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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

mortichnia – heir to scoria and ash (2016)

mortichnia is a good old 5-piece black metal band from ireland, which you don’t see every day. after keyboard-laden structures of most recent releases, the band’s debut heir to scoria and ash felt a good return to the guitar-led metal sound; the album is rich with riffing and variation. while the rhythm guitar is more down-tuned and sludgy, the (dso inspired) lead sounds more crisp and industrial-like. this results in a richer tone and a thicker sound, making it anything but boring. also reminiscent of so-called “post” black metal sound.

while the drum and bass sections are neat and deliciously audible, the vocals need proper attention. the high pitched, desperate shrieking sounds distant and low, making it blend in with the instruments, rather than obscuring them. this seems to be a pattern with the recent releases.

the songs are very well structured, cohesive and rich in material. while the first song is filled with furious energy, the 14-minute second track is more on the sad side. exploring the scope of human emotions is just another fine variation presented by the album. after a short and emotional interlude, the fourth track continues presenting the goods, with tons of rather gloomy and melancholic passages and variation. the closing track “heir” is difficult to explain by words; confusion, phantasmagoria, derange and delirium.

an overall kick-ass work and a fresh breath.

throane – derrière nous, la lumière (2016)

just look at the cover. gives an excellent clue about the nature of the music one is about to experience. i love french black metal, i love one man bands and i love gloomy music. so i would love throane, right?

right. such a happy coincidence that i came across the debut album (behind us, the light?) just 2 weeks after its release. the man behind the project, “dehn sora”, is noted for the artwork of other black metal album covers, including none other than blut aus nord.

the album, more of a collection of beautiful black metal soundscapes rather than conventional “songs”, conveys a heavy and thick feeling of darkness, desperation etc. to the listener. not one upbeat moment. the sound is deliberately deep, down tuned and cavernous, which gives a claustrophobic and uneasy feel. again, the sound and feel reminds the haunting moments of blut aus nord, which is a good thing, but without the avant-garde element. this is stripped down, untraditional, low to mid-tempo black metal anguish with sharp and unexpected turns and experimentation.

the album opens slowly and progresses ever so gradually and the songs take up where the previous one left. this continuation of themes and melodies lends the album a coherent structure, yet remaining chaotic and confusing. the layered and blending guitar sound is so 90’s black metal. reverbed high-pitched tremolos and occasional power chords. awesome. the drum work is masterful. anything but monotonous, the drumming follows the melody, leads it, strays from it, adding further elements into the fragmented soundscapes. the rhythm defining bass sound is loud, rather raw and brutal and complements the music wonderfully. the progression of the tempo, from ambient to mid-tempo, syncopated, puts the listener in expectation of an explosion of blast beats, which never come. oh and the vocals. again, look at the cover.

the feeling intensifies as the album progresses, with longer ambient passages of noise effects and finishes off with a peak experience closing song, just over half an hour, leaving me in awe and anticipation of following works. definitely the highlight of my week.