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.

death fetishist – clandestine sacrament (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

irkallian oracle – apollyon (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

tod huetet uebel – malícia (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

vi – de praestigiis angelorum (2015)

this is a shining example of french black metal insanity. standing somewhere between the fury of antaeus and the demanding structures of deathspell omega, “de praestigiis angelorum” is a 45 minute soul drenching experience. the album is technically flawless and emotionally disturbing. at times you feel the protagonist to whom you root for during the entire movie receives a lengthy, excruciating torture, and you feel the pain, and at the end they die. despite evoking mostly such negative emotions, the musical excellence also leaves the listener in an unavoidable awe.

vi includes (permanent and session) members of antaeus and aosoth, led by bst (sébastien tuvi), the mastermind of aosoth, on bass & samples, blastum on drums and inrvi on guitars & vocals. once the listener gets past the distant tone of the production, which makes the album even more inaccessible, the complex and intriguing structure unravels. upon the bass-laden structure, we have masterful yet insane drumming. on every gap between furious blast beats and / or double bass attacks, blastrum showcases nice little touches and tricks while maintaining complete control, navigating the music through frequent shifts in mood and tempo. the guitars are so satisfying, utilising multi-tracks, insane riffing (in the vein of dso) and variation set the atmosphere. not so much to say about his singing that fits like a glove. no keyboards here, but sampling (not overdone) of usually eerie orthodox chanting and other horror effects strengthens the nightmarish atmosphere.

quite exhaustive, even wearying. each listen is sure to present many missed moments. despite sounding complex or even chaotic, the songs themselves are quite coherent, with an evident direction and repetition of themes. with a chanting and unsettling intro and seven tracks of black metal beauty, the fourth one “regarde tes cadavres car il ne te permettra pas qu’on les enterre” (much ctrl+v’ing here) in three motions is a stand out piece. the song opens normally, shifting tempo and whatnot, suddenly giving way to an unnerving horror interlude of samples and finally attacks all-on with a 2 minute blast beat filled frenzy.

oh, by the way, just do not let the amazing cover art of the illustrious alexander l. brown go unnoticed. seven angels with dark faces in a circle in front of a heptagonal form.

as again, thank you france.

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.

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.