zhrine – unortheta (2016)

i have praised iceland before. many times. but obviously i can go on. now we have zhrine (previously a death metal band called gone postal). their debut unortheta is simply an impressive album in the icelandic extreme metal school, wandering mainly in black, death and occasionally doom metal territories. however, the load of melancholy present in the album as well as the artistic approach of the band sets this release clearly apart from your typical death metal.

this emotion manifests itself in its purest form in the opening track, with a sweet build up from sorrowful arpeggio, bass and then a torturing of guitars (rather than a riff) and an onslaught of heavy drumming. vocals totally rule the music. extremely low and loud death metal growls (and rare shrieks) add much brutality. the “death metal” however goes little further than this, except few passages. the rest is solidly structured songs of agony, anger and a free flow of experimentation. the two guitars lead the atmosphere throughout most of the album, a freely experimenting lead over manic riffing. bass sounds so organic and “old-school”, which leads quite often, rather than laying the rhythm. the fury, agony, technicality, shifting and sudden changes in tempo are only reflected in masterful drum playing here. besides being extremely well executed, the sound again is toned perfectly, thick and alive.

unortheta is an artistically executed and well produced album conveying a wide array of emotions and soundscapes. loaded with shifting passages, tempo changes and experimentation, it is still accessible at first listen and coherently structured, allowing themes and passages to build up in their time, rather than being cacophonic. an overall awesome album and one should expect nothing less than a piece of art from iceland.


vi – de praestigiis angelorum (2015)

this is a shining example of french black metal insanity. standing somewhere between the fury of antaeus and the demanding structures of deathspell omega, “de praestigiis angelorum” is a 45 minute soul drenching experience. the album is technically flawless and emotionally disturbing. at times you feel the protagonist to whom you root for during the entire movie receives a lengthy, excruciating torture, and you feel the pain, and at the end they die. despite evoking mostly such negative emotions, the musical excellence also leaves the listener in an unavoidable awe.

vi includes (permanent and session) members of antaeus and aosoth, led by bst (sébastien tuvi), the mastermind of aosoth, on bass & samples, blastum on drums and inrvi on guitars & vocals. once the listener gets past the distant tone of the production, which makes the album even more inaccessible, the complex and intriguing structure unravels. upon the bass-laden structure, we have masterful yet insane drumming. on every gap between furious blast beats and / or double bass attacks, blastrum showcases nice little touches and tricks while maintaining complete control, navigating the music through frequent shifts in mood and tempo. the guitars are so satisfying, utilising multi-tracks, insane riffing (in the vein of dso) and variation set the atmosphere. not so much to say about his singing that fits like a glove. no keyboards here, but sampling (not overdone) of usually eerie orthodox chanting and other horror effects strengthens the nightmarish atmosphere.

quite exhaustive, even wearying. each listen is sure to present many missed moments. despite sounding complex or even chaotic, the songs themselves are quite coherent, with an evident direction and repetition of themes. with a chanting and unsettling intro and seven tracks of black metal beauty, the fourth one “regarde tes cadavres car il ne te permettra pas qu’on les enterre” (much ctrl+v’ing here) in three motions is a stand out piece. the song opens normally, shifting tempo and whatnot, suddenly giving way to an unnerving horror interlude of samples and finally attacks all-on with a 2 minute blast beat filled frenzy.

oh, by the way, just do not let the amazing cover art of the illustrious alexander l. brown go unnoticed. seven angels with dark faces in a circle in front of a heptagonal form.

as again, thank you france.

naðra – allir vegir til glötunar (2016)

icelandic black metal is literally bursting out with creativity and extremely well releases and this is a gift. and often we see collaborations and side projects rather than constant bands. naðra is such a project, formed by members of other projects including carpe noctem, misþyrming, 〇 and skáphe (more on that later). allir vegir til glötunar (all roads to destruction) is the sole full-length and follows down a different path; rather than cold, distant, mechanical and insane icelandic releases of late, this is an organic black metal album leaning towards epic & folk/pagan.

the classic 5 piece, individually bearing initials as it is fashion now evidently, includes t. (aka tómas, who also plays guitars for carpe noctem, misþyrming and drums for 〇) on lead guitars, who completely controls the proceedings. leaving the melodic rhythm tremolos / riffs to d.g. (of misþyrming, 〇, and skáphe), t. here is liberated to sway as he pleases, experimenting hidden realms of night, ice and fury, and taking us with him, all the while contributing to dual rhythm. his solos are a joy to behold. the drums, handled by h. (aka hilmar) are quite heavy, loud and thunderous to be honest. so generous on the blast beat and double bass, even on slower passages, drums contribute heaviness to otherwise mellower moments. along with him, bassist g. (of misþyrming) completes the rhythm section.

lastly, ö. (örlygur sigurðarson, who played guitars on〇) has the microphone and his extremely energetic, furious, rather varied and throaty vocals would also feel at home in a death / core release, and maybe even more so. no real complaints, his lyrical lines fit like a glove and occasional shrills / shrieks complement the instrumental parts, but i felt the tone is somewhat out of place.

also, differentiating from other recent icelandic releases, for example the mechanical precision of wormlust – the feral wisdom, the sound is on the scratchy, rather low-fi side with an old school raw production. among quite fast and angry tracks and a 14-minute epic 3rd track “falið”, the slow and heavy pagan metal beauty “sál” is my immediate favourite.

grey heaven fall – black wisdom (2015)

russian black metal trio have been active for about ten years and black wisdom is their second full-length. the fact that i just came across this gem is just sad. this may be due to the band’s rather low profile or the russian black metal scene itself. the 51 minute, 6 track album showcases brilliant moments of black metal splendour, ornamented in parts by ambient elements, death/doom influences and a “modern” black metal structure characterised by complex riffing, ringing sound and syncopated scales. however, black wisdom is not necessarily inaccessible, as its contemporaries.

grey heaven fall embrace a thick, guitar & drum based structure where guitar leads, sets the tone and the atmosphere masterfully. here you have the trademark black metal tremolo, dissonant riffing, death metal power chords, beautiful solos, arpeggios, ambient sections and much variation by guitar sound alone. the drums follow the lead so well, shifting between double-bass, blast beats and slower, off-scale moments masterfully. while setting the pace, the drum work is so controlled and there is not one unnecessary show-off drum section. neither is there one out of place hit and this mechanical perfection complements the overall organic sound in such a satisfying fashion. i would prefer a crispier (if not louder) sound for the bass, though, which shines in moments when it leads. vocal sections (in russian) are somewhat limited for the sake of lengthy passages of instrumentation and experimentation. the tone is awesome, ranges from death metal throaty to black metal shrieking to anguish wailing.

while maintaining variation and experimentation in a controlled manner, grey heaven fall succeed in keeping the black metal solemnity throughout. however, the individual songs convey varying emotions as the first two furious tracks give way to the third rather melancholic song. then comes the fourth ambient track and the closing two tracks are more on the doom/death metal side, extremely heavy, if not as pacey as the opening duo, while maintaining the overall song structure and including lengthy slower passages. this sway of emotions may be distracting or demanding on the part of the listener but the album is sure to present new moments of brilliance and awe in each listening.