It’s been too long, friends. Welcome back to Kvlt Kolvmn! After a much needed hiatus to recharge our collective batteries, we are so excited to be back and sharing music with you. Boy oh boy do we have music for you…
If January and February are any indication of how the rest of 2021 is going to go, strap in. It’s going to be an all-timer. I cannot remember an early section of any year since I’ve been writing here at Heavy Blog that unleashed such operatically destructive fury on our persons. I have enjoyed more records in these past two months than I did for most of the latter half of 2020, and I must say that I cannot wait to see what the rest of this year holds. But for now, we’ve got a bunch of great releases to discuss, and we hope you enjoy every last tremolo-picked, blast-beated note.
As is probably already apparent, this drop we’ll be covering releases we enjoyed from both January and February. Given some of the trends that began to spring up last year, I’ll also be diving a little deeper into the subgenre of psychedelic black metal, discussing its current and historical influence, as well as its future trajectory in the larger scope of the black metal world. We’ll also have a classic review to share in that vein. So enough blabbering. Let’s get down to it.
Happy 2021. Stay Frosty.
The Frost: Rite of Passage – The Rise of Psychedelic Black Metal
In our aggregated list of music journalism’s top metal records of 2020, there were few surprises. Code Orange continues to dominate coverage for the more mainstream press, while records from stalwarts like Napalm Death and Katatonia received plenty of support from the metal blogosphere. Encouragingly, more experimental acts like Ulcerate, Imperial Triumphant, and Vile Creature also cracked our aggregated top 20. But perhaps the most surprising placement in our research (at least to me) was the year’s top rated record: Oranssi Pazuzu’s Mestarin kynsi. Let me be clear, the shock did not come due to the album’s quality. It’s an absolutely superb record that I have fawned over several times in the course of the past year. But what surprised me the most is that a record as experimental, blackened, and generally inaccessible was far and away the year’s most celebrated release. While a welcome surprise, it’s placement to me indicates a shift in both metal journalism’s embracing of more radical sounds, as well as the ascendance of a particular strain of music that has until recently been mostly relegated to the seedy underworld of the extreme music world: psychedelic black metal.
If we were paying closer attention, perhaps this newfound popular acceptance of psychedelic black metal should come as no surprise. After all, bands like Blood Incantation have been dominating year-end lists as critical darlings for half-a-decade, and their music is chock full of enough psychedelic musical (and drug-related) influence to keep music lovers high as a kite for a not insignificant period of time. Trippy music has been a growing element of metal music over the past decade (and much further back if we were to dive into metal’s storied history), and there are plenty of examples of such records gaining underground recognition. But at this scale? And within the context of black metal? This feels… new. But if there were ever a standard bearer from an obtuse and microscopic subgenre fit for expanded public consumption, Oranssi Pazuzu are it.
If you’re unfamiliar with these Finnish weirdos at this point, I’d strongly recommend you change that. Bursting onto the black metal scene with Muukaleinen Puhuu back in 2009, the band has only gotten more intricate and strange as their discography has expanded. Over the span of five full-length records (as well as a side trip with Waste of Space Orchestra along with members of Dark Buddha Rising), Oranssi Pazuzu have established themselves as one of extreme music’s strangest, idiosyncratic, and wholly unique entities. In my mind, Mestarin kynsi stands as their magnum opus, and conglomeration of all they do well and then some. But their fringe nature has always made popular appeal a distant hope. With the critical and popular reception of their latest, it seems that such a notion is now far closer to possible. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up for debate, but it’s clear that psychedelic black metal is no longer the microcosmic speck that it once was. Even the first few months of 2021 have provided ample evidence of that change.
