Happy Mother’s Day. I felt the need to say that because a few of you might be mothers and others might have been born of mothers, as opposed to some other form of spawning.
I’m typing this with one hand. The other hand is around my own throat, trying to choke off my tendency to explain why I haven’t accomplished more with this column today. It’s a struggle, so I should get on to the music before my choking hand succumbs to fatigue.
BURY THEM AND KEEP QUIET (U.S.) / FEMINIZER (U.S.)
The 2023 debut demo by the German band Kuolevan Rukous quickly became one of my favorite black metal releases of the year. I might never have listened to it if the Spanish label Vita Detestabilis hadn’t asked if we might premiere it — which I eagerly did here after listening to it. If you still haven’t checked it out, I urge you to bookmark this Bandcamp page and make time for it soon.
We expect no gifts from anyone whose music we write about, and I always try to talk people out of sending me physical editions of music when they make the offer because long ago my spouse put her foot down and insisted that I stop cluttering our cozy home (and a fully crammed storage unit) with CDs, tapes, vinyl, and metal shirts. But Irene at Vita Detestabilis wouldn’t take NO for an answer, and she was so nice in her insistence that I felt it would be rude to continue rejecting her offer.
And so, a couple days ago a small package arrived from Spain. It included the Kuolevan Rukous demo tape, a pair of stickers whose messages I can get behind (“MAKE AMERICA NAZI-LESS AGAIN” and “FREE GAZA-FREE PALESTINE”), and a group of download codes for the label’s releases. This was a thank-you, not a bribe, but I still felt the impulse to see what the label’s newest releases looked like.
One of them, released just a week ago, is a half-hour split by two one-woman black metal bands — Bury Them and Keep Quiet from New York and Feminizer from Seattle. As is true of many Vita Detestabilis tapes, this one was co-released by the NY label Fiadh Productions. As in the case of Kuolevan Rukous, I think the split is well worth your time.
The three tracks on the split by Bury Them and Keep Quiet create an unusual amalgam of sensations. The opener “Food For Worms‘ has a viscerally powerful low-end drive, but those thrusting and hammering grooves are swathed in layered tones of spectral brilliance, both chilling and awe-inspiring. Those sounds are shrill and woozy, frenzied and eerie, wailing and burning. It’s all accompanied by shrieked vocals of hair-raising intensity.
“It’s No Good” proves to be equally gripping, and I’ll venture to say that it brings in some elements of dark post-punk. It too has a compelling pulse, and the music comes in vast synth-enhanced waves of sweeping sky-high glory and heart-breaking melancholy. The reverberating vocals, however, remain just as frightening, like the screams of a cornered panther that’s fighting to the death.
(P.S. After writing the above paragraph I learned that “It’s No Good” is a cover of a Depeche Mode song. So I guess I wasn’t completely daft in detecting a post-punk influence.)
We get another change of mood in “Cast From Darkness“. Its opening phase is cloaked in gloom — but it does catch fire, sweeping and soaring again in a seeming confluence of despair and fury. Perhaps needless to say, the confluence of bass and drums is again magnetic, and that voice strips paint from the walls. This one might be the most emotionally ruinous of the three. It towers in grandeur, but the atmosphere is harrowing, a channeling of calamity that promises no hope.
Feminizer contributed two tracks instead of three, but the first of those, “Argri Konu“, is nearly 10 minutes long. The heavy beat stalks in the cadence of a funeral march as the bass throbs your bones, and the distorted organ music around it is both grandiose and grieving. With such depressive moods on display, it thus comes as a shock when the song explodes like Vesuvius.
Feminizer‘s screaming and howling vocals are just as terrifying as those of the first band on the split, and the dense high-end sonic maelstroms are terrifying too, matched by a low-end undercarriage that’s heavy and bruising. The funereal mass of the opening returns and then swells to breathtaking heights of storming splendor and soul-splintering anguish, with a degree of abrasion that would be at home in a raw black metal encampment, but with a scale that’s vast, augmented by booming grooves that seem capable of driving your heart through your chest. It’s like we are bearing witness to the end of the world.
I’ve heard the name “Hungry Like the Wolf“. Hell, once upon a time I used to dance to it. But Feminizer’s song is a few light years away from Duran Duran. As in the first long track, this one scales up but it does so quickly, immersing the mind in elaborately layered swaths of sound that are both mesmerizing and alarming. The grand organ keys ring through, and other keyboard tones warble and beckon (again bringing ’80s post-punk to mind), and sometimes they sound like a menacing choir has joined in.
The sound is still rough enough to leave scars (making it difficult to pick out all of the instruments that might have been deployed), and the rhythm instruments hit with a heft that might make you check to see if the bruising is bad enough to turn yellow. But it’s worth re-emphasizing that the experience, though disturbing, is also mesmerizing.
Though separated by a continent, these two bands pair very well. Though composed of just one trans woman each, they both sound like armies of the night. They manage to sound primeval and even barbaric, but also elaborate and celestial — if the heavens were falling. The fact that the bands are dedicated to themes about anti-speciesism and anti-hate makes it all the better.
SOMBRE CIEL (?)
To add just one more thing to this too-short Shades of Black column, I decided to again follow a recommendation from Rennie Resmini (starkweather) in a recent installment of his SubStack column, in part because I could just steal his own vivid description of what you’re about to hear. If you can read this and not be tempted to listen for yourselves, I’ll be very surprised. I certainly couldn’t resist.
“Too soon for Metal Archives at this time to gather intel, the Sombre Ciel debut is a roiling miasma of sound culling from raw, atmospheric, cosmic black metal schools for maximum disorientation. Just what the fuck is going on beneath this hissing ambience? Jackhammer drum beats, reverbed out vocals, more reverb piled upon reverb, threads of guitar… are there synths or more guitar effects? Absolutely dizzying. Probably no middle ground you’ll either love this or hate it. This is early Wolok levels of fucked up. As Trash says in Return of the Living Dead, “I like it. It’s a statement.”
I don’t have any more intelligence about this band than Rennie did. No idea who’s behind it or where they are located, which might or might not be somewhere on planet Earth.
I will second the opinion that the album is dizzying, a paradigm example of being swallowed whole in a sonic vortex. Vocals that sound like a person being carved alive with knives while being broiled by a welder’s torch. Guitars and/or synths (and who knows what else) that sound fantastically mad and stunningly catastrophic, portraying violence, ruin, and hopelessness on a breathtaking scale.
Layered in bewildering ways, some of the sounds feel like acid spewed from a firehose, some like the slow, chilling wails of wraiths or futile siren warnings after the airborne strafing runs have already begun, others like shrieking, mind-melting convulsions, or heavenly choirs in despair over the imminent violent loss of their once-glorious home.
The drums are nearly submerged by those skies-on-fire sensations, but you can still make them out as they clatter and boom. Often, they don’t sound any more tethered to a rational mind than anything else.
I guess it’s only fair to warn you that this sonic apocalypse never spends itself. If you have trouble getting through the first track, you’ll never make it to the end. If you get electrified by it, well there’s a whole hell of a lot more of that to come. There’s no room made for anything but complete immersion.