ultha – converging sins (2016)

this is difficult. so difficult to put in words. the sheer joy of such a find. the awe. the urge to stand up while listening. the goosebumps. the jaw drop.

completely random, totally oblivious to what is to come, i came across ultha’s second full-length “converging sins” on my playlist among a series of rather boring releases of late. i would be content enough with an average album but this is monumental. just as we lost greg lake while accumulating all the sad losses of 2016, i was too quick to praise the year’s perfect black metal score as this release came out just as the year was about to close (still not on sale for another week).

ultha are german. of course they are. the five piece scores perfect on sound, atmosphere and performance. but their main strength, in my opinion, lies in their success in integrating the melancholy and theatricality in their music. i somehow get irritated by in-your-face, cheesy, ooey gooey melancholy (or a blatant lean to a particular theme) of some bands, i’d rather not give names. in this case however, there is such a delicious melancholy, the death of a loved one or of love itself, almost in physical form that i can reach out my hand and touch it. yet no cheap tricks, no gimmicks, just plain earnest and graceful sorrow created by the whole experience. also, it is theatrical while not being too dimmu borgir.

the experience takes a little over an hour (still not enough) and the body of work is 3 epic songs around the 15 minute mark. the opener and the last two make use of all the time needed to develop, bleed, reach crescendos and finish off in style. just too many high points to mention actually, but the repetitive orchestral theme of the last song is so gosh darn haunting. we are treated by a mellow female guest session singing coupled by harsh black metal in a tortured second track and a rather short interlude in the third doom song.

and the sound. oh the sound. such a thick, bassy, meaty guitar tone of mostly repetitive strong riffing, topped up with occasional tremolo, arpeggio and leads for the ultimate effect. also, the choice is such a refreshing return to old in a time most black metal bands opt to thin out their guitar tones. this wall is further accentuated by the thick and raw drum sound and much variation; loads of blast beats, double bass drums, war drums and neat slow tempo drumming of superior german engineering. most of the memorable moments are carried thanks to synth chords that fit so beautifully and never overexpose. the dominant black metal singing might take some time. the constant wail of mourning, after an adaptation period just adds to the overall melancholy. we also have a second, more guttural singing and rare chants. lyrical themes are fitting the theme, maybe not literally amazing, but imaginative and thanks for providing them anyways. yes blut aus nord. this is about you.

music is a personal thing. converging sins is a landmark for me. this is my calling. black metal is glorious.

nyseius – de divinatione daemonum (2015)

it seems french black metal is beyond praise. even if you know what to expect, it can still impress you beyond belief. i just came across nyseius’ second full-length de divinatione daemonum and simply put, i’ve been standing in awe of its grandeur for the last few days. there’s no easy way to describe the cold, sorrowful and dark feeling it gives. also, it’s not an easy album to listen to in one go, given its playing time that exceeds the one hour mark and loaded-to-the-brim material.

the classical four-piece band is so second-wave in their approach to black metal. you have the shining piece de resistance, insane riffing. supported by a meaty (yet silent) bassline, you have a strong backbone of a classical black metal structure. and this frees up the lead guitar to sway within the theme as he likes as he throws wandering tremolos, leads and reverb-laden, mildly distorted chords/arpeggios (of new black metal) at your face. through this complex wall of sounds, the melodies occur in front of you. and they are remarkably melancholic, as well as following the overt satanic theme. the vocals by the main man daeloth are rather throaty and double-tracked. you also have operatic / wailing singing here and there. the shifts and complex structuring of themes is further accentuated by abrupt and unexpected tempo changes. and there is my only distaste. the double drum sounds as if it’s toned so loosely that the fast double drum sections sound overtly programmed. not that i’m saying they are, and if not, congratulations to the drummer. that weird sound puts you off only at first few listens, thankfully. as furious as the pacey parts are, slower sections are crawl-on-your-belly-till-eternity painful.

