Welcome, friends, to another installment of Kvlt Kolvmn. As has been the custom as of late, our cup runner over with quality black metal releases, with August being another titanic month for the genre. It’s absolutely insane to me how many utterly amazing black metal albums have been released this year, and equally disappointing that, due to our busy personal schedules, Scott and I haven’t come close to covering it all. Nevertheless, our latest valiant attempt contains enough fantastic black metal to keep you occupied for hours, so praise the underworld for that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about 2019’s wealth of black metal output, and while we have a few more months to go before judging the year on the whole, I feel fairly confident that this will go down as one of my absolute favorite trips ‘round the sun for the genre in memory. Diversity, quality, performance, and thematic execution have been championed by dozens of incredible bands this year, and August showed no signs of stopping the onslaught. It’s a great time to be a black metal fan.
We hope you enjoy these records as much as we have. Shout out what we missed in the comments.
Fishslaughter – Morfar
Even if Morfar turned out to be a disappointment, there was no doubt in my mind that I’d highlight the release in this column once I read the description. I mean, “true aquatic black metal” with all proceeds benefiting the Ocean Conservancy? And there’s a bonus track cover of “The Girl from Ipanema” by Stan Getz/João Gilberto? Sign me up.
Thankfully, Fishslaughter back up their message with some truly strange, stimulating music. With a short collection of tracks clocking in around 25 minutes, the trio succeed at crafting songs that live up to their eyebrow-raising description. There’s an off-kilter tropical vibe to the band’s songwriting due to the central use of octave mandolin on many of the main tracks. It’s a bit jarring on first listen given how uncommon (and perhaps unprecedented?) the instrument’s use is in black metal, but it ultimately becomes a welcome and essential element. Additionally, the production is lo-fi and raw, as if the music is surfacing as echoes from a grotto in the deep sea. It adds an extra layer of mystery to the already intriguing compositions.
On proper opener “Dark Days on the Dungeon Crawl,” the mandolin shifts between shimmering tremolos and some exploratory riffing. “Laureline” continues leveraging the strengths and uniqueness of the instrument with what feels like a jaunty Cuban folk song channeled through a black metal lens. It’s as oddly charming and entertaining as it sounds.
Some tracks feel a bit more traditional, or at least as traditional as you can be given Fishslaughter’s setup. “White Halls” takes on melodic black metal feel with a bit of a heavier edge, while “Lord of Light” falls somewhere in the Agalloch/Ulver realm of atmospheric, folksy black metal. Again, there’s still experimentation abound, which is the core thread that makes Morfar such an inventive and downright fun listen.
Hope Drone – Void Lustre
Hope Drone was a name that had been swimming around my head without having experienced their music until recently. Their second album in almost a decade of existence, Void Lustre, was recommended to me by roughly a dozen people, and with that level of hype I had to give them a shot. Am I ever glad that I did. Peddling a hybrid of atmospheric and post-black metal influences, Hope Drone toe the fine line of black metal songwriting that attracts devotees of Deafheaven, Falls of Rauros, and Naas Alcameth-helmed projects alike. It’s epic in scope, profound in execution, and a downright delight from start to finish.
Opening track “Being Into Nothingness” is about as apt and stirring an introduction as an album of this caliber could have. The track kicks off spacey and slow, with gentle yet ominous guitar work, punctuated by doom-laden and minimalistic drumming, setting the stage for an eventual sonic escalation of cosmic scale. It feels like the moments just before a star explodes, building deliberately and aggressively toward an inevitable and world-shattering conclusion filled to the brim with tremolo-picked mayhem and relentless blast beats. It’s a near-perfect mixture of atmosphere and aggression that sets the record apart from many of its genre-adjacent contemporaries.
If this track were the highlight of the record, one could still label the project a success. But the remainder of Void Lustre only builds on this foundation. “Forged by the Tide” packs enough emotional power into its second half to give even Der Weg einer Freiheit a run for their money, while “This Body Will Be Ash” is an unpredictable, ever-shifting beast that highlights the band’s mastery of their chosen subgenres. Start to finish, it’s everything I was hoping it would be and more.
If any of the above mentioned bands suit your fancy, I have a hard time imagining that you won’t deeply enjoy this spellbinding piece of music. Void Lustre requires some patience to settle in, but once you’re hooked there’s little that can extricate from Hope Drone’s emotionally-powerful and expertly written clutches. It’s a record to live in for a while, allowing the doom and presents to seep deeply into your psyche. Highly recommended.
