Tagged: Black Metal

White Death (self-titled): out of icy Arctic cold comes sudden terror striking fast to the core

White Death, self-titled, Finland, Werewolf Records, CD digipak Evil-040 (2017)

Named after Simo Häyhä the famous Finnish sniper said to have killed over 500 enemy combatants during the 1939 – 1940 Winter War against the Soviet Union, this band from Lappeenranta aims to do the same to you as its namesake did over 70 years ago: out of the icy cold and silent Arctic comes forth sudden terror, striking swiftly and killing you stone dead, then disappearing back into the blank whiteness as mysteriously as it arose. Well maybe killing you stone dead is overkill; the band members might be more interested in stunning you temporarily with precision-cut rock-blasting icy black metal that harks back to the classic second wave of Norwegian BM.

Opening track “Born of Unholy Fire” shoots straight between the eyes and ears with its payload of dense blackened rifferama and nuclear-powered blast-beat percussion. The crabby vocals, spilling out lyrics of defiant Satanic worship, nearly trip over the words as fast as they come out and are best treated as another sonic textural element in the rapid-fire music. There are death metal influences in some of the song’s rhythms and a strong melody in parts. Most songs are actually very distinctive in their riffs and melodies – some even have catchy pop hooks – even though they’re super-fast and if you sneeze at the wrong time, they’re gone forever. For all their speediness, the songs flow well and possess quite a lot of drama and mood. Early songs like “Kaste” and “Immortal Hunter of the Moon” pack in enough distinct riff and melody hooks that they could be ideal singles if the band ever considers angling for a more commercial audience.

While faster, more aggressive tracks like “Goat Emperor” have their appeal, slower songs like “Warpath” are a better showcase of the band’s talents and ability to incorporate melody and work in rhythm structures and mood to produce complex music in very self-contained songs. The faster songs come earlier in the album, giving way to slower songs with a greater range of mood and expression and which sometimes reach quite epic and majestic proportions. The closing track is the most complex and varied of all, including as it does an acoustic guitar introduction, a mix of melodic hard rock and BM, and matching voices that give the song a hardcore punk edge.

The album has something to satisfy nearly everyone, from die-hard old-school BM fans to those who like pop melodies or dense, almost symphonic metal that reaches for the stars, without sounding forces or calculating. White Death pay their respects to classic second-wave BM in a highly individual and often quirky way that’s minimalist and straightforward in style.

Banished from Time: an intense immersion into a particular hell

Black Cilice, Banished from Time, Iron Bonehead Productions, Germany, CD / cassette IBP321 (2017)

“Banished from Time” is a very intense and thundering work, often repetitive, and always frenzied and feverish. The album is the fourth by black metal act Black Cilice, whose home country is Portugal, and about whom little else is known, not even whether the band is just a lone-wolf solo act or a group. The project does boast a huge discography of cassettes, split releases and albums.

From start to finish, the music is constant assault on your senses and consciousness, with a lot of cacophony and howling, but within the noise and non-stop shrieking there are definite melodies and riffing. The sound, flooded with reverb, is noisy and cavernous, all-enveloping until you feel that your head is completely filled up with even more music pushing its way in with all that non-stop intense percussion thudding and you’re in danger of drowning in such overwhelming noise and mental torment. The first track “Timeless Spectre” is a good example of what to expect: high-speed pounding drums, steaming fuzzy vibrato guitars, banshee vocals howling trapped within the depths of the noise reverb, with melodies and actual riffs and rhythms passing in and out. The following track “On the Verge of Madness” has more of the same except that the music seems more streamlined and focused with one constant rhythm banging out its heart and growing more intense and urgent. The third track has a good galloping groove that goes into a hysterical frenzy as the song progresses amid the noise and anguish.

On and on it goes … yes, the music sounds like the proverbial flood that, once set free, never stops pouring and overflowing the levees and plains. Yet there’s actual structure carved out of the sound and noise that gives the album some direction and brings out its message of absolute despair and total alienation. The last couple of songs on the album bring something new to the usual screeching: the fourth song “Channeling Forgotten Energies” has an additional layer of sharp-ish drone and the final track “Boiling Corpses” has as much fury and aggressive, destructive drama as it does desperation and inner torment. For the first time, the anger seems to turn outward away from attacking its owner and towards the source of torment with single-minded obsession. Some signal of hope, of a light shining into the darkness, now becomes apparent and there’s the possibility of inner peace and healing.

