Welcome once again to the ice lands of Kvlt Kolvmn. It may be warming across North America as winter loses its hold on the landscape, but the frostbitten tremolo reigns everclear around these parts. March was a particular excellent month for black metal of all shapes and sizes, and we’re excited to share our favorites of the month with you. 

I’m always impressed by the sheer breadth and magnitude of stylistic variation within the world of black metal, and last month was no exception. From post-black to thrash-infused to meloblack and… whatever Sylvaine is supposed to be… it’s a beautiful sight to see. Black metal continues to exist in a nexus of creativity and variety that few other genres of music can lay claim to. The fires of hell are stoked afresh each month with premium black metal that is consistently transforming what the genre can and will be, and it’s a wonderful position to be in as an adventurous listener. 

But let’s get right to the good stuff, shall we? Feel free to leave your favorites for the month in the comments and, as always, stay frosty.

Jonathan Adams

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Kvlt Vault: Axis of Light Axis of Light

Putting this one in the “Vault” segment is a bit of a stretch, since the album was released in 2020. On the other hand, time has fallen away like the husk it always was and 2020 appears like it was eons ago (which it was and wasn’t, at the same time). In any case, I don’t really care because Axis of Light is timeless, infused with the ferocity, anguish, and anger that is our emotional lot for the foreseeable future. Or which should be, at least, considering the very reality we rely on to live is rapidly disintegrating all the while. This is what it feels like to listen to the lo-fi, extremely raw, high octane black metal of Axis of Light; the self-titled release feels like watching the streets you know, the people in them, the routines they hold, dissolving into acid, frothing at the seams while you watch and rage.

But, at the same time, there is a strange sense of hope and melody which runs through the album. It’s present in the lilting, classically black metal melodic main line of the opening track, “On Whom the Red Moon Bleeds”, on the epic opening of “Stone Hooves” which follows on it, and on many other tracks on the album. It makes Axis of Light sound like a heavy metal album at heart, infused with the grandeur and call to power which that genre is best known for. Perhaps, at the end of the day, this is the musical manifestation of the defiance which runs through the thematic core of Axis of Light. 

Those feelings of powerful resurgence and of determination unfold “inside” of the black metal corrosiveness, lending this album a timbre not quite found anywhere else. It makes for an album that is equally as engaging as it is punishing, burning bright with the spirit that makes black metal so appealing.

Eden Kupermintz

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Winter’s Crown

Izthmi Leaving This World, Leaving It All Behind

I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t fall as deeply in love with Izthmi’s previous release as some people on the blog and in the community at large. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album; The Arrows of Our Ways is an extremely ambitious release. But it felt a bit directionless to me as if, in their quest of an intricate and progressive version of black metal, Izthmi had lost a core to tie their music around. However, I am glad to report that Leaving This World, Leaving It All Behind, the band’s recent release, has found that core which is great, even if that core is inherently depressing. 

You see, Leaving This World is a much darker and more melancholic version of Izthmi, tying their penchant for the grandiose and the elaborate (which this album certainly still is) with a tissue of intense sadness and an almost overbearing weight. This frozen core manifests in a few different ways on the album. First, there’s the introduction of much slower and heavier composition and I mean much slower and heavier. The outro to “The Shadows of Our Disillusionment”, the first “proper” track on the album, is downright funereal doom in its glacial gait, ushering out the over ten minutes long track with a crushing bang.

Elsewhere, this sadness and depression manifest in extended, quieter passages. The best one is probably “Leaving This World”. Its haunting melodies and faintly whispered vocals (listen closely) are the perfect preparation for the epic, closing track but also extremely well written and recorded in their own right. They’re like tendrils of fog snaking their way through the verdant realm depicted on the cover art, subtly conjuring forth the coldness that is at the heart of the album.Now, don’t get me wrong; Leaving This World can still be a very explosive, and black metal, affair. None of Izthmi’s ambition or desire for making intricate and expressive black metal has been left out of this release. But now, when there’s more contrast with the more somber sides of the album’s sound, the album feels much more cohesive, intentful, and well put together. 

