Kvlt Kolvmn // January 2024

We’re back, baby. The end of year bonanza is fun as hell but always takes a lot out of yours truly. From revisiting records to writing them all up,

2 months ago

We’re back, baby.

The end of year bonanza is fun as hell but always takes a lot out of yours truly. From revisiting records to writing them all up, it’s a pretty significant effort on everyone’s part to get those columns across the finish line. But it’s 2024 now. The old is behind. The new is ahead. If January is any indication… we’re in for a filthy year.

Feast your ear holes on some premium black metal, friends. Let us know in the comments what your favorite releases of the past month were. And, as always… stay frosty.

-Jonathan Adams

Winter’s Crown

Cave Sermon - Divine Laughter

Confession: I hadn’t heard of Cave Sermon until I hit play on Divine Laughter a few weeks ago. What an idiot. How this band slipped beneath the net of my finely tuned, perfectly precise black metal radar I’ll never know, but hey. The past is the past. All we have is the present, and this current moment finds my ear holes being violated and ravished by Divine Laughter for about the tenth time. It’s glorious. 

For those as unfamiliar as I was with Cave Sermon, the Australian band peddle a black metal far closer in tone and flavor to Der Weg einer Freiheit or Bosse de Nage than, say, Immortal. If post-black ain’t your thing, Cave Sermon may seem like an immediate pass. But if you, dear reader, find yourself in the “Deafheaven killed metal I already hate this” camp, I would strongly urge you to give this record at least one full spin. Mostly because it’s wildly interesting, surprisingly sonically violent, and superbly written. What more could you ask for?

From literally the moment Divine Laughter begins it becomes clear that Cave Sermon is operating on a different wavelength than most bands in this scene. Which is a good thing, because holy smokes are these tracks supreme levels of fire. Opener “Beyond Recognition” is probably one of the most thoroughly unique and consistently excellent openings I’ve heard on any album this year. The level of craftsmanship on display here is just wild, blending manically aggressive passages with off-kilter atmospherics and some out-of-nowhere operatic cleans that feel eerily like A Forest of Stars in their bombacity. Then comes “Crystallised”, which is the audio equivalent of a panic attack. I can’t explain the level of anxiety the first few moments this track gives me. It’s this constantly ascending background noise that eventually feels like it’s overwhelming the stellar riffing that makes my skin crawl. It’s so unnerving. But that discomfort melts just in time into a delicious sequence of nearly Ulcerate-esque guitar licks that had me swooning. Man, I could go on and on. This thing is so good. 

 The last time a black metal album floored me this hard in terms of sheer creativity and excellence in execution was Swampborn’s Beyond Ratio back in 2022. If you have any idea how much I love that album, you should have a good sense of how good Cave Sermon’s monumental sophomore full-length is. With Divine Laughter, the band have cemented themselves among the brightest stars of this musical space. There’s potential here for Cave Sermon to become one of the most exciting bands in black metal on the whole, and my money is on them making good on that promise. Divine Laughter is an exceptional piece of music that will undoubtedly receive strong end-of-year consideration. 


Best of the Rest 

Hoplites - Παραμαινομένη

Four full-length albums in a year is just an absurd proposition. The law of diminishing returns is very real in art just as much as it is in economics, so there are few instances in music history where a band releasing music this quickly gets markedly better with each new release. Even greats like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard or Esoctrilihum have had some less than stellar moments in their rapid fire release schedule, but one-man wrecking crew Hoplites is unique in that each release has been markedly better than the last. Παραμαινομένη, the fourth installment in an already wildly unusual and successful discography, is without question the most adventurous and uniformly interesting record from the project, and may be a record that maintains its staying power through the end of the year. 

While this project has consistently shown that it has a progressive edge to its songwriting, those growing tendencies have never been clearer than on Παραμαινομένη. Gone are the hints of adventurousness buried in a torrential sea of absolutely bonkers dissonant riffs ala Serpent Column. Saxophone, synths, and atmosphere run rampant through the project’s fourth record, adding a delightfully unpredictable component to some already chaotic music. The instrumentation throughout is truly stellar, with each component utilizing its time in the spotlight to brilliant effect. This is by far the most batshit Hoplites has ever sounded, and that’s a definitively good thing. But those married to the project’s penchant for world-destroying screeds of guitar-based insanity need not worry. There’s plenty of skronk to be had, and Hoplites’ penchant for guitar pyrotechnics is only enhanced by the record’s potent tonal breaks in the torrid stream of black metal mayhem. It’s wild, adventurous songwriting that shows Hoplites is not content to sit still in its niche. 

This is one of those records that’s hard to quantify outside of personal experience, so I strongly suggest you experience Παραμαινομένη for yourself as soon as possible. It’s a masterclass of progressive black metal that shows that Hoplites is far more than a one-trick pony in the black metal world, and that there are definite exceptions to the less is more motif. Hoplites is a truly fantastic project making exceptional music that only gets better and more adventurous with each new release, and I cannot wait to see where it takes us next. Until then (probably won’t need to wait long), we can feast on what might end up one of the best black metal records of the year. 


Infant Island - Obsidian Wreath

If it wasn’t clear already, January was a pretty big month for all things post-. While less divisive as a concept than in year’s past, I  still find myself confronted with the “is this even black metal?” question every so often. This month’s edition of the evergreen definitional question belongs to Infant Island’s fantastic third full-length record Obsidian Wreath. My answer in this context is the same as always: Who fucking cares? It’s blackened. It slaps. 

