Ah. November. Winter approaches. Black metal ascends. It’s Kvlt Kolvmn. Oh yeah.
The weather here in the western United States is finally starting to reflect the bleakness of existence, and we have quite the soundtrack to usher us into another dark winter of the soul. Black metal continues a stellar year of overall quality, with October’s releases presenting some of the year’s finest work from bands spanning the globe. I get more and more excited (and more and more fearful) with each passing month about compiling a year-end list. It’s been a truly exceptional trip ‘round the sun.
Send us your picks from the month that was. Let us know what we missed.
Mo’ynoq - A Place for Ash
Mo’ynoq’s previous release, 2020’s fantastic and surprising Dreaming in a Dead Language was already one of the more vicious black metal albums of the last few years. What would happen to that sound, deep and resonant as much as it was abrasive, if you also made it colder and more brittle? You’d get A Place for Ash, the band’s September release. This is a jagged, quick-sharp, and even more harrowing take on Mo’ynoq’s already aggressive black metal, transforming the band into a powerhouse of pissed off, no-holds-barred music.
The opening track, “Penance”, is like a bloody declaration of the febrile transformation that has seized Mo’ynoq. It starts with one of the most blood-chilling, rage-inducing screams I’ve heard in metal in the last few years, absolutely blazing the album’s opening across your ears. The music quickly follows suit, emerging from the quiet it provided as the vocals’ stage into full blown blazon in record time. While the bass is louder, thus adding to Mo’ynoq’s already established “deep” sound (perhaps drawing a comparison to the mighty Helfró in their cavernous heaviness), the guitars and vocals continue the decidedly higher, screech-invoking sound of the track’s opening. While visiting more resonant moments, the track stays with this tone throughout, culminating in an absolutely devastating outro composed of endlessly layering guitars and the vocals' cathartic crescendo.
If you thought we were just talking about the first track, you were wrong; A Place for Ash is vicious and unrelenting all the way through, making it a very demanding listen. However, if you’re looking for your black metal angry, fast, and harrowing as all hell, then this is the album to beat in 2022. It builds on Mo’ynoq’s already established penchant for blistering black metal by diving deeper into what makes their music so effective, turning up the dial on both attack and speed.
Best of the Rest
Ellende - Ellenbogengesellschaft
Austrian post-black metal outfit Ellende have been toiling under the radar for the past several years, dropping three full-length records between 2013-19 that could all be considered very good. It’s my estimation, however, that the band had not fully reached their potential in any of their releases, instead providing obviously high quality post-black metal with flashes of brilliance that never fully materialized across an entire body of work. All of that changed last month with the release of Ellenbogengesellschaft, one of the most brilliant melodic black metal records released in 2022 and far and away the band’s most cohesive and consistently brilliant record. Those hoping for this incredibly talented band to reach their potential need wait no longer: Ellenbogengesellschaft is their masterpiece.
Post-black metal has always excelled at delivering music fraught with melody and emotion, leaning on the most openly romantic aspects of traditional black metal to create a genre designed at its core to make you feel something. Ellende have absolutely no problems establishing themselves at the top of the post-black metal pile in this regard, unleashing track after track of baldly emotive goodness. Opener “Ich Bin” utilizes acoustics and choral arrangements to scintillating effect, showcasing the band’s ability to build interesting melodic compositions that fall well outside the confines of black metal. But it’s when the opening track blossoms into “Unsterblich” that Ellende’s true mastery of the form becomes apparent. Utterly violent blast beats combine with a deeply melodic central riff that pummels and transcends in equal measure. It’s a truly mesmerizing two track opening that’s as good as anything I’ve heard in black metal this year. If this sequence suits your fancy, buckle up. It only gets more gorgeous from there.
Ellenbogengesellschaft is, above all else, a gorgeous record. Its performances, songwriting, and production are stellar, and each serve to elevate the greater whole that is a thoroughly captivating record. I’ve been listening to this thing for a few weeks and am having a hard time drawing my attention toward anything else. With Ellenbogengesellschaft, an exceedingly talented Project moves itself into the upper echelon of its genre, culminating in one of my favorite records of 2022. Utterly fantastic.
Gaerea - Mirage
Enigmatic Portuguese black metal act Gaerea have been active since 2016 with two previous full-lengths under their belts, but they’ve been enjoying a breakout moment with their third LP Mirage. Their second under Season of Mist, Mirage is marketed as a bit of a post-black metal record, and while Gaerea certainly employ similar aesthetics and stylistic choices, they’re by no means Alcest clones, and spend a lot of the runtime of Mirage outside of the cloak of reverb they strategically employ. Mirage is often more directly confrontational in a way that’s comparable to contemporary black metal acts like (ugh) Mgla and Watain, with the benefit of offering an alternative act to support within this melodic and intense development within the genre seemingly without overtly direct ties to fascist movements. So that’s always good.
