Welcome, once more, to Kvlt Kolvmn. It’s… I mean, the world is the fucking worst right now. If a global pandemic of unprecedented modern proportions wasn’t enough, widespread unemployment, looming global economic catastrophe, and a complete exposition of the failures of the US healthcare system have made March one of the shittiest months in recent memory. If there’s any consolation in this god-forsaken mess it’s that black metal continues to have an utterly fantastic year, and we couldn’t be more grateful for it. So let us commiserate in our homebound misery with some of the iciest riffs in the game.
March was another banner month for black metal. Shocker. 2020, despite the inherent dumpster fire it has turned out to be so far, continues to churn out the greatest amount of consistently quality releases of any space within the metal world. Whether you’re into traditional kvlt stylings, post-black metal heresy, dissonant insanity, or atmoblack collaborations, this year has something magical for you, with March being no exception. As always, we’ve have included our top picks from a fantastic month in black metal below. Feast and enjoy.
On a completely serious note, we at Heavy Blog Is Heavy recognize the significant hardship that many in our community are currently suffering through. Music is a connective tissue that binds us together in extremely difficult circumstances, and we hope that even one of these records helps to bring some level of joy to your life while we wait for this collective nightmare to pass. For the edification of the fanatics, feel free to share your favorite releases below. We look forward to reading your thoughts.
Stay frosty (and wash your hands).
Cream of the Crop
Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum – Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine
How much of a good thing is too much? It’s an age-old question in the music world, and given metal’s modern penchant for bombasity, it’s also an appropriate one. Within a genre that prides itself on its maximalist tendencies, it’s not uncommon to come across records that hit well over the hour mark in run time. As a consumer of copious amounts of music every month, I must confess that my reaction to such albums, regardless of artist pedigree, is a big sigh. When you could absorb two quality albums in the time it takes to listen to one record that most likely requires a significant amount of swimming through the bloat to find its hidden gems, it becomes pretty easy to skip out on long records. This introduction is apropos given its topic, Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum’s collaborative album Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine, clocks in at a whopping two hours in length. It is an incredibly rare blending of talents that will compel me to sit down and absorb a record of this magnitude, and even more rare that I find it utterly absorbing from start to finish. But given the quality of these artists’ previous collaboration Sol, I was not going to miss out on another potential gem. Seeing as it sits prominently atop our list as the best black metal record of the month, let’s consider ourselves firmly in unicorn country.
Put simply, Wanderers is a collection of tracks that highlight the very best aspects of each of these projects’ thoroughly impressive solo work. Spectral Lore’s opening salvo “Mercury (The Virtuous)” is an instantly absorbing track thoroughly awash in atmosphere and songwriting that’s thoroughly epic in scope. It’s exactly the kind of composition we’ve come to expect from Spectral Lore, building itself slowly and deliberately from a pile of smoky embers into a raging forest fire of melodic riffs and blasting, punishing kit work, and more than adequately sets the tone for the riches contained throughout the rest of the record.
Mare Cognitum, not to play second fiddle in this partnership, steps up in equally resounding fashion in “Mars (The Warrior)”. Where Spectral Lore’s first entry spent a significant amount of time building a lush sonic world, “Mars” bursts in by ratcheting up the black metal menace to eleven, and delivering the first thoroughly lethal track of the record. The riffs here are absolutely punishing, while the rhythm section pushes through flesh and bone with enough force to collapse skyscrapers. It’s a brilliant and forceful entry that serves to highlight the brilliant one-two punch presented by this collaboration, making me hope to high heaven that these two continue working together well into the future.
That sentiment is most stark in the album’s final two tracks, which feature these two underground black metal titans collaborating on an entirely different level. Two-parter “Pluto (The Gatekeeper)” shows these projects working together for the first time on the record within the same track, and the results are nothing short of sublime. The first half of this monster is a deeply atmospheric, synth-heavy instrumental track that uses its 12-minute run time to ebb and flow through long and winding passages that serve as a delicious ambient appetizer for the widescreen melodic space conjured by its second half, which adds many layers of muscle and meat to its predecessor’s bones. This is peak emotionally resonant songwriting from two of atmospheric black metal’s most interesting and talented practitioners, and every minute is wrapped in thoroughly enjoyable and laudable instrumentation. It’s a beast of a sequence that caps off a thoroughly epic album with aplomb.
