Welcome to Kvlt Kolvmn, D R A M A Edition. Whoa boy. Yeah. It’s been a month. Not only were we gifted some absolutely incredible black metal releases in what’s already been a banner year, but we also get enough craziness to fill a tabloid. It’s great. It’s terrible. It’s black metal. Let’s go.
As always, my good comrade Scott joins me in bringing to you all things bold and cold. There’s plenty of meat to feast on this month, so I won’t belabor the point. Let us know what your favorites were in the comments.
Batushka(?) – Panihida
Okay, this horse has been beaten well past death at this juncture, but just in case you’ve been living under that dead horse with no access to the light of the interwebs, here’s the brief synopsis: Poland’s liturgical black metal juggernauts Batushka are now two bands, with both parties claiming to represent the actual product. In the left corner, we have Bart Krysiuk, whose version of the band is signed to Metal Blade Records and releasing a new full length project in the coming weeks/months. To the right stands Kris Drabikowski, who has made very public claims to the illegitimacy of the former band, and has independently released another Batushka album entitled Panihida. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Round One. FIGHT!
As an outside party, I’m not here to make claims regarding the legitimacy of either argument (though on a personal note the evidence seems to suggest that one side has a legitimate grievance). My job is to cover music, and it’s a job I like when the music I’m covering is stuff I enjoy. Thankfully, Panihida is good stuff.
The tl;dr is if you enjoyed the artist-formerly-known-as-Batushka’s debut record Litourgiya, you’ll dig this. Drabikowski kicks the record into high gear right where their debut left off. Manic drums, deep chanting, elemental and highly melodic riffs, and ferocious black metal screaming. It’s as varied and dense as Litourgiya, but with a heavier emphasis on the band’s most aggressive elements. Rather than feeling like a mass with black metal trimmings, Drabikowski has constructed a more fully realized black metal record, adding religious flair as a complementary factor. This slight flip in emphasis serves the album well, creating a dynamic and intense listening experience that builds upon his previous efforts with gusto to spare. The album’s finale is one of the most titanic tracks I’ve heard this year, and caps off the experience with an appropriate level of drama given the circumstances of its birth.
Whichever side of the fence you fall on in The War of the Batushka(s), it’s hard to deny that Drabikowski has created something spectacular with Panihida, and in all it’s a record that I hold no hesitancy recommending. Here’s hoping that the truth will have out, but if this is the only record we get from this debacle, you can color me satisfied.
Esoctrilihum – The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods
Besides the Nazis and white supremacists, black metal’s biggest issue is its obsession with taking itself so seriously. Early second wave bands talked about their disdain for the “flashiness” of ’90s death metal, which spawned the black, copy machine quality artwork and raw production. Yet, what’s always struck me about black metal is its inherent excess. From the fixation on mysticism and philosophy to the extreme nature of the music itself, why don’t more artists truly embrace the extravagance of concept and presentation? Many of my favorite black metal albums epitomize this type of full surrender, where the music and all its contextual elements are over the top, and all the better for being so grandiose.
Enter Esoctrilihum, a one-man show directed by Asthâghul that embodies this approach to the genre. Everything about The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods—from the glorious title and cover art to the actual music itself—are so clearly an attempt to amplify black metal’s core elements of showmanship. To clarify, I’m by no means saying that Asthâghul’s compositions are campy or overly verbose. Everything on The Telluric Ashes feels exceptionally well-written and developed, bolstered by this understanding of what black metal is at its very core.
Admittedly, this latest offering from Esoctrilihum is quite dense, with numerous songs running above the 5-minute mark. But the journey is hardly an arduous one, especially given how varied and engaging Asthâghul’s songwriting is. There are plenty of moments which skirt the line of blackened death metal, except with an emphasis on a blackened sear and atmosphere. Naturally, you might glean that this approach leads to some dissonant and avant-garde passages. This manifests in numerous ways, such as angular riffing throughout, unsettling dark ambient passages and Asthâghul’s consistently haunting vocal delivery. For me, the main constant that elevates the album is Asthâghul’s exceptional drumming; at the drop of a hat, he can dial up the tempo on his blasts or double kick rolls and then accent a murky soundscape with slow, methodical percussion.
