Welcome to Kvlt Kolvmn, where the black metal runneth over! And from all over the world, apparently. This month’s wealth of quality releases come to you from Greece, New York, Italy, Portugal, Seattle and Sweden. Black metal truly knows no borders, as band’s from across the globe share an affinity for the grim and cold soundscapes of black metal. This musical globalism is more prescient here than in probably any other subgenre of metal, which makes its prevailing closed-mindedness all the more troubling.
Look, I don’t want to harp on the golden calf of black metal debate much more unless I have to. You most likely already know which bands you are going to listen to or not, and I’m not here to tell you how to dictate your listening habits. That’s up to you. But black metal contains such a wide variety of sounds, backgrounds, textures, and stories that for a genuinely hateful group of idiots to diminish that diversity through racial or ideological allegiance is such an artistic waste. Black metal thrives because it is one of the most widespread forms of metal on the planet, and certain elements refusing to tolerate further levels of diversity into its ranks by co-opting a scene’s message and evolution endangers its impact and survival. I want this music to exist many decades from now, and to ensure that I say open the floodgates, gatekeepers of trvth be damned.
Last month was a perfect example of all that black metal has to offer. Experimentation, thematic cohesion, bile-filled aggression, and symphonic beauty are all present here, creating a kaleidoscope of dark majesty. There is limitless potential that is already being tapped, and the black metal community would do well to give the bands that push the subgenre forward its time and attention. There’s a world of good black metal out there. Let’s explore it.
Anicon – Entropy Mantra
The New York black metal scene is as healthy as it’s ever been. Krallice dropped two fantastic records last year, Yellow Eyes released a stunning full-length, and Woe’s Hope Attrition fueled bouts of musical ecstasy. It was a good year indeed for the dark stuff. Enter Anicon and their second full-length record, Entropy Mantra, which presents a unique and welcome fusion of black metal styles into a cohesive whole that is one of the more enjoyable black metal listens of 2018. For those who love the New York/Brooklyn black metal scene, you’ve got another album to add to your fast-growing collection.
Musically, Entropy Mantra is a winding cavern of black metal sounds, very rarely sitting still long enough to be pigeon-holed into any particular style. Strangely, this does little to blunt the records sonic impact or listenability, as these tracks are chock full of memorable passages that stack atop, roll over, and crumble underneath one another in a brilliant collage of sound. Lev Weinstein’s drums work their magic throughout the record, maintaining a sense of propulsive energy that is both elusive and fitting, jumping between traditional black metal blasting, militant passages, and tempo shifts with ease on opener “Feeding Hand”. His expertise behind the kit continues unabated throughout the album’s 50-minute runtime and is one of the true highlights of the record.
The rhythm section, while damned impressive, only plays one of many roles in Entropy Mantra. Nolan Voss and Owen Rundquist share vocal and guitar duty and create some incredibly effective guitar passages that complement the drum work in brilliant and infinitely listenable ways. “Whither and Waste” highlights their talents with verve, as they stack storm-like flurries of notes atop a fantastic rhythm section, led by Alexander DeMaria’s excellent bass work. But expert musicianship will only get you so far in the world of black metal. The songs have to be compelling, and here they most certainly are. “Drowned in the Mirage” is an ominous, moody piece of music that shifts into multiple gears with precision, always feeling like it’s about to burst at the seams before being propelled into a new musical section that fits perfectly into the last. The album is stuffed with logical transitions, making the more experimental leanings of the record both easily enjoyable and highly listenable. Album highlight “Blood from a Road” is dark, slow, and devastating in its attack, creating one of the most thunderous soundscapes of the band’s career, and a fitting prelude to the excellent finale “Paling Terrain”.
All of the ingredients of a black metal record with staying power are here. Anicon have with their sophomore record crafted a variety-rich world that is easy to access and enjoy, but difficult to absorb fully with one listen. Several spins in, I’m still finding delicious tidbits to sink my teeth into. It’s a genuinely great record from a band that I hope to hear more from as New York’s black metal scene continues to grow and expand.
Craft – White Noise and Black Metal
Unfortunately for fans of noise music, White Noise and Black Metal is exclusively the latter and hardly any of the former. Of course, anyone familiar with Craft should know this is hardly an issue. The Swedish quartet have fallen into a stellar pattern of 5+ year hiatuses bookended by stellar, quasi-experimental black metal. Gems like Fuck the Universe (2005) and Void (2011) demonstrate this perfectly: savage black metal performed with just enough off-kilter edge to please fans of the genre’s roots and offshoots. And while White Noise and Black Metal may not be the blackened Merzbow extravaganza its advertised as, it’s an extremely well-composed and executed slab of the genre performed at its highest level. The album will almost certainly be a perfect fit for anyone’s specific black metal preferences.
The album’s focal point of the album is easily the guitar work of Joakim and John Doe. The duo straddles several notable black metal subgenres, perfectly combining the sinister vibe of Mayhem with the grandiosity of Watain. Their compositions on White Noise and Black Metal feel like a much more progressive approach to Mayhem’s sound on Chimera, and it pays off dividends throughout the entire album. There’s a linear, accessible structure to each of these tracks that offers a seemingly endless number of detours along the way. For a textbook example, feast your ears on “Undone,” an excellent song that revolves around a pulverizing core while constantly throwing in odd, slight shifts in percussion and riffing from start to finish. The main melody is preserved while new territory is consistently brought into the fold.
