This week in Colorado, plants, general greenery, and neighborhood flower patches have begun to bloom. Color fills the atmosphere, and the scents of new life pervade the senses. But today in Colorado, the air is filled with rain and snow. Those very plants, who just recently filled the air with the stench of summertime beckoning, are being suffocated by a blanket of late, merciless moisture. Premature blooming crushed by a cruel and unrelenting master, reminding us that life is fleeting, wholly impermanent, and that nature itself consumes us all.
It’s a perfect day for black metal.
What else is there to relate? Kvlt Kolvmn is here once more to bring the existential pain. Below are some of our favorite black metal records from the past month. We hope you find them as stirring as we did. Don’t forget to leave your favorites in the comments.
Tyrannus – Unslayable
We’ve said it over and over again and we’ll say it once again here: albums do not exist in vacuums. Critiquing, or even consuming, a piece of art inside of a void is a) impossible and b) a very shallow way to think about art, even if it were possible. Therefore, ignoring a band’s or a genre’s history when encountering music is nothing else than a limitation, not to mention something to be desired. Tyrannus are a fine example of that; their first round of music in the form of an EP and a demo had already put them on our map earlier this year. Tyrannus already sounded pretty killer back then, channeling a sort of lo-fi bravado and angst that was hard to resist.
But we weren’t really prepared for how ambitious and well put together their full length release would be. Unslayable, the aforementioned full-length, is an extremely well composed slab of black metal fury, one which doesn’t need to give up an inch in ferocity in exchange for its polish and seamless integration. This is probably due to the fact that everything has been pushed up into the red alongside the production. It’s not a “simple” polish that was added to things but some element which reacted with the excellence already embedded in the band to spawn a mighty force of an album that’s hard to put down. Seriously, I can’t really recall when black metal was this catchy, full of hooks, riffs, and solos to keep you coming back to it again and again.
Maybe that owes to the heavy metal edge and flair which runs through the entire album. It’s hard to listen to tracks like “A Worse Reality” and not hear the soul of heavy metal pulsing through the solo or in “The Flood” which follows it and it’s groovy main riff. Of course, this is no accident; black metal grew out of heavy metal, and thrash, and Unslayable has those influences written on it in big, neon-pink letters and thank God for that! It’s what allows the album to seem “simple” at first while holding within it enough emotional punch to leave the listener in askance after the first listen, hungry for something subtler that Unslayable clearly holds in its midst.
The secret is clear once you keep listening: it holds passion in its midst. Don’t get me wrong, it can also be a technical and complex album at times, with non-traditional track structures and flows. But that’s not what draws me so much to it; simply put, Unslayable is one of the more earnest albums I’ve heard this year, very unapologetic and celebratory in its influences, Lovecraftian themes, and unbridled aggression. It’s an album that wears its heart on its sleeve and that heart is corroded, bleeding, and on fire at the same time. I can say that because we’re talking about metal and metal is both nerdy and it rules at the same time. OK, enough words; go listen to some sick riffs! Listen to Unslayable!
Best of the Rest
Ultha – All That Has Never Been True
Every so often an album just hits you right. Atmoblack and I have a cordial but fickle relationship when it comes to mood music. During the winter months I adore it, but once we hit spring and summer it seems to take a backseat when it comes to my consistent playlist. It takes a fairly great album to break that barrier and serve as an evergreen listen even in the summer months. Ultha’s latest is one of those records, and one of the best atmo/post-black records I’ve heard so far this year.
Fans of Deafheaven, Bosse de Nage, and Alcest will certainly find plenty to love in All That Has Never Been True, but pigeonholing this record into the popular post-black category is a bit misplaced. While there are certainly vestiges of such recognizable sounds here, Ultha are and have always been their own unique creature, and for every minor chord riff into the void there’s a cascading waterfall and texture of sound reminiscent of the grandiosity of Cult of Luna (especially in opener “Dispel”) or the soft atmospheric effervescence of Unreqvited (“Bathed in Lightning, Bathed in Heat”). Ultha have a multitude of tools in their belt to get their message across, and their proficiency as songwriters and performers with each one of them make for a record that feels both varied and focused, never meandering too far from the blackened highway that serves as the music’s bedrock. If you’re a fan of atmospheric or post-black metal in any form, All That Has Never Been True has you covered.
I’ve been stuck on this album since its release. Each new listen feels like it opens a unique portal into its cold and beautiful world and despite the general warmth in the States this time of year the gloam it has created persists on my regular playlist. This band is wildly underrated and this may be one of their best offerings to date. Strongly recommended.
Vanum – Legend
Following up an incredible album is always challenging. Ageless Fire was most certainly an exceptional record, so expectations for Legend were high across the board. While one’s mileage may vary with this latest offering given what you enjoyed about Ageless Fire, to my ears Legend is a logical and superbly executed evolution of the band’s sound into bolder, broader, and more grandiose scope than we’ve yet heard from them. In short, it’s fantastic.
The above point is important in the context of approaching Legend, and is the principal indicator behind how much you may enjoy this record. While Ageless Fire shared a sonic hue with its fiery cover art, replete with wrathful blasts and tremolo aggression, Legend feels less intense than its predecessor, focusing more heavily on melodic mid-tempo textures. This may sound like a downgrade, but when the songwriting is this assured and beautiful it’s hard to look at this tonal shift as a negative. Sure, Legend still contains moments of raucous intensity (see “The Gateway and the Key”), but more so than ever the band pull in tricks from the Alcest and Khemmis playbooks by incorporating some melody rich and doom-laden swagger to the proceedings that honestly fits the band’s overall sound perfectly. Tracks like “Beneath the Pillars of Earth and Air” could have been pulled straight from a Pallbearer record, adding a new and uncharted depth to Vanum’s sound that I find most welcome.
If none of this sounds appealing to you, Legend may represent a step back in enjoyment for you in the grand scheme of the band’s catalog. But those open to Vanum exploring even further the melodic depths of their sound will find a blackened record with more than enough quality to tracks to keep listeners fully engaged for repeat listens. It’s a different side of Vanum, but in my estimation an altogether good one. Definitely recommended.
Feral Light – Psychic Contortions
It’s very interesting to me that the interest in post-metal as a genre and as a phenomenon faded as quickly as it gathered. There used to be think pieces, editorials, and podcasts discussing the genre, where it starts and ends, what it means for metal, and more. But now that everyone has accepted the fact that the genre label is fine (people are really allergic to the “post” label, for some reason) and that the style of music can be great, the fervor around it has simmered down. Luckily though, the reaction of many bands has been to take the genre and start splicing it even further with all sorts of influences, with one of the more prolific ones being black metal.
Feral Light are a fine example, melding the groovy and somber riffs of post-metal with caustic black metal to create Psychic Contortions, an album able to balance, and hit on, those two fronts. The two influences work extremely well because they “connect” along the axis of theme, channeling the same kind of ambient darkness. While the two genres sound pretty distinct, this “hinge” which Feral Light are experts at exploiting via moody, atmospheric passages and fury-filled tones, allows them to meld together pretty smoothly. Just turn on the opening track and listen to the way that dynamic opening riff, very much a post-metal riff, works with the harrowing vocals and the guitar tone. Then listen all the way through to the blast-beat drenched second part of the track, and hear how the formula is approached from the opposite end. In short, dig into this release and hear an unconventional but now-that-you-think-about-it pretty natural combination done extremely well.