The year draws to a close. New releases become more and more scarce. But leave it to your friends at Heavy Blog to find the ice-cold gems in the mammoth piles of musical snow. It’s what we do. It’s Kvlt Kolvmn.
We’re on the cusp of the year-end content bonanza (as is tradition), but don’t forget to give these records a listen before you draw up your own list. We’re confident you’ll find something you like.
See you soon for the big stuff. Stay frosty.
Malist - As I Become Darkness
Anyone who reads this column on the regular knows I’m a pretty big fan of Malist. Serving as one of the DIY stalwarts of Russian black metal along with bands like Swampborn, Malist has been churning out consistently excellent records at a regular clip since the project’s debut record In the Catacombs of Time dropped in 2019. The project’s fourth full-length record, As I Become Darkness, does little to change its already stellar trajectory. A more straightforward homage to the second wave of black metal, the record highlights Malist at its most raw, melodic, and unforgiving. It’s just about everything Malist fans have come to expect, and that’s a very good thing.
With black metal taking a turn toward genre-bending in 2022 with albums from Kvaen and Gaerea providing plenty of blackened heft mixed with various outside genre stylings, it feels great to get a record that knows exactly what it is (big, epic black metal) and pushes that sound to consistently excellent places. The squelching, squealing guitars of “The Death Bell” feel ripped right out of Norway circa 1994, but it’s the small flourishes in the project’s work that separate it from simple second-wave worship. Acoustics ring through in the above mentioned track at the halfway point, adding a melodic and beautiful flavor to a fairly icy package, while the dark synth background that populates the middle of “March of the Defilers” perfectly tees up the absolute blast of tremolo guitar work and borderline d-beat drum work that sends the track to its harrowing conclusion. There’s variety aplenty throughout this record, but it never strays from its core identity: Menacing epic black metal.
It’s also worth noting one-person juggernaut Ovfrost’s growth as both a musician and songwriter. After a trilogy of conceptual records that served as individual pieces to a larger conceptual whole, As I Become Darkness separates itself from its predecessors as a more concentrated version of the project’s established sound. The guitar work throughout is in particular truly splendid, blending melody, atmosphere, acoustics and blistering shredding with expert precision, showcasing some genuine growth and the performative side. The songwriting is also deceptively excellent, wrapping some relatively complex and multi-faceted compositions under the trappings of classic black metal, allowing for rewarding repeat listening experiences. It’s a natural and welcome progression for an artist who consistently elevates their game with each subsequent record.
Overall, As I Become Darkness isn’t one of the project’s most progressive or obviously atmospheric experiences, but ends up being one of its very best. Malist knows what it does well, and it’s a blast to hear the project double down on some of its most thoroughly excellent qualities. Couple maturation in songwriting and performance and you have a sneakily fantastic record that I strongly recommend.
Best of the Rest
Fliege - One Day They’ll Wonder What Happened Here
Cataloging Fliege into this or that genre was already hard enough with their previous release but on One Day They’ll Wonder What Happened Here, the band give us an even harder time. It’s without doubt when we say that black metal lies at the core of the musical puzzle on display here; the vocals are vicious and high pitched, the riffs are fast and “cold”, and everything just pops off with that black metal epicness which the genre is so well known for. But there’s a lot else happening here, including heavy metal riffs and solos, death metal tempos, and just unquantifiable avenues of ethereal experimentation that provide much of the album’s meat.
However, once we release our (understandable) obsession with these categories, we find an album that, above all, represents a real step forward with Fliege, seeing them coalesce much of their influences and sounds into a work that feels more cohesive if no less unhinged and challenging. “Glaciers of Eden Pt.1”, the first proper track on the album, is a good example. The way the ethereal backing vocals back up the main, chilling vocal tracks only to return on their own right to usher the outro, the way the track’s overall buildup works, the haunting synths which linger in the background of the track and later take part in the birth of the aforementioned outro. All of these tools and ideas are expertly put together, taking the challenge of the track and “hiding” it beneath a more accessible and cohesive structure, resulting in a more polished, but still challenging, version of Fliege’s sound.
This is true for the entire album; if you think there isn’t weirdness on here, you’re wrong but it does require you to spend more time with the compositions to make them divulge their antediluvian and cosmic secrets. Oh, there’s also a cosmic horror theme to the entire album, expertly executed in small but unsettling touches throughout. In short, what’s not to like? Give One Day They’ll Wonder What Happened Here some time and it will slowly unfold before your eyes in one of 2022’s more unique, and well crafted, albums.
Lykotonon - Promethean Pathology
It’s been a banner year for the microgenre of industrial black metal. The dual Samuel Smith (bassist of everyone’s favorite weirdo death metal act Artificial Brain) releases Aeviterne and Luminous Vault stacked my running Best Of 2022 lists early on with their varying approaches at the melding of extreme genres, and the new Blut Aus Nord (for whatever measure you may call them industrial in their current form) is an easy highlight in their already acclaimed discography. The latest project to roll around in this muck of avant garde sounds in 2022 is Lykotonon, yet another big-brained and to-be-culturally-adored act out of Denver’s incestuous metal scene, with members of Wayfarer, Blood Incantation, and Stormkeep rounding out its personnel.
As the artistic lineage of Lykotonon’s members may suggest, Promethean Pathology is as progressive, thought-provoking, and artistically creative as it is wickedly fun. As for my ADHD addled brain, I get a real thrill out of hearing disparate sounds clashing together with perfect execution, and the bellowed howls and icy guitars sharing space with bouncy drum-and-bass grooves and darting rave-esque synthesizers are just delightful. Take the largely-instrumental “The Primal Principal”; we’ve got robotic vocoder, pumping 808s, intense breakbeats, and a bonafide EDM buildup that carries into a menacing breakdown. There’s much to be written about how dystopian and dark this record sounds, but at the end of the day when we cut through the grimdark kayfabe of extreme metal, the record is just an absolute blast, whether you take it seriously or not.