the album, which could easily be divided in two full-lengths, seem to include 3 chapters and an instrumental opens each of them. the prelude “de casu diaboli“ opens in a melancholic tone built by guitar lead and slow 4/4 drumming, which suddenly picks up and gives way to the first chapter of 3 songs, all of which revolve around similar recurring themes. this effectively makes you lose grip on individual songs and continuity. the fourth track “towards the true light” is easily the most sorrowful one with an obvious deathspell omega influence. the second instrumental “lamentation prayers” includes the eerie “woooo” effects and demonic murmur, harbinger of the second 3 song chapter that delves into satanic fury. here, the music is remarkably faster and angrier. it’s like the first 5 songs have all built up for this release of fury. the third instrumental “lucifer contemplation” is a prime example of a classical black metal song, the way it would evolve to be today. the closer “black god ascension” is a nine minute epic, half extremely furious and half slow and sorrowful that bleeds out towards the end.

an exceptional, demanding, painful and tiresome black metal experience. black metal is, as always, glorious.

death fetishist – clandestine sacrament (2016)

what a glorious year 2016 has been. we have enjoyed the refinement (so far) of the icelandic school of black metal and a strong manifestation of the new black metal aesthetics. not only new coming bands / projects such as prosternatur, throane, almyrkvi, martröð and skáphe completely blew me away with their releases, black metal giants oranssi pazuzu, coldworld, abbath, urfaust and freaking deathspell omega released new material. no “top 10 black metal albums of 2016” will do any justice.

and now we have death fetishist. the name may sound death/gore but this is pristine black metal that, although it may sound exaggerated and ambitious, brings all waves of black metal together. this is not a new coming band but a side project of ævangelist (and a shitload of other) mastermind matron thorn, supported by a whole bunch of black metal elite including none less than icelandic d.g., who releases the fury on the third track.

the intro is such a fitting (female) narration replete with cavern effects reminiscent of horror movies. although discomforting, the softly spoken words end in “all is quiet now…” over and over, and you know something is coming down. and what a delivery of a premise! the insane is at max level and it never drops. it is quite futile to do a song-by-song as the album coherently maintains the main structure throughout, resulting in much more than the sum of its parts.

we are greeted with an explosion of a synth “tone” (rather than individual chords), extremely psychedelic and ominous. the body of music seems to be buried under that never ending synth tone and the raspy vocals, handled by matron thorn (3 songs), doug moore (2 songs) and d.g. (1 song). this variation in singing only adds to the richness.

and the real deal then, the riffs, those delicious riffs of the old school black metal… supported by g. nefarious’ furious, raw and organic drums (that hit the listener rather than the kit), this is beautiful 1st wave of black metal. many parts remind the beauty of early bathory. this is not, though, a tribute to the days of old. the rhythm guitar track is topped by a more reverb-laden dissonant “new black metal” lead and this is such a sweet occasion of the old meets the new. the music bleeds out towards the end, leaving drone effects and the spoken word in reverse, bringing the horror to an end in style.

what a trip. what an album. black metal is glorious.

irkallian oracle – apollyon (2016)

i have been listening to this album over and over for the past week or so. not only because it is fucking awesome, but also i have been trying to grasp it from an angle and write down a review. the swedish sextet, bearing monikers seem to be individually contributing to various aspects of the music.

the album feels like a suffocating / disturbing night terror rather than actual music. it is like the slow psychopathic moments of early cannibal corpse for a whole album, with the musical approach of urfaust and sunn o))), topped with the visuals of blut aus nord.

the rhythm, where it exists, is painfully, excruciatingly slow. slow may even be an understatement. it rarely reaches mid-tempo (maybe except the “fast 4th track) and there are one or two blast-beat passages. the drummer makes use of his time by war-drums, attractive cymbal / bell work and loads of double bass. as the album progresses, the rhythm gets even slower to reach a lengthy, drone outro. this whole proceedings feel exactly like a slow and painful death. and they do it oh so beautifully.

