Welcome, fellow heathens! Summer is here. That means we’re all trying to escape the weight of capitalism and actually enjoy some time off amid the warm weather. As a result, we have a leaner edition of Kvlt Kolvmn this month. However, what it doesn’t mean is that May was lacking in excellent new frigid black metal. I might be so bold as to claim it’s the strongest months of the year thus far, what with the return of Esoctrilihum and Panopticon alongside the surprise black metal solo debut from Serena Cherry of Svalbard. Without further ado, let’s cool off from the summer heat by diving into the permafrost.
Cream of the Crop
Panopticon – …And Again Into the Light (atmospheric black metal)
Austin Lunn and Panopticon have become a true staple of black metal over the past decade and change. Each new release seems to only further cement this status, with Autumn Eternal and the two-part opus The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness in particular shedding new creative light on the often stringent world of black metal as a genre. Maintaining his folk influences, however, has helped Lunn maintain a distinct presence from many of his counterparts, following in the footsteps of bands like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room in his militant steadfastness to acoustic instrumentation throughout his work. When considering instrumentation, his latest offering doesn’t veer too far from his now famous formula. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that …And Again Into the Light is essential Panopticon on full display, rolling out like a sonic greatest hits compilation. You wouldn’t be wrong (and in no way, shape, or form is this a bad thing), but it’s the thematic content of this record that separates it into a category of upper echelon releases for the project.
If you’ve heard a Panopticon record before, little about …And Again Into the Light will surprise you. The blending of acoustic and electric instruments remains as potent as ever, and while the songwriting and riffs perhaps hit a bit harder than we are accustomed to seeing from this project, it doesn’t feel revolutionary or out of character for Lunn. But the meat and potatoes, the true essence of this record, lies in its deeply personal themes and lyrical content. If you have yet to do so, I strongly recommend giving the album’s liner notes (available for perusal on Bandcamp) a read. While Panopticon’s records have generally been focused on nature, man’s relationship to it, and various salient political topics around the subject, …And Again Into the Light tears the veil away from Lunn’s innermost being, laying before the listener a wounded man in all his glory and failure. It’s a stark, brutal self-evaluation that feels as vulnerable and personal as Kekht Arakh‘s Pale Swordsman from earlier this year, but with a meatier and heftier sonic bite. It’s a truly special record lyrically that feels as powerful in content as it does in sonic execution.
On that note, the songwriting and sonic direction of this record, while not necessarily a revolutionary leap in sonics, still stands as some of the project’s work to date. …And Again Into the Light is an absolute titan of sound, melding strings, acoustic guitars, manic drum work and sensational riffs into a package that feels distinctly Panopticon while never coming across as thin or dull. “Dead Loons” feels like a showcase of everything that Panopticon is, blending sounds and structures with expert musicianship and emotional/melodic heft. But “Rope Burn Exit” and “Moth Eaten Soul” are, in my mind, among the best songs Lunn has written, displaying that deep emotional vulnerability ensconced within some of the most thunderous and powerful riff-writing of the man’s career. Both of these tracks are absolute gobsmackers, and feel intensely more focused than much of the work found on the project’s previous two-part record. It’s an album that’s as powerful to experience on a sonic level as it is a thematic one, culminating in some of Panopticon’s most effective work yet.
If you have yet to fall under the spell of Panopticon, …And Again Into the Light probably won’t convert you. But fans of the project’s unique blend of environmental passion, atmospheric mastery, and punishing/transcendent songwriting will find themselves enthralled. One of the most meaningful and powerful black records of the year.
Best of the Rest
Esoctrilihum – Dy’th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath (atmospheric/progressive black metal)
This project makes no sense. I genuinely do not understand how solo auteur Asthaghul generates this much content in so short a time. But that’s only part of what makes the French black metal insanity of Esoctrilihum so appealing. Plenty of bands can hit a deadline, releasing a new record every 18-24 months. That’s not new or unprecedented in any genre of music (or any aspect of commercialized art in general), but to maintain a schedule of new, lengthy releases every 12 months or less that feel distinctly unique while maintaining both standard high quality and the sonic signatures of their creator is… not normal. I don’t know what Asthaghul is channeling, but it’s working. Dy’th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath is another stone-cold triumph.
Those familiar with Esoctrilihum’s previous work will find plenty to love here, as Dy’th Requiem continues even further down the sonic rabbit hole the project has carved out for itself. Strings, synths, non-stop drum blasts and melodically triumphant guitars have become a staple for this project, and they are here in spades. The riffs are absolutely relentless, barreling toward the listener in a cosmic torrent of dread and heft, culminating in moments that without question stand among the project’s best. Perhaps only to my ear, Dy’th Requiem seems to balance tempos with even more precision than in previous releases, vacillating between relentless blast-heavy black metal and an almost doom like texture with such ease that it almost passes under the radar. Asthaghul is undoubtedly comfortable in his own skin as a songwriter, and each new entry into the project’s already expansive catalog proves out this argument. “Salhn” is an absolute masterpiece of tempo and texture balancing, while the almost religious textures of “Tyurh” evince a transcendent moment in the music through organ and horns that feels as triumphant and grotesque as anything Esoctrilihum has yet produced. It’s a banger, through and through.
