Apr 092023

Pieter Bruegel – “The Fall of the Rebel Angels”

Today is Easter Sunday, this year falling in the midst of Passover and Ramadan — a Holy Trifecta! To all “people of faith” out there reflecting on messages of hope, tolerance, liberation from oppression, the needs of the less fortunate, and visions of a more just world based on equality and dignity of the individual, we wish you well.

For those more focused on imposing your beliefs on others and abusing those who won’t submit, as predecessors of your kind have done for millennia, seems like you’ve lost your way. In more ways than one today, because people like that aren’t likely to land on this site anyway except by mistake (e.g., searching for “no spring cleaning”).

With that out of the way, we’re not observing any ancient commandments or rituals today, especially those that claim divine inspiration, just my own Sunday tradition of uplifting musical rebellion in some of its blackest expressions, including those who find Hell is where their heart is.



OSSAERT (Netherlands)

I touched on Ossaert‘s new album Offerdier in February when the first advance track surfaced, and now it’s out in full via Argento Records, as of two days ago.

Listening to the first and fourth tracks is in fact what inspired my choice of Bruegel’s painting for the top of this post, because the scale and sweep of the music is often so magnificent that it does sound like a conflict in the heavens. On the other hand, the dynamic drumming and pulsating bass work (which is especially vital in the fourth song) are also viscerally strong factors in the music’s appeal, along with the appearance of feral, swaggering and swirling riffs backed by romping beats.

The melodies of those songs are both piercing and immersive, and they powerfully channel moods of tension, turmoil, delirium, and downfall (downfall especially in the forlorn and funereal fourth track) — as well as glory. And if the sole creator’s blaspheming vocal chords were left in a bloody ruin by the end of these recordings, that would not be surprising (though at the end of both songs he manages to sing in reverent choral tones too).

The second and third tracks are “interstitial”, in the sense that they bring orchestral synths and harpsichord-like or organ keys, backed by stately ritual beats, to create both grand and haunting instrumental spells with a mysterious and medieval air.

At both high tide and ebb, it’s a captivating album.





As I make my way through music I think might be candidates for this column, sometimes things naturally fall into place. I’m convinced it’s coincidence rather than the influence of some higher power, but it’s still marvelous when it happens. And it did happen when I embarked upon this French band’s debut album Le Voyageur after my second spin through Ossaert’s new one.

These four long tracks — “Scène 1” through “Scène 4” — will appeal to fans of unsettling ambient music (and yes, it’s very spooky and unsettling here), but fans of black metal will also be rewarded with screaming and incinerating sonic gales, industrial hyper-blasting and martial percussion, maniacal and hard-slugging bass work, ugly snarls, fanatical roars, and wild yells.

The music elevates to celestial heights (but the heavens are also ablaze), and it further creates eye-popping audio pageants of extreme distress and apocalyptic hopelessness on a vast scale (as if you couldn’t guess from the band’s name). The ambient intros to the first three tracks provide opportunities for deep breaths (though it won’t be easy breathing), and you’d better seize those chances because what follows will suck the wind from your lungs. The fourth track is 100% ambient, and the most nightmarish and doomed of all those expressions.

Le Voyageur was co-released yesterday (digital and CD) by the Transcendence label and Duality Records. (Thanks to Rennie for the tip on this one before I noticed the Bandcamp alert.)




SÓL ÁN VARMA (Iceland)

In some ways this next album is a stand-alone artifact of historical significance, especially for ardent fans of Icelandic black metal, bringing something to the masses that only a fortunate few once heard live in 2018. But of course it’s more than that or I wouldn’t be including it here. Here’s the full back story, courtesy of Van Records, which has now released it:

Sól án varma, translated Sun without radiance, is a 70 minute long piece written and performed by a select few notorious names from the Icelandic black metal underground. Founded by T.Í. and D.G. (members of Misþyrming, Naðra, Núll, Drottinn, etc.), prominent personnel of the Icelandic Vánagandr elite, Sól án varma is more of an conceptual idea rather than a band or a side project.

Originally, Sól án varma, was commissioned as a special one-of-a-kind show for Roadburn Festival 2018. The 70 minute piece has neither been heard before nor since this special performance. Having hosted Misþyrming as “Artist in Residence” at the festival two years prior, Walter Hoeijmakers, Roadburn director wanted the Icelandic musicians to bring a new and compelling phenomenon to the table for the 2018 edition of the festival.

After a meeting with Walter in Iceland in 2017, D.G. and T.Í. put together a unit of carefully selected musicians to form what would later become the Sól án varma concept. These members are: G.E. (Misþyrming, Naðra, Svartidauði), Á.B.Z. (Carpe Noctem, Árstíðir Lífsins), M.S. (Svartidauði, Drottinn), S.V. (Svartidauði, Drottinn) and H.V. (Wormlust).

After a long and intensive writing and rehearsing period, the group premiered the piece at the Roadburn Festival 2018 in front of three-thousand fans in the 013-Venue in Tilburg. A year after the performance, the group decided to make the piece immortal by putting it into a properly presentable recorded format. The group entered the studio and tracked down most of the instrumentals over a course of five weeks.

Due to being very busy with their other projects, the musicians put the recordings on a hiatus which would take almost one and a half year, unexpectedly.

If you’re not interested in hearing this now, I’ll be surprised. I sure as hell was. What did I find?

photo for NCS by Teddie Taylor (more from this performance at Roadburn 2018 here)

Trying to sum up a wide-ranging and often elaborate 70-minute suite of music like this one isn’t easy, if it were possible at all, so I won’t try. I’ll just stitch together (as is my wont) a handful of adjectives that touch upon some (but not all) of the experiences. The music is: massively heavy and mercilessly harrowing; menacing and mystical; tormented in the extreme and soulfully at sea in grief; towering in its passages of breathtaking splendor but also capable of getting your head and body bouncing to punchy grooves; it drifts in cold, hostile voids and like the doomed Icarus flies toward the fires of the Sun.

The vocals sound like wild beasts who briefly took the form of humans and had only a mercilessly limited time to get out all the anger and anguish they’ve stored up — but ghastly gasps and soaring choral voices play a role too.

In two words, and as expected, Sól án varma is a great accomplishment. (Thanks to Miloš for putting this one on my radar.)




EKROM (Norway)

To close today’s column I chose just a single song rather than another full release. This one, “My End“, is the first advance track from a debut album named Uten Nådigst Formildelse. It’s the work of a Norwegian duo with some miles behind them: drummer Thomas Ødegaard (AKA Tex Terror, longtime drummer/vocalist of Nocturnal Breed) and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kharon, an early member of Norway’s Covenant.

The song is a cold, swaggering menace that repeatedly bolts into a racing delirium, fronted by soul-scorching vocal vitriol that sounds like a demon trying to escape a chokehold. There’s some nimble bass work in the mix along with variable but always-gripping drumming.

The music also seamlessly segues into a more panoramic phase where spreading symphonic synths carry it high and far to a place where splendor and tragedy coexist, capped by a spellbinding finale.

Uten Nådigst Formildelse will be released by Edged Circle Productions on June 6th (vinyl, CD, tape, and digital).


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