Welcome to a particularly enraged edition of Kvlt Kolvmn.
We write a lot about combatting repulsive views on race in particular in black metal in this column, and once again we’re confronted with the ugliest, bleakest truths of our culture’s continued struggle to champion equity, safety, and justice for black men and women across the globe. The death of George Floyd is another stark example of American systemic racism and the abject failure of our legal system to curtail and prosecute legally armed authoritarianism in the United States, which steals life with virtual impunity. It’s tragic, disgusting, and must change. We at Heavy Blog stand with protestors decrying these events , and will continue to work alongside them to strive and fight for a better, more equitable future.
Let’s state it once again with feeling: We will never intentionally cover bands who ascribe to national socialist and/or racist viewpoints. Period. There is real-world evil and lethality applied to these views, and at Heavy Blog our goal is to create a community that is welcoming and inclusive to all, and supporting music that does not share this standard is an affront to our mission as a blog and our moral compass as a community. Fuck NSBM and fuck racist rhetoric. It has no place here.
Here is some music that isn’t completely full of shit. May it give you energy and life in a tumultuous and brutal time.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay frosty.
Cream of the Crop
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Last year, Enthroned blew Scott and I collectively away with their icy, brilliant effort Cold Black Suns. It’s a black metal album that hasn’t received nearly the amount of attention its quality content deserved, and if you’ve yet to give it a listen I would strongly encourage you to do so. But this review isn’t about Enthroned or their impressive music, but more about longevity. See, Enthroned had been around as a black metal band since the mid-90s, and I had no idea they even existed. I similarly discovered …And Oceans and continue to be shocked how many fantastic black metal bands from the 90s are still around that I had absolutely zero prior knowledge of.
Jumping on the black metal bandwagon with their 1998 debut full-length The Dynamic Gallery of Thoughts, the band released albums regularly until 2002, when after a series of split releases the band changed its name to Havoc Unit and released their only album under the moniker in 2008. The band remained largely dormant until just this past year, when they released a self-titled EP that served as the precursor to their sixth (if we count their work as Havoc Unit) full-length record, Cosmic World Mother. All of this may be old hat to longtime fans of the band’s work, but to me, this latest record is my introduction to …And Oceans, and let’s just say I’m not pleased that this is the case. Mainly because ….And Oceans is incredible, and Cosmic World Mother a special and uniformly fantastic record.
For those as uninitiated as I, …And Oceans are steeped deeply in the sonic world of symphonic black metal, evolving this sound to include more industrial elements in their later work. It’s a sound that heralds back to the glory days of Emperor or Dimmu Borgir, though I would posit that …And Oceans reach more toward the former in terms of quality. The riffs on Cosmic World Mother continue to fill the hole in my heart reserved for intense, epic black metal riffs that was partially sated by Dark Fortress’ fantastic release earlier this year. But …And Oceans go above and beyond the basic expectations of symphonic black metal by incorporating some unique elements to their sound that bring them closer to Thorns in their inclusion of industrial tones and instrumentals throughout. It’s a blend of sounds that feel as practiced and measured as you’d expect a band performing for more than two decades to sound, made all the more exceptional given their extended hiatus.
Opener “Vigilance and Atrophy” gives fans of symphonic black metal exactly what they want, churning out melody-heavy riffs at an alarming clip, quickly morphing into stadium-ready passages that are emotive and chest-swelling. The inclusion of synths, rather than adding too much cheese to the proceedings, adds a fun and effective undercurrent that allows the music to sound both fun and serious without dipping too deeply into either camp. Cosmic World Mother is replete with such elements, but it’s during “Five of Swords” that the band’s penchant for epic meets its full potential. There’s a stretch in the middle section of the track that feels absolutely transcendent, blending the elements found in the album’s opener in a way that feels revelatory. Beyond creating a great black metal record, …And Oceans are obviously shooting for the throne of their chosen black metal subgenre, and here succeed with flying colors. I haven’t heard a symphonic black metal album this good in a very long time.
Aside from some always interesting and enjoyably creative songwriting, the band’s instrumental performances here are simply fantastic. The album’s title track is absolutely overstuffed with captivating examples of each individual contributor’s formidable talents, especially in the rhythm section, where drummer Kauko Kuusisalo (also of Gorephilia among others) generates a veritable tornado of blasts and punk-adjacent beats that can only be described as mercilessly effective. The production definitely helps as well, casting off the lo-fi trappings of their forebears for a warmer, fuller mix that allows the drums to pummel without ever consuming the vocals or fantastic guitar work. It’s a balance that never fails to allow the most captivating aspects of each track to shine through, resulting in an album that sounds as polished and accomplished as its writing.