The Telluric Ashes warrants the investment of time from any fan of black metal’s odder side, especially those familiar with previous Esoctrilihum releases. In my view, Asthâghul’s latest offering is his boldest and most fully realized, which certainly whets the palate for what he might pen as a follow-up. There’s little doubt this will rank among my top black metal releases when it comes time to wrap-up another year of Kvlt Kolvmn.
Misþyrming – Algleymi
Icelandic black metal is the real deal. Not that this is new to anyone. It’s just nice to be reminded of the fact every few years. Sinmara pummeled us into submission a few months ago with another insane release, and now it’s Misþyrming’s turn to turn our hopes and dreams into a neatly collected pile of ash. Well, at least that’s the hope. Algleymi comes with four years of pent-up expectation that has only become more intense as the scene they helped birth has expanded. But if anyone had doubts as to the band’s ability to recreate the intense magic of their vicious debut, let those fears be assuaged: Algleymi is one of the best black metal albums of the year, and probably not in ways that you’d expect.
When viewing Misþyrming through the prism of their previous work, one might assume that the band would take a similar path to the one that made them one of the most respected bands in the Icelandic scene: face-shredding riffs, a bleak, cold, and expansive production aesthetic, relentless drums, and a vocal performance that is as menacing as it is entrancing. Fans of the band get most of these things in Algleymi, but with some unique twists. The overwhelming atmosphere of the band’s debut is trimmed down to create a more straightforward approach to the album’s sonic palette. While some vestiges of that cavernous aesthetic championed by other acts in the scene like Zhrine are present, this record feels fare more immediate than its predecessor, inviting listeners into a world of black metal pain that is every bit as effective.
Opener “Orgia” kicks off the proceedings with a literal bang, crashing through some fantastic blasts and a relatively catchy riff before vocalist D.G. tears our souls from our bodies with his nightmarish roar. It’s an opening statement that contains everything you can expect from the record as it progresses, and if you find yourself banging your head here you’re in for a treat with the remainder of the record. Though, to be fair, not all of these tracks are intended to be certified bangers. Misþyrming take their time build a diverse set of tracks that vary in speed (take the mid-tempo “Og Er Haustið Líður Undir Lok” as an example) and emotion (like the haunting, oddly triumphant horns of “Hælið”), creating an album that never feels repetitive or derivative of past directions, but always feels like Misþyrming. In short, it’s about everything I was hoping this record would be and then some.
If you like Icelandic black metal, you will probably love Algleymi. It differs from its predecessor in all the right ways, and is one of the more interesting, engaging, and pummeling black metal records to be released in 2019. It may come as a shock to the system over the first few listens, but if that isn’t what this genre is all about I don’t know what is. Highly recommended.
Verwoed – De Val
I like weird black metal. Perhaps more than any other branch of the metal tree, black metal has the capacity for strange mixtures of sounds that probably wouldn’t fit as cleanly anywhere else. The strange conjurings of bands like Dodecahedron, Mamaleek, Thantifaxath, and Krallice impact me in ways that very little in art can. After hearing De Val, I would add Verwoed to that list of esteemed weirdos.
Describing this record is a bit of a task, so my biggest piece of advice to you is this: Just listen. As soon as you can. Like, now. There’s little else like it. The performances are exceptional, the production pitch-perfect for the atmospheric and experimental nature of the songwriting, and the vocals are jagged and intense. It’s everything I want black metal of this ilk to be, and I can’t stop listening to it.
Do yourself (and me) a favor and throw this record some love. Black metal needs more bands like this, and Sentient Ruin keeps bringing the heat. Here’s to many more such records from this band and label.