Welcome to our first installment of Kvlt Kolvmn in the Year of Our Dark Lord 2018! We’ve missed you. Let’s talk about black metal.
2017 was not a watershed year for the subgenre like it was for death metal. While there were a number of quality releases throughout the year (including impeccable ones by bands like Bestia Arcana, Thantifaxath, Dawn Ray’d, Dodecahedron, and Jute Gyte), there was no definitive movement that set black metal apart from years previous. It was a quality year with some high quality releases and little else. What can black metal do to spark a resurgence of innovation and popularity within the metal community? That remains to be seen. If January is any indication, the trends of 2017 have followed the subgenre into the new year. Occultic influence, ferocious songwriting, and excellent musicianship are all present here, setting if nothing else a solid foundation for what we may expect throughout 2018. Here’s hoping that one of metal’s most fascinating and bleak subgenres continues to churn out such quality content, whether or not it is particularly revolutionary.
As always, Scoot McGoot (our beloved Scott Murphy) and myself have compiled a list of the black metal albums we found engaging and worthy of recognition this month. This list is not exhaustive, and is obviously limited to the album’s we had time to dive into in January. That said, it’s up to you to help us pick up the slack. What did you love? What did you hate? Why did we not mention your favorite band’s new release, we bastards?! Fill the comments with your bile. We eagerly await your picks.
Into the fire we go…
Abigor – Höllenzwang (Chronicles of Perdition) (atmospheric black metal)
Abigor are in many ways the quintessential black metal band. With ten albums to their name, the group’s longevity has been built upon their ruthless exploration of black metal’s various sounds, the consistent quality of their material, and an abiding adherence to Satan and his many works on earth and beyond. Seems kvlt enough of a resume to me. But Abigor’s path to fame and legend in the black metal scene was much less standard than we find in the traditional black metal scene of the 1990s. Formed in 1993 and immediately attaching themselves to the Austrian Black Metal Syndicate along with Pazuzu, Summoning, and Trifixion, Abigor forged an early identity that did not belong to the traditional Scandinavian second wave. While Syndicate-mates Summoning (whom you’ll hear about again in detail later in this piece) went off to create a fantastical world of Tolkien influences, Abigor stuck with the good ol’ Lord of Darkness himself, forging their own uncompromising path to greatness within the metal community. Similar to Summoning, beneath the bloody veneer of European wooded glens and human sacrifice lies an uncompromisingly adventurous spirit that sets Abigor apart from many of their peers and keeps their music dynamic and vital. Hollenzwang (Chronicles of Perdition) is a prime example of the band’s continued aesthetic of never settling, and is another fantastic addition to their already unimpeachable catalog.
Abigor pull no punches on their latest record. Opening track “All Hail Darkness and Evil” sounds exactly like you’d expect it to, with P.K.’s jagged tremolo guitars and wretched vocals cutting like a knife over drummer T.T.’s controlled blasting. Imagine an upgraded early Darkthrone mixed with the dramatic flair of Mayhem and you’ll get pretty close to the feel of this track, which permeate the remainder of the album as sonic benchmarks. But as stated earlier, Abigor’s music is far from a traditional copy-cat throwaway. The music on this album shines brightly and clearly, particularly in the melody department. “Sword of Silence” allows the band’s honed songwriting skill to run wild, as chugged riffs layer themselves with wild melodic licks underneath, as P.K. wails with the conviction and flair of a Naas Alcameth of Bestia Arcana/Nightbringer fame. This is a record that knows exactly what it wants to do, and does with song after song of quality black metal. “Black Death Sathanas (Our Lord’s Arrival)” starkly exemplifies the band’s occultic underpinnings, as well as their clever and effective usage of samples, adding further depth to an already unsettling sound.
There are few things to fault Abigor for here. This is a fantastic black metal release through and through, and one I wouldn’t be surprised to see on multiple year end lists come December. A great way to kick off the year.
