Summer is dying, fading slowly and mournfully into the grips of the morning chill. The light leaves earlier each day, leaving the sky for the advent of the long night. Fall is upon us. Winter is coming.
Oh yeah. It’s black metal season.
While we still have a few months of weather-related indecisiveness ahead (and ngl I love it because fall is the best), there’s still plenty of solid black metal to be had before we reach the vaunted cold of winter. This month brought us a delightful bounty of autumnal charmers to help us beckon the season, along with a few rousing efforts from quality bands bemoaning the final throes of warmth. It’s a solid collection of releases and we’re excited to share them with you.
As always, feel free to share your picks from this month over on the Facebook channel. We’d love to hear what we missed!
Stay safe. Stay frosty.
Woman is the Earth – Dust of Forever (atmospheric black metal)
Sometimes, you can absolutely judge a book by its cover. From the moment I saw the cover for Dust of Forever, I knew I needed the album in my life ASAP. The fact Woman is the Earth hail from South Dakota also piqued the interest of the sociology degree I wish I earned in another life. I’m always fascinated how cultures and scenes form in different places, and South Dakota doesn’t feel like a haven for metal (to be fair, neither does my native New Hampshire). But while I’m sure there are plenty of other noteworthy metal bands in their scene, there’s a reason Kerrang as their pick for The Mount Rushmore State’s best band.
In terms of the Woman is the Earth’s take on black metal — do you remember Agape (2011), the underrated mid-career album from Lantlôs? The band helped pioneer blackgaze with .neon (2010), later dove further into shoegaze and post-metal on Melting Sun (2014), and this year decided to try their hand at alt-metal with Wildhund. But my entry point to the band’s discography was Agape, an album that took as much influence from blackgaze as it did dark jazz and the doomier end of post-metal. Prior to Wildhund, it was the clear outlier from their dicography, and arguably their most eclectic album.
In many ways, Dust of Forever sounds like a markedly more blackened take on Agape’s formula. Once it hit me, that comparison stuck with me throughout each repeat listen, and there have been plenty of them. The most important aspect is its strong atmoblack foundation; the exact brand of sweeping, epic black metal that has become a staple of the American take on the genre. I’ve never been west of the Mississippi, but Dust of Forever feels like a perfect soundtrack to staring pensively across endless Dakotas plains as the sun melts into the horizon.
If that’s what pulled me through the door, it’s all the additional songwriting tricks that kept me enthralled throughout the album. I’ve mentioned before how an increasing number of extreme metal bands are “writing rock albums,” which very much applies to how Woman is the Earth approaches the genre. Not that older extreme metal bands weren’t capable of creating dynamic albums…but a lot settled for very formulaic deliveries of their genre’s burgeoning sound.
Of course, the march of time brings progress, and Woman is the Earth answer the bell. For all it’s excellent black metal passages, Dust of Forever features an equal proportion of doomy passages, unique melancholic melodies, and the types of chord progressions that inform the rock side of the post-black metal formula. It helps create an awe-inspiring release that should be required listening for black metal fans of all persuasions.
Best of the Rest
Fluisteraars – Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking (atmospheric black metal)
Ever have those moments when everyone is into a band and you know it, but are too lazy to check them out? Just me? Bueller? That’s most certainly been the case for me and Fluisteraars, who have been blowing the heads off atmospheric black metal fans since their 2014 debut Dromers appeared. They’ve had a stellar track record ever since, culminating in last year’s Bloem, which many of my trusted extreme metal pals deemed one of their favorite black metal records of the year. It took me until 2021 to give that album (and the band’s discography on the whole) a fair shake, and I am pleased to report that I fully understand the hype. Fluisteraars are operating on a level that few in the experimental/atmospheric black metal space can touch, and their latest record Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking is only a further testament to their solidification as one of the best in the game.
If you’ve enjoyed the previous work of Fluisteraars, there’s little if anything about Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking that you won’t enjoy. All of the band’s hallmark instrumentation and songwriting are here in droves, creating another focused yet kaleidoscopic escapade through forgotten forests and grass-covered plains. Opener “Het overvleugelen der meute” is a straight-up banger from its opening frames, featuring vocalist Bob Mollema’s hardcore-tinged yells and barks to scintillating effect. But it’s in the band’s longest and most thoroughly epic track that the album displays its full form. “Verscheuring in de schemering” is one of the most truly mesmerizing tracks the band have yet written, bouncing with conviction from sequence to sequence with absolute clarity and creativity. It’s one of the most enjoyable black metal tracks I’ve heard this year, and caps off a truly special album.
