Greetings, fellow pagans! Ave Satanas, and all that jazz. Fall is creeping its way onto the scene in my neck of the woods, which provides the perfect backdrop for fantastic black metal and the awesome changes we have planned for Kvlt Kolvmn 3.0 and beyond.
It’s still crazy to think about the growth KK has experienced over the last several years. What started as a rapid fire round up from my Bandcamp binges has evolved into thoughtful monthly analysis of the latest and greatest in black metal. Along the way, we’ve highlighted these trends in greater detail and continued our quest to decry facism and NSBM at every opportunity. Now, it’s time to take that formula to the next level.
To be clear, you can still expect extensive coverage of new black metal’s latest offerings, curated by Jonathan, Eden, and yours truly. On top of that, we’re adding some new features that truly feel like a logical extension of KK’s core idea:
- Interviews: We love covering underappreciated and up-and-coming artists, so why not do more of that? Each month, we’ll pick a band we’ve covered in a recent(-ish) installment of KK and sit down for a (virtual, socially distanced) conversation of their music and perspective on black metal. Expect a diverse array of interviewees, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the usual diversity we maintain around here.
- Deeper Analysis: I’m slacking a bit on this for August, partially because I wanted to use this space to explain our new format, but mainly because the launch of Heavy Blog’s model has taken a lot of my time and energy (plus buying a house and scaling back my wedding amid the pandemic). But fear not! In the coming months, we’ll be placing greater focus on analyzing the latest trends and news surrounding black metal, both good and bad (but let’s be real, mostly bad). Think of this as a monthly mini version of our annual wrap-up post.
- Kvlt Vavlt: Yes, that’s what we’re calling it. If you’ve read any of our Death’s Vault or Heavy Rewind posts, this should be pretty self explanatory. Each month, either Jonathan or I will dig into our notes and pick out a hidden gem from black metal lore, with the hope that we’ll introduce you to a fantastic, classic record. Of course, we’ll reserve the right to highlight a bonafide classic celebrating a milestone anniversary, but we’ll aim to prioritize deep cuts to spread the love around.
And that’s it! We hope you’re as stoked about this new format as we are. Without further ado, let’s venture into the heart of winter and carve a pentagram into an evergreen (or something like that).
An Interview with Snakeblade
Thanks so much for taking the time to discuss your project with us! For starters, mind sharing with us a bit of your history as a musician? Who is Snakeblade?
Thank you for having me Jonathan! I’ve been a fan of Heavy Blog is Heavy for a long time so it’s crazy for me to be interviewing on your site now.
I started playing guitar around 12 years ago and throughout highschool learned pretty much every Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth song I could. When I moved away to university, I stopped playing guitar to concentrate on school and this is when I realized music wasn’t just a casual hobby for me – it was a huge part of my life. I daydreamed constantly about band ideas so when I finally graduated I decided to make it a reality. It truly felt like something I needed to do.
My first experiment writing original music was for a separate one-man project called Moonshooter which is more alternative/stoner-metal. This is where I first learned the basics of recording and music production and although the finished product is nowhere near great, I’m immensely proud of my first EP which came out in 2019.
Since then, I’ve continued growing as a musician; practicing more, acquiring gear, and expanding my musical knowledge. I’ve also picked up the bass in a death metal band here in Vancouver called Commandra. When the Covid-19 crisis hit and everything else was put on pause, I was faced with anxiety, boredom, and a lot of spare time. Snakeblade was born as an escape from lockdown and The Kingdom was written and recorded in about 1 month right from my bedroom in East Vancouver.
Snakeblade is somewhat of a different offering of one-man black metal, in that songs are energetic, fun and revolve around nerdy, fantasy lyrical topics. Like many people during this crazy year, I struggled with a lot of anxiety and depression and Snakeblade is my fun escape from all that
The Kingdom contains a variety of styles from across the metal world that come together beautifully. Who would you consider to be your principal musical influences, and how did they inform your songwriting process on this release?
Without a doubt, Metallica will always be the band that single handedly got me into metal ever since the first time I heard “Enter Sandman” in the video game Rock Band. From there, I dived into the metal rabbit hole and now appreciate all sorts of bands from different sub-genres. Black and death metal are my two primary lovers, and Snakeblade draws a lot of it’s core influences from titans like Watain, Immortal, Revocation, and The Black Dahlia Murder.
