Honestly, my rant about Inquisition in The Void Screameth this month could serve as the intro and “The Frost” for this month. I don’t have a ton more to add to my diatribe, but I figured there’s one more point to highlight for a black metal audience.
First, the TL;DR – Despite two bouts with problematic accusations — one involving Nazism and the other involving child pornography — Agonia Records and Season of Mist both decided Inquistion deserved the benefit of the doubt and are promoting and/or releasing the band’s new album.
How is this still a thing in 2020? Sure, the metal community continuing to shrug at Nazism is more disappointing than surprising at this point. But how is it possible that anything related to child abuse isn’t enough reason to stop supporting a band? That’s mostly a rhetorical question, but if anyone wants to take a stab at justifying it, then be my guest.
Here’s where I want to pivot for our Kvlt Kolvmn audience. Whenever debates about problematic artists come up, the conversation always seems to circle back to accusations of “cancel culture.” Those speaking out against terrible beliefs or decisions made by bands are charged with “censorship,” as if commenters on the internet could unilaterally remove a band’s music from existence. Also, as I’ve said before, it’s curious that First Amendment rights only work one way in these situations. Artists have the right to say or do whatever heinous shit they want, their fans have the right to defend them, but anyone trying to criticize either group needs to shut the fuck up. Which side sounds more like censorship to you?
Let me clarify what happens in these situations, and what our editorials in Kvlt Kolvmn and other columns are intended to accomplish. When we criticize an artist’s beliefs, we’re expressing our own personal view on why we think they’re wrong, and thus why we won’t cover their music. While inherent in that thought process is the idea that their music isn’t worth listening to, it’s ultimately up to individual listeners to make that decision for themselves. The point of blogs like this is to contribute to the discourse around a certain topic. For every metal fan who scoffs at the notion they shouldn’t listen to NSBM bands, there are those that might express relief at discovering an artist they loved has values opposed to their own.
Additionally, while you won’t see Inquisition make their way into our monthly recommendations, you will see a whole slew of other bands who we feel are far more deserving of your time. Some might play a style of black metal similar to Inquisition, while others are taking a completely new approach to the genre. Regardless of what flavor of black metal you prefer, there are seemingly endless listening possibilities available if you’re willing to look, including plenty of bands that don’t pose in front of swastikas or dabble in child pornography.
At the end of the day, we want our readers to know where we stand on these issues, while simultaneously offering recommendations to other bands that aren’t problematic (to the best of our knowledge). The rest is up to you.
Cream of the Crop
Sainte Marie des Loups – Funérailles de feu
Look, there are many types of black metal and, thus, many types of reactions that the genre can elicit. Your atmospheric, mournful sort of black metal can lead to gazing out of the window and wishing for rain. The more expansive, cosmic iterations can channel the vastness of space into a type of wanderlust or introspection. And some of it can even lead you to feel burning, political passion. But sometimes, you just want black metal that makes you go “ugh fuck, I just hate everything”. This sort of black metal makes you connect with a primal place, a feeling of anxiety and the resulting need to lash back that is intrinsically part of life. When not channeled into oppressive and regressive ideologies, this sort of connection can be good because it leads to catharsis, to a cleansing of your inner places from these ugly emotions.
If that’s the sort of black metal you’re looking for, look no further than Sainte Marie des Loups’s Funérailles de feu. This one man, French black metal project has just the right mix of sounds and approaches to illicit that guttural rage in the back of your throat. On one end, there’s a lot of lo-fi on here; the production has a murky quality to it and the guitars are scattered in that black metal way that creates echoing snippets of sound everywhere. You need to strain to hear the bass and the abrasive vocals tie everything together into this quite abrasive, fast as all hell, final package.
But there are deviations from the lo-fi schemes. For example, the drums hit especially hard and poignant here, piercing through a lot of the fuzz to anchor the music from below. The bass, even though it’s hard to hear, is also doing a lot of interesting things instead of just keeping up with the main riffs; there are variations on a theme in there, little touches that set the main line of the tracks ablaze. This gives the project a really cool and unique sound of its own, getting the fraying, frenetic, and furious feeling of lo-fi black metal across while channeling way more clarity and punch in its music,
Long story short, this album is effective. It pummels you hard but also lots of anchors for you to hold on to; check out the title track for example, with its slower middle passage and those dreamy, undulating synths. But those ideas never detract from what is fundamentally being performed here: aggravated, powerful, and direct black metal that gets the job done, echoing a bestial place inside of you that yearns to break free, so that you may hold it up to an inner mirror and confront it.
