Kvlt Kolvmn // June 2023

Wow. Black metal is absolutely slapping in 2023. In terms of experimentation, adventurousness in songwriting, and brilliance of execution few genres can touch what black metal is bringing this year,

a year ago


Black metal is absolutely slapping in 2023. In terms of experimentation, adventurousness in songwriting, and brilliance of execution few genres can touch what black metal is bringing this year, and Kvlt Kolvmn is here to bring you the goods.

I can wholeheartedly recommend every single one of these records. If you like sonic adventure, there's no better place to be than being a black metal fan with us right here, right now.

Feast, friends. And stay frosty.

-Jonathan Adams

Winter’s Crown

Victory Over the Sun - Dance You Monster To My Soft Song!

It would be a mistake to think about a certain piece of music’s accessibility as a binary (we don’t like those in general, around here). Such a perspective often tries to quantify a certain album, track, or style and determine whether it is less or more complex, narrowing down the listening experience to the listener’s capacity “to deal” with what they’re hearing. But the reality is that music can do away with much of its complexity and still remain abrasive, challenging, harrowing, or a host of other adjectives which indicates that the listening experience requires said listener to be more active or to grapple with some difficulty around the listening experience.

Dance You Monster To My Soft Song!, Victory Over the Sun’s latest release is a good example of this. On the face of it, the album is certainly less complex than the project’s previous releases. The microtonality which defined much of Vivian Tylinska’s approach to composition in the past is gone, with brighter tones and more traditional scales appearing on the album. However, it would be foolish to therefore call it more accessible. What Dance You Monster has shed in the form of non-standard composition and recording, it has gained in ambition and sprawling intricacy. Over two-thirds of its tracks clock in at over ten minutes and they use that time to achieve things that other bands might need whole albums to do. They run the gamut from black metal, through progressive music, and all the way to jazz and even sludge and punk with what seems like effortless ease.

However, when you listen closely, it’s clear that a lot of effort went into this album. The excellent production, the ambitious composition, and the flawless execution (especially of the haggard vocals on this album, Tylinska’s best performance in that area so far), all speak to a wealth of care and attention that has been dedicated to this album. The result is one of 2023’s most complex, intricate, and far-reaching releases so far. You’ll notice that I haven’t really delayed on any play-by-play descriptions because to do so would be pointless and long; Dance You Monster covers so much ground that even attempting to jog after one of its tracks would leave me (and you) breathless. Instead, I invite you to dedicate a shred of the time and effort which the artist has to this album and give time to breathe and reveal itself to you. It will be well worth your time.

-Eden Kupermintz

Best of the Rest

Krallice - Porous Resonance Abyss

I’m to the point of admitting that Krallice no longer makes any sense to me. Post-COVID lockdowns the band has been on a creative tear that has almost no equal in the metal world. They’ve become avant-garde black metal’s King Gizzard, churning out multiple releases a year that vary wildly in mood, texture, and songwriting direction. Outside of the below lauded Esoctrilihum the genre has no equal distributors of sonic mayhem quite like Krallice. Their 12th full-length record (their fifth in the last few years) Porous Resonance Abyss is, shockingly, their most wildly creative record in a decade. You read that correctly. It’s more dynamic than my adored Go Be Forgotten, Prelapsarian, or Ygg Hurr. It’s a titanic display of musical creativity that stands head and shoulders above the band’s generally excellent releases over the past few years, and is not only one of my absolute favorite black metal records of the year, it’s one of the best albums of 2023. In any genre. Period.

With all the hyperbole above, it must be admitted that this record feels tailor made for fans of progressive, spacy, dynamic black metal with lots of synths and oddly joyous melodies. AKA me. The second coming of Emperor or Bathory this is not, though the core tenets of controlled experimentation and creative exploration through the cavernous prism of modern black metal are certainly shared between this record’s highs and the creative peaks of both of the above mentioned bands. Krallice are taking what they know about black metal aesthetics and injecting it directly into the veins of synth-heavy progressive rock and metal in a way that sounds like nothing else in heavy music today. Split into four parts, Porous Resonance Abyss is a kaleidoscopic journey into parts unknown that is executed to near perfection by a group of musicians that feels like a hive mind at this juncture of their career, and it’s an absolute wonder to behold.