This album is more of an immersion into a particular kind of hell than it is a collection of songs or a soundtrack – its intensity will put off most people and only those who may have had similar depressive experiences will appreciate it for what it is and represents. Beneath the layers of noise, confusion and agony can be found music of overwhelming emotion that in its own way possesses unearthly beauty.

A Spineless Descent: deeply hypnotic ambient black metal psychedelia debut

Grok, A Spineless Descent, United States, E.E.E. Recordings, CD (2016)

For those of us who miss the sprawling and darkly hypnotic music of Light Shall Prevail and Njiqahdda from years ago, the fellow behind those bands and E.E.E. Recordings, E Henderson, has resurfaced with a new project Grok that also features a second member, known as CJH, on vocals. Grok sounds superficially similar to those past projects though the duo’s style is less noisy and is more spacious with a much greater emphasis on keyboard-generated atmospheric tones and effects. Dare I hope that Grok heralds a return to the glory days of Njiqahdda of a decade ago?

You need to play this album a few times to appreciate its atmospheres fully: yes, they are dark and very spacious, and filled with deep and complex emotions that seem to range from anger to despair and grief. Who knows from what cause such feelings have arisen? I have the impression that they arise from the disappointments that life metes out to us, from dashed expectations and loss of faith in the things and ideologies that we thought would guide us to spiritual fulfillment. In the place of these dashed hopes are disillusionment and a sober realisation that life and the universe are far more complicated, less benevolent and much more remote than we realise. We have only this planet as our home and ourselves and our fellow animal, plant and mineral travellers as our companions and sources of comfort and connection. The music ranges far and wide in the cold frigid darkness generated by the synthesiser wash and tone effects, the distant phantom growling vocals following where the melodies and percussion go.

The eight tracks are not all that distinctive in themselves and form a long soundtrack to an imaginary film of mesmeric dark psychedelic landscapes wherein dwell ghosts and spirits who might have inhabited our physical universe aeons ago, and have ascended (or descended) to other planes of existence. Drums and shifting keyboard ambience dominate, achieving a somewhat paradoxical effect in which melodies and riffs definitely exist yet if you try to concentrate on any one particular passage, the music ends up sounding formless. It goes where it will and the apparent lack of direction might frustrate listeners. Guitars have a very sparing presence though they do give the music a tough and forbidding aspect.

Perhaps the music could have done with some editing for length as parts do get repetitive and I admit there isn’t much Grok brings in here that wasn’t done previously with Njiqahdda. The vocals don’t stray far from their ghostly rasping tumbleweed style. While the album is great for icy atmospheres, listeners expecting more will be disappointed – within those deep spaces, there are more ghostly apparitions, deeper caverns of negative sound, like a never-ending chain of doors along a corridor opening onto more doors ad infinitum. But if you are happy to be immersed in deep hypnotic trance ambient black metal psychedelia, and are not asking for more, this album will satisfy you.

Flesh Cathedral: a daring if daunting adventure through ruin to redemption

Svartidaudi, Flesh Cathedral, Norway, Terratur Possessions, CD VOICE033 / DWP024 (2012)

“Flesh Cathedral” remains Svartidaudi’s sole album to date which may surprise a lot of people who listen to it the first time – I certainly was, because it sounds so accomplished and meticulous in its technical crafting. It certainly doesn’t sound like a first album but more like a second or even third album: the songs are part of a concept that’s taken time to develop (and for that reason the album is best heard in one sitting) and the music’s execution sounds well balanced, tight enough but not too tight. The band’s preference for dissonant chords does mean the music sounds superficially similar to famous French black metallers Deathspell Omega and these Icelanders may well have taken inspiration from DSO in their song-writing and concepts. Everything else they do here though is different: Svartidaudi don’t go in for avant-jazz rhythms, theirs is a more doomy style of black metal.

