The dark winter of humanity’s soul continues apace. Time to wallow in the perpetual misery with more quality black metal.
Welcome once again, friends, to Kvlt Kolvmn. New year, same global disasters. The world is a fucking nightmare of contemporaneously unprecedented proportions, and every time something seems to be getting better another thing becomes infinitely worse. Sure, the 24 hour news cycle needs sensational devastation to keep our waning attention, but it’s pretty impossible to deny that things are very real levels of bad right now. Violence on a global scale has brought with it a lot of fear and uncertainty, and for our readers in harm’s way in Ukraine, we are thinking of you.
As always, there’s no more appropriate soundtrack to the present apocalypse than the hopeless, icy blasts of black metal. The first few months of 2022 delivered a few fantastic records for us to chew on, and as always we’re excited to share our thoughts with you. Don’t forget to hit us up on social media with your favorite picks of the first quarter of the year.
Stay safe. Stay frosty.
Krallice – Crystalline Exhaustion (progressive black metal)
Confession time: while I have appreciated every single Krallice release, for its unique sound and the band’s fierce dedication to their own style of sound, I have not thoroughly loved one since Loüm. That’s probably a me problem, if you go by popular reactions to their releases; Krallice continues to be adored among fans of underground and weird black metal. And that’s probably for good reason as well; I was only half-joking when I said it’s a me problem. But regardless, I have not been able to fully connect with their last few releases and, ironically enough, it’s only with Crystalline Exhaustion, that I released what was missing for me.
Simply put, I was missing some contrast which, in the past, was provided by a sort of ineffable ambience that ran through Krallice’s earlier works and which has been somewhat missing on more destructive releases like Mass Cathexis. But, luckily for me, this ambience and contrast is fully back on Crystalline Exhaustion, present, perhaps, more than ever before. Just tune into album opener “Frost”, I absolutely adore the diffused, sonorous bass and delay-laden synths and other effects which play alongside the drums and guitars of the track. They rise and fall in tandem with the tempo, constantly offering two crashing parts to the music which feed off of each other’s energies.
Even when heavier and more aggressive, like on the razor-sharp “Archlights”, these melodic and operatic elements continue to offset the main thrust of Krallice’s sound on Crystalline Exhaustion. On “Archlights”, the synths are like flashes of lightning, bursting over the intense main riff and high-octane drums even as the vocals sear through the “middle” part of the track’s mix. Nor does the track relent, which perhaps could be said of the entire album; true to Krallice’s approach so far, no undue breaks have been provided to the listener. Like previous releases, Crystalline Exhaustion is all Krallice, all the time.
When you throw it all together, it’s like a storm crashing over some forsaken fortress, lighting different parts of its nightmarish architecture. The album ends up being one of Krallice’s densest releases and while not necessarily more experimental than previous album, its more melodic and grandiose tones set it apart from the band’s previous discography. For me, it’s exactly how I’ve wanted the band to sound for a long while now and a true pleasure to listen to. OK, maybe not pleasure but a sort of pleasing pain, a torment to revel in.
Best of the Rest
Celeste – Assassine(s) (blackened post-metal)
Celeste is one of those projects that has been recommended to me dozens of times and has been in my periphery for years. For some reason I’ve never taken the time to spend real time with any of their releases. I decided to change that with Assassine(s), the band’s sixth full-length record. After a few spins I’m very glad that I gave this band its day in the sun. Assassine(s) is an utterly competent, deeply engaging, and highly melodic record.
That last part is probably the most truly exceptional aspect of Celeste’s music. This record is absolutely stuffed with melodic passages that feel reminiscent of the recent work of contemporaries like Gaerea or Schammasch. There’s an emotional undercurrent here that ebbs and flows through every track with a fervent energy that’s nearly impossible to resist. Tracks like “Des tes yeux bleus perlés” exemplify this trait brilliantly, balancing beauty and harshness with a skill few bands so carefully exhibit. But that isn’t to say Assassine(s) doesn’t pack a punch when it needs to. “Il a tant rêvé d’elles” is a blistering bruiser of a track that showcases the band’s ability to find a meaty, powerful riff and ride it to brutalizing results. It’s this balance between the brutal and beautiful that helps Assassine(s) stick out from the pack as a memorable, re-listenable release.
Those who even passively follow this column know that we like our emotive black metal (Der Weg einer Freiheit, anyone?), and Celeste fall squarely into a sonic sweet spot that is too seldom explored in the genre. Assassine(s) is an exemplary record that captures like lightning in a bottle the melodic heights that black metal is capable of reaching in the right hands. It’s a deeply enjoyable record I heartily recommend.
Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion (melodic black metal)
Serious question: why does death metal have a space and sci-fi subculture and not black metal? I love bands like Gigan, Fractal Generator, Wormed, and of course, Nocturnus, but celestial elements typically surround their death metal more often than it blends with it. On the other hand, isn’t the inherent atmosphere of black metal a perfect sonic manifestation of a dark, endless void? Please comment with examples if I’m wrong, but off the top of my head, Beherit are more recently Mare Cognitum are some of the only notable, dedicated cosmic black metal bands.