I could literally write entire paragraphs about each of these tracks, but as a synthesis of where and how this album succeeds the second part of this epic is probably the best example. The track opens with a glorious, spaced-out and deeply melodic black metal that is overlaid by 80s synth worship of the highest order. The first third or so of this nearly seven-minute epic should please fans of this band’s general work, featuring wildly propulsive black metal blasting infused with a melodic sensibility that has become increasingly pronounced across the band’s most recent releases. But as the track progresses listeners are treated to a Blood Incantation-esque foray into drone-laden synth heaven that’s so good it begs the question why Krallice haven’t dived headlong into this sound before. The production is absolutely immaculate as always, never giving any element too much emphasis and allowing the overall up vibe to reign supreme. It’s a glorious track that to my ears is the cornerstone of a glorious record and I can’t get enough of it.

Krallice have topped themselves in a way I did not expect and I am both surprised and delighted by Porous Resonance Abyss. It’s their best record of the band’s recent era of experimentation and I cannot wait to see where they take us next. Most likely very soon, as is their custom. But in the meantime, their 12th record stands as a transcendent piece of progressive black metal mastery that I cannot get enough of. Genuinely brilliant stuff.


Mesarthim - Arrival

I didn’t necessarily think about it every day but if you had asked me whether something in the Mesarthim formula, as a project that’s been around for eight years now, needs changing I would have said yes. An even harder question though would have been exactly what needs changing and to that, I probably wouldn’t have had a good answer. The project is known for its ethereal and atmospheric black metal and that poses some challenges; there’s only so many iterations of the sound you can have before it ends up sounding stale by definition. Luckily, the people who most had to answer that question, Mesarthim themselves, had a solution: way more synths. This addition, as well as a few other tweaks to the Mesarthim formula, create an album that’s the freshest the group have sounded in years, injecting their black metal with the dreamy, space-filled visions that originally drew us to their sound.

The album is conspicuously made up of one track in seven parts which shares its title with the album and a closing track titled “Type IV”, which we’ll get to soon. The main track is filled with everything you know and love about Mesarthim, namely galaxy spanning black metal riffs, big production, frigid vocals, and all of the grandiosity of expression which makes black metal so good. But, as I’ve mentioned above, the synths are way more prominent, riding high in the mix and painting everything in a sheen of 80’s electronics that’s hard to resist. This prominence gives Arrival the touch it needs to rise above fold, emphasizing the excellent composition of the riffs and enhancing the mood and theme conjured by the rest of the instruments. “Arrival Pt.2” is probably my favorite usage of these synths, with their own distinct and evocative line, but they’re used through the album brilliantly.

Then there’s “Type IV”. Funnily enough, it is by far my favorite thing that Mesarthim have ever done. Spanning just shy of seventeen minutes, “Type IV” is a masterclass in writing intricate, powerful, and effective atmospheric black metal. The track features a recurring theme which is slower and even more grandiose than other Mesarthim motifs, granting the music a certain grace that exceeds the rest of the album. This recurring theme is conveyed through the main guitar riffs but is also elaborated upon by even more electronic passages, some of them almost touching the genres of dance or even EDM. The vocals are also more varied and excellent, always in their “cold” abrasive mode but modulated as the track rises in ambition towards its outro. And what an outro it is! It gathers up all of the energy of the track and, indeed, the entire album before it and lets it all loose in an explosion of synths and massive guitar chords.

It’s truly a joy seeing a well established project push the boundaries of their sound like this and, hopefully, there is only more like it on the horizon. Where the Mesarthim core sound is embellished by the new found penchant of the project for evocative electronics is where it shines in the most and we would love to see more of it in the future.


Henget - Beyond North Star

One of the most remarkable aspects of black metal is how malleable it is to the influence of other musical genres. Genres as disparate as shoegaze, industrial, and various folk music traditions have been incorporated by various black metal bands so effortlessly it’s almost as if the black metal genre is a horrifying black blob absorbing everything with which it comes into contact.

As part of this metaphorical black blob’s absorption, progressive and psychedelic rock has been seamlessly assimilated into the black metal mold. But this is not a new phenomenon. Noteworthy releases by Nachtmystium, Hail Spirit Noir, and Oranssi Pazuzu have utilized the influence of a variety of progressive and psychedelic bands, such as King Crimson and Pink Floyd. Newly emerging from this unholy union of black metal, psychedelic rock, and progressive rock is Finland’s Henget.

