Category Archives: Review

Synth, wave and blackgaze from Iran you should hear about

Seena Arya is a musician from the unlikely location of Iran and specializes in otherworldly synth sounds. His various projects include Varkâna, Sun Addicted Family, Vanelikt, Driftwood, and Beam Keeper. All this is part of the Ardawahisht collective.

He has been kind enough to keep me up to date on his work, which has fascinated me from the start. It’s therefore important to share this and give you a little idea of what awaits you in the crypts. Or in the discotheque… or the forest? As it seems that Seena is working on all fronts to expand the reach of his musical vocabulary to express the harrowing silence and sadness of the world.

You gotta love that.
Header image from Varkâna Facebook page. 

Beam Keeper – Volume 1

Label: self-released
Beam Keeper is pure synthwave, but clearly steeped in the slow trod of dungeon synth where it originates in. If you imagine a dungeon synth project based on ‘The Neverending Story’ or another eighties-vibe movie (I know it’s a book first, I read it), this would be it. Slow, sonorous synths weave through the air, the beats come dully, indicating a slow pace and the vibe is more Blade Runner than happy Goonies. It’s dreamy, captivating and perhaps a bit too strangely droning to completely take you elsewhere and isolate you from your surroundings. For me, it is a perfect record to listen to at any time when I need to close myself into this pristine world that Beam Keeper creates. The throbbing bass lines of ‘Palm Trees Dream’. Please, if you dig synthwave, check this record out. You will not regret it.

Varkâna – Ahrimanic Chambers

Label: self-released
Ahriman is the entity embodied with destructive force in Zoroastrianism, and therefore a great topic for a dark, cavernous dungeon synth record, so that’s exactly how Varkâna follows up ‘Rite’ with ‘Ahrimanic Chambers’. The oppressing, grinding synths have a bit of that Burzum vibe, though that may be the dry tom sound that pops up. Slow drones, and that feeling of disturbing the dust in ancient crypts hardly touched by the sun. But these crypts are different, more ancient and unfamiliar to you and speak of an even older myth. Slowly, with a tinge of the oriental hidden in its notes, it sucks you further in, further down the dark tunnels with strange glyphs and carvings, unto the underworld. Varkâna provides a specific atmosphere, which is particularly captivating thanks to the vastness of the sound. It’s dark, without immediate threat, but always something is lurking, something older…

Sun Addicted Family – Solar Dreams

Label: self-releasedSun Addicted Family
It would be easy to start referring to Deafheaven here, but sonically Sun Addicted Family is far removed from the driven, grandiose sound of the vilified post-black act, yet there’s obviously a thematic connection somehow. This project relies on heavy sonic tapestries and keys to provide a sort of story anchorage throughout. The screamed vocals are intense within the frame of this blackgaze experience. It’s strange to have these sonic flares, chip tuney beats and mash it with that intensity. But that, to me, is exactly what makes Sun Addicted Family so enthralling, it’s otherworldliness, it’s weirdness in a way, blending synth-wave sentiment with black metal intensity and atmospheric black metal emotion. I mean, reading that sentence alone, how would you say that in a way that explains what you’re about to listen to. You should, by the way, do so. Listen to it and immerse yourself in irradiate sunlight, soak in solar dreams and drown in the astral driftways. Blissful forgetting, white light, white heat.

Varkâna – Cosmic Terror

Label: self-released

And here my own slow pace has caught up with me because Varkâna has released a new gem inspired by none other than the great H.P. Lovecraft himself. ‘Cosmic Terror’ is a much similar release, with the creeping, meandering synths taking the listener down aeon-old pathways, basking in the gloom of Eldritch things. Obviously, there’s a connection to the Ahrimanic Chambers record released before, both speak of unspeakable entities that dwell in the dark recesses of our minds. I do feel though, that this album clears up come of the eastern elements in the composition, but this may also just be my perception. More ritualistic even, it expands the realms of Dungeon Synth into more obscure territories, where a haze emerges as the sand and air hit. Nothing is certain, nothing is absolute when elder gods dance in madness in the maelstrom. From the malign and dreamy ‘Space Lord’, to the creeping madness that is ‘Nyarlathotep’. It’s full of foreboding of threat and terror.

