Welcome to Kvlt Kolvmn, “Is This Even Black Metal?!” Edition. We hope you’ve had a frosty, satan-blessed month. But, I mean, let’s be real. Such exclamations are couched in the traditional, stereotypical norms of a community that has built and staked its reputation on an allegiance to popularly assumed constructs of evil. Black metal has evolved a great deal since its early church-burnin’ days, and if the quality of music contained within this gloomiest of months is any indication, this is something worth celebrating.
Or is it?
Black metal as a community is an odd duck. While many fans and adherents have a very strict definition of what constitutes black metal as art, aesthetic, or movement, the music itself has undergone some of the most radical sonic transformation and growth of any subgenre in metal, and honestly most any other genre of music generally. It has incorporated jazz, death metal, post-rock, shoegaze, punk/crust, drone, ambient, industrial, and dozens more flavors into its original formula, and has done so with hefty amounts of success. But that stuff isn’t Second Wave. Not even a little. The backbone of what made black metal a force of nature and power in the early- and mid-nineties has been subsumed by manic creativity and a flagrant befouling of the traditions of the past. For a subgenre so steeped in a particular historical aesthetic, this could honestly be deemed a form of artistic trauma or loss of identity that could spell the death of the subgenre as a whole. Maybe it does, to some degree. But black metal survives. Thrives, even, in its newfound identity. Whether you celebrate or decry as heresy the tectonic changes that have overtaken black metal, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the influence of black metal is as alive as it’s ever been. And it’s spreading.
Praise the Prince of Darkness. Or Odin. Or Cthulhu. Or My Bloody Valentine. Take your pick. It’s all good.
As is tradition, Scott and I are here to share some awesome music with you from the dreary month of February. 2018 continues its streak of fantastic releases by bringing us a healthy plate of black metal goodness, which runs the gamut of experimentation, subgenre-melding, and straight-up batshit insanity. Partake, and revel in the black metal (?) smorgasbord.
Arkheth – 12 Winter Moons Comes the Witches Brew
In my recent review of international doom supergroup Towards Atlantis Lights’ fantastic debut record, I made mention of their label, Transcending Obscurity Records. My words were, shall we say, enthusiastic. One reason for my love of this particular label is their fearlessness in signing bands that are unafraid of fiddling with standard subgenre formulas. In this regard, Arkheth presents another record to champion from the label, as their third full-length record 12 Winter Moons Comes the Witches Brew is wild, unusual, and wonderful.
If you are a fan of experimental black metal, 12 Winter Moons is tailor-made to fulfill your every desire. But it doesn’t come without its challenges. Vacillating between epic black metal tremolo blasts and upbeat, circus-like compositional grandeur, it can feel a bit like sonic whiplash during the first few spins. But this album rewards the patient and attentive listener, as these tracks are filled to the brim with good ideas, executed admirably. Opener “Trismegistus” gives the listener just about every indication they will need regarding the scope of sounds and styles 12 Winter Moons contains. Vocal samples, saxophone, razor-sharp black metal, wretched vocals, and wildly energetic sonic digressions coalesce into a full, rich tapestry of experimental black metal done right. Even more impressive is that every instrument on the record (less Glen Wholohan’s fantastic saxophone work) is performed by one man. Tyrone ‘Tyraenos’ Kostitch is one talented human, and he lets his imagination and abilities run stark raving mad here. This is a sprawling, massive record that will keep you spinning it as you attempt to unpack its engorged insides.
As a case in point to the argument that black metal is intrinsically suited to accommodate various styles of music into its bloodied, frigid arms, Arkheth strike gold with 12 Winter Moons. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, experimental trip.
Esoctrilihum – Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas to Awaken the Blind Sovereigns of Nothingness)
Black metal is chock full of worship and mythos. From the frosty northern reaches come the Norse gods. In the depths of R’lyeh, Cthulhu waits as his acolytes sing praises to his name. Deeper still, Lucifer himself haunts the sonic corridors of many a black metal record, harvesting souls for his own ends. All of these myths, faiths, and fictions have been dissected and rehashed time and time again by black metal bands for decades. None of this is new. But it’s a considerably less common occurrence to find a black metal album that has from scratch developed its own myths heralding the end of the world. That’s exactly what Asthaghul’s one-man black metal behemoth Esoctrilihum has done with its sophomore record, Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas to Awaken the Blind Sovereigns of Nothingness).
A peek at the album’s promotional material will fill you in a bit on the details of this fictional world, but for the sake of avoiding spoilers let’s just say that the record’s concept is unique, well-constructed, and very, very dark. Exactly like good black metal should be. But this record aims higher than a cool concept. Pandaemorthium flexes its muscles well beyond the sonic traditions of black metal by creating something musically wild, bizarre, insanely ferocious, and unhinged. Front-to-back, this album is a trip unlike any other you are likely to take with a black metal album in the near future. Opening bruiser “Rotting Way of Damnation” mixes black metal darkness and blasting with death metal chugs in such a fluid way that the subgenre markers at some point become pointless. This is a record that is attempting to create its own boundaries of sound and style, and it accomplishes this mission admirably. “Abyssus Calignium” and “Lord of the Closed Eyes” continue this extreme metal hybrid and transport it to new and incredible heights with some absolutely manic guitar and drum work. Asthaghul’s performances on these instruments are fantastic, and the noisy DIY production design only heightens the appeal. The overwhelming sense of abject chaos pervades this entire record, with each subsequent track riffing off the different ways that sheer pandemonium can be translated into sound. This is experimental, extreme black metal at its most lunatic and all-consuming, and it is a glorious thing to behold.
