February is such a dump of a month. It’s snowed well over a foot in the last two weeks in my home state, and we’ve nothing to show for it but mud splatter, sidewalks covered in ice left by feckless neighbors, and frigid temperatures. February is the microcosm of all that is garbage about the human experience, which means it’s probably the best month of the year for new black metal.
This has been a tough month for me musically, especially after an absolutely stellar January. But black metal releases proved a notable exception. There’s plenty of obscene rumination to be had within its confines this month, with releases running the gamut of styles and textures. It seems the colder and more miserable the cycle of life becomes, the higher quality of despair we get to bask in. I for one welcome our blackened overlords. May they reign beyond the inevitable thaw.
As always, our comrade in all things dark and gruesome Scott joins me to lay down some premium picks from the month that was February. Let us know what albums struck your fancy in the comments. Stay frost-bitten, friends. On to the music.
Funereal Presence – Achatius
Every so often, out of the ever-expanding pool of modern second wave worship, a band strikes a chord that is both traditionally sound and aggressively fresh. All-too-often, black metal bands seem to straddle one fence or the other. Perhaps this is due to bands adhering to strong philosophical principle as to what black metal is, or a desire to innovate that strong enough to attempt to abandon the genre’s roots entirely. Funereal Presence don’t seem particularly interested in the above exclusivity, as the project proudly stands on its own as a unique work of black metal magic that never buries its sonic roots, while simultaneously refusing to exist solely within their confines. Achatius is a singular experience that is one of the most effective and engaging that I’ve heard this year.
One need only spend about one minute with this album to determine that it’s attempting something special. “Wherein Achatius Is Awakened and Called Upon” begins with the mournful, isolating sound of horns, which serve to both emotionally transport and set clear expectations regarding the type of journey listeners are about to embark on. These horns eventually bleed into an acoustic guitar passage that is equally potent in setting the mood. But as soon as your settled, all hell breaks loose. Raging guitars, wretched vocals, and cacophonous drums turn a serene beginning into an absolute maelstrom. Such shifts are a frequent occurrence throughout the record, so if subverted expectations aren’t your thing, Achatius might not be your thing. But if digging into the space between reverence and evolution is up your alley, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more entrancing album than this. The performance here (ably undertaken by Bestial Devotion) is also spectacular, further enhancing the album’s already formidable agility as a listening experience.
If February only gave me one metal album in February, I’d be fine if it was this one. This is a masterfully crafted work of devotion and spirited adventure that will stand tall as the year continues. A fantastic effort from one of New York’s finest purveyors of black metal.
Kaleikr – Heart of Lead
If for some reason you haven’t noticed by now, let me be the one to fill you in: Iceland is currently the place to find new, fantastic black metal. I’m not sure what to credit this
If challenged to describe the album in the fewest words possible, I’d classify it as heavy, progressive black metal played in the spirit of Colored Sands-era Gorguts and Blut Aus Nord‘s 777 trilogy. Of course, throughout all of this is that somewhat indescribable “Icelandic” quality that I might pinpoint on a sense of simple genre mastery. Every band in the Icelandic black metal scene just seem experienced beyond the depth of their discographies, as if they’re seasoned veterans and not releasing their career debuts.
That theme is evident throughout Heart of Lead. Plenty of passages feel like latter-career Enslaved, with plenty of acoustic flourishes, epic atmospheres and generally intriguing progressions and ideas. But the entire affair is noticeably heavier and abrasive, satisfying fans of both the prog and blackened ends of the subgenre’s spectrum. Across the album’s substantial run time, there’s always a new concept or style of song development that the band toys with, sometimes focusing on catchy, melodic refrains and other times flirting with dissonant death metal stylings.
With the album being such a dense and exceptionally-crafted piece of black metal, it’s difficult to condense the experience down into a handful of paragraphs. Everything about Kaleikr’s music should stoke listeners’ interest in what else the duo has in store; undoubtedly, we’re looking at another major player in a scene rife with talent. Let’s just hope this project is truly a phoenix from the ashes and doesn’t burn up anytime soon.