It’s a release which turns the already substantial promise of the band into a fully realized work of art, injecting it with the glue that it needed to tie everything together. If you would have asked me six months ago whether that glue was anything to do with being more depressing or melancholic I would have probably said no. But, it turns out, Izthmi know their music and hearts better than me and they’ve managed to stay true to the art they want to make by bringing forth new elements within it.

src=”https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=690684954/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/transparent=true/” seamless>Leaving This World, Leaving It All Behind by Izthmi

EK

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Best of the Rest 

Falls of Rauros Key to a Vanishing Future

Falls of Rauros are one of those few bands that just feel like they never take a step in the wrong direction. Melding the wintry atmospherics of Unreqvited with the post-black grandeur of bands like Bosse de Nage and Alcest, there are few working projects out there that blend the most heartfelt and emotive components of black metal together with such precision, authenticity, and skill. Key to a Vanishing Future is, simply put, another vibrant feather in the cap for a band that can seemingly do no wrong. It’s just fantastic. 

If I had to pinpoint one aspect that helps Key stand tall in the band’s discography, it may be the most amorphous and hard to pin down of all: atmosphere. The songwriting here is, as always, very solid and the instrumental performances are excellent. But both of these attributes are served an extra helping of awesomeness through the band’s emphasis on using this record to drench listeners in some of the most atmospheric soundscapes they’ve yet created. This is accomplished in part through a spacious yet lo-fi production aesthetic as well as sparing and infinitely effective utilization of synths, which add beautiful color to the more intense portions of the band’s sound. Tracks like “Desert of Heart” and “Known World Narrows” exemplify the blending of these elements superbly, representing some of the band’s most effective work to date. Whether you come to Falls of Rauros for the superb songwriting or the spacious atmospherics, Key has you covered, with just a touch of further emphasis on the latter this time around. 

I’ve given this record several spins and I grow to love it more each time I listen. It’s so refreshing to have bands in your musical atmosphere that are consistently great, and Falls of Rauros certainly fall into the category of evergreen all-stars who won’t let you down if you dig their particular brand of black metal. Key to a Vanishing Future is yet another excellent entry in an already stellar discography, and I’m very much into it. 

JA

In Aphelion Moribund

Black metal really had a stellar month, as any of the records being written about here could occupy the top spot for this edition of the column. So please don’t read through these additional recs as somehow “lesser”, as March gave us some of the uniformly best black metal of the year thus far. A perfect example of its bountiful crop is In Aphelion’s Moribund, an album that came out of nowhere for me and has been in near constant rotation since I gave it that fateful first spin. If you like your black metal aggressive and tightly constructed with just a touch of variety sprinkled in for good measure, you just may have found your black metal album of the year. 

Those who crave the fast, aggro sounds of black metal will find plenty to love in Moribund, though I wouldn’t quite classify this record specifically in those simple genre terms. There’s a wonderful trad metal vibe (and even a thrashiness) that bleeds through these tracks, with ripping solos and a distinct emphasis on melody that lifts the album out of traditional sound structures into more adventurous territory. But it’s the focus on quality riff building that most obviously elevates Moribund above many of its contemporaries. This record is absolutely overstuffed with excellent riffs to the point that one can almost get lost in the sheer amount of memorable moments. From the urgent central motif of “Draugr” to the propulsive middle section of “He Who Saw the Abyss”, or the galloping drum and guitar interplay in “Sorrow, Fire and Hate”, Moribund provides the goods without fail. 

I had no idea this band existed until a few weeks ago, and good grief am I glad that they’re on my radar. In Aphelion are experts at their craft, and if Moribund is any indication, we can hopefully look forward to many more melodically inclined, riff obsessed black metal records from them in the near and distant future. But for now, Moribund does more than enough to scratch that particular black metal itch, and I’ll most certainly be visiting its rich sonic world for many months to come. 

JA

Kvaen The Great Below 

Some bands drop their debut record quietly, gaining momentum through long-gestating word-of-mouth and slowly developing coverage. Some go nuclear right out the gate. Kvaen most certainly belongs in the latter category. From the outset, The Funeral Pyre erupted onto the underground’s consciousness with fire and brimstone, unleashing a melodic blackened speed metal assault that was as catchy as it was alarmingly precise and technically astute. It ended up populating a great many year-end lists and is widely considered one of the better black metal debuts in recent memory. Needless to say, The Great Below had a lot to live up to, especially given its relatively short turnaround time. As one of the many who was stricken by the immensity of The Funeral Pyre, I’m surprised and delighted to report that The Great Below not only meets expectations, but in many respects exceeds them. 

Projects that absolutely crush their first recording cycle have a few options available to them when it comes to writing their next record. The first is to attempt to recreate the magic of their first release by doubling down on what made it special. There are plenty of examples of this method working, but all too often the law of diminishing returns takes hold, resulting in a less engaging experience. The second option is to expand their sound, potentially alienating initial listeners by building a broader sonic foundation that seeks to set the band apart. In my listening experience, it’s typically the latter approach that is the harder road to travel but that most often produces the greatest longevity. Kvaen most definitely latches onto the latter option with The Great Below to scintillating results. 