Something that I wanted to do with Snakeblade was make it fun (yeah fun one-man black metal!). To do this, I also incorporated my love for more light-hearted genres. A punky, speed metal influence-à-la Bewitcher can be heard on “Vamp, the Impaled”. Unleash the Archers provided inspiration for the epicness and grandeur on “The Nine”. These less traditional elements were really interesting as a songwriter to incorporate into a black metal sound, and I think they make The Kingdom a really unique record. Incorporating different styles and putting unique twists on genres is what makes music great. Never stay inside the box.
I’m also a lover of all sorts of music outside of metal, like rap and country. If any readers are curious, I’ve made a playlist on the Snakeblade Spotify page with everything that was an influence in writing The Kingdom.
There are a boatload of fantasy allusions throughout the record as well (with Balrogs and the Nazgul receiving particular attention)! What role did Tolkien’s work, and fantasy in general, play in the creation of The Kingdom?
I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy and happily consider myself a pretty big nerd when it comes to Tolkien, super heroes, video games etc…
Since I was writing The Kingdom entirely during the Covid-19 lockdown, I was searching for a distraction from the crazy state of the world. I envisioned Snakeblade as being this ultimate escape to fantasy, and so to deepen this idea nearly every song on The Kingdom is about one of my favourite fantasy series: Lord of the Rings, The Witcher, and Metal Gear Solid in particular. (Full album lyrics can be found on the Snakeblade Bandcamp Page.)
There’s tons of great potential metal lyric topics to be found in Tolkien’s work, and on The Kingdom I focused on the Balrog and the Nazgul simply because there two of the most metal characters. (Plus I want to leave more LOTR topics for future albums!)
Writing has always begun on the next album, and so far a number of songs lyrics revolve around Game of Thrones, which I also binged while in lockdown.
Black metal is a genre lashed to very specific sonic, stylistic, and content-related aesthetics. Snakeblade very obviously subverts many of these tropes. What is your take on the current state of black metal, and where would you like to see Snakeblade fit into the genre’s fast-evolving future?
I pondered a long time about whether to label myself as black metal since I don’t adopt any of the traditional aesthetics and incorporate many other styles. When I was writing The Kingdom, I had the intention of trying to make black metal but what came out is not what people would expect from their traditionally grim, depressive one-man projects. But hey, my music is an honest reflection of me as an artist and I’m not going to alter that to anyone’s standards of a genre. I’m all for bands that choose to adopt a cool image but personally it’s not something that interests me and not something that suits Snakeblade’s style. The Kingdom was written by just me in my bedroom – a nerdy guy, drinking beer, and screaming about Lord of the Rings. WEEOOO!!!!
I don’t consider myself an expert to comment on the future of the black metal scene but I’d like to think the metal community is open-minded enough to accept bands that step outside the framework. I love the whole black metal aesthetic and culture but that’s not what Snakeblade is all about so I’m not gonna fake it. There’s nothing metal about faking it. Metal is about passion and authenticity. So judge me as you will but I’m always going to be true to myself as an artist.
Black metal in particular has exploded in regard to one-person projects as of late, and given the current state of the world it isn’t very surprising. What went into your decision to develop Snakeblade as a solo effort, and do you see Snakeblade continuing as a largely individual project?
The decision to make Snakeblade a solo project came from both the lockdown situation and my previous experience with solo-projects. Being locked up in Covid quarantine, collaboration on music was extremely difficult. I figured if I was going to be locked up for months I needed to make the most of this time and try my hand at a new music project. Having experience with my first solo project Moonshooter, I was confident in my abilities as a songwriter. I also do a lot of the recording for my death metal band (Commandra) as well so I was already familiar with production gear and techniques. All of this allowed me to absorb myself in this project and record an entire EP in about one month.
Something I wanted to do on The Kingdom was still make it as collaborative as it could be given the situation. There are guest solos from guitarists of some fantastic Canadian bands: Truent, Protosequence, and Kayas sprinkled throughout the album. Working with these guys was great, and their talent on the guitar shreds helped bring the album to another level.
I absolutely plan on growing Snakeblade into a full band. One-man projects are great, but I do eventually need to get out of my bedroom and see the light of day ;) If anyone reading this is interested in collaborating/jamming shoot me a message!
Given a return to normalization, do you intend to take Snakeblade on the road?
