Greetings, Children of the Frost. Welcome to another installment of Kvlt Kolvmn. In case you haven’t heard, black metal’s back. September’s slate of fantastic releases has me sitting here staring at my keyboard dumbly, wondering how I can make amends for the terrible things I’ve said about the genre in the past few months. Since I’m not much for lengthy apologies, I’ll just say this: I’m sorry I doubted. 2018 may be the year of death metal, but there’s nothing less fantastic about you.
September was a damn good month for all things frostbitten and evil. Showcasing the genre’s insane breadth of style and influence more than in any month in recent memory, black metal showed up in a big way as the multi-faceted beast we’ve always known it was. The releases featured here are in majority some of my favorite of the year, and I hope you will share that sentiment. As always, Scott’s here to bring the pain with some amazing picks of his own. So feast your eyes and ears on the ridiculous bounty that was the month in black metal.
A Forest of Stars – Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes
Black metal has, since its inception, been tied to inextricably to a sense of the dramatic. Whether heralding back to a frostbitten conception of forgotten cultural histories or reveling in the literary conceits of fantasy and folklore, one need only look briefly into the annals of black metal history to confirm that there are few genres of music more deeply entrenched in blatant, revelatory melodrama. Perhaps that’s why A Forest of Stars are so damn enticing. They don’t just wear the drama of it all on their collective sleeve, it’s a cornerstone of their identity as a band. Five albums into an incredible career, their conception of a steampunk-infused Victorian England is as bonkers now as it was when their debut The Corpse of Rebirth unleashed its maniacal charms upon we unsuspecting mortals a decade ago. Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes continues their batshit journey into the heart of psychedelic weirdness by presenting perhaps their most musically rich and sonically diverse batch of songs to date.
It’s hard to put into words exactly what, or who, A Forest of Stars sound like. But if you described them as a mix psychedelic rock with the off-beat black metal ferocity of Krallice and the bellicose ravings of Current 93, you wouldn’t be far off. Known for wielding an eclectic mix of sounds into their sonic palette, the band are no strangers to the fringes of the avant-garde, and Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes is no exception. After psychedelic instrumental opener “Persistence Is All”, “Precipice Pirouette” displays all of the traits that make the band’s music so unique and special. Manic vocals, expansive black metal guitar work, and thunderous blast beats pulse and writhe in a perfect cacophony until the whole thing collapses into a medley of lush strings and gently plucked acoustic guitar. Then we’re back again to sonic viciousness and bile. And so it goes for the remainder of the track’s epic 10+ minute length. Subsequent track “Tombward Bound” changes complexion entirely, featuring lilting synths stacked on a brooding sonic undercurrent of electronics and keys, only to catapult itself in the track’s final moments into a psych freak out. Then we have the gorgeous “Taken By the Sea”, which features clean vocals, haunting string arrangements, and Ramin Djawadi-inspired piano work. It’s a cornucopia of sounds that only gets stranger and more vibrant as the record progresses, leading to the absolutely bananas album finale “Decomposing Deity Dance Hall”, which caps off the album in a way only A Forest of Stars can.
Black metal has always had a place for the avant-garde, and A Forest of Stars are one of the genre’s most obvious examples of the experimentation its capable of. Five albums in, the strangeness shows no signs of slowing down, instead only refining itself into something far greater than the sum of its (incredibly talented) parts. This is crazy music of the highest order, and an album that I will be returning to for years to come. A magnificent effort by one of black metal’s finest and strangest groups.
Bliss Signal – Bliss Signal
Jonathan and I often stretch the definition of “black metal” with this kolvmn, and in all honesty, we feel that’s part of our jobs as curators. I’ve often mused here and elsewhere that black metal is more of a sound for molding rather than adhering to. That’s why “blackened” pops up frequently in metal since the essence of the genre can be so easily infused into other styles. Of course, I’ll admit that the involvement of James Kelly from Altar of Plagues is one of the main reasons I was drawn to Bliss Signal‘s self-titled debut. But as I dug deeper, the duo’s encapsulation of black metal’s limitless possibilities is what kept me locked in throughout the album’s exploration of these flickering boundaries. As I first began to explore post-black metal with albums like Teethed Glory and Injury, I likely never imagined I’d eventually encounter what can best be described as “electronic blackgaze.”
