There are, in my mind, two months in the standard calendar year that are the ripest for black metal: January and February. The early winter months, stuffed with family gatherings and holiday cheer, make it somewhat difficult for me to truly bask in the shadows cast by metal’s most sinister of subgenres. But that time is gone. We’ve hit the doldrums. People have already started reneging on their new year’s resolutions, shoveling the drive is way past being fun anymore, and ice clings to every potential walking surface with a fortified resolve. It’s miserable outside…
It’s black metal season.
What a way to kick it off, too. January pulled through with some premium content, with releases spanning a spectrum of sounds that should slake any black metal enthusiast’s lust for punishment. It also saw the return of Krallice, perennial surprise releasers of records and EPs that everyone unabashedly loves or abjectly loathes. There are big names and newcomers galore, so let’s cut the idle chat and get down to it. As is tradition, Scott is here with me to detail our picks of the month in all things good and frosty. We look forward to your scathing remarks (and dope picks) in the comments.
Here’s to another year of exultant audio darkness.
Barshasketh – Barshasketh
A common trope in black metal writing these days is the virtue of “straightforward” or “traditional” black metal. At its core, I agree with this argument; Jonathan and I can’t always listen to noise-obsessed, dissonant chaos when we’re looking for solid black metal.
Yet, it’s bands like Barshasketh that make me want to tweak this narrative just a bit. There are indeed some modern bands that wear their Mayhem and Darkthrone influences on their sleeves, and I’m not going to pretend I don’t enjoy some good Blaze in the Northern Sky worship once in a while. But bands like Barshasketh aren’t just a genre blueprint clone, and insinuating as much is insulting to the band’s unique genre voice. Instead, I classify my love of the band’s music as a feeling of reminiscence about my first forays into black metal. Barshasketh is a great album not because it pulls on genre tropes, but because its distinct style and structure
At the core of this is the band’s guitar work, which strikes a perfect balance between abrasive riffs, melodic progressions and chaotic excursions. This all comes together to make for the perfect mood for a successful black metal album, one that captures the genre’s majesty, might and menace in one fell swoop. All the while, the overall compositions that unfurl with these guitar passages are equally atmospheric and tangible. Pummeling percussion and wretched vocals help to make this a grounded album that remains as heavy as it does foreboding and all-consuming.
Perhaps the key highlight of Barshasketh is the band’s adept execution of the multi-part suite, with “Consciousness I &II” and “Ruin I & II” helping to lock down a solid core to propel the album’s success. A trap several black metal bands fall into is not knowing how to sustain momentum throughout an entire album, whether that’s with awkward interludes or body tracks or simply not offering enough variety to remain interesting. By contrast, both halves of these suites on Barshasketh are unique in their own ways while still bringing together a dynamic array of sounds that fit a larger narrative.
This again demonstrates how the band’s songwriting elevates them above other “traditional” black metal bands and becomes a pure representation of why the genre has endured and will continue to thrive. With bands like Barshasketh, how could it not?
Griefloss – Griefloss
Not only was Griefloss the first new black metal album I heard in 2019
That’s because every song on Griefloss has its own unique character that simultaneously works toward the band’s larger ethos. Notes of shoegaze, alt-rock, post-rock, ambient electronics and (of course) black metal all come into play on the band’s latest outing, and simultaneously so on numerous occasions. The entire affair feels very organic, and while this might seem odd to say, it sounds like an actual band is playing these tracks. Often time with black metal, we use demonic or celestial imagery to describe the music and artists we love. But with Griefloss, their music sounds a great deal more intimate and rife with emotion than a great deal of their contemporaries. Nothing is lost in a shroud of reverb just for the sake of seeming ethereal; every element used by the band feels purposeful and well-placed within emotionally stirring compositions.
Krallice – Wolf EP
Perhaps you love them. Maybe you hate them. Whichever side of the proverbial aisle you fall on, Krallice are far from a universally appealing band. Their esoteric, technical approach to black metal (if you can even call them “black metal” anymore) has evolved and expanded in outrageous directions over the past few years, with each new release varying wildly in tone and style from the last. The only predictable thing about Krallice at this juncture of their career is unpredictability, and I love it so much.
Yeah, I dig this band hard. I’ve chosen my companions and have entrenched myself on the RIGHT side of battlefield Krallice, and there’s little that can be done to dissuade me. Including the tracks on their new EP, Wolf, which is nothing that I expected to be while simultaneously being everything that I hoped it could be. It’s short, mean, and chock full of some premium riffs. Is it the best Krallice recording yet? I don’t think so. I would still place their masterful Hyperion EP a tic above this as well, but that’s no slight to the work the band put in on this EP. Front-to-back, Wolf displays Krallice in the finest of forms, with some of the heaviest and gnarliest guitar passages the band have yet conjured. The record’s opening and title track almost gets thrashy in its riff-heavy middle section, while “The Mound” is just ridiculously heavy in every respect, pulling from a death metal core that gives the band’s sound even further bite. The performances are uniformly excellent throughout, as always, culminating once more in a worthwhile Krallice release.