Intro track “Sterile Seeds” sets the stage musically and conceptually: this track introduces us to a post-apocalyptic world ruined by wars and pollution, or to a body wrecked by addiction and abuse of all kinds and that has passed the threshold between life and death. The track’s style is epic and monumental in many ways, with layers and layers of grinding or fluttering tremolo guitars, a cold atmosphere and harsh stentorian vocals. The drumming isn’t especially heavy or remarkable but doesn’t need to be – the guitars and bass shoulder most of the responsibility for building up and carrying such a massive edifice of music, mood and ambience. “The Perpetual Nothing” brings the listener to confront an utterly empty and bleak universe with stuttering rapid-fire rhythm thunder, tom-tom rolls, sinister spider lead guitars and the most dreadful death-rattle vocals that sigh resignation in the face of nihilism. This song is a mighty monster of machine-gun blast-beat and tom-tom punishment and wailing guitar, relentless in piling riff upon riff, and nearly drowning out the vocals.

The title track builds on previous songs with a huge deep cavernous atmosphere, a complex mix of thunderous drumming, flippy blast beats and shifting rhythms, monstrous grinding bass grooves, sinister winding guitar riffs and melodies, and above all those dry wraith vocals drifting overhead. “Psychoactive Sacraments” is a roller-coaster ride through highs and lows in mood and music with portentous doom, malevolent black metal and hellish dark ambient elements used where appropriate to create a dramatic shape-shifting sonic architecture that floods and overwhelms the senses. While darkness and despair reign, there also appears a glimmer of hope, of brightness, of potential renewal and access to a higher spiritual plane.

Each song is very long and structurally elaborate with new riffs and melodies coming in almost right up to the end, and drastically changing rhythm or direction about halfway through as well, so tracks probably aren’t as distinctive or memorable as they could be. No one track is typical of the album and all songs need to be heard together for them to make sense, not only as a whole, but as parts in the whole. For this reason, hearing this album is a daunting adventure in itself and several rounds with the album might be necessary at risk of feeling punch drunk after each listen. But those of us who’ve heard the album a few times can at least say it’s an adventure worth taking.

The one thing I think that would improve this album is a higher quality production that brings out more of its subtleties and highlights its sonic extremes and many moods and atmospheres.

Hate Yoga: a wacky black metal noise homage to legendary French Black Legions scene

Vergreuvbre, Hate Yoga, Australia, Australibus Tenebris, cassette (2016)

About 23 minutes long, this wacky exercise in cacophonous black metal noise hell seems inspired by the more obscure and demented projects of the French Black Legions / Les Legions Noirs from way back in the mid-1990s. (The band’s name itself hints at LLN worship.) Gosh, can it really be 20 years since that little scene set the black metal world on fire with the werewolf baying, the gurgling vocals, the suspicious snuffling sounds, the junkyard approach to composing and playing music, and the in-fighting that led to the scene’s dissolution? This album – Vergreubvre’s third apparently – barrels along at a solemn pace while ghouls and ghosts yowl, gibber and complain loudly and groaning-grinding guitars chung-chung-chung along half-heartedly.

While the tin says there are five tracks – and one doesn’t know what it wants to be, so it’s just called “Untitled” – the practical reality for most listeners is that one track bleeds into the next so you’re pretty much looking at a solid slab of near-industrial raw guitar grind and percussion bashing, accompanied by some of the most bat-shit strait-jacketed groaning and bleating you’ll ever find on this side of the nine circles of hell. Even those Americans calling themselves the Black Twilight Circle appear sane and restrained compared to this lot. At least the crazed lead guitar scrabbling in some parts of the cassette anchors the rest of the band to this physical plane of material reality.

With such a lo-fi presentation, the music is gritty and raw with a crunchy noisy low end and the vocals sound even more savage and rabies-infested than they might actually be. The torture is solid and relentless, and the sound is massive in parts. At the risk of sounding like a masochist, I hazard the band probably could have added some reverb effects to get a monstrously steamy, hellish steel mine-shaft ambience and a muddy sound. Towards the end the lunar mayhem starts to tire and would probably have fallen apart if the multi-voiced screaming hadn’t started up to keep the torture going. Everyone collapses in a hail of cymbal smasherama and croaking death-rattle. If you’re not feeling drained by this point, you either are not human or (more likely) you collapsed far back during the recording.