From The Bowels of the Dutch Black Metal Scene II

So much darkness in the underground of our welfare state called the Netherlands, that I just have to keep going and share it. This time, the furious harpies of Asagraum, the gloom and doom of Dodenbezweerder, the aerial soundscapes of Nortfalke and the icy hailstorm that is Asgrauw.

Please, enjoy, listen and perhaps purchase some of these tunes.

Asagraum – Dawn of Infinite Fire

Asagraum
Edged Circle Productions

It doesn’t take long to stumble upon the combination of the name Asagraum and ‘all-female black metal’. It is an oddity in black metal for sure, but I can’t say it makes a difference in the sound. Perhaps in the pitch of the vitriolic screams of Obscura, also active in Draugur, Wolvenbloed, Gestalte, and Hekel (both live). She also played in Nargaroth live, which is cool. She runs the ship with A. who used to beat the drums in Sisters of Suffocation. Originally, it was a cross-continental band with T. Kolsvart on drums, and a number of international musicians involved, but now the core is Dutch. Jeez, what an intro, did I mention that they play some sick black metal in the traditional way we love and relish?

Asagraum can sound harsh and unrelenting, as they do on most of their songs. There is, however, a melodic streak in their sound. The excellent production (no necro stuff here) helps to let that musical side open up when you listen to it. Particularly the track ‘Guahaihoque’ does a great job at dragging you in with its sweeping flourishes. It’s really good stuff to take your mind off things, but we return to fire and brimstone with songs like ‘Dochters van de Zwarte Vlam’. An energetic rhythm, ominous, and just that right speed-up moment when we surge into a new vocal bit. Personal favorite though is the final track that also features clean vocals. ‘Waar Ik Ben Komt De Dood’ (where I am, comes death) is a mid-paced burner, moving along a mist of distortion. The chanted words emerge from that same fog, difficult to hear at first in the haze, but on the other hand clear within the production. This is a great black metal record, full of fire and fury. You might want to check it out.

Dodenbezweerder – Vrees De Toorn Van De Wezens Verscholen Achter Majestueuze VleugelsDodenbezweerder

Iron Bonehead Productions

I am in no way surprised to find the name Mories connected to this project. The brain behind Gnaw Their Tongues, Aderlating, Cloak of Altering, Capuut Mortem, and a hundred other bands never sits still. Santino van der Aa plays drums, which he also does in dsbm legends Hypothermia. Dodenbezweerder was launched in 2019 and the full length is listed as released in 2020. You just know it’s going to be good, but somehow this has remained under the radar up to this point for me. Might be because the releases followed each other at a rapid pace. The artwork already shows an artistic inclination to the classic black and white, so I expect a sound like that.

Which is an expectation soon to be fulfilled with atmospheric, lo-fi, distorted darkness. The title track is all hissing, crackling, and has that good old necro sound to it, but Dodenbezweerder never goes into screeching overdrive, but calls up a fog of distortion, that clouds a massive sound of slow, lumbering movement. The tracks are full of anticipation, foreboding of a lurking presence. From the fog, the vocals arise in gurgling, gibbering tones, as a ghoulish reminder that there is something coming at you. Shimmering comes to mind when you listen to ‘Glimmende Zwaarden Door De Mist Van Het Evangelie’, minimal yet, maximal impact. Spartan is a word the band uses in their bio and that makes sense as a duo, yet the wall of sound Dodenbezweerder unleashes is not to be trifled with. You want to hear this.

Nortfalke – Atmosfeer

Heidens Hart RecordsNortfalke

Is it dungeon synth? Not entirely, but there is something of that vibe in the Krautrock leaning sound of Nortfalke, which reminds you a bit of Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream with its spun-out, soaring electronics. Nortfalke is an alias of Swerc, who is known from bands like Tarnkappe, Gheestenland, Asregen and a dozen other fascinating projects. This one, however, explores the cryptic mysteries of dungeon synth with a classic approach that never fails. It’s the sort of sound that immerses you in mystery and dreams, particularly this thematic album, titled ‘Atmosfeer’ (Atmosphere).

Repetition is one of the key tools for dungeon synth acts. It has a meditative and hypnotic effect on the listener as it all sort of starts to melt together into one flow. We don’t descend into crypts though, but ascend to the clouds and explore the beauty of the heights on ‘Hoogten’. I particularly enjoy the krautrock vibe on ‘IJskristallen’, which translates as ‘ice crystals’. The looped keys resonate like he pristine, crackling of ice that would surround you in the upper atmosphere (that’s pure speculation, but the shimmering sound matches my imagination). And this is the true strength of Nortfalke, it catches the atmospheric elements it describes. The sensations, the perspectives, they’re all there within the sound. And then we fall into the depth on ‘Diepte’. It’s notable that the sound is more organic, natural, thanks to the use of actual synthesizers. The result is quite remarkable.