Despite what this might suggest, Bliss Signal doesn’t feel like a collection of blackened remixes. Kelly and DJ/producer Jack Adams capture the glorious walls of melodic, atmospheric blackgaze within the context of the industrial experiments Altar of Plagues embraced in the later part of their career. The album offers driving, electronic beats and what sounds like a complementary synthesis of massive synth pads and effect-laden shoegaze tremolos. There’s a distinct spacey vibe across the runtime, especially apparent on the twinkling atmospheres of “Endless Rush.” But it’s songs like the title track like where the album’s core sounds truly shines. A haunting synth line and spacey bloops on “Slow Scan” fade into this heavenly blend of blackgaze swirls and thumping electronic beats. It’s almost as if Wolves in the Throne Room tapped Spiritualized as collaborators while recording Celestite and decided not to dial down the black metal nearly as much. Right after, “Surge” continues this balance with an electronic take on Deafheaven‘s Roads to Judah sound, exploring the outskirts of these types of blackened melodies and incorporating plenty of spacy, industrial goodness.
While I genuinely believe it’s appropriate to label Bliss Signal as a black metal project, the fact there’s any doubt is again a testament to the duo’s adventurous spirit and successful execution. This album offers the mood and atmospheres that allow blackgaze to conjure a sense of sublime weightlessness, while also providing plenty of memorable moments to earn an immediate, recurring spot in any black metal fan’s rotation. I can’t say I knew what to expect with this project, but I certainly didn’t expect an album that succeeds as much as an ambient album as it does as a bold reinterpretation of the black metal formula. It’s an infectious collection of songs that earn repeat listens with their inarguable quality.
Bosse-de-Nage – Further Still
Let’s be real. Deafheaven has utterly dominated the blackgaze conversation since Sunbather, and while the subgenre has produced plenty of new acts that have taken upon themselves the mantle of shoe-scuffing rectitude, none have eclipsed their titanic influence. Whether you deeply love or revile the band, denying their all-consuming impact on metal would be ridiculously inaccurate. They are, and always will be, the band most closely associated with the style. So it’s understandable if you’re not very familiar with the work of their fellow Bay Area post-black metallers Bosse-de-Nage. Five albums into their career, the band have existed for the most part in the shadow of their most famous contemporaries, which is a shame. While serving up a sometimes similar plate of post- related sounds, the band have created their own unique cocktail of black metal that deserves to be separated from the larger scene and recognized for the enigmatic, soulful creation it is. Further Still is the evolution in sound that the band has always been capable of, and is deserving of garnering all the recognition the band rightfully deserves.
There’s a raw uniqueness to Bosse-de-Nage’s sound that has always separated them from the post-black pack. Most of this uniqueness is found in the dry, retched vocal delivery of Bryan Manning. Always the love-it-or-hate-it draw of the band’s sound, Manning’s vocals are as piercing and ferocious as ever on Further Still. The difference here, however, is the rest of the band, who together have created some of the lushest, complex, and thoroughly grandiose music of the band’s career. “The Trench” is a riveting opening statement of intent, presenting a Bosse-de-Nage firing on all cylinders, and highlighting the band’s ability to be as merciless as any of their contemporaries while maintaining a distinct sense of minor-key melody and emotional resonance. But it’s when the fuzzy, funky bassline of “Down Here” rears its head that the band truly begin to dig into the compositional complexity they’ve always shown traces of. The track displays an impressive range in dynamics, tempo, and tone that serves as an appetizer before the main course that is “Crux”, which is one of the best tracks the band have yet written. Filled to the brim with good ideas that cascade down in a perpetual torrent of sound that’s full-bodied and constantly shifting, bringing one dazzling passage after the next. “My Shroud”, another highlight of the record, pulls from the same playbook, incorporating the various elements that have populated the band’s previous records and melding them into a succinct, mournful whole. It’s everything the band has been capable of achieving, and then some.
This is Bosse-de-Nage’s best record. Full stop. But, oddly, it doesn’t seem to be the full measure of the band’s capabilities. This isn’t a knock on the band, rather an awestruck exclamation that any band that produces a record this grand and hasn’t met their full potential deserves a helluva lot more recognition. Further Still is an absolutely fantastic record, and here’s hoping it serves as the moment where Bosse-de-Nage are recognized as the monstrous force they are.
