We don’t have time to let your corpse paint dry this month; there’s a LOT of kvltish activities to be done in the wilderness this month. After Jonathan takes a look at long-form narratives in black metal, he shares an interview with Malist about their three-part album series that takes place in the “Karst Realm.” Then, we look back at Two Hunters from Wolves In the Throne Room before diving into the best releases from April, namely a deep analysis of the equally epic Ετερόφωτος from Spectral Lore. Let’s get to it!
The Frost // What a Concept: Long-form Narrative in Black Metal
Metal, historically, is one of the most deeply dramatic genres of music on the planet. And no, I’m not here referring necessarily to the corpsepaint and gore and visceral musicality of metal as a whole, but more its presentation of its themes. The concept album has been a vehicle for storytelling on a grand and powerful scale in the metal world from the genre’s inception. Bands like Iron Maiden, King Diamond, Blind Guardian, Mercyful Fate, Edge of Sanity, Kamelot, Mastodon, Atramentus, and a veritable bounty of other bands have made names for themselves through their blending of long-form storytelling within the confines of an hour-long record, and many of these records have for decades been considered all-time classics. Metal has a penchant for telling stories, and there are few better and more robust ways to do this than through an album-length jaunt through a mythical (or all-too-real) world. With that rich narrative history in mind, there are a few branches of the metal tree that have a less robust history with this type of songwriting. I consider black metal to be among them.
When I think about the history of the concept album in black metal, there are few albums that come immediately to mind as defining classics in this space. Certainly the blackened anti-Christian histrionics of Nocturnus, but they belong to the death metal world more than anywhere else. There’s obviously Immortal, whose works take place in a mythical location Blashyrkh, and there are a smattering of other artists like Caladan Brood and Summoning whose works live in the fantasy worlds created by Erickson and Tolkien respectively. The latter of these authors has had an outsized influence on black metal, with Burzum, Gorgoroth, Dimmu Borgir, and others either indirectly or blatantly referencing his work. But many of these bands, while drawing inspiration from these figures, are not working within the confines of a particular concept throughout their albums, which makes the themes they bring in feel more like flourishes than full-blown storytelling. All of this makes for a relative dearth of concept albums in the genre as we commonly describe them, and highlights the work of bands like Malist as particularly unique in this space.
For those who read this column last month, you may be aware that I am a big fan of Russian solo artist OvFrost and his primary project Malist. Over the span of three (increasingly brilliant) records, Malist has carved out not only a majestic and melodic black metal niche that blends many micro styles and functions within the genre, but a rich, full-scale conceptual narrative teeming with intrigue and fantastic storytelling. I won’t get too deep into spoiler territory (you seriously should give all of the project’s albums a thorough listen), but fans of dark fantasy will find plenty to love in OvFrost’s Karst Realm and all the brutalities contained therein. But the fact that a trilogy of concept albums being such an obvious cause for celebration when thinking about this space of the metal world has made me consider why black metal isn’t producing these kinds of records at as consistent a clip as their death metal siblings are. The answer to this question, I think, lies in the bowels of what black metal, at its core, is.
Black metal in itself historically is, in a way, a full-blown concept. Misanthropy, nihilism, anti-religious sentiment and worship of the individual play a key role in the vast majority of black metal records, which not only adhere to some level of philosophical rigidity to the above concepts historically, but also bring them to bear in their sonic presentation. Paysage d’Hiver is a great example of a project that hasn’t necessarily made a true “concept record”, but whose sonic approach and overarching lyrical themes exist within a wintry world that is as all-consuming as any conjured fantasy realm. Darkspace runs on a similar creative fuel, using the blackness and bleakness of space and existence as their primary driving forces. So while each individual album may not follow a particular narrative throughline, their music as a whole represents journeys into cold and abyssal worlds that permeate every facet of the music. On a similar note, the proclivity for lo-fi production in itself creates a form of meta-narrative surrounding the music, letting the listener know that the band intentionally strips down the music to its rawest and most elemental components to transport the listener into an entirely unique and singular sonic space. Corpsepaint and other physical manifestations of uniformity also bring this point home, and further evince black metal’s general penchant for dramatic and thematic cohesion, even in a genre that idolizes individualism to a fault. These more universal traits all congeal to make black metal as a genre feel somewhat monolithic in its conceptual approach to music, even though the particular cadence and expression of these themes may differ from band to band.
