Three albums in this column feature bagpipes, two albums feature a track about gold, two don’t have any track titles and one is thoroughly unpronounceable. Welcome to The Reptile Shrine, Drowned in Sound’s new seasonal Black Metal column.
In December we brought you a round of up of the best releases of 2014 and from this Spring we will convene each equinox and solstice to update you on the most potent offerings of metal’s obsidian subterranea. Each column will also draw out one album from the past to revisit in The Eyrie, and future issues will bring you interviews, other features and perhaps an exclusive or two.
Meatbreak & Mehodor
Uitzichtloos - De Oogst
The Netherlands’ Uitzichtloos kicked things off in January with De Oogst; a 3-track EP of brilliantly raw, depressive, atmospheric black metal. Strictly lo-fi, the production is every bit the equal of the song writing, creating an air of desperate, desolate melancholy. De Oogst begins with the beautiful, slow-tempo opener ‘Credo’ that sounds Drudkh-inspired in its bucolic temperament. A curveball is thrown at the listener when ‘Wraak’ drops the atmospheric in favour of a Bone Awl-raw, spite punk style before ‘Wrok’ closes the loop with a perfect combination of the preceding sounds; atmospheric and raw. It’s the album highlight and climaxes perfectly; the melodic rambling of the treble over the maddening blast beats is hair-raising. Short but sweet, it’s going to take a lot to top this release in 2015. Very strong.
Terra – ‘ ‘
Three untitled tracks in an untitled album from the wilds of Cambridgeshire, UK. Not the location you would place this from on first listen – we’re a long way from the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest – but the distinctly Cascadian guitar tone and undulating rhythm will pull some references in for you and place it alongside bands creating similarly imposing cosmic enormity. The spectres of Fell Voices, Ash Borer, and the lesser known Ys immediately loom over this album until the melodic centrepiece of each track presents itself, shifting the band into its own entity, outdoing those State-side bands in the euphoria stakes. The second track especially manages to raise itself onto successively higher planes with each metamorphic cycle, building expectation then exceeding it. The lack of titles provokes the listener into drawing their own interpretations from the sounds, but there is a genre-thematic force at work that alludes to the natural world and the cosmic energies surrounding it. For fans of the naturalistic strain of the US scene, or even those with a passing interest in post-rock influenced atmospheric metal, Terra should keep you intensely rapt from the first stirrings of the storm until the final bloom of feedback fades.
Misþyrming - Söngvar elds og óreiðu
Fallen Empire & Terratur Possession
Icelandic two-piece Misþyrming kick off their album hard; a murky, dirty guitar tone smothers the drums, whose percussive battery occasionally breaks through the riffing with a sharp fill, seismic kick or steely cymbal strike. It sounds as if it was exhumed, icy earth muffling the hi-fidelity but enhancing the structure of the songs. Every dynamic shift throughout the album – and they are frequent – creates its character without artifice or interrupting the flow. The balance of compositional elements is one of the most absorbing features, rewarding repeat listens with the anticipation, high, and release of each as it arrives. Roaring torrents of silt riffing, fleeting passages of melodic light, spacious open string harmonics, an eerie, out-of-tune piano, layers of chanted and intoned vocals set against the gruff bark of the dominant voice of the album, bass and guitar lines playing pin-sharp counterpoint to each other. This album is its own entity, despite the clear influences of Mayhem, Funeral Mist, Deathspell Omega and on ‘Er haustið ber að garði’, Drudkh; an unmistakable reference as the rural buzz of Balkan riffs chew through frosted tundra. Already sold out but due for another vinyl run later in the year, this album is another landmark moment in Iceland’s recent Black Metal lineage that has borne the likes of Wormlust, Svartidauði, Sinmara, Nornahetta, Úrhrak and Auðn. Although some of them share members, there’s no distinct style tying the sounds of these bands together other than atmosphere, and that is something Misþyrming deliver in arresting fashion. Meatbreak
Liturgy – The Ark Work
It says something about the scene from which this band have emerged, and the path that main man Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has chosen to walk to get here, that my initial reaction to listening to The Ark Work was to think ‘The internet is going to be so angry.’ Released through Thrill Jockey, it has no real riffs to speak of, no screeching or growling, replaces blast beats with hyperborean bursts, contains huge arrhythmic sections of bagpipes overlapping in off-kilter time signatures, a synth ambience verging on Dungeon Synth, as well as mechanical pulses, glitches, and dub skanking. A conceptual echo of Kid A, Field of Reeds, or Shaking the Habitual, The Ark Work is a confrontational, confounding album which is destined to confuse and enrage as much as excite and beguile, remaining enigmatic even after numerous listens. As uncompromising as this is, it’s also a vulnerable one. The fragile, imperfectly pitched drone of HH-H’s clean voice makes these tracks feel somewhat exposed and prone, and coupled with the genuinely (and dangerously close to naïve) experimental music within, the result is a bold, brave stylistic move. Without the screech, it’s an ultimately more accessible record, humanising the themes it’s trying to convey. Theoretical transcendence now appears attainable, if only you can navigate the conundrum of The Ark Work to reach it. Meatbreak
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Four-piece Ghost Bath originally purport to hail from China, but it’s since transpired that they live in North Dakota and may not be a full band at all, instead being the work of just one man. Shades of Velvet Cacoon’s scene-trolling cheekiness abound, though whether Ghost Bath will ever go so far as to release another band’s album under their name remains to be seen. The band name is reference to the act of suicide by drowning, which is fitting in terms of the DSBM genre it has risen from, and the combination of harrowing desperation and euphoric release it’s comprised of. There’s unlikely to be a song released this year that will give you a bigger lump in your throat, or cause you to raise your fist so hard and high in the air, as the gloriously cheesy ‘Golden Number’. It’s nine minutes of emotive explosion, ripples of real-drum blast beat, a searing tremolo rhythm, tearing lead guitar, a choir of backing vocals, and a piano outro; it has absolutely everything. It’s a template adhered to throughout the following five tracks – lay down the atmosphere and tug at those heart-strings. The pace drops off to more ambient atmospherics after the initial high, but by the end of the album, the vocals turn from a primitive Earth-bound howl to an ethereal breeze, casting themselves into oblivion, peace and silence. And all is still. The vinyl will be released in the autumn on Northern Silence. Controversy, ructions and genre-baiting TBA. Meatbreak
Himinbjorg – Wyrd
European Tribes / Vegvisir
A great Pagan release from France, Wyrd brings forth songwriting reminiscent of Bathory’s Nordland series. Marching at a steady upper-mid tempo with very much Immortal-inspired vocals, this album delivers epic riffs, uplifting melodies, and the rousing atmosphere of being called to arms. The production quality is on the ‘high’ end for traditional black metal, though is not overproduced in a negative sense. This type of songwriting requires every drum hit and bass note to be felt in the gut. The clean vocals and synthesiser segments are greatly complementary to the music, really giving it an extra-added atmosphere. There are a few surprising twists in Wyrd, such as ‘The World of Men Without Virtue - The Circle of Disillusion’ (great title by the way!), where the music breaks down into a Metallica-esque display of musicianship with a hair-raisingly low-tempo guitar solo, something not often heard in black metal. A quirky release, Wyrd is certainly a highlight of Spring. Mehodor
Downfall of Nur – Umbras de Barbagia
Avante Garde Music
An Argentinian one-man band, twenty (or thereabouts) year-old Antonio Sannas presents his debut full-length album as Downfall of Nur, and it’s an atmospheric stunner. A doomy, thunder-laden intro winds its way through chiming, reverbed guitars, elegantly sustained piano and haunting quenacho flute before, following a generously cinematic amount of scene setting, the guitars of ‘The Golden Age’ stride in, all deep riffs backed with Scandinavian buzz. Drums build and cymbals clatter until finally the vocals arrive, rushing in like the wind, stripping leaves off the trees. Guest vocalist Dany Tee sounds like someone crushed a distortion pedal into the back of an amp and let a torrent of howling feedback rush out. There’s a human voice inside somewhere, but it takes a moment to recognise it. Oh, Black Metal, that unique genre in which you simultaneously think nasty/beautiful and your disgust/delight synapses fire simultaneously. Things don’t hit full stride until 20 minutes in, by which point it’s an absolute rush, a sensation the album retains until that piercing viento blanco vocal harries the delirious waves of guitars and drums piling over each other into the ecstatic climax of the final track. It’s a real journey of sound, and a promising beginning for one man in a tiny Argentinian village.
