direct expression of grief, a kind of requiem”, “a harrowing universal representation of death’s true form”.
To those sensations I might add these: fevers and frailties, splintering sanity and crashing discord, ominous grandeur and nightmarish hallucination, brilliant ecstasy and fearful awe, barren cold, haunting hopelessness, and even celestial beauty. Death and grief plague the world, but all of this also sounds out of this world.
Or, because Aveilut was released two days ago by The Flenser, I could just throw up my hands and say: Find 45 minutes when you won’t be interrupted and become engulfed by it.
There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes
By the deep sea, and music in its roar
Those words appear on the Bandcamp page for this one-person Indian project. Although I’ve written frequently about Raat‘s music, I hadn’t paid attention to that passage, or maybe it wasn’t always there. This time I did, and discovered that it’s an excerpt which appears near the end of the fourth canto of Lord Byron‘s epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
As I listened and re-listened to the next song in today’s collection, I skimmed through the canto as a whole, frequently pausing to read more carefully. It recounts the pilgrim’s travels through Italy, through its vibrant cities, ancient ruins, and natural wonders, and the wide-ranging thoughts they inspired. The words are stunning, both in their vivid expressions of delight and in their harrowing meditations on human folly and the pilgrim’s own personal travails. At the end, where the quoted words appear, he returns to the ocean, which he adores and which frightens him.
The music of “Silver Sphere” itself leads to feelings that are both delightful and harrowing. The music brilliantly shines and broadly sweeps, rings and ripples, frolics and thunders, darts and crashes, turns inward in an appreciation of beauty while beating like an electrified heart, and scars the senses through scathing waves of sound, obliterating percussion, and the screaming intensity of the vocals. It ends in an unnerving storm.
The song is accompanied by poetry of its own, but written by Percy Bysshe Shelley rather than Byron:
Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there
In the golden lightning
of the sunken sun
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth
And, by the incantation of this verse
Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The song comes from Raat’s new album Celestial Woods, which is set for release on August 5th. I’ll have more to say about it between now and then.
P.S. After the usual links and before the next selection in today’s column, I’ve included a few more passages from the fourth canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, a few of many that stunned me. (You can find the whole poem here.)
All suffering doth destroy, or is destroyed,
Even by the sufferer; and, in each event,
Ends: — Some, with hope replenished and rebuoyed,
Return to whence they came — with like intent,
And weave their web again; some, bowed and bent,
Wax grey and ghastly, withering ere their time,
And perish with the reed on which they leant;
Some seek devotion, toil, war, good or crime,
According as their souls were formed to sink or climb.
But ever and anon of griefs subdued
There comes a token like a scorpion’s sting,
Scarce seen, but with fresh bitterness imbued;
And slight withal may be the things which bring
Back on the heart the weight which it would fling
Aside for ever: it may be a sound —
A tone of music — summer’s eve — or spring —
A flower — the wind — the ocean — which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we are darkly bound.
And how and why we know not, nor can trace
Home to its cloud this lightning of the mind,
But feel the shock renewed, nor can efface
The blight and blackening which it leaves behind,
Which out of things familiar, undesigned,
When least we deem of such, calls up to view
The spectres whom no exorcism can bind, —
The cold — the changed — perchance the dead — anew,
The mourned, the loved, the lost — too many! — yet how few!
The name of Steingrab‘s new album is Fluch der Ruhelosigkeit — the curse of recklessness. The name of the first advance track is “Froschteich” — frog pond. But it’s like no frog pond you’ve ever seen, though maybe frogs see them this way.
An acoustic guitar instrumental mesmerizes in the opening, and continues to ring in beguiling fashion when the rhythms thrust, the music swells and twitters, and goblin snarls intrude. The sensations are elegant and even theatrical, especially when those vicious snarls turn into extravagant singing that lifts the song up and up, swelling the heart as they do. But it’s also a ravishing experience, and a dark one, even when Steingrab brings bright piano melodies into play. In a word, spellbinding.
This Egyptian band’s new album Amduat is a two-part work whose separate names are The Midnight Mystery and The Halls of Maat. The first part was released by the band in March of this year, and the second part is coming on July 23rd, along with a cassette edition of the entire album via the Snow Wolf label. Today I want to focus on the one song that has been revealed so far from Part 2, The Halls of Maat.
Brace yourselves and take deep breaths, because “Lights of the Sky” is an electrifying but withering blast of raw black metal. The drums pump like overdriven pistons; the high whining riffs wildly blaze and whirl like dervishes above the tumultuous rhythms; and the vocals sear like lye. At times, the guitars menacingly slither and seethe, jolt and quiver, and the drums tumble, providing dynamic diversions from the sweeping sandstorm intensity of the main throughline.
After that last scorcher, I thought I’d let you settle down a bit — but only a bit — and thus have turned to a new song from the Italian blackened doom juggernaut Noctu.
The clang of the bass-level piano chords that open “Anime Torturate” spread gloom immediately, and after that the song stomps forward with stupefying heaviness, like bombs detonating in slow motion. The music moans in long tones of terrible affliction, and a different kind of affliction takes shape in shrill, hideous screams and ghastly howls.
The doom-drenched piano returns, leading us again forward on this catastrophic march, backed by shimmering organ tones of gothic mien, and for a time we enter a spectral realm of droning ambience and muttering voices. Other voices sound hysterical and tortured, and the pain worsens when the music looms and towers again. Something so distressingly oppressive and horrifying should not be hypnotic, but I’m afraid it is.
Noctu‘s new album is named Norma Evangelium Tenebris. It will be released by Dusktone on September 2nd.
I felt it would be too merciless to leave you with that Noctu track as the final installment in today’s column, and so I’m ending things with a new song and video from Mantar, which will kick your pulse up again.
To be sure, “Grim Reaping” isn’t a happy song either — the track’s title tells you that, and the lyrics and Hanno‘s vocals make the grimness even more palpable. But the song’s infectiousness is undeniable, and its grooves primal in their punch. The video is a fascinating one too (those little bikes travel far!), with an ending that’s in line with the song’s conception — which Hanno explains thusly:
“‘Grim Reaping’ is about the simple insight that you cannot win life. No matter what you do, what you try… death remains the great unifier. And in death we will be genuine and pure.“
The song is off Mantar‘s just-released album Pain Is Forever and This Is the End (reviewed here by Mr. Synn).
I didnt expect to read poetry here, and thats exactly why I enjoy coming here, to learn new things. I never read Lord Byron in my life till now. Very interesting. I just read a bit about his short and adventurous life. There’s definitely good material for metal music in his poem. Starting now to get into Raat. I like it for a few songs at a time.