SHADES OF BLACK: VIDMERSHIY SHMAT, OBRIJ, FROSTNATT, ENGE STORE, FUNEBRE, ULVIK, VESPERWYND, NARRENWIND, GROHOT
My NCS time can be captured by this formula: NCS = 24 – [FDJ + FAF + SBBS + MAE], where 24 is the number of hours in the day (a constant I haven’t figured out how to extend), FDJ is Fucking Day Job, FAF is Family and Friends, SBBS is Sleep, Bathroom Breaks, and Smoking, and MAE is Meteors and Earthquakes.
EAD (Eating and Drinking) doesn’t enter into it because I can do those things at the computer. So far, the value of MAE has been Zero. I might have made a place for DDD (Disease, Dismemberment, and Death), which would leave the calculated NCS time at Zero, but hope springs eternal!
The most consequential variable (so far) is FDJ. Unfortunately, I can’t ignore it, as I sometimes do with FAF, and it’s difficult to minimize the time required, as I sometimes do with SBBS. But during this long Thanksgiving holiday it has left me alone, and that’s why I finished two big roundups on Friday and Saturday, and now a third one here.
VIDMERSHIY SHMAT / OBRIJ (Ukraine)
Ukraine is on my mind every day, and not just because my spouse is half-Ukrainian. This inclines me to check out new metal from that war-ravaged country whenever I see it, and what I saw yesterday was a new split by Vidmershiy Shma from Kyiv and Обрій (Obrij) from Uzhhorod, which was released by the Ukrainian label Neformat Family on November 24th.
The black metal of Vidmershiy Shma is new to these ears, but their song here made a very positive first impression. “Deaf Void” reminds me that there isn’t enough banjo in black metal, even though it’s only used as an overture here. But it’s not the only interesting feature of this song.
You’ll also encounter thunderous drums, heavy rumbling bass lines, searing guitar fevers, and screams that crack in their tormented intensity — but also tumbling beats, the vivid ring of strummed chords, and gruff bellows. And that’s not all. Just past the mid-point, it becomes more hallucinatory and downcast, though the bass remains a vivid presence, leading the music back into a fiery finale.
I’ve written repeatedly about the music of Обрій, and so I wasn’t surprised that their new song “Відьма” (“Witch”) is so damned good — though it’s damned harrowing too. It’s titanic in its heaviness, and dismal in its mood, though a feeling of rage grows within the oppressive and bone-smashing weight of the music, through tremolo’d seizures and ravishing screams. Agony moans from the lead guitar as the drums snap the skull, and even the vocalist’s roars sound begin to sound broken and wretched.
A desperate and dangerous winter lies ahead for almost everyone in Ukraine, including these bands. I hope they are all able to persevere.
I’ve made a point of continuing to cover Russian bands at NCS, despite my revulsion at what the country’s dictator has done to Ukraine. In some quarters that would be considered deplorable, but I know (and have read about) too many Russians who are horrified by what has been done allegedly in their name to think that all must be punished.
Blame can be cast at simply staying silent for too long, but even there it’s perhaps too easy to throw stones from places that aren’t walled in by fear (even here in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” I won’t even put bumper stickers expressing my political views on my car for fear that some wingnut asshole would key it or put a knife in a tire). Or maybe I’m just worn out from all the anger and hate that chokes the world everywhere I look and would rather just indulge (when I need to) in hateful music.
I don’t mean to suggest that Frostnatt‘s just-released new EP Dette stedet kjenner bare kulden is hateful black metal — far from it. Indeed, the EP’s title track is one of the most glorious and inspirational songs I’ve heard in many moons, and one of the most indelibly infectious. The storming heaviness in the low end is formidable, but the morphing trill and pulse of the guitars is magnificent, and the drums rock as hard as they thunder. There’s a point at which a slow arpeggio sounds wistful, and that feeling comes through again at the end, but those are the only breaths you’ll get in this heart-pounding extravaganza.
I guess I should mention that the EP is entirely instrumental, but this is one of those stirring rarities where vocals aren’t missed, neither in that opening track nor in the other four, which are also completely captivating. They continue sending the listener’s heart soaring with moods of yearning and exhilaration, and with enough variations in mood, momentum, and instrumental embellishment that it doesn’t wear out its welcome.
P.S. The man behind Frostnatt has left Russia. On his Facebook page he asks: “Don’t judge all Russians equally. A lot of us are against the war, we just don’t have a platform to speak out.”
ENGE STORE (Norway)
I thought now would be a good time for a digression — for a spell instead of a heart-storm — and found quite the spell in the following video for Enge Store‘s song “Minneflimmer“.
Strummed acoustic guitars and shimmering synths slowly weave moods of mystery and sorrow above primitive drum-thumps, enhanced by the ring and ripple of different guitars, and the solemn and somber singing. Further instrumental tones trace an evolving harmony that adds an element of medieval music to this thoroughly haunting but entrancing experience.
This song is from Enge Store‘s new album Det høstes nå, which will be released by Eisenwald on December 9th. You can check out two more songs from it at Bandcamp, which bring in other forms of old instrumentation, including fiddle, clapped hands, and the sound of horns, as well as vocal variations, and prove to be no less beguiling (or beautifully autumnal) than the one below. The band also include these words from the poet Louise Gluck on the record’s Bandcamp page:
This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.