With this theory in tow, it’s particularly fascinating that some of the genre’s newer (and much more controversial) acts have been taking a more concept-friendly approach to their albums. Deafheaven’s themes of poverty and destitution in Sunbather, White Ward’s dark urban squalor journeyed through in Love Exchange Failure, Mystras’ politically prescient historical musings both musically and lyrically of the Middle Ages in Castles Conquered and Reclaimed,m and of course the black and gold decay found in Imperial Triumphant’s Alphaville are blowing the doors off expectations of what content, both sonically and conceptually, that black metal-adjacent music is willing to wade into. All of this, in my mind, is evidence of a shift in black metal toward a different philosophical approach to narrative world building as the genre’s strict confines expand with each passing year. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, and in my estimation can only help further stretch and strengthen black metal’s hold on both public and underground fascination. Conceptual uniformity is evolving in the black metal world, and that is worth celebrating.
The concept album, more than in perhaps any other extreme music, is evolving and growing in new and exciting ways. If we’re willing to continue supporting and listening as these bands continue to dive into new territory for the genre, I think our patience and enthusiasm will be amply rewarded with even more quality narratives from this space. Speaking of enthusiasm, Malist has graciously agreed to give us insight into his approach to long-form storytelling (and album writing generally) in the interview below. We’re so grateful that he was willing to take the time to speak with us about his incredible work, and we can’t wait for you to sink your teeth into our conversation below. Enjoy!
Kvlt Vavlt // Wolves In the Throne Room – Two Hunters (2007)
I think it’s safe to assume many of us who discovered black metal in the mid-to-late 2000s used Two Hunters as a gateway into the genre. In fairness, I first discovered Wolves In the Throne Room because of Celestial Lineage (2011), and at one point, I probably preferred the driving, frosty approach of Black Cascade (2009). And of course, I know many fans consider Diadem of Twelve Stars (2006) to be the band’s finest hour. Yet, despite being (unfairly) swept up in the trve crusade against hipster black metal, I challenge anyone to disregard the genuine creativity WITTR exhibited on Two Hunters. I maintain to this day that Two Hunters perfectly split the difference between vintage atmospheric black metal and the bands newer wave of shoegaze-obsessed bands.
You might have noted that a 14-year anniversary is an odd one to celebrate. I chose Two Hunters this month because I successfully found an affordable copy of the album on vinyl thanks to Armageddon Shop. Due to the format, WITTR expanded “Cleansing” to a a nearly 16-minute behemoth and added an equally robust bonus track to side D, “To Reveal.” The original track list is too short for a single LP and not long enough to warrant a double LP, so as a result, fans of the band who collect vinyl get a superior version of the album.
But whichever version you choose, Two Hunters is easily one of the best black metal releases of the 2000s. As someone who relied on the melody of blackgaze and post-black metal to help me appreciate the genre, Two Hunters offered an interpretation that flawlessly bridged the gap between the subgenres I was comfortable with and the vintage sound I wanted to appreciate. Sure, trve black metal fans might point to the extended dark ambient passages and gratuitous reverb as signs that WITTR betrayed core stylistic principles in favor of a more accessible sound. But I’d argue Two Hunters is simply a natural evolution of the atmospheric black metal formula that masterfully incorporates elements of the Pacific Northwest wilderness.
“Dea Artio” is an excellent example of this, with field recordings and a lush haze of reverb conjuring an atmosphere of evergreens swaying in a brisk night air. It also provides excellent contrast with “Vastness and Sorrow,” which offers the kind of driving, frigid atmospheres and melancholic melodies that fans of the genre love. “Cleansing” combines the two approaches with a black metal tempest preceded by ritualistic vocals and pounding percussion, as if it ere the backdrop to a pagan ritual in the heart of winter. Then of course, there’s 20-minute finale “I Will Lay My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots,” which has become a live staple for a reason given how well it summarizes everything that Two Hunters has to offer. The added time on “Cleansing” and “To Reveal” on the vinyl version only serve to strengthen all of the above.
