novae militiae – gash’khalah (2017)

a beautiful country, civilised people, amazing food, wine and brandy, countless tourist attractions, you do not think of france as producers of extreme things. but then you have movies that explicitly show a woman perform caesarean section with a huge pair of scissors and more vulgarity that make even goriest hollywood horror flicks squint. then you have antaeus. arkhon infaustus. vi. aosoth. throane. you have deathspell omega and blut aus fucking nord.

oh, and novae militiae. gash’khalah is the second release since being founded in 2009 and the incognito band has all the clues of being a supergroup / side project. as the cover work and the inevitable religious horror soundtrack of a short intro imply, we are to be treated a delicious main course of blasphemous black metal. still, you cannot be too prepared for the proceedings. the album opens up ever so slowly and heavily with my distant favourite “the chasm of the cross”. the first thing you notice is how “every” instrument and vocals are distorted towards a single sound. that sound, however is far from a generic “transylvanian hunger” rip-off lo-fi buzz, but a resounding and ear numbing cold industrial wall. and within that explosion that keeps on exploding, each sound is still clearly audible. i know this makes little sense but novae militiae has obviously managed that.

the vocals take centre stage here. the heavily distorted and double-tracked semi guttural shrieking rarely takes a notch down, except the rather clean / operatic singing on the amazing 6th track “black temple consecration”. an interesting trick, vocal lines are composed to be somewhat longer than you’d expect from the scale, or so it feels, and that effect just intensifies the overall atmosphere and feeling of horror and despair. on top of the music is the pounding (i couldn’t just write “drums”). except the most part of the opening and the 5th & 7th tracks, you have a downpour of heavy battery; double crosses and blast beats throughout, executed in military discipline and mixed to sound as industrial and uncomforting as possible.

a worrying number of newer black metal releases that lean towards a chaotic atmosphere tend to treat guitars as a layer, therefore sadly neglecting original riff/tremolo composition. now, i have written about the vocals and drums first, for those reach your ear canals before the guitars do. luckily, the album includes so many delicious black metal riffing / tremolo that you do not simply get bored from the constant industrial / military attack. while some riffs are boldly in-your-face, most of them lay as hidden treasures for subsequent listens.

gash’khalah is an uncompromising, unrelenting black metal gem with a clear direction and attitude. clearly one of the best releases in 2017 so far.

zebulon kosted – you have no race you have no culture (2017)

zebulon kosted is around since 1999 and “you have no race you have no culture” is his 21st album, so it is quite a miss on my part that i’ve just been tipped off. the work at hand is quite a lot to digest with ease, evidently on purpose, by mechanically combining simple individual elements.

for the first part, one person band is quite a thing. the formula, while possibly lacking the virtuosity of individual players, obviously offers the sole musician endless expressive freedom. we have witnessed where the formula failed horribly. but then we have the ruins of beverast. the bottom line is, in essence we would expect originality and novelty from a one piece band.

second, we have a cycle of destructuring and restructuring of art, “in order to create, you must destroy”. the firmly established rules, guidelines, scales etc. of music (as in many other forms of art) have been continuously challenged, expanded, broken, only to be restructured as a novel form of self-expression. a shining example would be the glorious “einstürzende neubauten”, who destroyed everything we know as music, to bring us self-structured industrial soundscapes.

drawing parallels to the second point, the reshaping / restructuring in black metal has brought us numerous monumental pieces of art to behold in awe; but only after when we left our preconceptions of what black metal “should” sound like and embraced the beauty in the artists’ self-expression. arguably, the man himself ihsahn challenged those preconceptions and the boundaries of black metal by boldly producing those albums that we “now” hold dear. that creative vision paved way to (the later albums of) samael, satyricon, dødheimsgard and the like, to the constant restructuring of black metal and all its subgenres, all the while preserving the essence of black metal: the way it makes you feel. so, along the journey from “under the sign of the black mark” to “666 international” to “skáphe²“, black metal has continuously “evolved”, all the while maintaining its glory.

and finally we have “you have no race you have no culture”, a 52 minute self-expression by rashid abdel ghafur. what at first listen sounds like a total chaos of soundscapes is in itself quite well structured into two 3-song parts, an interlude, intro and outro. the actual songs themselves are quite good examples of restructured black metal. while being fundamentally coherent in themselves, the progression is undeniably unexpected in certain moments. take the opening track “stripping, burning, crushing” as an example. what starts as a good old aggressive blast beat frenzy of a black metal song suddenly delves into a demented fanfare and then melancholia. and you just keep saying “well i didn’t expect that!” i didn’t expect that tempo shift. why is this part here now? aah. the vocals range from raspy shrieks to wailings and always in place, the drums sound quite organic and the bassline is a joy to behold. the guitar sound is inescapably reverbed and buried as a layer but through all that is happening, you just cannot miss those beautiful black metal riffs.

through the rest of the album however, things take quite a different turn. he freely coveys his disdain on urban, religious and racial subjects through spoken word / movie samples. through these parts the sound is definitively industrial. you have mechanic percussions and sound effects galore, layered upon spoken parts. through the interlude especially, we listen to a poor lady’s terrified narration of how sebastian (?) showed him the face of the false god (track name) through the sad story of sea turtle hatchlings (?). after the title track, which blows the heaviest punch, the outro is half racial mumblings and half demented laughter over a pretty drone.

