SHADES OF BLACK: OLD FOREST, AFSKY, UKĆ, LE PROCHAIN HIVER, MOTSTAND, HYRGAL
I often rely on the recommendations of friends in deciding how to spend my listening time, and then deciding what to recommend to you. I like rooting around myself, like a truffle-sniffing pig, but after pouring a fair amount of time into yesterday’s big roundup I wasn’t left with a lot of sniffing and rooting time, and therefore took my lead from friends for much of what’s coming below. They didn’t let me down, and hopefully I won’t let you down with these choices either.
OLD FOREST (UK)
I had to start today’s collection with a new song by Old Forest because I found it so immediately captivating. I’m not steeped in the band’s extensive discography (seven albums and a bunch of shorter releases going back to 1998), but Neill Jameson is, and he introduced Decibel’s premiere of the song last week with a brief history.
The new track, “Master of Arachnids”, is from a forthcoming album named Sutwyke, which Neill lauded as “easily the band’s best full length since their phantasmagoric re-materialization” in 2008 following a long hiatus: “Taking elements from all eras of their discography (including the clean vocals, though somewhat more subdued) this is also their most jet-black record showing that there is still plenty of (un)life in these bones”.
Well, that was more than enough temptation to dive into “Master of Arachnids”.
Right from the beginning you’ll be introduced to a guitar motif that’s both magisterial and ethereal, glorious and eerily exotic, ringing high above more brutishly imperious chords, neck-snapping snare-work, and scorching vocal tirades. The more you hear it, the more deeply it takes root in the mind.
The shrill, vibratory riffing morphs through multiple variations from there, equally attention-seizing but often more frightening in their harmonies, but it’s that opening motif that keeps stealing the show every time it cycles through again. When witches and warlocks convene in high mountains beneath midnight moons, this must be their soundtrack.
Sutwyke will be released on March 31st through Soulseller Records.
Last week also brought us Vendetta Records‘ release of Afsky‘s third album, Om hundrede år. As the band’s solo creator Ole Pedersen Luk has explained, it represents a turning away from negativity, and is instead “a tribute to life if you will.”
“It’s about life and about feelings surrounding being alive knowing it comes to an end. The feeling of knowing you have to leave one day and not be here anymore. Thoughts that those you love at some point are no longer there. Thoughts that life is unique and therefore precious and that you shouldn’t throw it away. Thoughts that there is something I would like to achieve while I am here on earth.”
Ole Pedersen Luk also believes it is some of the best music he has made, and I wouldn’t quarrel with that. The soft, classically-influenced acoustic guitar passages are elegant, poignant, and spell-inducing. The stately processionals have a feeling of reverence, even as the dense, roiling mass of guitars saturates the mind with distraught and deleterious moods. The races are ravaging, the vocals so intense that they threaten to tear apart in their torment, the riffing so superheated that it seems like wildfires out of control.
And all that happens in just the opening song “Stormfulde hav“. You’ll notice that the adjectives I used don’t all accord with the thoughts that inspired the album, although I’ll add that in its wildfire phase the song does channel feelings of blazing resilience.
You’ll also perceive from what I’ve written that the music is dramatically multi-faceted, and that’s a hallmark of the remaining five songs as well. The music’s heart-felt passion is another unmistakable hallmark, whether it’s soaring to heights of breathtaking grandeur or receding into lonesome contemplation. And while much of the time the music rides across high musical skies lit brilliantly by the sun, there’s a heavy bass pulse and punch to ground it, along with drumming that’s well-nuanced to suit all the changing moods.
Oh, I hate to use the overworked term “epic”, but there’s not a better word for Om hundrede år. It’s frequently heart-breaking, as is life, but it does also point to a way forward — that feeling that “life is unique and therefore precious and that you shouldn’t throw it away”. It left me wholly absorbed in what it was doing, and not able to do much after I heard it but reflect upon all the people I’ve lost in my own life, what they meant to me, and what else I might do to earn all they gave me.
(A favorable comment from Johan H. in a FB group of metalhead friends reminded me that I needed to investigate Om hundrede år.)
I found this next song because of a recommendation from Rennie in his most recent entry at starkweather’s SubStack. It reads as follows:
“I’ll be damned if the intro to the new track from Poland’s Ukć ‘Uchodząc‘ isn’t distinctly Bathory – Hammerheart meets Swans – “Will We Survive”. Great track that melds this melodic edge and fierce black metal. Looking forward to how this new album shapes up. This is monumental, epic stuff quickly following on the heels of last year’s Przemijanie.”