Infestum – Les Rites De Passage (symphonic black metal)
Another year, another round of “I don’t like symphonic black metal, except for this album I’m about to praise.” It’s getting to a point where I have to admit I actually enjoy the subgenre without reservation, which is fine if newer bands in style keep churning out quality tunes. Which brings us to Infestum, a Belarus quartet who rang in the new year by dropping one of the most brutal symphonic black metal albums I’ve ever heard. With an incredible guitar tone, tight synchronization and tasteful symphonic elements, Les Rites De Passage scratches multiple itches at the same time by showering the listener with morning stars.
Infestum are the band Winds of Plague wish they could be. This may come across like a backhanded compliment, but I mean this sincerely and with the utmost positivity. If WoP dropped the goofy facade, flipped the symphonic deathcore ratio on its head and infused influences from Anaal Nathrakh, the resulting album would sound a lot like Les Rites De Passage. The band weave subtle but engaging electronics and symphonic elements throughout driving black metal romps, interwoven with tight, syncopated grooves and thundering double kick drums. It’s a black metal album firing on all cylinders and somehow hitting every note head on. There’s plenty to latch on to for fans of all black metal’s shades and hues, particularly for listeners who want their symphonic black metal as heavy as it gets.
Inquinamentum – 8342 (progressive black metal)
These days, it seems like any time “progressive” or “avant-garde” is slapped in front of a band’s style of black metal, it’s typically indicative of oddities, dissonance and general auditory anguish (in a good way). Followers of Kvlt Kolvmn will know this is hardly a con for Jonathan and I; to the contrary, some of the best modern metal breaks the boundaries of the genre with its experimental nature. Yet, as albums like 8342 demonstrate, melody is one of black metal’s original virtues, and progressive iterations of the genre can excel with a more pleasant approach to the genre. Inquinamentum draw their name from the Latin word for “filth,” but when it comes to their music, it’s as closer to pure black metal beauty.
The chord progressions across 8342 are rich, dynamic and bursting with melody. As the album ebbs and flows between atmospheric black metal, blackgaze and progressive metal tendencies, there remains a consistent theme of impeccable drumming and expansive compositions, with the riffs and percussion linking for a powerful display on every track. The resulting album sees Inquinamentum producing some of the most gorgeous black metal in the genre’s modern landscape, with the band checking off every strength a black metal band could incorporate into their style. This is a powerful record bursting with energy and exuberance; a collection of songs worth the time of anyone with even a cursory interest in what the genre has to offer.
Panphage – Jord (atmospheric/folk black metal)
Go take a gander at Bandcamp’s metal selection. What do you see? Black metal. One-man black metal bands everywhere! Seems to me like heading to your parents’ basement with shitty recording equipment to make the world’s most kvltest black metal record has become one of metal’s great races to the bottom, with garbage album after garbage album bleeding out of tape recorders from the 1980s, while the musicians behind these sounds rail and fuss about the loss of trvth in black metal. Thankfully, we have Panphage to break up the monotony of crappy one-man black metal projects. Out of this particular black metal pack, the Swedish project has consistently created a name for himself with fantastic songwriting, competent musicianship, and an emphasis on folk elements that fits perfectly with his very obviously DIY production aesthetic. His third and final album under the moniker, Jord, is the best and most interesting of his decade-long career.
There aren’t many frills to Jord. Album opener “Odalmarkerna” encapsulates the overall sound and aesthetic of the record perfectly: Folky, jagged, coldly produced and effectively performed. Fjallbrandt’s technical skill as a musician plays some form of second fiddle to the atmosphere being generated by the tracks on this record, but that is in no way intended as an insult. The melodic undertones contained in these compositions are the backbone of what makes these tracks sound so damn good, and Fjallbrandt’s skill as a songwriter carries these tracks far beyond their one-man roots. “Matte Dessa Bygder Brinna” showcases this folk-infused melodic bent perfectly with a rich variety of riff packages that loop and swirl around one another in an incredibly natural way. There really isn’t a weak spot on this record, unless you aren’t a fan of DIY production. Even then, these tracks and their instrumentals ring out legibly and with just enough pop to feel potent. Every aspect of this album stands on its own as a success, and combined makes for a fantastic folk-infused black metal package.