Asgrauw – IJsval

Death Kult Records/Pest Productions

I’ve commented before on the peculiar artwork of Asgrauw, but I have to admit that it does kind of grow on you. ‘IJsval’ is the fourth full length by the band from Groesbeek (the bad end of Nijmegen I’ve been told). Keeping a steady pace of dropping a record every 2 years, the band is on a roll. Members of Asgrauw are also active in Meslamtea. And that’s great stuff and only offers more promises for their latest release, that seems fitting in these times.

Asgrauw relies heavily on the tremolo guitar sounds, the trickling, cold melodic elements and double vocals. Not entirely uncommon, but in their synth-heavy sound more than welcome to offer depth and complexity to the sound. ‘Leegte’ instantly delivers, creating a lot of space to breathe and just wallow in the sound with melodic breaks. But there’s also violence and cascading, icy riffs that flow with a thundering roar. ‘Stortvloed’ is one of those tracks, that just keeps going. What I like so much about this record, is that the title just permeates every single track. ‘Ijsval’ translates as ‘ice fall’, and that cold hits you every tune again. Sure, a little warmth seeps in with that Iron Maiden-esque bass line in ‘Broeihaard’, but it’s back into the cold again a moment later. Asgrauw is like a bike ride through icy rain in late autumn. Dutch people know what I’m talking about.

More records Stranger Aeons missed out on…

Life is a curious thing, especially when it fills your time with work, hobbies, sports and other activities. And then, there’s this… A global pandemic that makes everything come to a grinding halt.

But it’s cool that it got me writing again because I have so much music I want to share with you. Here you have Vaelastrasz, Smear Ghost, Hiemis and Tarkin Turfer. Dungeon synth, ambient, dark electronics, all there.

Smear Ghost – Earth Is For God, Hell Is For Men

Moonworshipper RecordsSmear Ghost

A Smear Ghost is what occurs when a false image follows the image that you see on your telly. Like a shadow. It’s well creepy if you think about that. And rarely do I get properly creeped out by an intro, but ‘How Will You Be Seen In His Eyes’ does the trick, alright. You could call the sound of this act from Romania, something like electronic black metal and that would make sense. Or call it black ambient it both hits the mark of dark, atmospheric music with a hint of synth to it. I mean, how ‘hunted in the dark’ do you feel when listening to ‘Encroachment’ in the dark?

I find it uncomfortably fitting that I can’t find any information about this act. The sound becomes more ambient-oriented though on ‘Words Are Empty Without Belief’. Yet, you can sense the same tension you get from the ambient Ulver records, which to me are the summit of how dark electronics can get in the ambient area. But even when Smear Ghost picks up the pace, the sound remains fantastic. I mean, this is stuff I really can get into. Everything dark and grimy, but also stuff to move to at times, if you an get your Jack the Ripper groove on that is.

HIEMIS – ThuleHiemis

Gradual Hate Records

This project by Juan Carlos Toledo from Silent Love Of Death has a long story to tell with this record, which addresses the myth of Atlantis and Thule. Not always considered to be the same, but highly connected anyways. It’s a fascinating material in itself, but it made me curious about the music which even on the first track already shows a tendency to the megalomanic with an overwhelming of hazy noise. It’s all grandeur, but it works and that is the strength of this record. But it gets better all the time, in fact, I love the eerie tinkling sounds on ‘Wrath of the Gods’ that breaks with the tumultuous storm that keeps emerging.

But from there on the sound opens up, becomes more ethereal and wavery to my ears. Particularly ‘The Offering’ stands out in its evocative moods. ‘The Ten Kingdoms’ is another mythical reference, of which I have not found a particularly clear basis, but it appears to refer to ancestral realms. It’s an exemplary track in the work of HIEMIS, on mythologizing the past that is shrouded in shadows due to the lack of written sources. A grand basis for material that makes you think of forgotten places.