Live shows are definitely in the cards. I don’t see Snakeblade staying a solo project for much longer. I want to bring these songs to the live setting with a ton of energy and fun atmosphere. Things will evolve slowly, as first things first is forming a band, doing local shows, and then perhaps tours would be possible. But keep on eye out because soon enough Snakeblade will invade a town near you!
What’s next? Are there plans for a full-length anytime soon?
YES SIR! The Kingdom is just a taste of everything I’ve been writing. I have a lot of new songs in the works and seeing the positive feedback from The Kingdom has only motivated me to write more. The new songs which form the first full length are a big improvement to technicality, complexity, and songwriting.
Coming up next, I’ll have a music video coming out for a new single before the end of the year so stay tuned for that!
Snakeblade’s debut album The Kingdom can be found on all major streaming platforms and is available for HQ downloads on Bandcamp. Give it a listen and STAY NERDY \m/
Fleurety – Min tid skal komme (1995)
If you thought I was going to launch this segment with a trve, blve, kvlt classic…then you really haven’t been paying attention, have you? Granted, Fleurety and their debut are both underrated deep cuts of th Norweigan black metal scene, which I only discovered thanks to Decibel’s top 100 black metal albums of all time list. Listening to this 25 years later, even with all the context of modern black metal, it’s difficult to believe this album is more acclaimed, or at least acknowledged as the forward-thinking, avant-garde masterpiece it is. An early entry into the avant-garde metal and post-black canons, Min tid skal komme is a unique black metal release that preceded some noteworthy bands praised for pioneering similar ground.
Other than a few live musicians, Fleurety has been entirely driven by Svein Egil Hatlevik (drums, keyboards, vocals) and Alexander Nordgaren (guitars, bass). Their first few releases consisted of exactly the kind of music and aesthetics you might expect from an early ’90s Norweigan black metal band: photocopied images of dark mischief adorning demos of raw, thrash-and-bash black metal.
That is, for the most part. You see, even on their very first release, Black Snow (1993), there were some surprisingly melodic passages, complete with acoustic guitar and dynamics generally uncommon to the genre at the time. The following year, Fleurety dropped their first proper release, A Darker Shade of Evil, which continued these trends with slightly higher production value.
There were certainly other bands exploring melody at the time, namely Emperor and the EPs and splits leading up to In the Nightside Eclipse (1994). But Fleurety’s approach took a more gentler approach than Emperor’s symphonic bombast, and brought in some light progressive elements before Ihsahn and crew set out to record Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (1997). Granted, all of this was subtle, but nevertheless showed a great deal of promise for what Fleurety might accomplish on their full-length debut.
As you know from my intro, Min tid skal komme delivered. The album cover looks like a mashup of records from Wolves in the Throne Room and Alcest, and the music itself also offers up a window into the trajectory of experimentally minded black metal. Fleurety’s debut sees them mastering the pensive, folk-tinged melodic black metal formula the same year Agalloch formed. While there may be quite a gap between Norway and Oregon, I wouldn’t be surprised if Agalloch somehow acquired a copy of Min tid skal komme and spun it regularly as they geared up to create The Mantle (1999).
Opener “Fragmenter av en fortid” also happens to be the best encapsulation of the record’s sonic blueprint. The clean, melancholic strumming screams “Agalloch” so loudly that I had to Google whether one of the members of Fleurety relocated to Oregon after releasing this record. Couple that with some resonant bass and punchy drumming, and you have the makings of post-black’s early framework. The duo even cap it off with some dueling melodic guitars, which ultimately give way to the true black metal romp awaiting us.
Yet, even then, the band continued to toy with the genre’s fresh formula. Spattered throughout the track are off-kilter chords and extended passages of mid-paced melodic guitar, along with some haunting, airy female vocals (unfortunately uncredited, at least on Encyclopaedia Metallum). “En skikkelse i horisonten” continues the weirdness with some twinkling percussion syncopating with a whimsical guitar line (all words I never expected to include in a black metal review).
The duo continue to leverage dynamics in their songwriting, shifting from relatively “normal” Second Wave riffing to folksy, melodic excursions and general oddities abound. I mean, just listen to “Hvileløs?” and tell me those moaning, ethereal vocals and galloping synth intro were par for the course in ’90s black metal. “Englers piler har ingen brodd” starts out with the kind of hard-hitting blackened riffs trve fans might be clamoring for, but it ends with soaring guitar melodies that come as close to early power metal as it can get without totally changing genres. Finally, the blackgaze elements hidden beneath the haze throughout the record surface on closer “Fragmenter av en fremtid,” which feels more like a weirder Cocteau Twins track than a proper slab of black metal.