On the whole, Panphage does just about everything a one-man black metal band can do right. The songs are memorable and well-performed, with production values that herald back to the days of yore without sacrificing clarity. A worthy swansong.
Summoning – With Doom We Come (Tolkien-core)
There are few bands in black metal with as legendary a pedigree as Summoning. The band’s distinctly fantastical subject matter (namely drawn from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien) have created sonic worlds of epic scale and grandeur since the band dropped their debut record Lugburz. While that record was more akin to the sounds of their Austrian sister bands Abigor and Pervertum in the Austrian Black Metal Syndicate, Summoning would eventually allow their sound to evolve in significant ways, creating a dynamic corner of the metal world all their own. Minas Morgul brought to the forefront the songwriting tropes that would come to define the band’s sound, with each subsequent album building upon a sonic palette of synths, programmed drums, and murky guitars to bring to life aspects of Tolkien’s creations. 2018 brings us the band’s 8th album, With Doom We Come, which serves as a worthy addition to the band’s reputation as prime ambassadors of the subgenre.
Let it be stated here that With Doom We Come is no revolutionary sonic leap for the band. The album shares a significant amount of similarities to 2013’s Old Mornings Dawn, and doesn’t feel at all out of place in the band’s catalog. Though a fairly natural continuation of the band’s established sound, With Doom We Come is replete with good ideas that, for the most part, are executed flawlessly. Keys, choral arrangements, and brass instrumentation combine to put a fresh perspective on the band’s tried and true sound. The heightened inclusion of horns and choral arrangements is noticeable most distinctly in “Silvertine”, while “Carcharoth” adds enough synth glory to fill an entire album. Opener “Tar-Calion” presents one of the most memorable dramatic scene-setters in the band’s catalog, ratcheting up the drama of the album’s narrative in a potent and memorable way.
Overall, the songs on this record follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, but have enough flair of their own to avoid simple retread territory. With Doom We Come is the sound of a band fully comfortable in their sound, but not so content as to stop trying to incorporate new elements into it. It’s a fantastic balance that would be difficult for a less experienced black metal band to pull off. If you are a fan of the sound Summoning have been peddling for over two decades, this record will not disappoint.
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse (black metal)
Watain have been nothing but consistent throughout their storied and very visible career. With a rabid following and distinct aesthetic, each new album from the band has ridden on a wave of higher expectations than the last. Enter the band’s fifth album, The Wild Hunt, which was beloved and maligned in equal measure by the black metal community due to its bucking of elements of the band’s traditional sound. After such a divided reaction, it’s been hard not to speculate as to what direction the band would take with their next album. We now have that answer with 2018’s Trident Wolf Eclipse, which finds the band calling back to the sound that made them staples of modern black metal, in what could easily be considered either a welcome course correction or more of the same.
Being a fan of most of the band’s experiments in The Wild Hunt, it was a bit of a shock to hear such a full redirection back to the sounds that permeated Watain’s earliest records. In many ways, Trident Wolf Eclipse is the black metal equivalent of that email sent out by a corporate giant regarding a policy reversion. You know the subject line: “You Spoke. We Listened. Now Everything Is Going Back To The Way It Was!” The biggest difference here is that it would be folly to consider this record to be nothing more than a step backward. To the contrary, Trident Wolf Eclipse showcases a band at peak form, understanding what makes their sound successful and doubling down on those elements to create an album of enjoyable black metal. “Teufelsreich”, “A Throne Below”, and “Ultra (Pandemoniac)” could all soon be considered classics in the band’s catalog, with each detailing the ferocious, break-neck pace and furious instrumentation that have made the band the successful entity they are. There are few moments on this record that don’t feel that icy, raw sting so prevalent in Watain’s back catalog, which honestly feels like a breath of fresh air after the long wait the black metal community suffered through between this record and their last. Far from disappointing, this return to form marks the band’s recognition of its own strengths, and plays to them with fervor.
Ultimately, Trident Wolf Eclipse is no re-invention of the wheel. Instead, it’s a rediscovery, polishing, and fortifying of an old one, marking a reliable return to what the band do best: Slaying us with black magic. A quality release from a quality black metal band.