Welcome, friends, to the final installment of Kvlt Kolvmn in the year of our infernal overlords 2019. What a year it’s been. From releases by foolproof genre legends like Mayhem, Blut Aus Nord, and Abbath to seething experimental shots across the proverbial bow from Liturgy and Botanist, this past year has been one for the ages, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. While a positively spectacular year on the whole for all that is black, icy, and thoroughly unholy, 2019 wasn’t without its ever-expected controversies, a few of which we’ll cover in this our year-end wrap up. As is customary for this space, Scott and I will be covering in detail some of the trends we have been observing this year throughout the black metal world, in addition to offering our top picks of the year. It’s business as usual for the Kvlt Kolvmn gang, and we cannot wait to share our favorite releases with you.
Before we dive into the meat and potatoes of the year that was, we want to take this opportunity to thank you for embarking on another trip ’round the sun with us. Black metal is a particularly prickly field of music to dive into for a multitude of reasons, and your willingness to read our thoughts on a monthly basis and engage in conversations regarding some of the best music on the planet means a great deal to both of us. Thank you for reading, thank you for discussing, and thank you for continuing to make this column a valuable exercise for all involved. And now, onto the good stuff.
The (Continued) Icelandic Invasion
Over the past decade, you’d be hard-pressed to find a region in the black metal world that had a greater, more lasting influence than Iceland. The tiny Scandinavian country that produces an absolutely stupid amount of musicians and artists has become a bastion for the gnarliest, frostiest black metal around. Since we first spotlighted the genre a few years ago, its power has only grown as the decade has marched on. This year saw a veritable smorgasbord of fantastic releases from the likes of Sinmara, Misþyrming, Andavald, and Wormlust, culminating in one of the richest crops of Icelandic black metal we’ve seen in years. This year not only served as another shining example of bands from this region reaching peak form, but also points to a prosperous future for this regional flavor of black metal into the next decade. By all accounts, Icelandic black metal is here to stay, and there are some definitive reasons why.
Some of it is due to an obvious observation about Iceland’s geography. While islands certainly haven’t been as isolating in recent history, there’s still an inherently insular quality to having only oceanic borders. This creates a more extreme dynamic than we’ve seen with other popular, regional scenes.
Take the New York metal and hardcore scenes, which fed off each other to create a myriad of distinct but connected genres. Going back to the days of CBGB and classic hardcore punk, NYC has always served as an incubator for music of every style, even those as brief as the ’80s no wave scene. Decades of sharing stages and ideas in the same place will naturally produce innovation. As an example of this web, we can look at how traditional NY hardcore bands ultimately helped influence brutal death metal and slam. Long Island natives Suffocation blended the burgeoning death metal sound with their NY hardcore roots, which in turn helped influence likeminded bands like Internal Bleeding and Pyrexia.
To bring it a bit closer to Iceland, we can also pull from the Scandinavian traditions of genres like Swedish black and death metal, the Gothenburg scene, and so on. In all these cases, new genres were formed through a collaborative and competitive environment created by relative proximity. Taking influence from other people’s ideas (and in some cases, “borrowing” them) is an inherent part of the creative process. Everyone wants to maximize the quality of what they create, especially when the style at hand is entirely new for the time.
Iceland benefits not only from all of the above, but also from the fact there’s even more opportunity for creative overlap given the lack of outside influence. Granted, we’re far removed from the days of tape trading and word of mouth as the only form of music consumption; bands from everywhere in the world can take influence from any artist due to the prevalence of streaming and the internet. But this doesn’t change the fact that actually sitting down and writing music often requires some kind of face-to-face, in-person collaboration. And when you live on an island, a sense of community will only become more pronounced.