I’m projecting a bit here; I truly wonder how trve black metal fans feel about WITTR. I’ve seen them lumped into the “Pitchfork approved” crowd, along with other comments about they’re the “best of the worst” when it comes to the world of post-black metal. Honestly, I don’t really care what people want to give WITTR credit for, as long as they acknowledge the band’s excellent synthesis of sounds from the broader black metal universe on albums like Two Hunters.
Kvlt Kommvnion // Malist
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions about yourself and your work! For those who are unfamiliar with your work, would you mind sharing with us a brief introduction to yourself and your projects?
Hi there. I play music for a solo black metal project Malist. I’m also in a death-doom metal band called Bewailer, for which I sometimes compose and record stuff. Malist has just released its 3rd album Karst Relict.
Since the release of your project Malist’s debut record In the Catacombs of Time, you’ve been writing and performing as a solo artist. What influenced your decision to keep the project a one-person affair?
It’s just easier for me to plan ahead for a solo project. I’m never pressured to do things one way or another, and the responsibility is all mine. The artistic vision is never questioned – which is not always a good thing, but I’m yet to meet a person who could complement the band with its own vision without hindering the essence of the project.
Over the course of the last three years you’ve released three full-length records with Malist and one as part of Bewailer. That’s a high amount of productivity in a short time span. Do you find particular artistic or creative benefits to writing and releasing records in relatively swift succession?
I find that, for a studio project, it’s not a very long time span. When you don’t do gigs or don’t depend on other people for writing music, you can spend half a year just writing new stuff, and another half would be enough to prepare the music for release. For Bewailer I only wrote 1 new song, and got another 2 from my old drafts – the rest was written by my band mate.
I’m not sure about the benefits of this approach. At least it’s good to remind people that your band exists more often with releasing new music, since it’s harder to create news without ever playing live. Besides, if I have enough material for an album and I’m sure the songs would fit in – why not release it?
Though it looks like I’m losing pace – I haven’t written anything new yet after the release of Karst Relict. Usually I’m already 30-40% into the next album just after releasing the previous one. So probably the 4th album by Malist will have to wait.
Your three full-length records as Malist (In the Catacombs of Time, To Mantle the Rising Sun, and Karst Relict) are tied together by a thematic cohesion centered on the Karst Realm. Where did this concept originate, and what influences inspired you in the development of the themes in the Karst Trilogy?
I don’t have a particular author or piece that inspired me to come up with this concept. I believe it’s a pretty common concept for dark fantasy. Underground kingdom, half-blind panic-stricken populace, tyrant ruler – it’s all been done. When I sat through the first brainstorm session before creating the band, I thought there should be a grotesque, hyperbolic world that reflects my everyday reality, a plot that I can relate to, and that there should be a dark ending to everything, because there always is. And now I can say that it was the right decision for the band – it’s been easier to come up with the lyrics and advance the plot in accordance with this concept.
Keeping some level of thematic consistency across three albums has to be a challenge. How did you approach your songwriting process for this trilogy of records? Did you have the entire narrative built prior to releasing In the Catacombs of Time?
It’s a challenge, but a pleasant one – you can always daydream and think of new ways to advance the narrative in between albums – which I did. However, the hardest part for me has been the lyrics – I’m just not that great with philosophizing and doing subplots. If I never had this Karst Realm concept to lean on, I wouldn’t write a single song, because I simply wouldn’t know what to write about. Writing lyrics usually takes a lot of time, and that’s why I’m glad that I was able to outsource them to another person this time – and a pretty good poet, too. Archais got into this concept fluently and wrote incredible lyrics for Karst Relict in Russian, which I’m very grateful for.
