Dec 042022


The usual Sunday routine, waking up and not preparing for church, like some unfathomable number of people around the world do, but instead knowing that I’ll spend the next couple of hours listening and re-listening to nothing but variants of black metal, including the Satan-worshiping, Christ-hating variants.

It’s a habit I’m quite comfortable with, at least when I get a decent Saturday-night sleep and keep the Saturday-night drinking at a moderate level. The task of picking and choosing from what I’ve heard creates an inner tension I could do without, but it’s the need to choose that drives the listening. I wouldn’t be making choices if I weren’t writing this thing, and if I weren’t writing this thing I doubt I’d be spending Sunday mornings listening to black metal.

But I’d probably just be making other choices, and less pleasurable ones — wash the dishes? do a load of laundry? pay some nagging bills? heat up the leftover pizza or eat it cold? dig deeper into why 1,700 seals have been found dead on Russia’s Caspian coast?

Nah, I don’t want to make those choices. I made these instead: Continue reading »

Nov 272022

Vidmershiy Shmat

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. Continue reading »

Nov 202022

My head is clearer today than it was yesterday morning, but this column, although not exactly short, is still shorter than I’d like due to a planned mid-morning rendezvous with friends. Because time is racing away, I’ll cut this introduction off at the knees and just forewarn you that the word of the day is “whiplash”.

AZAGHAL (Finland)

As these blasphemous and terrorizing Fiuns approach the quarter-century mark in their career they’ve readied a new album named Alttarimme on Luista Tehty (“our altar is made of bone”), and the first advance song from it is the one I’ve chosen as a beginning today. It turns out to be a multi-faceted piece of music, and one that passes almost too quickly. Continue reading »

Nov 132022

Like a lot of people in the Seattle area I made a terrible mistake this morning. I woke up early to watch the Seahawks play what turned out to be a miserable football game in Germany. I’d like to have those 3 hours back. I could have used them for extra sleep, or to make this Sunday column longer.

Looking for a way to begin dispelling a black mood, I checked out just a few very new things, and revisited an album I’ve been enjoying since mid-October, one that well-suits my current depressive mood.

MOEROR (Greece)

My first exposure to Moeror came last year, through their excellent split release with Human Serpent and Kvadrat (enthusiastically reviewed here). Based on that, I intended to travel back to their 2020 debut album The Ghosts of Amour Propre, but never did. Maybe I still will, but there’s something more immediate that’s going to pull with greater urgency, and that’s their forthcoming sophomore album All That We Seem. Continue reading »

Nov 082022


I decided I would have enough time to prepare a round-up of new songs and videos today. As I checked out candidates, it hit me that a lot of them were in the vein of black and “blackened” metal (with a healthy heaping of death metal in the mix). And so, with apologies to bands in other genre terrains that have also released worthy new music in recent days, I decided to focus this one on the kind of music I usually explore through this column on Sundays.


I was compelled to lead off with “Sojourn” because of the stunning cover art by The Blazing Seer for this band’s debut album Harrowing. But to be clear, the music isn’t an afterthought. Like the album title, the song is harrowing — a blistering, battering, bleak, and bizarre formulation of dissonant blackened death metal. Through the freakish whining and wailing of the guitars, it applies knives to the listener’s nerves, even when it slows, and the drumwork is as discombobulating as it is electrifying. Continue reading »

Nov 062022


If you live someplace that observes Daylight Savings Time did you remember to move your clocks back one hour last night? I did not remember. But when I opened my eyes at 6:30 a.m. today I somehow did remember that it was really only 5:30 a.m., and I fell back asleep.

That might not have been a smart move, because I didn’t wake again for a couple of hours. Rather than use the time-change to get a head-start on this column, I’m left scrambling to get it done before too much of the day disappears. Words, therefore, are sometimes in relatively short supply, though the music is abundant.

P.S. For those of us in the US this might be the last time we have to remember to “fall back”. In March of this year the US Senate unanimously passed a bill that would make Daylight Savings Time permanent beginning in 2023. But the bill hasn’t been voted on by the House of Representatives, and time is running out for that to happen in the current session. Who knows? Continue reading »

Oct 302022

I was able to devote a lot of time to listening to new music this weekend, despite feeling borderline-miserable. One result was a big round-up of new music yesterday. Another result is this over-stuffed column of blackened sounds – advance songs from seven forthcoming albums, some with videos, and one very recent EP.

ARKÆON (Denmark)

Over the last six months or so, I, Voidhanger Records has been announcing new releases in batches. I’ve done my best to call attention to most of them as time has allowed, because (as usual for this label) they are so unconventional and interesting. From the latest batch I’ve picked music from two albums for this column, and the first of those is Parasit, the debut full-length from a veteran Danish trio who call themselves Arkæon. Continue reading »

Oct 232022


This week’s SHADES OF BLACK is shorter than usual, and follows a rare blank space at our site on Saturday, but this whole weekend has been out of the ordinary.

I used to joke that my day job was operating as a drug mule and/or a secret adviser to world leaders desperate for solutions. In fact it’s more mundane that either of those. But it has led to an anything-but-mundane weekend.

This weekend the business I work for pulled together everyone from its offices in four cities for a retreat on the Pacific coast of southern California. A swanky location, a minimum of boring speeches, good food, free-flowing alcohol, lots of congenial bonding. Continue reading »

Oct 162022

Have you had your daily dose of whining and excuse-making? If not, I can remedy that, free of charge.

I went to a baseball playoff game in Seattle last night, except it unexpectedly turned into two games in one, lasting 18 innings. Arriving at the ballpark at 11:30 a.m., my spouse and I left at 7:30 p.m., hungry and tired and not feeling great about the 1-0 loss our team ultimately suffered. So we stayed in Seattle to eat and drink, and after a dreary ferry trip we didn’t make it back to the NCS island HQ until late.

This morning, which started late, I spent a lot more time going through about 400 previously un-read e-mails lodged in the NCS in-box than I did listening to anything. But although the day is now rapidly getting away from me, and my day job is now intruding, I wanted to do something so I wouldn’t pass through yet another Sunday with no Shades of Black. It’s not a lot, obviously, and I made the choices hurriedly (before getting immersed in historical research), but I think you’ll still be well-pleased, even if not thoroughly sated. Continue reading »

Oct 032022


As I forecast in Part 1 of this column yesterday, Part 2 takes us off in some unusual directions. Much of the time black metal is still in the mix, but in most of the songs featured here it’s more of a jumping-off point to other wide-ranging experiences than it is the rigid core of the music — or it’s not present at all, except perhaps as a sinister spirit that hovers on the edges.

This excursion will be welcomed by some of you, and some of the songs will probably disgruntle others. But there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to expose yourself to the music. I hope you’ll do that with all the tracks here, all of which are from forthcoming albums or EPs.

ARALLU (Israel)

This long-running Israeli band, whose roots are in the late ’90s, will be releasing a new album (their 8th one overall) in November. With the imposing title of Death Covenant, it follows up the excellent En Olam from three years ago. I’ve already written here about one of the new album’s advance tracks, “Desert Shadows Will Rise“, and now we have another one. Continue reading »