the sound, complementing the crawling rhythm, is all but void of treble and at maximum level of bass. the extremely low guttural death metal singing fits perfectly. still, with the thick death metal sound and doomy atmosphere, this is glorious black metal.

despite its overt emphasis on the nightmarish atmosphere and a sound choice that buries the guitars deep down, you have some excellent riffs, but you may have to dig deep to appreciate those. the album bestows new moments of beauty and hidden gems at each listen. you also have some awesome basslines, but these are expectedly in-your-face. interludes typically let the listener some sort of relief between moments of horror in extreme metal. here, interludes of whispers, painful wails and eerie effects make the situation worse for the listener.

like all things good, the album ends. and there’s the real horror of actual existence. apollyon is a glorious landmark of 2016, an exceptionally glorious year for black metal.

deathkin – kohti kotiani kaaosta (2016)

this is so good. in a very good way. so satisfying. came out just 2 days ago, just wanted to check what it is and it completely nailed me to my chair. as soon as the first note hit, i was in. the debut of the obviously finnish quintet “kohti kotiani kaaosta” is, like a good debut imaginative and original, but unlike a debut so immaculate and well crafted.

sharing the “anonymous musicians” thing (which is totally getting out of hand) with the newer black metal acts, but that’s all that is. nothing like the new black metal, the album is pleasing the old metalhead in me.  the vocals strike first, sung in finnish with an impressive control and range, clean, angry shouts, operatic, shrills, throat, chanting… there are precious little instrumental parts. the body of the musical structure, full-on distorted guitars are so clean and audible, again unlike the reverb-laden and dissonant newer structure. one of them is in constant lead-mode, swaying within the main melody with delicious tremolo and solos. and that creativity is continuously adding new and exciting material for the listener to discover at each listening. the shift of melodies is further accentuated by a striking drum work, with a thick organic sound, mechanically precise and maniacally furious. so generous with the blast beats and double bass. you just can’t help but bang your head or play the air drum.

while being especially rich in melody, the careful repetition and recurring of the themes creates a hypnotic, uneasy and chaotic atmosphere. and it is commendable to create chaos through coherent structures. slower parts with spoken word / chanting add to the eerie religious feel. the 6 lengthy songs are seamlessly conjoined by the help of short instrumental interludes. this not only creates a sense of one continuous song with chapters, but also hits at your face as the songs burst in full force.

this is good. so good.

tod huetet uebel – malícia (2015)

i have been neglecting my black metal exploration lately. i just couldn’t get into whatever i listen to. have i listened to them all? have i finished? please no. turns out i have been waiting for “tod huetet uebel”. portuguese black metal is obviously a thing, as shown by this duo.

now, we have a new aesthetic in black metal (i refrain from using the term post-black). the old riff & tremolo structure, where you could hear every single pick is largely gone in favour of a reverb-laden continuous buzz/ring layer, in parts with chords with little to no distortion. while individually inaudible, this creates amazing atmosphere and melody when successfully composed and executed. this unorthodox guitar style, dare i say perfected by the french giants, is increasingly adopted by newer black metal acts, including this one.

the cover strikes first. i feel i saw it before. wormlust – the feral wisdom? same stylised twirls and dark imagination? turns out i am right, the french artist valnoir painted both, and a shitload more, including antaeus, behemoth, blut aus nord, morbid angel, peste noire, taake, ulver… the visual aesthetic has also undergone transformation, the blurry black and white dark forest under a full moon theme gave way to this artistic, symmetrical illustrations of horror.

from the first moments, “malícia” pulls you in. in a stormy sea of chaos, confusion, madness and a constant stream of beats. the drums are so in-your-face loud and never let go, except the slower sections of madness. uncredited, and obviously programmed blast beats and double drumming does not, however, feel industrial. the guitars and bass create the main layer and are played by the main man daniel c. besides building the soundscape and melody, we have some striking riffs of equal imagination as the atmosphere created. especially the closing of the second track “i” gives you the heebeegeebeez. i am so glad i got to use that word. oh by the way, the now mandatory roman numerical song titles are completely disordered.

