We’re getting down to the wire for this list. I’ve used that expression many times in many contexts without knowing precisely what it means or where it came from, but having checked the dictionary today I find that it’s an apt expression here. It means an outcome that’s unclear and unsettled until the last minute, the very end, and thus also means “full of suspense”.
Another source reports: “This term comes from horseracing, where it was long the practice to stretch a wire across and above the track at the finish line. It was extended to figurative use about 1900.”
With only tomorrow left to bring this list to an end, I feel suspenseful myself, because I have no fucking idea how to end it. Well, tomorrow is another day. Today I picked these three songs:
Tuomas Saukkonen is capable of writing wintry music, whose cold, sad poignancy can be very moving. But one look at the YouTube thumbnail for the video made for the song “Cold Flame” shows that this isn’t one of those songs, despite its name (which actually refers to the northern lights). This one is a storming track that’s very effective in kick-starting a cold pulse.
The song’s main musical sequence alternates between a fiery thrash riff and a fast chug, with the drummer studiously keeping time in the midst of the onrushing metal barbarity and Saukkonen‘s ferocious roars.
And there’s still a lot more to stick this song in the head, including a bright, darting guitar lead around the 2:00 mark that’s a quick reflection of what enabled Scandinavian melodic death metal to take the world by storm a couple decades ago, plus bursts of percussive blasting, maniacal yet grim tremolo’d chords, throat-ruining screams, lots of slugging and jolting grooves, and soaring embellishments that sound heroic, mythic, and grand… and monstrous uber-low growls from guest Karl Sanders.
I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the video either. The song is off Wolfheart‘s 2022 album King of the North, which DGR reviewed at length here.
BLACK ROYAL (Finland)
I assume it’s evident to frequent NCS visitors that my fandom for Black Royal reached the drooling stage a long time ago, and so there was no chance I was going to finish this list without including something from their 2022 album Earthbound. This marks the third year in a row for a Black Royal song to make this list, and the fourth time overall.
I premiered a song called “Ghosts of the Dead” from that album last year, but it’s a single that preceded the premiere which I settled on as an addition to this list.
True to form, in “13th Moon” Black Royal pulled together fat ear-worm riffs and hard-hitting grooves, but in this song they do it in an up-tempo rocker augmented by vocals that scald like getting a face-full of boiling water and bellow like a bull. Once they’ve got you locked in, they start embellishing — with a weird and wailing guitar solo, spacey keyboards, and mood changes that bring in feelings of sinister menace.
The third song in today’s installment just snuck in “under the wire”. It’s from an album entitled All Stillborn Fires, Lick My Heart that was released by Terratur Possessions on December 30th of last year, and I fell for that album quickly when I heard it, featuring it in a Shades of Black roundup on January 1st. To borrow from what I wrote then:
Kringa‘s music here often overflows with visceral, feral power. The riffing comes in dense tides, coarse and caustic, driven by skull-cracking beats and a prominently throbbing bass, coupled with screams of throat-ruining fury. But as you’ll learn from the very first track, Kringa have a fine knack for switching things up, both quelling the riots and bringing in strange digressions.
In that opening track, “Across the Firmament, Stride!“, Kringa quickly go wild and set the hook just as fast, but weird quavering instrumentation and ghastly and ghostly vocals intrude, soon joined by high seething chords, turning the music into a supernatural experience. (The guitar or keyboard effect brings to mind the wavering and throbbing motif in The Smiths‘ “How Soon Is Now?”). Things eventually get wild again, punching the pulse and spinning the mind through an electrifying whirl, with vocals that give themselves over to high-flown cries (and that bass is so fine!).
Every one of the songs on the album is a carnival ride, bringing different tonal and emotional sensations and different vocal expressions around every fast turn, more richly textured and intricate than you might think, but with more hooks than a fanatic angler could assemble. But it’s that opening track that really took me by the throat, and it’s the one I chose for this list.