Fans of the relentless and melodically tinged beating The Funeral Pyre provided will find plenty to love on the band’s sophomore release, but on the whole this record feels like an adventurous step in a more mature, often mid-tempo direction that displays Kvaen’s further development in songwriting and instrumental prowess. While still mainly a one-man show with Jakob Björnfot at the helm (along with session drummer Tommi Tuhkala who provides some amazing percussion for the project), the inclusion of new guest musicians such as Jeff Loomis (playing guitar in the devastating and wildly enjoyable title track) adds an expanded flare to the proceedings that opens up the project in ways that feel appropriate to its core sound while lifting its capabilities to new heights. Guest musicians populate the tracks on this record, like Nephent Fridell’s stirring guest vocals on the deeply atmospheric “In Silence” and Mike Wead’s excellent guitar solo in “Damnations Jaws”, but it’s Björnfot’s vision that reigns supreme throughout, bringing a more atmospheric and melodic tinge to the music that the project has quickly become known for. 

The principal differentiator to my ears between Funeral and Below is the emphasis on elongated mid-tempo atmosphere building and an increased focus on melody, which are beautifully and powerfully realized on tracks like “In Silence” and “Ensamvarg”, which balance manic aggression with more measured sections that congeal seamlessly. But this is not a backhanded way of saying that this record is slower or less intense, as tracks like “Sulphur Fire” are among the most intense and destructive that Björnfot has written, balancing aggression and melodic songwriting with an ease that’s enviable. Far from a one trick pony, Björnfot has moved from potential one-hit-wonder to obviously competent and creative songwriter capable of expertly handling multiple metal styles with reverence and enthusiasm which is an absolute joy to witness. 

In total, The Great Below separates itself from its predecessor by bringing a more varied and adventurous approach to songwriting that works flawlessly throughout the record. These tracks pound and offer melodic grandeur in equal measure, resulting in a stirring and ecstatic release that stands among the most accomplished and thoroughly enjoyable I’ve heard this year. Kvaen is no longer a promising young project bolstered by a flash-in-the-pan brilliant debut, but an entity that is here to stay with enough creativity and verve to indicate a long and influential career for Björnfot and his growing list of collaborators. I’m all the way here for it. A superb sophomore release that I’ll be listening to regularly as the year progresses. 

JA

Sylvaine Nova

Sylvaine to me represents the same type of enigma for black metal that Björk does for pop. The elements are all there, but the execution just feels so unique and foreign to what I’m accustomed to in this type of music that it often takes me a few spins to really grasp what’s happening on a larger narrative level. Fortunately, the investment thus far has been worth it, and never more so than in Nova, which is far and away Sylvaine’s best record to date, in my most humble (but objectively correct) opinion. Taking the elements that worked the best from her previous records and blending them into an atmosphere fest of epic proportions, Nova feels both like a culmination and a bold step forward. 

The opening and title track to the record is proof enough of the project’s direction on Nova. Recalling the short atmosphere-setting instrumental opening of their debut record and cranking that feeling to 11, listeners are greeted with a stunning a cappella refrain that is without question the most intensely beautiful piece of music they’ve yet written. It’s an absolutely captivating opening that immediately lets you know whether or not this record’s for you. If gorgeous atmospherics and rich, patient songwriting aren’t your style, bail. It only gets more cinemascopic and gripping from here. 

“Mono No Aware” brings the proceedings to more familiar territory with a ripping and melody-infused post-black metal composition that doesn’t lose the sense of grandeur created by the album’s opening, even though ethereality is here for a few moments traded for aggression. But even this track has its elegiac moments, particularly in its second half, which reaches epic levels of widescreen bliss akin to early Deafheaven. The remainder of the record simply and powerfully builds on these motifs, with tracks like “I Close My Eyes So I Can See” hitting some of the highest notes thus far in the project’s discography. Front to back, there’s plenty to love in Nova, and repeat listens only further solidify that fact. 

Sylvaine represents a sound in black metal-adjacent music that certainly isn’t for everyone. But fans of post-black metal of all stripes will find plenty to love throughout Nova, which to my ears represents the most adventurous and clear distillation of the project’s many different stylistic emphases. It’s a beautiful, often transcendent record that deserves a wide and proud audience. 

JA