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.

מזמור (mizmor) – yodh (2016)

i may not be always too picky on my black metal pleasure. some albums grow in me in time or after a couple of listens. some don’t. some are love at first listen. in the case of yodh, the undead voice and wind effects and the first shriek i was already searching the cd at amazon (£65.77? really?).

now, what’s the premise here? the cover. shipwrecked disturbed souls haunting innocent people? we have a.l.n. from urzeit. and urzeit is always fun in their grind approach to black metal. but this is different. a.l.n. is all we have, on extremely thick drone-y guitars, distorted bass, thumping drums, effects and… singing, because that’s the technical term. ranging from guttural to bone-chilling shrieks, he expresses excessive emotional torture, loss, insanity and such sweet tones to the depths of my soul.

the 5 lengthy songs are all structured denying any traditional musical construct. you have a totally unrelated passage as a closer at the opening track or an interlude opening the second, for instance. as expected, we have stretched passages of drone and psychedelic effects. more often than not these are carelessly written and employed as fillers that distract and you end up checking your phone. not here. those moments of “sunn o))) and wormlust meet pink floyd” employ an equal creativity and song writing effort from the part of the sole artist here. and the fact that they end abruptly, before the expected end of scales, to give way to sudden bursts of energy always keeps the listener at the edge of their seat. this structure of interwoven shifts as a whole presents an immense and coherent atmosphere of fear and an overall emotion of despair to the point where you will want to peel of your face with your nails. such joy. at some moments he completely and utterly commands before swaying the melody and / or the tempo in the most unexpected way. at the end of the hour mark, the album speeds up to bring the proceedings to a close in style, after travelling through most of the negative realms of the human psyche.

the sweet despair of loss and a monumental piece of art. black metal is glorious.

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.

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.

gespenst – forfald (2016)

whoa. this is a glorious day for black metal. gespenst is a new-coming duo of a danish (genfærd, guitars and synth) and a french (galskab, bass and vocals) musician who also play in two other bands. and their debut “forfald” blesses us with four lengthy songs of black metal beauty.

the album opens up in an old-school classical black metal fashion, with tremolo & blast beat and this could not be any more misleading. as furious and accomplished are the pacey moments, very few henceforward, the band really shine as the tempo drops. the second track “revelation of maggots” is a shining example of what the band aimed to do, the music overall is slow, sometimes painfully so, including lengthy atmospheric/psychedelic/doom-ey passages.

the song writing appears to be quite personal and anything but stereotypical, allowing time for the melodies to develop. instead of bombarding the listener with ever-changing themes, the duo opt for repetition and theme development. this results in a shivering atmosphere and lingering / haunting melodies long after the album ends. like a good wine with a long finish. guitar dominates the proceedings, laying the melodies and atmosphere, supported by a heavily toned bass and toned-down throaty vocals. there are few moments of synth, effects and samples. the session drummer andreas joen provides a precise, firm, organic and restrained drum work, occasionally shining and delivering extra touches. this seems to be a general approach for the band; while technically accomplished, they do not show off technicality (as several bands attempt and some succeed) at the expense of atmosphere and continuity.

an exceptional, rather short black metal experience of melancholy and horror.

prosternatur – abyssus abyssum invocat (2016)

these awesome black metal releases that catch me off guard feel like such nice gifts. the debut album, abyssus abyssum invocat was released just yesterday (tomorrow, officially) and i had the sheer luck and high honour to taste its majesty. we know little next to nothing about prosternatur, who like to follow the new trend amongst newcoming black metal acts to be as obscure and enigmatic as possible and who seem to originate from various locations in europe. however, the quality of production and musicianship means this must a supergroup.

as the name and cover art suggests, the band follow and occult theme and the prelude is a sample of beautiful chanting / invocation. then the song “mortification of the flesh” bursts with immense energy, a mid-tempo double drum and insane riffing. then gradually picks up the pace, with lengthy blast beat sections and closes with the same chanting before. the third, ridiculously heavy track relies heavily on main theme repetition, in the same vein as early morgul. things take a turn to the more atmospheric, grim, eerie and discomforting palette of black metal as the songs proceed. the fourth song “eleusinian mysteries” is painfully slow and carries the gloomy atmosphere supported by keyboards and ringing guitars. the fifth one “scrying mirror” is quite pacey and chaotic, filled with insane shifts and screaming. the epilogue “heterodox” carries a stark contrast to the beautiful and comforting prelude, nightmarish organ and distorted words, probably revealing the voice of the invocated who is now awaken.

the album has a thick guitar & drum structure throughout, supported in times by keyboards and effects. there has to be at least two vocalists (or vocal layers), one quite heavy and throaty black metal vocal along with a brutal / operatic one (attila csihar – like) and this duality further emphasises the chaos that rules. besides being masterfully composed and played, the band seem to have a clear idea as to what they wanted to do. through these 36 minutes of occult black metal feast they take you to places and the horror never lets go.

awe – providentia (2015)

i always believe the likes of samael, satyricon, deathspell omega and such should always be revered for bending the rules of black metal, by introducing new elements, variations and pushing the limits. and now we have insanely amazing experimentation in black metal, as witnessed in the acts of icelandic newcomers wormlust or finnish heavyweights oranssi pazuzu.

and now awe. i feel like the ever-shifting, syncopated scales of tool, deranged shifts and passages of morgul, demanding structure of dso, confusing atmosphere of blut aus nord, transcendence of thorns all came together in an attempt to produce providentia, greek newcomer awe’s debut. with the fury and speed of marduk. the album includes lengthy blast beat sections, which barely let the listener catch their breath. and tremolos of darkthrone. add to that occasional groove and you have a masterpiece.