With the world experiencing various levels of disruption during the COVID-19 pandemic, how did the past year’s challenges impact your songwriting and the methodology behind your creative process as a musician?
Songwriting was impacted positively, since I had more time to write and record music during the lockdown. Although I know it’s rough for all the live bands out there. The big disruption for me is the delay of the official physical release of Karst Relict – the pressing plant is having covid-related problems and couldn’t press CDs, LPs and tapes in time for the official release date, so a lot of the pre-orders are delayed now, which really sucks. I only wish this madness would end soon.
Karst Relict, as a thematic and musical culmination, feels to my ears like the most diverse and unpredictable of your releases as Malist. How did you approach the creation of this album in contrast to the two previous on an instrumental level?
I always create instrumentals based off the original riff or melody stuck in my head, and Karst Relict was no exception. For some reason I’m inspired to write quite different songs, and it’s often a challenge to arrange them so that they would fit within the sound of the album. One of the songs was written even before In the Catacombs of Time – I wrote Lifeless Ease of Nonbeing around 5 years ago, and I thought it would be good to re-imagine this old atmospheric instrumental on the new album. Of course, after working with M.D.B. on To Mantle The Rising Sun, I couldn’t do without a live drummer to record the drum parts. Daniel Oplachkin did the job perfectly, and his musicality and drumming skill really show through the many fills and little technical details he added to the notation. These details are what gives character to the music in a broader perspective.
Looking back over the span of this trilogy, what would you say have been your biggest learnings as a songwriter and a musician? Where do you feel that you’ve grown and what do you feel you’ve been challenged by the most?
I learned that good music is not necessarily complicated in terms of composition or techniques. And I also learned to not be afraid to work with other people, especially if you are running a solo project – there is no shame in wanting a better production, which sometimes can only be achieved by professionals. I’d say the biggest challenge was to not be afraid of different opinions about your music, and keeping your musical identity to yourself no matter what.
Originating from Russia, what’s your take on the current state of the black metal scene in the country? Are there particular bands or movements that you wish received more recognition?
Our black metal scene has been growing strong recently. Bands like Путь, Grima, Second to Sun and many more have received international recognition. There are plenty of smaller bands that are not as known, however. There are whole movements within the local scenes, such as Ural and Siberian region scenes, etc, that have many talented bands. Of course it would be cool for those to be recognised as well, but for now they remain within the deep underground.
What’s next for Malist and Ovfrost?
I will be working on more heavy and melodic music, but I’m not sure if it will be released for Malist – maybe it’s time to start something anew.
Rapid Fire Round
What was your favorite album of 2020?
Didn’t get a chance to listen to a lot of albums, but the only album that I have listened on repeat was Under a Godless Veil by Draconian. A truly inspiring work.
What is your favorite album of the decade?
Can I have 2? The Anix – Ephemeral is an album that got me into softer music, and I still can go back to this album and enjoy it from start to finish. Mgła – Exercises In Futility is an easy choice when it comes to black metal influence, can’t live without that album.
What is your favorite album of all-time?
Here are 5. Antimatter – Leaving Eden, Ghost Brigade – Isolation Songs, Illuminatus – Glasnost, Trees of Eternity – Hour of the Nightingale, Woods Of Desolation – Torn Beyond Reason. Pick one for me because I can’t.
Cream of the Crop
Spectral Lore – Ετερόφωτος (progressive black metal)
One of the adjectives like to bring up often when talking about black metal is size. Size, when describing music, is a milieu of ideas, themes, and sounds which all coalesce to create music that is massive, overwhelming, towering. It can be achieved, or approached, in many different ways; you can make quiet albums which feel large (like Ulvesang’s work for example, which feels like a forest, stretching away into forever). You can also make very loud albums that are small, contained, and accurate rather than overbearing or weighty. When we focus on black metal, we can also find a few different approaches to size within the genre. Atmospheric black metal often understands size as “scope”, bands in the genre often opting out for reverb and space between notes to create the feeling of grandeur.
