When I originally launched Kvlt Kolvmn back in 2015, my intention was to create an HLT-style outlet for all of the noteworthy releases I find while digging around for underground black metal. But as you can tell by the singular installment linked above…that didn’t end up happening. I never stopped my constant conquest for new BM, though, and I figured a new year would be a great opportunity to compile all of my findings in one place and jot down why I think they’re absolutely worth our readership’s time and attention. So here we are with Kvlt Kolvmn, Take Two—a monthly round-up of my top 10 favorite BM releases from the past 30 days. There’s a fair amount of variety here in terms of where these bands/one-man projects are from and the music they’re churning out, and my hope is you’ll find at least one of these albums worth your time (and, potentially, support). And while this might be self-explanatory, please comment with any releases I’ve missed out on but are definitely worth a spin.
Árstíðir lífsins – Heljarkviða (Iceland)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1888139466 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
Before I give a shout out to the first of three Icelandic bands on this list —seriously, what’s in the water over there?—I want to thank my fellow contributor Dave Tremblay for introducing me to these guys via his own blog Can This Even Be Called Music? Though I’m pretty picky when it comes to BM that leans on folk influences, Árstíðir lífsins pull off this combination so well that I completely forgot to consider this preconceived notion. It’s also impressive how effortlessly the band crafts the album’s long compositions, with the two-part album including two 20-minute tracks that truly embody the word “epic.” For fans of atmospheric black metal and lush, detailed folk arrangements, this is truly a must-listen for 2017.
Ashenspire – Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary (Scotland)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=2640027479 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
It’s refreshing to see a band channel their inspirations in a discernible way and not just namedrop influences that never actually manifest in their music. Ashenspire took a risk by likening their “strong taste for theatrics” to Diamanda Galás, but their latest album actually makes good on this promise while simultaneously delivering some well-crafted avant-garde BM. In the vein of Mayhem‘s Grand Declaration of War (which is a criminally underrated and undeservedly hated record), Ashenspire use BM more as a launching point rather than a destination, exploring expressive, theatric shades that earn comparison to Galás, as well as David Tibet and Current 93. While this is definitely the oddest record on this list, I’d argue that it’s also the one record most worth your exploration if you’re unfamiliar with what truly avant-garde BM has to offer.
Draugsól – Volaða Land (Iceland)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=613646516 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
I wrote about these guys in detail in an HLT last month, so this column gives me another excuse to remind anyone that hasn’t check them out exactly what they’re missing. These guys blend a little bit of everything from the subgenres of BM, all while adding an incredibly executed folk metal filter heavily reminiscent of early-era Opeth. Seriously, if you still haven’t checked these guys out by the time you finish reading this, then you need to reassess your priorities ASAP.
Endalok – Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar (Iceland)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=169610012 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
This was another Icelandic BM recommendation I received this month, this time from fellow editor Simon Handmaker (who wrote an excellent deep dive last year about how Iceland is churning out an immense amount of quality releases). Unlike much of the BM I’ve heard from the not-so-icy-island, Endalok take a much rawer approach that feels like they recorded this mini-album in a cavernous dungeon. I’ll never tire of this style of BM – lo-fi, tortured sonic assaults that are genuinely terrifying. I thought it’d take longer in the year for a band to match Skáphe achieved in this subgenre last year, but Endalok have already surpassed this expectation and left me hungering from more.
Ignis Gehenna – Baleful Scarlet Star (Tasmania)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=3066190132 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
Though I can’t say I’m well-versed in the anthropology of Oceania, I didn’t know that Tasmania had much human activity within the natural environment, let alone an active black metal scene. Of course, I was wrong on both accounts, and Ignis Gehenna capably join the ranks of the Tasmanian metal scene alongside bands like Psycroptic (whom I literally just remembered were from here and feel like an idiot for forgetting about). Though I’ve mentioned and will continue to mention a lot of BM subgenres in these monthly updates, sometimes you just need a straightforward slab of aggressive genre worship that reminds you why you fell in love with the genre in the first place. IG present an excellent example of how to scratch this itch, with some ripping BM that occasionally leans on thrash and death metal to help hearken further back to BM’s roots.