At well over an hour, Pandaemorthium is a journey that is going to require a specific kind of headspace to be enjoyed to the fullest. But when you find yourself in the mood for cosmos-swallowing audio destruction, you won’t find more thrilling music than that conjured by Esoctrilihum on this record. A massive improvement over its debut. All hail the Blind Sovereigns, and may their reign be swift and terrible.
Harakiri for the Sky – Arson
With several engaging and well-written albums under their belt, Harakiri for the Sky has proven time and time again their ability to create engaging, emotionally impactful music predicated on the sounds of black metal. They blow the roof from the building with their fourth full-length album, Arson. But this isn’t a huge sea change in sound, as might be expected following such a bold statement. Honestly, if you aren’t a fan of the band already Arson most likely won’t change your mind. But those who love the band or are willing to give them a fair shake will be transported into some truly mesmerizing and emotionally stirring sonic territory reminiscent of Deafheaven and Alcest. This is just an utterly fantastic release in every metric, and the band’s reputation continues to blossom and expand with each new record.
At over an hour in length, there’s a whole lot to parse through here. But rest assured that the runtime is more than justified. From the first keystroke and earworm of a riff opening “Fire, Walk With Me” to the cathartic finale of “Manifesto”, Harakiri for the Sky has never sounded this focused and passionate. The songwriting here is a logical extension of their last record, III: Trauma, but avoids feeling like a retread through the incorporation of a denser, heavier production aesthetic that adds an extra bit of gravity to the proceedings. The emotional heft of tracks like “You Are the Scars” or the utterly powerful “Heroin Waltz” create musical landscapes that perfectly compliment the production, creating a weight that can be felt both technically and thematically. Harakiri for the Sky have honed their craft to a fine science, and nowhere is this more evident than in the tracks that populate this record.
Love them or hate them, it’s hard to deny the very obvious skill and passion that went into the creation of Arson. It’s a sprawling, intense, very heavy effort that is probably the best album front-to-back that they have yet created. And that’s saying something, because they haven’t written a dud yet.
Horizon Ablaze – The Weight of a Thousand Suns
Thus far, 2018 has been a quality year for good metal releases, and of all those I’ve heard this year, none have surpassed the number of spins I’ve given to Horizon Ablaze’s incredible third record, The Weight of a Thousand Suns. Horizon Ablaze know how to hook a listener with songwriting that is complex, heavy, and ferocious without ever losing its own unique air of accessibility. Far from a black metal starter band, Horizon Ablaze set themselves apart by creating music that is immediately accessible, yet infinitely rewarding of repeat listens.
Not to sound too much like a salesman, but this record really does have just about everything a black/blackened death metal fan could want. The guitar tone is hefty and fierce (“Sleep Is the Brother of Death”), the riffs are punchy, melodic, and emotive (“Delusions of Grandeur”), and the songwriting is varied in tone, tempo, and space (“Ghost of a Previous Nightmare”/”She Who Walks Upon the Sea”). The production is top-notch as well, allowing each instrument and voice the space it needs to be heard and impactful. All of these elements never once feel slap-dashed together, either. This is an incredibly fluid and intentional album that knows exactly where it’s taking you and gets you to that spot in the smoothest and heaviest way it can.
Listen to this record now. I really don’t have anything more to say other than giving The Weight of a Thousand Suns my heartiest of recommendations. I sincerely doubt that you will regret the time you spend with it. One of my favorite releases of the first quarter of 2018.
Pandiscordian Necrogenesis – Eigenwelt
It’s been far too long since I wrote about Ephemeral Domignostika (ED), the mastermind behind insane one-man black metal project Mastery. He released one of my favorite black metal albums in 2015 with Valis, an abrasive, dense assault of improvised black metal that I described as Ornette Coleman writing a black metal record. BEfore and since Valis, ED has lent his talents for several instruments to a handful of other black metal projects, including vocals and bass for fellow Cali-based heathens Pale Chalice. However, it’s his second solo project Pandiscordian Necrogenesis that boasts the most unique use of ED’S talents; he not only helms drums, guitar and vocal duties but executes them all simultaneously. You read that correctly: with a guitar in hand and a kick drum and snare hooked up to a foot each, ED improvises an eclectic variety of riffs and chord progressions while keeping time and shredding his vocal chords. While this setup results in a basic percussive foundation, ED deserves commendation for the effort alone, and thankfully, he also manages to produce an off-kilter rendition of black metal at its most raw and visceral.
According to Pan. Necro.’s Bandcamp, Eigenwelt is a “partial re-release of the 2014 limited cassette “Pandiscordian Necrogenesis,” with additional music and corrected track order.” Even so, the release feels cohesive and focused in its own right, offering up 11 tracks of purely unpure black metal mayhem. Some tracks feel a bit more traditional, but when ED completely loses his shit on songs like “Eigenwelt 7,” the results are dizzying and manic. At its most energetic and deranged, Eigenwelt feels like an unholy marriage of raw, formative years Bathory and latter-career Black Flag‘s carefree, experimental attitude. As ED’s feet pump out driving, straightforward beats, his fingers shred his guitar down to its core, letting out contorting waves of sound. As impressive as it is that ED simultaneously improvised every moment of music on the album, each track still feels purposeful and well-executed in its own right. There’s never a moment where ED earns a pass because of his instrumental setup; to the contrary, this fact remains an added, noteworthy bonus atop inherently intriguing improvisations.