The surprises continue deep into the tracklist. “Darkness Falls” is a borderline arena rock track disguised as vicious black metal, with a bouncing groove that’s about as infectious as the genre’s ever been before. And while Nox provides a properly possessed vocal performance, the nearly instrumental cut “Crimson” proves just how adept the band is at crafting music; you hardly notice the track is essentially an instrumental interlude thanks to some captivating chord progressions and adept percussion. Nox is an integral part of the album’s overall success, though, as is the quartet’s clear lockstep musical chemistry. Each member’s performance pushes their bandmates throughout to even higher heights, leading to some corpsepainted teamwork that was well worth the wait.
Embrace of Thorns – Scorn Aesthetics
Despite being a younger millennial who didn’t grow during black metal’s formative years, I still feel guilty when I stumble on an established, essential band whom I’ve never heard. As I listened through Scorn Aesthetics, I couldn’t believe how Embrace of Thorns and I had had never crossed paths before. The nearly 20-year veterans of the genre have clearly been a key player in the Hellenic black metal scene, a movement that Simon reminded us is criminally underrated. But as the saying goes, better late than never, and man am I glad Scorn Aesthetics fell in my lap at a point in time where I feel I “get” black metal more than I ever have. It’s one of those late-career gateway albums that effortlessly convinces you to dive headfirst into the band’s back catalog to see what you’ve been missing.
Embrace of Thorns play black metal in a way only veterans can pull off successfully. Often times, older black metal bands rest on their laurels with mid-paced mediocrity, while tenderfoot bands are sometimes content with blasting the shit out of their drumkits and guitars with no finesse. Thankfully for fans of the genre, EoT take the harder but more rewarding route instead, leveraging their years of experience while keeping pace with the trends of the genre. This isn’s the band lacks veracity; if you’re a fan of sky-high BPM, crushing riffs and ample experimentation, then EoT have you covered. The phenomenally titled “The Wanderer and His Shadow” blows expectations off their hinges right out of the gate. Armed with ferocious vocals from Archfiend DevilPig, an oppressively thick guitar tone and blasts that only get faster, the track is a complete composition that offers up everything fans of the genre could ask for.
The track also introduces the band’s exceptional ability to incorporate orchestral and symphonic elements into the fold, without ever falling prey to the tropes and camp of this corner of black metal. Some beautiful but foreboding strings and vocals provide a misdirecting air that allows the rest of the track to more aggressively launch the black metal romp into existence. “Mutter Aller Leiden” takes an antithetical approach, with an atonal, piercing blast of strings in the vein of Iannis Xenakis composition that perfectly compliments the wicked tunes to follow. But perhaps the lush arrangement opening the title track is most fitting, as the cushion of orchestral bliss is stomped into the ground with a gritty stomp of chugging guitar riffs. It’s another clean coating of polish on an incredibly well-constructed track, a consistent theme on one of the best black metal albums of the year from a band that’s still got it and show no signs of slowing down.
Gaerea – Unsettling Whispers
There are many ways that a black metal album can grip you. Portuguese gods Gaerea’s utterly mesmerizing debut record falls squarely into the obliterate your senses and crush your emotions camp, and it’s glorious. Honestly, it took me a bit to process this record after it bludgeoned my essence into a liquid pulp. But my response upon continued re-visitation is nothing short of emphatic. This is one of the best black metal releases of the year, and an absolute home run for Transcending Obscurity Records.
With all this talk of audio violence committed against my person, it might surprise you how tame the album begins. Opener “Svn” spends the first four of its six-minute runtime building an ominous atmosphere with light, brittle guitar work that feels barely discernable. Whispers occupy the vocal space, at least until the drum work begins its thunderous ascent, eventually climaxing in an emotionally charged blast of black metal madness that is borderline orgasmic in its payoff. This is some Der Weg einer Freiheit-level stuff, packing emotion and intensity into a condensed, musically engaging package that is about as affecting as this type of music can be. It’s a fantastic opening statement and serves as a dark palate cleanser for the violence to come. “Absent” follows a similar trajectory to the first track in building on a mellow beginning until it reaches a soul-crushing crescendo. It’s a one-two punch of a track progression that establishes the band’s sound with skill and precision.
The record’s long and powerful third track “Whispers” is perhaps the best overall display of the band’s prowess as musicians and songwriters, jumping between titanic black metal passages, trippy atmospheric detours, and emotionally resonant minor chord progressions that all feel unique, yet inextricably linked to one another. It’s a fantastic display of songwriting that doesn’t overstay its welcome, despite its significant runtime. “Lifeless Immortality”, “Extension to Nothingness”, and “Cycle of Decay” bring the album’s more destructive black metal tendencies to the forefront, allowing the guitar work to do most of the heavy lifting. Finale “Catharsis” exactly like its title suggests: An emotionally-charged dive into absolute darkness, capping off the album exactly as it began. Full circle. Full stop. Stone cold excellence.
