Welcome back. It’s Kvlt Kolvmn. Let’s go.
Shorter stack this month. Not as many releases piqued my interest in the genre during August and work is eating me alive. Thankfully I’ve got my good friends and Heavy Blog here to sort through the good stuff, and what's here is indeed excellent. Let us know what you enjoyed from last month’s crop on social.
Anti-God Hand - Blight Year
I have been singing the praises of Christian Cosentino on the blog for a while now for many reasons but one of the primary ones is that he forces me to rethink my conceptions of brightness and darkness in black metal. While I wouldn’t immediately compare Anti-God Hand’s sound to his, the effort to make us rethink what light and darkness achieve on a black metal release is the same. Blight Year is, on its face, a caustic, violent, and abrasive release, one which fits in neatly with the more haggard aesthetics of black metal. But when you let it unfold, you will find much light underneath the main compositions, exposed in conflagrations of brighter, post-black tinged leads and moments of delicacy.
The indicatively titled “Endless Brightness” is a good example. While the vocals are the same high pitch, harrowing screams of the rest of the album and the overwhelming, buzz-saw, coldly heavy instruments are still very much in play, there’s also the hopeful, empowering guitar lead which hides beneath the surface of the track. There’s also the outro which seems to fade up into the sky, bringing with it emotions of faint elation. Sure, all of this collapses into the ultra aggressive (and bizarrely progressive and grindy) next track, “Demon Sniper”, but even there there are hints of something else, a dogged grasp and insistence on the existence of hope and redemption.
These tensions turn the album into a downright beguiling one, where the aesthetics seem to be communicating to you in many voices, each pulling you as a shadow into different degrees of brightness and darkness. This, in turn, makes the album downright fascinating, requiring multiple and careful listenings to fully grasp. It’s one of black metal’s best releases from the year, challenging what the genre can do, what it’s for, and what it seeks to communicate.
Best of the Rest
Blut Aus Nord - Disharmonium - Nahab
I admittedly don’t know a lot about France’s enigmatic black metal legends Blut Aus Nord (seems like this is by design), but they’ve easily risen to the top as one of my own personal favorite black metal acts in recent years thanks to their history of avant garde experimentations on the genre’s fringes as well as recent developments in their sound towards the ethereal and psychedelic, notably with 2019’s appropriately titled Hallucinogen. These tripped-out vibes continued with last year’s Disharmonium - Undreamable Abysses, which wound up being one of my favorite records of the year as its Lovecraftian soundscapes were something that enthralled me as something I’d just never heard before. I described the LP on more than one occasion as “ethereal wooshing,” and I stand by it. I love that record.
So naturally, I had highly anticipated their follow-up Nahab, hoping for more explorations of this band’s specific brand of psychotic reverberation, but what we wound up with instead ended up being some of the band’s most intense and heavy material to date, at times within the realm of dissonant death metal. I’ll happily take it. Nahab is as atmospheric as one would expect as the second in their Disharmonium series, but offers a more visceral type of horror, with a greater emphasis on the “bones” of Blut Aus Nord to counter the swirling abyss. Standout track “The Endless Multitude” for example is grounded by an absurd if not understatedly technical drum performance centering on off-kilter time changes and swinging cymbals. Elsewhere, Nahab indulges in dark ambient passages that feel like they would be best suited scoring some A24 style arthouse horror. This is mind-bending and truly horrifying stuff; just in time for the Halloween season to kick off.
Celestial Annihilator - Annihilation for Esoteric Nascency
While Tomb Mold and Blood Incantation may beg to differ, black metal has steadily become the premier metal hotbed for all things cosmic. Mare Cognitum, Spectral Lore, Mesarthim, Darkspace, and Midnight Odyssey all spring to mind when thinking about this niche category of sci-fi infused blackness, and we can now add South Korea’s Celestial Annihilator to the mix. The one-man act’s debut is a competently crafted black metal record that does something that few releases in this space dare to do… actually be fun to listen to.
Fans of this space of the black metal world honestly won’t find anything particularly revolutionary in Annihilation for Esoteric Nascency, but that feels intentional. Project mastermind Pandemonius doesn’t seem too interested in heading down the Esoctrilihum road of expansive progressivism, instead focusing his obviously prodigious talents on atmosphere, melody, and immediacy. These tracks practically glow with melodicism, propelling themselves forward with near constant high octane energy that permeates every riff. But one of the most interesting and commendable aspects of Annihilation is its willingness to blend its atmospherics into these tracks in a way that never feels dull or out of sync with the pace of the record. Each interlude feels purposeful and adds to the overall tone of the record without detracting from the meat of the songwriting, which to my ears is for the most part delicious.