and the crown jewel of malícia, the singing (?). it seems this is the singer’s (marcos m.) first time handling the microphone, which is such a shame. his vocal range is beyond impressive, nailing death and black vocals and double-tracks but he completely kills it with his wailing-in-anguish-black-metal-operatic insane-ness. imagine the tortured screams of a horror movie killer. but this is the worst kind of horror movie killers. this one haunts you at your dreams and you never get to see his face. and when finally he confronts you, screaming like a madman that he is, cuts himself because he likes to torture you emotionally. and you hear the wailings. well you get the picture.

malícia, the band’s debut full-length, delivers what they set out to do. seven tracks of madness in the new aesthetics of black metal. black metal is glorious.

ergholae somptator – morendo jusqu’à la fin (ep, 2016)

there are so many reasons to be happy in life. you have kittens, smell of earth after a brief summer rain, lazy sundays, and french black metal. of all the amazing stuff coming from france, ergholae somptator is the most recent one, which i would have missed if it wasn’t for the polite notification of the drummer/keyboardist/singer jérôme bouquet that made me feel kind of famous. léo louis-honoré handles guitars and vocals.

the duo’s second release “morendo jusqu’à la fin”, just under 20 minutes contains four songs individually travelling different realms of black metal. and you would expect an ep to showcase songs that variate (fun fact: limited to 66 cd’s and 66 cassettes). the short opener “rhizomes insidieux” is a thrash/black blast that abruptly drops tempo towards the end, making the blast beat filled “prisonnier des orbites” even more striking. this track, still in the thrash vein, serves some death and atmospheric black metal moments as well. the band keep exploring new ground as the third piece “un manteau en chauves-souris” delve into pagan & stoner/doom with a hypnotic main theme and light symphonic touches of keyboards and a sorrowful clean guitar interlude. and frankly, they are at their best in those moments of suspense and atmosphere. the horror show that closes the proceedings, “la mélodie de l’horloge” (hello ctrl+v my old friend) travel through different human emotions, with a morgul-esque, insane slow and heavy first part supported by piano and a theme that carries of throughout the song. that riff is also present in the opening of the first song, giving a nice loop effect. tempo picks up to a peak towards the end, only to drop again.

the bulk of the sound is thin and crispy guitars and raw drums. it feels like a live record and i’m digging the dirty low budget / garage sound that gives musicians room to express creativity. the dual vocals add to the chaos with a range from death metal to shrill. this is a tough job to tackle and an obvious example is another french powerhouse arkhon infaustus. i failed to notice any bass, not credited either, maybe except the fourth track. the ep satisfies the expectations from a french black metal release, a psychopathic atmosphere, unexpected shifts and changes of tempo, chaos and creativity. the duo also boldly steps over different genres and influences with ease. now all that is left is to wait for the full-length. again, merci france.

septuagint – negative void trinity (ep, 2014)

the greek school of black metal usually leans toward the theatrical / operatic side of things. and you have the emphasis on melody. what we have is a first taste of a good new greek black metal act. the sound is a warm welcome back to the roots, with fine distorted chord & tremolo, organic drums (with a raw snare) and roaring vocals with precious few clean singing. and structurally, it is anything but shocking, especially after the jaw dropping releases of the last few years from iceland. i should elaborate on that, septuagint take their time for melodies and passages to develop, with respect to conventional scales. tempo shifts, and quite often so, but the proceedings still are in the mental health zone.

the ep contains 5 tracks, all around the 5 minute mark. riffing, tremolo and furious blast beats carry the sizeable majority. and they are quite well executed. as you would expect from a successful band. sections where the tempo drops see more of a desperate and eerie atmosphere, but again, within the limits of sanity. also, delightful double bass work. i could go on about the drum tone.

the band do not break new ground of breathe fresh air to black metal. and they do not aim to do so. this is overall a solid black metal executed in a classical frame, filled with beautiful melodies and creative material, which develop, repeat and in times recur, instead of fillers. especially the theme of the closer lingers long after the ep ends. but it needs to be said, those beautiful melodies sometimes edge on the outer, calmer realms of black metal. at least the hopeless, “negative void” of the black metal feel we all know and love.