Back in 2017, The Ruins of Beverast unleashed Takitum Tootem! and Exuvia upon our unsuspecting asses to great acclaim, deep confusion, and a following that has grown to near-cult status at this juncture. The most outwardly psychedelically influenced of Alexander von Meilenwald’s records, Exuvia stretched TROB’s music into strange and beautiful new territory that has set a blueprint for bands attempting to incorporate psych rock elements into their sound. But as will be elucidated upon in greater detail below, the project’s latest release, The Thule Grimoires, continues along several of the trajectories established in Exuvia (while adding a good deal more to the formula), showcasing that some of these elements will not be leaving anytime soon. It seems, based on the popular reception of this record thus far in 2021, that psychedelic black metal will continue to have an outsized critical influence as we progress through the year.
What does that mean, exactly, for both black metal and extreme music as a whole? It’s hard to say. Trends come and go by nature, and there’s a real possibility that these bizarre avenues of sound in the extreme metal world will fall out of favor sooner rather than later. But even with the fad-heavy tendencies of music journalism, the fact that bands writing music this “out there” receiving almost universal acclaim in both mainstream and underground publications is both fascinating and, in more ways than one, deeply encouraging. Psychedelically-tinged black and death metal are fairly strange sounds to gain any sort of popular appeal, but Pitchfork covering bands like Oranssi Pazuzu and Blood Incantation should serve as a fairly straightforward indicator of the ascendency of these sounds into the larger musical narrative. Time will tell how this impacts their popularity and/or influence on their adjacent scenes, but for now it’s enough to know that even the strangest, most radical and obtuse of sounds can still capture the mainstream eye. Let’s hope this leads to more bands making crazy music.
Kvlt Vavlt: Oranssi Pazuzu – Muukaleinen puhuu (2009)
Since we’re on the topic, it seems fitting to give some of Oranssi Pazuzu’s earliest work a revisit. While the band’s sound is extremely difficult to pin down given their extensive influences and the unpredictable sonic directions contained in many of their records, there are few releases that feel more emblematic of the band’s overall style. Even a band as intensely eclectic as Oranssi Pazuzu has to start somewhere, so why not start insanely weird? Which, honestly, is exactly what they did.
Thinking about Muukaleinen puhuu as an opening statement is kind of incredible. It might be one of the strangest black metal debuts I’ve ever heard, which is in retrospect both ballsy and inevitable. Bands like Oranssi Pazuzu don’t half-ass anything, so why should their first go have been any different? Opening track “Korppi” is a wild one, jumping back and forth between crashing black metal riffage and a cymbal-heavy rhythm section and spooky horror elements, all pulled together by Jun-His’ wretched vocals, it’s exactly as bizarre as it sounds. Things only get weirder on “Danjon Nolla” which incorporates standard rock drumming and guitar work into a jarring and intermittent black metal barrage that feels like a pure headrush and splitting headache simultaneously. Name a record that presents more bizarre and disparate elements right off the bat and I’ll give you a nickel.
Given all of the above sonic elements, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that the album is a total mess; a debut disaster that hopefully the band will be able to recover from. But strangely that couldn’t be further from the truth with Muukaleinen puhuu. Displaying a trait that would eventually become an Oranssi Pazuzu calling card, all of these elements somehow work together to create a united sonic motif that never feels absurdly out of control or pointlessly disparate. Even complete left-field tracks like the near-empty-jazz-club-in-hell vibes of “Kangastus 1968” feel part of a cohesive whole, drawing the listener into a thematic world that’s as strange and unpredictable as it is inviting. The band accomplishes this by allowing their percussion section and vocals to hold throughlines that, regardless of the mayhem atop them, always feel consistent and controlled. This songwriting decision allows the band to build some of the most wild sonic towers you will ever hear while maintaining a semblance of order and continuity. It’s batty and brilliant in equal measure.
The best way to listen to Muukaleinen puhuu is just to get lost in it. All of its strange curves, turns, and sputtering starts create a listening experience that is as unique as you will hear in a black metal record, and set the stage for one of the more enigmatic careers that exists in the genre’s current landscape. Each track offers something special, and taken as a whole it’s still to this day one of my favorite of their records, and a sterling example of how impactful psychedelic black metal can be in the hands of capable artists. If you’ve yet to give it a go, I strongly recommend you change that. You’ll be amply rewarded with each spin.