Mirage feels much more progressive as well, splitting the difference between meat-and-potatoes black metal and the full-blown avant garde of acts like White Ward. Sure, the record opens with the type of somber and spacious twinkling guitars that some might expect out of Tesseract, a trick they’d come to employ throughout the record to build atmosphere and establish dynamic, but the album’s second track “Salve” is the band’s crowning achievement; it’s so densely layered that it feels symphonic and regal, telegraphing very early in the record the type of songwriting with which Gaerea are most infatuated, all while enjoying some immaculate and contemporary production (read: it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in a cave). Mirage plays as a re-contextualized symphony or film score delivered through intricately layered black metal instrumentation, and while that sounds pretentious as hell, it’s a thing of beauty to behold Gaerea craft such emotionally resonant movements as Mirage’s title track without sacrificing intensity or aggression. Fans of Numenorean (RIP) and Misþyrming are sure to be obsessed with this one. It’s easily one of the year’s best in black metal.
Mamaleek - Diner Coffee
Seems like every month we have a record that is so borderline on the “is this even black metal?” category that I question whether or not to include it in this column. But genre is fluid so Mamaleek will always have a place in Kvlt Kolvmn. Well… as long as their music is good. Thus far, there’s no reason not to include them. Eight albums in and the San Francisco duo continues to break through genre expectations and unleash record after captivating record, and Diner Coffee is no exception. In fact, one could posit that it’s one of their very best. This listener is going to make that exact claim, as this record has been a winding, baffling, captivating listen from spin one.
While the now well-established contextual lore behind this record has been discussed across the web at length, Mamaleek’s traditionally batshit style of music is the obvious centerpiece here, overriding with verve any narrative intricacies. “Boiler Room” is everything listeners have come to expect from this group and more, replete with woozy and boozy jazz ensemble instrumentation coupled with a menacing metallic aesthetic pushed forward by off-kilter vocal intensity that makes every track feel odd, unusual, and captivating. Veering wildly between compositional structure and jazzy improv, the tracks on Diner Coffee feel extremely unpredictable, but in standard Mamaleek fashion always end up in places far better than I could have anticipated. The record on the whole is sublimely odd, blending in the majesty and intensity of Imperial Triumphant with the sharp/soft dynamics of bands like Wreck and Reference, culminating in some of the most unique sounds in all of music. Every track is a weird ass banger.
It’s hard to classify exactly what Mamaleek currently is and continues to become as a musical entity, but lack of categorization adds a distinctly unique flavor to Mamaleek’s music. Especially given that one of the band’s few signature performative traits being a roared, warbled, and harsh vocal style that throws each track into a fiery furnace of black metal goodness. Mamaleek sound like no one else on Earth, and Diner Coffee further establishes Mamaleek’s strangeness by presenting in my mind their most odd and captivating release since Via Dolorosa. It may not be “trve”, but it is thoroughly excellent.
VOAK - Verdrängung
Back in 2020, Greece based VOAK released Verschiebung, a pissed off, punk-infused take on black metal that immediately caught my attention. Imagine my joy then when I found out that their 2022 release would be: 1) full length, 2) released by I, Voidhanger Records and 3) mixed by none other than Ayloss from Spectral Lore. Lo and behold, the end material is just as good as all of those elements would seem to imply, conserving much of the anger and direct forcefulness (and anti-fascism) of the EP and melding them with a much more “open” sound.
At the core of Verdrängung still beats the pulsing heart of VOAK’s punk inflected black metal. This means that the riffs on this album are direct, carefully escorted by the band’s tight drumming, and ushered into this world on the back of furious, attack-heavy vocals that skimp on black metal screeches and go for full-throated condemnations of our poor situation. But Verdrängung also adds plenty of new sounds for the band; “Affektintoleranz” is steeped in the kind of European darkwave that dominated the economic depression of the late 80’s and early 90’s, here mixed with harsh vocals to great affect. “Die Verwandlung” has an industrial edge and bounce to its guitars, while “Für jede Wunde ein Pfeil” dabbles further into atmospheric black metal than any other VOAK track with its tremolo-heavy main riff.
Throughout, VOAK are absolutely dedicated to their vision and style of black metal and the artistic expression of not just political ideas but also aesthetic and existential modes. Ayloss has given the album the perfect sound, picking out the small details of VOAK’s steps forward while maintaining the heft and impact of the music’s delivery. Bottom line, the first full length from this duo places them firmly on the map for any lover of black metal and deserves your time and attention.