martröð – transmutation of wounds (ep, 2016)

this is a gift i did not expect and i don’t really know if i’m worthy of it. some of my favourite bands converged to bless us all with this rather short present. bear with me, d.g., the mastermind of misþyrming, skáphe, 〇 and naðra on bass, thorns of blut aus nord (and a bunch of other bands) on drums, h.v lyngdal of wormlust and a.p. (alex poole) of chaos moon and skáphe on guitars (with the addition of wrest of leviathan and lurker of chalice) and none less than mkm of antaeus and aosoth holding the microphone. wow. just the fact that the psychopathic school of french and psychotic school of icelandic black metal came together (with added american) felt like nothing short of a little boy’s wet dream.

however, the ep of just 2 songs is more of a nightmare, with all hell breaking loose (seriously), as the mentioned musicians erupt with all their insanity, free of any chains. it is quite difficult to detail the music, rather the feel it gives is a complete euphoria, a witnessing of something glorious. there is a primordial soup of raging and buzzing guitars that explode in your face, as soon as the discomforting intro fades. and keep exploding. even long after the album ends. the shifting in melody and tempo seems positively void of any regard of ration or scale. this holds especially true for the first song, which mercilessly and fiercely keeps on pummelling the listener, without giving a chance to breathe, while the second track slows down a bit into a melancholic theme. and through those slower passages we see d.g.’s basslines shine. frost is as masterful as one would expect, carrying the music incredibly through the murk, haze and confusion, never a hit out of place. if the band were missing a vocalist, based on the music mkm would be the obvious choice. and what a chance he is actually singing. well, you know.

the atmosphere in the first part is completely and utterly chaotic and delirious. buzzed riffing, pummelling and shrieks never offer a glimmer of light or breath. insanely written and played. the second part delves further into insanity, however into a confused and self-destructive / suicidal state of melancholy. and the implementation of such unlikely formula is simply genius.

transmutation of wounds is clearly an instant classic, but hopefully a taste of what is to come. please.

devouring star – through lung and heart (2015)

hoodies and covered faces? check. incognito artists? check. 9+ minute songs? check. obvious dso / french influence? check. chaos, distance and discord? check, check and check. black metal glory? check. and here we have a good new black metal band “devouring star” and their debut “through lung and heart”.

do not let the introduction give the idea of a generic album, though. this formula and approach to music is an immensely tough job all the while conveying the black metal feeling. the finnish band, with a very stylish logo (mare cognitum, anyone?), do a pretty impressive job here and one can only hope for more in the future.

the album, with a mean cover art bestows 5 movements of fury and chaos in just under 40 minutes. musically, atmosphere setting ringing guitars are buried deep in the overall sound, under drums and even the distorted bass. as expected, we have complexity and shifting of melodies, but the band employs more power-chord sections than their contemporaries. those moments see the tempo drop for us to enjoy more heaviness. as for the dominating drums, the tone is quite raw and organic, yet the execution is sloppy at times. again, different from the likes, rather than a showcase of technical prowess, the drummer sticks to furious blast beats through a good portion of the album. abrupt falls of tempo give way to grim and heavy passages but the listener is not allowed relief from the overall horror and chaos that ensue. growling and agonizing vocals are quite in par with the tone and accentuate the death-ened sound.

through lung and heart closes up with the titular track that opens (and closes), as the album does, with a chanting / ambient section and this song sees the most variation and lengthy slow and heavy passages. life as we know it continues and the earth is in full rotation after the album’s end. while being quite good for a debut, distant and with all the instruments audible, i would expect a neater recording with a solid sound for the following albums. considering we have declining amount of good coming from finland (except the madness that is oranssi pazuzu), through lung and heart is a welcome treat and a hope for a brighter future with peace and love on earth. well maybe not the last bit.