Cream of the Crop
The Ruins of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires (atmospheric black/doom metal)
How does an artist maintain a sense of unpredictability and mystery in their work after decades of recording? It’s a question that has followed the careers of many a band whose principal motif is a sense of foiled expectation. In my estimation, such a central thesis for music wears out its welcome relatively quickly, with bands trying their damnedest to churn out “never before heard” music at the expense of efficient and genuinely adventurous songwriting. The death and black metal worlds in particular are rife with such empty experimentation, and we could write an entire piece providing evidence to bolster that claim. But that’s not what this review is about, and writing about music that masters unpredictability, songwriting excellence, and effective nods to the past is way more fun than focusing on music that sucks. Thank God for bands like The Ruins of Beverast, who continually gives us opportunity to swoon.
There aren’t many bands in the black metal world that sound like The Ruins of Beverast. In fact, there aren’t many bands in the music world in general that sound like them. The brainchild of one Alexander von Meilenwald, TROB has been blending atmospheric black metal with doom, ambient, and folk music since the release of Unlock the Shrine back in 2004. Nearly two decades on, the project’s releases have steadily ebbed and flowed in their focus on particular aspects of its own unique metallic nexus, providing listeners with a sense of unpredictability in each new release without sacrificing the songwriting tropes that make TROB an instantly recognizable band. The project’s sixth full-length release, The Thule Grimoires, both maintains and dramatically shifts that dynamic, presenting both one of the most unique and perfectly recognizable releases in the project’s discography to date.
Regardless of one’s familiarity with TROB, The Thule Grimoires is a sonic beast of a record. Full stop. Clocking in at over an hour in length with each track hitting no less than six minutes, it’s a fairly daunting endeavor on first glance. But those who are accustomed to Meilenwald’s style of songwriting will find plenty to enjoy here. Opening track “Ropes Into Eden” feels like quintessential TROB, with furious blast beats, powerful tremolo picking and an overwhelming and inescapable sense of atmosphere. Given the severe divergence found in the project’s last record, Exuvia, it would not be surprising for some to find this first track to be a little underwhelming on the surprise side, given what we’ve come to expect from Meilenwald. But as the record progresses, such feelings would be hard to maintain.
“The Tundra Shines” bursts onto the scene with a swoony, militant march that blends some of the more tribal elements of Exuvia with a doom-laden atmosphere that is only heightened by some of Meilenwald’s most diverse and intoxicating vocal flavors to date. But it’s in “Kromelc’h Knell” where TROB’s sound becomes even more propulsive, incorporating a distinctive goth rock vibe that has seldom been heard in any of the project’s previous releases. It’s one of the highlights of the record, and perhaps one of the more interesting pieces of music Meilenwald has yet written. If you’re not yet smitten by the record’s distinctive charms, I suggest you abandon ship now. Otherwise, The Thule Grimoires only continues to reward listeners with premium songwriting and just the right amount of variation.
Even in the context of TROB’s extremely varied discography, this record feels special, both as a synopsis of what has made the project special to begin with, as well as a reaffirmation that this old dog most certainly has learned a few new tricks. It’s one of the most complete and cohesive offerings that Meilenwald has released in his storied career, and while not quite the left field jolt presented by Foul Semen of a Sheltered Elite or Exuvia, it’s without question a thoroughly excellent example of everything this project does well and then some. I would not be surprised to see this record on many year end lists come December. It will most certainly be on mine.
