It is year-end review time, and from out of the Community Boards rises this feature summarising the most powerful Black Metal releases of 2014: The Reptile Shrine.
Black Metal is almost a blank canvas of a genre. It is constrained only by requiring the essence of Black Metal, as succinctly explained by Negru of Negura Bunget "Black metal is maybe the only musical genre where the concept behind the music is more important than the music itself." The specifics of this concept are subject to much theorising, to the point where an academically minded Journal of Black Metal Theory has been founded.
No core values exist and this is a critical element that permeates from the core of Black Metal. The genre explores extreme ends of a spectrum from dominion to submission; challenging themes of environment and ecology; heritage and Nationalism; Satanism and self-centric concepts of power; naturalism and spiritualism; inversion and subversion; clarity and dissonance, destruction and growth, expansion and contraction. This dichotomy of creating noise is simultaneously aspiring to beauty and ugliness. Each of these elements is subject to its own micro and macro debates in and outside of the genre, but Black Metal will never be about censorship, and always be about confrontation; these issues will be scrutinised, subsumed or smashed to pieces across stages and on paper until the world expires.
As elusive as any singular definition is, Black Metal can be characterised when you experience it. The attainment and understanding of this concept is both an illustration and exploration of its essence (through noise) as well as its ultimate goal, and this is why Black Metal persists in being the most provocative, progressive, and powerfully addictive form of metal.
Black Metal continues to reinvent itself. For every one man band that reproduces Hvis Lyset Tar Oss there is another that reimagines the form entirely, and this year bands like Panopticon, Saor, Botanist, Mamaleek and Wreck & Reference asserted unlikely influences into the blackening mass with bluegrass, Celtic pipes, Middle Eastern instruments and pure electronics reaching new highs of experimentation. Equally, of course, there are new inspiring increments to those traditional buzzsaw and blastbeat signifiers that so consistently invigorate the spirit. Oh yeah, and corpsepaint.
In this list we have included all forms of release; full albums, EPs, label-releases, demos and self-releases. Bandcamp is emerging as an acceptable platform to bring the tape-trading days of the first waves into the digital era, turning the previously elite and secluded scene into a more accessibly egalitarian domain. There is no underground any more, it’s all cyberspace - except for where it’s taken a youtube rip of an immediately sold out limited cassette on a label that takes mailorder only, to bring it to you.
THE TOP TEN
10. Hermóðr – Vinter
Mehodor: This is atmospheric black metal in its most beautiful form. Painfully lonesome screeching with gently intoned clean Swedish vocals laden with a Bathory reverb can be heard over sorrowful yet somehow uplifting guitar lines of beautifully crafted yet minimalistic, droning melodies. The trance inducing constant slowtempo drums will have you rapt, drooling all over yourself as you hum along. There aren’t even any drum fills in the entire album. Brilliantly simplistic and aesthetically perfect for it. The artwork is gorgeous too.
09. Hateful Abandon – Liars/Bastards
Meatbreak: Released on Ipswich based label Todestrieb in the Summer to completely insufficient acclaim and coverage considering the imposing presence of this album’s songs. Since turning his back on violently caustic black metal project Abandon in 2005 and getting Tom 'Swine' Price from the band Swine to provide percussion, Martin ‘Vice Martyr’ Brindley has released three successive albums of warped dark industrial no-wave cold-gaze metal with Liars/Bastards the pinnacle of all achievements to date. There is no appropriate way to describe this band’s sound, but the effect is simultaneously comparable to Godflesh, Throbbing Gristle, PiL, Killing Joke, Swans and The Cure – with an added dose of reproachful political invective; a voice much needed yet sorely missing from music today. This band have just been signed to Candlelight with a wide-scale release due for January, so expect this truth bomb to drop even harder next year. (PS. This band won’t appreciate being included in a black metal list, but now you’ve heard of them, so there’s that).
08. Adabroc – Iolaire
Mehodor: One word to describe this album: peaceful. Gentle melodies, trance inducing rhythms and a big slab of constant pad synth come together from the Isle of Lewis to create a beautiful slice of atmospheric black metal. The vocals, while distorted, are almost subliminal. The music is segmented by recordings of the shore side, adding to the tranquillity. Black metal is not something you would normally associate blissing-the-fuck-out to, giving this album a really unique feel. Fantastic stuff.