This theory bears out when you look at the album credits for prominent Icelandic black metal bands. All the members of Misþyrming are also in Naðra. Kjartan Harðarson and Maximilian Klimko released their excellent progressive black metal debut as Kaleikr this year after formerly playing in Draugsól. Bjarni Einarsson plays in Sinmara, Slidhr, and Wormlust. Seriously, if you look up any Icelandic black metal band on Encyclopaedia Metallum, you’ll fall down a rabbit hole and end up discovering a handful of new bands to check out once you come out the other side. There’s just so much shared creative energy among everyone in the scene, with bandmates breaking off to try new ideas of their own or the same lineups simply reconvening under a new name to tweak their current approach.
Finally, it seems fitting to close out this conversation by commenting on perhaps the most striking part of Iceland itself. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of black metal knows how intrinsically tied the genre is to nature; we wrote an article last year outlining the beautiful and ugly sides of this dynamic. When someone hears a “trve kvlt” riff, the imagery that it conjures is almost universally a snow-covered forest somewhere in the heart of the Scandinavian peninsula. Of course, it’s no coincidence that countless seminal black metal albums were recorded in this very landscape by musicians heavily influenced by their surroundings.
There’s no objective formula for how the someone’s surroundings influences their creative process. Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky were both from Russia, but they approached classical music from different directions. Yet, however it manifests, the context of an artists’ life is perhaps their most important source of inspiration, whether that’s a political environment or the actual environment. And for people in Iceland, the gorgeous world around them includes sites like this.
Unless we have another Pangaea event sometime soon, it looks like each aspect of the above formula will keep on running, and in turn, Iceland will continue being a hotbed for phenomenal black metal. Part of what makes different scenes so exciting is watching them evolve and expand, which is something we’re definitely going to continue following and writing about in the years to come.
–Scott Murphy & JA
As much as I love Sunbather, it was interesting to read how many mainstream outlets seemed to suggest (or outright stated) that Deafheaven was going to be the change the trajectory of black metal. While they approached the genre in their own way, it’s a bit difficult to shepherd in the next big subgenre when your music can already be neatly classified by existing styles that have been around for several years. To be fair, this is more the fault of people writing about Deafheaven’s music than the band themselves. Regardless, Sunbather still served as an entry point to black metal for many people and some of my own friends, and this critical acclaim provided a somewhat skewed narrative for what contemporary black metal sounds like and the direction in which it’s heading.
Meanwhile, while Deafheaven is mostly tweaking a subgenre, less-celebrated bands are actively changing the underlying black metal formula each and every year. Of course, 2019 was no exception, which is why I wanted to dedicate part of our annual wrap-up to capturing a few of my favorite trends and unique bands I noticed this year. I have no idea if any of them will end up becoming mainstays in black metal, or define how the genre evolves. But they’re all excellent and prove that year in and year out, there will always be bands breathing new life into a genre that easily fall into stagnation.
Let’s start with the freshest in my mind, since I reviewed an album from one of these bands last week. Black metal has always exhibited a close affinity with neofolk and various shades of classical music. This year, Exulansis embraced this tradition wholeheartedly, while Hvile I Kaos removed the barrier between these two genres completely. I’m not predicting a mass explosion in classical-based black metal, but it’s certainly promising to see two artists in the same year capitalize on the overlap between their sonic palettes.
I won’t talk too much about Exulansis here, because you’ll be reading about them later (hint, hint). What I would like to highlight is just how seamlessly the band weaves violin into their take on black metal across Sequestered Sympathy. It’s feels so natural that it’s easy to forget that the inclusion of strings this prominently in black metal is hardly the norm. On the other side, Hvile I Kaos uses a cello-led sound to conjure black metal atmospheres with a chamber music foundation. It’s incredible how well the classical and black metal elements shine through independently yet coalesce beautifully into a cohesive sound.
On the topic of unique instrumentation, the tried and trve setup of a black metal band continues to be challenged in new and unique ways. One of my, Jonathan, and the blog’s favorite black metal releases of the year came from a progressive-minded band that further developed their already forward-thinking formula. After first catching our attention in 2017 with the excellent Futility Report, White Ward upped the ante in every way on this year’s Love Exchange Failure. The album is a master class in how to integrate additional instrumentation into metal without making the whole affair sound like a gimmick or out of place. Specifically, the use of sax is excellent, which we’ve noted in the past is no small feat (something Jørgen Munkeby of SHINING co-signed on in his own post).
