Kvlt Kolvmn // April 2023

My oh my what a couple months can bring. Traditionally, the early part of the year is a pretty spotty one for black metal when it comes to overall quality.

a year ago

My oh my what a couple months can bring. Traditionally, the early part of the year is a pretty spotty one for black metal when it comes to overall quality. But in this two-fer edition of Kvlt Kolvmn, covering both February and March, we had the opportunity to listen to a glut of thoroughly exceptional records from established heavy hitters and newcomers alike. It’s been a pretty great start for 2023, and if the pace of fantastic releases continues we could be in for one doozy of a year.

As always, listen, debate, and enjoy. Feel free to leave us your favorites for the last few months in the comments. Stay frosty.

-Jonathan Adams

Winter’s Crown

vvilderness - Path

Back when I covered Path for our Editors’ Picks column, I focused on the contrast that is created on the album between the ferocity of the black metal elements on it and the forlorn undertones of its folk passages. And while that is still the dynamo which drives my passion for the release, I think it’s also a good idea to try and deepen our appreciation of the release, one of the best black metal albums of the year, by also focusing on the “cut and dry”, heavier elements of the album and why they work so well. The album is, after all, primarily a black metal release; its heaviness is at its core. While the folk elements play an obviously integral part, they are the accompaniment to the main thread, which is cold, majestic, and aggressive.

So, what makes the black metal parts of Path work so well? First off, I think vvilderness does a fantastic job of channeling that most primal, and overused, tool of black: the tremolo pick. There’s a masterful command of it on the album, which is to say that it’s used where it’s needed and nowhere else. Take “Orm’s Odyssey”, the opening track, as an example. While the main riff which the track opens with flirts with that super fast, arcing tremolo style of black metal, it’s more dynamic and groovy than that. Instead, the full technique is used only after the track’s interlude, which is a perfect moment for it; its epicness is not worn out since it’s not the mainstay of the track, its impact reserved for those passages that most benefit from its explosiveness catharsis.

This is also true for the vocals. Much of vvilderness is instrumental and it really benefits for it. By keeping the vocals in the back pocket, Path makes sure that their presence is always intentional and thematically powerful. They become something to be anticipated and enjoyed actively, rather than another instrument that’s just there because that’s just how tracks work. I feel like many black metal bands fall into this trap: something about the repetitiveness of their compositions irks them and traps them into age-old structures. But vvilderness is secure in its layout and its appeal, therefore not afraid to let the instruments shine so that the vocals can hit where they are needed the most.

When you take these two elements of the album’s heavier style and meld them with the excellent folk elements we have lauded elsewhere, you really get the full picture of why this album works as well as it does. It’s “classical” in nature, very much fitting with the tropes and themes of its genre, but assembled with incredible care and attention for what makes those elements work and what requires improvement to truly shine.

-Eden Kupermintz

Best of the Rest

Liturgy - 93696

Despite their divisive nature due to an impenetrable obsession with esoterica and an unshakable perception of being generally pretentious, Brooklyn avant garde black metal project Liturgy remains on the cutting edge of the genre with its blending of black metal with a wide variety of sounds from noise rock, chamber music, electronic music, and beyond. Their sixth LP 93696 continues the push of turning black metal’s aesthetics into fine art with ethereal passages of orchestral movements and choral arrangements, and it may well be the band’s most ambitious and well-executed effort to date.

93696 perfects the Liturgy formula, combining the great strides the band made on the glitchy and mathematical H.A.Q.Q. (2019) and the emotive and operatic Origin of the Alimonies (2020). This record is intense, both musically and emotionally, pitting wailing strings and vocals backed by flurries of blasts and polymetric riffing – “Caela” is a certified headbanger – against gorgeous operatic scores. The “Angel of…” tracks breaking up the extreme metal tracks offer ethereal respite, with the back to back “Haelegen II (Reprise)” and “Angel of Individuation” being downright breathtaking in the album’s final stretch.

Liturgy may be guilty of insisting upon themselves, but I’ll continue to insist upon them as well; 93696 offers an early glimpse of what year-end lists will bring. Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix consistently proves herself as one of metal’s premiere forward-thinking songwriters, and this is her most compelling project thus far. It’s dense, challenging, haunting, and overwhelming, but it’s a reminder of the unique kind of beauty that’s possible within extreme metal.

