Welcome to the latest installment of Kvlt Kolvmn! Another amazing month, another installment attempting to capture it all. Our apologies for most assuredly failing in this regard. Nevertheless, a fairly large amount of black metal blasted through our ear holes since our last installment, and we are here to share our favorites with you. Believe you me, there were some good ones.
On the whole, last month was quite a fantastic one for the ol’ corpse paint brigade. Mainly because it showed black metal in prime experimental form. Honestly, I don’t think there is another subgenre in metal that is more tailor-made for experimentation and blending of disparate sounds than black metal. From its lo-fi origins to its more modern electronic and orchestral leanings, it’s difficult to compare any other metal subgenre to black metal regarding sheer sonic adventurousness. This ingenious, off-kilter style of black metal is honestly my bread and butter, and I can’t get enough of it. Thus, August has gone down in my book as one of the year’s best yet. Scott and myself are stoked on the current state of black metal in 2017, as the metal tree continues to expand in new and exciting directions. But enough exposition. On with the picks!
Bloodlust – At the Devil’s Left Hand
Australian blackened thrash is just the best and nastiest melding of black metal with anything in existence. Destroyer 666, Nocturnal Graves, all of it. We can now add Bloodlust to a distinguished group of blackened thrashers with their sophomore record At the Devil’s Left Hand. This is one of the best blends of black and thrash metal that I have heard this year, and serves as yet another example of the exceptional talent contained within this band. This is a no-holds-barred, white-knuckle ride through the best that both metal subgenres have to offer, riffing off both the first wave of black metal (particularly Bathory) and early eighties thrash like Show No Mercy-era Slayer or early Possessed. If any of this suits your fancy, prepare to have your face righteously melted.
The record opens with a squall of wailing, jagged guitars that almost sound alive. It’s an unbelievably eerie opening, ending its under-a-minute run with a spoken invocation: “Open wide the gates of hell”. And boy howdy do they. The album’s title track rips through riff after riff with fiendish glee, allowing the throwback production to sink in deep. The emphasis on riffs here is fundamental to Bloodlust’s sound and aesthetic as a blackened thrash group. With this in mind, the band create some fantastic sequences of guitar pyrotechnics. “Deadly Force”, “Witchfyre”, and “Black Hymn to Death” create cacophonous guitar-heavy odes to the Lord of Darkness while stringing together some of the most memorable riffs in the subgenre this year. From start to finish, At the Devil’s Left Hand is relentless, leaving behind a visceral beating that you will want to return to repeatedly because it’s just so damn fun. Few and far between are the records that peddle this level of throwback aggression that feel this satisfying. Check it out if riffs you love.
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Der Weg Einer Freiheit – Finisterre
The history of black metal is defined by bands approaching the genre like an empty canvas with ragged edges. The general framework is always defined by a few core elements—tremolo riffs, fast-paced drumming, wretched vocals, etc. But even these genre staples have been liberally destroyed and recreated in a myriad of new forms; charting the journey from Bathory to Deathsepll Omega reveals a winding path with countless diversions. Yet, even with bands thrusting black metal into the avant-garde (Mastery) and eschewing traditional instrumentation (Botanist), there are still countless bands who gravitate towards the tried-and-true blueprints drawn up in the 90s and sparsely edited since. It’s one of the main reasons I first launched a monthly black metal roundup—for every noteworthy reinvention of the past or bold new experimentation, there’s an album that’s content delivering Darkthrone 2.0 and calling it a day.
And then there are bands like Der Weg Einer Freiheit, who remind me of the other reason I started this column. While I enjoy a wildly adventurous black metal album just like the next guy, there’s truly nothing like a gifted young band showcasing everything I love about the genre while simultaneously ensuring their delivery is marked by a careful synthesis of their inspirations and own unique voice. DWEF have excelled at this formula far better than many of their peers and continue to churn out stellar black metal on their fourth outing, Finisterre. The album presents a checklist of some of my favorite black metal bands and subgenres—the speed and ferocity of Marduk; the compositional finesse of Bergtatt-era Ulver; the melodic sensibilities of Dissection; and the gargantuan impact of blackgaze. But the beauty of DWEF’s music is that it’s all and none of these things simultaneously. While their music can be compared to any of the aforementioned influences, they craft each song in such a way as to make it distinctly theirs. As they aptly weave together passages of blistering blast beats and awing walls of atmosphere, there’s never any mistaking that you’re listening to a DWEF track and enjoying every moment.
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Nyss – Princesse Terre (Three Studies of Silence and Death)
As stated previously, experimentation and black metal go hand-in-hand much more fluidly than in other subgenres of metal. Something about the frosted, knife-like sound of black metal fits well with electronic manipulation, orchestral accompaniment, or blends of death/thrash metal. Think of the works of Botanist or Les Chants du Hasard for reference when contemplating the lengths that black metal artists are willing to go to deconstruct black metal archetypes and achieve new and exciting sounds through the mixture of sometimes disparate elements. This notion of black metal’s more adept bent toward experimentation is most certainly a debatable opinion, but it holds particularly true in the work of Nyss and their new album Princesse Terre (Three Studies of Silence and Death).
