The holidays are in full swing. Here I sit, engorged with fowl meat and more than slightly drowsy due to my more-than-slight overindulgence in wine. Last week’s festivities have yet to wear themselves off, and the month of December will only see the excess worsen. Thankfulness, I suppose, exists even in the cold, embittered hearts of the black metal faithful. Which is exactly how I feel given the absolutely superb crop of new records that graced my ears in November. It was a feast for the senses to match my bloated innards, and Kvlt Kolvmn is here as always to deliver unto thee the goods.
While we’re in the throes of a cruel winter, November’s selection of black metal offerings is absolutely brimming with the sort of musical unconventionality that has made black metal both the standard bearer for experimentation in the metal world and a genre at war with itself. Nearly every band listed here not only indulges in the sounds of black metal as the backbone of their songwriting, but also represents a unique sonic island of the black metal world occupied only by themselves. Needless to say, November was an absolute blast for the more adventurous at heart, and several of these albums will certainly be seen again as our year-end lists roll out.
We hope you enjoy these releases as much as we have. But let us know what we missed from a marvelous month of black metal mayhem in the comments. We look forward to your verbal lacerations.
Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
Never have I ever been so wrong about a band’s trajectory. Abigail Williams have been the recipients of some less-than-favorable press from the critics over the past several years, which in light of their musical evolution is a crying shame. Their new album, Walk Beyond the Dark, feels like an epic, emotion-laced fuck you to the doubters, haters, and writers who didn’t give their music the time of day. But this description of their music may bring with it some assumptions that are less than favorable. Let me be clear, Walk Beyond the Dark is one of the most infinitely listenable black metal records I’ve heard in some time, combining all of the elements that have made the band a beloved and reviled commodity in the scene with an emotional core that is impossible to resist. It’s a defining statement for a band that has never sounded so vibrantly alive.
Musically, Walk Beyond the Dark is an absolute delight. Featuring some of the most mature and adventurous songwriting of the band’s career, tracks like “Ever So Bold” and “Into the Sleep” bring sounds that are simultaneously nuanced and ferocious, balancing beauty and malice in equal measure. Throughout its runtime, Walk Beyond the Dark never feels too light or heavy, vacillating between the two in a manner that is both engaging and emotionally arresting. It’s truly a black metal album for all preferences, which makes it both an anomaly in the black metal world as well as a genuinely arresting for listeners regardless of their genre proclivities.
I am unable to recall a black metal album that both surprised and moved me as deeply as Walk Beyond the Dark, making it one of my favorite albums of the year. Those who doubted the band’s prowess and ability take heed: You’re missing out on one of the most moving and engaging experiences in black metal this year if you skip out on Walk Beyond the Dark.
Bolzer – Lese Majesty
Bolzer is one of the more enigmatic bands in black metal for me. I deeply respect the proficiency and creativity they utilize in their songwriting and performative process, and if someone were to ask me if I “like” Bolzer, they’d receive an emphatic response in the affirmative. That said, their debut full-length Hero suffered from enough bloat and inconsistency to dampen the overall experience for me, leaving this listener in that un-fun zone of frequently skipping tracks rather than letting the full album experience wash over me. I had high hopes in the band’s second full-length record Lese Majesty improving on their first, and I am happy to report that it does in nearly every respect, and serves as another positive step in Blozer’s evolution into one of black metal’s most unique and intriguing acts.
The most notable differences between Hero and the band’s latest offering are evident primarily in scale. Clocking in at under 30 minutes, this “mini album” shaves off nearly 20 minutes from the band’s debut, which for fans of the band’s EPs will come as a welcome relief. The band is at their best when they are delivering their experimental black metal in concentrated doses, and Lese Majesty benefits greatly from a truncated runtime. But that really only matters if the music is good, and I’m happy to report that Bolzer makes up for the lack of length with a glut of interesting, quality material. Opener “A Shepherd in Wolven Skin” incorporates all the diversity that makes the band such a unique commodity in the black metal world, utilizing blast beats, fluctuations in vocal technique, and razor-sharp guitar work to blistering effect. Ever the experimentalists, follow-up track “Æstivation” is a weird, creepy spoken/barked interlude that keeps the listener on their toes, only to explode into another ferocious dose of black metal with “Into the Temple of Spears”. Closing titan “Ave Fluvius! Danu Be Praised” combines the avant garde and traditional elements of the band’s aesthetic into a gorgeous, emotionally satisfying finale that easily stands among the best tracks the band has yet written, capping off another unique project with a fiery bang.
With each new release, Bolzer hone and refine their sound into an angrier, stranger, and more confident beast, and Lese Majesty represents yet another bold step forward for the band. The vocal idiosyncrasies that served as a deterrent for some listeners are still present, and it seems that they won’t be going away anytime soon. Personally, I find their approach to black metal vocals interesting and enticing when presented with care, and thankfully that’s exactly what we get in Lese Majesty. Give this release a go if you’re in the mood for a black metal adventure.
Liturgy – H.A.Q.Q.
Deafheaven be damned. I don’t think there’s a black metal-adjacent band that is more controversial, blindly loved, or desperately hated than Brooklyn’s infamous purveyors of the transcendental Liturgy. Over the span of three full-length releases, the band has garnered enough press to make just about any metal band jealous. Well, that is, if you consider ALL press to be a good thing. Frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s esoteric diatribes on metaphysics and the message and meaning behind the band’s music has raised more than a few eyebrows and ruffled just as many feathers, garnering the band a reputation for pretentiousness that has followed them throughout their turbulent career. There are few metal lovers who don’t have an opinion on the band, and their fourth full-length H.A.Q.Q. will no doubt be equally debated by advocates and haters alike. Which is a good thing, but this is music worthy of debate and discussion.