There really aren’t any duds to speak of on this record, which is one of the most enjoyable black metal debuts I’ve heard in a minute. Annihilation for Esoteric Nascency is a deeply enjoyable, propulsive, and aesthetically pleasing atmoblack record that should please fans of cosmic black metal greatly. Here’s hoping we hear more from this project soon.
Aprilmist - Homesick
Kansas City’s post-black metal band Aprilmist started off as the solo project of guitarist and vocalist Jon Houst (ex-Abjure) but eventually morphed into a full band. Current members that join Houst both in-studio and on stage include Kansas City scene mainstays bassist Ben Chipman (Existem, Marsh of Swans) and guitarist Dustin Albright (ex-Diskreet, ex-Renouncer). Homesick is Aprilmist’s long-awaited full-length debut, and it’s a masterclass in emotionally evocative writing not only within post-black metal but within metal in general.
While the band is rooted in the stylings of post-black metal, the band is unafraid of pushing at the parameters that define the subgenre. The opening of the title track, for instance, hints at influences outside of post-black metal as a clean, synth-like guitar, floating above a bouncing rhythm, brings to mind a variety of potential gothic post-punk influences. The layers of delayed guitars that wash over much of the album also suggest a strong shoegaze influence.
However, what is perhaps most striking about Homesick is not the influences outside of post-black metal that the band utilizes but the thoughtful sense of songwriting that is on display. This is especially noteworthy considering it’s Aprilmist’s debut full-length. While the compositions shift with carefully considered dynamics, melodic motifs are maintained throughout each track, which translates to each song being its own unique and engaging journey. The densest, most heartwrenching moment in “Aimless”, for example, gives way to its quietest, most reflective moment without losing any sense of either the direction of the song or the melodic centerpoint of the track. Subsequent guitar instrumental track “David” continues exploring the same melodic motif of “Aimless” by dialing back the distortion and instrumentation and building ambient effects and night sounds into a pensive moonlit atmosphere.
As one might infer based on the above description, the album evokes palpable feelings of nostalgia and yearning. Fittingly, the lyrics explore universal human themes of loss, grief, and depression. “Aimless” seems to focus on the idea of languishing in stasis because fear and shame prevent one from moving forward and making substantive changes. Similarly, “To Dream Again” seems to lament unfulfilled dreams and the loss of the person that one was supposed to become.
Just as the experience of losing someone brings bright memories of that person to the forefront, and just as the experience of depression often accompanies nostalgia for simpler times, Homesick conjures a careful balance between melancholia and yearning that everyone can relate to, expertly crafted and packaged in a dreamlike soundscape.
Pogavranjen - Ciao!
It almost seems a little cheeky putting Ciao! in the Kvlt Kolvmn because, just like Ashenspire, the final album from Pogavranjen exists on the periphery of what can still barely be considered black metal. Fittingly, the band wrote “Pogavranjen is not a black metal band, nor true in any way” in the notes on the Bandcamp page for last year’s EP Zvjerski Pokreti. But perhaps that’s the nature of avant-garde music: inherently defying strict genre norms. And Ciao! does that in spades.
Ciao! is the long-awaited follow-up to the Croatian band’s 2016 full-length Jedva čekam da nikad ne umrem. While Jedva čekam da nikad ne umrem found the band still firmly adhering to black metal, the music offered a cacophonous, psychedelic approach to the style but still chalkful of blast beats and distorted guitars. Ciao!, on the other hand, finds the band casting off the chains of black metal tropes almost entirely. Instead, what the listener will find is a woozy, off-kilter experimental rock with hints of the dissonant black metal that used to dominate the band’s sound.
Session vocalist Joe Ferrara’s (of rock experimentalists The Andretti) vocal stylings may be the first sign of this to listeners, as his distorted yelps and throaty howls in “Stolt Dagali” bring to mind Mike Patton’s performances in Fantômas and Faith No More’s darker material. As far as the instrumentation is concerned, it’s impossible to discuss Ciao! without referencing the mighty Virus (Norway) and their predilection for wonky, winding bass lines that nonetheless served as the main driver in songs while the guitars presented an indelicate counterpoint that crashed against the bass with atonal slides and arpeggiations. Although that’s much the same approach that Pogavranjen have taken with Ciao!, you would be remiss if you don’t indulge in the delightlfully weird culmination of Pogavranjen’s strange journey as a black metal (and NOT a black metal) band.