From the very first seconds of the opening track, “I”, it is evident that this band is interested in tinkering with the sounds that make black metal the recognizable, divisive subgenre that it is. Icy, oddly comforting electronic atmosphere envelopes the listener, as a spoken-word sample emerges from the mist to extol the virtues of directness, honesty, and truth. Immediately thereafter, the band erupts into a black metal maelstrom complete with tremolo picking, blast beats, and wretches of the highest order. But the track, while remaining for the most part relentlessly propulsive, doesn’t stay there for long. Jagged melody begins to creep its way into the guitar work, eventually consuming the track’s more hideous elements by creating a soundscape of electronic atmosphere and deeply felt melody that rides the track to its epic and explosive conclusion. This is probably the most pedestrian track on the album, by the way, which should give you some indication as to how good this thing is. More atmospheric noise and synthetic soundscapes envelope the listener during the twelve-minute album centerpiece “II” (yeah, the song titles are fairly predictable here), creating a sense of breathing room and space that was mostly stomped out by the album’s opener. “II” is chock full of instrumental and compositional variety, almost reminiscent of the dark electronically-tinged webs weaved by bands like Aevangelist. The music feels off-kilter and maniacal, yet is completely controlled by the expert hands of the musicians playing these instruments with restraint and precision. This sense of unpredictable dread continues through the album’s conclusion, aptly titled “III”, which brings a magisterial, chant-like flair to the proceedings.
Overall, this is an album for the adventurous. I encourage to be adventurous and give this thing a fair shake. You will be amply rewarded.
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Ritual Knife – Hate Invocation
In black metal, there’s lo-fi, and then there’s LO-FI. You know the difference. You know, the difference between an album produced in a studio with a very low budget and MALGORGORON producing an album in his basement on a tape recorder (MALGORGORON is both not a real person and simultaneously every basement-dwelling one-man black metal project on Bandcamp). Some love this DIY approach to black metal. Others not so much. I tend to fall in the latter camp, if I’m being honest. While I find a certain level of enjoyment in the works of first and second wave bands like Bathory and Mayhem, the complete lack of sonic dynamics on much of early black metal often leaves me wanting more. I know this makes me an untrve weakling, and I freely admit this. But every so often a super lo-fi release hits me square in the jaw, and this year that submission comes from Ritual Knife, who with their release of Hate Invocation have released an album that is so lo-fi as to almost be laughable. But it works. My god, it works.
Mixing a punk sensibility with absolutely ice cold black metal, Ritual Knife have crafted an album of true catharsis. It is wretched, jagged, utterly uncompromising and oddly mesmerizing. I have a hard time describing how much I love this album given my general distaste for the embarrassingly lo-fi. But everything about this record snaps and buzzes with an absolutely electric energy that is flat-out undeniable. Most songs here fly by in the one and a half-minute range, giving these compositions a decidedly old school punk feel. If you aren’t feeling it by the end of opener “Impetuous Shadows Dawn”, you should probably find another album to crank during your workout. But if you feel even moderately intrigued by what you hear, persisting will bring ample rewards for the lover of lo-fi that few if any albums have matched this year. The blessedly punk opening of “Genesis of Suffering” brings to mind the spunky sloppiness of Venom, while “Reflections of Self Hate” is classic black metal aggression done to absolute perfection. It’s unhinged madness that is insanely enjoyable, all the way through its gnarly finale.
This record is so great. Everything about it is ugly, sharp, deluded and extremely fun. If you’ve been missing the distinct bite and punch of old school punk and the first wave of black metal, you will not find an album that embodies their spirits more readily and fiercely than this one. Give in. It’s worth it.
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Xanthochroid – Of Erthe and Axen: Act I
Xanthochroid are not your mother’s black metal band. Not that your mother ever had a black metal band to begin with. Well, maybe. I don’t know your mom (…or do I?). Anyway, beside the point. This band presents something incredibly unique and special within the black metal community. Peddling a self-professed style of cinematic black metal, Xanthochroid have over the past few years created a rich template of sonic goodness with a scope that few can match. Think Wilderun, Moonsorrow, and Wintersun with more harrowing narratives, sweeping instrumental vistas, and equally fantastic vocals. The music of Xanthochroid literally exists in a fantasy world created by the band, which the narratives of the band’s albums live and breathe in. So, yes. This band values atmosphere and setting a great deal. But that’s not all they value, as the first part of their sophomore release Of Erthe and Axen: Act I is a musical beast of epic proportions that buries most other melody-focused black metal in its significant wake.
The album begins with a lush instrumental that won’t seem unfamiliar to fans of the above-mentioned acts. Soaring strings, thundering brass, and a triumphant percussive and propulsive trajectory that indeed feels wholly cinematic. Think perhaps Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series set to music (but, let’s be honest, much shorter and far better). As an introduction, “Open the Gates, O Forest Keeper” sets the table for the extravagant feast to come. Subsequent track “To Lost and Ancient Gardens” is a beautiful acoustic ballad featuring a love story that will shape the remainder of the album, complete with male/female duet that is as effectively executed as it is beautiful. I won’t spoil the remainder of the narrative, as that would take an entirely separate and much more in depth article. The music, however, I can assure you continues along the rich and diverse pageantry displayed in the albums first two tracks, but with more force and power. “To Higher Climes Where Few Might Stand” introduces the album’s predominantly black metal elements, especially in the vocals, which vacillate between gorgeous melody and wretched screams and murmurs. The songs weave through passages of harder and softer tracks, as “In Deep and Wooded Forests of My Youth” recalls “Open the Gates” with further duets and acoustic passages, though with less hope, and more melancholy. All of this culminates in “The Sound Which Has No Name”, which has to be one of the most truly epic metal tracks I have heard in a very long time. It is a truly majestic capper to a powerful album that had me enthralled from start to finish.
I know this type of metal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But when it is written and performed at this level of ingenuity and skill it’s hard to ignore for any fan of heavy music. I would go as far as to say that this is one of the best black metal releases of the year, and has a deserved place alongside the likes of Bestia Arcana and Nightbringer regarding atmosphere-heavy releases populating this most conspicuous of years in black metal. Highly recommended.