Suffice it to say, Fleurety were trailblazers for some of the most popular styles of contemporary black metal. Even if their music wasn’t a direct influence on the scenes that popularized these styles, it’s still wild to hear sounds prominent in the early aughts on a record released right in the middle of the Second Wave. The duo would go on to fully embrace avant-garde metal with their later releases, including flirtations with trip-hop on Department of Apocalyptic Affairs (2000) and experimental rock on The White Death (2017). While Min tid skal komme is still undeniably their crowning achievement, it’s the kind of lighting in a bottle release that can single handedly cement an artist as a crucial contributor to their genre.
Cream of the Crop
Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota
From the very first moments of Uinuos Syömein Sota, Havukruunu’s latest release, it should be immediately apparent that this album is going to be large. Havukruunu is all about the epic underpinnings of black metal, merging the style back with its nascent heavy metal. Thus, the vocals that kick off the album, on a self-titled track, are meant to set the grounds for the rest of the work and its tour de force of explosive, grandiose, and unapologetic black metal. This massive mood is further cemented by the guitars which soon announce themselves.
Sure, the main riff is tremolo picked and sounds like you’d expect it to sound here. But listen carefully to the galloping rhythm of the track and the emphasis which is placed on some of the notes from that main riff; they wouldn’t sound out of place on any heavy metal album. Much like fellow black metal enthusiasts Obsequiae, Havukruunu use these sounds (sounds which also include the other guitar track which soon adds more emphasis to the epic feeling of the music) to create a sort of medieval, adventurous feel to their music. Throw in some blistering guitar solos and agile drums, and you’ve got yourself the sweeping, bellicose heavy metal sound all over your black metal.
Nor do these ideas end there. The rest of the album is an expansion upon and exploration thereof of the intersection between the heavy metal sounds and black metal themes that form the central tension of Havukruunu. The end result is an album that feels essential, powerful, and equally rooted in depression and winter as it is in fiery exaltations and heroics. It makes for a heady mix, both genres benefiting from the flair and penchant for excess.
Best of the Rest
Krallice – Mass Cathexis
Over the past few years, Krallice have gotten into the habit of releasing records almost exclusively without warning. Hell, even guitarist Colin Marston dropped several solo records this year without any warning (Xazraug and Indricothere both released great records that you should hear if you haven’t). It’s a thing, apparently, and Mass Cathexis joins 2017’s Go Be Forgotten as potentially their most delightful surprise yet.
To my ears, Mass Cathexis feels like a mixture between the two sounds conjured by the one of the band’s 2017 releases and another of their previous, with the heavier and Dave Edwardson-featuring Loum blending seamlessly with the smoothed avant-garde intonations of Prelapsarian. But that isn’t to suggest that Mass Cathexis is a simple retread of past material. Far from it. Edwardson is back with the band and his contributions have never been more effective, while Krallice as a group of musicians is firing on all cylinders, conjuring some of the most intricate and somehow accessible compositions they’ve yet written. There isn’t a dud in the track list, and from the opening frame it’s clear that Krallice are operating at another creative peak (well… as if they’ve ever had a creative valley).
It’s difficult to start an album with a harder title for an opening track. “Feed on the Blood of Rats” re-introduces Krallice in manic fashion, building on a winding riff that adds an off-kilter vibe to the song’s brutal drumming and vocals. As the track progresses, it blossoms into a more epically orchestrated and crafty piece of songwriting that should satisfy anyone who’s ever loved Krallice at any point in their career. The rest of the album honestly follows the template set by “Rats”, weaving in and out of complex riffage that never fails to be catchy while maintaining a distinct air of unpredictability. It’s exactly what Krallice fans have to come to expect from the band, delivered in some of the most deliberate and exceptional ways yet.
If you like Krallice, there’s little about Mass Cathexis that won’t appeal to you. If you’re new to the band, let this be a warm welcome to the cult. Another fantastic release from one of the United States’ premiere avant-garde black metal institutions.