Perhaps the most obvious name to highlight here is green metal veterans Botanist, who returned this year with Ecosystem. It’s yet another fantastic release created with prominent use of hammered dulcimer. Even though they’re several releases into their discography, the band continue to find interesting ways to develop their sound while still revolving around the metallic, resonant tone of their main instrument of choice. Frankly, it’s amazing how “right” it feels to hear blackgaze played with dulcimer, since I’m unaware of any other band who does so.
A couple of bands in particular took aim at the very core of black metal’s sound and came out on the other side with a devilishly twisted version of the genre. This includes yet another success from an old favorite of mine as well as a surprisingly excellent return to form from a band I thought I’d never come around on. The latter of these is none other than Liturgy and their shockingly excellent album H.A.Q.Q. It’s still difficult for me to wrap my head around how much I enjoy this album, especially since I still believe The Ark Work is an overindulgent mess. Yet, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix deserve a tip of the cap for honing in his ambition enough to create a quality avant-garde metal project that synthesizes elements of glitch, choral, and classical music with the band’s signature noisy and unbridled brand of black metal.
Finally, Jute Gyte returned with yet another excellent new album, proving once again why they’re one of my favorite contemporary black metal bands. On Birefringence, multi-instrumentalist Adam Kalmbach uses his microtonal blueprint to explore elements of industrial metal and even a bit of metalcore. It’s strange and abrasive in equal measure, yet continuously enjoyable despite how dense the compositions are.
Some More Racist Bullshit
In our year-end coverage (and our coverage throughout the year in general), you’ve probably picked up on a couple notable absences. Mainly, Deathspell Omega and Mgła. This was and remains intentional. To be clear, I’ve listened to both records, and understand the hype surrounding each. I get why black metal fans enjoy them. I want to be clear in this section that I am speaking for myself, and do not intend for these words to be read as anything but such. I personally have abstained from covering these bands because their associations (or the active work of those within them) are reprehensible. Simple as that. Art and life are irrevocably connected, and anyone who thinks otherwise is, in my estimation, minimizing the distinct and overwhelming power of art as a cultural and psychological tool.
Let’s start with Deathspell Omega, because this one is a no-brainer. This band is populated by at least one unapologetic racist. Mikko Aspa holds outright unsavory views on humanity in general, and his work in Clandestine Blaze and Vapaudenristi is morally dubious at best and outright pernicious at worst. His pedophilic album covers don’t help matters, either. Bands that actively work with artists who intentionally and vigorously propagate views that I find contradictory to positive human progress won’t get support from me, and the only reason I’m writing about them now is to declare them shit regardless of musical content and a band that will not at this juncture receive any support from me. Fuck this band and its pseudo-high-minded bullshit.
Sweet. That one’s easy.
Mgła, however…this one’s hard.
It’s easy to ignore bands for which we don’t hold any form of emotional attachment. Mgła is not that band for me. Their 2015 record Exercises In Futility is not only in my mind one of the best black metal albums of the decade musically, but it is also one of my favorite black metal albums of all time. “Exercises In Futility V” is a track that saw me through some dark times, so my personal affinity runs very deep. Yet here I am, discussing them in the same section as DsO as a band I refuse to cover. Why? It’s certainly a more complicated answer than the above.
I don’t need to regale you with the travails of Mgła In 2019. Canceled shows, heated written retaliations, and more negative press than I’m sure they anticipated in the lead-up to their 2019 release Age of Excuse. The majority of these accusations stem from the band’s ties to Northern Heritage, which releases NSBM records on the regular, as well as lead member M.’s side project Leichenhalle, whose album Jedenfrei (“free of Jews”) is a more than damning indictment of racist viewpoints. Their live support of the aforementioned Clandestine Blaze certainly hasn’t helped their reputation, either. With these direct and indirect ties to racist ideologies and figures, I’ve had to make some difficult choices regarding my interactions with this band, regardless of my love for their music.