Best of the Rest
DSKNT – Vacuum y-Noise Transmission (dissonant black metal)
A distinct preponderance for dissonance is a relatively controversial aspect of both black and death metal in 2021. One of the most divisive aspects of either genre’s many branches, there are just as many people who find it deliriously stimulating as those who find it off-putting and overtly inaccessible. Bands like Portal, Altarage, Dodecahedron, Thantifaxath, Serpent Column, and Imperial Triumphant have made this style a reputable and consistently interesting avenue of some of music’s most extreme sects, and we can add DSKNT to that list of names.
In case you haven’t heard the name before, these Swiss purveyors of audio violence released their debut record back in 2017, and it quickly became one of my favorites of that year. Their sophomore release, Vacuum y-Noise Transmission, builds on the band’s already radically discordant style with a more mathy flourish. This record is absolutely bananas from start to finish, wielding its angular guitar work in tracks such as “Deconvolution J/ψ [Part I]” and “Transition K0, Pt. 1” like a scythe, perfectly content to mow down all eardrums that dare oppose them. The drum work on this record (while a bit too buried in the mix for my taste) is relatively astounding, blasting and careening between off-kilter beats with an all-consuming fire level of energy. If you haven’t run for the hills by the end of the album’s third track, be sure that you stick around for “Deconvolution Ξ*0 [Part II]”, which may be the best thing the band has yet written up to this point.
Adding to the already smoldering pile of dissonance-heavy death and black metal bands, DSKNT are a worthy standard-bearer for the taste of dissonance to come, blending razor’s edge intensity with intelligent and intelligible songwriting mechanics that make for a harrowing and thoroughly energizing listen. Give this one a go if you don’t mind giving up a few years worth of hearing.
Ferriterium – Calvaire (melodic black metal)
Sometimes, you just want your black metal to explode. We got that with a few releases last year, like the gargantuanly energetic release from Helfró, and it seems as if this year, France’s Ferriterium will fill in that gap. It’s an album that makes you remember how closely related black metal and thrash are, as you listen to the guitars zoom around you like bullets from the get-go. Seriously, I haven’t heard an album go from 0 to 100 this fast in a long time. Opener “L’Apostasie” wastes absolutely zero seconds; the vocals immediately announce themselves, searing across the mix, and the guitars follow suit quickly.
Pay special attention to the groove section: first, the bass is not exactly pronounced but its presence is felt throughout, thrumming below the guitars and lending the album a heft that is quite delicious. Secondly, listen also to the drums; holy fuck, the drums on this album! They somehow sound silky smooth and agile while still maintaining purchase and attack. That is, a lot of drummers sacrifice strength for speed but here, both speed and an iron-clad delivery are maintained in a way that’s super impressive. Some of the fills on “L’Apostasie” will make your head spin and the blastbeats are second to none both in production and in execution.
Long story short, this album is geared towards going hard, fast, and long. It has a million layers to it but it also satisfies on a visceral, “surface” level, by appealing to the lizard part of your brain. That’s the part that likes to go fast and see things explode and listening to Ferriterium is like careening in a tank down a freeway, setting fire to everything around you. Or something, I don’t know, it’s just an extremely good, technical and engaging black metal album. Play it really, really loud.
Lycopolis – The Procession (raw black metal)
It’s not often you see raw black metal coming out of Egypt (please correct me if I’m wrong, I love listening to music from outside the West). As is often the case with my Bandcamp deep dives, the cover for The Processions first piqued my interest in Lycopolis, though the band’s music ultimately convinced me to stick around. This is ripping, Second Wave black metal at it’s finest, but there’s also some intriguing elements underneath the surface that make the album notable beyond its country of origin.
For starters, opener “Upland” sets a unique tone for the track list. The lack of vocals certainly helps alleviate a purely blackened vibe, but the overt Edptian motifs throughout the track bring the song into Nile territory. Beyond that, the notable bass and overall “rock” orientation help elevate the track with a bit of a post-punk vibe. I’ve always preferred metal bands that write with rock sensibilities, in the sense that they’re focused on songwriting and dynamics more so than simply being as fast and extreme as possible.