Another approach is to make your music so ambitious, present, and aggressive that the listener feels like a tower is crashing down on top of them. In that sound (where examples such as Helfró or Mare Cognitum can be cited) few are as skilled as Spectral Lore. Spearheaded by the prolific, one man fire that is Ayloss (deep breath: Mystras, Mare Cognitum, Locust Leaves, Ontrothon, Saga of the Ancient Glass and more) Spectral Lore has been one of the best black metal projects for years now. The project shines in many different fields but, for me at least, its chief appeal is how unforgiving Ayloss can be to himself, his concepts, and his music. Everything he makes is pushed to the limit, moved beyond the boundaries of the probable, tuned up to the absolute limit.
This is what gives his music its size; whether it’s on the calm, folk-inspired Gnosis (an underrated release which I’ve mentioned many times on the blog), electronic-inspired Voyager, the blisteringly cold III or the aggressive Sentinel, Ayloss never shies away from an idea, whether conceptual or musical. This is very much the case with Ετερόφωτος (“Heterofotos” which, to my rust Greek, might be translated as “different light” or “varied light”), Ayloss’s recent release as Spectral Lore, where the “spaces” which live in and amongst his black metal are taken to their extremes and given their own place to breathe. This happens even as the “occupied” parts of the music, those filled with an abundance of instruments, notes, and sounds, are pushed farther than they ever have before.
You can hear it on the opening track, “Ατραπός”, with its thirteen minute runtime. It’s first few minutes are pure, black metal aggression, graced by the signature contrast between the thick, main riff and the high-pitch, lightning fast lead guitar track which Ayloss is known for. It reminds us most of Sentinel in its speed and aggression, hitting that super fast, extremely abrasive black metal tempo that album was based around. This contrast, when played with the magnitude it is here, is part of what creates that feeling of size, of a massive sound that looms over you.
But listen also to how the outro is ushered in by a quieter passage, which starts just after eight minutes of the track have passed, and how the guitar parts on that passage pick out moments from the earlier riffs on the track to highlight, to call forth. Those notes were always there, “hiding” in the monstrous sound of that primary riff; here, they are summoned forth to dominate the track, before falling completely to silence and being born again in the form of one of the album’s best, and most chill-inducing, musical passages. When you look back at the track, with the help of this more contemplative musical moment, you see its size again; it looms in a different way, like a mountain glimpsed from afar now rather than from its foothills.
There are many more moments like it on the album and we could probably spend a few thousand words just analyzing all of them (like the swirling mass of chaotic sound on “The Golden Armor” which threaten to drown you in its wave or “The Sorcerer Above The Clouds”’s almost power metal, nearly gallop riff which sends your heart racing with excitement); we could spend a whole article exploring how Ετερόφωτος twists in on itself, going back and forth and picking out all the ideas-in-between-the-ideas to revisit. But, instead, I’d like to send you to the last track on the album.
As the embers of the title track, all black metal fury, slowly die, a great emptiness and coldness descends upon us. If black metal is often described as “cold” (as we have here and as Spectal Lore’s music can often be described) then “Terean”is that coldness made manifest. It is a nineteen minute (you read that right) ambient/drone track, weaving in and out of common musical themes. It’s like watching a spider’s web unfurl in slow motion, tendrils of sound reaching towards your ears and then retreating back again. Of course, this lurking track is also a testament or invocation of size; it suggests more than it shows, hinting at that thing lurking about in the dark, something of great momentum and size that’s simply making waves which reach us as sound.
It also speaks to Ayloss’s ongoing fascination and exploration with/of electronic music across his project(s) but I think it also does something else (and maybe this is just me reading into it): I think it exorcises a lot of the sounds, atmospheres, and themes that sit at the “bottom” of Spectral Lore and brings them out into the open. Saying that it brings them out into the light would be to misunderstand the point completely; there is no light here. Instead, there is that sense of size but now hidden, occulted, in the corner of your eye, and all the more powerful for it. From first riff to last, dying, ghastly, weird drone, Ετερόφωτος shines a different and varied light on the art of black metal. It is, once again, a masterpiece from Spectral Lore. Hail!
