The leaves have begun to fall from the trees surrounding our home. The morning and evening chill has become a permanent fixture. Night falls faster, morning breaks more slowly. It’s the season of PSL, pumpkins on the front porch, and Halloween decor. At least, that is, for the rest of the world. For you and I, it’s an advent of darkness. Of miserable cold of the soul and a soundtrack to back it up.
Oh yeah. It’s black metal season.
It’s also a very busy season for your editor friends over at HBIH, so this month’s selections are a bit more pointed (and limited) than in previous months. But that in no way should speak to or against the quality of the releases listed here. These are straight bangers, and we feel confident that you’ll agree.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay frosty.
Veilburner – Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull (avant-garde black/death metal)
There’s a lot of extreme music out there that’s fairly difficult to identify and/or place for columns that are built to highlight releases in specific genres. More often than not I find myself staring blankly at a wall while listening to a release trying to determine “is this MORE black metal or MORE death metal?” Which is, I’ve determined, a pointless exercise. Genre boundaries, like time, are often an illusion that we use to help our brains process what’s happening around us, and band’s like Veilburner are here to crush our feeble attempts at drawing fine categorizations around our lives. Their fifth full-length release, Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull, is an elusive, erratic, fully-enveloping work of art that transcends both genre and expectations to become easily one of the most unique and captivating listens I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing in quite some time.
For a band with as many records as Veilburner, it’s thoroughly disappointing to see the dearth of written content surrounding their music. Having dropped their first album back in 2014, Veilburner are new to the extreme metal scene neither in age or production. But for those who have followed the band’s shamefully unheralded career up to this point are keenly aware of their space in the extreme metal atmosphere. The esoteric work of bands like Imperial Triumphant, Gorguts, and Esoctrilihum find a spiritual cousin in the experimental whirlwinds generated by Veilburner, and over the course of five albums the band have been able to further differentiate themselves from the avant-garde pack by delivering a sound entirely unique to themselves. 2018’s A Sire to the Ghouls of Lunacy felt like the band’s most titanic leap forward up to that point, and Lurkers continues on that trajectory in spades. It’s their richest, weirdest, and most captivating release to date on several fronts.
When discussing what Veilburner bring to the table, it’s impossible to fail to mention the band’s sonic aesthetic. The production value is a mixture of clarity and funk that feels simultaneously immediately accessible and hard to pin down. The guitars warble and bludgeon in a fashion not dissimilar to Suffering Hour, but move with the fuzzy obtuseness of Abyssal. “Nocturnal Gold” may be the best example on Lurkers of this dynamic, with a main riff that feels like a barely stable foundation of sand on which the rest of the track is built. But hold it does, with fascinating progressions stacked atop it that on paper shouldn’t work but in practice definitively do. There are moments in nearly every track on this record that feel like they’re about to burst apart at the seams, but the needle and thread that holds Lurkers together never wavers, and this is mainly due to some incredible songwriting.
Fun production and instrumental prowess can only get an extreme metal band so far. The true meat and hook of what makes this space within the music world special is its potential to generate memorable, decipherable order out of the chaos. Here, Veilburner succeed grandly, culminating in a sequence of compositions that are among the most ambitious and inviting that the band have yet written. “Cursed, Disfigured, Amen!” and the album’s title track both provide ample evidence for the above assertion, sharing dynamic, ever-evolving song structures that stack, collapse, and rebuild in a plethora of fascinating ways without ever losing their sense of depth and power. These are tangible, digestible tracks that don’t dip into the esoteric for its own sake. Even some of the album’s less robust tracks like “Para-Opaque” are superbly written and fit the album like a glove, providing momentary reprieve while the albums most epic moments like closer “Dissonance in Bloom” coil and flex for the final blow. There isn’t a dud of a composition to be found here, and that’s thanks to some incredibly diverse and uniformly exceptional songwriting.
I’m having a hard time trying to pin down genuinely constructive criticism for Lurkers, and it’s damn near impossible. Uncompromising enough to alienate detractors of more avant-garde fare while accessible enough to please most all fans of this realm of extreme metal, Veilburner’s fifth record is a surefire winner and one of the most varied and deeply enjoyable releases I’ve sat with so far this year. Expect to see it among my favorite records of the year.