There’s literally nothing about this album that I dislike. From the atmosphere and production to the performances and songwriting, this is the symphonic black metal album to beat in 2020. Fans of the bands prior work or symphonic/industrial black metal should find plenty to enjoy and dissect, and there’s plenty to enjoy at just under 50 minutes. A fantastic return from a band long dormant, and one of my favorite black metal releases of the year.
Best of the Rest
Árstíðir lífsins – Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir
Another month, yet another fantastic release from the modern hub for black metal. The Icelandic scene continues to refine their unique approach to the genre, characterized by a synthesis of modern black metal trends enhanced with imposing production and songwriting. My latest recommendation comes from Árstíðir lífsins (“The Seasons of Life”), who graced our first installment of Kvlt Kolvmn way back in 2017. In my short write-up, I noted the band’s prowess for crafting rich, expansive compositions that remain engrossing despite their length. This tradition continues on Saga á tveim tungum II: Eigi fjǫll né firðir, the conclusion of a “two-sided story constructed around the later period of the Norwegian king and saint, Óláfr Haraldsson.”
Thankfully, you don’t have to brush up on your Icelandic history to appreciate yet another successful album from Árstíðir lífsins. The band carefully initiate the proceedings with a two-song introduction of ambient atmospheres, spoken word, and neofolk instrumentation, almost like a meeting of the minds between Agalloch and Ulver. With such gorgeous, alluring compositions, you hardly notice that 10 minutes has passed without any shade of black revealing itself. Patient songwriting continues to be the strongest aspect of what Árstíðir lífsins have to offer; they never feel compelled to rush a song to produce what the listener expects or desires, instead allowing the song to naturally unfurl.
As a result, the blackened explosion that opens “Sem járnklær nætr dragask nærri” is all the more powerful due to this contrast. Again, if you’re at all familiar with the Icelandic black metal scene, you know what to expect , and that alone should stoke your interest. Shades of atmospheric, dissonant, and pagan black metal arise from the ashes Árstíðir lífsins leave in their wake, all manifesting with a sinister, ominous presence elevated above the genre’s typical fare.
From there on through the album’s epic, 18-minute finale, “Ek sá halr at Hóars veðri hǫsvan serk Hrísgrísnis bar,” Árstíðir lífsins effortlessly weave these influences into dynamic, massively impactful compositions. There’s truly not much more I can say; as rich and layered as these compositions are, it’s difficult to distill; them down to a few sentences and still do them justice. Trust me that this latest offering from the Icelandic scene, as with all its predecessors, is well worth your time and attention.
Odraza – Rzeczom
Metal journalists and listeners often fixate on how far an artist deviates from the genre mean. This sentiment isn’t intended as a call out, since I’m certainly guilty of this in terms of my own music consumption. Prioritizing uniqueness above all else can filters out quality “normal” releases, and by that I mean releases that merely exemplify what made us fall in love with genres in the first place. It’s for this reason I want to sing the praises of Rzeczom as loudly as possible. With just a simple, black and white album cover and overall straightforward presentation on Bandcamp, who knew that what lies within is some of the finest black metal offerings of the year?
Odraza‘s style of black metal pays close homage to the genre’s formative blueprint. Instead of focusing on unnecessary frills and experimentation for the sake of it, the duo turn their attention to creating incredibly dynamic, sinister, and well-written black metal. Not to completely upend my argument, but the band’s songwriting reminds me of a more refiend Death Spell Omega, with the chaos and dissonance stripped back in favor of a keen ear for melody and and interplay between beauty and aggression. Every song on Rzeczom strikes an incredible balance between the dichotomy of light and darkness, as if the duo is constantly teetering between a full blown, blast-heavy assault and a swell of massive, all-encompassing tremolos.
There are plenty of moments of both styles to appease black metal fans of every persuasion. Opener “Schadenfreude” is a bunker buster of epic proportions, firing on all cylinders immediately after the album commences. The blast beats rarely slow down throughout the track, and when they do, the prospect of respite is dashed by sinister atmospheres and snarling vocals. Yet, while this level of intensity resurfaces time and again, several other tracks highlight the beauty of gnashing, mid-paced black metal, something Odraza execute to perfection. The songwriting on the title track is exceptional, with memorable riffing, creative percussion, and some well-placed bass lines all cushioning eclectic vocal performances.