I probably don’t need to say anything more about “Uchodząc“, but of course I will. Lyrically (if Google Translate is to be believed), the song is about a child’s yearning to live, to learn, to love, within a twisted reality that’s “blind, deaf, stupid, indifferent”, and brutally kicks hope in the face.
In its remarkably varied sounds, you’ll find bone-rattling drumwork and spine-jolting riffage, as well as sensations of harrowing and scintillating grandeur complemented by horn-like and chime-like tones, plus striking vocal intensity (along with gloomy spoken words and some singing) — and a lilting acoustic melody that’s sublime.
The song is from a new album named Coming Out that will be released on April 17th by Seven Gates of Hell.
LE PROCHAIN HIVER (France)
I found the first of the next two songs, “Allégeance“, pastoral, panoramic, and romantic. The drums hurtle, a voice snarls like a dangerous beast, and the melody comes in dense rolling waves tinged with abrasion, but there’ something vast and glorious about the music, and the flute accents, which pitch the experience into an even more elevating plane, are wonderful.
Granted, there’s also a melancholy quality to the melody as it evolves, perhaps especially when the music softens near the 5:00 mark. When the surge resumes, lit up by a flickering trill, it might put your heart in your throat.
The more recent song, “Talvi“, again provides a prominent place to the flute. In partnership with the enticing ring of guitars and a crystalline female voice, it draws the listener in, and then again the music swells and sweeps. Even after the appearance of the beastly harsh voice and the sharp reverberating pop of the drums, there’s a feeling of intense longing in the music, which becomes even more heart-wrenching when the drums go wild and the immersive waves of melody catch fire.
The tandem of flute and shrill, trilling guitar, plus the torment of the vocals, succeed again in propelling the music to a spectacular crescendo, even if it’s anguish that writhes at the summit.
Both songs are from a new album by Le Prochain Hiver named Talvi (the Finnish word for winter), which will be released by the Antiq label on March 31st.
(I’m grateful to Miloš for reminding me that I needed to check out these songs).
Next, I decided to include another pair of songs from a forthcoming album, and this time the band is a Norwegian group named Motstand (Norwegian for “resistance” or “defiance”), whose lineup includes members of Condor, Avmakt, Mion’s Hill, Abhorration, High Priest of Saturn, and Kosmonolith (among others). What they’ve made is a hymnal to second-wave Norwegian black metal.
These two tracks, “Fortapt” (which I wrote about when it first surfaced a year ago) and “Skogens Fantasmagori“, are built upon dense waves of icy, high-toned riffage, furious drumwork (loose and livid), and riotous, enraged vocals that will put the hair on your neck straight up. In “Fortapt” the riffing morphs into dismal and pestilential visions, and also becomes a blizzard of fear and despair driven to derangement, and it all sounds so preternatural that it makes the blood run cold.
“Skogens Fantasmagori“, while built upon the same sonic foundations, writhes like a next of vipers, or perhaps a convulsion of red-eyed wraiths, but the music also scampers and cavorts in demonstrations of diabolical glee and devilish majesty tinged with melancholy. It too sounds otherworldly, perhaps especially when the drums vanish and the guitars slowly clang and sizzle. And holy shit, those vocals….
Both tracks are from Motstand‘s self-titled debut album, which will be released by Duplicate Records on March 24th. Duplicate promises that “if early 90s Norwegian black metal is your thing, look no further.”
I’ll circle back to France for the final selection in today’s collection, and circle back to Rennie again as well. He wrote this at the afore-mentioned starkweather SubStack about Hyrgal‘s forthcoming new EP:
“Session Funéraire anno MMXXIII brings even more ferocity than before. Sure, previous recordings were frantic and fraught with blistering speed, something about this track elevates the intensity to new heights. Something about this recording is more raw and weighty. Could simply be a different approach to the mix and instrument placement. Whatever the case, this preview track smokes.”
I remember Hyrgal‘s previous works (we’ve written about them in various articles collected here), and so the idea that they’ve made something that elevates their intensity to even greater heights was a startling thing to read. But sure enough, “Phalanges assassines” (the new EP’s first advance track) is thoroughly deranged.
The drums generally go ridiculously fast; the riffing screams like a siren of madness; the vocalist seems to have lost his mind too (to rabies); and the lead guitar is gloriously ecstatic in a way that also channels exultant lunacy. It’s a breathtaking maelstrom through and through, though the band also do a great job breaking up the conflagration in attention-grabbing ways, without losing the feeling of vortical fury and fire.
Session Funéraire anno MMXXIII will be released on April 7th by Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions. It’s six tracks long and includes a cover of Marduk‘s “Dark endless”.
Rock Solid Metal Track By UKC…Many Thanks For The Recommendation
Didn’t know Afsky had released a new album! made my day! unfortunately no vinyl in sight….