Best of the Rest
Liturgy – Origin of the Alimonies
There’s probably still a fair number of folks who cringe at the sight of Liturgy on a metal blog. In fairness, it took me until last year to truly “get” the method behind Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s madness. Sure, it might have felt weird writing such a positive review for H.A.Q.Q. (especially after my not so glowing take on The Ark Work). But it felt good to finally see the potential Hunter always had finally manifest into an album worthy of praise outside the indie blogosphere. Through all the verbose manifestos and blackened trip-hop, I always saw a great deal of potential in her work. It genuinely excited me that H.A.Q.Q. resonated with me so strongly, and I’m even more impressed Origin of the Alimonies, by the crown jewel of her career thus far.
First, let’s get this out of the way: I’m not well-versed or all that interested in the philosophical underpinnings Hunter incorporates in her music. Origins is apparently Liturgy’s most complete message of “Perichoresis,” or Hunter’s vision of “total art.” Maybe it makes me a lazy music critic, but unpacking the belief system behind Liturgy’s music seems tedious and unnecessary (especially since the front half of their career didn’t impress me much).
Yet, by the same token, I’d encourage skeptics of Liturgy’s music to ignore all of this as well. If Hunter didn’t inform the world of her conceptual intentions, we’d be none the wiser after listening to Liturgy’s music. Frankly, I think a lot of the discourse around Liturgy is based disproportionately on things other than the music itself. That’s not to say we should always ignore lyrics and themes, but given the incoherence of Hunter’s vocals, it seems like a cop-out to bash on “hipster black metal” without actually engaging in her ideas.
More so than any Liturgy release thus far, Origin of the Alimonies deserves that treatment from skeptics and long-time fans alike. The key for me on H.A.Q.Q. was Hunter shifting the focus of her music away from the synthetic aspects of her sound and embracing organic instrumentation (oh, and dropping her moan-rapping delivery). If H.A.Q.Q. was a glow up in that regard, then Origin of the Alimonies is Hunter ascending to a higher plane entirely. Hunter has crafted the most complex, dynamic, and downright beautiful music of her career, and I’m truly hoping more people feel compelled to check out what she’s doing.
What is that, exactly? Pitched as an opera, Origin of the Alimonies pairs Liturgy’s typical glitchy, “transcendental” black metal stylings with an orchestral framework and matching instrumentation. A lineup of strings, reeds, brass, and keys accompany intense flurries of black metal, and they interlock better than I expected after hearing about the album’s concept. LIsteners won’t be greeted by any actual operatic vocals, as Hunter offers her typical shrieks to periodically cut through the music.
But I count this as a successful artistic choice, as well as the relative brevity of the album. As noted above, the downfall of Hunter’s past works has been an inability to reel in the excess of her musical approach. Even H.A.Q.Q. felt a bit unruly on multiple tracks. But Origin has a runtime under 40 minutes and only one epic track (the 14-minute “Apparition of the Eternal Church”) to serve as the album’s focal point. The glitchy “record skips” are minimized from H.A.Q.Q., the additional instrumentation balances out the black metal intensity, and overall, the album feels like a complete, narrative -driven work that rises and falls like an opera or musical should.
On that note, I want to contradict my earlier point by admitting the narrative behind the opera actually sounds pretty interesting, even if it’s phrased in Hunter’s typical grandiose style:
“Influenced by kabbalah, German Idealism and French post-structuralism, the opera tells the story of a cosmogonical traumatic explosion between OIOION and SIHEYMN, a pair of divine beings whose thwarted love tears a wound from which civilization is generated, producing the Four Alimonies of the intelligible universe and the task of collective emancipation.”
Maybe I’ll have to dive into her belief system after all…eventually, at least. In the meantime, I’ll just keep spinning what’s quickly becoming my favorite avant-garde metal release of the young decade thus far.
Moeror – The Ghosts of Amour Propre
One of my goals in 2020 was to finally check out a bunch of bands on my “Lazy List,” being a collection of beloved artists I’ve never listened to for no particular reason. As a longtime fan of all things avant-garde, I was eager to progress this goal and finally check out Mr. Bungle. I know, I know: how is it possible to listen to and write about the genre as often as I do and not be familiar with one of the genre’s most important bands? Well I did, finally, and boy am I sad I waited so long.
Besides enjoying their back catalog, my biggest takeaway had more to do with avant-garde metal in general. It’s clear that a great deal of bands operating in the experimental, prog, and avant-garde landscape venerate Mr. Bungle. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder why there’s seemingly only one standard for avant-garde metal. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it truly does feel like the key to making experimental metal is to be as wacky and zany as possible. Why can’t more bands simply incorporate subtle oddities into their sound and go from there, instead of jamming every genre possible into the equation?
Enter Moeror, who impressed me as much with their songwriting as they did with their experimental restraint. The band buck the Hellenic black metal traditions of Rotting Christ, et al. and work from a post-black metal foundation. Think the city-scape stylings of White Ward and the like. The actual metal on display is expansive yet restrained, not overly reliant on reverb as it is on truly great songwriting.