Never anything less than stunning, Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is a thoroughly entertaining and infinitely rewarding collaborative release that stands tall among 2020’s already crowded black metal elite. I cannot think of a time where I enjoyed an obviously bloated record this much, and I strongly encourage listeners of my particular time-bound persuasion to give this record a go regardless. It may swallow two hours of your life, but the places it will take you may elicit feelings that make you wish you never had to return to reality. A captivating, titanic release from two incredible projects that only further solidifies their place among black metal’s most prestigious acts.
Best of the Rest
Amnutseba – Emanatism
Dissonant black metal has enjoyed a fairly bright day in the arctic sun over the past several years. Bands like Dodecahedron, Serpent Column, Thantifaxath, and a host of others have released high quality albums highlighting the most discombobulating and harsh elements of the black metal genre, culminating in many a light night listening session freak-out from yours truly. France’s Amnutseba join the ranks of the dissonant and deadly with their debut record Emanatism, which is one of the more confident black metal debuts I’ve heard this year, and most certainly a record to spin if you like your black metal with jagged edges and a murky, ominous nucleus.
Consisting of four extended tracks and a short interlude smack dab in the middle, Emanatism is a fairly straightforward affair regarding its intended sound and audience. Once you let opener “Abstinence” abuse your brain, you pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into. But that’s not to say that the way Amnutseba approach black metal is simple or disposable. On the contrary, it’s the mark of a band that knows exactly what they want to deliver and do so with great care and gusto. “Ungrund” ratchets up the intensity with a vocal performance that is absolutely grotesque in all the right ways, wailing and screeching in the void with all the sorrow and conviction of a human possessed. Riffs slide across and around a maniacally efficient and delirious drum performance, culminating most perfectly in closer “Tabula”, which is both rhythmically intelligible and disturbingly off-kilter, coming across as both headbang worthy and deeply unnerving. It’s a bleak record for bleak times, and hits more interesting and effective notes than most, especially considering its status as a debut release.
If you’re into black metal as dissonant audio torture, Amnutseba have released a record that will most definitely keep its place atop your playlist as this miserable year continues. A perfect soundtrack for the utterly insane times we are living in, Emanatism is a record worth all of the attention you can give it. A fantastic debut.
Serpent Column – Endless Detainment
I wrote an entire review about this album last week, so one would think that I had exhausted everything I have to say about this blistering assault on the senses. One would be wrong. I cannot get over how utterly insane Serpent Column’s second monumental mini-LP/EP is. I’ve probably made my way through this record a dozen times at this point, and I find myself marveling at new aspects of its dark and sinister character with each subsequent listen. This is complex, thoroughly madness-inducing music that exemplifies everything that is good and right about black metal on a sonic level, and is without question one of the stand-out releases of 2020 thus far.
Black metal as a genre has always been fascinated by the macabre, icy, and lo-fi, but it does my heart good to see the genre move significantly toward releases that exhibit sheer brutality within all the kvlt posturing. Endless Detainment is an absolute masterclass in the display of how maddeningly intense and violent black metal can be when pushed to its logical extremes. I challenge anyone to present a black metal track as violent and punishing as “Manure in Pearls”, or as abrasive and menacing as the two-part masterpiece “Wars Waged in Private”. Serpent Column is taking the blueprint of traditional black metal aesthetics and pushing it beyond what seems reasonable to expect a black metal band to achieve. This is audio violence in some of its purest manifestations, and I cannot get enough. But what’s most surprising in all of this is Endless Detainment’s ability to be hooky, groove-focused, and melody-driven at points within the maelstrom. “Arachnain”, the best track on the record, balances melody and memorable riffage with sheer insanity on such a tightrope that is as assured and creatively consistent as you’ll here in any record peddling a black metal sound. It’s everything I want from the frosty stuff and more.
If for some reason you have yet to listen to this release, stop what you’re doing, grab some headphones, and sink into the pit for 20+ minutes of abject insanity. You won’t regret it. A release that will undoubtedly make my shortlist for best black metal records come year’s end. A raging inferno of black metal madness.
Violet Cold – Noir Kid
If there’s a fence dividing fans and detractors of post-black metal/blackgaze, you can definitively plant me squarely on the lovers’ side. Deafheaven, Bosse de Nage, Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room, Unreqvited, all great. Black metal is a genre of music that by its very nature is ripe for subversion of traditional sounds and tropes, which makes the kvlt reaction to it one of the most hilarious contradictions on the planet to me. That said, Violet Cold are a project one could firmly place in the category of “untrve” black metal bands, and they’re all the better for it. Balancing soaring, melancholy melodies picked by both electric and acoustic guitars with a mess of beautiful clean and utterly harsh vocals that glide over raging blast beats, it’s a feast for the ears that is consistently unpredictable. Throw in ambient, jazz, and electronic music elements and you have the type of music that will send the corpsepainted hoard into a vitriolic internet frenzy. Noir Kid is just that kind of record, and I’m all the way here for it.
