Greetings once more, lovers of the black. Welcome to Kvlt Kolvmn. The time is ripe for another fresh batch of black metal selections hellbent on freezing your blood and pulverizing your heart into a fine pulp. Thankfully, August offered an abundance of such releases, particularly in the experimental camp.
If you’ve been keeping up with this column over the past few months, it would be pretty difficult to miss my general disappointment in black metal output over the summer. I mean, it is the summer after all. Not necessarily the most content-appropriate season to be dropping black metal records. But with so many amazing records being released in other metal subgenres (death metal in particular… hoooo lord), it’s hard not to feel a tinge of sadness at the lack of true stand-out black metal releases. August did much to reverse this feeling, allowing a few bands known for melding unique sounds with the black metal template to run wild, releasing some of the most invigorating and unique black metal of the year. I hope you enjoy these releases as much as I have. Regardless, it’s good to see black metal’s adventurous side out and about in full force.
As always, my friend and comrade in all things icy cold Scott joins me in highlighting some of our favorite albums from the month of August. Leave us a comment with your favorite releases from August below. We’re all ears for the good stuff.
Cream of the Crop
Mamaleek – Out of Time
There are few styles of music that are more generous with genre-bending than extreme metal. Black metal, in particular, has a penchant for radical experimentation, which is remarkable considering its staunch traditionalist nature. San Francisco’s Mamaleek push the innovation envelope so hard that it transcends its form to become a disjointed sort of origami. Contorting the black metal playbook into something far more wide-ranging and complex than one typically finds in black metal, Mamaleek have released record after record of scintillating music that takes the black metal template and turns it on its head to reveal a wondrous underbelly of sonic splendor. Music for the trve this is not, so if that’s your bag feel free to continue scrolling to some of our more traditional selections down below. But for those who like a healthy dose of adventurousness in their black metal, you won’t find a better record released this year.
Categorizing the band’s latest record, Out of Time, is a difficult task in and of itself. Postblackgazerocktronica, maybe? Deafheaven most certainly isn’t a very apt comparison here. This is darker, more elusive music than that released by their fellow Bay Area blackgazers. The music here defies genre convention so thoroughly that it’s kind of pointless to try and categorize it. But here we go anyway. For science. So, imagine with me an album comprised of a pinch of the sickly sweet yet harsh indie rock of Deerhunter blended into a moderately stirred icing of blackgaze, spread over a free jazz, electronica, and Middle Eastern folk music-influenced cake. Aside from now being hungry, that’s about as close a description I can conjure to capture the sounds present here. It’s a stew of influences that on the surface don’t seem like they should fit together at all, but boy oh boy do they ever.
From start to finish, this record is a rich collage of styles and textures. Each track holds its own unique songwriting recipe that causes it to stand out from the rest, while still maintaining a sense of overall sonic cohesion. “If I Had This Time” smacks of the dreamy quality of music opening a Beach House or Best Coast record, only to dissolve into the odd wild of “Sicarii”, which holds to an abrasive and propulsive dirge with half-whispered, half-wretched vocals. It’s a sudden change of style that strikes you across the face, but you might as well get used to it. This is only the first of many such instances. The record constantly throws surprise left hooks at listeners, leaving it incredibly difficult to pin down. “Tree Sonorous” is a complex, multi-layered affair that is both transfixing and beautiful while always staying a bit off-kilter, even as the languid riffs pour through your speakers. “God is the Irrational Number” brings out some black metal vocal retching stacked atop some fairly gorgeous music, while “The Recompense Is Real” closes its runtime with some dark guitar work and buried double-bass that is as jagged as you’ll hear on the record. So on and so forth it goes, with no end in sight. Each track a new adventure, each composition a new combination of sounds. It’s strange. It’s glorious.
The most shocking thing about this entire project is how well these disparate elements meld together. While a variety-filled affair, Out of Time is a deeply cohesive work that feels measured, intentional, and oddly focused. You won’t hear a more unique record adhering to any form or shade of black metal this year. Marching utterly and entirely to the beat of its own murky drum, Mamaleek have crafted one of the year’s most mesmerizing records. If you like your music adventurous, this has a good chance of making your year-end list. It’s certainly on mine.
