Quality over quantity. It’s true in most all contexts, and especially so in this month’s edition of Kvlt Kolvmn. Life often facilitates a more judicious approach to what we are able to consume in a given month, and in the case of myself, that meant, like… three black metal records for the entire month. Sad. All of which are represented here, thankfully. It was a rough month for music listening, but that doesn’t change the quality of these records. Here’s to more availability, more great albums, and more time to write about them.
Listen and enjoy some high quality black metal, brought to you by some high quality folks (Eden and Scott being legendary, as always). We’ve also got an inaugural section, Sinister Svds, to sate your thirst for all things good and beery.
Sinister Svds: Dzö-nga and Bone Up Brew a Toast to The Sachem’s Tale
I love supporting New England metal bands almost as much as I love supporting the region’s stacked craft beer scene. Needless to say, I was pretty stoked when Boston-based Dzö-nga and Bone Up Brewing Co. in Everett announced a collaboration beer called The Sachem’s Ale (cleverly named after the band’s sophomore album, The Sachem’s Tales). Dzö-nga’s last album, Thunder In the Mountains, was one of our favorites from 2020, as it further showcased the band’s pagan blend of melodic black metal inspired by folklore and mythology. As such, I hoped deep down that Sachem’s Ale wasn’t just the umpteenth New England IPA brewed in the Bay State. Thankfully, Bone Up delivered, treating us with a fittingly unique and complex beer: a grisette with peach and pineapple.
You probably don’t need me to tell you what peach and pineapple are, but I’ll spend a few sentences talking about grisettes, one of my favorite underrated beer styles. Considering my Google search led me to articles with titles like, “What is a grisette?”, it’s safe to assume many beer drinkers aren’t familiar with the style. One of those articles came from the excellent Maine-based Allagash Brewing Co., who define a grisette as a “refreshing, low alcohol beer with origins in the Hainaut province of Belgium. Grisettes are crisp, medium/light-bodied, citrusy beers—brewed to be endlessly approachable.” That’s basically been my experience: the character and flavor of a saison, expect more drinkable.
But enough chatter; what about the beer? Sachem’s offers everything I look for in a grisette, or really any farmhouse ale. It’s an excellent example of why I prefer my non-sour fruited beers to err on the subtle side. One of my first craft beers was Allagash White, their flagship Belgian wheat beer that checks all the notes you’d expect from the style: wheaty, orangey, coriander-y. Over the years, I’ve had other Belgian wheats — and other fruited ales — that sucer punch you with a produce section worth of non-beer flavors. On the flipside, Sachem’s tastes like a more tropical Belgian wheat, but all the beer elements are the first and most prominent flavors to hit your palette. All the spice and rustic flavors I experience with a Belgian beer or a saison are on display, yet it’s WAY more drinkable than your average farmhouse ale. In terms of drinkability, and to a lesser extent flavor, it went down like a pilsner.
In short, take the flavor of your favorite Belgian and French style, add the smooth, easy going experience of a German beer, then pour in peach and pineapple, and you have yourself an excellent, black metal inspired craft brew. I’m not sure if Bone Up will distribute Sachem’s Ale ever or anytime soon, but if you live anywhere near Everett, definitely make your way down and grab a pint or 4-pack. And if not, you can always listen to Dzö-nga instead.
Stormkeep – Tales of Othertime (symphonic black metal)
If an album is not out yet by the time a column goes up but it’s still included, you know it’s something special. It means that, whoever is writing about it, the writer couldn’t put it down to listen to or write about anything else in the space. This, for me, is the case this month with Stormkeep. Back in 2002, the group released Galdrum, a fantastic, if a bit limited, EP. It garnered some noise first because it contained members of Wayfarer and Blood Incantation but second because of its extremely proficient and interesting take on symphonic black metal. At its core, Stormkeep’s music was, and is, a highly potent and aggressive form of black metal with redolent synths decorating the meaty center of its attack. But, on Galdrum, the idea felt to me as good but not quite there yet, as if the band were still grasping to quite figure out where to go with their sound.