“you have no race you have no culture” obviously is an acquired taste and a lot of work to get into. the artist clearly does not aim at appealing to masses, nor does he hold any regards for conventional art. if the album does appeal to you, it will undoubtedly be a favourite, and if not, it is most certainly “interesting”.

orewoet – afrodisiacum der vroomheid (ep, 2016)

the dutch trio orewoet is a newcomer, and they play black metal. essentially, that sort of covers up the basics of the band and their debut ep “afrodisiacum der vroomheid”. this is a tremolo, bass, blast beat and shriek based black metal work with a no bullshit approach. from the first few seconds, you know what is waiting for you and they deliver just that. as you listen on, there are frequent “hang on, i heard that bit before” moments. there are furious and desperate, blast-beat filled early era marduk moments, followed by dark and cold mayhem tremolos, thrash-y and powerful celtic frost bits, some groove and punk in sarcofago style and so on.

however, the result sounds so good, it all works so well as a whole that it keeps you listening. this is solid black metal, perfectly put together, and remember this is what the ep had promised in the first place. besides being a tribute to the elders; the compositions, the shifts in tempo and tone, occasional moments of ritualistic atmosphere with nothing but reverbed tremolo… everything is so in its right place. those passages will haunt you, long after the 5 track, 31 minutes long ep ends.

keep in mind that this is their first work. orewoet is sure to find their sound in time. i just hope they sustain the beautiful black metal feeling in the releases to come.

totalitarian – de arte tragoediae divinae (2017)

i passed march and april without a decent find. that made me question the idea of an endless abyss of awesome black metal releases. that is until i came across totalitarian. their sole release “de arte tragoediae divinae”, which just came out last week, is a behemoth of an artwork that instantly commands the listener’s full attention. totalitarian is another seemingly obscure band / one person project that hails from rome, italy, from where noticeably few good black metal comes, to be fair. yes, fides inversa is good.

the work at hand as a whole feels like a bad trip, a hellish phantasmagoria, a nightmare of sorts, rather than music, with notes, passages, bridges, singing, riffs etc. and the main point is the effective creation of the horrid, claustrophobic and hypnotic dark atmosphere. totalitarian delivers. right from the start of their career. this is no lo-fi / buzzed debut. this is masterfully composed, played and produced doom/death/black metal beauty.

the basis of the hypnosis is laid down by constant repetition of one or two main themes throughout each song. you have really rare variation and after a while you lose track of any scale or progression. obviously done on purpose, this commands the immersion of the listener, ever deeper into the dark, gloomy, hellish, horrid… landscape painted right before your eyes. you have the (quite) down-tuned riffing, complemented by deafening thick basslines. you have both guttural death and wailing black metal singing full of reverb, buried deep under the soundscape. there’s the constant pounding and punishing drums, frequently on battle mode. a bit industrial too, and me likey. somehow reminds me of n.k.v.d. and irkallian oracle. on top of that is the careful execution of sound effects to add further layers of dirt upon the poor listener.

the album opens up in excruciatingly slow tempo, and that scale is revisited throughout the album but when the tempo picks up, and it does, such as in the blast-beat filled second and third tracks, that’s when the going gets rough. the fourth track is the eye of the storm. with the main theme repeating hundreds of times, over battle drums, the thick fog of confusion and punishment reaches its pinnacle, giving way to the slowly fading away closing track.

totalitarian clearly have a certain idea and direction of an oppressive, commanding hypnosis, delving deep into black metal horror and presenting ear-numbing atmospheric excellence. i just hope they keep presenting the goods.

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.

author – lopun alku (2017)

hello 2017. hello author and his debut “lopun alku”. actually hello 1994. i freaking missed you. but don’t get it wrong, author is not another “let’s do it lo-fi and fuzzy to sound cool and black metal, forget about creativity, chord progressions or musicianship as long as we make a name for ourselves” act. note that the album hasn’t been officially released yet, will be released at 28th, as a birthday gift to me.

what we have of the finnish one man project’s debut is old school to the bone, all the while not neglecting a clean sound or the genuine black metal feeling. we do not have droning, stretched out passages, 17+ minute songs (not that i have a problem with any of these). this is tremolo, shrieks, blast beats and a no bullshit approach and a tribute to classical black metal. 6 songs and 36 minutes.

just take the opener “kuolevaisen kirous” as an example. breaks open with a magnificent tremolo, progresses, drops the tempo brilliantly, employs double bass drums, breaks down, and you just can’t help banging your head. then bridges to another theme and back to the opener to keep kicking for a while to wrap up after a crescendo around the 5-minute mark. the chord progressions are so measured and creative, like “nemesis divina era satyricon” good. the fifth track “ei ikinä enää” is also head banging good and thick, although sounding rather sorrowful, as some of the moments throughout the album.

as the first half of the 2010’s saw iceland rise to prominence, indisputably, hopefully the second half will see a resurgence of finland. remember deathkin. whatever you do, remember them.

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.