That’s why the stunning space portrait for Striving Toward Oblivion caught my eye and immediately piqued my interest (Side Note: The cover art is courtesy of Adam Burke from Imperialist, a sci-fi black metal band. Maybe there really is a space subculture in black metal after all). Naturally, I assumed Vorga was a prog and/or tech death band with an affinity for aliens, galaxies, and so on. Instead, Striving Toward Oblivion offers some of the best black metal I’ve heard so far this year.
Vorga definitely channel the melodic blueprints of Dissection and Sacramentum, but their approach is much more sweeping and vast. True to their presentation, the tracks feel like soundtracks to epic space battles in the cold, vast expanses of the cosmos. Vorga’s songwriting strikes a perfect balance between the majesty and destruction of this scene, with excellent, pummeling riffs and percussive force punctuating through bold melodies and all encompassing atmosphere. I know Krallice is probably sucking the air out of the room for black metal in 2022, but don’t let the year go by without spinning Striving Toward Oblivion.
Wiegedood – There’s Always Blood at the End of the Road (atmospheric black metal)
There’s Always Blood at the End of the Road was not the record I was expecting Wiegedood to make. Fierce, punishing, and merciless, the band’s penchant for winding, progressive compositions (fitting given their ensemble of Amenra and Oathbreaker members) feels stripped bare, revealing a sequence of raw nerves and throbbing veins filled with manic intensity and sonic violence that is a bit of a shock to the system. It’s the record I always hoped this band would make, and here it is in all its menacing glory. I love it.
It took a couple spins for me to process what Blood was attempting to accomplish, but once it sank its razor sharp teeth into me I was hooked. Wiegedood has always been able to channel second wave aggression in their music, but here it feels more focused and punishing than ever. Opening salvo “FN SCAR 16” wastes absolutely zero time presenting listeners with this newfound emphasis on direct intensity, and the album as a whole is replete with such moments. Tracks like “Until It Is Not” represent some of the punchiest, most straightforward material of the band’s career, latching onto big, accessible riffs that race forward with an urgency and verve that feels a lot more bracing than most of Wiegedood’s previous material.
But that isn’t to say that they’ve completely abandoned their more progressive tendencies. In stark contrast to the record’s most aberrantly aggressive moments, “Now Will Always Be” presents a winding, meditative composition that channels The Ruins of Beverast in its moderately paced evolution, building around a beautiful central riff that ebbs and flows with all the grace and nuance we have come to expect from Wiegedood. These more raw and nuanced elements are blended to perfection in “Nuages”, a wild and uncontainable track that mixes raw power and experimentation to glorious effect, with a final half that feels reminiscent of last year’s spellbinding Plebeian Grandstand record.
Any way you slice it, Blood presents blatant evidence that Wiegedood still have the goods when it comes to creating compelling, bracing black metal. This time around, they bring to the forefront their ability to create sonically punishing soundscapes that are just as capable of punching you in the teeth as they are of entrancing you. It’s the band’s most singular and focused record to date, and one I will be revisiting many times over the coming months. It may very well be their best record yet.
Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor (avant-garde black metal)
Stranger Fruits was a deeply enjoyable record, and an enormous leap forward in scope and vision for Zeal & Ardor. It received a fair amount of spins around these parts and established the project as much more than a one-record gimmick. One of its principal criticisms, however, was its lack of sonic cohesion, which made for some uneven listening experiences. It seems that Zeal & Ardor took these criticisms to heart and responded with a self-titled record that’s… even more disjointed stylistically. If this all sounds like negative criticism, let me assure that it is not. Zeal & Ardor is a frantic, diverse, and infinitely interesting release that showcases the band’s mastery of a multitude of styles and represents their most ferocious and outright engaging material to date. It’s, for lack of a better phrase, thoroughly batshit in all the right ways.
Melding the band’s traditional black spiritual musical core with ferocious black metal, progressive electropop, and nü metal, Zeal & Ardor is all over the place. But this whiplash inducing mix of styles is among the most interesting sonic explorations I’ve heard this year, and it’s not close. The reason behind its success, at least to my ears, is these musicians’ ability to dive headlong into each style and create utterly component compositions that never once feel cheap or unearned. The capabilities of each member on display here are just stunning. It’s nearly impossible to believe tracks like “Emersion”, “I Caught You”, and “Götterdämmerungen” all exist on the same album, even more improbable that they are all excellent. Pulling all of these disparate elements together into a unified whole is mastermind Emmanuel Gagneaux’s mesmerizing vocals, which are at their most effective and powerful ever throughout this record. His black metal screams, soulful croons, and haphazard gyrations are a wonder to behold, and create a thrilling accompaniment to each stylistic shift. While as diverse as records come, his vocal abilities help create cohesion in a sea of sonic chaos.
I’m in love with this record. Each new listen brings something different to the forefront, and the performances throughout are more than competent enough to convey quality work in each style present here. It’s an absolute blast that I believe will stand the test of time as the band’s manically creative opus. Well done indeed.