Au-Dessus - Au-Dessus
Witching Hour Productions
Lithuanian dark-death-doom-post-black metal band that converts that overly protracted description into an elegantly accomplished five tracks, ranging from two to ten minutes in length. These pieces, all minimally titled with Roman numerals, simultaneously convey some of the most grotesque and beautifully svelte music of the year so far, slipping between styles with astonishing subtlety. ‘II’ starts off pummelling the Earth with hairy fists, throwing its shoulders around in a rampant display of masculinity, before sliding gracefully towards an ethereal mid-section haunted by sighing vocals while guitars soar upwards on melodic drones. Off the back of a single drum roll, ‘III’ switches between a roaring battering ram and reverberating riff before rolling out over the swinging delay of a melody line that adds a reflective element to the chaos. And so it continues through every track, the band melding styles into one, seamless, single-minded form that commands attention from the start and holds you for repeated listens. The final track is the ultimate distillation of their craft; a dense riff lurching between a frenetic drum/cymbal switch-up slowly elongates notes and tones, smoothing out the abrupt drumming until the whole thing has unwound into hyperfast, post-rock triumphalism. Then, when you think they can’t tweak it any further, it drops a final euphoric riff section. Keep an eye on these guys.
Aegrus - Devotion For The Devil
Unmistakably Finnish, Devotion For the Devil is everything you would expect from a Kouvola-based band, with song titles such as ‘Worship Of The Serpent’ and ‘Wolves Of The Luciferian Light’. It’s tempting to draw a comparison to bands such as Satanic Warmaster, although that would be a disservice to this band as they never sound derivative. D-beats and refreshingly charismatic vocals abound, this is one of those black metal albums that makes you want to drink yourself to death for Satan. Devotion for the Devil is a furious, well-written release that never loses its air of fun. Mehodor
An eye from our rocky outcrop looking back over releases lost to the mists of time.
Cosmic Church – Ylistys
We will start our exploration of the lost and obscure by taking just a brief step back in time to 2013, to one perfect black metal album of cosmic, euphoric, melancholic frisson. Cosmic Church have many releases to their name, but haven’t released anything since 2013. It’s a mystery as to why this band stopped after hitting such a monumental peak, though maybe the answer is within that question, for as with Ylistys, this Finnish one-man band released a behemoth of recorded genius. Clocking in at 75 minutes, this album is not to be taken lightly, synergising atmospheres created in the songwriting and production. The vocal is particularly striking in its intense loneliness, though it never fully ventures into DSBM territory. The drumming is so attenuated to the soundscapes of guitar that the entire album would be flawed with any other style. This is true of every element of Ylistys, each integral to the whole entity and carefully considered. The nuance of the songwriting, riff progression and structural dynamics are at times almost beyond comprehension; a riff will suddenly hit you from left field that you weren’t expecting, before taking over the entire track backed by furious blast beating. Never jarring due to the dense atmosphere, this happens a lot in Ylistys and gives the album a truly unique quality that keeps you enraptured throughout. This is an album to be remembered. Mehodor
The Reptile Shrine will reconvene around the Summer Solstice. You can read previous columns here and you'll find Meatbreak on Twitter here.
Related: Heavy Music 2015 - Rolling Thread.