sadly, we know nothing about the band member(s), as is the thing with new black metal acts. also following this new tradition, the 50+ minute album contains just 3, obviously quite lengthy tracks. however, the variation, experimentation and the madness keep you going. unlike almost all atmospheric black metal acts embracing a keyboard laden structure, awe opt for a no-bullshit drum and guitar sound. the drumming is simply insane. so technical, varied and masterfully leading the scales during slower passages, while deliciously assaulting the listener’s ears during pacey parts. the guitars produce the rhythm, melody and the atmosphere. which allows the bass, with its heavy and loud tone, to wander in a complete wonderland. just a joy to follow. the vocals, furious as they are, are throatier and death metal – appropriate, however the voice is so brutal and furious that it complements the music wonderfully. the lyrical concept is heavily philosophical, mythological and biblical (in a blasphemous manner). the production quality and sound are more than agreeable, with the instruments clearly audible without sounding synthetic, with the exception of coming-from-deep vocals.

now, intros are something of an obligation, to set the mood, disturb the listener or paint the musical scenery. the first 6 minutes of actus primus though, is quite simply a wonderful and coherent song in itself. opens so slowly and doom-y, builds layer after layer by free drumming, simple melodies and noises but nothing can prepare you for what’s to come. and maybe this is what awe is aiming. the first act continues for a solid 10 minute long assault, experimentation, frequent shifts in rhythm, mood and melody, without dropping the speed until the slower outro. the second act, actus secundus, while continuing in the madness and the chaotic structure, includes more moments of traditional music and groove. amazing solos. the song closes, as the first one does, on a doomier note, with the organ and noise effects. and the last “pure act” actus purus (the absolute perfection of god) delivers exactly what its name promises. blasts open, all on, relentlessly continues with frenzied, generous blast beats, chaos, confusion and variation, occasional groove, until the slower closing minutes that wrap it all up in a slow and painful note.

awe is simply impressive and promising in their debut work. the path they chose, madness through constant shifting and experimentation however left little room for memorable (or haunting in this matter) melodies and cohesion. but this is more than compensated by the atmosphere and overall feel of the album. and now i want to close up avoiding the obvious pun.

severoth – cамітність / solitude (2016)

severoth is the ukrainian one-man project and the man himself. and his second full-length album, “solitude” is the album title and the feel it gives.

the album includes over one hour of minimal themes with quite generous repetitions, which would tire the listener out in other conventional forms of music. however, in this atmospheric black metal release, those repetitions lay the foundations of the feel he wishes to create, supported by the very deep and distant sound. the foundation of the musical structure is keyboard; mostly haunting, depressive and recurring chords. under the lead of the keyboard, solid (ringing) guitar riffs support the melody and the slow/mid-tempo drum (machine?) is very neat. the album, for the great part is instrumental and the occasional shriek/anguish vocals complement the music so beautifully.

after the obligatory intro composed of eerie keyboard & night time bird hoots, the album explodes with echoing shrieks, double-bass drum attack and the trademark keyboard chords. the first half hour includes two intertwined opening tracks, with simple and recurring keyboard themes. again, a generous time is afforded for the melodies to build and rather stretchy ambient keyboard passages, enriched by natural effects such as blowing wind, storm and hoots, also whispers.

then comes the rather ambient, keyboard heavy autumn’s breath pt. 1&2 and a glowing masterpiece “last birds” in between. that song seems to be everything he wanted to achieve, with a brilliant balance of fury and desperation and the perfect intro & outro. the album closes with a 15 minute-long instrumental, which carries the repetition formula, with heavy use of piano chords, ending the dark and cold experience.

the album would be a fine choice to listen to at night with headphones and attain some of the deepest feelings through black metal. somehow reminiscent of ambient – era burzum. a solid atmospheric piece, making me expectant for more.

downfall of nur – umbras de barbagia (2015)

i’m not a fan of folk metal. music is personal taste and folk metal albums, for the great part, do not appeal to me. there is something uplifting about folk music that does not fit (black) metal. however, in the case of downfall of nur’s debut, the “folk” part, pretty solemn and masterfully played, lays the foundations and sets the mood for amazing partitions of atmospheric black metal. interludes continue along the album with recurring themes and spacious time and repetitions for the melodies and atmosphere to build. besides the obvious cultural theme, the one-man (italian / argentinian) band conveys the message and the feeling as he wishes. being precise and artful in composition and execution, the only possible letdown may be the sloppiness in rare blast beats. the title track is my favourite.

almyrkvi – pupil of the searing maelstrom (ep, 2016)

ever since samael took all of us totally off guard by the first beats of “rain” some twenty years ago (whoa), not only with its unprecedentedly evolved and fresh sound structure (which took years to accept for the conservative metalhead), but also a fresh concept, several black metal bands have dabbled in space stuff. today cosmic black metal is a thing. besides the likes of black metal elite oranssi pazuzu, bands like alrakis (reviewed below), darkspace, midnight odyssey, mesarthim and such include cosmic black metal elements in their music in varying degrees. now almyrkvi, the one man project of icelander garðar s. jónsson, the guitarist of sinmara, have hit us hard with his oven-fresh debut ep. the music is slow, heavy, loaded with electronic effects and using the electronic beats for emphasis to perfection. the vocals are throaty and brutal and seriously, i have no problem with that. the fourth song feeding the void is my favourite. i have a feeling that i will fondly look back at today as the beginning of something beautiful.