-Jimmy Rowe

Spectral Lore - 11 Days

I don’t really want to write about the EP itself; it’s Spectral Lore. You already know that it’s good. You already know you can find some mind-bendingly expansive and expressive black metal on it. What I would like to talk about is the subject matter this EP is about, which is the horrendous and unbelievable fact that “Over 25,954 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Waters between 2014 and 2022”. Can we sit with that for a while? Can you, perhaps while the album is playing, try to imagine just shy of 26,000 people in one place? Maybe a soccer stadium or some sort of festival? Or a march? All drowned. And not only drowned; drowned near the shores of some of the most prosperous areas on the planet, an area which is a major reason and catalyst for these people having to flee their homes in the first place. An area which has done everything it can to impoverish most of the countries on whose shores these people are dying.

In the face of that, it’s sometimes “funny” to me that we even use the words “brutal” to describe music. As if anything, not even the most abrasive and vociferous black metal around, could ever be a fraction as violent and brutal as Europe’s immigration policies. Of course, not just Europe but also the US and Israel and basically everywhere else which still thinks that the idea of a border is a worthwhile reason to let someone drown. We’re not even talking about letting people in and then sentencing them to a life of vilification, poverty, and lack of status. We’re talking about literally either standing to the side of or actively participating in the drowning of people, children among them. You can maybe argue about the realities of refugee camps, labor, and so on after someone has been made safe; but to use those talking points to excuse the needless, painful, and completely preventable deaths of these people? Criminal. Atrocious. Inhuman. Abhorrent.

11 Days does a great job of channeling these frustrations and much more. Listen to it. Or don’t. But try to at least engage with the horrific reality of Europe’s immigration policies; the people who have died because of it deserve to at least be remembered.


Theophonos - Nightmare Visions

When I came across Detroit’s Theophonos, I saw the words “black metal” and “mathcore” in close proximity, but knew nothing else. That’s enough to pique my interest. The blending of these two genres has been incredibly fruitful in recent times, from Plebeian Grandstand on through to recent faves Hoplites. In fact, while writing this piece, I had made the connection that Theophonos is an offshoot of the now defunct Serpent Column, infamous for making great strides in blackened hardcore. Picking up where Serpent Column left off, Theophonos offers another small step forward in this frenetic fusion with their debut record Nightmare Visions.

While the math portion of the equation here (sorry) isn’t as prominent as I had hoped in the context of the entire record, Theophonos certainly gets flashy. Opening track “Maps of the Future'' is delightfully uneven terrain, from its unmistakably icy black metal production and aesthetic to its prog rock bass runs and tenuous relationship with tempo and time signatures. “Lower Types” fits a lot of angular riffage and grooving grind in a minute and a half. Things do get more spacious and epic with the eight minute finale “Of Days Past”, pitting soaring guitar leads against waves of overwhelming blasts. User Sugammadex on Bandcamp left a review comparing this record to “a blackened Converge,” and they’ve hit the nail on the head, I think.

Nightmare Visions is unrelentingly brutal and rough around the edges in the way you’d expect a DIY black metal project to be, and it’s not quite as avant garde as those who have dabbled in these blendings of genres in the past, but it’s nice to see a major creative force behind Serpent Column continue to weave creative threads through black metal and hardcore in truly incredible ways.

-Jimmy Rowe

Frost Bites

Mithrandir - Towards the Spires of Dol Guldur

The ties between metal and Tolkien are so many that I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a proper deep dive about them for years now. While this is not the time nor the place for such an exploration, it is worth noting that Mithrandir are explicitly part of that tradition. It’s interesting that black metal, and lo-fi black metal at that, is associated with a literary vision that had so much emphasis on light, hope, and resurgence. But, it works, especially in Mithrandir’s case; their haggard, abrasive, and ultra-aggressive style of black metal very much benefits from the whole Arda-shrouded aesthetics. The result is a vicious album, who’s dungeon synth influences are far and few between, mere fading points of fantastical light squirming amidst the twisting riffs, relentless drums, and frigid vocals that make up this vociferous release.



Α​̓​Π​Ο​Κ​Α​́​Λ​Υ​Ψ​Ι​Σ (Apocalypse) is a fittingly titled slab of viciousness. Where the above detailed Mithrandir channeling their violence through lo-fi “thinness” and abrasiveness, TRESPASSER are brutal maximalists. On Α​̓​Π​Ο​Κ​Α​́​Λ​Υ​Ψ​Ι​Σ every instrument goes louder and faster than every other instrument, a war of all against all which fits the themes of class war, insurrection, and revolt that run through the album. The riffs are thick and heavy, split between a black metal intensity and a deep-seated, sludg-y groove that is incredibly hard to resist. The vocals are always powerful, whether they are angry, remorseful, or outright calling for war. And the drums hit like artillery strikes, the cymbals scoring the entire mix with their impact. Add in exceptionally uncompromising lyrics about what is truly needed for us to be free (hint: violence) and you’ve got yourself one of the more effectively hard-hitting albums this year. Forward into the light!


Jonathan Adams

Published a year ago