Well, Tales of Othertime, releasing on the 19th of November, sees them charting out this direction with exacting brutality. The album presents a much more fleshed out and nailed down version of Stormkeep’s take on black metal. Firstly, the riffs feel way tighter; everything about the way the guitars and the drums coalesce to create the track’s main thrust is fine tuned to perfection. The drums are perhaps deserving of their own attention and that’s not surprising, seeing as the representative of Blood Incantation on this project is Isaac Faulk (here going under the name of Otheyn Vermithrax) and he is an excellent drummer. On Tales of Othertime, his drumming is precise, delivering the thick base on which the guitar and bass can rely to create the massive sound that ends up being one of the album’s major selling points.
The other is the synths and boy, are they gorgeous! Whether they work in tandem with the rest of the instrumentation (which is especially satisfying on opening track “The Seer” but also everywhere on the album) or operating on their own in interlude tracks like the gorgeous “The Citadel”, the care and attention given to the synths and their tone is impeccable. While they do conjure the sound of what is commonly known today as “dungeon synth” they are far more than just throwaway instruments intended to give a fantasy embellishment to things. Instead, the goal of the synths is to flesh out and contrast the other instruments, vocals included, giving everything an extra sheen of daring, extravagance, and myth. This turns Stormkeep’s already excellent formula into something really unique, incorporating the synths in ways which you don’t really hear on modern bands who execute these sorts of influences and sounds.
Add in improvements to composition which make longer tracks stick their landing and keep the listener engaged, scorching vocals, and excellent, clear production and you get Tales of Othertime. It’s truly one of the better black metal albums I’ve heard this year and a great fulfillment of the promise already nascent in 2020’s Galdrum.
Best of the Rest
Noltem – Illusions In The Wake (atmospheric black metal, melodic black metal)
Look at that! Covering two New England black metal bands in one kolvmn. Truth be told, the fact Noltem hail from Connecticut wasn’t the first thing that piqued my interest; that would be the absolutely transfixing album art. It’s one of my favorite covers of the year, and more importantly, it perfectly embodies Noltem’s brand of folk-tinged, melodic atmoblack. Sometimes you have to judge a blackened tom by its cover, and this is definitely one of those moments.
That said, Noltem don’t approach the genre in the exact way you might expect. Sure, the FFO section of their Bandcamp page is pretty accurate; I’d be surprised if fans of Agalloch-core didn’t find something to their liking on Illusions In the Wake. But right out of the gate, “Figment” avoids some of the subgenre’s tropes, namely the galloping blasts and roaring tremolos. I’ve often talked about my affinity for “rock-oriented” metal, and that’s exactly what Noltem exhibit on “Figment.” The trio paint with an atmoblack color palette but use odd angles, namely complex rhythms and intricate, hyper-melodic guitar lines. Our first true blasts don’t come until nearly three-quarters of the way into the track, and the build up to that point feels more drawn from the broader post-punk universe than any blackened tapestry.
That said, Noltem know how and when to kick things up a notch. The tile track is accented with blackened outbursts, namely a sharp sequence of syncopated blasts and tremolos in the midsection. Even during the band’s most melodic stretches, you can always expect a quick burst of percussive energy to punctuate the proceedings and remind you of the band’s blackened core. It’s exactly how I love to hear this style executed, and I imagine my fellow atmoblack fans will share that sentiment.
Mystras – Empires Vanquished And Dismantled (black metal)
Back when we premiered “The Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem” from this album, I told you that Empires Vanquished And Dismantled was something special and now that the full album is here, you can hear for yourself whether I was right or not. I was, by the way; the release takes Mystras’s original promise made last year and elevates it in every single aspect. The riffs are more ambitious and aggressive. The multiple wind and string instruments used on the album alleviate the rawness and the nastiness of those riffs into new levels of contrast and counterpoint. The vocals, including the two incredible guest spots, paint the expansive and historical image of the lyrics to perfection. Everything just rings true on this release, once again delivering Ayloss’ uncompromising vision of black metal to fruition. But this time, it’s tinged with the same penchant for rebellion and more straight-forward aggression that fueled the previous Mystras album rather than the atmospheric mysticism of Spectral Lore. As the saying goes, get you a person who can do both and by Jove, Ayloss can. Listen to this album.