Those who’ve experienced an Infant Island record before may be a bit surprised to find them on this list. The band’s post-hardcore and borderline emo roots run deep, but Obsidian Wreath feels aptly titled because there’s a whole lot of black on this thing. Opener “Another Cycle” channels a triumphant-while-tragically-melancholic vibe akin to Alcest, baking its black metal elements into a melody-heavy packaged that’s packed with emotion. “Clawing, Still” displays a similar dynamic, with the percussive blasting and intense guitar work undergirded by gorgeous synths that lift the track into the emotional stratosphere. Obsidian Wreath’s most intense tracks all display this similar juxtaposition of beauty and carnage, capped by the brilliantly ethereal closer “Vestygian”. But its moments like the spellbinding “With Shadow” that elevate the record past its post-black metal trappings, blending styles and instrumental emphasis effortlessly, culminating in one of the most gorgeous and explosive finales I’ve heard on any track so far this year. 

All in all, Obsidian Wreath is a fantastic record that I have listened to several times through and have yet to become bored with. In fact, just about the opposite. Each new listen has opened a musical facet to my ear that I appreciate far more than I did in previous spins. It’s a record that keeps evolving with each interaction, and I cannot wait for what new experiences it will bring me as the year rolls on. An excellent outing. 


Marsh of Swans - Heartwood

Outside of Satanism and the occult, geography and history (or, more broadly speaking, space and time) have always played an integral role in the aesthetics and concepts behind black metal. Whether it’s exploring one’s connection with nature, pagan religions of old, or imaginary realms that exist outside of time, there’s no shortage of black metal bands integrating their immediate surroundings and local histories and folklore into their conceptual and aesthetic frameworks. 

But with an atmospheric post-black metal band with roots in Kansas, what geographical and historical elements of interest are there to explore? Marsh of Swans’ debut EP, 2017’s From Ashes Beneath, answered that question as they explored Bleeding Kansas, a particularly violent pre-Civil War period when pro-abolitionist and pro-slavery militias were engaging in battle, conducting raids, and burning down entire towns. 

Feeling as though they did not want to pigeonhole themselves as a “Civil War black metal band”, and having exhausted the source material for essentially the only sufficiently “metal” geographical or historical aspect regarding Kansas (and as a fellow Kansan, I am inclined to agree), Marsh of Swans decided to turn inward on 2023’s Heartwood. While there are still references to the geography and history of the region, most obviously on “To Ride Upon the Plains”, the lyrical themes are often more abstract and introspective.  

As the band themselves note, “[the] album projects a journey of the mind whose destination is abstracted in reflections of transience and in reverence for our homelands.” While Marsh of Swans’ lyrics explore the relationship between external and internal landscapes as they relate to death and meaning, Heartwood’s music embodies this by containing moments of existential unease as well as moments of existential ecstasy.

As for the former, this includes harsher, darker moments reflected in the most aggressive tracks on the album, “Condemned by Night” and “Approaching Death”. Notably, the latter features a passage with disquieting dissonant guitar arpeggios performed in a pattern that is difficult to identify. Moments such as this expertly capture feelings of uncertainty when faced with questions about meaning when faced with notions of non-existence. 

On the other hand, title track “Heartwood”, which lyrically stems from the idea of finding solace in the idea of ego death, contains some positively triumphant moments. The climax of the song showcases harmonized, tremolo-picking guitars repeat in an ascending pattern that resolves comfortably while the drums gradually shift from a sparse, simple beat to a pounding blastbeat. The music on “Heartwood” seems to reflect the lyrics in representing the bliss of obtaining ego death in the face of mortality. 

What Heartwood does so well, among other things, is represent the thematic concepts of their lyrics with music that shifts in mood and tone accordingly. Marsh of Swans would not have been able to accomplish this without having the deep musical vocabulary that they do. Ultimately, Heartwood is an album that explores the tension inherent in our lives as beings bound by both time and space, and Marsh of Swans has the talent to represent that concept through a variety of compositional and technical approaches.


Olhava - Sacrifice

I’ll be honest with you - I’ve sat out the Olhava hype train up until now. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s because that train has mostly stopped in very specific places, namely the online post-black metal and blackgaze scene. Admittedly, this scene has exploded in size and appeal over the past five years but I wouldn’t quite yet call it mainstream. In any case, Olhava have made quite a mark on it these past few years but something about their music seemed lacking impact for me; I would listen to them and appreciate their skill and sound but I wouldn’t be especially moved or touched.

This has all changed with Sacrifice. This album is much more intricate and ambitious than previous releases, taking the Olhava sound, which hovers between blackgaze, DSBM, and “plain old” post-black metal, and setting it ablaze. The synths have been made brighter and, at the same time, all the more depressing for that brightness; the blistering riffs that accommodate them are now more present and dynamic, deceptive patterns of repetition setting small but monumental changes to the sound; the drums are tighter, more tied to the core of the track’s sound and more “clamped” to the track’s progressive and, finally, the vocals are more evocative and alluring.

If that sounds like I just praised every single aspect of Olhava as having improved on this release that’s because I meant to do exactly that; this is that rare type of release where we can witness a band push themselves across every single axis. If you are looking for highly impactful black metal, one that sets you to laughter and joy as much as it draws tears and melancholy from within you, Sacrifice is your go to in 2024, right now and probably all the way to the end of the year. 

-Eden Kupermintz

Jonathan Adams

Published 2 months ago