Keys of Orthanc – A Battle in the Dark Lands of the Eye…
Tolkien’s body of work is, outside of the Cthulhu mythos, undoubtedly the most well-mined fictional world within metal. Summoning, Cirith Ungol, Blind Guardian, Gorgoroth, Amon Amarth, and dozens of other bands have taken cues from the legendary author’s boundless imagination. We can now add Keys of Orthanc to that illustrious list. The band’s debut record, Dush Agh Golnauk, was an incredibly impressive and imperfect debut that put the band on black metal fans’ collective up-and-coming map. The band’s sophomore record, A Battle in the Dark Lands of the Eye…, places them squarely in the arrived camp. An improvement on their debut in every conceivable way, A Battle is the band’s most effective offering yet, and one of my favorite black metal and Tolkien-themed records I’ve heard in a good while.
After the brief instrumental introduction of the album’s title track effectively sets the epic fantasy tone, “At the Gates” unleashes a black metal barrage that perfectly balances atmosphere, traditional black metal songwriting structure, superb instrumental performance, and a deliciously old school production aesthetic. The vocals vacillate between vile retching and a deep, mythical baritone that maintain the track’s deep-seated sense of mysticism without ever losing its insanely aggressive propulsion.
The remainder of the record flies by in similar fashion without once feeling stale or re-hashed, mainly due to some absolutely fantastic riff writing. “Besieged” is a behemoth of a track that throws out enough quality riffs to fill the entirety of a lesser record. It’s a blistering display of the band’s talent as musicians and songwriters, and by itself towers over everything their previous record offered. “Lord’s Bane” contains similar delights, with album capper “A Dawn In Mordor” serving as a fitting insturmental finale to a record based on Tolkien’s work.
Of all the records I’ve heard using Middle-Earth as an artistic launch pad, A Battle is among the best. It’s an incredibly diverse and superbly balanced affair that shoots the band into the black metal stratosphere. If the quality of this record is any indication, Keys of Orthanc are here to stay, and bless my beard for that.
ORM – Ir
Two tracks. That’s all that Orm’s splendid sophomore record Ir contains. Frankly, that’s all it needs to be a truly spellbinding musical experience. Clocking in at just under fifty minutes, there’s more than enough music to be had here, and I must confess that tracks in any genre that reach beyond twenty minutes in length tend to try my patience considerably. It’s a testament to the band’s supreme talent as songwriters and musicians that I was not once fatigued or bored throughout Ir. This is a rich musical tapestry that builds on the foundation laid by their fantastic self-titled debut, and is in my mind the most accomplished release yet in the band’s relatively short but vibrant career.
“Klippens Lyse Hal”, the album’s first gargantuan track, is a riff-heavy, exceedingly well written black metal barrage that feels simultaneously expansive and suffocation, jumping from punishing to atmospheric with expert precision. The instrumental performances here are simply fantastic, balancing speed, precision, and just the right amount of exploration. The track’s expansive second half is a more subdued and progressive affair, offering some needed and well timed variety to an otherwise intense track.
The first five minutes of “Bær Solen Ud” may be some of the most subdued and stirring work the band have yet written, lending an almost post-rock feel to the track. After a diversely composed barrage of black metal goodness, the album ends on an incredibly hopeful and triumphant note, creating an emotional resonance that is even more stark than that of their debut.
Orm are a special band, and Ir is a special album. It’s one of the few records consisting of tracks this dense and expansive in duration that I loved from start to finish, and anyone who enjoyed the band’s debut record will find plenty to love here. A monumental achievement.
Total Hate – Throne Behind a Black Veil
For me, what distinguishes “traditional” black metal bands from the pack is the energy that drives them. There are bands content with rehashing decades-old ideas from the genre’s origins, and then there are bands that take the genre’s blueprint and twist it in sinister, vicious ways. The results still have pay homage to black metal’s past but does so in with an approach that feels invested in the genre’s continued success. In other words, what’s old can be new again without a need to truly reinvent the wheel; a little passion and creative fire can go a long way.
Enter Total Hate, whose self-described mission statement is to “present the ferocious and cold sound of painkilling black metal altitudes of the 1990s.” Indeed, Throne Behind a Black Veil is unmistakably indebted to countless black metal records now approaching their 30th anniversaries (how time flies). And yet, there’s a distinct ferocity behind Total Hate’s execution of their ethos that allows each track to emulate core black metal elements while still sounding sufficiently evil and engaging.
This is due in large part to the ghoulish vocals unleashed by Adrastos, which elevates the band’s overall performance with a sense of urgency and unfettered hatred. Still, a large share of the credit is due to guitarists Aer and Czernobog, who write some particularly frigid and biting riffs throughout the track list. “His Throne Behind A Black Veil” is an especially savage and dynamic cut, but truly, the entire album is a rewarding listen for black metal fans looking for a reinvigorated ’90s sound.