For those who are fond of distinct melody populating their black metal, Noir Kid is an absolute feast for the ears. “All Heroes Are Dead” is the kind of track that fans of Harakiri for the Sky should ravenously sink their fangs into, balancing heaviness and ethereality with ease through some generally engaging songwriting. More so than some of Violet Cold’s previous releases, Noir Kid feels focused in its sometimes discombobulating stylistic changes. The 21st-Century pop trappings and EDM stylings of “Synergy” are a welcome addition to the album’s more direct post-black metal opening numbers, throwing listener expectations out the window at just the right time. “Battle Unicorn”, with its 8-bit video game elements, continues this trend, only to revert back to its blackgaze trappings with “Goodnight Sun”. It’s an ebb and flow of styles that feels both natural and exciting, culminating in what might be Violet Cold’s most interesting and enjoyable record to date.
If you already hate post-black metal, Violet Cold is most certainly not the band to change your mind. But if you, like myself, enjoy music that uses black metal as a cornerstone rather than as a purists measuring stick, Noir Kid is an album that I feel quite confident you will enjoy. Let go and let Violet Cold sweep you into the warm waters of genre-bending amusement, and you may just find yourself enraptured by some of the most unique sounds in the game.
Vredehammer – Viperous
A review of Vredehammer’s magnificent third full-length record could consist simply of the word “riffs” written 750 times. It would, for the most part, encapsulate the very thing this Norwegian juggernaut does better than almost any other extreme metal band on the planet right now. But to approach this review so flippantly would do the intricacies and careful construction of Viperous a grave disservice. Yes, there are copious amounts of riffs here. More catchy, memorable, and infinitely replayable riffs than I have heard on a single record since, well, Vredehammer’s last record. But there’s a creative bent to Viperous that shows Vredehammer working their songwriting muscles in new and interesting ways, making their third time out most certainly the charm. It’s one of the most thoroughly enjoyable releases I can remember hearing.
For those unfamiliar with Vredehammer (shame on you!), the Norse gods deal in a genre-bending black/death metal amalgam that interchanges styles and intensity depending on the needs of any individual track. It’s an amoebas blend of extreme metal tropes helmed ably and with great gusto by Per Valla, and each new album has increased the band’s ambitions. Starting out as a solo project, the band has since grown into a trio, with each new addition to the band’s lineup bringing new approaches to the music. This time around, Vredehammer find themselves drenched in synths, which can be heard immediately upon hitting play on “Winds of Dysphoria”. While the band’s signature riffs are present in an overwhelming abundance (see in particular “Suffocate All Light”, the album’s title track, and “In Shadow”), it’s these unique and tasteful 80s synth porn flourishes that make for a listening experience that sticks out from the band’s previous work and a huge chunk of the black metal pack. But we’re all here to get absolutely crushed under the weight of titanic riffage, and Vredehammer deliver the goods time and time again. Every single track here is pure gold, with no filler in sight. I mean… just listen to it already.
Vredehammer have quickly become a go-to for me when it comes to punishing and thoroughly enjoyable black/death metal, and after over a month of solid listening I’m nowhere close to tired of Viperous. The latest entry in the band’s evolution is their best, and while I look forward to continuing my relishing of this record, I cannot wait for more. Riffs forever.
Mamaleek – Come & See
Is this even black metal? Who knows. But it’s sure as hell a fantastic listen. Following up their absolutely mesmerizing 2018 record Out of Time, Come & See is a stunning continuation of the band’s warped, blackened aesthetic and is well worth the time it will take to absorb its intricate charms.
Membaris – Misanthrosophie
German black metal at its absolute finest, Membaris drop a real deal record with Misanthrosophie, blending intensity and melody to near perfection. I’d write up a lot more on this if I weren’t so dang tired, but believe me when I say that this is quality black metal that every fan of the genre should give a fair shake.
Sicarius – God of Dead Roots
This band’s debut was a ferocious slab of USBM, and their follow-up continues on the trajectory established by Serenade of Slitting Throats with just as much aggression and even more refinement of their sound and process. This is supremely violent music made by humans utterly enslaved to the blackened riff. Getcha some.
Feminazgul – No Dawn for Men
Lychgate – Also sprach Futura
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier