As the year passes through the longest days of light, we bid thee to return with us once more to the rites of darkness. Turn to the four corners of the Earth, recite the elemental enn and invoke the all-powerful Fifth Element to usher in The Reptile Shrine, Drowned in Sound’s regular Black Metal column, featuring the season’s most potent releases.
Ypres - Genus Vitiosum
Ypres are a Russian band playing doom-laden, elongated post-rock and atmospheric black metal with stunning guitar tones that are heavier than mountains, grind like granite and shimmer ethereally, rounded out with an earthy roar of vocals. The fetishism of sound enshrined in these tracks is not uncharted waters, having been sailed by the likes of ISIS, Neurosis, Red Sparrowes and their ilk, but you know you’re off the map when the band’s Facebook page has less than 20 likes, and the songs have such realised conviction at such an early stage. Huge potential in this band; ones to watch for sure.
Vanum – Realm of Sacrifice
Several Ash Borer-related projects have either just dropped records, or are due to any day now. Predatory Light re-released their MMXIV demo as a 10”, and a split with Vorde through Psychic Violence. EPs from Triumvir Foul, Urzeit, Serum Dreg and Uškumgallu are similarly worth tracking down; all feature the same two members of Ash Borer under different pseudonyms, all sound like caustic slews of gnarly explosive blackened death, and all are released on their own 100-copy cassette label Vrasubatlat. But above all those is the band named VANUM.
K.M. of Ash Borer and Michael Rekevics of Fell Voices have come together to release an album on Profound Lore. A trinity of excellence that invites considerable expectation to be laid upon it. Well, consider that expectation met, surpassed, and confounded. In their separate guises, Ash Borer summon lightning and tear the ground up; Fell Voices channel cosmic energies and draw down the stars. Together they have created something that meets in the middle, on an expansive scale, detailed with subtlety and melded with a smoother production style than their individual band’s records. The album is built from a constant wash of tremolo riffs that straddle Cascadian, atmospheric and shoegaze black metal styles, with shades of the savagery and turmoil of the two parent bands lurking in the background. The four tracks across this album expand and contract, with a contrasting darkness and light, an optimism shaded by paranoia in a similarly distanced style to the forms described in that theoretical essay by Hunter Hunt-Hendrix. Worth mentioning Deafheaven here too, not just to really antagonise the kvlt corpse painted legionz ov Hell, but because it shares something of their sound as much as the theoretical underpinnings of Liturgy. This is beautiful black metal music, born of violent storms and flashes of fire, manifested as foreboding clouds cut with beams of light. That they have formed a touring band to keep the momentum of this album going is testament to its success.
Thurm – Thurm
This German four-piece grind out a ghoulishly twisted hybrid of black and death metal, set against a backdrop of sheer noise. The constant vibrating distortion draws shapes and emotions that recall the doomed Angelic Process, while a piercing strangulated shriek of a vocal suits the tortured bleakness of the music, cutting up through the mix with clarity, despite adding another of rasp among the layers of guitars (likewise with the cymbals; their splashiness rings out clearly through the murky space between the industrial buzz and thick crunches). The seven tracks are astutely composed, with sinuous atmosphere-building riffs leading to constricting batteries of drums that climax into satisfying rushes of muscular slabs of guitar. Download for name-your-price from the band’s site now, or go to the label and pre-order white or clear vinyl, to be released in August.
Sallow – I: The Great Work / II: Corpses & Ruins
This three-piece band from New York put out two releases back to back in April, mastered by James Plotkin, and illustrated with hand-drawn black and white artwork of sigils and wolves in pencil - the kind of old school rad that’s just begging to be painted straight onto the back of your leather jacket. The Great Work is comprised of four long-ish tracks ranging from six to ten minutes, while Corpses and Ruins are two twelve minute tracks. Both releases are packed with patiently unloaded riffs that offer a claustrophobic, paranoid, grimy urban flip to this otherwise environmentally-infused WITTR-indebted post-BM sound (though this has a gnarled Weakling aggression to it – more street fighting than religious war). Waspish, shot through with a streak of cool and some bad-ass howling; this band could turn out to be very cool indeed.
Pale Chalice - Negate the Infinite and Miraculous
Another debut album released on Gilead Media, bringing some of the most arresting metal in America to the world. But this album, coming four years after their first EP, will be their last for another four years, as the San Francisco based enormo-doom tinged black metal band are going on hiatus. This album may well be big enough to last that long.
Murg - Varg & Björn
Murg are a Swedish two-piece, presenting some of the oldest school, classically composed, elegantly poised, ferociously delivered, frosted Northern trance this side of the 90‘s. As traditionally second-wave as it appears on first listen, this album is also awash with modernism – the waves of fizzing guitar move from the thin trance of Burzum to swamping the backgrounds, like the rain-slashed veils occluding Xasthur, and the production is crystal clear with as much space as density, giving it depth and richness whilst simultaneously conveying a brittle, ice-dry atmosphere. The vocals are pitch-and-rasp-perfect, sliding from dusty, parched barks, through rasping hiss, to venomous snarls and guttural growls, mixing up styles to complement the musical progression. The guitars sound impeccable however they’re executed. A succession of potent riffs shift ‘Grannen är din Fiende’ from brawny to sublime, while those of ‘Farsoternas Afton’ stalk a loose, open drum beat before heaving a full chord slide into ‘Satyricon’s Medieval Times’, building up in intensity until the double kick drum underscores the climax; the furious tremolo and all out raging peak of the final track ‘Ett Slut, Ingen Början’. There are echoes of the valorous Falkenbach, and an aura of Viking metal emboldening several of the tracks. Shades of the imperious fascism of a band like Italy’s Hirpus darken several of the tracks with an unyielding force. This is an album infused with arrogance and power, subtlety, melody, texture and naturalistic spirit. There is a borderline delicate element, in the softness suffusing it, analogous to the second wave of corpse-painted harshness rising from the pillowy snows. The highlight rising above it all is ‘Massvandring & Blodbad’ – an immaculate arrangement of everything essential in the history of Black Metal, and that goes for the entire album too. Listening to this will make you feel more powerful than you have any Earthly right to, and that is exactly the effect this music should have.
Mourning Mist – Mourning Mist
This release from Pennsylvania-based label Forever Plagued is intriguing, unusual and exciting - pretty much all the things you want from a band. A moody screed of eerie string tones open up six tracks that consistently offers atmospherically creepy progressions, through inspired, atypical use of violins set against dark-wave, crust blackened metal. It gets doomy, punky, and thrashy in parts, and is utterly compelling. Highlight of the release is ‘Rise and Decay’ that introduces itself with burly sobriety and that death metal, pitch-shifting string-bend sound, before shifting the tempo up with some dizzying violin playing. It opens out into something approaching beautiful then, as it hits the half-way point, it climaxes with a miniature orchestral flourish that puts acres of space inside the song to let it riff off the theme until the end. Wonderful.
Hermóðr - Himlen mörknar
A two-track masterwork from the man that we placed in our top ten last year. He is reasonably prolific, and regularly turns out expressive and arresting pieces, but this release is a wonder. Comprised of three sections spanning fifteen minutes of Burzum worship, it is yet another incremental, but inspired, installment in a journey that keeps unfolding. Worth keeping an eye on his YouTube channel, as he posts a lot of individual tracks up there rather than Bandcamp.
Harrow – Fallow Fields
This woozy, bucolic take on the genre is released through the eerie, atmospheric label Avant Garde, who brought you the stunningly cinematic Downfall of Nur album we wrote about in the last issue. Fallow Fields - the third full-length album from Canada’s Harrow - characterises those core elements which the label represents. In striking similarity to the albums of psych-folk band Espers, this is a darkly woven tapestry of hallucinogenic trance, with long passages of misty, undulating rhythms and melodies, coalescing into harder, tangibly fierce passages. The album starts off in familiar BM terrain with buzzing tremolo riffs sawing away, shrieked vocals and clattering drums, enriched with an abundance of harmonium-like organs, strange horn sounds and plenty of acoustic guitar. The vocals subtly reflect the qualities of the music, with wistfully haunted clean signing for the more pastoral sections, throaty chanting, and the classically gritty, harsh vocals for when the guitars drop their shoulder and the beat starts blasting. Second track ‘Through the Grey’ features an impeccable breakdown/build/drop section that sends all of the ferocity into a raging peak, with the effect of cleansing the overtly bleak black metal roots from the remaining album, clearing the way for a more ambient Pagan atmosphere, which leads through to the final, slowly-droned ebb into silence of ‘Awake Before the Dawn’. A beguiling and affecting release.
False - Untitled 2
‘Hedgecraft’ is a triumphant stormer of a track, the peak of an album that boils and seethes its way towards such an appropriately lifting climax. A huge, hour-long opus of ragged, brawny USBM that brings downbeat dissonance to the forefront, despite the kinetic nature of the songs. It’s seriously moody and deadly fast, speed collapsing into drone frequently throughout the album’s course. The drums are an almost irrepressible flurry of activity, blasting away in kaleidoscopic patterns under the bruised guitar tones. The artwork for this album excellently reflects the music it holds within it – a baleful vulture, the King of rot, overlooking a muddy vista of the blurred faces of man and moon. This album is grim, but not in the bullets and spikes theatrical sense: it’s grim in a dirtier, bleaker, more human form; of dejection, woe, and anguish. Some great metal signifiers there, done justice through the vocals of Rachel, who wrings a primitively affecting and emotive performance from her body that sets off the music surrounding her; reacting to it, shadowing, and channelling. A magnificent debut record.