07. White Medal – Guthmers Hahl
Meatbreak: The return of George Proctor and the Return of Pagan Yorkshire indeed. The opening track sets the scene, the final tracks leaves you with a gloriously uplifting heart-swell of emotion. Not overtly patriotic (unless you want it to be), but the chord transition pushing upwards like fists to the sky and the aching dissonance could inspire nationalistic empathy. A doomed yearning for a past era, lined with a silver sliver of hope that the simpler times could return to English lands….put to music made with electrical instruments, gifted to you through the ultra-modern medium of teh internets. Still, no arguing with the mournful rasp of vocal refrain ‘It’s my time to die’ in the title track, the punchy echoed vocal that filters through the Bone Awl hewn spite punk of ‘Ar Deeard Moor’ – a track that gathers momentum before crashing to a chasmic lurch of guitar straddled by feedback - or the penultimate track ‘Skratje’s Gate’ which features one of the most mournful, sad and vengeful sounding melodies evoked in the genre this year. A seriously powerful album.
06. Eismalsott – Weißblendung
Mehodor: The tone of this album is set from the first second when it erupts straight into a roaring blastbeat and goosebump inducing string melody reminiscent of Ulver’s classic Nattens Madrigal. Things take a turn for the sinister as the melodies get darker and colder, though never becoming harsh. This exact formula is followed for the subsequent two tracks but somehow never sounds formulaic. The ecstasy of the epic 200-mile an-hour-melody-of-triumphant-glory descending into darkness to rise from the ashes once again simply does not lose effect. For fans of early Ulver and hair raising melodies. Amazing.
05. Fluisteraars – Dromers
Meatbreak: Like an elegantly elongated post-BM combination of Satyricon, Enslaved and Burzum, this Dutch band’s debut album features just three songs over 35 minutes. Without dismissing the quality and craft of the two subsequent tracks, the first is by far the greatest, and at 16 minutes it takes up almost half the record. What is essentially a trilogy of riffs begins by exploring a loosely swinging theme, drops into something fiercer reminiscent of the hard-rocking ‘Fuel For Hatred’, swings away into a dreamy bridge then concludes with a huge melodic riff that does what Hunter Hunt-Hendrix defined as ‘hyperborean black metal’, by expanding with increased density until it reaches orgasmically intense proportions. Fluisteraars’ take on the genre features a smoothness and gracefulness that set it apart from most other this year; the guitars are gently fuzzed, the riffs are thoughtfully poised and notes are struck with space around them, with harshness reserved only for the vocals’ gravely snarl. A stunning debut that could see a follow-up cross over in future if they continue like this.
04. Sivyj Yar - From the Dead Villages' Darkness
Avant Garde Music
Mehodor: Hailing from the Leningrad Region of Russia, this one man band brings a breath of fresh air to Russian pagan black metal. With his consistently excellent material, it comes as no surprise that this album is nothing less than a gem. In keeping with Sivyj Yar, this album manages to retain an Earth-bound Eastern European character while still sounding cosmic and simply not of this world. Folk instrumentation and even piano keys are used to great effect to create a dense wall of atmosphere. The musical phrasing is just beautiful, even tear-jerking at times. The production is lo-fi enough to remain humble while the song writing is intricate and orchestral. The uniqueness and fresh quality to this album cannot be overstated. This one goes well beyond a 2014 list.
03. Ad Infinitum – Woven Within
Fragile Branch Recordings
Meatbreak: One man band from the US playing an imperiously strong mix of cosmically influenced guitar trance, synths and rippling drums with a wonderfully evocative feral screech buried inside. Standout moments of an album that is one long peaking surge of mournful, occasionally disturbing, euphoria include the dually descending melodies of ‘Inward Threshold’, the call-and-response of hissing riff and pealing arpeggiated notes in ‘Observer’, the unnerving drone of ‘Suffering’, and encasing it all, some affectingly haunting cover art. The instrument sounds of this album are drawn from the liminal space between Xasthur’s chilling misanthropy and Servile Sect’s alien landscaping; a constant febrile buzz of galactic radiation and Earthly paranoia swirling into a vortex of catastrophically powerful atmospheric BM, and with it one of the years’ very best albums.