I’ve listened to each of this project’s records more than once, and while each has its moments, Dy’th Requiem has stuck with me the longest thus far. It’s too early to tell where it falls in the project’s overall discography, but it’s not difficult to write that it’s one of my favorite black metal releases of 2021. At 75 minutes in length, it’s shocking how consistent, interesting, and dynamic this record stays. I look forward to each new Esoctrilihum release, and Dy’th Requiem does not disappoint. An incredible and thoroughly entertaining sonic journey from start to finish.
Noctule – Wretched Abyss (melodic black metal)
Serena Cherry from Svalbard writing a black metal album about Skyrim? Sign me the fuck up. Wretched Abyss was a late May highlight that Trent brought to my attention in our last RDR post for the month. The setup alone was promising; Svalbard are one of the best blackened (post-)hardcore bands in the scene right now, and When I Die, Will I Get Better? Was their finest hour to date. Under the Noctule banner, Serena ventures out on her own to fantastic effect, adding her own twist to the Second Wave sound.
Make no mistake: this is a black metal record all the way through. This isn’t one of those passion projects where a musician is clearly outside their comfort zone; Serena clearly knows her shit. Fans of the raw frigidity of early Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Immortal will feel right at home in Serena’s Wretched Abyss, particularly listeners who look for that sweet spot of genre homage and higher-fidelity production.
That said, Serena also knows how to infuse her eclectic influences into the mix without diluting Noctule’s core black metal sound. All the post- influences you might hear on a Svalbard record show up to some degree on Wretched Abyss, and they compliment the atmospheric and melodic stylings of textbook black metal better that genre pvrists might lead to believe. As I foten say with these types of projects, I hope Wretched Abyss isn’t a one-off experiment; Serena has clearly hit on something special with Noctule that’s worth exploring further.
Voland – Voland III: Царепоклонство — Il Culto degli Zar (avant-garde symphonic black metal)
Here’s the thing with writing music about history: you’re rarely going to get just the right balance between epicness and cohesion that’s needed. On one hand, the instinct to go full epic is overwhelming; after all, what more welcome and grandiose canvas is there than that of history? But if you do choose to pursue that particular dragon, you can often find your music falling apart under the weight of grand gestures, collapsing into little more than big riffs and not much else. However, the allure of writing about history still remains because it really is very enticing; the promise of carrying off the style is powerful and undeniable.
One of the bands to most effectively capture, and successfully channel, these energies that I’ve come across in the last few years is Voland. I first came across their 2017, Voland II, last year, which led to me subsequently writing about them for Flash of the Blade. Their music fits the bill; their type of symphonic black metal is as grandiose as the events they sing about (Voland II is dedicated to the 100 year anniversary for The October Revolution) but direct enough to keep you engaged in its depiction of history. Now, the band are back with Voland III: Царепоклонство — Il Culto degli Zar (henceforth referred to as III) and their exact balance of what makes black metal work is back in full force.
III digs backwards into Russian history, focusing on the many cults which surrounded the Tsars and their semi-mythic rule of the land for centuries. Adding on to the sounds already explored on their previous album, Voland semi-narrated segments, visceral and adrenaline filled in their delivery. These passages blend incredibly well with the over-the-top operatic riffs and strings, the breakneck drums, and the counterpart, abrasive vocals. Just check out the second track, “Terza Roma”, to see how all this works. Listen for the segment in Russian, which is delivered from the perspective of the characters being described, and how it’s punctuated by those soaring, theatrical strings and guitars.
It all just blends so well into creating black metal that really does sound like nothing else. There’s joviality, fights to the death, adrenaline, rage, glory, honor, and defeat in Voland’s music and on III, all of those elements are masterfully brought forth into their full potential. The end result is a captivating and unique album which offers many layers and levels to the listener, constantly unfolding more of its massive backdrop and ambition.
Dawn Ray’d – Wild Fire (black metal)
One of our favorite anti-fascist black metal bands is back. This one-two punch sees Dawn Ray’d picking up right where they left off with Behold Sedition Plainsong was one of my favorite black metal albums of 2019. Prepare for more excellent atmospheric black metal with equal parts grit and grandiosity.
Kataan – Kataan (post-black metal)
As a native Granite Stater and a lifelong metal fan, I always appreciate the opportunity to talk about both in one blurb. New Hampshire-based Kataan was formed from the ashes of blog favorite Vattnet Viskar and largely follows in the same post-black metal footsteps. Nicholas Thornbury and Brett Boland (also of blog favorite Astronoid) lean a bit more on the post- and sludge end of the spectrum on their debut EP, but there’s still a blackened bite that helps round out the duo’s new voice.