It’s been a minute, my frosty friends. We’ve missed you. But Kvlt Kolvmn rises once more from the frosty depths to bring to your ever eager ears all that is best in the world of black metal. Let’s go.
Apologies are due on my end for a skipped month of posting. Personal and professional life happenings have occupied the vast majority of my time as of late, which is very untrve of me. But never fear. This edition includes records from the last two months, ensuring we can bring you any picks missed out on in what should have been last month’s column. We appreciate your patience.
We hope you enjoy our thoughts on some incredible records. Let us know what we missed.
Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture
Explicitly political music (which one could argue is ALL music, but you know what I mean) is an inherently tricky proposition. Regardless of the quality of instrumentation, songwriting, or production value, political belief is inherently divisive, facilitating potential alienation of listeners with divergent views regardless of a work’s artistic merit. In my estimation, politically charged music works best when the artists involved give zero fucks about your opinion as a listener. There’s a truth they need to express, and your agreement with their reasoning is irrelevant. It’s human experience, expressed raw and without filter, uncaring of potential objections. If we are gauging the quality of Ashenspire’s Hostile Architecture on these messaging metrics, we have a masterpiece on our hands. If you incorporate their musical ability, songwriting skill, and creativity… we still have a masterpiece on our hands.
Right off the bat, opening track “The Law of Asbestos” conjures sonic reminiscence of bands like A Forest of Stars, Howling Sycamore, and White Ward, throwing out emotive blasts of saxophone and hammered dulcimer that undergird jangly, aggressive guitar and drum work. Every track on this record is replete with a veritable cornucopia of sounds and textures, culminating in a record that’s thoroughly entertaining and engaging throughout. There are numerous deeply memorable riffs and passages that have stuck with me far beyond my active listening time with the record (the haunting choral work of “How the Mighty Have Vision” and the malicious guitar tone of “Tragic Heroin” stick out with particular clarity). But if I’m being completely honest, the music Ashenspire perform here is only half of the album’s quality.
Vocalist Alasdair Dunn is to Ashenspire what Nick Cave is to The Bad Seeds, or what Isaac Wood was for Black Country, New Road. His voice is that of the Everyman. Brittle, warbled, desperate, dramatic, and filled with what feels like an unquenchable wrath that spews out of every brogued syllable. His performance is utterly spellbinding, and made all the more intense by the words he’s speaking/yelling/screaming. The album title Hostile Architecture was obviously not chosen because it sounded hip. Dunn’s lyrics are vitriolic deconstructions of late stage capitalism and the barbarism of corporatized society, pulling off despair, rage, and educated antagonism with the verve of a dozen Chat Piles. It’s a magnum opus polemic the likes of which I have not heard in a very long time. Whether or not you agree with Dunn’s words, it’s impossible to remain unaffected.
I enjoyed Ashenspire’s debut record quite a bit, but Hostile Architecture eclipses that record with a ferocity and effectiveness worthy of the highest praise. This record is simply phenomenal in every way, bringing the band’s obvious talents as songwriters, musicians, and political activists to the forefront with dazzling, effervescent intensity. I am in love with Hostile Architecture, and am thrilled to proclaim it one of the best albums of the year. Period. A genuine and unblinking masterpiece.
Best of the Rest
Blackbraid – Blackbraid I
Hype is a fickle thing. Either the harbinger of glory walking ahead of the next genre-defining artist or the shovel digging a grave for a band to fall directly into as soon as their first record fails to meet insanely lofty listener expectations. This may sound extreme, but it honestly isn’t. The greater the hype, the greater chance for reactionary disaster on either end of the spectrum. I’ve been worried about New York black metal project Blackbraid in this regard. The hype surrounding its debut album Blackbraid I has been quite intense, with album of the year proclamations being thrown across the web after only a single or two had been released. That’s a lot of unwarranted pressure for an artist to handle, but I’m pleased to report that any such worries were unfounded. Blackbraid I is a confident, deeply competent black metal release that more than meets expectations. It slaps to high heaven.
Written and performed by Sgah’gahsowáh, Blackbraid I practically bleeds atmosphere, blending second wave aggression with acoustic harmonies that feel reminiscent of Panopticon’s early work into a roiling stew of naturalistic black metal that hits all the right notes. One of the crowning achievements of Blackbraid I is its ability to balance its traditional black metal elements with these melodic touches and atmospheric breaks without creating a disjointed listening experience, instead creating a harmonious collage that pulls inspiration from Wolves in the Throne Room and Falls of Rauros. Tracks like “Sacandaga” and “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil” most readily exemplify these traits, and are in my mind the most impressive compositions of the lot. Throughout the record as a whole, tracks bounce regularly from the manic to the melodious with a skill not often found in a project this young, and it’s a sight to behold.
I’m genuinely impressed with the magnitude of Blackbraid I, which feels massive and substantive despite its comparably short runtime. Quick, concise, action packed and filled with intensity, I have a hard time imagining the black metal fan who won’t get something (and probably a whole lot of it) out of this. One of the best debut records of the year.
GUDSFORLADT – Friendship, Love and War
Usually, when you think of the sub-genre of lo-fi black metal, the adjectives which immediately come to you are all drawn from darker palettes: murky, dirty, obscured, and so forth. But it doesn’t have to be that way; after all, feedback and fuzz can also be manipulated to create brighter sounds, scintillating in their overdrive and reverb. GUDSFORLADT, a Los Angeles one person project, provides a masterclass in how to do this without compromising an inch of the project’s black metal sound on their latest release, Friendship, Love and War. A concept album following the quest of a doom hero, the album presents us with the storm and fury that we come to black metal for while eschewing the cliche of what lo-fi production can do for the sound.