H.A.Q.Q. is the best, most accomplished, focused, and effervescent music of the band’s career. Full stop. The performances are technically astute, the songwriting strange yet decipherable and always engaging, and the production as good as it needs to be for an album incorporating this many sounds into so concentrated a space. In keeping with Liturgy’s penchant for highlighting the unusual and unique in black metal, H.A.Q.Q. is an incredibly diverse affair, incorporating glitchy electronics and triumphant vocal passages that glide overtop a manic and deeply melodic (and at times dissonant) black metal aesthetic that bludgeons listeners with enough “burst” beats and tremolo picked riffs to fill several less ambitious records. Opener “HAJJ” contains enough ideas in and of itself to justify an EP at the very least, which is honestly a statement that could be made about most of the tracks on this record. “Virginity”, with its utterly stunning and all-too-brief harp passage, fits just as many intriguing concepts into an even smaller frame, while the fantastic “Pasaqalia” is one of the most triumphant and gorgeous tracks the band has yet written. Or it would be, if “God of Love” didn’t exist in all its magisterial symphonic glory. When viewed from a bird’s eye perspective, there’s so much to digest here that it can feel like a daunting task just trying to get through the thing. But Liturgy highlight their growth as songwriters by keeping each individual track as engaging as possible, making repeat listens a true adventure of discovery rather than a laborious chore. Which is about all I can ask for from a record this hell-bent on pushing the boundaries of its chosen genre.
Clocking in at just over 45 minutes, H.A.Q.Q. is the band’s most compact release since their debut, and the experience is all the better for it. Featuring nothing less than the band’s most captivating and fascinating songwriting to date, this record is slowly creeping its way up my year-end list, and may eventually occupy a prominent spot indeed. As enigmatic, maddening, and varied as any of the band’s previous records, H.A.Q.Q. succeeds by maintaining a uniformity in theme that is often lost in their older work, making for a listening experience that is both accessible and beguiling in equal measure. An absolutely stunning release.
Obsequiae – The Palms of Sorrowed Kings
Black metal’s a pretty unique sonic proposition in and of itself, but within that strange musical world there’s no band like Obsequiae. Melding atmospheric, triumphant black metal with deep-seated notes from the music of the Middle Ages, their albums are uniformly emotion-heavy sonic explorations that sound like nothing else in the music world. If Joanna Newsom’s Ys and Summoning has a child, it might sound something like The Palms of Sorrowed Kings, the band’s third full-length release.
For fans of the band’s previous two releases, little about their core sound has changed. Vicente La Camera Mariño’s medieval harp weeps gloriously throughout instrumental opener “L’autrier m’en aloie”, and peppers the remainder of the album as both principal and supporting player with aplomb. But the record belongs, as always, to Tanner Anderson, whose stunning guitar and vocal work ring out powerfully throughout. But it’s the former that presents the most intriguing turn in The Palms of Sorrowed Kings, especially when related to Anderson’s songwriting. More than any of the band’s releases thus far, their latest record emphasizes straightforward guitar arrangements over flashier, more traditional black metal styling. The harmonies here are sustained for longer periods of time, allowing their full power to sink in over the duration of the record. “Ceres in Emerald Streams” displays this penchant powerfully right off the bat, with tracks like “In the Garden of Hyacinths” and “Lone Isle” presenting further examples of this emphasis. While certainly a less forceful direction than what’s found in some of the band’s previous work, it’s pulled off marvelously throughout, culminating in some of the band’s most beautiful music yet.
If you’ve liked or loved any of Obsequiae’s previous releases, The Palms of Sorrowed Kings will continue to amaze. It won’t win any new converts, though. This is a band who know their sound and have, at this juncture, no intention of radically changing it. This may be frustrating for some. But when your music is this gorgeous and unique, further innovation seems less important in the grand scheme. It’s another fantastic record from one of black metal’s most singular bands, and you should give it a listen.
Schammasch – Hearts of No Light
There are perhaps no bands in black metal with the ambition of Schammasch. Each new offering from the band feels like the life cycle of a Phoenix. Building slowly in its own way, flaming brightly, then disappearing, only to be reborn as the band’s next sonic manifestation. Their fourth record, Hearts of No Light, is no different from its predecessors in that it heralds in a new dawn for the band’s ever evolving sound. It also happens to be one of the best and brightest spots of their career, and is well worthy of the time and attention you give it.
Fans of the band’s previous full-length opus Triangle will find a much more precise and direct Schammasch than they last encountered. Clocking in at a full half-hour shorter than its predecessor (though still itself reaching an hour-plus in run time), Hearts of No Light reveals the band at their most sonically consistent form yet. Instrumental opener “Winds That Pierce the Silence” sets up the atmospheric tone of the record, replete with keys, strings, and an almost ritualistic cyclic repetition before transitioning beautifully into “Ego Sum Omega”, which carries the themes established in the album opener to thrilling heights. Both forceful and as widescreen as black metal gets, “A Bridge Ablaze” and “Qadmon’s Heir” mimic the atmospheric-to-heavy-hitting punch of their preceding tracks, only building on the intensity as their minutes fly by. These ebbs and flows finally congeal in the absolute whopper of a finale “Innermost, Lowermost Abyss”, which is exactly as drama-filled as it sounds. By far, it’s the smoothest and most consistent sonic journey the band have taken us on yet, and is a more than worthy addition to the band’s incredible catalog.
Featuring everything that the band do well and then some, Hearts of No Light is Schammasch’s most direct and compelling release yet, further cementing their reputation as one of black metal’s most unique and singular acts.