[Editor’s Note: Considering this is now the fourth time we’ve talked about Out of Time – including my review, premiere and editor’s pick – there’s no excuse to sleep on what Mamaleek have to offer. -Scott]
Best of the Rest
Eriphion – Δοξολογία
We don’t like to brag often, but we were shedding light on Hellenic black metal before it popped up on Bandcamp’s radar. Whether through our longtime infatuation with Spectral Lore or our coverage of new albums from Varathron and Embrace of Thorns, the underrated talent coming out of Greece is precisely that – criminally underappreciated. Of course, music journalism isn’t a zero-sum game, and I’m glad to see that more outlets are paying attention to one of black metal’s highest-quality scenes. I’m also glad to continue this tradition by spotlighting the latest offering from Eriphion, a one-person band from Athens delivering the type of muscular, dense black metal from across the pond that I’ve come to love.
I’m relying on Google Translate to back my assertion that Δοξολογία means “thanksgiving” or “glorification” in Greek, a fitting title considering the album’s place as a love letter to the Hellenic black metal tradition. Though still armed with a frigid, blackened guitar tone, Eriphion’s tremolos and riffs carry a great deal more heft and heaviness than your average album in the genre. Alongside more traditional, Darkthrone-esque romps like “Corridor of Souls,” there lies tracks like “Ashes to Ashes” which burst through the doors and stomp everything in their paths. The way the track weaves subtle details into chunky, bold riffs creates just the right amount of finesses without letting the heavy impact slip away.
This juxtaposition of traditional frigidity with downright savage riffery is precisely what makes Δοξολογία a more than worthwhile addition to the Hellenic black metal canon. Fans of the scene, genre or just great metal in general will find a great deal to enjoy about Eriphion has to offer. Considering this is their second project of the year thus far, there’s hope that more quality music is just around the corner.
Nachtlieder – Lynx
Usually, I like to work my way into these blurbs with a contextual intro that frames why the album at hand is a noteworthy release. But in this case of the latest Nachtlieder album, I honestly just want to focus on the fact that everything Dagny Susanne did to create Lynx worked out so incredibly well. From the artwork down to the music, everything on the album makes for some of the best black metal I’ve heard all year. This is one of those iterations of the black metal that manages to channel every segment of the genre into a unique, cohesive sonic assault.
For starters, I actually want to tip my cap to Martrum, who popped into the studio to lay down drums for Lynx. Their performance is absolutely impeccable throughout every track, showing a clear mastery of genre norms and doubling down on some unique flairs that don’t usually dominate percussion in black metal. Most notable of these elements is Martrum’s demolition of the double kick pedals. Nearly every track contains a signature kick pattern that adds to the overall appeal of the composition, and in general, the balance of speed, groove and control for both kick-rolls and blast beats is one of the album’s strongest elements. Instead of clumsily galloping on the kit at every opportunity, Martrum exhibits an immense amount of skill and talent while still staying on focused on bolstering each composition’s quality instead of hogging the spotlight.
Of course, Susanne is still the mastermind behind Nachtlieder, which is similarly apparent from start to finish on Lynx. Her wretching vocals are constantly on point, and most importantly, her guitar work is consistent and captivating. From epic tremolo swells over rumbling drums on “Nameless, Faceless” to the filthy, wicked riff on “Song of Nova,” there’s plenty of variation to maintain the listener’s attention. And yet, the album still feels incredibly driven by its own sonic aspirations, and as such, Nachtlieder’s unique voice shines from every nook and cranny.
I’m disappointed it took three albums for me to discover what Susanne has to offer under then Nachtlieder banner, but I’m eager to continue following her trajectory as a songwriter in the future. There’s something for everybody and then some on Lynx; I’d be genuinely surprised if anyone felt unsatisfied after the final track comes to a roaring halt.
Rebel Wizard – Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response
In the mighty war of the riff, I’d typically place death metal over its black metal counterpart as the overall king of riffitude. Australia’s Rebel Wizard is making a hard run for the crown, though. You like guitars? Black metal? Traditional heavy metal? Rebel Wizard’s here to bring you all the goods. Stuffing more amazing solos and riffs in one record than most bands fit into their entire discography, Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response is a guitar lover’s wet dream, and one of the more infinitely listenable records black metal has produced this year.
To my ear, traditional heavy metal and black metal aren’t two subgenres of metal that would naturally go well together. But Rebel Wizard pulls it off with unmatched aplomb. “The Prophecy Came and Was Soaked with the Common Fool’s Foreboding” is not only a ludicrously titled track, but also a fantastic example of how these two sounds work in tandem throughout the record. Sole band member NKSV drenches his screeching vocal delivery in a production style that makes his wailing feel both hundreds of miles away and as if its squealing directly into your face. It’s absurdly harsh and adds a unique flair to the riff-fest swarming around it. Because this record is all about guitars, and it shows.