If you’re reading this article, or frequent this site in general, music is most likely an integral part of your life. Cutting out an aspect of that experience that has brought you enjoyment, peace, or satisfaction in some form is undeniably hard. I don’t think we acknowledge that enough. It’s understandable to be angry and frustrated when a band one respects propagates, or at the very least refuses to outright deny their ties and allegiances to, philosophies of extermination and real-world hate. But these two in particular are not rebuking such claims attached to their lives and art in any satisfactory way, and that matters. Because these views exist in the world and have very real consequences. It sucks, but this is a conversation we need to keep having as people who love this music.
There have been some strong words written here, but I also want to make it clear that I’m not attempting to tell you what to do. You’re an autonomous individual and making decisions based on your own conscience is your inalienable and sacred right. But for black metal to continue to progress as a genre both socially and musically, I firmly believe we have to reckon with a section of its hateful periphery that is, by most thinking individuals’ standards, evil. Even when it impacts the music and bands that we deeply enjoy. I think this entails calling these bands out on their bullshit and demanding better from them and ourselves when it comes to how we support and promote this music. Every person determines these lines for themselves, and as a friend and fellow dabbler in all things black and icy, I want to encourage you to think critically about the music you support and how it fits into your own ideology. Let’s continue the dialogue surrounding the content and intent of the music and musicians we support, and hopefully, 2020 will present a brighter day for black metal as a whole.
Jonathan’s Top Records of 2019
25. Mo’ynoq – Dreaming in a Dead Language
24. Esoctrilihum – The Telluric Ashes of the Ö Vrth Immemorial Gods
23. Fen – The Dead Light
22. Keys of Orthanc – A Battle in the Dark Lands of the Eye…
21. Sinmara – Hvisl Stjarnanna
20. Haunter – Sacramental Death Qualia
19. Falls of Rauros – Patterns in Mythology
18. Skáphe + Wormlust – Kosmískur Hryllingur
17. Botanist – Ecosystem
16. Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze – Offerings of Flesh and Gold
15. Jute Gyte – Birefringence
14. Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling
13. Exulansis – Sequestered Sympathy
12. Enthroned – Cold Black Suns
11. Aoratos – Gods Without Name
10. Immortal Bird – Thrive on Neglect
Immortal Bird couldn’t be any more interesting, and their second full-length record Thrive on Neglect is a stunning statement of intent. With so little music under their belt, it feels odd to be praising this band so strongly. But damn if they don’t deserve it. Their unique brand of sludge-infused black metal is unassailable, and with each new release Immortal Bird have steadily perfected their art, and it’s nowhere more clear than in Thrive on Neglect. So if you’ve yet to give this one a listen, strap in. You’re in for one helluva time.
9. Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Not being a band known for their straightforward approach, Alcest threw a bit of a curveball with Spiritual Instinct. Not that this record differs that much sonically from its predecessors. To the contrary, Spiritual Instinct feels like a distillation of all the things Alcest do well in one sharp, focused opus. There isn’t a record in the band’s catalog that can hold a candle to this one in sheer directness, and when aided by some of the most delicious guitar tones and riffs the band have yet assembled (give “Protection” a listen), it’s hard not to get swept up in its unique charm. An excellent release, and one of my favorites from the atmoblack legends.
8. False – Portent
Unassuming black metal juggernauts False are back with their second full-length record, Portent, and forgive me for thinking it’s about damn time. Four years in the making, I’m pleased to report that Portent was worth the wait. It’s not an easy thing to write 10+ minute black metal tracks that feel focused, diverse, and worthy of the amount of space they occupy. Every single track on this record is pure songwriting bliss, with nary a second wasted across its 40-minute runtime. “Rime on the Song of Returning” is one of my favorite black metal tracks of the year, and after well over a dozen listens I haven’t come close to growing tired of this records icy embrace. Fantastic stuff. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait four more years to get more.
7. Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
Color me enthused by, infinitely grateful for, and historically completely incorrect about Abigail Williams. Walk Beyond the Dark is an absolute triumph, and a record that has compelled me to reevaluate an entire discography. From my first listen through this musically powerful and emotionally resonant record to my 15th today, I am flummoxed by how diverse and potent it is. From the traditional jagged riffs and distressed wails of “I Will Depart” to the atmoblack majesty of “Into the Sleep”, there’s something for every black metal fan here. And while many albums that attempt such breadth in songwriting feel stretched, Ken Sorceron’s project nails everything it tries. It’s sensational, and a record I will be returning to for years to come.
6. Andavald – Undir skyggðarhaldi
Icelandic black metal had nothing short of an utterly fantastic 2019, but the dark horse release of the bunch has to be Andavald’s debut release Undir skyggðarhaldi. Good lord is this record ominous. From its opening salvo of dread “Forspil”, with its terror and depression-inducing keys to the utterly shocking vocal turn in “Hugklofnun”, Undir skyggðarhaldi is an utterly spellbinding, primordial howl from the depths of the human soul. It’s both overwhelmingly sad and brutally vicious, holding these two elements in near-perfect balance throughout its all-too-short runtime. It’s going to be hard for Andavald to top this, but I cannot wait to see them try.
5. Serpent Column – Mirror in Darkness
If 2019 didn’t bring you enough of that sweet, sweet dissonance, look no further than Serpent Column’s sophomore turn Mirror in Darkness. As far as unrelentingly fierce black metal goes, this one’s practically impossible to top. “Promise of the Polis” is an opener as wack-a-doodle and relentlessly engaging as one will come by, and its nightmarish sequence of riffs is simply stunning and completely disorienting. And if it be too much for your virgin ears, tracks like “Ausweg” and “Apophenia” present slightly more digestible options without ever losing their complexity or frothing rage. It’s as good a second release as I can remember, and bumps Serpent Column firmly into the upper strata of dissonance-loving black metal acts. A thoroughly punishing experience.
4. Obsequiae – The Palms of Sorrowed Kings
If I had to pick a polar opposite to the album described above, it would be Obsequiae’s masterful third album The Palms of Sorrowed Kings. Which is in no way a knock (I mean, obviously… it’s on this list, isn’t it?). Obsequiae are a thoroughly unique proposition in the world of black metal, peddling their Middle Ages-adjacent style of atmospheric black metal with complete conviction. Boy oh boy does it pay off here. Their compositions are simultaneously straightforward and transcendently beautiful without ever falling prey to uninteresting simplicity. Front-to-back, this is the band’s most accessible and confident work to date, and a record I’ll be revisiting time and time again for the foreseeable future.
3. Liturgy – H.A.Q.Q.
There’s only one band in the world of metal that draws more consistent ire than Deafheaven, and that’s Liturgy. Their esoteric, deeply philosophical approach to black metal has most certainly ruffles some feathers, and their fourth full-length record H.A.Q.Q. is no different from its predecessors. Except that this is without question the most focused, engaging, and (dare I say it?) transcendent iteration of the band’s aesthetic yet. It’s just a flat-out awesome record, with enough layers and dimensions to keep even the sharpest ears engaged for round after round of attentive listening. Those who find the band detestable probably won’t discover anything to change their mind here, but fans of the band’s music and adventurous black metal nerds will find a cornucopia of sonic textures to love. A thoroughly transfixing release.
2. Misþyrming – Algleymi
Every fan of Icelandic black metal knows the name Misþyrming. They’re the ubiquitous, ever-present core of a scene that has exploded with volcanic force this decade, and there’s no better example of what this region has to offe on the black metal front. Surprisingly, Algleymi is only their second record, and it’s without question their best. Bringing the most forceful sounds of the genre to bear in tracks like “Orgia” (without question my favorite black metal track of the year), only to see them infused with head-banging rock and roll swagger in “Ísland, Steingelda Krummaskud”, Algleymi is a diverse and thoroughly interesting affair throughout. It’s atmospheric, brutal, varied and, honestly, a ton of fun. I have given this record more listens than any other this year, and I’m nowhere close to tired of it. Another fantastic outing from the kings of Icelandic black metal. Long may they reign.