Best of the Rest
Botanist / Thief – Cicatrix / Diamond Brush (post-black metal, industrial metal)
I think it’s time for a bit of a curveball. It comes to us in the form of a split EP by famed post-black mastermind Botanist and once-collaborator of the project, Thief (Dylan Neal). The latter toured with Botanist and continues to contribute writing for the project’s music, specifically some of the more iconic hammered dulcimer parts. This EP represents a fruitful collaboration between the two; while Cicatrix represents and contains unreleased tracks from the time that Botanist was making one of their masterpieces, VI: Flora, Diamond Brush is a companion to Thief’s full release. It sees the project take on muscular and fuzzy guitars to create a sort of weird, twisted darkwave sound, iterating on the more dreamy elements that were the backbone of the project to create something more.
Put together with Cicatrix’s lo-fi and haggard, harsh, post-black sounds, the split EP feels like a particularly thorny flower unfurling. Cicatrix, true to the Botanist sound, is punishing and harrowing. The production is even rougher than usual, creating a sort of constant fuzz that will later fully unfurl under Thief’s hands. This constant noise and overdrive of tones works extremely well with the by-now-tried-and-true dulcimer hammering that underpins Botanist sound, like gems found in thick, dripping honey. Check out “Styrax”, for example, the second track on Cicatrix. The hammering, sweet percussion of the dulcimer competes with and cuts through the thick wall of blast-beats and bass, like a strobing lighthouse flame seen through so much fog.
When Thief’s hour comes rolling up at last, you feel as if you’ve emerged through the thick, cloying brush and into a verdant valley. The electric guitars fully embrace the previously “buried” fuzz, letting it unspool across the horizon. Add in drawling but direct vocals, some bass thick to the point of breakdown, and you get this weird, hazy feeling to the sound that seems to reach back and meet Cicatrix from an opposite direction. Especially when the synths come in and that “sweetness through the haze” vibe from Cicatrix comes back to meet/haunt us, channeling much of the same energies but into a completely different palette of tones. The end result is something between alternative rock, darkwave, and shoegaze, a very satisfying mix of sound that works very well to complement its split counterpart.
There’s more hiding in there, as both artists seemingly take the split format as a liberatory practice and try to take their sound into new places. While Cicatrix could ostensibly be considered a “companion” to VI: Flora, it is even more abrasive and challenging than that album was. Instead of encountering Diamond Brush as “an accompaniment” to Thief’s full release, we find it realizing its own version of the project’s sound. This makes both sides of the release essential, interesting, and, in their own unique ways, a fascinating take on the potential of black metal and the host of sounds and themes which surround it.
Lamp of Murmuur – Submission and Slavery (raw black metal, deathrock)
While I’m not enamored with their direction as of late, it makes a lot of sense Deafheaven found themselves on a trajectory toward lighter palettes. Kerry McCoy appeared on an episode of Guitar Power by D’Addario where he and host Matt Sweeney touched on he overlap in atmosphere and melody of black metal riffs and the broader world of alt-rock, i.e. shoegaze, post-punk, etc. Of course, this is abundantly obvious with Deafheaven’s hyper melodic take on the genre. Some of the stripped down riffs McCoy plays during the interview legitimately sound like The Smiths outtakes. But there are plenty of moments listening to black metal that I’m reminded of genres like shoegaze, and vice versa.
Lamp of Murmuur have made a name for themselves in the Pacific Northwest black metal scene, and now they’re trying their hand at exploring the aforementioned sonic overlap. Submission and Slavery is yet another strong offering of raw, ripping black metal in the vein of early Darkthrone, specifically A Blaze in the Northern Sky through Panzerfaust. It’s produced just well enough to feel modern while still retaining the frigid, kvlt vibes to keep that classic sound intact.
That is, until you stumble upon the subtle but potent elements of goth and deathrock sprinkled throughout the record. To be clear, we’re not talking a full out “Just Like Heaven” chorus breaking out between tremolo riffs. But there are several synth lines, vocal ticks, and (of course) melodic riffs that warrant comparisons to Christian Death and the darker moments from The Cure’s career. It adds an intriguing element to the band’s sound that should attract fans looking for more variety while keeping genre purists content.