Snow falls on the east coast not in inches, but in feet. My country at large is wrapped firmly in winter’s cold, iron grip, suffocating the final life from flora and fauna desperately burrowing underground or reaching to distant sunlight, gasping desperately to survive the bleakness to come.
It’s black metal season. [Insert howl]
Kvlt Kolvmn has some premium content for your ear holes this month, with a sonically various slate of releases that we’re sure you will enjoy to the fullest. Look out for year-end content info soon as we wrap up the trip ‘round the sun that was 2022.
Listen to your heart’s content, and stay frosty.
Gevurah - Gehinnom
Quebec black metal wizards Gevurah are criminally underrated and under appreciated. Seldom spoken of or experienced within fandoms of the more atmospheric and riff-heavy realms of the genre, it’s been an unfortunately rare occurrence to run into another aficionado who’s even heard of them. It’s a real shame, since their brand of black metal is pure, unadulterated fire. Since the release of their fantastic debut Hallelujah!, those in the know have been anxiously anticipating its follow up. Little did we know we’d need to wait six whole years to hear it. But interminable wait aside, Gehinnom is here and ready to hypnotize and mortify us in equal measure. Which it does. Resoundingly.
For those unfamiliar with this project’s sound, take the ambient religiosity of Batushka, blend it with the atmospheric intensity of Mgla and the transcendent melodicism of Ellende, sprinkle in a few death metal riffs from Aeviterne, and top it off with a luciferian chaos reminiscent of Thantifaxath or Svartidaudi and you’ll have some frame of reference as to how titanic this music sounds. It’s a fiery sonic cauldron brimming and bubbling with aggression and menace, heralding back to some of black metal’s earliest and most prominently intense releases. But for all of their dipping into the established creative black metal pool, Gevurah have a distinct earnestness to their sound that helps to elevate them to a singular level of sonic prominence that feels distinct and familiar all at once. This balance between the familiar and distinct is executed to near perfection early on in the album with “At the Orient of Eden” and “Blood-Soaked Katabasis”, which blend memorable melodic undertones with frantic black metal aggression in a manner that confounds and entrances. Which is probably the best way to describe the entirety of Gehinnom.
While there was a grittiness to the band’s debut that now feels more polished and expansive in production, tone, and songwriting, there’s still plenty of chaotic darkness to be had. “Towards the Shifting Sands” bursts and boils with a seething blackness that channels Misthyrming at their bleakest, particularly in the vocal department. This is dramatically and thoroughly black metal, giving listeners few Alcest-inspired spaces for breathing room (with the acoustic title track and “LV: 6-22” being the lone exceptions), opting instead to cushion the majority of its melodies into punishing spaces that encase an odd sense of riffy memorability not often experienced in these types of records. This is due primarily to a brilliant mix of thoroughly excellent performative execution and exceptional songwriting craft. While Gehinnom as a whole passes in a whirlwind of manic aggression, dark anger, and spiritual consternation, careful listening finds Gevurah thoughtfully crafting every inch of this record, sequencing riffs and tempo adjustments with careful consideration and nuance, proving once again that the devil is most certainly in the details. All of this careful, tactful execution leads up to a cosmic eruption of a finale in “Gloria in Exelsis Deo, Et IRA Ad Homines in Terra”, one of the most riveting and explosive closing statements I’ve heard from a black metal record this year. Like any great work of art, the payoff is almost always the most essential component to success. In that regard, Siskel and Ebert give it two spiritual, skeletal thumbs up.
In case it isn’t already apparent, I’m in love with Gehinnom and Gevurah in general. It’s my contention that their discography has been overlooked for far too long, and it’s my sincere hope that their sophomore full-length changes that narrative drastically. They deserve all the attention and careful consideration that they’re intricate, chaotic, sonically arresting music warrants. Here’s hoping Gehinnom lifts the veil of secrecy the band has been toiling behind for many years, sucking a whole new crop of listeners into the fiery void devised of their own nefarious will. It’s a hellish trip well worth taking.
Best of the Rest
Aenaon - Mnemosyne
Back in 2016, when Aenaon released Hypnosophy, the band rushed like wildfire through the blog’s ranks and, indeed, through the somewhat small yet very present community of avant garde black metal aficionados. It has been a long six years since that happened and interest and expectation in Aenaon’s next release ebbed and flowed as more and more releases came out in their space over that period of time. Today, avant garde black metal is a much stronger presence on the fields of metal which begs the question: are Aenaon still relevant? Do they still have what it takes to release an album that’s going to turn heads?
The answer to that is “yes, but not in the way you might expect”. That is to say, Mnemosyne is a much tighter and more controlled effort than Hypnosophy. It has less of the theatrical verve of the previous release, less flamboyant explosions into wild, aesthetic gestures. It feels like Aenaon have, or have decided to exercise, more restrictive reins on the experimental dynamo that powered their previous efforts. The result is an album that is very much of the times; it has the calmer, more noir vibes that White Ward have made extremely popular, alongside the polished, epic black metal riffs that have been on display basically everywhere in the genre, with the return to power of the melodic side of black metal (see below for an example).