If you’re a self-respecting music fan willing to try anything once, you definitely have to try hearing this recording.

Exile: tough and desperate raw BM songs with an individual flavour

The cover artwork is based on a photograph of Arnold Bocklin’s “The Isle of the Dead”; the artist himself painted five versions of the work from 1880 to 1886. Four versions still exist, the fifth version (on which the cover art is based) was destroyed in Berlin during a World War II bombing raid and only the aforementioned black-and-white photograph of it remains.

 

Vrag, Exile, Germany, Schattenkult Produktionen, CD SKP076 (2017)

“Exile” is a very fitting title for Vrag’s most recent recording: in case your name is Rip van Winkle and you’ve just woken up after a very long sleep, Vrag is now a trio who moved some years ago from Sydney to Hobart in Tasmania. Those of you who’ve never heard of Tasmania, it’s an island state of mysterious misty Ice Age landscapes, exotic temperate rainforests, weird animal species that might be extinct or still alive, and a history of European genocide against the original Tasmanian hunter-gatherers, being an island prison for the most hardened criminals and host to Australia’s worst mass murder incident in which 35 people were killed and 23 injured by a lone shooter. Living on an island with such a history and an odd reputation for insularity – it’s the butt of Australian incest jokes, same way as parts of Appalachia are the target of incest jokes among Americans – should suit Vrag with their focus on darkness, alienation and isolation, madness and the band’s contempt for mainstream Western society, its corrupted institutions and the conformity these foster in people.

The band has always served up some of the most raw and aggressive old-school BM with a vicious edge, yet always with an ear for distinctive and punchy rhythms, strong bass lines and the most infectiously catchy melodies. At the same time, they don’t hesitate to use synthesisers and ambient effects like reverb or a cold atmosphere where these can add nuance and an individual flavour to the music and they’re not averse to nicking elements from doom, death, hard rock or folk where these might suit. On “Exile”, Vrag show no signs of flagging or mellowing in this respect: though their overall sound is still a bit thinner than it could be, the songs are still very individual and able to stand on their own as singles if need be, and have a cold, frosty ambience that gives them a rounded, slight three-dimensional feel.

For those keen on raw full-throttle attacking BM aggression there are tracks like “Cold Air” and the ragged, almost punky anthem “Youth Against Christ”. Other tracks have more emphasis on melody, riffs and sometimes a distinct groove. The most interesting songs though are later ones starting with “In the Cold Light of Solitude” where atmospheric BM, hard rock or melancholy doom elements join the raw BM to create fairly complex music pieces. Bass guitar sometimes takes a lead role on “Death Fetish” and staccato guitar riffs and clappy percussion beats appear on the title track. It’s details like these that make “Exile” and other Vrag recordings worth repeated visits.

The album does sound like a collection of songs more than it does a whole work of tracks that might share a common definite lyrical or musical narrative. The fact that most of “Exile” (the album) was recorded way back in 2009 and 2010 may partly explain the anthology nature in which half the album sounds like the work of young hungry musicians with nothing to lose and the other half is more considered and conserves the aggression of quite long songs. While I still think Vrag need a thicker, boomier sound that suits the tough music, there’s plenty of raw savagery and a ragged desperate edge to the self-contained songs.

These guys could be leading comfortable lives writing pop pabulum for reality TV shows claiming to find the next big singer but no, they follow their inner muse where it leads – isn’t this a path more worthy of pursuit?

