The late Spring heat is upon us in Middle America. Trees and flowers have bloomed. Grass needs perpetual cutting. People are out walking their dogs all hours of the day. It’s “social season” and I can’t stand it. Thank our infernal underlords for a month of amazing black metal to blast the landscapes of our minds with a much needed coating of ice. It’s Kvlt Kolvmn, baby. It’s what we do.
May was a phenomenal month for all things black metal. Below you’ll find a collection of records from names old and new all sharing the same particular trait: Pure excellence. There were so many incredible records to choose from when creating this month’s column, and the selections below represent our favorites from a stacked month. Let us know what black metal frosted your follicles in the comments.
As you are most likely already aware, we’re once again shaking up the format here at Heavy Blog. As our new scheduling paradigm becomes more clear regarding our genre columns, you’ll be informed. But never fear. We’ll still be here churning out the premium content. Just need to sort out cadence in this brave new world.
Until time the next, stay frosty.
Doldrum – The Knocking, Or The Story of the Sound that Preceded Their Disappearance (avant-garde black metal, atmospheric black metal)
Back in May of 2020, a mysterious EP titled The Knocking started to make waves in my online music circles. The promise of the music on it was immense; it portrayed an energetic, theatrical, and dramatic sort of black metal which reminded me of Ashenspire or A Forest of Stars, channeling that sort of flamboyant, operatic vibes that the aforementioned bands are so good for. But, it was also short, curtailing that promise a bit with a lack of canvas for the music to really unfurl. Regardless, I became a true believer, holding out hope that a full length from the group would be forthcoming and reveal unto me and others the true beautiful madness of Doldrum’s uncompromising black metal. Lo and behold, that full length has now arrived in the form of The Knocking, Or The Story of the Sound that Preceded Their Disappearance and the promise has been kept; this is one of the best black metal releases of 2022.
At the center of The Knocking lies a masterful commitment to the semi-Lovecraftian, entirely horror based, mystery/occult/murder/abduction concept of the album. From the artwork through the tortured vocals and all the way to the winding, byzantine riffs, the entire album feels like its cover art. We are submerged in a dark place with something that haunts us and a terrible, potentially sacred, entirely maddening light shines down on us. The most obvious manifestations of these thematics are the vocals; most of the time they are possessed by the kind of wild, emotive, and barely contained fervor that has come to represent avant-garde black metal in the last two decades or so of its existence. In other places they sing a more guttural, deeper sort of growl but one which works extremely well with its higher-pitched sibling, creating rare but effective points of contrast for the vocals and their timbre.
This contrast continues “down the line” and into the rest of the instrumentation. The bass on this album is like a pit of roiling snakes, but the sort of snakes that are thick, perpetually wet, and possessed of ultra-human strength. The bass, accompanied by pronounced and present kick drums, hardly rests, constantly weaving its groove to underpin and accentuate the rest of the music. The guitars, however, have this twang to them, playing no less intricate riffs on top of the serpentine foundations of the groove section. The result reminds of Dodheimsgard and their bewitching “triangle metal” (patent pending), a sort of refractory and feverish type of black metal that is very hard to imitate or recreate. But Doldrum aren’t interested in imitation, instead taking the sound and twisting it to fit the rest of the black metal frame which makes up The Knocking.
Alright, those sure were a bunch of adjectives and superlatives but, as always, nothing can really compete with just pressing play on this album. This is doubly true for The Knocking because it is just so good at conjuring its unique atmosphere and style that I have no hope of capturing even a glimmer of it with my words. If you’re a fan of weird, twisting, and deeply well thought out and executed black metal, this is potentially the release to listen to this year. Don’t miss out. Answer The Knocking!