02. Skaur – Gravoel
Darker Than Black Records
Mehodor: Passion. The first thing to hit you about this album is the terrified quality to the vocals. It’s rare in black metal to hear a truly passionate voice when a lazy ‘otherworldly’ reverberated yelping can suffice. Absolutely not the case here; you can practically hear the tears shedding from this man’s face. At one point during the last track, the screeching spontaneously bursts into seemingly unplanned insane laughter mid-sentence. This is all kept in for an incredibly human feel, never letting the grandiosity of the melodies become too pompous. The clean male/female singing segments intertwined between the desperate screeching is hair-raising. This vocal onslaught coupled with the gorgeous, quintessentially Norwegian melodies makes for a breathtaking listen. The song writing is unrelentingly complex, making other bands in this sub-genre look decidedly amateurish, though after 11 years’ worth of releases, this Norwegian has had time to hone his craft. Considering how under the radar this is, it’s unlikely you’re going to hear about this again anytime soon. So don’t hesitate, check it out right now.
01. Black Monolith – Passenger
All Black Recording Company
Meatbreak: Released on All Black Recording Company run by George Clark and Derek Pine this one-man outfit from former band-mate guitarist Gary Bettencourt may have passed by people too interested in holding their noses up over the Deafheaven association, but they have missed – as evidenced by its position in this list –an incredible debut album from band and label and the best album of the year. Passenger is an exceptionally well executed whirlwind of black, speed, crust, hardcore, and post-metal with moments of dark ambience. Ferocious and uncompromising in its vision, the album whips through a blisteringly fast procession of thick buzzing riffs, pedal-to-the-metal overdriven leads, wall-of-tone drone, pummelling bass drums, nimble fills and pitch-perfect throat-rasped vocals. This is a record that never loses momentum, conviction, force, imagination, inspiration or excitement, is short enough to leave you wanting more but complete enough to leave you feeling spent and elated by the end. The experience is enhanced with wonderful artwork that is worth getting the 12” for…and the t-shirt. It won’t take many listens to want to sign your soul over to this band. Outstanding.
In inverted alphabetical order...
Ys – Vast
Two tracks over 15 minutes apiece give ample room for elegant Möbius strips of raw Cascadian trance to unfold through a few of the most perfectly formed riffs of the year. Induces the same shivers as those first demos from Ash Borer and Wolves in the Throne Room. That good.
Winterfylleth - The Divination of Antiquity
This Manchester band have done it again. Another top quality album of lovely folkish elements and ethereal, historic atmosphere from start to finish.
Vintersorg – Naturbål
Everything Adreas Hedlund touches is golden. Anthemic folk Black Metal at its best.
Veldes – Skyward
Depressive Suicidal Black Metal accompanied by piano, violin, and some excellent screeching characterise an album as elegantly potent as this dissonantly doomed micro-genre could hope to create. Just imagine if all the instruments were real instead of synths.
Various Artists - One and all, Together, For Home
Season of Mist
Truly glorious slice of European national romanticism. This compilation put together by Drudkh mastermind Roman Seyenko contains all new material by Europe’s best. Häive are the highlight here, hands down.
Torrid Husk – Caesious
This album was recorded in a cabin in the woods during the winter of 2013, yet it features none of that twee beardy nonsense synonymous with such an outing (I like For Emma… as it goes, but this is no place for that). Spiralling lines of guitar constrict a core of dense drumming until the banks burst forth in roaring torrents of noise.
Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise
Dark Descent Records
Canadian BM of the most supremely dark, deliriously cold, and relentlessly fierce kind.
Teitanblood – Death
Claustrophobic, swelteringly humid and airless subterranean occult ritualism, Teitanblood’s second full length continues the themes of Seven Chalices in grotesquely compelling (and headbanging) fashion.
Sverdkamp - Fraa Ryfylke
Absolutely incredible release. Epic clean sung vocals throughout. Think Týr meets Immortal, meets Isengard. It would have been in the top 10 if only it were longer.
Stworz - Cóż po żyznych ziemiach...
A Polish masterpiece of epic pagan folk metal. This is a band to watch.
Skogmark - Sworn to Paganism
Epic, just epic. Compressed and punishing production.
Skogen – I Döden
Thundering Swedish atmospheric black folk. Like a couple others in this list – Saor, Winterfylleth – and other Pagan-centric bands like Falkenbach, Drudkh, Wodensthrone. By the hooves of Sleipnir this is serious!
Schattenthron - Der alte Thron
Heretic Wisdom Productions / Sol Records
Lo-fi, raw, yet oozing with atmosphere.
Satanic Warmaster – Fimbulwinter
Smashing! Proper cold northern trance. Drilling beats and nasty riffs.
Saor – Aura
Atmospheric Celtic BM from a one-man band, with Austin Lunn of Panopticon on drums (including bohdrun). Viking BM features traditional instruments heavily, but here’s one from Scotland and it’s a fantastic match for Panopticon in recontextualising BM in unlikely ways.
Panopticon – Roads to the North
Roads to the North is a huge rural-US bluegrass/BM opus from Austin Lunn, melding two seemingly dissonant styles into a powerfully new landscape as tremolo banjo thrash and monumental swamp riffs bleed it into an epic wall of thundering drums and white-light black transcendence.
Moonknight – Death Card
This is some deadly serious affecting atmospheric buzz that only very narrowly missed out on a place in the top 10. Raw enough to cause friction burns but well produced enough that you can really hear the musical detail, the five tracks of Death Card feature dynamic shifts verging on the poppy, as heard in the stately change of pace in Atu IV, and the mid-tempo anthemic groove and swagger of Atu V.
Likvann - Furet og Vaerbitt
Buzzsaw raw. Cover art is amazing.
Laster – De Verste Verte is Hier
Self described 'occult dance music'....actually just sounds like Burzum, which is dance music to me so that's great to pretty stunning.
Khthoniik Cerviiks – Heptaedrone
Iron Bonehead Productions
Bestial primitive blasphemy from Germany. The incredible artwork is by an artist every metal band must have to stop themselves from using: Zdzisław Beksiński http://art.vniz.net/en/beksinski/
Goatmoon - Voitto Tai Valhalla
If there’s one album to get drunk and high with your fellow black metal misfits to, it’s this one. Finnish fucking madness.
Ephemer – Gloire Immortelle
Compiles two previous very limited releases into one equally limited 12”. Surly Quebecian atmospherics incorporating that distinctly Canadian style of gnarled aggression, expanded with fluttery enveloping reverberations, choral backing vocals and changes of pace.
A late entry to the list from Denmark and another intoxicatingly dense wall of atmospheric Black Metal. I challenge you not to sing your own clean melodies over the last track. Short but oh so, so sweet.
Dweller in the Valley – Younger Dryas
Awesome band name, great album name, absolutely savage music.
Darkspace – III I
Avant Garde Music
Lysergic sheets of deeply unsettling galactic noise.
Black Shoals - Black Shoals
Brighton band making harsh scrapes of BM tinged industrial and ambient.
Barghest – The Virtuous Purge
Gilead Media release, which should be enough recommendation in itself. Louisiana swamp noise split into seven different shades of darkness through the black metal prism.
Badr Vogu - Agglomeration MMXIV
Pick of a great year of releases from Transylvanian Tapes with almost too many artists to separate: Mortuous, Cyanic, Xentotaph, Swamp Witch, Naught, Cease....but the Badr Vogu release embodies an especially potent form of the label’s blackened crust death doom sludge.
Alraune – The Process of Self Immolation
Gilead Media / Profound Lore
An album of sudden changes in tempo, key, melody and rhythm, yet blistering fast and violently raw, this is a powerful focussed vision of black metal with some considered musicianship hiding within it.
Achenar – Sacred Duality
Ferocious but gentle guitar driven atmospheric Black Metal. Probably progressive enough for non-BM fans to appreciate although fans of Vintersorg will love this too.