HØST: a wild ride into the most deranged realms of acid BM fury

 

Holokauston, HØST, New Zealand, The Dark Thursday, digital album TDT71 / Ukraine, Depressive Illusion Records, floppy diskette FNR218 (2017)

As debut extreme / experimental albums go, “HØST” by Holokauston, a one-man BM project based in India, is as mind-destroyingly extreme and bleedingly raw as any I’ve come across before. The music ranges from melodramatic synth-orchestral soundtrack music to primitive punk BM throb and pummel, all shot through with a demented and disturbed genius. As far as I can tell, the album is the work of Holokauston head honcho (and sole member) Arjun Somvanshi who produced it as well. I dunno what conditions Arjun S played under and what the studio was like but whatever, wherever it was, it must be one helluva hellfire-n-brimstone hellish place to be where churning guitars are chopped up into brain-destroying metal shuriken slivers that cut every nerve and every cell connection, the chainsaws wheeze with demon minds of their own, the drums throb and pulse in response to an unholy life force and the entire recording ends up a juddering, broken, psychotic beast on the rampage. Guitars spew industrial-strength liquid acid that corrodes and melts down machinery. Amazing how the fluttery pounding drums quickly take over your own heart beat and force your head and body to judder in time to the insane outpourings as well. The vocals range from angry crabby groaning and demented mutterings to screams and howls.

There do exist moments of the most astonishing clarity in which acoustic guitar melodies flow easily and breathy clear-toned voice sighs but these times are very brief and highlight the unhinged nature of the songs. In these moments, the production is clear and sharp, much better than what I would have anticipated for a self-produced album, probably made at home, in a country (India) where electricity isn’t always reliable and blackouts occur most days. After the album’s halfway point, the songs become much louder and sharper, and a lot more frenzied, so I assume the recording wasn’t all done in one hit. The riffs and melodies are much clearer and the racket turns out to be much more ordered and less chaotic than you might think. Arjun S really does play guitar and drums well and the more I listen to this album, the more cohesive the songs actually are in spite of their looseness.

All the way through you’re treated to a wild and exhilarating ride in sheer crazed acid BM fury but the craziest parts turn out to be the intro and outro title pieces which are truly bat-shit exercises in experimental synth keyboard / piano retarded noodling. I really had a great time with this album – the only downside is when it all ends and I have to readjust to the real world.

Life, Sex and Death: a homage to a Tantric Hindu goddess and what she represents

Kids, don’t try this kind of DIY cosmetic surgery at home …

Cult of Fire, Life, Sex & Death, Czech Republic, Beyond Eyes, CD BE04 (2016)

Judging from the very ornate cover, I presume this mini-album is a celebration of the Tantra Hindu goddess Chhinnamasta – there’s even a track “Chhinnamasta Mantra” which as it says includes the mantra that Tantric devotees chant to attract women – and all that she represents: death, self-destruction / transformation, renewal, sexual energy. In short, the album celebrates the duality of existence: life / death, and the energy that binds it all together. Chhinnamasta the goddess is usually represented as a nude, self-decapitating goddess holding her head in one hand and a sword in the other, with blood spurting out from her neck to be captured by her attendants, and that’s the spectacular sight that greets potential listeners and separates the brave (and maybe the foolish) from the fearful and wary.

As it turns out though, the music is very epic in scope and exhilarating in mood. Its sound is probably a bit too thin and the drums too tinny to do it and its subject matter full justice. The band relies heavily on orchestral synthesiser backing to fill out the music’s sound when a guitars-n-drums set-up, with the appropriate production, could have been enough. The slavering vocals suit the music but reverb robs them of their full horror potential. The music runs the gamut from symphonic to classic minimal BM, melodic post-BM and even shoegazer BM in parts.

The one track that really stands out is the jangly “Chhinnamasta Mantra” for its female vocal chanting the mantra against an accompaniment of shrill jewel-toned guitar, background ambient effects and hand drumming. This has a very beautiful psychedelic sound and the mood is trancey and dream-like. Too bad it’s not long enough and seems to peter out just when you think it should dissolve in a shower of guitar and ambient sparkle effects. While the rest of the album charges with loads of spitfire fury to spare, the songs don’t differ from one another – though I suppose the concept of the album suggests they should all relate to one another and not be too individual – and if it weren’t for non-BM melodic touches like acoustic guitar or sitar in parts, the music would be very monotonous.

Shortcomings aside, this EP is very enjoyable if heard as one continuous work rather than as a set of four songs. Some time in the future it could be reworked with longer trance-like psychedelic music and with a better sound and production so that it celebrates all that Chhinnamasta represents in all her contradictory dualistic glory.