This shows up on trve black metal tracks like “Pernu.” Sure, there are shrieks, tremolos, and blasts, all presented with the perfect amount of frost and rawness without sounding too muddled. But the interplay between each instrument throughout the track is pronounced and multifaceted. The riff and double-kick combo that bookend each tremolo outburst add depth to the track beyond thrash-and-bash, Transilvanian Hunger-core. And it’s not just the variety that’s appealing; the riffs themselves on The Procession are excellent. The main refrain on “Šdšd” is memorable and carries a triumphant air about it, leaning on the aforementioned Egytpian motifs that are well-placed throughout the album.
As Western metal fans, I’ve seen a lot of tokenism when it comes to covering metal bands from countries that don’t usually export the genre. This might very well be due to a lack of deep coverage in these regions, which I’m guilty of as well. But while it is notable to see more countries produce noteworthy metal bands, it’s equally important to elevate the bands themselves instead of where they call home. It’s definitely cool Lycopolis hail from Egypt and incorporate those influences into their music. But what matters most of all is how great The Procession is, regardless of any contextual factors.
Misotheist – For the Glory of Your Redeemer (dissonant black metal)
Some records are just nightmare fuel. Every aspect of their construction is an intentional attempt to shock, horrify, and frighten. It’s the type of music that keeps you up at night, staring blankly at the ceiling wondering who, if anyone, can save you. From the outside world. From death. From yourself. If Misotheist were given the opportunity to answer that question, my hunch is that their answer would be “nothing, no one, never”. At least if their stunning, blistering, and intimidating sophomore record For the Glory of Your Redeemer is to be believed. If you are teetering on the cusp of abject hopelessness, a black hole of despair and faithlessness, I suggest you skip right over this record and onto something lighter. There’s certainly no hope to be found here.
More than perhaps any record I’ve heard so far this year, Misotheist master the elements of the horrific, the technical, and the bold to create a record that’s as stimulating and mesmerizing as it is bleak. Containing only three tracks and clocking in at a half-hour, there’s little room for sonic reprieve. For the Glory of Your Redeemer is a battering ram of a record, a dissonance-filled pit of black metal mayhem that relentlessly drives its point home with an enviable amount of audio violence. “Rope and Hammer” kicks off the record with a blistering assault on the senses and things don’t slow down from there for a considerable amount of time. One of the most impressive elements of this record, outside of its relentlessly rigid sense of punishment, is its keen sense of melody. Encased deep in the corridors of malicious darkness that populate this record is a significant amount of intelligent, effective, and emotionally fulfilling melody that keeps the record from becoming just another entry into the blazing inferno of unintelligible dissonance. The album’s final track “Acts of the Flesh” embodies this perfectly, vacillating between atmospheric dread, face-melting intensity, and emotionally satisfying melodic undertones that bring the record home in a blaze of glory. Several listens in and I haven’t stopped loving it.
I had been unfamiliar with this project’s work until very recently, and I must say that I am deeply impressed on a sonic level. There are some fantastic songwriting choices here, and the execution of those ideas is never anything short of insanely competent. This is a project that I could see becoming a lot more influential than they currently are if they stay on their current trajectory. Here’s hoping. I need another record like this yesterday. Fans of Misthyrming in particular should find plenty to absorb here.
Svrm – Rozpad (atmospheric black metal)
I don’t know a whole lot about Svrm, if I’m being honest. I know it’s an atmospheric black metal project based in the Ukraine and fronted by one-man instrumental wrecking crew S. That’s… about it. But what I feel concretely certain of is that this project is wildly underrated and that the music contained in its first three albums wipes the floor with many other bands releasing material in this vein of black metal. Rozpad is a record that came out of nowhere for me and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since I first gave it a spin. It’s only March, and we’re already in a zone of AOTY material contenders. This is one of them.