As this is a concept album, starting at the beginning is probably a good idea (and I’m a fan of that, usually, in any case). “Ride Forever in the Shadow of a Mountain” is a peculiar track because its name conjures the same somber adjectives we used above, those that we usually associate with this kind of black metal. But instead, the gritty sound of the guitars is more akin to so many rays of light scattering into a rainbow on a mirror. That is to say, they are still “lo-fi” in the sense of their “low” musical accuracy (the “fidelity” to the “true” sound that was recorded and no, we won’t be opening that can of worms) but instead of generating a “buried” or “remote” sound, the result is of a scintillating sort of timbre. The album leans on this timbre, amplified by plenty of other guitar lines using “cleaner” tones, the higher pitch of the abrasive vocals, and plenty of majestic synth lines.
It is the core of the band’s sound and exactly what sets it apart from pretty much everything else. But the real craft is in taming this different tone instead of just slapping the same old black metal compositions on top of it and calling it a day. DM, the person behind this project, has gone one step further, re-thinking the fundamentals of how an album such as this might be constructed. The fundamentals are still there, allowing this album to channel the emotions and “gestures” of a second (and even first) wave black metal album but channeled through a mirror brightly, through the unique tone of GUDSFORLADT’s brightness. In short, if you’re looking for an album that hits hard but hits different, assaulting you from the top of mountains lit in the fire of the sun or from fields of flower calling you to adventure, look no further. Friendship, Love and War will surely go down as one of 2022’s most unique and uplifting albums.
Scarcity – Aveilut
Although it would seem that there’s a growing impatience with the concept of The COVID Record, avant garde black metal duo Scarcity’s debut album Aveilut is not just another lockdown record wherein privileged, bored musicians toil away their free time on another new vanity project or an opportunity to satisfy another obligated notch in the record deal (which, by the way, is absolutely valid; we’re all terribly excited for that L.S. Dunes record). Aveilut is the soundtrack of uncertainty and grief; the hum and pang of ambient anxiety growing in those early lockdown days; the death of neighbors and loved ones, and of what little faith in American public policy that one might have had left. That’s the genesis of Aveilut.
Multi-instrumentalist Brendan Randall-Myers builds upon a skeleton of vaguely industrial black metal with flourishes of drone, noise rock, and post-rock, leaning into the psychedelic and avant garde nature of bands like Jute Gyte, Blut Aus Nord, or Altar of Plagues. Tension builds with meditative instrumental passages that crescendo into blistering extreme metal, for which Pyrrhon vocalist Doug Moore lends his voice. Together, the two build a 45-minute long-play epic that is equal parts horrifying and heartbreaking.
Aveilut is a densely textured and emotionally devastating masterclass of American black metal that serves as a reflection on grief and loss, and pulls no punches as it writhes in anguish and lashes out before growing numb and often dissociative. It’s an incredibly validating and deeply satisfying record, with a shadow that lingers beyond its playtime.
Kraanerg – Of Matter
I’ll admit, sometimes I suffer from music fatigue. As much as I live for the moment where I can put my headphones on and turn the world off, the enormous amount of fantastic songs available at our fingertips can be overwhelming. The best cure for this feeling, I’ve discovered, is drowning in a particularly weird or harsh album. Of Matter exceeds both criteria by a mile.
The debut album from Boston-based Kraanerg rages against classification, but for the sake of fitting it in one of Heavy Blog’s missives, I’ll call it dissonant/experimental black metal. Of Matter resides somewhere between black metal, noise, and avante-garde metal, taking listeners on a wild and extreme ride. One moment, the album lurks in eerie, almost atmospheric passages in tracks like “All the Books,” juxtaposing clanging church bells against explosive, distorted electronics. Next, Kraanerg jolts us with aggressive riffs that hint at old school death metal. The brief moment of familiarity is cut short with a trumpet. Yes, you read that right. Kraanerg twists the standard formulas of extreme music with ferocity and creativity, delivering an impressive avant-garde start to a hopefully long career.
Despite the jarring nature of the beast, Of Matter never feels gratuitous or out-of-control. Kraanerg and friends execute each component of the harsh chaos extremely well, delivering on a clearly ambitious vision. Challenging, raw, and harsh, Of Matter is an experience for those ready to soak in something truly unique.
Asunojokei – Island
Japan’s Asunojokei offer blackgaze in the vein of classic Deafheaven or Alcest, with a much-appreciated J-Rock joviality. Island offers a bright and explosive shoegaze experience to counter the coldness that one would often find within blackgaze, with a sense of tone and melody that sits comfortably next to Deftones’ more shoegaze oriented tracks. Not very kvlt at all, but it is an easy standout among the black metal influenced records we’ve covered this year so far.
Crestfallen Dusk – Crestfallen Dusk
This self-titled release asks the radical question “what if our bluegrass and folk elements were a core part of our compositions instead of just interludes or counterpoints?” The end result is one of the more unsettling, calming, creepy, haunted, and satisfying black metal albums I’ve heard in the recent few years. From the abrasive screams, through the depths of somber guitars, across the backs of furious blast-beats, and down the gullet of bottomless, redolent synths, Crestfallen Dusk’s self-titled release is one to be listened to again and again. It’s a wild ride and it only gets wilder once you’ve experienced it a few times and can really appreciate what the band are going for here, namely bringing to your ears the album’s cover art.