But the real kicker is the perfect use of ancillary elements, namely piano and electronics. The band incorporate them in creative, inventive ways, along with brush ups against post-punk and post-rock. It’s bold and carries an avant-garde spirit without succumbing to the need to push the envelope beyond recognition. The results are impressive without being overly flashy, as the band are more focused on creating great music than trying to paint outside the lines of the sake of being different.
Stormkeep – Galdrum
I first heard Stormkeep’s compelling, entrancing EP Galdrum on a snowy evening in Colorado. With its winding black metal tremolo-picked aesthetic, lo(ish)-fi production, and interesting and dynamic song structures, I was smitten from the first track. Then I came to find out that members of bands like Blood Incantation, Wayfarer, and Cobalt comprised its membership, and the homer inside of me exploded with icy joy. Colorado black metal has unfortunately been too often relegated to the backburner when discussing the state’s extreme music scene, which is a crying shame. While bands like Primitive Man, Khemmis, Dreadnought, Spectral Voice, and the above mentioned death metal titan taking up much of the air around this scene, it’s good to have a column to sing the praises of a band that should be a scene staple for years to come.
Fans of Dissection and Immortal, pay heed. There’s a whole slew of melodic influence to be found here. Holding to a medieval sonic aesthetic in line with the folksy musings of Obsequiae and Mystras (albeit with a great deal more aggression and, in the case of the latter, sonic clarity), Galdrum is a melodic journey that’s as impactful, enjoyable, and effective as I’ve heard in the genre this year. The songwriting (while at times a tad long-winded) is by-and-large superb, offering up delicious doses of rich, powerful melody that flows in and out of memorable riffs with an ease that only metal veterans of this caliber could muster. Isaac Faulk’s guitar, drum work, and vocals are utterly sublime throughout, while the inclusion of a heavy amount of synths creates a fantasy-esque tableau that keeps the music atmospheric at all times. Hell, there’s even a sound of winter wind that rivals the signature coldness of Paysage d’Hiver’s work. Pulling liberally from its influences without ever feeling negatively derivative, tracks like “Glass Caverns of Dragon Kings” and “Of Lore” are among the most accomplished and immersive that I have heard this year. It’s a stunner of a release.
Colorado black metal has received a powerful boost with the advent of Stormkeep into its ranks, and here’s hoping that we only hear more and more from these black metal masters as time rolls on. While not a perfect piece of music, there’s very little here to criticize or complain about. I am all the way here for their next release, and may it be as epic and inviting as Galdrum.
Assault Sorcery – Discernment in Viscera
When these guys emailed me (writing one of the best promo emails ever, by the by) they described themselves as “weirdos”. To be honest, I don’t usually like it when people describe themselves as weird (because they often just end up as some sort of Portland-style “establishment weird”) but the moniker definitely fits here. Assault Sorcery plays a type of blackened death with a lot of sludge, the latter of which mostly manifests on their absolutely murky and massive guitar tone. Throw in abrasive vocals (that aren’t afraid to take a sharp left turn towards truly abyssal screams, like they do on the opening track), an approach to composition which is best described as “eclectic” (drawing some structures from punk as much as from black metal) and you’ve got yourself a truly unsettling little release.
Oh, and don’t forget that the third track is a reference to Joe Abercrombie The First Law Trilogy and that the last track is all about one of the best characters from Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun (AKA the best science fiction book ever written, yes, ever) and you’re all set. The other lyrics on the album also hint at a further, unique conceptual world behind the band, further adding to the overall atmosphere and vibe. Long story short, if you’re into music that just feels different than almost everything else, keep an eye on these guys. They’re going places. Weird places.
Paysage d’Hiver – Im Traum
A small piece from a big name calls for at least a small write-up, yes? Paysage d’Hiver has been a staple in the wintry world of black metal for quite some time, and the solo project’s latest record, Im Wald, is one of my favorites of the year and one of the metal world’s most universally lauded releases. Im Traum takes two track from that record and re-imagines them in ways that both add to their original compositions and feel fresh. According to Bandcamp, Wintherr states “In my inner ear I heard deeper levels of music when recording ‘Le Reve Lucide’ and ‘Kaelteschauer.’” These new versions are as intricately considered and fully realized as those found on the original album, and I highly recommend them to Paysage d’Hiver completionists.
But whether or not you find yourself a long-time fan of the man’s work, there’s plenty to enjoy here. “Dans le reve lucide” is a truly immersive black metal experience replete with washed out tremolo guitars and some Blade Runner-esque synths that add an air of mystery to an already deeply atmospheric track. “Im Kaelteschauer” follows in a similar vein, but with a more aggressive tone. The guitars here particularly stick out as more menacing and intense, showcasing Paysage d’Hiver’s capacity to balance the ethereal and the dreadful with masterful ease. If you like black metal from the second wave, buried completely in a blizzard of noise, Im Traum will offer you a great deal of satisfaction.