Mesarthim – Planet Nine (EP)
If prolificacy equates to quality, then Mesarthim is one of the greatest acts working in music today. It feels nearly impossible to keep up with this project’s output, as each year seems to bring a veritable flood of full-lenght and EP releases that further hone and refine its highly atmospheric, synth-heavy, genre-bending take on black metal. With 12 releases since 2015, it’s hard to keep up. But the time is ripe for another go-round with one of black metal’s most loyally followed and equally reviled acts to drop a few more bombs on our expectant heads, and thankfully one of them is a straight charmer.
That isn’t to insinuate that the project’s full-length record is bad by any stretch of the imagination. But for me, Planet Nine feels like a distilled, heavier, more focused version of its full-length companion The Degenerate Era. It is rarely the penchant of bands peddling atmospheric black metal to keep their releases short, which is one reason that Planet Nine is not only the superious release, but in my mind perhaps one of Mesarthim’s best yet. Consisting of two high quality tracks that combined last around 25 minutes, there’s very little time wasting or filler to be had. “Burial” mixes chunky black metal riffs with electronica and video game soundtrack-inspired passages that build and stack on one another brilliantly, culminating in a composition that is as interesting as it is varied. The title track, however, is where Mesarthim truly shines. Leaning a ever-so-slightly more heavily on the black metal elements of his sound, Mesarthim conjures a 15-minute opus of a track that stands among the best the project has yet recorded.
Those who already despise Mesarthim won’t find anything new to love here. But when has Mesarthim ever created music to appease the haters? This is a singularly focused recording from an artist who is equally locked into his style, and Planet Nine stands as one of his clearest and most thoroughly enjoyable manifestations yet.
Panzerfaust – The Suns of Perdition – Chapter II: Render Unto Eden
One of the most interesting and unfortunately unsung records of last year was Panzerfaust’s first installment of what appears to be a four-part saga, The Suns of Perdition – Chapter I: War, Horrid War. Its seamless blend of dense (but never overwhelming) atmosphere, open and fluid riff writing, and propulsive, Mgla-esque drumming made for a listening experience that I’ve increasingly returned to over the past several months. When I heard that the second part of this sequence was going to be released in August, I was definitely a bit skeptical. Metal bands have a penchant of riding waves of goodwill by throwing out records at a rapid clip to often diminishing returns. Thankfully, such is not the case with The Suns of Perdition – Chapter II: Render Unto Eden. As both a continuation of the band’s previous work and a stand-alone record, Panzerfaust have succeeded in creating one of the more thoroughly captivating black metal records of 2020.
For those who enjoyed their last release, Eden will prove a veritable feast. The production here is excellent, allowing the band’s unique brand of atmosphere to permeate these tracks without ever presenting a distraction from the intricate and measured instrumentation on display. Similar to Gaerea’s fantastic sophomore record from earlier this year, Panzerfaust are operating at their best in a mid-tempo blaze, which allows both their message and penchant for melody to take center stage. Opener “Promethean Fire” puts on full display the band’s current mastery of their craft, replete with soaring and melancholic guitar passages, some fantastic cymbal work, and the eerily effective implementation of some absolutely stunning clean vocal passages. It’s the complete package, and the remainder of the album riffs on this groundwork with uniform effectiveness.
Far from a one-trick pony, Panzerfaust also know when to crank up the heat. “Faustian Pact” includes some thoroughly punishing tremolo and blast beat passages that are as intense as anything written this year without losing that distinct sense of melody that the band maintain throughout the record. “The Snare of the Fowler”, perhaps better than any other track on the record, melds the band’s various tempos into a thrilling and punishing whole that may be the best single track the band has yet written. It’s a maddeningly propulsive and emotionally jarring excursion that sealed the deal for me regarding Eden’s quality. Equally comfortable at a mid-tempo dirge as they are with unleashing the fires of blackest, deepest hell, there are few things to point to that aren’t patently excellent.
I cannot recommend this record highly enough. The Canadian black metal scene is in incredibly good hands with bands like Panzerfaust leading the charge. A thoroughly compelling and technically excellent release from one of black metal’s best-kept secrets. Here’s hoping that The Suns of Perdition – Chapter II: Render Unto Eden blows the lid off that.
Silver Knife – Unyielding/Unseeing
Only sitting here because I haven’t had enough time to absorb it and serve it justice, Unyielding/Unseeing is on first take a lush and compelling atmospheric black metal record that lays a solid groundwork for the band in the future. An enjoyable and interesting listen.