Best of the Rest
Gonemage – Mystical Extraction (avant-garde black metal)
“Uuuhhh, excuse me, what?” is what I first asked out loud when I played Gonemage’s Mystical Extraction. Made by one half of chiptune/grindcore/madness duo Cara Neir, I guess I should have expected something odd. But, honestly, what could have possibly prepared me for 8-bit black metal? Yeah, you read that right; this project plays music that could be easily called blackened grindcore or just black metal but it adds chiptune and 8-bit to it. It’s honestly very hard to describe; it’s not that the are 8-bit “breaks”, like weird little tidbits which go off to do their own dastardly thing.
Instead, the electronic music is baked right into the black metal stuff, sometimes accompanying its fast riffs and blast-beats while at other times, offering “running commentary” to it, a sort of contrast to it. If that sounds freaking bizarre, it honestly is, but the oddest thing is…it totally works? The electronic parts add a lot of needed groove and different tones into the mix, making the heavy stuff just that more heavy. It’s not as hectic as Cara Neir’s album was but honestly, what the fuck is? Instead, it has this abrasive, and surprisingly melodic appeal, that honestly sounds like nothing else.
Këkht Aräkh – Pale Swordsman (atmospheric/melodic black metal)
“For you I rid myself of evil…”
Not words one often hears in a black metal record. Or the lo-fi (and gorgeous) piano composition that accompanies them. But Kekht Arakh isn’t your typical black metal band. The brainchild of solo Ukrainian black metal artist Crying Orc, Pale Swordsman is the project’s second and first truly incredible release. I’ve listened to this album at least a dozen times at this point, and have a hard time thinking of another black metal release I’ve heard this year that moved me emotionally as profoundly and powerfully as this has. There are a few elements that make this project unique in the black metal space, but my favorite part of Crying Orc’s approach to black metal is his apparent complete lack of concern for how his lyrics and songwriting choices will be perceived. It’s romantic, deeply emotionally vulnerable, and sometimes punishing second-wave worship that gives more than a few breaks in the veritable blizzard of tremolo riffs and blast beats to allow acoustic instrumentation and passionate songwriting to take center stage. It’s varied, intense, and utterly spellbinding.
With the opening quotation in tow, it should be fairly apparent that Pale Swordsman is operating on a fairly unique tack to, say, early Darkthrone or Mayhem. The music itself however, at least in its most blackened manifestations, would not necessarily lead one to believe that to be the case. There’s a honed, sharp ability to generate classic lo-fi black metal in both the songwriting and execution that should satisfy many a second wave purist. But the overwhelming usage of highly melodic instrumentation definitely pulls toward a more emotive Emperor by way of Immortal approach to black metal songwriting. Those who want their music completely bereft of melodicism won’t find much to love here. But those willing to let Kekht Arakh carry them to emotional worlds typically unexplored by the genre will be amply rewarded. “Thorns” is one of my favorite black metal tracks of the year, synths and all. “Amid the Stars” and “Crystal” also include some earworms in the riff department that will keep you humming tunes from the record hours after listening. But it’s in the quiet moments that Crying Orc unfurls what makes Kekht Arakh truly unique, supremely effective, and special. The already short record is filled with instrumental breaks that fill the album with an emotional portent that never feels obtrusive, but only adds to the record’s deeply vulnerable appeal. Album finale “Swordsman” combines these gentle instrumentals with clean vocals in a way that is shocking for black metal, but feels absolutely right here. It’s a perfect finale for a truly unusual and fragile (in all the right ways) black metal record.
I can’t stop listening to this thing. There are few records that have gripped me in the precise way that this one has, and I have no doubt that it will continue to ride near the top of my general rotation in the months to come. If you are a fan of black metal that is willing to truly subvert the thematic norms of the genre without disparaging or destroying many of the sonic elements that make black metal the singularly extreme musical entity that it is, you won’t find a better album from the first third of the year than Pale Swordsman. Cannot recommend highly enough.