Tarkin Turfer – Old Finnbar Furrowbrow

Tarkin Turfer
Ancient Meadow Records

The pool of dungeon synth records to delve into is an ever-increasing well with a lot of interesting works and more and more mediocrity. That’s why I’m excited to find something like Tarkin Turfer, which moves away from the gritty, dusky, dusty sound with a more energetic and full type of music. It’s really the old PC RPG versus the SNES JRPG’s, but here in sound. More natural, full sounds, more feeling and depth. I love the classic sound though, but the expansion is where the novelty thrives. What’s even better about Tarkin Turfer is that this album follows a Dungeons & Dragons narrative.

What you immediately notice is the layers in the sound. Sure, they’re easy to distinguish and hardly complex, but there is more texture, more elements to the construction. Wood, stone, fabrics, glass, it feels more tangible as we follow Old Finnbar Furrowbrow on his trips. At times, like on the title track, it can even feel a bit synthwave-like. Which is cool, the styles are not so distinct, but it’s the melodies that follow that really kick it to a new level. Certainly, the basics are still there. As the narrative builds, we go to a darker, more gloomy place and the repetitive rhythms are always there on ‘The Staff of the Underworld’. But it’s always about going towards events, instead of the husky melancholy you are used to. Particularly fond of ‘Shadow Visions’ which is a quite different track again, I love sinking into this record and forgetting about the world for a bit.

Vaelastrasz – The Birth of Naxxramasvaelastrasz

Self-released

A release dedicated to vanilla World of Warcraft? Yes, that is of interest to me and particularly this one as I’ve actually never run it in my day. Naxxramas is one of the most daunting places in the original World of Warcraft and woven into the game lore with a lot of grief and sadness surrounding it. I mean, you can tell me fantasy is camp, but the level of emotion woven into the stories is often exceptional. Blizzard has been very, very good at this. Vaelastrasz has created a wide catalogue of recordings on the very topic of World of Warcraft. Where the game has gone slightly downhill in my opinion, this music just gets better.

The music unfolds in six pieces, that are slow, densely atmospheric and rich in their sound. No meagre synths with some gritty lo-fi sound, but a full immersion from the first piece onwards. The parts flow together smoothly, effortlessly. It helps the experience and immersion, as you drone along with the repetitive rhythms and circular melodies. What Vaelastrasz succeeds in, is evoking a much grander feeling with the music. Listen to the transition between part I and II (around 6-8 mins in) for that swelling sound. Part II is my favourite anyways, but Part III is even more loose and frivolous. I’m not certain if there are vocals or a semblance, but it works as a seductive lament, enticing the listener further into the adventure. In the final sections, we build towards a final moment, a crescendo if you will, where the story wraps up. It Is that I read about the six parts, but they work so well together. I would not change a thing about this fantastic piece.

Pamirt – Mausoleum

Pamirt translates to ‘to die gently’ from Latvian and is an artistic project by Kristiāna Kārkliņa. It emerged from experimentation in Berlin in 2017, creating a different sort of expression than her black metal band Eschatos. The result is a stunning display of darkness, and it’s regal beauty in sound. Pamirt has now emerged as a trio, with Kārkliņa being supported by Edgars Percevs (Eschatos) and Edgars Gultnieks (Protean, Eschatos).

What you get in recording, is quite exceptional, but there is a place that can be ascribed to the music of Pamirt. To me, that is somewhere in between Diamanda Galas, Dead Can Dance and Lingua Ignota. For the sheer recklessness of combining classical sophistication and composition with meaty bass lines and darkness expressed in the vocal style. Listening to the album, it is evident that at the heart of each song is just the piano and voice, the other instruments serve to enhance, thicken, macerate and fortify the sound into what it is: Pamirt.

Mausoleum

The record starts off mildly, with the song ‘That Day’, which relies mostly on the basics, but when the sound does swell it is tumultuous, overwhelming. It’s there where the vocals pierce the haze of distorted guitars and mesmerizing keys. ‘Mausoleum’ as well, sticks to the more common sounds, with a doomy sound and sense of foreboding every step of the way, but towards the end, these notable sounds emerge in the noise. The voice whoops and soars, as Kārkliņa rides and tames the waves of sound.