1. White Ward – Love Exchange Failure
I listen to a lot of music every year. Like, a LOT. It’s not often that I feel genuinely surprised by a record. White Ward released a really great debut with 2017’s Futility Report, but nothing they’ve released before prepared me for the absolute titan that is Love Exchange Failure. Rolling through a jazzy urban landscape with an emotional force that rivals the greats, White Ward have not only concocted their best music to date, but an album that may well go down as a true all-timer. This collection is complex, diverse, moving, and devastating all at once, leading listeners on a sonic journey they won’t soon forget. This thing has been riding atop my black metal albums of the year list since its release, and hasn’t once come close to being dethroned. My unequivocal album of the year, and one of the most continuously rewarding listening experiences I’ve had in a long while. A flat-out masterpiece.
Scott’s Top Records of 2019
25. Mayhem – Daemon
24. Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
23. Obsequiae – The Palms of Sorrowed Kings
22. Remete – Into Endless Night
21. Saor – Forgotten Paths
20. Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze – Offerings of Flesh and Gold
19. Misþyrming – Algleymi
18. Kaleikr – Heart of Lead
17. Griefloss – Griefloss
16. The Great Old Ones – Cosmicism
15. Serpent Column – Mirror in Darkness
14. Andavald – Undir skyggðarhaldi
13. Enthroned – Cold Black Suns
12. Mo’ynoq – Dreaming in a Dead Language
11. Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling
10. Wishfield – Wishfield
Every year, there’s an album I select for one of these genre lists that has fringe “kvlt” qualifications, and I question whether I should stick to “pure” definitions. Yet, as I outlined above, the beauty of modern black metal is that albums like this exist at all and fall under the broader confines of the style. Of every artist I’ve written about in this column, Wishfield easily have the most potential to grow into an exceptional black-metal-adjacent band. Their self-titled debut blends the worlds of shoegaze and black metal more dreamily than I’ve ever heard it done before, aided by the unique use of fretless guitars. It’s incredibly melodic and alluring while still bearing a stinging bite when appropriate. With better studio resources and an experienced producer, these guys could easily be the next big thing in black metal.
Read More: Kvlt Kolvmn
9. Botanist – Ecosystem
There’s not much more I can say about Ecosystem that I haven’t written already. It’s both a minor dilemma and a testament to how much I’ve felt compelled to talk about Botanist before and during this column. Their use of the hammered dulcimer alone has garnered them attention in the metal community. But beyond that, they deserve praise for simply writing exceptional black metal in a way unlike any of their blackgaze peers. Now that we’re approaching a new decade, we can safely say that Botanist will go down as one of the most important and excellent bands of the 2010s. And given how great their output was over the last 10 years, there’s no reason to believe they’ll slow down anytime soon.
8. Dawn Ray’d – Behold Sedition Plainsong
Of all the “traditional” black metal albums I heard this year, there were hardly any that matched the level of quality Dawn Ray’d achieved on Behold Sedition Plainsong. The English trio channel the vibe of the Cascadian Black Metal scene, albeit with much more grit and variety than most bands hailing from the Pacific Northwest. On top of it all, the band’s dedication to themes of revolution and antifascism add a distinct flair to their music and delivery that’s incredibly refreshing, especially considering some of the themes that are espoused by other European black metal bands. If you’re a fan of the more traditional side of the genre, then Behold Sedition Plainsong is a must-listen for this year.
Read More: Kvlt Kolvmn
7. Nekrasov – Lust of Consciousness
I’m genuinely shocked that I didn’t see Lust of Consciousness discussed more this year. Sure, Nekrasov aren’t your typical black metal band; frankly, they hardly fall neatly into any one metal subgenre. But for me, that was the immediate appeal of Lust of Consciousness, an album that makes “abrasive” seem like an understatement. Nekrasov incorporate heavy elements of harsh noise into their sound, and then on top of that create black metal with an equally intense and cacophonous delivery. It’s essentially war metal’s more extreme yet dynamic cousin, as Nekrasov constantly push the limits of their blend of different shades of aggression.