It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them—
these things we depend on,
The instrumental opening of this next single, “Beggars Of Blinding Time“, provides a good segue from Enge Store‘s song and back into more glorious but still hauntingly sad black realms.
There’s soaring grandeur in these immersive sounds, but the rapid whirr of the guitar betrays emotional tumult in the midst of the sweeping symphonic cascades, the hammering riffs, and hurtling drums, and the raking vocals channel their own form of torment. Suddenly the storm abates, making way for an enthralling piano melody, and then the music seems to rise like a blazing sunrise.
Below, I also want to include Thomas Khrul‘s poetic lyrics, which are unusually good.
Sorrow gather poisoned words for the soul
Carven deep upon the door of the heart
So ends the pitiful reign of egotism
By passing will everything come to light
Entering the tinted house where spirits breathe out
Where all fates hang in balance like crucified dolls
Beggars of blinding time – drowsing for countless lustrums
Waiting for the storm to freed – when winds of hope howls
A vengeful call on grace
A leap of twisted fate
The scars will last
Until the stars fall into line
And sometimes, in ghastly dry voices
Like the rustling of sun-baked reeds
They whisper the one word they remember from life
They whisper the name of their lost
Their existence more than death but less than life
Like obscenity (as one U.S. Supreme Court Justice famously wrote in his non-definition of the term: “I know it when I see it”), Cascadian Black Metal is hard to define but you know it when you hear it. And that’s at least one of the places where Vancouver’s Ulvik proudly plant their flag. Even the title of their latest album is Cascades.
The opening track “Baaltis” provides a good measure of the music’s startling impact. It races head-long, with ravishing intensity, but generates vast sonic panoramas and towering power. It also drifts away into ethereal mystic mists, like fog lit by moonlight in mountain meadows, thus creating transfixing contrasts.
The rest of the album continues to trade in these contrasts, pushing and pulling the intensity, lighting fires and parting veils into ghostly dimensions, raising daunting monuments to a primeval past and swooping like a forest raptor with death in its claws, and throwing in enough muscle-triggering riffs and rhythms to give a headbanger a good time too.
Cascades was first released independently in July 2021, but was just reissued earlier this month by the distinctive French label Distant Voices. As usual, it’s only available from them on tape, but having bought many from this label, I can assure you they are all little works of art, accompanied by other hand-crafted works of art, and they arrive promptly, even across an ocean. You can get the digital version from the band here. If you happened to miss this stunner last year, don’t miss it now.
This Michigan band’s new single “Silenced By Thunder” provides a captivating amalgam of contrasting ingredients — lush symphonic waves and visceral rocking grooves, riffing that feverishly jabs and synths that brilliantly swirl, vicious fanged snarls and solemn singing chants, all of it vivified by a prominent and inventive bass performance. The combination proves to be both celestially ethereal and viscerally compulsive, both hypnotic and dangerous.
Next up we have another song that also thrives on a continually interesting bass performance, but oh hell, everything else going on is also very interesting.
I didn’t know what to expect from Narrenwind‘s new EP (don’t think I’ve ever heard them before, despite the existence of a significant discography), but I had to find out just based on the EP’s name: Mona Turbo Lisa. It’s the title track I was referring to above, the song that opens this new release.
What a weird and wondrous track this is! Guitars (which often sound like keys but I’ve learned are not) whirl like an enticing but sinister dream; the big bass hums and throbs, the serrated vocals snarl and gasp in macabre distorted tones; the drums cavort and kick the pulse. It might make you feel like dancing, but knowing that you’re on a tightrope with some kind of hell beneath.
As the Narrenwind duo themselves truthfully say, the rest of the EP’s songs are also “off-grid soundscapes”. They too prove to be equal parts weirdly seductive and menacing, sometimes psychedelic and sometimes psychotic, both jubilant and predatory. There’s eye-popping splendor here, and moments that inspire stultifying dread, and… well, I could go on and on….
Trying to follow all the elaborate instrumental parts is kind of like trying to keep your eyes on the fragments of a kaleidoscope as they fracture and fall into place, or you can just give up and marvel at where these two brilliant mad scientists will take you.
I think it’s possible, if not likely, that by now some regular visitors to this column will have grown hungry for something more extreme. And so to close I chose the following new Grohot single, which is a follow-up to their 2021 debut EP Creatio ex Nihilo.
“Blood Sun” wastes no time elevating the pulse with jittery thrashing riffage, tumultuous blaring chords, and enraged vampire screams. The drums are the only thing steady about the experience, but they eventually cut loose too, and there the music blazes.
However, Grohot astutely switch things up, with a brief and eerie warbling and flickering interlude. Those ghostly yet spritely manifestations persist even after the full band return to bring in the vicious pulse of cold and the cruel chords, and then go on the attack again.
The song’s eerie aspects turn out to be just as important as its ignition of infernal bonfires, and the music is all the better for that.
The Islander Math intro hooked me in! Thanks for the Ulvik rec, digging what I’m hearing.
I love math like people love ideals. In practice when I hit calculus I realized my talents were average at best. But we often still love what rejects us.
Your intro really makes my day! And Frostnatt’s album too
Thank you! And I’m sure Frostnatt thanks you too.
Brilliant as always. Loved the Vidmershiy Shma track. Hope there’s more in the pipeline