Welcome to the last edition of Kvlt Kolvmn for the year 2018. I honestly debated whether or not to run this column for December, given that our year-end lists have recently been posted and the holiday season is generally a bear on schedules. But I couldn’t let the releases below slip by without some form of mention. This will be a more skeletal version of our format than you’ve become accustomed to, but I assure you the lack of words here in no way indicates a lack of excellence. The end of the year has turned out to be white hot for quality black metal, and the releases I’m covering here only constitute a fraction of the awesome bounty this winter has given us. Those who were worried about black metal’s health can rest at ease. There’s plenty of wildly creative and incendiary music to be had in this neck of the ice-covered woods.
Although it has been said several times already, the sentiment bears repeating. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, debating, and generally engaging with us and this column in 2018. Black metal is, in my estimation, the most controversial branch of the metal tree, and talking about records in its confines often feels like a game of unwinnable chess for those reviewing and consuming. That said, I believe that discussing the current state of black metal is vital to understanding both its positive and destructive attributes, as well as its history and potential futures. Opinions will always vary wildly on the subject, and we aren’t here to give purposeful platforms to rhetoric we find repulsive. But discussion and debate are how genres grow and develop as they navigate the spaces they occupy, and I am all for that conversation to continue with gusto. Without you, there’s no us. Thank you for reading.
Onward, into the blast-beaten night.
Acathexis – S/T
The debut, self-titled record by Acathexis is amazing. Full-stop. Had this record come out earlier in the year, giving me more opportunities to plunder its immense riches, it very well may have landed on my year-end top 10 list for black metal. Everything I love about the genre is here. Fantastic instrumental performances, intricate songwriting that displays a deep understanding of the genre’s history and its various forms, and a deeply felt sense of atmosphere that few black metal bands are able to master. Dany Tee’s vocal work is absolutely ferocious here, bringing these tracks a sense of wretched violence that plays in sharp contrast to the often magisterial songwriting contained here. “Life Only Festers” is a perfect example of this juxtaposition of the violent and beautiful on this record, as the track moves between passages of intensely abrasive and thunderous black metal and epic, sweeping melodic soundscapes that pack a hefty emotional punch. It’s not Deafheaven sonically, though the heartstrings being tugged on “Veins Hollowed” may tell you differently. This is gargantuan, riveting stuff from a band that I will be eagerly following for years to come.
Death Fortress – Reign of the Unending
I often listen to black metal while gaming, reading epic fantasy, or partaking in various other forms of general geekitude. I’ve recently been traipsing (aka dying repeatedly and with great force) through From Software’s Bloodborne, and if there is a more appropriate soundtrack to its blood-soaked sense of destruction and chaos than Death Fortress’ Reign of the Unending, I’ve yet to hear it. All that to say Death Fortress have conjured here a visceral, primal, bludgeoning record of immense magnitude that is both enjoyable and devastating. Adhering to a more cavernous production aesthetic that lends these tracks an ethereal quality while never skimping on muscle in the percussion department, the record sounds like a healthy mix between second wave and more modern iterations of the black metal sound. The songwriting lends itself well to this sonic palette, with songs like “Last Line of Kings” bludgeoning listeners with fantastic riffs that skirt the edges of discernible, potent melody while never straying far from those razor-sharp tremolo ruptures that make black metal what it is. It’s front-to-back a fantastic record, which I would highly recommend to any fan of the genre.
Guðveiki – Vængför
This is one scary record, people. There are few musical frontiers as rife for wild sonic experimentation as black metal, and Guðveiki explore the fringes of the genre with a radical sense of glee that is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. From the opening moments of the album’s first track I was entirely hooked. Mixing the jittery, flailing technicality of Portal or Hissing with the atmospheric evil of Misþyrming, Vængför is a perplexing, intoxicating, and thoroughly nasty piece of work, and given the band’s pedigree such a conglomeration of sounds makes total sense. Featuring members of Wormlust, Skaphe, Chaos Moon, and a host of others, it should come as no surprise that this record sounds sinister and amazing. One of my favorite black metal releases of the year, and one that fans of adventurous and chaotic black metal should give an ear to.
Serpent Column – Invicta
Guitars. All of the guitars. All of the time. Forever. That’s where Serpent Column begin, traverse, and end on Invicta, their beguiling follow-up to Ornuthi Thalassa. Black metal incorporates a host of emphases when it comes to its creation, but rarely have I heard the manic work of guitarists placed so obviously front-and-center as I have on Invicta. While this may not be everyone’s proverbial cup of tea, I find the band’s songwriting perfectly suited to such an intense focus. Epic opening stunner “Asphodel” is all you’ll need to hear to decipher where this record is going, but don’t for a second think that this means it will be predictable. These three tracks stuff enough good ideas into 30+ minutes to fill a record at least double that time. I was never once bored, and see myself spinning this record many more times in the near and distant future. A delightfully bold step forward for a band absolutely overstuffed with potential.
Svartidauði – Revelations of the Red Sword
The absolute legends of Icelandic black metal are back with what may be their best recording yet. Yes, it’s only their second proper full-length outing, but with several demos and EPs under their collective belt over the past several years and a six year wait after the release of their debut a cohesive collection of tracks feels like a small miracle. Let’s suffice to say that the wait was worth it. There’s nothing to debate here, to be honest. Every one of these tracks is a suffocating yet easily discernible cluster of technically sound, sonically ambitious black metal that gives the phenomenal Icelandic scene another feather in its already beautifully adorned cap. Essential listening for fans of this scene’s output.
Veilburner – A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy
Pennsylvania’s Veilburner don’t make black metal like anyone else. A rich, bubbling stew of influences and styles, A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy feels like a black metal opus sung loudly and with reckless abandon from deep in the halls of a psychiatric ward. The production work here is unsettling and discombobulating in the best possible way, fitting in nicely with a songwriting aesthetic that positions unpredictability as a key element in each track’s structure. The beauty of this approach, at least in the hands of Veilburner, is that the music never feels stale while remaining definitively cohesive. All of this music feels like it belongs on this record, but very little (if any) of it sounds the least bit repetitious. It’s a bananas statement of intent by a band that will very soon be climbing the ranks of experimental black metal notoriety. And may it be so. Lord knows it’s been too long of a wait for the new princes of weird-ass darkness to be recognized as the black metal royalty they are.