Welcome to Kvlt Kolvmn. I’ll kick off this month’s festivities by stating with relative certainty that I’ve never written in one place about so many albums released in one month that I genuinely feel are going to show up on my yearly top 25. Each and every one of this month’s submissions is worthy of a full-length review (which a few of them received, but unfortunately due to time constraints is not universal), and each of these records stands on its own as one of the best listening experiences I’ve had this year. I’m sincerely dumbfounded by the amount of premium quality black metal records released this year, and I pray to those chained below that the floodgates never close. It’s been a doozy of a year, and we’re all the way here for it.
A common complaint that my good comrade Scott and I have discussed at length both interpersonally and on this site is the general lack of identity that black metal has suffered from over the past few years. In comparison to death metal, which has seen its old school, dissonant, and technical branches explode with high octane content, black metal has had very little to hang its hat on in regards to its collective and subgenre-oriented identities. This isn’t always a bad thing, and in many ways points to the health of black metal as a diverse and multi-faceted enterprise, but the fact remains: The last few years have shown a listlessness in the black metal community, with only the highly divisive post- and atmo-black sounds holding the thing together as a progressive and evolving musical entity. 2019 has a very different narrative, though. Fierce, icy, violent black metal has undergone a major resurgence, thanks mostly to the diabolical folks from a tiny little Nordic island of Iceland. Over the past 6 months, Svartidaudi, Wormlust, Misþyrming, Andavald, Skáphe, and Sinmara have released arguably the best music of their careers, running the sonic gamut of black metal sounds while maintaining the signature atmosphere-heavy, knife’s-edge brutality that the scene is known for. As if they’ve reached their bloody hands directly into the genre’s chest and begun manually pumping new life through its veins, Icelandic black metal is reviving the excitement and sonic danger of black metal, and it’s a glorious thing to behold.
As always, Scott and I are here to deliver to you our favorite listening experiences of the month, and can most certainly encourage you to take the plunge with us into some wildly dark and rewarding territory. Eden joins us this month with a choice selection as well! June may be the official beginning of summer, but the world remains shrouded in eternal winter if these bands have anything to say about it. I for one welcome our frost-bitten overlords. Long may they reign.
Andavald – Undir skyggðarhaldi
If you were to put all Icelandic black metal bands in a lineup, Andavald would be the group with the moniker “one of these is not like the others”. When it comes to the hallmarks of IBM (vitriolic roaring, blisteringly-paced guitar work, manic blast beats, ice cold yet somehow volcanic atmosphere), Andavald deviate sharply from their contemporaries. Their debut full-length record is an anomaly in the scene regarding songwriting, performance, and vocals. It’s moderately paced, hemming closer to depressive black metal than its Icelandic forebears. It also contains a vocal performance so utterly demented that it sticks with you long after the record is done, with howls, screams, and maniacal laughter that at points feels funneled directly from an asylum. It’s a strange, effective, and utterly mesmerizing mix of music and emotion that is unlike anything else in the scene they reside in.
For those curious as to how these differences play out in practice, you won’t have to wait long. Opening track “Forspil” is an icy, piano-driven instrumental opener that dictates where the pace or the record is headed. Subsequent track “Afvegaleiðsla” brings the album fully to life with brittle, volatile guitar work that moves in a melodic dirge that is as unexpected as it is arresting. The remainder of the album follows these patterns with relentless vitality, with stand-out “Hugklofnun” containing some of the most unhinges vocal work I’ve heard in a good while. It’s a deliciously dark and thematically consistent affair that left me thirsty for repeat listens. Several spins deep, there’s no break of day (or spouts of boredom) in sight.
Listen to this record as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.There are few albums from 2019 that can match its utter intensity, and I don’t suspect I’ll hear another that does for a good while.
Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze – Offerings of Flesh and Gold
Ah. Black metal and politics. For some, ne’er the twain shall meet. For others, it’s a principal driver behind why they do (or don’t) listen to the music. Whatever side of this divide you find yourself on, it would be very difficult to argue against the fact that politics has become (and, frankly, has always been) a key component of black metal as a genre. Colorado/Washington-based black metal monolith Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze make no attempt to hide the political undertones of their music, staring point blank on their Bandcamp page that there’s is music ”hoping to channel that energy into creating tangible change.” If that isn’t a shot across the bow of black metal’s most controversial topic I don’t know what is. Whether or not you find their politics agreeable, BoABoB are using extreme music as a vehicle to achieve political ends, and if we’re to judge that vehicle’s value by the quality of the music, were most certainly headed toward societal change in a somehow eco-friendly V8.
Good grief, this album is excellent. Taking its time to dive into its heaviest sounds, Offerings of Flesh and Gold kicks off with “O! A Smile of Blood!”, which is exactly as atmospheric and nasty as it sounds. Opening with a languid, ominous five minutes of thrums from the deep and ritualistic chanting, the track eventually explodes into a general surge of black metal mayhem, with ferocious blasts, tremolo-picked insanity, and maniacal screams overwhelming all other aspects of the track. But at 13+ minutes in length, it would make for a dull record if there weren’t a bit more variety. Thankfully, this is where BoABoB excel, propelling their compositions through multiple phases that feel simultaneously distinct and parts of a whole, creating a sense of unity that serves the record incredibly well. I’ll save analysis of the remaining tracks for my full-length review, but believe me when I say they’re just as invigorating.