It’s hard to put into words how firmly this record gripped me. It’s a truly fantastic piece of black metal that points toward nothing but great things for Portugal’s finest and brightest. Here’s hoping for more of this resonant, decadent black metal. And soon.
Hoth – Astral Necromancy
Being a Star Wars geek, the idea of Hoth has intrigued me greatly since I first heard Oathbreaker four years ago. But Hoth has never just been about capitalizing on one of the most lucrative and well-loved properties of all-time. Hoth focus their attention on the music. Its composition and execution a paramount concern. This is blatantly obvious in Astral Necromancy, their third and best full-length record. Mixing the black metal of late-period Gorgoroth with the melodicism of Dimmu Borgir to create a sound that is both hard-hitting and highly melodic (with dramatic choral flourishes that are akin to Xanthochroid or Wilderun), the band have here conjured something that builds on their previous work and expands it in provocative and significant ways. This isn’t Darth Maul fan fiction, but instead, a densely composed melodic black metal record that is as enjoyable a listen as you will find in black metal thus far this year.
Opener “Vengeance” helms much closer to the traditional black metal formula found more obviously in the band’s earliest material, kicking off the record at a strong gallop. One immediately noticeable trait of this track and the album at large is the allegiance to highly melodic guitar passages, which run thick throughout. But this emphasis on highly melodic passages doesn’t mean the band can’t flat-out rock. Riffs upon riffs pile-drive through “The Living Dreams of a Dead God”, which is infinitely worthy of some first-rate headbanging. “The Horrid Truth” brings out a synthetic black metal tinge that heralds back to mid-nineties second wave, while “Passage into Entropy” goes full prog for a bit. There’s rich variety in these tracks, but none of the choices here feel random or out of place. There’s a deep sense of cohesion here, of a sonic and lyrical story being told. The production helps with this sonic stickiness as well, enshrouding all of these songs in a potent level of cathedral-esque atmosphere. This production style and tonal consistency comes to full fruition during the vocal beauties of “Ad Inane Precatio” and “Journey into the Eternal Winter” and the gorgeous opening of “The Gathering of the Accursed Artifacts”, which has an almost liturgical air to it before ripping into a lightning-fast black metal rampage that is some of the most aggressive stuff the band has written. Front-to-back, the album is a variety-filled delight that never once loses its cohesion.
If you liked Oathbreaker, you’ll love Astral Necromancy. The thematic material may seem to be focused on a very particular group of metal geeks, but I assure you that this is black metal that everyone who loves the genre can enjoy. Expertly performed and thoughtfully written and composed, Astral Necromancy is a stirring example of the adventurous heights that black metal is capable of. It’s a fantastic record from note one, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by skipping this one.
Progenie Terrestre Pura – starCross
Anyone who has followed the trajectory of Heavy Blog over the past few years should know by now that more than a few of us are sci-fi fanatics. Whether discussing the latest opus from Vektor or classics from Timeghoul or Voivod, science fiction themes in metal have a firm place in the heart of this blog. Which makes releases from bands like Progenie Terrestre Pura so highly anticipated. For those unfamiliar with these Italian atmoblack masters, their first two full-length releases, U.M.A. and oltreLuna, were fantastic slabs of space-drenched black metal that I revisit frequently. Their latest EP, starCross, continues the titanic, synth-heavy tradition of the band’s previous work, with a few welcome twists.
Unlike their fellow space cadets Mesarthim, Progenie Terrestre Pura opt for a more darkly complected soundscape on starCross. Focusing more heavily on jagged riff-building than the atmospherics they are known for, starCross may be their most straightforward, hard-hitting release yet. But that isn’t to say that the record eschews atmosphere entirely. To the contrary, opener “Chant of Rosha” continues the band’s signature industrial/electronic-tinged sound, complete with overlaying NASA and soaring female vocal samples. It feels reminiscent of the music found on oltreLuna, just a tad darker and less awestruck. This atmospheric opener eventually melts into “Toward a Distant Moon”, which is filled with fuzzy, frantic black metal where rabid guitars fight for domination against a raging drum kit and bombastic choral arrangements that all coalesce into a dark maelstrom of creation and chaos. “Twisted Silhouette” brings back the bands more atmospheric tendencies once more, as the vocals weave around a synthetic beat and angular guitar work in a haunted whisper. Mixing spoken-word and screams with gleeful enthusiasm, this track rarely ascends above slightly horrifying, infusing the band’s usual tendencies with a whole lot more darkness. The industrial megaton bomb of “The Greatest Loss” and the eerie, sometimes terrifying “Invocat” do little to lighten the mood, ending the EP in a state of disarray and darkness that feels like a fitting evolution for the band.
While not their most expansive release, starCross is a quality addition to the band’s catalog and should serve as a brazen harbinger of things to come. If the band continue down this path, there’s no telling what monster could emerge as their next full-length. An effective, fear-inducing slab of atmospheric black metal that spells new and great things for an already fantastic band.