Is Wolf going to change your mind about Krallice? It most certainly will not. I think that ship has sailed for Krallice, and we’re all the better for it. Those enthralled by the band’s constant shape-shifting and manic unpredictability will get plenty of what they love about the band in Wolf, and here’s hoping we get even more of it soon.
Malist – In the Catacombs of Time
Malist is the brainchild of Russian multi-instrumentalist Ovfrost, and before this month I had no idea this project even existed. After giving his debut record under the Malist moniker a few thorough listens, I can safely say that I’m in love with it and that this man needs some solid recognition, and fast. Helming close to an atmoblack sound without ever straying too far from the obvious influence of the second wave, Ovfrost has created something here that should excite fans of Panopticon and Immortal alike.
The opening notes of “Venture into Life”, replete with acoustic guitar and the sounds of a raging campfire, should give you all the indication you need regarding where this record is taking you. There’s a keen sense of melody here almost as distinct as you’d find in a folk metal record. The guitars throughout swell and pitch with emotion in a way that is seldom heard in black metal, and the record is all the better for it. “Agony (To No Avail)” and “Spiritual Oppression” are titanic in scope on a songwriting level, with raging guitars and thundering drums that only give quarter when necessary, but nevertheless remain impressively accessible and emotionally resonant throughout. There are very few (if any) missed opportunities in the tracks that populate this record, as Ovfrost takes every note, riff, and sequence seriously, leaving the listener spent and bruised by the sheer magnitude of Malist’s first full-length enterprise. But the punishment contained here is without question worthy of your time and effort. There is ethereal majesty ensconced in the general mayhem presented here, culminating in one of the best metal listening experiences I’ve had so far this year. I think you’ll agree.
It feels so good to find amazing new music from artists ready to take their genre by storm. Malist will undoubtedly become a name that many black metal fans recognize in the near future, and here’s hoping we are blessed with more material from this project soon. But if the man never plays another note, we’ll always have the brilliant and emotionally powerful In the Catacombs of Time to play on repeat for years to come. An outstanding debut.
Mo’ynoq – Dreaming in a Dead Language
There’s a very good reason that we both reviewed and premiered what Mo’ynoq have to offer on their latest album. Over the last month, Dreaming in a Dead Language has been my most listened to
Anyone who follows this column should know quite well just how much Jonathan and I love dissonant black metal. The genre’s atmospheric blueprint provides the perfect launching pad for swirling flurries of notes and noise. But what sets Mo’ynoq apart is their brand of what I’ll label “accessible dissonance.” There’s no shortage of chaotic passages married with ferocious blasts, and the atmospheres that spring forth from this combo are suffocating. But the band also employs a fair deal of melody and broader songwriting as well. Whereas several dissonance-oriented bands fling themselves into unbridled chaos, Mo’ynoq instead uses the strengths of several blackened subgenres to make a complete, multifaceted album.
In a way, this could be attributed to the band’s base in the bustle of Raleigh, North Carolina instead of any of the hallmark Nordic countries. Mo’ynoq embodies a central theme of American black metal band; they have not just a willingness, but an active desire to make black metal in their own image, rather than what it “should” be. There are, of course, plenty of non-American bands that share this belief. But as Dreaming in a Dead Language develops, it’s hard not to get vibes from the scene here across the pond. Whether it’s subtle guitar solos woven in at the perfect moment or melodic arpeggios seamlessly morphing into possessed, angular riffing, Mo’ynoq exhibit a boldness to prioritize their own creative proclivities, regardless of how that relates to the larger genre landscape.
Vessel of Iniquity – Void of Infinite Terror
A few years ago I gave industrial black metal band american’s second album Violate and Control a listen on the train into work. This was a monumentally bad idea. For the entire day, I felt soured, almost violated, by the abject filth that bombarded my ear drums. DSKNT’s PhSPHR Entropy did something similar to me later in the year, but I was more aware of and adequately prepared for what Sentient Ruin Laboratories was capable of unleashing. This year’s version of that waking nightmare is Vessel of Iniquity’s debut full-length record Void of Infinite Terror, which is an absolute hell hole of misery and oppression. In short, it’s damn good.
Every inch of this record is coated in the purest, most delicious shroud of audio torture. Take the utterly brazen punishment of Infernal Coil, blacken it times one-thousand, then sprinkle on a hefty dose of Portal-esque impenetrable atmosphere and you’ll come close to tapping into the manic, wild violence that Vessel of Iniquity are peddling here. This thing sounds viscerally and unquenchably angry, and this constant and ever-intensifying sonic mode makes Void of Infinite Terror on of the most supremely singular listening experiences I’ve had in a while. Hell, “Babalon” and the record’s title track have a sonic undercurrent that channels what hundreds of souls being burned alive might sound like. I have no other way to describe it other than truly, deeply horrifying. If you like black metal taken to its most aggressive sonic extreme, you may have found your record of the year in January.
Black metal, or music in general, that can transport the listener into a particular state of mind and keep them there with rapturous abandon for an entire album’s runtime is rare and good. Void of Infinite Terror is rare and good, and you should listen to it (in a dark room, alone, like Satan intended) as soon as possible.