It’s hard to begrudge a band for diving so deeply into politics when they are so straightforward about it. No imagery intended to shock or offend, no gimmicks or tricks, just a clear message delivered through media and the music with sheer force, and whether or not you agree with that message the vehicle they utilize to execute it is without question a high performing one. Give this band a listen if the rougher, rowdier corners of the post-black metal scene make you bang your head.
Enthroned – Cold Black Suns
Since black metal first clicked for me, I’ve actively sought out all the genre’s essential albums. I used Decibel‘s Top 100 Black Metal Albums of All Time as a launching point and branched out from there. Yet, there’s always veteran artists that fall through the cracks, which is a testament to the boundless creativity and various scenes that the genre has produced since its inception. Discovering one of these artists/albums is bittersweet: great, influential music is always nice to find, but I always wish I’d added it to my rotation/collection sooner.
I went through this cycle when Jon first recommended Cold Black Suns last month. Though Enthroned were completely foreign to me at the time, I was instantly enamored with the band’s sound after just one track from their eleventh(!) full-length. Digging a bit deeper, the band’s ties to excellent modern black metal band Nightbringer shows the band’s continued interest in pushing their sound further into a new era of the genre, something apparent by the refined, impressive compositions on Cold Black Suns. Whereas many veteran acts fixate on tried-and-true musical traditions, Enthroned have clearly built on and improved their mid-’90s sound.
Opener “Ophiusa” may be an extended intro track, but it sets the tone for the type of album listeners are getting with Cold Black Suns; namely, an impeccably produced record with a keen understanding of atmosphere. Immediately after, the band erupts in a flurry of blasts and panicked riffs on “Hosanna Satana,” a two-minute scorcher that captures the album’s overall kinetic energy. As the remainder of the album unravels, the band shows that at any moment, they can fluctuate the tempo and tone in a way that’s disorienting but still coalesces naturally. Tracks like “Oneiros” and “Vapula Omega” contain a perfect balance of these two moods, with an unsettling atmosphere swirling around combustions of unbridled aggression.
In short, don’t make the same mistake Jon and I did; check out Enthroned ASAP, starting with the latest and greatest addition to their discography. The initial waves of black metal were full of non-musical shock and awe, which may be why some artists rose to the top while equally good (or better) bands would go on to become deep cuts of the genre. The benefit of modern curation tools (Bandcamp, Rate Your Music, etc.) is that this no longer has to be the case. Fantastic veteran acts like Enthroned can resurface and show why they should have already been on your radar. Cold Black Suns is an excellent example of that, and easily one of the best veteran black metal albums of the year.
Misþyrming – Algleymi
There are few bands who have had as much influence on the scene they occupy than Misþyrming has had on Icelandic black metal. The elder statesmen of the scene, their 2015 debut set the world aflame and brought increased exposure to a fledgling movement that is covered three separate times this month alone. But such all-encompassing influence and reverence brings with it titanic expectations that are rarely fulfilled. Thankfully, Misþyrming are nothing if not consistent, releasing with Algleymi what is without question their best and most memorable material to date.
It’s not often that I use the word “catchy” to describe black metal, but what Misþyrming delivers on Algleymi is exactly that. The riffs from opening track “Orgia” have been churning through my head for weeks, and I find myself humming them while completing menial tasks throughout the day or while at work. This is memorable, expertly written black metal that fuses melody and abject intensity with veteran skill, displaying the clear growth the band has experienced since their last record. “Ísland, steingelda krummaskuð” offers similar delights, unfolding with simultaneous viciousness and memorability that’s as effective as the genre gets. Each track offers its own delights, culminating in a consistent and captivating record that more than lives up to the expectations set by its predecessor.
Misþyrming have yet to disappoint with a release, and Algleymi continues their and the scene they built’s unprecedented winning streak. There’s no better black metal coming out of a scene than the sonic gyrations emanating from Iceland, and Misþyrming is leading the charge. Excellent stuff.
Panzerfaust – The Suns of Perdition – Chapter I: War, Horrid War
I had to look up whether this band was affiliated with the NSBM movement. Not gonna lie. Then I saw a picture of them literally pissing on the Westboro Baptist Church and thought “you know what… I think these dudes just might not be Nazis.” Despite a moniker that sends me into a panic, Toronto’s Panzerfaust are making black metal that’s well worth investing your time and attention into. Reportedly the first of a sequence of albums that will be diving into the dark underbelly of history, The Suns of Perdition – Chapter I: War, Horrid War is a brutal testament to the heights of brutality black metal is able to reach when it turns its nefarious gaze on the horrors of human experience, and is a record that gets me all kinds of hyped for how this sequence of records will develop.