Henget features members of Benighted in Sodom and Saturnian Mist among several others, and Beyond North Star is their brilliant debut full-length. Whereas their fellow countrymen in Oranssi Pazuzu have abandoned many of the characteristics that define black metal in favor of their krautrock and psychedelic rock influences, black metal is still central to Henget’s sound.

Nevertheless, the band effortlessly integrates a variety of influences into their black metal foundation. “Nouse” and sections of “Lovi” and “The Great Spiral” would not sound out of place on a rare 1970s jazz fusion-influenced progressive rock album buried in Mikael Åkerfeldt’s collection. This is not entirely surprising considering that Opeth’s influence can be heard throughout much of the album and not just in the jazz fusion-esque passages. Elsewhere on the album is a considerable amount of dissonance. The disharmonic intertwining polyrhythmic guitars found toward the beginning of the “I Am Them” are reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan at their most entangled.

Much like the earlier-referenced Mayhem in Blue by Hail Spirit Noir, there is a delightful amount of tongue-in-cheek campiness that populates several parts of Beyond North Star. This often comes in the form of synthesizers in songs such as album opener “Dive”, which uses a warbling synthesizer that sounds like the soundtrack to a B horror movie that takes place in the Arabian desert. The end of “The Great Spiral” uses what sounds like a Moog synthesizer imitating a theremin, which similarly recalls campy horror films from The Golden Age of Hollywood.

At the same time, there are flourishes of grandiosity throughout the album as gliding piano arpeggios suggest a splendor à la Dimmu Borgir or Arcturus. The tension between grandeur and campiness is, in part, what makes Beyond North Star such a compelling aural experience that stands apart from comparable progressive- and psychedelic-tinged black metal releases. It’s a winding, expansive psychedelic journey into the depths of consciousness, but not without a charming, ironic smirk.


Esoctrilihum - Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac

Courtesy of Borderlands Books, a science fiction and fantasy bookstore here in San Francisco, my summer reading list is almost entirely made up of a 1990’s scifi series called “The Night’s Dawn Trilogy.” The year is 2582: humanity has broken the surly bonds of Earth and scattered across the universe, discovering new allies and enemies along the way. But after a freak accident involving a Satanic ritual and disembodied alien species, humans face their greatest threat yet as perished souls begin possessing the living in violent and terrifying ways. Yes, it’s as kitschy as it sounds. But it’s also fun and fairly original, making it an ideal summer read. And thanks to black/avante garde metal magician Estoctrilihum’s Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac, I have the perfect soundtrack to this trippy space opera.

Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac stands out, even among Estoctrilihum’s vast and impressive discography. Project mastermind Asthâghul builds out the story of the Zodiac in three cycles, each with a distinctive style and sound. In cycle one, epic, orchestral synths set the scene with an almost melodic sense of drama. Rich layers of sound build a sense of vastness, conjuring both the emptiness of space and an echoing organ in an empty cathedral. Drawing on Esoctrilihum’s long-established psychedelic skills, we’re left hypnotized and haunted. In cycle two, Asthâghul abruptly jumps into the vicious sounds of blackened death metal, layering in death metal growls over fading syths as a new chapter begins. Tracks like “Shadow Lupus of Saemons-Tuhr” showcase Esoctrilihum’s versatility, rapidly shifting from old school death metal to eerie synths with ease. Once again, the one man band defies creative constraint.

The third and final cycle, consisting of two massive 20-minute tracks, pulls Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac into the depths of doom. The haunting feel of the first cycle has returned, but with richer, more violent undertones. This is the aftermath of war, the tense-yet-hopeful to stillness as survivors survey the wreckage. As we reach the end of our journey through space and time, the synths take a new tone as they imitate a brassier sound that sits between a funeral march and a victory parade. Only in Asthâghul’s dark universe can black metal, death metal, and artificials symphonies meld in such a wide-ranging and emotive way. Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac is expansive, haunting, and an utterly impresive addition to Esoctrilihum’s discography.

-Bridget Hughes

Jonathan Adams

Published a year ago