Spectral Wound – A Diabolic Thirst (melodic black metal)
The term “melodic” in front of anything in metal often gets derided for its connotations. Mainly the expectations that the music, before even hitting play, has been somehow defanged. That the elements of extreme metal brought to the altar for incorporating tonality are almost always brutality and intensity. Though seasoned metal listeners know this to be poppycock, it’s a stigma that still persists, especially in the black and death metal worlds. Thankfully we have bands like Montreal’s Spectral Wound to continually remind us that melody need not serve up intensity as a sacrificial lamb. The band’s third full-length record, A Diabolic Thirst, is not only further proof of this reality, but also the band’s best record to date.
Fans of the renewed interest in emotionally intense, sonically explosive black metal of projects like Lamp of Murmuur will find plenty to love here. A Diabolic Thirst is filled to the brim with accessible, memorable riffs performed at maximum speed and with intent to punish through the aural assault that black metal is known for. Opener “Imperial Saison Noire” is an explosive composition that melds the band’s penchant for highly melodic songwriting with a grueling, expertly produced sonic maelstrom of tremolo guitars and utterly frantic drumming. It’s beautifully intense, and exactly the kind of tone that an album of this ilk needs to set to be successful. Thankfully, the remainder of the album follows suit. Track after punishing track, this record is a towering affair that feeds every desire for old school black metal in my body. “Frigid and Spellbound” is an absolute masterpiece of black metal aggression that showcases the band’s growth as songwriters and musicians. There’s simply nothing wrong with this track, or technically the record as a whole. It accomplishes its mission nearly perfectly. My only personal preference would be for more diversity in tempo and tone through the incorporation of some slower, more contemplative pieces in the future, but those honestly would feel fairly out of place here. It’s a heater from start to finish.
Spectral Wound are operating on an entirely different level right now. A Diabolic Thirst is far and away their most polished, vicious, and arresting record to date, and I strongly recommend you give it a listen if you haven’t already. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one hit my top ten in black metal on the year, but only time will tell. For now, I’m not remotely concerned with what November and December will bring. It’s a black metal feast from start to finish.
Victory Over the Sun – Nowhere (microtonal black metal)
I still remember my mindset the first time I heard King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s Flying Microtonal Banana (2017): “This sounds too wrong to be this good.” As someone without formal music training, microtonality was a foreign concept to me. It sounded off-kilter and bizarre…yet also full of timbres and ideas that left me intensely interested in hearing more. It had a hypnotic quality that I found alluring, which of course made sense once I learned more about the practice.
Yet, while it made sense for a psych rock band to employ this psychedelic tuning, what bands like Jute Gyte and now Victory Over the Sun have done with microtonality and black metal is genuinely amazing to me. Dissonant black metal has been all the rage since the early-to-mid 2000s, but microtonal black metal takes a different path that goes beyond this organized chaos and adds complex meaning to the equation.
If you’re looking for an example, look no further than Nowherer. While the microtonal black metal movement has largely been dominated by Jute Gyte, I’ll argue that Nowherer earns Victory Over the Sun equal footing on that pedestal at a minimum. I first discovered Victory Over the Sun with A Tessitura of Transfiguration, an excellent display of avant-garde black metal that felt as reminiscent of Dodecahedron as it did Kayo Dot. With Nowherer, Vivian embraces microtonality while also adding unique compositional explorations throughout. This ranges from an intense, direct assault on the title track to an epic, eclectic finale on the 20-minute “Oscines.”
It really is this variety that makes Nowherer such a success. With more cerebral approaches to metal, microtonal or otherwise, the theory behind the music can sometimes dominate the compositions at the expense of the music itself. Victory Over the Sun avoids this issue completely on Nowherer. The tracks feature memorable ideas and well-written structures that just so happen to employ microtonality, which enhances rather than distracts from everything else on display. It culminated in one of my favorite avant-garde metal projects in years, and I highly recommend anyone into experimental music give it a listen.
Oh, and if you haven’t already, I also urge you to read our interview with project mastermind Vivian Tylinska, where she discusses her journey with microtonality, finding her voice as a trans woman, and her musical and literary influences.