Is this a good thing? Depends on what you were looking for with Mnemosyne. If you were looking for Aenaon to continue their descent into de Sadian, nightmarish, and bewildering avant garde black metal, then you might be disappointed by it. But, on the other hand, how can you deny the power of the way the saxophones sit just right on the riff during “Cartesian Eye”? On previous releases, that riff would have disintegrated under the caterwauling saxophone but here, on the more contained Mnemosyne, they live side by side. Sure, the saxophone doesn’t get the full breadth it might have otherwise gotten but the swagger and groove of the riff also doesn’t get lost in abstraction and purely experimental expression like it might have in the past.
When you bring everything together, I really like Menomsyne. It has enough weirdness on it to scratch the itch that Aenaon were able to hit in the past but more collected, efficient, and goal-oriented songwriting. It’s able to bring in some measure of structure and direction to Aenaon’s burning core, funneling it into an album that time will probably reveal as more approachable and, therefore, repeatable. However, if you choose to lament the loss of that certain ferocity that Aenaon had on previous releases, I can certainly understand that as well.
Freedom of Fear - Carpathia
Let us suppose, for a moment here, that you read my entry below on Stormruler and you thought to yourself: what if I could have the intensity and absolutely fire-born passion of this album but make it even more grandiose and technical? Well, that’s what Freedom of Fear are for! They take the already inherently turbo-charged foundations of classic, melodic black metal, and merge it with ideas from the realms of technical death metal, creating something truly over the top and eclectic. Most of all, Carpathia is an album that just doesn’t stop, constantly keeping you guessing as to what exactly comes next, turning its runtime of just under forty minutes into an entire world in its own right.
Tuning into “Zenith”, the opening track, and specifically listening to how it blends into the opening of the self-titled track which follows it, should give you everything you need. The vocals, as with so many of the classics of this style of black metal, offer up the core of the track’s sound, painting their epic cries against a thunderstorm of guitars and blast-beats. Those blast-beats tell you that things are not quite as they seem though; they are much faster and “smoother” than you would usually expect in a black metal release. That is because they are, in execution, production, and role in the composition, taken more from technical death metal or progressive death metal than black. This lends the track a certain shine, a sleekness, that works incredibly well with the heavy metal inflected solos that follow and, most successfully, on the next, self-titled track, with the gorgeously massive and prominent synths that run through the track like a rod of steel.
There are many more little touches and notes from across the diverse gamut of extreme metal hidden in this album and listening to Carpathia several times is partly so much fun because of these little gems. But, most importantly, listening to Carpathia is fun in its own right because it is such a well executed, written, and produced album. Everything, from the neoclassical guitar solos (yes, you read that right), through the furious and unstoppable blast-beats, and all the way to the scorching black metal vocals, has been crafted with exceptional care for all stages of the process. This makes Carpathia one of the most “whole” albums of the year, which is quite an achievement for an album that tries to do as much as it does.
Stormruler - Sacred Rites & Black Magick
In a sea of more experimental and “hybrid” black metal, it sometimes does one good to dive into a massively ambitious and epic release that has “the good old days” written all over it, musically at least. Sacred Rites & Black Magick is exactly that, clocking in at seventy four minutes and a half, dotted with multiple connecting tracks that play a part in its epic concept, and serving up furious, no-holds-barred, blistering black metal while doing so. This is clearly a conscious decision by the band; you can still hear the more atmospheric tendencies of their previous release (which struck waves in the scene when it was released last year) but it has clearly been tempered with a much harsher sort of steel on this release.
The key to making a release of this length and this scope while still maintaining the listener’s attention can be varied and unique to each band. Some might choose to focus on narration, granting the listener overt lock codes to unlocking the album’s code (think Dvne). Others might focus on intricate and complex song-writing, inviting the listener to decipher its progressive tendencies over time. Stormruler have gone for a much simpler, but also harder to execute, solution: every second of music on this album fucking slaps. I mean it; if you can listen to “Internal Fulmination of the Grand Deceivers” and not want to run up a hill, punch someone, drink yourself half to death, storm a castle, or just challenge the entire fucking universe to a punch-out, then I have serious doubts you are, in fact, alive.
The riffs, solos, and vocals are all centered on doing one thing and one thing only on this release: crush, blister, and scorch anything that stands in their way. It’s that sweet, sweet balance that reminds you why black metal and thrash metal have always been considered adjacent genres and why there is so much untapped overlap (in my opinion) between black metal and power metal. Sacred Rites & Black Magick just does a phenomenal job in conjuring forth all of the atavistic reasons that we love metal so much, its size, its power, its self-fulfillment, and its musical grandiosity. In short, if you love your black metal as large, fast, and potent as possible, this is the release to beat in 2022.