In no spot on the album is the focus on the NKSV’s battle axe more apparent than on “Drunk on the Wizdom of Unicorn Semen” (yes, you read that correctly). Jumping back and forth between surging black metal aggression and soaring NWOBHM melody, the track showcases some absolutely fantastic guitar work that serves as a stirring example of NKSV’s obvious talent for both songwriting and instrumentation. Track after track, these skills are put on rousing display, culminating in the gloriously self-indulgent and masterful finale “Exhaustive Glory”, which is about as good a send-off I could imagine for a record of this caliber.
Whether you’re a fan of black/heavy metal or not, Rebel Wizard has unleashed something fundamentally delicious in Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response. It’s a blast to listen to, but carries far more weight than music built just for fun. It’s a complex, impressive outing on both songwriting and performative fronts, and should do nothing to quell the project’s already sterling reputation.
Sainte Marie des Loups – S/T
France has a penchant for releasing quality black metal. Sainte Marie des Loups join a long list of fantastic black metal acts hailing from the country with their self-titled debut. Unlike some of the albums pitched above, there’s little in the way of oddball genre-melding here. This is pure, high octane black metal that constantly references the first and second waves in effective ways. It’s gritty, nasty, and shines as a brilliant example of why this music was so influential and powerful in the first place. But this record is far from a carbon copy of the music that came before it, resulting in a record that is both intimately familiar and deeply engaging.
One immediately noticeable element of this record’s callback to black metal’s glory days is the production. Lo-fi and murky as all hell, there’s little in the way of embellishment here. The songwriting is also a nice historical jaunt through black metal’s scrappiest periods. It’s blast beats, raging tremolo-picked guitars, and vocal abrasion all the way. But that’s not to insinuate this record is without nuance. Far from being a brutish parody of greater records, Sainte Marie des Loups instead uses its classically-inclined atmosphere to showcase its own unique brand of black metal. As opening track “La Fin de l’hiver” unfurls its feral ugliness, darkly melodic guitars and maniacal drums vie for supremacy in the mix for several brutal minutes until, just as it feels as if the track has reached its violent conclusion, synths burst onto the scene, complementing and changing all that came before it with brazen effectiveness. It’s a risky move that pays off in a big way.
The album’s second track “Progéniture” follows a similarly violent path to its predecessor, but this time incorporates these synth elements more thoroughly into the core of the track, creating an atmosphere that is both starkly traditionalist yet all the band’s own. This is the secret sauce that makes this record so transfixing. There are pretty specific elements to first and second wave black metal that one expects to hear. They’re all here, but with enough of a twist that Sainte Marie des Loups easily distance themselves from the teeming hordes of Bandcamp black metal imitators, creating something that is engaging on both traditional and exploratory fronts.
I’m having a hard time thinking of an album steeped in the traditions of early black metal that I’ve enjoyed more than this one in 2018. It’s a fantastic journey through black metal’s history that is simultaneously reverent of its source material and completely unafraid to add originality through strong songwriting and instrumental flare. It’s a record not to be missed by fans of black metal’s roots, or its inherent ability to explore the far reaches of its own sonic extremity to find continued sparks of originality and creativity.
The Secret – Lux Tenebris
One of Italy’s best-kept secrets (HA!), The Secret have not enjoyed the amount of acclaim that their unique blend of black metal and grindcore deserves. With four full-length records spread over a decade-and-a-half under their belts, the band have proven themselves time and time again to be skilled purveyors of sonic doom. If you’re new to the band and looking for a point in which to jump into this cesspool of darkness, look no further than their latest EP Lux Tenebris. At an agonizingly short 18 minutes, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better, more condensed version of everything the band do best in one package.
It’s a pretty gutsy move to open a recording with a five minute instrumental, but The Secret pull it off here with utter conviction. “Vertigo” is a ridiculously heavy blast of black metal molasses, seeping slowly and impenetrably through your eardrums with relentless aggression. It’s a disgusting opening that leads the way to “The Sorrowful Void”, which is as brutal as all hell. Thunderous blasts and d-beats mingle with hardcore-tinged guitar work aggressive enough to rival the manic gyrations of Trap Them or All Pigs Must Die, while never losing its thoroughly blackened edge. EP opus and closing track “Cupio Dissolvi” is a black metal monster that unleashes absolute fury for a solid seven minutes, leaving you spent and battered from the blistering assault. It’s everything the band does well, only shorter and meaner.
If you’re a longtime fan of The Secret, this EP will serve as a compelling sample of hopefully what’s soon to come (new full-length yesterday, please). If you’re new to the band, there’s no better place to dive headlong into the abyss. A fantastic, vicious release.