Back at it again with the Premium Content. Oh yeah, baby. It’s Kvlt Kolvmn time.
We hope that you’ve had a good beginning to your year. 2023 over here has thus far consisted of trying to digest an unusual glut of great records across the metal world, with black metal being no exception. The last couple months have yielded a unique and generous crop of releases that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed sinking our teeth into. We hope that the same holds true for you.
As always, leave your favorites in the comments. It’s a warming world out there. Stay frosty.
Oak Pantheon - The Absence
I can understand why some bands which I happen to love are relatively obscure. But, sometimes, I love bands which simply don’t get the recognition they deserve and, for the life of me, I can’t understand why. In a scene where atmospheric, intelligent black metal has been exploding over the past few years, Oak Pantheon should have been a name shouted up and down the proverbial grapevine. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not completely unknown. But I feel like what renown they have is entirely mismatched with the quality of the music they produce and this seems to only be truer and truer as time goes on and Oak Pantheon refine their approach to black metal. Hopefully, this gap starts to close and soon as The Absence rockets the band even further into true mastery of their craft.
At the basis of this album lie the roots of Oak Pantheon’s music: incredibly well crafted and evocative atmospheric black metal in the American style, filled with sweeping guitar riffs, grandiose vocals, and a dedication to the folk, the magical, and the natural. But on The Absence, Oak Pantheon have decided to embellish this core sound with a diverse range of influences, supercharging their black metal with ideas from far and wide. “Listen!”, the second track from the album which I was honored to premiere, adds in elements from the sludgy sort of progressive death metal a la Dvne which has been all of the rage these past few years. “Dissociate” which follows it, on the other hand, adds a post-punk swagger to the proceedings which works surprisingly well with Oak Pantheon’s sound. The main bass line and its sleek edges does great work of interfacing with the haggard vocals to convey the derision that both genres are so good at.
But the true gem on this album is “Silence We Plead”, a beautifully massive right near the end of the album. It opens with a wonderfully composed acoustic section whose motifs and notes preface the track’s main, and epic, riff which soon announces itself. The track in general just bleeds a more progressive and articulate version of Oak Pantheon’s sound, sweeping you away with both its heavier and calmer passages. It plays between the fatigued and resigned vocals and instruments of the verses and the energetic choruses, drawing strength from the contrast. Near the end, it soars into unimaginable heights of catharsis buoyed by the vocals of one Catey Swenson, Tanner Swenson’s (guitar, vocals) sister. Her voice is frankly amazing, its slightly minor timbre working much like Anneke van Giersebergen’s does when she lends it to large, evocative metal.
Bottom line, Oak Pantheon have dug deep for this one and have taken the promise already presented in their 2016 album In Pieces to new places and heights. It is sure to figure very high on my end of year list (yes, this soon) and absolutely dominate the field of black metal for me in 2023. Hopefully this album also opens up more and more listeners to their accomplished and effective take on black metal and their absolute dedication to the craft of always growing and improving as musicians. Listen to this album, please.
Best of the Rest
…And Oceans - As in Gardens, So in Tombs
After a nearly 20 year hiatus, one wouldn’t expect a band to not only be able to pick up where they left off, let alone exceed all expectations. But that’s exactly what Finnish melodic/symphonic black metal legends …And Oceans did with their 2020 comeback record Cosmic World Mother, an Album reviewed favorably on this site and one of my favorite black metal releases of that year. A mere three years after the stunning success of their comeback record, As in Gardens, So in Tombs rounds off the resurgence as fully legitimate. This record slaps.
Those that fell in love with the widescreen epic scope of Cosmic World Mother will be happy to learn that the band pick up right where they left off, but with perhaps a tad more refinement and range without ever reaching farther than their already impressive skill set allows. There isn’t a whole lot here that I would consider new in regard to this subgenre’s tropes (fans of Emperor and Dimmu Borgir will remain delighted), but the sheer skill and straightforward, heart-on-sleeve manner in which this band approaches its music feels spiritually reminiscent to Katatonia and I’m all the way here for it. These tracks are economical yet grand, expansive but never inaccessible to the attuned ear, and fully realized pieces of black metal goodness that are delicious as a one-time car listen or as a repeatable journey. Balanced, to a fault.
Nothing but praise for …And Oceans’ wholly unexpected and completely delightful resurgence. We could get a dozen more records at this quality level and I’d be fully content. Welcome back. You’ve been missed.
Ashen Horde - Antimony
It feels deceptive to call Antimony the debut album for Ashen Horde, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the first offering from the newly expanded lineup that includes members of Inferi, Equipoise, Norse, and Abhoria. Started as a solo project, it’s fair to say that Ashen Horde has been reborn with a unique style that infuses black metal with the ferocity and complexity of technical death metal.
Antimony takes listeners through the story of Charles Bravo, a British lawyer who was murdered in 1876. Poisoned with antimony, his killer was never found. A concept album, particularly one built around a story as morbid as Bravo’s, proves to be the ideal setup for showcasing the skill of Ashen Horde’s arguably supergroup lineup. The band blends shrieking black metal vocals with progressive and technical elements that have a disconcerting effect as listeners ricochet from one impeccably executed song to the next. Add in the theatrical effect of juxtaposing death metal growls with almost post-metal vocals, and Antimony proves to be an impressive rebirth for Ashen Horde.
Ὁπλίτης - Ψευδομένη
I can’t really tell you much about Ὁπλίτης (henceforth Hoplites) other than them being a one-man project from China (I’m not ready to fall for that Ghost Bath mystique again) as everything about this album, tracklist and all, is written in Greek. What I can tell you is that this record is absolutely ferocious and is rightfully gaining hype as one of the first contenders I’ve heard this year gain enough hype to perhaps keep it in the conversation until AOTY deliberations.
Ψευδομένη is an abrasive blend of black metal, death metal, and mathcore, with the genre slider varying its position from track to track; where track four is a slow-churning whirl of dissonant chords a la Deathspell Omega, track six features chunkier riffs and stabbing panic chords out of Pyrrhon’s playbook. There’s an air of avant garde to it all, with the intense and technical musicianship pairing well with a playful dissonance. Think in the ballpark of early Imperial Triumphant, Plebeian Grandstand, and Serpent Column. Fans of the recent rush of dissonant acts need to pick this up expeditiously.