I always feel like a heel when I’m late to the party, but I’m not gonna lie… it’s been a pretty neat experience to be able to dive headlong into (aka binge) Fluisteraars’ discography over a short span of time. Their work is uniformly excellent, and there’s little outside of the ordinary level of quality for this band to be found in Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluiking. One of the most intricate and beautiful black metal records of 2021.
Serpent Column – Katartisis (dissonant black metal)
Serpent Column cannot miss. I’m utterly convinced of this fact. From the opening notes of Ornuthi Thalassa to the blasting finale of Kathodos, there’s been nary a moment of weakness in this one man juggernaut’s discography. Alternating between full-length releases and EPs, there’s a clear trajectory of expectation that’s been set by the project, and given that we were due for our next EP, I’m grateful that Katartisis turned out as stunning as it has. Each new release has brought forth incremental intricacies and complexities that build subtly onto an already stellar discography, and Katartisis is no exception to this rule. Through and through, it’s a banger.
This release, at least to my ears, feels like an extension of Kathodos in its melodic emphasis and consistency. Where records like Mirror in Darkness focused almost exclusively on dissonance and visceral audio agitation, the past few releases in the band’s catalog have focused more intently on melodic structure, allowing tuneful (almost hook-ish?) melodies to lurch forth from the murk with pristine clarity. “Dereliction II” is a brilliant mixture of expertly crafted melodic songwriting and dissonant meltdowns, making the track feel like a museum of the project’s past and present. “Disobedience” does a great job of moderating tempo to allow the above elements to shine with a bit more comprehensibility, while “Subduction” launches itself into an almost hardcore opening with increased speed which further highlights Theophonos’ further maturation and a musician. It’s a fantastic mix of sounds that always feel capable of carrying a tune without waylaying themselves either into overly melodic or punishing territory.
As a mixture of the project’s most foundational sounds, Katartisis is among Serpent Column’s most diverse and consistent releases to date. There’s next to nothing here that would engender dissatisfaction in long-time fans, and plenty for newcomers to latch onto. If you’ve yet to give Serpent Column a spin, I would strongly encourage you to utilize Katartisis as your gateway to a world of audio punishment. It’s short, nasty, and well worth your time.
Súl ad Astral – Heritage (post-black metal)
Seeing as I know have an entire column dedicated to (mostly) the EP format, I’ve been thinking a lot about the format and why it seems to work so well in some cases and not in others. I think the challenge and the opportunity of the EP is similar to the challenge and opportunity of the poem. When you have less space to say something, every word becomes essential. This transfers well to music: every note, every hook, and every progression has to mean something and work towards something. This either causes an artist to dive deep into what makes them tick and bring forth a convincing and direct version of their music or causes them to collapse into something forgettable, unable to float without all the added bells and flowers.
Luckily, in Súl ad Astral’s case, the former very much seems to be the case. Heritage is not only an EP release but it’s a single track release, clocking in at twenty minutes. That’s a tall order: you need to make something that’s not only engaging but is able to stay so for twenty minutes, not to mention that it also has to be musically and structurally coherent. But Súl ad Astral have done it, creating another post-black metal addition to their discography that further cements them as extremely underrated and under-listened. The most impressive is perhaps how much ground Súl ad Astral are able to cover over this one track, somehow keeping it together and cohesive while exploring several different sounds.
There’s the heavier moment of the first “proper” passage of the track, right after the mooder intro. This passage starts kicking in at around three and a half minutes and features some truly break-neck drums and excellently corrosive, high-pitched vocals. Interestingly enough, the guitars don’t really follow suit, staying “open” and shoegaze-y in their tones and composition. This creates a dreamlike quality we haven’t heard to such a degree on the project’s previous works. Even more interestingly, this passage gives way to an elaborate, very heavy metal solo, before diving into another moody passage that mimics the intro. Within six minutes of so, you’re already introduced to the intricacies of this single track release and you haven’t even crossed the half point way yet!
But the real beauty of it is, as I’ve said above, that it all sounds well put together, with its own Súl ad Astral mark all over it. The way the band dips into the heavier sounds, the way they insist on keeping the post-rock influences present on the guitars, the dramatic flair of their composition, sound both familiar and exciting at the same time. And there’s plenty more to dig into with this one release. It shows that the EP format not only has the ability to compete with a full length release as fast as complexity goes but even has the ability to exceed it. Something about how Súl ad Astral are able to say so much with so little makes what they have to say resonate even more than if it were expanded upon with a full album. And that’s the true art of the EP.
