Welcome, yon Hellions, to Kvlt Kolvmn. The time is upon us. The temperature is dropping. Darkness steels across the land at an increasingly rapid rate. Snow falls in the far northern reaches of the globe. The reek of pumpkin spice flares our nostrils into positions of abject disdain (or joy, not judgy). Winter comes, and black metal is here to sweep us into its icy embrace. Hail to the season of the dark and cold!
September brought to our expectant ears another amazing smorgasbord of releases, with a few of these most likely taking high spots on my year-end list. Black metal’s penchant for genre-bending experimentation rang through loud and clear this month, and as always, we’re here to deliver the goods. Give us suggestions on records we missed in the comments.
Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
I hate that I’m writing this blurb right now. Not because the music that Blut Aus Nord have created isn’t great (it is), but because I shouldn’t be writing about it at all just yet. Look, people. Artists work hard to create what they do, and for many of them their craft is their sole livelihood. Leaking material before it’s release date without the band’s consent is an absolute shit move and an ultimate disrespect of the band’s efforts to create art and sustain themselves from that creation. So don’t do it. You and your internet pals can wait a month to hear good music.
Okay, now to the music. Which is, as stated previously, quite good.
On their 13th full-length release, Blut Aus Nord have nothing left to prove. The famed experimental black metal pioneers have already written a handful of minor and major classics for the genre, so whether or not Hallucinogen turned out to be good was irrelevant in the larger scheme of the band’s legacy. Thankfully, true artists tend to always give a shit about their work, and we as listeners reap the benefits. Such is the case with Hallucinogen. While not as experimental as many of the other releases in their catalog, Hallucinogen is by all counts a consistent, skilled and thoroughly entertaining entry into the band’s legendary discography. They’ve always excelled in the more atmospheric elements of their chosen genre, and Hallucinogen is the best example of this penchant that the band has released since 777 – Cosmophony.
Opening track “Nomos Nebuleam” kicks the record off with a black metal bang, featuring memorable songwriting and spacious songwriting that allows these compositions to breathe rather than suffocate. Never ones to sit still, “Nebeleste” brings some rock and roll swagger to the proceedings, culminating in one of the more fun tracks the band have released in a good while. By contrast, “Anthosmos” can easily be counted among the most beautiful and epic tracks the band have ever written. In all, Hallucinogen feels like a tour through the band’s fundamental aesthetics, creating on the whole a record that’s thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
It may have arrived too early, but there’s no denying that Blut Aus Nord have delivered another solid entry to their storied discography. Fans of the band should be pleased, and if by some miracle you’ve not heard this band’s incredible music, now is as good a time as any to start.
Serpent Column – Mirror In Darkness
I’ve already spilled many a word praising Serpent Column’s incredible sophomore full-length Mirror In Darkness, but bear with me as a lob a few more in your general direction. For the uninitiated, Serpent Column play a seething, dissonant hybrid of black and death metal sounds that are as perplexing and complex as they are relentlessly bone-crushing. Think Deathspell Omega/Ulcerate territory here. While their debut record and last year’s EP captured my imagination, they failed to find the staying power that I hoped they would. No such problem with Mirror In Darkness, without question the one-man project’s most profound and complete work to date.
Perhaps the most surprising and rewarding aspect of Mirror In Darkness has been its staying power. As I touched on in my review of the record earlier this month, Serpent Column has a penchant for writing complex passages that balance technical expertise and graspable riffing almost perfectly. As I continue to listen to this record, I’ve found that it has become more impressive with time rather than less. The seamless transitions that this album makes from melody to cacophony are absolutely mind-boggling, culminating in a listening experience that stays just north of inaccessible without ever sacrificing its willingness to launch heat-seeking missiles of bizarre dissonance and manically aggressive technicality at your cranial principality. I’ve only grown to love and respect this record with repeat lessons, and I hope that’s the case for you.
But first, you’ve gotta dive in. If this is your first interaction with Serpent Column, I strongly suggest giving the project’s relatively short discography a go. It will be a few hours well spent, and provides a full-bodied perspective on the band’s compositional evolution. But if you find yourself strapped for time and just need to crank out some tunes, you won’t go wrong with Mirror In Darkness, one of the finest metal releases of the year.
White Ward – Love Exchange Failure
Last year, Imperial Triumphant transfixed and befuddled me with their utterly unique and bone-rattling mix of avant-garde, jazz-inflected blackened death metal in Vile Luxury. The urban thematic setting, Eyes Wide Shut aesthetic, and sheer technical brilliance culminated in one of my favorite metal releases in recent years. If we were just playing the comparison game, White Ward’s stunning second full-length record Love Exchange Failure on paper, with its urban themes, sax-filled black metal compositions could be easily relegated to the pile of wannabe trend-hoppers who tried to make a quick buck aping an already established sound. This would be an egregious error for a multitude of reasons, not least among them that White Ward have been working hard at this blend of elements since their earliest EPs, and have with Love Exchange Failure presented the world with perhaps the best sonic iteration of this blend of sounds yet. Front-to-back, this record is an absolute triumph of creativity and performative excellence, and one of the best releases of 2019.
From the onset of sirens in the album’s opening track, it’s immediately clear that White Ward are creating a rich urban world in which to consider their music. The soft sounds of Dateline specials delivering dire stories of killers on TVs flashing through the shuttered windows of high rise apartments on “Dead Heart Confession” and the lustful musings whispered over piano in “Shelter” only further add to this delectable symphony of human noise that’s always familiar enough to feel disconcertingly real.
When it comes to building an atmosphere that feels relatable and palpable, Love Exchange Failure succeeds where many of its contemporaries have failed. Rather than operating on a sonic aesthetic of complete alienation, White Ward detail through music the loneliness and isolation inherent in urban life in a manner that feels organic and welcoming. These compositions range from the experimental and avant-garde noir-tinged (“Shelter”, “Surfaces and Depths”) to the most epic of black and post-metal sounds (“Poisonous Flowers of Violence”, “Uncanny Delusions”), culminating in a record that is both sonically diverse and thematically uniform. It’s an absolute joy to listen to, and on my umpteenth listen I’m still having a hard time finding criticism of it. For those who like their black metal adventurous and expertly executed, it’s just about all you could ask for.
While White Ward most certainly fall into the saxophones-in-metal category of recent bands, theirs is a style and execution that has yet to be matched in scope and execution. Love Exchange Failure is an absolute triumph, and a record that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone remotely interested in metal’s genre-bending proclivities.