Despite what I’ve written to this point, I’ll clarify that Odraza are still open to experimenting within their framework and flirting with the outskirts of the genre’s core aesthetics. “…twoją rzecz też” is a buoyant cut of blackened freak folk that reminds me of a less psychedelic Hail Spirit Noir track. And yet, as the music unravels, the duo become increasingly unhinged, leading up to an intense, metallic finale. It’s a testament to the creative ethos shining through Odraza’s songwriting. There’s no need to shatter and rearrange the black metal blueprint to create worthwhile music; what’s already on the page provides ample room to lead the genre into bold new territory.
Thrawsunblat – Insula
Thrawsunblat have been one of my favorite atmospheric, folksy black metal bands for a few years now, ever since I heard their excellent Metachthonia. Ever since that release way back in 2016, the band have been building towards a further articulation of their folk influences. The excellent Great Brunswick Forest saw them take a direction into those influences that’s incredibly unique, writing music that structurally fit right into black metal but that uses acoustic instruments to articulate that structure. The end result was an incredibly powerful album, wholly theirs and yet unique even inside their own discography.
That was back in 2018 and now the band have released the Insula EP, which sees them tying the knot once again and going back to their black metal roots. But the black metal on Insula is quite different to the black metal on Metachthonia. Whereas that album was mighty and grandiose, Insula is more abrasive and frost-bitten, channeling a forlorn and melancholy sort of vibe.
From the first track, “Spectres in Mist” and its Nietzschean lyrics, it’s obvious that the attitude and approach of the album is very different. The guitars are less flamboyant, focusing instead on frigid tremolo picking. The vocals are also less far-flung in their style, focused and more aggressive throughout. Even when the album does channel more energetic moods, like on the following “Carry the Sun”, the atmosphere is still much more old school than it was on previous releases.
And this is great. It’s amazing to see that Thrawsunblat can express black metal in so many different ways. They can focus on the fecund forest floor with their folk music. They can grasp at the stars and moon with their epic mode. And they can deliver winter’s chill with Insula, their most blackened release yet.
Unreqvited – Empathica
I think this is my third or fourth time writing about Unreqvited in this column. Partly because the man releases an insane amount of music each year. But also because it just grabs me every time. Unreqvited is firmly attached to my psyche now. It’s the type of music that, every time it enters your atmosphere, immediately brings you back to a specific time and place. To people, events… memories. Unreqvited will always be a snowy morning shoveling snow from my driveway. Completely innocuous and unimportant in the grand scheme. But something about that moment was so perfect that it’s never left me, and wouldn’t even if I wanted it to. I have a connection to this music that brings me an unusual amount of joy every time I hear it, and Empathica doesn’t change that reaction in the slightest.
This may be Unreqvited’s most effective record to date. Taking elements from the project’s previous records and melding them into a cohesive and emotionally resonant whole, Empathica in many ways represents the fullest embodiment of Unreqvited’s aesthetic yet. Filled to the brim with atmospheric meanderings mixed with transcendent riffs, it’s just about everything listeners have come to expect. The three-part “Empathica” kicks off the record beautifully, drowning listeners in an atmospheric waterfall that slowly morphs into a dreamy post-/atmoblack that feels every bit as epic as the album’s artwork suggests. “Crystal Cascade” may also be one of the best individual songs that Unreqvited has produced, blasting its way through some titanic drum passages laid over a twinkling synth base that feels as authentically epic as it comes. But, as in the usual fashion, things never stay the same for long. At the six-minute mark the track changes over into a post-rock slow jam that fits both the track and the album like a glove. It’s these unique flourishes that always keep me on my toes and coming back for more, and Empathica does not disappoint.
Emotive, harmonious, deeply melodic, and epic are how I would describe Empathica. It’s a charming next step in the wonderful evolution of Unreqvited, and I heartily encourage fans of the project’s previous work to give this one your full attention. It may not win over any potential converts to the fold, but those who are already under Unreqvited’s spell will be thoroughly charmed. A fantastic experience.
Almyrkvi/The Ruins of Beverast – Split
New full-length from The Ruins of Beverast when? Exuvia has only grown in stature as a black/doom magnum opus, so fans like myself have been waiting with bated breath for news of a new record. Alas, this is not that event. But it’s amazing nonetheless. Almyrkvi’s tracks are atmospheric and powerful black metal (with an interesting touch of industrial thrown into the mix), while Bevarast’s pieces are, as always, nothing short of spectacular. The second split from the project this year (counting their collaboration with Mourning Beloveth), here’s hoping that these new tracks point to a new full-length soon. Until then, consider this split a more than worthy substitute.
An Autumn for Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet (post-black metal, blackgaze)
Horn – Mohngang (pagan black metal)
Naglfar – Cerecloth (melodic black metal)
Sojourner – Premonitions (pagan black metal, melodic black metal)