I devoted Friday’s round-up to new songs and videos from some of the bigger names in metal. As promised, today we’re digging deeper underground (tunneling is our preferred activity around here). But man, there were so many possible choices it may have made me cross-eyed.
To get un-crossed I fell back on four old favorites. I usually skimp a bit on the black metal in these Saturday collections because I’ve got tomorrow’s SHADES OF BLACK column reserved for that, but the fate of this Sunday’s column is a bit uncertain because a certain local NFL team is playing in Germany with a start time of 6:30 a.m. where I live. So I’ve made adjustments.
I would have checked out Aenaon‘s noirish new video even if the video’s thumbnail hadn’t shown a gorgeous pair of legs and some fetching high heels, but that sure didn’t hurt. There’s also the fact that I’ve shamefully neglected writing anything about the band’s recently released album Mnemosyne, and it’s time to make modest amends for that.
Photo credit: Evi Savva
The album track featured in the video is a mind-bending avant-garde whirligig called “Trauma Cultura“. It twists and turns in the darkness just as often as the video’s protagonist takes her turns along midnight urban thoroughfares. The subtitled lyrics are open to interpretation, but one such (the one I prefer) renders the song an anthem to throwing off shackles and conventions, which is a way of describing the mind-bending music as well.
With the aid of saxophonist Orestis Zyrinis and French guest vocalist Frédéric Gervais (of Orakle and Cor Serpentii), these members of Varathron and Katavasia have concocted an extravagant experience that continually shoves the listener off-balance, without completely losing the path. In its different phases it’s creepy and chilling, jolting and scathing, sinister and seductive, deliriously frenzied, and altogether hallucinatory.
Credit for the wonderful video goes to Art Lens. Credit for the wonderful legs goes to… I don’t know? The album’s striking cover painting was made by Ben Howe. Mnemosyne is out now on Agonia Records.
Rennie from starkweather pointed me to these Swedish heavyweights early last year, the occasion being the release of a two-track EP called The Pandemic Sessions. Drawing upon inspirations from the likes of Breach, Cult of Luna, and Neurosis, they created music that I found unnerving and punishing in equal measure, but with a kind of magnificent radiance that occasionally shined through as well.
A couple of days ago Rennie came through again, using starkweather’s FB pulpit to preach about a new Kollaps\e release:
KOLLAPS\E have joined forces with the brain-burrowing Trepanation Recordings for their debut full-length Phantom Centre, which will see release January 2023. Given the name, you can rest assured this is a Breach in the Cult of NeurIsis wall of monolithic sound. Definitely similarities with Abraham and LLNN, too. There are two songs up on the bandcamp sites, the newest is “Beautiful Desolate” and it is a churning machine razing abandoned urban dwellings into a parking lot. Earth-flattening and ear-worming with subtle background noise and melodic flourishes behind the killdozer’s forward momentum and hoarse roar”.
Preceding “Beautiful Desolate“, the band released another single named “Era“. Much like the Aenaon track featured above, this one is creepy and noirish at first, but soon enough the band begin to slug, bray, and scald. The combination of sensations creates a feeling that’s both dreamlike and hostile. The skull-busting grooves are damned potent, but the riffing is chimerical and more than a little unsettling.
The vitriolic vocals are as raw as a lacerated wound, but sounds of melancholy dreaminess and wailing despair also surface — along with punishing bleakness. And there’s an especially cold and brutish finale. Like the first single, this one makes a startling impression and isn’t soon forgotten.
There are five more tracks on Phantom Centre. I’m eager to see what comes next. The album will be released on January 13th.
Here’s another old favorite making a return from Siberia, a return previewed in a very interesting NCS interview by Comrade Aleks of the band’s Denis Susarev (guitarist, keyboardist) last April.
What Ultar now have in store for us is a new album named At the Gates of Dusk, and in that interview Denis gave these comments about it:
Well, this time we decided to make a step outward from the Lovecraftian works a bit. Some songs lyrically are still based on his mythology, but there are some new dark original motifs that were brought in by Gleb [vocalist]. Of course there are lots of themes that were not covered by us in Lovecraft’s art, but they surely were featured by lots of other bands, whereas we are always striving to create something unique and original.
The new album is much darker and heavier for sure and I think we managed to integrate these new feelings in our music well. It is experimental for us in some ways — we tried to implement lots of fresh ideas, it was fun, and felt great. The album has an overall ghostly haunting ethereal atmosphere with some bright airy and even psychedelic moments.
To pave the way toward the album’s advent Ultar have (so far) released three singles, all of them with videos — “Midnight Walk and Reminiscence of Necromancy“, “My Rope“, and “Innsmouth” — and I’ve tried to include all the videos below, although one has been disabled for sharing and another is age-restricted. You can also listen to all of them at Ultar‘s Bandcamp page.
Each song has variations in its elaborate pageantry, just as the settings of the videos vary (the last of them shows how cool it would be to see the band in concert). All could be branded “post black metal” — different meldings of torrential, thunderous ferocity, bone-bruising heaviness, daunting grandeur, and charismatic ringing melodies that don’t seem tethered to the world we think know.
In every song Ultar create gripping dynamism in their movements, and changing moods as well. The vocals are relentlessly terrorizing (and drop into harsh roars in “Innsmouth“), but the melodies are as likely to be signs of wrenching affliction and soul-scathing grief as they are to blaze in sweeping sonic panoramas of mesmerizing mystery, shattering fear, and glorious defiance. (There are even signs of hope in the bright, spritely melody that surfaces in “Innsmouth”). At the zeniths of their power and passion, they take the breath away. In the depths of their despair, they’re heart-breaking.
Ultar‘s music really is tremendously powerful and moving, and I hope my few words above are enough to get you into all these songs, and to be alert for their album’s release on November 20th by Rockmark Records. I may have more to say about it later.
Pre-order, pre-save, and other info can be found via the links below.
MERGER REMNANT (Sweden)
The last of today’s old favorites is the unusual collaboration between Björn Larsson from Mordbrand and God Macabre, who performs vocals, guitars, bass, and drums, and his friend Jonas Ström, who performs keys and guitars and arranges samples and ambience (and is responsible for the stunning artwork above). These two have different musical backgrounds but have found a sweet spot (actually, many of them) in the intersection of their interests.
Merger Remnant have already proven their propensity to break through genre walls, as you know if you’ve heard their 2021 debut EP Dregs (here) or their single “The Light of Stars” released here this past summer), and they do it again on a new split with The Holy Flesh (UK) that’s being released this month, though these songs are more extreme, more harrowing, and more stunningly magnificent.
The first of Merger Remnant‘s two songs on the split, “The Reaping Orbit“, nearly reaches 11 minutes in length, and they use the time to craft a wide-ranging adventure. Beginning with a gothic organ overture, the song swells in jolting power and ominous grandeur, coupled with dual vocals that expel horrific roars and larynx-shredding screams and tormented cries. The overarching effect of this blackened opening, which also includes sounds of trilling anguish and tremolo’d viciousness along with symphonic might, is to create moods of towering menace and fear-stricken frenzy.
But as is their want, Merger Remnant take a turn in their path, bringing nightmarish astral ambience into play, pierced by electronic pulsations. When the power of the music surges again, the drums hit a rocking cadence and the bass punches the pulse, but everything around them seems like calamity on a vast scale.
In the song’s last phase, the mood descends deep into a celestial sea of sorrow, made even more shattering by those wailing cries and ghostly synths. It’s no less vast in its sound, but significantly more haunting — and hypnotizing.
The second song, “Frozen Hell“, isn’t quite as long, but it’s also a stunner. If anything, it magnifies the fear factor in the music. Daunting and desolate at first, it erupts in a typhoon of hammering drums and riffage that both slaughters and jackhammers, surrounded by swirling keys and amplified by utterly unhinged shrieking vocals. Vivid vibrating leads ring through, seizing attention above blasting percussion, and gritty singing rages above a megaton swaggering groove.
Merger Remnant send the song aloft too, creating an electrifying atmosphere of frightening splendor as those grooves shake the ground and then bolt into a manic blast-beat surge. Grand symphonic chords provide the backdrop for exhilarating trem-picked guitars in a breathtaking crescendo.
P.S. I’ve learned that Jesper Skarin from Switch Opens and VAK added his guest vocals as the singer in “Frozen Hell“.
The split will be jointly released by De:Nihil Records and Dybbuk Productions. I haven’t yet made my way into the three tracks on the split from The Holy Flesh, and haven’t found that they’re streaming yet, but I look forward to seeing what they’re all about.