Unreqvited – Beautiful Ghosts (atmospheric black metal/blackgaze)
Anyone who’s hung around this column for any period of time knows that I have a very soft spot in my heart for Unreqvited. While certainly imperfect, I’ve enjoyed each release in the project’s discography, to the point that their music has become a staple of various household chores and winter activities. Unreqvited, along with bands like Alcest, Deafheaven, Møl, and Der Weg einer Freiheit, reaches an emotional core of my musical experience that only blackgaze adjacent records tend to hit. Unreqvited’s penchant for epically scaled, melancholy songwriting is among the most effective in this oft maligned, deeply contentious space in the extreme metal world, and I’m always elated when a new release alert for the project hits my inbox. With my abiding love for the project in tow, I’m thankful that Unreqvited’s sixth full-length release Beautiful Ghosts is one of their better releases.
While Unreqvited has always rested firmly in the trenches of blackgaze aesthetic, the project’s last few releases have opened up its sonic world to a more robustly post-rock vibe that fits like a glove. While I would still most certainly consider Unreqvited a blackgaze band, it’s been quite refreshing to see Unreqvited delve beyond shoegaze and into even more post-rock, ambient territory. In this sense, Beautiful Ghosts feels like a culmination of sorts musically. The blackgaze is here but even more hopeful. The post-rock is front-and-center and even more punchy. Ambience pervades the record, letting each melody and thunderous riff sit in a sea of atmosphere that drenches the proceedings in light. It’s all the things that make Unreqvited great, even more pronounced. Fans of the project’s most epic moments will find “Autumn & Everly” an all-time highlight in their discography, while those who crave the gentler, smoother ambient textures of Unreqvited will fall blissfully into “Reverie” and “Cherish”, which are as gorgeous as they are effective. If you’ve ever enjoyed an Unreqvited record, there’s something here for you.
Beautiful Ghosts is my favorite Unreqvited record since Mosaic I, and is also on the top end of blackgaze-adjacent records for this year. I’m so grateful that this project continues to hit home in a way that feels both consistent and moderately evolutionary, feeling warm and familiar without ever dipping into samey nostalgia for its own sake. And at a lean 42 minutes, Unreqvited must be commended for self-editing to an extent that many one-man projects almost never achieve. Overall, it’s an expertly composed and deeply affecting record. I cannot wait for a long, snow-covered driveway shovel session to these tracks.
Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana (atmospheric black metal)
I genuinely enjoyed Wolves in the Throne Room‘s sixth full-length record Thrice Woven. But even a WITTR lifer like myself has to admit that, at least in comparison to the band’s previous material, that particular record felt unadventurous coasting in many respects. It was still high quality and deeply enjoyable, but many of the tropes within the record had been tried before and were accomplished with more verve in previous releases. It honestly felt like a moment for me when a band I loved had finally settled into its comfortable, semi-retirement stage. Music is still good, though familiar, and their glory days are done. It’s a sweet relief when that same band with their very next release punches you in the teeth with their best record in at least a decade. Which is exactly what Primordial Arcana is. Pulsing with a new sense of energy, intensity, and life, it’s one of WITTR’s better records, and one of my favorites of 2021.
Primordial Arcana re-establishes WITTR’s core effectiveness right out of the gate with “Mountain Magick”, which opens with an eery, pagan vibe that immediately transports the listener into a ritual taking place deep in the Cascadian mountain range of North America. It’s a cryptic, dark, and deeply atmospheric opening that opens to trickling droplets of melody, accentuated by thunderous drumming that adds weight to the atmosphere. It all comes crashing down with traditional blasts and tremolo sequences that feel like quintessential, hard-hitting WITTR. It’s a glorious opening to an album that only continues to impress as it develops. Follow-up track “Spirit of Lightning” balances beauty and intensity in only a way this band can, creating motifs that ebb and flow through the track giving the blackened proceedings vision and focus. But it’s in “Through Eternal Fields” and “Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)” where Primordial Arcana truly lifts itself above the fray, with compositions that highlight every one of the band’s strengths into a sonic entities that rival anything in the band’s catalog. Taken as a whole, there’s little if anything to complain about regarding this record. It’s gold.
The amount of relief I feel that WITTR are still as awe inspiring and crushing as they’ve ever been is palpable. Primordial Arcana is a legendary band operating at the peak of their powers. It may not be revolutionary in sound or direction, but when the tracks are this meticulously composed and superbly performed, it’s difficult not to stand in awe at what a band of this stature was able to accomplish this late in the game. A fantastic outing and one of my favorites of the year.