Caina – Little Horn (Marilyn Manson cover)
Just a bit of fun from this band, whose devastating Setter of Unseen Snares album we criminally neglected to write about last issue, but should have because it’s one of the year’s best, especially the cinematic and climactic closing track ‘Orphan’. To make up for the omission we’re mentioning this single shot of fury; because Marilyn Manson is back with a passion, and so are Caina, so what better than a track smashing the two together. It’s wild.
Antlers - A Gaze Into the Abyss
There are a lot of releases around right now that sound like Drudkh, and this is another, a super star-gazing outdoors atmospheric slow-burner. There has actually been a real Drudkh record released recently – A Furrow Cut Short – and it’s an epic, deeply ploughed masterclass in intimidatingly euphoric rural vistas, with expansive guitar tones which despite the intensity, manages to cut some loose, almost rockin’, rhythms that makes use of space to a greater degree than any of their previous albums. Go get it, and remind yourself how great the Olde masters from the Hate Forest do it. But what about these younglings from the Auenwald – a decidedly unforested part of Germany? Well, they make up for a lack of trees outside their studio by growing branches, tendrils, roots and leaves through an album that bleeds sap through every pore. Centrepiece ‘Hundreds’ churns a gruff furrow of descending-scale, melancholic riffs over a clipped, martial beat, flurries of fuzz swirling like leaves in the wind, and the occasional distant rumble of bass drums. The surrounding album treads similar territory, but the atmosphere of this album creeps into you, with the slow movement of the tracks working on the meditative receptors in your mind, so it never feels samey; just more comforting and enveloping as it progresses. With a sense of finality, just to jar that cosy feeling, the album finishes in an explosive flurry of fretboard pyrotechnics with one foot, very possibly, propped on a monitor. It’s a cheeky climax and ends the album in style (or, with a style, at least)
Akitsa - Grand Tyrans
The Canadian duo of OT and Néant are back, five years since Akitsa’s last full album Au Crépuscule de l'Espérance, with a characteristically volatile suite of tracks. There’s nothing quite as swinging or deranged as ‘La Grande Infamie’, but it still has hooks of malevolent spite, and does pick up from somewhere close to where tracks like ‘Le Dernier Putsch’ left us in 2010. OT has said parts of this were inspired by Dungeon Synth, which is having something of a renaissance at the moment, but there’s as much of that in here as anything else his band have previously touched on. There’s some killer punk, blasts of feedback and untethered noise, acoustic lamentations and some wild-man vocals. Classic Akitsa then.
Akhlys – The Dreaming I
If you are saddened and weeping into a deep well of despair over the disappearance of Xasthur, and his promise to return in bluegrass form has only exacerbated the pain, then this album of harrowing atmospheres will choke some life back into you. Akhlys is the side project of Nightbringer guitarist and singer Naas Alcameth. This project is his exploration of dreams and nightmares, through the cohesive medium of black metal and dark ambient. Caustic, chaotic layers of nocturnal poisoning, disorienting halls of (bloodstained) mirrors, fractal patterns of fuzz shift and collide across five tracks; a veil to cover tainted spirits that cannot hide the distinct influence of Malefic on this sound. Even so, this is a cosmically powerful entity in its own right, elevated away from the physical and psychological aspects of Xasthur toward something more detached and spiritual. With tracks titled ‘Breath and Levitation’, ‘Tides of Oneiric Darkness’, and ‘The Dreaming Eye’, it is an album that seeks not to dwell within itself, but to expand, and the enormity of scale which it builds up through intensity is a successfully harrowing experience.
Our section devoted to an album dredged from obscurity to be blinded by the light of your attention. This time, we offer you…
Black Forest – Sadness
A long disbanded Russian band of eight members – practically a cult unto itself – that includes violins and several guitars to lay their doom on in thick, emotionally wrought shades. They released this one demo in 2000, and it probably represents the most appropriate album to be titled with the word Sadness. For melancholy, despair, anguish, futility, hopelessness, regret, insignificance, and doubt are all wretchedly wrung out through the sombre progressions of these seven tracks. No shrieking or screaming, just a sorrowful roar. Each song is long, over eight minutes, wallowing in its emotions, but structurally and musically, never compromising. It all revolves around the title track; it takes two and a half minutes to roll out the first riff after peals of thunder and rumbling vocals exhume themselves from the intro. A needle sharp guitar tone cuts out an elegantly forlorn melody, given depth by a base of thick riffs and violin, and punctuated by percussion. Then three minutes later a flash of inspiration and there is hope amidst the darkness.
Somehow this exists on the internet without me having to upload it; lucky for you it does.