Saor – Forgotten Paths
During the days of Bathory and Venom, no one could have imagined bands would create albums like Forgotten Paths. This isn’t a “
Of course, none of this is a new trend for Saor. Other than maybe Panopticon, it’s difficult to argue that Andy Marshall hasn’t been the genre’s premier blender of atmospheric and pagan traditions over the last several years. Starting with Roots, Marshall has developed Saor’s music into a sublime brand of epic, melodic black metal charges accented by the sounds and themes of traditional Scottish folk music. The results have been consistently enthralling, a trend Marshall continues to elevate on Forgotten Paths.
With so many elements at play, the album could have very easily fallen into a sense of overwhelming excess. But Marshall finds a perfect balance between the album’s folk, black metal and general melodic elements throughout, often times allowing each segment of his sound to shine in one moment while playing a necessary support role in the next. It allows songs like the title track to come roaring out of the gates with an epic blackened blast, while the midsection of “Monadh” can shine with a folk-tinged post-rock build and crescendo. On “Bròn,” the composition feels about as complete and stirring as any Saor track before it, thanks in large part to some amazing performances from guest vocalist Sophie Rogers and bagpiper Kevin Murphy. And of course, Neige from Alcest is an excellent feature that boost the title track in equal measure.
After all these long, 10+ minute epics, the serene outro of “Exile” provides a moment of respite perfect for reflection. There’s so much to love about what Marshall brings to the table, and what he continues to accomplish under the Saor banner. His music is dynamic, alluring and just generally fantastic, and even after another stellar new album, I’m still anxious to see what he does next.
Vanum – Ageless Fire
Vanum aren’t here to wow you in the traditional sense. That sounds like a dig, but hear me out. While Vanum aren’t peddling the most unique sound in black metal, there are few that execute their vision with as much precision, skill, and passion as they do here. Ageless Fire, the band’s second full-length record, is a melodically inclined rush of black metal that is both technically sound and immensely enjoyable to listen to. It may not be pushing the envelope in terms of style, but that’s not the type of record Ageless Fire is intended to be. This record is all about execution, and in my estimation it accomplishes its mission resoundingly.
It is not an easy feat to pull off black metal that sounds this good. The performances are rich and easily digestible without ever feeling like they lack complexity. This is in large part due to some utterly fantastic and straightforward songwriting that allows the band to play to their strengths. Just try to avoid the well of emotion that hits you in the first moments of “Jaws of Rapture” as the guitars sail into utterly majestic melodic territory, or the jolt of aggression that carries listeners into nearly thrash-adjacent airspace in “Eternity”. Bands don’t need to overwhelm you with gimmicks when the music they create is this excellent, and living in this space is where Vanum excels. Pulling melodic overtones from Yellow Eyes without diving too deeply into that band’s more complex side, Vanum strive to create an accessible experience that doesn’t skimp on quality. Here, they succeed like few others in the genre.
A truly fantastic listening experience, Ageless Fire may well end up on a list or two of mine and many others before the year’s done. Here’s to much more where this came from.
Vimur – Triumphant Master of Fates
Is it just me or is Adam Burke on an absolute roll as of late? It seems like we get a new piece of artwork from him on a record every few weeks, and I’m all for it. His artwork immediately compels me to listen to whatever record it adorns, and with Vimur’s sophomore record Triumphant Master of Fates, I can’t imagine a more appropriate marriage of style and quality between art and music. This is an exceptionally well-crafted record by these Georgia apparitions.
As songwriters and musicians, Vimur are masters at balancing technical form, manic aggression, and overwhelming atmosphere for maximum impact. Triumphant Master of Fates delivers precision in each of these aspects simultaneously, allowing their music to flow in a fashion similar to that of Zhrine and Misþyrming, though just slightly less chaotic or oppressively atmospheric. “Consumed by the Source” is a perfect example of this bent toward balance, allowing thunderous drums to collide with soaring, melodic guitar work and intense vocal work while never fully leaving the overarching shroud of atmosphere that covers the record. The performances here are exceptional, filling the band’s cyclical songwriting style with enough instrumental explosiveness to bring down buildings. It’s an album that’s very easy to appreciate while holding enough mystery and technicality to demand and reward repeat listens. In short, it’s real good.
If you like your black metal equal parts nasty and melodic, you won’t go wrong with Triumphant Master of Fates. It’s a fantastic record that’s well worth your time and attention.