Hello, friends. Welcome once more to Kvlt Kolvmn. Another month, another helping of fantastic black metal. May was a veritable smorgasbord of the good stuff, but also deftly displayed the variety in theme, style, and execution that makes black metal just the very best. A quick peek below at this month’s picks will give you ample opportunity to discover this diversity for yourself. And please do. This shit deserves to be heard and savored.
As usual, Scott is here with me to share with you our favorites from last month. So wrap yourself in the icy arms of eternal winter and dive into the inky blackness of the darkest and coldest tracks black metal had to offer in the month of May.
Himelvaruwe – Het onkenbare
I’ve wanted to write a deep dive on the term “blackened” for a while now. While other core metal subgenres are almost exclusively used as suffixes in genre chains, black metal is the only one that will always concede and move to the front as a prefix. Essentially, black metal becomes “blackened” because the subgenre has such a strong aesthetic effect on other styles. You’re never going to see “deathened black metal” or “doomed black metal,” for example. All this is meant to preface the fact that Het onkenbare, while great, isn’t truly a black metal release at its core. One-man band “T.” churns out releases as Himelvaruwe, often time revolving around the single-track, 20~ minute model like this present release. And even though Het onkenbare’s other influences dominate the black metal elements, the release is a textbook example of black metal’s power as a result.
With lo-fi production and a blissful instrumental backbone, T. creates the closest thing you’ll here to blackened ambient music this year. Some brief choral vocals at the onset quickly give way to a blur of glistening melodies, steady percussion and wall of guitars that create an engulfing trance of black metal euphoria. The droning ambiance comprises the core of the song, though, which pushes the blackened elements to the outer aether. But frankly, it’s for the better. Sometimes a release benefits from a changed perspective, and when viewed as a blackened ambient metal release instead of a pure black metal release, Het onkenbare becomes all the more impressive. Lo-fi BM is a dime a dozen on Bandcamp, and the muddled, kick-snare, tremolo combo might fool people who only grant the album a cursory listen. But if you’re truly willing to give the release its due, you’ll find a heavenly array of sounds that grace your headphones/speakers like sun rays through leaves and branches.
Uada – Cult of a Dying Sun
Uada’s Devoid of Light was a uniformly auspicious debut that set the standard fairly high for the band. Kicking off your career in such enigmatic and enjoyable fashion is both a gift and a curse, giving your band instantaneous respect while also placing disproportionately lofty expectations on the quality of future output. Some bands cave under such pressure, but thankfully Uada isn’t one of them. Wielding their Mgla-esque blackened grotesqueries like so many swords, their sophomore record Cult of a Dying Sun delivers on the promise of their debut, and points to great things to come.
From the first seconds of Cult, it’s fairly clear where the band have expanded their sound. The production here is more robust, lending additional thunder and clarity to the blistering drum work. The guitar tone is fuller, and the blending of each instrument is more seamless and, in my mind, effective than on their debut, albeit some of the DIY charm has left the building. But not to worry, the riffs and musicianship here more than make up for any lack of old-school production bravado. “The Purging Fire” is about as bold and epic an opening statement as one could expect from a band this talented, chock full of delicious riffs and jagged menace. The panoramic scope of the record’s production serves this particular track incredibly well, highlighting the emotional and sonic tone of the record with deft precision. If you like what you hear, you’ll love the rest of this record. Subsequent tracks “Snakes & Vultures” and the album’s title cut build upon the themes presented in the record’s opening track, creating a triumvirate of black metal ecstasy that rivals just about anything released this year.
There are few weak moments on this record. It’s a natural and logical progression from Devoid of Light that offers enough production intensity, instrumental mastery, and thematic menace to delight most fans of this band’s debut and beyond. A fantastic follow-up to a special album.
Voidthrone – Kur
Those keeping track of the records covered in this column may have picked up on our affinity for the jagged, esoteric soundscapes of experimental black metal. Think the oddly angelic and nightmarish conjurations of Thantifaxath, Dodecahedron, or DSKNT. The atonal monstrosities conjured by black metal’s weirdness stand tall in my mind among the great modern sounds sent forth from the ice by metal’s most evil subgenre. Voidthrone can stand proudly among the above bands with their fantastic sophomore record, Kur, which pulls all of the amazing elements of the above bands and condenses them into something bordering on… accessible?