Entropia – Vacuum
Back in our May 2018 edition of Kvlt Kolvmn, I declared my affinity for psychedelic black metal; as I said, there’s just something about the loose, free-wheeling trajectories of psychedelic rock taking on a sharp, blackened edge. This month, I’d like to elevate the intensity of my excitement up beyond the highest possible level for what’s easily my favorite black metal album of the year thus far (and likely through its duration). From the moment Entropia provided the first taste of Vacuum with “Astral,” I was completely enthralled by the band’s continued journey into the realm of psychedelia and couldn’t wait for the end of the month so I could experience the album in its entirety. Having done so now, it’s abundantly clear that Entropia are not only one of the boldest band’s in black metal, but also one of the most purely talented groups as well. The outpouring of adept and inventive songwriting is completely awing on every single track and never ceases to introduce new, invigorating ideas.
The description of Entropia’s sound might suggest Vacuum would take its time to get off the ground; since psychedelia is very much a “mood,” metal bands employing the style often take a bit of time to establish a properly layered, textured sound. And while Entropia does this in a sense with lead-off track “Poison,” the band’s execution is so vibrant and dynamic that it’s effortless to lose yourself in the grandiosity right from the beginning. Full, rich production bolsters an epic guitar riff that leverages the strengths of psychedelic riffing with melodic, atmospheric black metal. As the riff builds up reverberations with accompanying percussive accents, the track eventually breaks into it’s main, marching romp, complete with some pseudo-jazzy drum beats and some synth pads that flirt with industrial metal electronics. All of these elements only continue to develop, with off-kilter guitar lines and verbose symphonic elements dueling over a driving, catchy beat. “Wisdom” follows suit with some of the most starkly “black metal” moments on the album, and again, the guitars’ immaculate tone allows for the band’s riffs to pop with every catchy or crushing idea they attempt.
As mentioned above, “Astral” was a perfect track to spurn intrigue in the album, what with its manageable 5-minute runtime and more direct, punchy version of the band’s sound. However, the album’s long, expansive track times extract the full extent of what Entropia has developed with their unique, peerless approach to black metal. Vacuum is as epic and impactful as any atmospheric black metal album, but with the compositional freedom of the avant-garde and downright crushing nature of every riff. And of course, the psychedelic themes that define the album elevate each corner of this trifecta as well. Entropia have produced one of the most well-rounded and exceptionally executed albums I’ve heard from any genre in quite some time, and to carve out every detail for your reading (dis)pleasure would be a waste of time you could be spending with a contender for black metal AOTY. It’s already at the top of my list, and I feel comfortable assuming it’ll have the same effect on a myriad of other fans of the genre.
Infera Bruo – Cerement
When discussing progressive black metal, “concise” isn’t a word bandied about very often. There seem to be direct connotations with progressive sounds and taking a significant amount of time to get your point across. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, and Boston’s Infera Bruo are one of them. Their third full-length record, Cerement, clocks in under 40 minutes, and contains enough good ideas to feed a stable of lesser black metal records. Cerement is tight yet expansive, controlled yet enigmatic, and above all fundamentally enjoyable.
Pretty much everything you’d want in a progressive black metal is here. Rich, full guitar tones, atmospheric interludes, phenomenal performances throughout, and a unified sense of sonic purpose that never allows the record to stray too far from its intended target. While this may sound like a safe choice songwriting-wise, and it may be, it matters little when the music is this dynamic and engaging. “Shroud Enigma”, “The Lunar Pass”, and “Scorne” are nothing short of sensational, and each has their own fundamentally unique sonic identity. And while they can easily be told apart, they each feel part of a greater whole. This is the beauty of Cerement, and something that Infera Bruo do so well in general. Each song, each new composition, contains its own identity, but never feels out of place. Cerement is the embodiment of all that the band does well, and is thus far their best record.
Say what you will about progressive music, but it’s hard to deny its potency when done right. Infera Bruo do progressive black metal right, and it’s a blast to listen to. Here’s to even more incredible music in the near future. This is a band that shouldn’t go away any time soon.