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.

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.

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.

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.

caïna – christ clad in white phosphorus (2016)

another couple of weeks passed by with a cranky mood, listening to and not liking a number of albums, until finally… i came across caïna’s latest full-length “christ clad in white phosphorus”, which came out just 2 days ago, and it pinned me down my chair. behemoth of an album, completely cold, chaotic, lifeless and extremely heavy on the ears. the ear assaulting sound reminds of ulver’s black metal masterpiece nattens madrigal on songs and einstürzende neubauten-esque (though much angrier) industrial noise on interludes. so generous on the treble, the guitars and the shrieking vocals rip through your ear canals. the manic moments of blast-beat filled songs also reminded me of antaeus madness. a mention for the drum work is also in place, for masterfully setting the pace through all this thick mud. the british mastermind andrew curtis-brignell seems to be accompanied by a vocalist and a bass player on this album, contrary to the previous ones in which he did (almost) all the work.

through all that inaccessible wall of chaos, fury and industrial ear-attack though, caïna delivers so much material, artful variation and many ideas. the instrumental opener, completely void of any sympathy or any regard to an organic feel, tries to prepare the listener to what’s to come. which is a tough job, considering the second track “torture geometry” explodes with such unprecedented fury, with the signature over-the-top loud noise and industrial structure. noise and music begin to merge with the third track, “fumes of god”, while just as hostile, includes more layers of keyboards, followed by a lengthy interlude mostly of discomforting noise effects. then comes the oddball “gazing on the quantum megalith”, punk-infused and groovy, yet maintaining the uneasy and inorganic feel. after two more heavy songs intertwined with mad blast beats and keyboard/noise passages comes the highlight “pillars of salt”, a surprising jazz-drum attack. madness ensues with the 8th track, probably the most nordic black metal sounding song with delightful tremolo. after the 12-minute long interlude of spoken word and noise, the closer, “christ clad in white phosphorus” is a black metal take on synth-pop.

it is just amazing the amount of unorthodox and even controversial material, that fits so masterfully in one album, while maintaining the uncompromising, industrial and inorganic feel. however, all this experimentation and variation results in the lack of continuation and coherence but i highly doubt if he cares. the album is quite inaccessible yet so rewarding once you plunge into it. and the madness takes you to places.

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.

malthusian – mmxiii (demo, 2013)

what in the name of musical beauty? just after reviewing mortichnia, i came across another irish extreme metal act malthusian’s demo, conveniently named mmxiii. and it is pretty difficult to believe that this is a demo. such a certain idea of musical direction and fresh ideas.

there is something about slashes in genre names. in this case, death/black (/doom) may bring the best or the worst in all. malthusian fortunately deliver the goods so well. their demo opens, giving an idea of what to come, with tortured screams and a stretched, slow and heavy intro, masterfully conveying the uneasy feeling before exploding into mental black/death ear assault. the song contains such an amount of variations and shifts in tone, embracing the listener all the while keeping us hypnotised in a state of sleep paralysis.

things get even more nightmarish as the second song “the mother’s blade” opens with an awesome haunting theme before bursting into deranged frenzy, shoving the listener into deeper parts of hell while throwing more bizarre passages, awesome riffs and double bass drums. the ending is just as awesome, gradually dropping the tempo while amplifying noise effects, which in turn gives way to the third and last track “hallucinogen”, and it is exactly that. probably the fastest one, then slowing down and twisting into more madness and variation.

the in-your-face sound of the demo conveys a direct message about the band’s attitude and direction. masterfully played and produced for a demo, the two guitars, similarly tuned, create a muddy / sludgy down-tuned lead. while the riffing sets the tone and direction, the drums follow perfectly. such a good dose of double-bass is a pleasing offer on my ears. the loud bass adds to the punches it throws on your face. it appears 3 members share the vocal duties, which explains the variations in singing; from throaty, death metal appropriate brutal to high pitched, shrill / shrieks. and the arkhon infaustus style cacophony created by that just serves to intensify the overall uncomfortable, hellish / nightmarish feel.

a perfect listen when you go a little mad. and we all get a little mad sometimes.

wormlust – the feral wisdom (2013)

don’t really know how to… mental disorder black metal? it is so refreshing and life-affirming to find out that people do such music. just as the colossally awesome cover work hints, the album is an exceptional piece of abstract art. horror, confusion, chaos, atmosphere all put together. there are precious few moments of conventional music, as we know it. the songs are structured in a way that feels random pieces randomly put together, at first few listens. so frequent shifts in tempo, direction and melody. it is so inaccessible and hard-to-listen that it embraces you. i listened, with my beloved headphones over and again and i feel i will do so for some time to come. technically, dare i say the reversal of the bass / lead guitar may be revolutionary. bass leads the melody, supported deliciously by masterful drum work and the guitar for the most part adds the buzz / noise layer with occasional ring / lead exceptions. oh and the electronics. and the atmosphere created collectively. brief singing sections range from furious shrieks to whispers and carry along the atmosphere (besides the album title, everything is in icelandic). the first song explodes with deranged and disorienting energy and confusion after a brief intro and carries on pausing and shifting for over ten minutes. the confusion intensifies at the second track, which wanders the deeper parts of the black metal realm, directionless. possibly my favourite. the third one is more of a totally ambient piece, and it is without exaggeration a masterpiece of deranged and confused form of ambient music, if that is a thing. and the closing track  carries on where the second track left, with so much wandering, experimenting and shifting to give way to the closing minutes of deathblow, where everything is wrapped up beautifully. wow iceland.

skáphe – skáphe² (2016)

behold, a black metal happening. chaotic to the point of cacophony, relentless, brutal, disharmonic, sinister, deep and without compromise. not much can be said about song structures besides being norm breaking. intertwined soundscapes, echoes, sound effects, overlaying vocals and confusion. the overall effect is a vision of hell being raised on earth. literally. a great listen, commanding another go. and another.

skáphe includes alex poole of chaos moon and krieg and icelandic d.g. of misþyrming and 〇 (a personal favourite) and even those black metal credentials do not prepare you for what to come in their debut skáphe2. the main feat is the sound. so full of reverb and noise, the music seems to emerge from a cave, or more specifically the depths of hell, which might be the idea judging from the cover art. an interesting note is that it is painted by the icelandic h.v. lyngdal, the mastermind of the colossal black metal act wormlust.

as the first paragraph hinted, the music structure is pretty difficult to describe and there is an evident lack of source for comparison. the songs open, build up and shift so abruptly and unexpectedly, it feels like the duo have ocd and just wish to play with new ideas. there are passages cut mid-scale for the sake of new material. most songs are loaded with lengthy psychedelic experimentation, especially in the slower and heavier side b.

bass tops the sound, first to be heard and instead of following the rhythm, it sways and leads, adding further complexity. then comes the insane drums that set the tone. the shrieking, delirious, painful and overlaying vocals adds to the insanity. there are no lyrics available and i highly doubt if there is any. while the guitars ring and wail most of the time, riffing actually takes effort to hear, creating the base buzz layer.

skáphe seem to have opted for an experience of horror that transcends reality into a hellish / nightmarish phantasmagoria instead of conventional musical structure. and they deliver. since there is no abstract division between songs, which have no names but roman numbers, it is difficult to speak of a favourite song, but a collection of favourite moments, which last for about 35 minutes.