Best of the Rest
Au-Dessus – Mend (black metal, post-metal)
Au-Dessus continues to be an underrated name in black metal circles. While 2017’s End of Chapter made some rounds in the community, I haven’t found quite as many people who adore the album as I do. Hopefully, this year’s release of Mend should fix that, as the Lithuanian band continues to hone their unique blend of black metal and post-metal. There’s a reason I don’t call them a “post-black metal” band because their sound is way more black metal than that name hints at. Instead of reconfiguring the black metal to sound more dreamy as post-black tends to be, Au-Dessus keep heavy, blistering, and abrasive black metal at the core of their sound. The post-metal has its own presence, turning many of the riffs on the album into cavernous, echoing pits of black despair as only post-metal can do. The end result is an album both caustic and chilling, a work as black metal as can be with the added kick of post-metal and its proclivities thrown in the mix.
Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses (atmospheric black metal)
Enigmatic French avant garde black metal outfit Blut Aus Nord continue to innovate in the realm of atmospheric black metal with their fourteenth(!!) full length record Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses. Continuing where their celebrated 2018 record Hallucinogen left off, Blut Aus Nord are perfecting their psychedelic blend of black metal, shoegaze, post-rock, and industrial music and are sounding better than ever as they near 30 years as an act.
Disharmonium is a cinematic masterpiece of black metal. With minimal vocal input, the band are content with stirring up a whirling concoction of horrors that is perhaps best digested as a post-rock or drone record as a wash of ethereal sounds envelops listeners. From time to time, twisted synth melodies and swinging drum grooves emanate from the fog, as in “Into the Woods.” There’s much to be said about how “dissonant” black metal, and indeed, Blut Aus Nord, often are (the opening of “Neptune’s Eye” clashes about in discord), but there is a weird and mighty sense of melodicism here serving the atmosphere well.
The record is an hour of ethereal whooshing, to borrow from the Twin Peaks meme, and it’s a sound that suits Blut Aus Nord well. If you enjoyed Hallucinogen or perhaps thought it didn’t go hard enough, Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses might be just what you’re looking for.
Luminous Vault – Animate the Emptiness (industrial / experimental black metal)
For those not paying attention at home, it would appear that musician Samuel Smith is having an incredible year as far as creative output is concerned. Not only is he the bassist of Artificial Brain (whose new self-titled record absolutely dominates) he’s also a major creative force behind 2022 Kvlt Kolvmn alumni Aeviterne as well as half of industrial duo Luminous Vault.
Granted, due to their experimental nature, Luminous Vault shares little in common with the other acts in this column this month. Perhaps they sit sonically close to Blut Aus Nord’s avant garde approach to black metal, but Luminous Vault leans further into the Godflesh worship and makes no effort to disguise the digitized nature of their programmed drums. Despite all the post-punk, industrial, and new wave influence on Animate the Emptiness with its often shimmering and psychedelic use of synthesizers (seek out “Earth Daemon” and final track “Ancient North”!), there’s no denying the blackened fury within the guitars of opening tracks “Invoke Radiant Gleam” and “Incarnate Flames Arise”.
Animate the Emptiness is a wild ride that vacillates between vicious, psychedelic, and stunning. Its charming production and overabundance of good ideas also makes it one of the most engaging and repeated records of the year thus far, and perhaps the most fascinating of Smith’s three latest projects.
Nechochwen – Kanawha Black (progressive black metal)
I’ll be honest with you: I had never even heard the name Nechochwen but when key parts of my online community started being incredibly excited about a new release from them, I knew I had to check them out. Lo and behold, I found an incredibly moving and effective release of the sort of doom and folk tinged black metal that I love. Very much deep in the traditions of US based black metal and drawing influence from acts like Panopticon, Kanawha Black is an epic, surprisingly dark, and incredibly well made piece of black metal.
It gets its “progressive moniker” for the way it hits on multiple lines of attack, sometimes willing to double down on “classic” black metal riffs but often exploding into heavy metal inspired explosions of sound, folk-y and meditative instrumental, and even some ambience. Whatever is cast into the mold of Nechochwen’s love of black metal enjoys the sheen of their passion for music, executed not just with skill and talent but also with an unbridled sort of passion that is the beating heart, or should be, of all great black metal. In short, I will be listening to and deciphering this album for a while to come, in the meantime enjoying the excellent journey of delving into its groovy and engaging mysteries.