While the record contains a treasure trove of fantastic material, there is certainly some level of trepidation regarding the first record in a series of them. How deeply does it tie to other records in the series, and is it good enough to stand on its own without the context of future material? Panzerfaust put these fears to rest by generating one of the most compelling half-hours of black metal this year that more than stands on its own merit. Opener “The Day After ‘Trinity’” is a pure showstopper, highlighting the band’s performative clout as well as their ability to write songs that are both musically excellent and thematically ambitious. “Stalingrad, Massengrab” and “The Decapitator’s Prayer”, while standing out as the highlight tracks on the record, are fully-realized tracks that incorporate plenty of influences outside of black metal to enhance their messages dark impact. It’s a perfect marriage of form and substance, resulting in some damn good music.
Here’s hoping that the remainder of this musical sequence maintains the level of quality present in The Suns of Perdition. If that’s the case, we may have an all-timer on our hands. For now, this record gives us plenty of meat to digest before Panzerfaust open the floodgates for their next salvo. I’m all the way here for it.
Skáphe + Wormlust – Kosmískur Hryllingur
There isn’t a single record I’ve heard this year that made me feel more psychologically assaulted than Skáphe + Wormlust’s Kosmískur Hryllingur. For those familiar with either of these Icelandic (and, in the case of Skáphe, partly Philadelphian) bands this should come as no surprise. Their emphasis on the more technical, avant-garde, Dodecahedron-esque edges of black metal is a known commodity at this point, and those expecting something other than pure, unadulterated oddness have come to the wrong place. While each of these bands’ individual work stand tall in the IBM pantheon, their work together is another thing altogether. Vicious, shifting, violently paced and relentlessly bat-shit, Kosmískur Hryllingur is among the best avant-garde offerings in metal this year, and without question the most uniformly successful black metal collaboration in years.
The album consists of two tracks and nearly 40-minutes of music. That alone should indicate this collaborative project’s emphasis on the long game. These tracks are dense and wild as hell, vacillating between jagged, darkly complected black metal riffage and overwhelming atmosphere. Suffocating is probably the right word to describe the music on this record, and not a moment is wasted in creating a musical world of abject insanity and dread. “Þeógónía” is an absolute stunner, navigating the fringes of black metal without ever losing its odd sense of listenability. The album’s second and most thoroughly impressive track “Vaxvængir vonar” is a 20-minute oddyssey dripping with atmosphere and tension, constantly building and releasing in a torrential onslaught of noise that stands as one of the most impressive and unnerving tracks I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this year. It’s a smorgasbord of angular weirdness from two of Iceland’s premiere musical talents, and makes every second of challenging listening all the more rewarding for the multitudinous payoffs in store.
I don’t know what’s in the water up north, but I’m hoping whoever finds out bottles that shit and shares it with the rest of the world. Iceland couldn’t be any hotter right now in regards to its black metal output, and I cannot wait to see what further terrors the scene unleashes on humanity. If this record was to be its last, it would be a fitting swan song. Utterly impressive fare.
Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling
Yellow Eyes have always been a standout American black metal act for me ever since I discovered Hammer of Night (2013) back in college. The group had the right blend of genre slants to appeal to the “tried-and-trve” crowd as well as young, tenderfoot listeners like myself. You had the cold, sinister atmosphere everyone associates with the genre, coupled with an ear for melody and song structures that broke out of the “d-beat, tremolo, repeat” mold. In short, Yellow Eyes acted as sort of a gateway between fanbases.
The band has only refined this approach over the years, including equally great albums like Sick With Bloom (2015) and Immersion Trench Reverie (2017). The latter of these releases earned a spot among our Top Black Metal Albums of 2017, setting a high bar (or rather, ceiling) for Rare Field Ceiling. Unsurprisingly, Yellow Eyes were clearly up for the challenge, as they’ve returned with another well-balanced collection of high-quality black metal.
The album is rooted in atmospheric black metal but touches on pretty much every black metal subgenre modern listeners might be interested in. Melancholic chord progressions and riffs sparkle with melody and menace in equal measure, while the vocals and percussion fall in line with the traditions fans know and love. A personal favorite highlight would have to be “No Dust,” which opens with one of the most savage, well-written black metal riffs I’ve heard in some time.
Yet, the album still stirs in some intrigue beyond the excellent foundation. “No Dust” and “Light Delusion Curtain” both conclude with some off-kilter chimes and guitar noise, while “Warmth Trance Reversal” ends with some distant, cultish singing. Album closer “Maritime Flare” synthesizes these elements into a haunting display of dark ambient soundscapes. The composition sounds like many black metal interludes, but it works as a closer by tying together the oddities sprinkled across the album.
By now, you’ve probably gleaned that Yellow Eyes aim for and achieve both accessibility and high-quality, a trend that continues on Rare Field Ceiling. This album was crafted for black metal fans of all persuasions, which means my wholehearted endorsement is similarly geared toward anyone and everyone reading this blurb. Since you’ve reached the end of our column for the month, why not close out and give it a spin? I’d be genuinely shocked if it leaves you disappointed.