If you are a fan of bands like Alcest, Fluisteraars, or Afsky, what Svrm conjures here should be right up your alley. The instrumentation is a delightful mix of precise and deeply emotional, with each note hitting like a metric ton of historically broken bricks. As a multi-instrumentalist, S. deserves a great deal of credit for producing music that feels like many more than one individual cursing the sky. But he also knows how to slow things down, which brings a healthy and needed change of pace. The title track, “Krematoriy”, “Za viknom”, and “Zhyttya” all contain breaks from the blast-heavy, tremolo-picked mayhem to enter instead into partially acoustic and much more moderately paced sections that drive home even further the record’s emotional core. It’s a wonderful mix of sounds that only further highlights S.’s growth as a songwriter and musician, and I can’t get enough of it.
If atmospheric black metal that packs a wallop is in your wheelhouse, you would do yourself a grave disservice to skip out on Rozpad. Front to back, this is an excellent record from an underrated project that deserves far more recognition and praise than it is currently getting. If you surrender yourself to its charms, I feel very confident that you will be amply and repeatedly rewarded. Great stuff here.
Swampbeast – Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads (black/death metal)
Sometimes, you just want your black metal to sound evil. Other times, you’re all about experimentation, branching out into different genres, or maybe just the colder, more abrasive and melancholy black metal aesthetics. But sometimes, just sometimes, you simply you want your music to be dripping with anger, hate, and derision and for a fair share of those emotions to be directed right into the center of your head. In those times, you’d do a lot worse than reaching out to Swampbeast’s Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads.
First, there are the vocals; by Jove, these vocals fucking hate you and everything that lives. They have this awfully deep timbre to them, summoned up from an internal, burning abyss. Then there’s the riffing. On one hand, it drives a lot of its color and style from death metal; the riffs are groovy and often technical, likely to soar into note-heavy passages at a moment’s notice. But then, a lot of the time, the guitars are muscular like they would be on a sludge or crust album, driving hammer after hammer into your bones. There’s feedback used to saw through their meaty core, sporadic uses of punk or hardcore influences, and just an overall approach to guitars that is maximalist and grandiose in purpose and execution.
You take all of that and grace its underlying bottom with thick, pronounced drums and you have the Swampbeast formula, a monster taking notes from the realms of death, black, crust, grind, punk, and more. Don’t believe me? Sounds too good to be true? Just press play on “The Blind God” right here below and then let the album take you into the track after that, “Convulsing in the Shit and Piss of Man” (yeah, that’s the title). Listen to those huge guitars. Keep on the look out for those spontaneous combustion into many-noted guitar leads. Feel those vocals wash over all you, covering you in their filth. Be reborn in the black fires of metal that takes no prisons, makes no apologies, and pummels everything in its path to the ground. All hail!
Aethyrick – Apotheosis (atmospheric black metal)
…And Oceans’ record from last year really stuck with me as the year progressed. I have a feeling that Aethyrick’s Apotheosis may have much the same effect. Fans of the previously mentioned band should find plenty to dig into here. A fantastic Finnish black metal record that throws plenty of melody into its crashing cacophony of goodness.
Ellende – Triebe (post-black metal)
As far as re-imaginings of previous works go, Triebe may end up being one of the most effective. Re-performing and recording tracks from the project’s 2014 EP Weltennacht, Ellende have conjured here something that reinvigorates the original material and further clarifies and crystalizes its vision. This is a short and worthwhile release for those who already love Ellende’s music, and a great launching point for those unfamiliar with the project’s work. A quality release that improves on its source material in every conceivable way.
Thermohaline – Maelstrom (atmospheric black metal)
Like your black metal bathed in sea water and smelling of a Leviathan? Thermohaline have your jam. Their debut record Maelstrom is about as much fun as I’ve had with a black metal record this year, chock full of unique sea-worthy instrumentals and a thoroughly ferocious sonic backbone, there’s little here not to like for those who enjoy their music as thematic as it gets. Will be listening to this one far into the year.