Sisyphean – Colours of Faith (avant-garde/dissonant black metal)
When I hear that there’s a band out there that blends elements of Dodecahedron, Svartidaudi, and Blut Aus Nord into a seamless whole, you bet your ass I’m giving it a listen. Lithuania’s Sisyphean certainly fit the bill when it comes to accuracy of promotional descriptors. There’s plenty of trendy dissonance and avant-garde wildness being tossed about throughout their sophomore record Colours of Faith, but careful listening unfurls a sequence of tracks that transcend their genre signifiers by championing dynamics, uniqueness in approach, and borderline flawlessness in execution. It’s the kind of record that blows the roof off of some skulls when given an appropriate amount of time and attention, which is exactly what this record deserves. Not a second less.
Sisyphean don’t waste any time dictating terms to the listener. While the album’s opening minute-long palate setter is in my opinion fairly unnecessary (and a peeve of mine in general when it comes to records in this space), the album’s opening salvo “Scorched Timeless” is a jaw dropping display of dissonance and melody congealing into a beastly and fully transfixing monster that will be hard to get past without clicking the replay button at least once. The songwriting here is both excellent and unique for its genre space. While many of dissonant metal’s most lauded and influential purveyors (think Portal and Imperial Triumphant) tend to bypass or bury melody as a core function of their songwriting aesthetic, Sisyphean borrow much more heavily from the Icelandic tradition of Misthyrming and Sinmara by incorporating central melodic motifs as their core songwriting tenets. This creates a sequence of tracks that is not only unpredictable in direction, but swirls around accessible melodic structures that are not just deeply enjoyable to listen to, but memorable. It’s pretty rare that I can hum passages from dissonant metal records, and Sisyphean somehow accomplishes this feat in spades.
While the songwriting is certainly laudatory, I would be remiss to neglect dropping some effusive praise on the performances here. Nuanced, engaging, and manically aggressive, Sisyphean have struck a balance of performative elements that highlight the most essential components of their songwriting without fail. From the blend of stirring and soaring melody mixed with brutal tremolo black metal aggression in the latter half of “Hearts of Mercury” to the gorgeous and menacing interplay between drums and bass in the opening seconds of “Sovereigns of Livid Hope”, each performance gets its time to shine and doesn’t waste a single opportunity to make an impact. This is one of the most well-performed and articulate black metal records I’ve heard this year. And given the year the genre is having, that’s saying something.
I couldn’t be more thrilled about what Sisyphean have conjured with Colours of Faith. Devotees of dissonant, avant-garde, and melodic black metal will each find elements to love here, but it’s the seamless blending of these styles that makes this record stand out not only as an excellent example of each, but also as its own thoroughly unique entity. It’s one of the best black metal albums of the year, and I’ll be listening intently for many months to come.
Tómarúm – Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons (progressive black metal)
You’ve seen or will see smatterings of Atlanta’s Tómarúm all across Heavy Blog this month, and it’s for good reason. Their debut full-length Ash In Realms of Stone Icons is absolutely epic, folding in elements of technical and progressive death metal into their sound, echoing last year’s brilliant Stortregn LP. Through a sheen of icy chord progressions and blastbeats lie virtuosic fretless bass performances and gorgeous piano accompaniment. Guitars stack atop each other, soaring and harmonizing towards apex. We don’t even hear vocals until halfway through the second song; that’s the kind of record Tómarúm are crafting.
Granted, the first track is a two minute introductory track, but the time isn’t wasted on skippable ambiance; it goes. Track two, “Condemned to a Life of Grief,” offers ten minutes of dynamic and powerful extreme prog, swerving deftly between brutality and elegance while establishing a playbook for a record that is truly exhilarating. Mastered by none other than Colin Marston himself and complimented by the equally stunning and haunting artwork from the inimitable Mariusz Lewandowski, it’s hard to imagine this record (and Tómarúm at large) not sticking around in the conversation of extreme prog for years to come.