hån – facilis descensus averni (2016)

this is difficult to put into words, in the sense of a humble attempt to verbalise the feel of standing in awe, the feeling of divine presence. “facilis descensus averni” is truly a monumental work in black metal artistry. it is beautifully simple and pure. this might very probably be where decades of black metal composition has led to. this might be what ulver wanted to do with “nattens madrigal”, had it not been a project with strict guidelines but an expression of how black metal feels.

and through those decades we have seen numerous (attempted) resurgences of the “pure / nordic black metal” formula, among the experimentation of the majority. this is perfection rather than a resurgence.

facilis descensus averni is victorious in every aspect. first we have the exquisite tremolo, laying the foundation, the melody and the atmosphere. each song has one or two main themes, bridged perfectly by recurring / alternating passages. the main themes are so simple and beautiful yet so haunting you find yourself humming / whistling a random one long after the album ends. despite the vast amount of tremolo / chord built melodies, i would not classify the music as “melodic black metal”, though. also, we are treated by a very natural and a thick atmosphere of despair. yet, not “atmospheric black metal”. we always imagine the swiss alps as serene and astonishing. oh, by the way hån is swiss. but here they are as grim, cold and dark as the mountains of bergen. and there is an inherent, heavy and glooming sorrowful overall feeling that would put most dsbm bands or any in-your-face despair inducing post-black to shame, and certainly not any of these.

under the awe inspiring tremolo and gritty guitar work (complemented in slower passages by acoustic guitars) lays an astoundingly solid rhythm section. the tempo drops and picks up where it needs, without vying for shock with unexpected tempo changes that would ruin the structure. when it drops, as it does to funeral black metal crawl as in the intro of the closer “summum bonum”, you are served the sweetest anguish. and when blast beats pour, and they do, you feel the fury and energy. whether you have the doom, the blast beat or mid-to-high tempo double drums (aplenty) or the attacks, they are executed so proficiently yet so human-like, also thanks to the organic drum sound. a separate mention goes to bass though, bringing rhythm and melody together, also creating its own. as artistic and melodic the vocals are, there is a perfect balance of instrumental parts and singing. as it may be the case with some releases where the vocalist doesn’t get a break, too much singing may ruin the music. not here, as the human voice complements the structure and accentuates the feeling. as audible as each piece of instrument, thanks to lucky mixing and production choices. although, i occasionally suspect that i hear piano chords. maybe it’s a mind trick. it would be nice, though.

an instant classic, a masterpiece on its own, but i childishly and selfishly feel it may be longer. maybe 42 minutes is just “perfect”, as the whole album seems to be, in every aspect.


project omega – mors introivit in orbem terrarum (2017, ep)

i wasn’t expecting this. 2017 looks like it’s trying to match 2016 in terms of black metal. now we have project (not deathspell) omega, from the unlikely georgia, a one man project of, you guessed it, omega. ok enough with the wordplay.

omega is quite straightforward with his approach. as the first beats hit, there’s a never ending experimentation. this is, avant-garde black metal? progressive? jazz-black? despite including just 4 songs and clocking at a quarter hour, the ep is filled with alternating riffs, passages, constantly syncopated drumming frenzy and a showcase of his musical prowess as well as virtuosity, especially shining in the drumming section.

the mood and sound vary slightly between songs; while the opener switches between fury and despair, with way too frequent start-stops, the second track is more on the sad side, the third one is thick and bass-y and the closer is a fine black metal piece with the best continuity. the sound is hardly any different than the other omega (you know, the deathspell one), while remarkably cleaner, except the obviously processed and muddy vocals. however, it is a nice touch that we can actually hear the singing, which is rather thick and throaty compared to the typical mono black metal shrieking.

all the goodies and the obvious dream theater-ing aside, i somehow wonder if this constant shifting of tempo, syncopation and experimenting benefit (black) metal. don’t get me wrong, the feeling is there. you feel the dark and despair of a sweet black metal release. but, (here comes the but) you do not have the groove, the continuity. take the first song, which is a prime example of complexity over continuity, you have a hard time getting into the groove, you don’t know how or when to bang your head or play the air-drum (yes this is a thing). and i’m not saying the release is a failed attempt, i’m quite sure he doesn’t give a single flying fuss (the other f word here) about continuity. so take this as it is, as it is intended, and just admire the structural complexity and excellence. for those who also want the groove, luckily we have nagelfar.

evilforces – pest plagues & storms (2016)

when weeks pass by without a notable find, i expect an album to appear nowhere to sweep me off my feet, or rather smack me in the face. and you don’t see that every day. neither do you see the album in question. evilforces is seemingly located in mexico, a solo project of pazuzuh, ex-drummer of ex-isolated, a mexican death metal band. and his prowess in drums shines throughout.

his debut is titled “pest plagues & storms” and came out in the last days of 2016, on christmas day to be precise, perhaps aimed as a mockery. not only “all instruments and vocals”, but also “recording, mixing, mastering, cover art, layout, lyrics” by pazuzuh, who seems to take the “one man band” thing further. first thing, this is a difficult release to digest. it is packed to the brim with exciting black metal ideas and execution. this might even be its downfall; as he sways through a wide range of musical influences, frequently employing punk / thrash based groove, also serving delightful moments of nordic / pagan black metal, doom, dsbm, avant-garde metal etc., the 72-minute journey becomes one commanding much attention and energy. and this is a polite way of saying it tires the fuck out of you. this might be a first album issue and he may find a coherent direction in the future or just stick with the confusion, we’ll hopefully find out in the future.

in the debut though, the pieces are brought together by a careful utilisation of instrumental pieces. the “prologue” is, as expected, an impressive slow tempo opener, filled with satanic chanting, which continues to the second track “the maskim hul”. as much as it delivers the expected breakdown, the “new black metal” sounding and blast-beat filled song has too many start-stops, lacking the continuity of a typical opener. after the prologue and three rather short and groovy tunes comes “interlude”, a horror movie unsettler with piano and female singing. you know the ones in an open field, everything seems serene, but you have a deep unnerving feel that pain and death lurks ever closer… and he’s behind you.

as you’d expect, the following songs stretch out more, filled with hypnotic beats and tremolo, morgul’esque passages and black metal infused psychedelia. all four tracks that follow are magnificent. but nothing can prepare you for the closing 20-minute saga that is “forever in possession state (persecuted)”. opening with a storm and unsettled herd noises, ever so slowly building up through the rain to blast off in style, what follows is the stuff of nightmares. here we have a few delicious recurring hypnotic themes and an unlucky lady wailing throughout the song, successfully inflicting an unbelievable amount of anguish to the poor listener. an amazing track worthy of its own release. actually he could have easily produced 3 separate releases with the material present in the album.

and so far i have said nothing of the sound or the production, which frankly seem nothing like a debut. double-track tremolo / chord guitars and the bass sound is neat, but the drums deserve the highest praise. so thick and organic and oh those double bass drums… there’s a lack of keyboards but loads of effects and samples. on top of the multi-tracked grim black metal singing we have spoken word, chanting, death metal and clean singing and occasional female chant (as well as torture). the production is as neat as can be, a clean sound with just the right amount of grit. sounds german rather than mexican, actually.

a haunting, respect-demanding, exhaustive rollercoaster of a black metal achievement. demands another listen. and another. and… well you get the point.