Them’s fightin’ words when it comes to black metal. But “accessible” is here a relative term contextualized by the sheer batshit insanity one typically finds in this brand of music. But believe it or not, fans of traditional second wave and experimental black metal should both find plenty to relish here. It’s an album with a wide swath of fantastic content aimed to please. And please it does. After the short but effective mood setting of “Modern Hellfire”, the record’s title track opens with angular, disorienting sonics that eventually succumbs to some truly destructive drum work before being consumed entirely by a guitar-led maelstrom. The vocals are ferocious and disgusting, setting a tone of abject torture as the guitars buzz above, below, and around like a hive of angry wasps. While each element of this record’s instrumentation operates in a way that feels especially independent of the whole for most of this track, the album’s chief brilliance is how all of this chaos eventually folds back into a cohesive, ice-cold whole. Kur always seems to have a direction, even when its individual components seem to be spinning out of control. “Phantasm Epoch” pulls similar tricks, vacillating between mid-tempo musings and the most vicious of the album’s assaults. Mastering the art of juxtaposition, Voidthrone has created something special here.
This is by far my favorite experimental/atonal black metal record to be released this year. Voidthrone is ridiculously underrepresented in this space, and deserve much wider recognition than they’ve thus far received. Here’s hoping this record catapults them to the level of notoriety many of their peers enjoy. A fantastic and infinitely re-listenable record.
Wayfarer – World’s Blood
There are few atmospheric black metal bands that go as hard as Wayfarer. Fully dedicated to their conceptual mission as portrayed in their musical and lyrical content, the band is as uncompromising as they come in this space. With a level of dedication this fierce, it’s no wonder that they’ve become somewhat divisive in the world of black metal. Rather than taking the gentle approach to discussing cultures and the natural world that bands like Alcest have espoused to great effect, Wayfarer bounce between pastoral and manically aggressive with great skill, which is exemplified in no greater place in their discography than on their third record, World’s Blood. The tracks here highlight the best attributes of the band, culminating in what is by far the best record of their career.
One particularly interesting facet of World’s Blood is its production, which is simultaneously clear and full while remaining shrouded in a hazy cloud as thick as the mountain mist of their home state of Colorado. This production style lends the album a fair bit of atmospheric heft, which can be heard almost immediately as opener “Animal Crown” guides the listener through a naturalist and violent world. The guitar work is, as always, fantastic, and the songwriting, on the whole, feels cohesive and well-constructed. The record’s slower moments, such as “On Horseback They Carried Thunder”, eventually explode in sonic madness, jumping between atmospheric tension and violent release with expert precision. “The Dreaming Plain” follows this blueprint as well, but ratchets up the drama in an incredibly impactful way that feels reminiscent of Cobalt. The remainder of the album is as gorgeous, intricate, and epic as the album’s first half, and most certainly won’t disappoint those who love their black metal drenched in concept and atmosphere.
This is an expansive album and will take time to fully digest. It is, however, well worth the effort. The more time you spend with this record the more of its beauty unfolds. A must-listed for anyone who has enjoyed the band’s previous efforts or atmoblack at large.
Wolvennest – VOID
Of all the sounds and styles I’ve experienced with black metal over the years, the biggest surprise has to be the rare but intriguing marriage of black metal and psychedelic rock. I’ll admit that the main examples are just Aluk Todolo and Hail Spirit Noir, but even with this scarcity, I’ve developed a strong affinity for the unholy matrimony. There’s just something about the loose, free-wheeling trajectories of psychedelic rock taking on a sharp, blackened edge. So naturally, VOID’s description and artwork caught my eye; the cover looks like a tattoo your hippy, pagan aunt might have, and I mean that in a good way. Wolvennest brings more than enough experimentation to the altar, and it starts with a worldly, free-spirited aura. This is black metal for the aforementioned aunt, and it’s easy to imagine her burning the midnight oil (and herb) with VOID blaring in the background.
So what does Wolvennest have to offer on VOID? For starters, it’s important to note that blast beat aficionados will likely want to turn their attention elsewhere. VOID hits an operating tempo somewhere around the pace of a moody, slower Wolves in the Throne Room track. This allows the group to churn and burn throughout each of the album 8-to-17-minute long songs, creating momentum from steady development and just plain excellent compositions. A potent combination of guitar loops, synthesizers and haunting vocals dance around like a forest ritual fire blazing up to high evergreen branches. Sometimes this synthesis falls toward Blut Aus Nord’s experimental 777 trilogy (sans industrial elements), other moments it sounds like blackened, ghoulish King Woman and most often it sounds like a seamless mixture of the two. Psychedelic and krautrock sensibilities abound on every track, and the longer runtimes allow for more electronic oddities, fuzzed-out guitar solos and dark atmospheres to spread throughout the listener’s conscious.
Jonathan and I often listen to albums that push the boundaries of what black metal is and can be, which is very much the case with VOID. You’ve probably noticed I didn’t call out any specific track names, which is by design. Wolvennest makes distinct, musical statements with each track, but by the end of “La Mort,” it’s clear the album is intended to be taken in front to back as a hallucinogenic-soaked auditory journey. Fans of the individual genres mentioned might find VOID to be a bit too far entrenched in its other influences, but those that can appreciate the band’s unique intersection of sounds will discover an exceptional, singular statement that ranks high on the list of essential black metal releases for the year.