Welcome to Kvlt Kolvmn. The frost melts. Snow leaves the clouds for the foreseeable future. Pathways of ice turn slowly into cool puddles, eventually reduced to nothing. Winter is gone. Spring ascends.
Boo, says I.
It’s a good thing we have black metal to keep us nice and frostbitten as the thaw of spring warms hearts and pollutes the minds of the meek and feeble with hope. And if the beginning of 2019 is any indication, the rest of this year could be one for the books. Good grief. The amount of quality black metal making its way ‘round the blogosphere is nigh overwhelming. There are stacks of albums to hear, and so little time in which to hear them. As is tradition, Scott and I are here to help you separate the wheat from the chaff with our top picks of the month of March. Let the sweet sounds of eternal winter carry you to your own special heart of darkness, and let us know which albums launched your soul into the void in the comments.
Stay frosty, friends.
Aoratos – Gods Without Name
By the end of this week, I will have written about Aoratos’ sensational record Gods Without Name three times. It’s good enough to warrant all of the coverage I can give it. One of the many projects helmed by black and death metal luminary Naas Alcameth, Aoratos is a black metal fan’s dream. It’s oppressively dark without ever losing a distinct sense of vision, abrasive without sacrificing melody, deeply atmospheric without feeling formless, and aggressive without ignoring a few moments of tension-filled stillness. It’s the real deal. The complete package. One of the best records released this year in any genre.
Fans of Akhlys, Nightbringer, Bestia Arcana, and Ævangelist will find plenty here to sink their teeth into. Alcameth’s unique, airy, retched vocals slather the tracks on this record with enough menace to fit snugly beside the works of any of the above bands, and the instrumentation just as varied and impactful. But Gods Without Name is mainly remarkable for its songwriting, which feels distinctly like a Naas Alcameth record without ever crossing into the realm of retread. This is a unique project with a singular vision that feels somehow both familiar and new, pulling the best elements from Alcameth’s back catalog and thrusting them into a dense new sonic template that’s as engaging as the man’s music gets. Jump to any track on the record and you’ll have found a gem.
Gotta save some praise for later, but don’t skip this one. It’s a seminal record from a formidable artist at the peak of his powers. Long may he terrorize our dreams.
Drastus – La Croix de Sang
One of my favorite traits of black metal is just of deeply sinister the genre can be. As much as I love the modern post-black and blackgaze movements, there’s truly nothing like the pure, sonic evil that bands can conjure with the black metal blueprint. From the moment “Nihil Sine Polum” stalks out of the gate, its clear that Drastus have little interest for melody, and are instead singularly focused on making some of the most vile, heavy black metal of the year thus far.
Elements of death metal certainly help the band’s apparent goals, especially with the more robust, crisper production. There’s nothing raw or cold about La Croix de Sang; every note is punctuated by clear, massive production quality. Other aspects of the album offer some nods to death metal as well, with some riffs leaning more on the low-end and chord progressions that feel like a modern day iteration of Darkthrone‘s early flirtation with these extreme metal genres.
However, from a compositional standpoint, this is a black metal album through and through, albeit one less concerned about tremolos and more infatuated with minor-key riffs, dissonance and crafting an atmosphere of pure, impenetrable darkness. Each track is as foreboding as it is pummeling, with plenty of elements from a variety of blackened subgenres to acheive widespread appeal. Whether you’re looking for a good black metal thumping or some concentrated sonic ghoulishness, Drastus leverage all the styles at their disposal to craft a truly exceptional album.
Thormesis – The Sixth
It’s rare to find an album that feels like it will please fans of first and second wave black metal while also extending a sizable olive branch to the post-whatever scene. Thormesis’ The Sixth does just that, mixing black metal elements that should please fans Der Weg winter Freihet, Violet Cold, and Immortal alike. Delving deeply into melodic and atmospheric realms without ever losing its penchant for heavy riffs, The Sixth satisfies on nearly every measurable level, and has proven to have enough staying power to have not left my regular rotation for weeks.
Opener “Sonnen” and its subsequent track highlight the principal components that make this album work. The first of these tracks is a riff-heavy juggernaut that introduces the record in ways both harsh melody-driven, balancing the knife’s edge of second wave ferocity with an emphasis on black metal’s capability to sound simultaneously ugly and beautiful. “Thy Morbid Ways” takes this sonic theme even further, eventually disintegrating into an emotion-filled finale that is as triumphant and sorrowful as anything one would find on an Alcest record. It’s a glorious display of gorgeous and thoughtful songwriting the continues throughout the remainder of the record.
Say what you will about black metal records that promote post- sounds, but it’s hard to deny its impact when the music is this good. The Sixth is a spellbinding record that’s very easy to fall in love with. I suggest you give it the chance to place its hooks in you. Well worth the time investment.
Vimur – Triumphant Master of Fates
As dedicated to open genre integration manipulation as many modern black metal bands are wont to be, Vimur’s music presents a somewhat antithetical approach: Play traditional black metal, and play it in as skilled a way as possible. They accomplish just this in Triumphant Master of Fates, unfurling track after track of premium, blast-filled black metal that puts the band’s abilities as musicians on full display. It’s as dazzling as it is abrasive, and there’s little more I could ask for in a black metal record.
Songwriting carries the day for Vimur, as each track here feels uniform in style and execution. Which isn’t to suggest that these tracks aren’t varied. To the contrary, even a cursory glance at album opener “Seditious Apertures” and following track “Consumed by the Source” shows that Vimur are capable of grand shifts in instrumental and songwriting emphases, further highlighting their skills as musicians playing music that demands dedication and craft. There isn’t a dud of a track in the bunch, each new composition only further cementing the band’s stature as expert musicians and creative black metal songwriters, with closer “Supreme Preemption of the Lightless Empire” capping off the album with particular ferocity. In short, it sounds damned amazing on both technical and visceral levels.
Conversations regarding instrumental virtuosity in metal are too often relegated to the noodle-based wankery of progressive and technical death metal. So it’s nice to be focusing on a black metal band for a change when it comes to discussing technical adventurousness. Triumphant Master of Fates is a fantastic slab of black metal that I strongly recommend to fans of music that isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of its chosen genre in decidedly more technical directions.
Fen – Stone & Sea (atmospheric black metal, folk)
Sinmara – Hvísl stjarnanna (Icelandic black metal)