Noxia – The Age of Wisdom (Germany)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=14830572 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
I have to give Noxia credit for pleasantly surprising me with their effective channeling of starkly contrasting genres. Sure, there’s some parallels between post-punk and black metal; on their early records, Iceage used the rawness of BM to add a sharp edge to their morose punk tendencies. But I was skeptical of how the inverse might work out, a concern that Noxia quelled quickly as the first track unfolded. Armed with vocals lifted straight from a Joy Division record, the band finds an impressive median between the guitar styles of both genres, adding in plenty of goth elements to further tie together all of the morbidity presented by their sonic influences. In doing all of this, Noxia capture the essence of “beauty in pain” that accompanies these styles, and they do so while producing music that’s just as enjoyable as it is intriguing.
Saqra’s Cult – Forgotten Rites (Belgium)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=2820979214 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
With all of the Inca imagery Saqra’s Cult uses, it was a bit of surprise to see they call Germany home. But regardless of their origin, the band provides textbook examples of how to incorporate unique folk elements without allowing them ot overstay their welcome and produce an unwanted level of kitsch. On “Uku Pacha,” a soundbite of flutes and screaming at a human sacrifice ceremony in a thunderstorm-ridden jungle provide the perfect amount of unique flair to the track before the BM commences. And when the band is ripping through these tracks, they toss in some slight avant-garde tendencies treated with this distinct Incan edge. If latter-day Mayhem was based in Peru rather than Norway, this is likely what they’d sound like.
Scáth Na Déithe – Pledge Nothing but Flesh (Ireland)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=183028458 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
While I wouldn’t place a blackened death metal label on Scáth Na Déithe, there sound conjures up imagery of a raw, filthy death metal band stranded in a wintry Irish forest. With their impenetrable, Incantation-esque guitar tone to bellowing demonic vocals, the band write BM that’s as actually heavy as it is emotionally dense. And this truly is an album born from pure pain; these melodies feel like lingering airs of sadness from true devastation, and this driving, heavy backbone mixes in a healthy dose of existential rage. These are intense compositions that demand the listener be prepared for the long-haul of emotional wreckage included.
The Great Old Ones – EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy (France)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1154929632 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
Unsurprisingly, we mentioned these Lovecraftian disciples in our deep dive highlighting H.P.-inspired bands. But even if you don’t care about the mythology behind The Great Old Ones‘ music, their actual songwriting is grandiose and enthralling in and of itself – a blend of intricate riffs and jarring melodies launched into an immense atmospheric swirl. Much of this can be attributed to the band’s affinity for post metal, which adds an expansive layer to their music and an underlying sludgy crunch when the guitars want to erupt from within the murk. There’s a reason these guys are probably the most recognizable name on this list; their music is establishing them as a force to be reckoned with in the modern BM landscape.
Worthless Life – Conscious in Coma (United States)
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1317688731 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
It’s not often I find quality metal from my home state of New Hampshire; we’re too obsessed with politics and craft beer, and the local bands we do have are usually aiming to be the next big Periphery clone. So Worthless Life instantly piqued my interest when I saw that they hail from the Granite State (with some membership from Texas, as well). though I thought this was going to be a blackgaze project based on the bright watercolor cover, I was surprised to find several BM subgenres effectively blended together into a cohesive sound. The band uses a spliced core of depressive suicidal and atmospheric BM with subtle symphonic accents woven tastefully into the mix. It’s a decidedly more complex take on DSBM that puts a heightened focus on textured compositions not often found in the subgenre, and the overall effect feels less like wallowing in suicidal woes and more like a valiant effort to thwart a mental ailment.