Read More: Kvlt Kolvmn
6. False – Portent
If I had to sum up Portent in a few words, I’d say “nimble yet precise.” False don’t bend black metal beyond recognition, but they do take the atmospheric end of the genre and infuse it with an absurd amount of energy and creativity. The band constantly shift tempos, moods, and ideas within structured compositions, something that’s continuously engaging throughout the album. It’s just such a perfectly sequenced and developed album, where nothing wears out its welcome and each section feels stronger than the last. Every black metal fan should have this on their radar, and in my opinion, it deserves a spot in any top 10 for black metal this year.
5. Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
Over the last decade (and the decades before that), Blut Aus Nord have been one of the most consistent bands in black metal, despite never sticking to one set sound. They’ve touched on every experimental flavor you can imagine, most recently returning to their roots after the beautifully bizarre 777 series. Now, the group is back with a psychedelic-themed album that’s also one of their strongest in years. It may not be as bizarre as, say, a Hail Spirit Noir record, but what they avoid in oddities they more than make up for in the kind of exceptional songwriting that’s made them a genre mainstay.
Read More: Kvlt Kolvmn
4. Liturgy – H.A.Q.Q.
In all honesty, I paused on this album for a while before cementing it in my top five for black metal this year. Given the inconsistent musical quality Liturgy has delivered thus far, it’s still fascinating to think that they could turn around and release one of the genre’s best releases in any year, let alone in such a great year for black metal like 2019. But it’s my job to be as honest as possible with my musical recommendations, and I simply can’t deny that H.A.Q.Q. was one of the most entertaining albums I heard this year. It’s bursting with the life and passion that Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has always channeled into his music, except this time, he refines his creative process and removes nearly all the shortcomings of his previous material. It hints toward promising things to come from the once reviled band, and I’m genuinely excited to see what they produce next.
3. Jute Gyte – Birefringence
After a hiatus from my top three in 2018, Jute Gyte has resumed their rightful place atop my favorite black metal releases of the year. Even though I’ve loved everything I’ve heard from the band, Birefringence still managed to blow me away and offer me more unique angles to the band’s already peerless sound. It’s relatively common for metal artists to conjure complex theories with which to create their music, but it’s rare to find someone like Adam Kalmbach who executes on his experimental ideas with such incredible success. Most people likely don’t have an active appetite for microtonal black metal, but trust me, this will open up your perception of the genre in ways you hadn’t ever considered before.
2. White Ward – Love Exchange Failure
For whatever reason, I never checked out White Ward when the rest of the Blog’s black metal fans were raving over Futility Report. After listening to Love Exchange Failure following similar ravings from this crowd, I realized just how massive a mistake that was. We talk a lot about the “future” of any given genre and the progression and changes we’d like to see most. White Ward have absolutely nailed every aspect of a successful progressive metal album, and in the process, they’ve potentially broken some new ground for likeminded bands to follow. Hopefully that bears true, because Love Exchange Failure has inspired more excitement about black metal among our staff than any album has done in quite some time.
1. Exulansis – Sequestered Sympathy
Roughly a month ago, I hadn’t heard a note of Sequestered Sympathy and I didn’t know Exulansis existed. Now, it’s my favorite black metal album of the year by a wide margin. The band produce the kind of music that warrants being described as an “experience,” with massive, sweeping compositions that caused me to pause what I was doing and simply listen each time I put the album on. Plenty of bands have found ways to overlap the worlds of black metal, doom, and crust, but I’ve yet to hear any metal band weave modern classical and chamber music with the aggression and heaviness of metal nearly as effectively as Exulansis have done here. I really can’t sing the praises of Sequestered Sympathy enough; it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, regardless of genre.