The lyrics tell us stories, which are partly inspired by Pushkin’s ‘A Feast In Time of Plague’ and by own experience. The result, at times, is grotesque, confrontational and heavy. ‘This Dinner’ is a noteworthy track in that sense, with vocals that put us on the path of Diamanda Galas if I may be so bold to make that comparison. Banging sheet metals, diabolical laughter, unnerving…but bewitching at the same time in all its splendor. We slowly wander into ‘Early March’, an intermezzo instrumental track.

Whatever you may feel of this music, that radiates discomfort, the voice is ever-present. It’s multi-faceted, of many colors. It’s absolutely stunning in execution, wildly dancing through the songs. Though the piano is almost battered with the crushing sound on ‘Danube’, the singing is calm, measured and again has all the right ups and lows. “I flee the bright white fields, I once used to call home…”, Kārklina laments a few moments later, and the pace picks up into a marching rhythm.

‘Crazy’ is the only cover on the album, a classic by Patsy Cline. The song was recorded almost 70 years ago. Pamirt turns it into a dirge, with a trudging pace, that slowly swells. As the singing soars, the music reaches a grudging crescendo. On ‘Bloodletting’ you might notice more bass, which is the double bass from Stanislav Yudin (of H2O, not the hardcore band), a composer who has, in fact, won awards for his folk music. It adds more depth to the song, which already has some of the most gutwrenching vibes of the whole piece. The vocals provoke, gibber and taunt, but towards the end, there is merely repetition and surrender:

“…With the needles, we swallow.  You hold me on my death bed, baby. You hold me on my death bed baby… You hold me on my death bed baby….”

Mausoleum is a mighty piece of work. A record that stands on its own, it doesn’t need any of my references above to convey its meaning. It’s all there, in raw honesty and daring artistry. It’s an album bravely created by a bold soul, and this you feel every minute it lasts.

Underground Sounds: rāhha – Descension Ceremony

Label: Independent
Band: rāhha
Origin: Germany

I can’t tell you much about rāhha as of yet. Not that I don’t want to, but the German duo seems to come out of nowhere with this their destructive second EP ‘Descension Ceremony’. Their Facebook page made me none the wiser either so I’m just going to tell you how they sound instead.

So think Germany, think Nachtmysticum, think Mgła, think… well, listen. It combines the atmospheric, the raw and the haunting into one epic journey.

Fire and fury erupt when the EP kicks off with ‘Diocese of Endless Strife’. The sound is cavernous but full and immersive. The vocals are in your face, raw and passionate. They are in power, in control of the depths you’ve plummeted into as the thudding drum starts to hammer away. There is not even any noticeable shift when we move on to ‘Korpsgeist’. If you catch the wave, the sonic exaltation of their song, your in for a rapturous ride as the speed and rising cadence has a sweeping power. I just want to punch my fucking fist in the air and scream until I have the same rattling howl.

‘Empty Chalice of Life’ is another firebrand on the holy houses. Black metal in righteous opposition with all the anger and not a sense of compromise as we launch into the final tune. We delve into ‘A Waxen Image Ritual’, where the raspy voice barks and howls. An immersion into the purest darkness with rapid blast beats, tremolo guitars and and a remarkable portion of catchiness to it. Can’t wait for more from this duo!

Underground Sounds: Mortuary Punishment – Pride.Power.Punishment

Label: Independent
Band: Mortuary Punishment
Origin: United States

What if your wilderness is the streets you live in? That is what shapes the sound of Mortuary Punishment, who make music inspired by the violence on the streets in Pomona, C.A. It captures something much more raw and random than the wild forest, it captures human life on ‘Pride.Power.Punishment’.

Mortuary Punishment is Bigg o))), and the record starts with the Ghetto bird (the police helicopter) and news samples about the stuff that is going on there on this doom release. The music gently comes up and hits you in the face with a bit of that Latino SoCal Punk rawness to it. It tastes spicy as hell. Not surprising, because the creator is also involved with Xibalba.

‘The Streets I’ is an intro for the record, with all the samples, so we start with the punishing ‘Streets of Death’, which is raw and raucous death doom with a rather lively pace and gurgling doomy vocals. The lyrics offer a straight-forward doom stomper: “Angels marked for death. Weakness will be destroyed. Destroy the light.” Now that’s some heavy punching right there. Sure, musically it’s simplistic, but not less effective.

We soon turn to ‘Chalice of Suffering’. This track picks up the pace after a stop-go introduction song. The repetitive riffing keeps the tension up and you imagine the wall of death to break out any moment, but instead, we move towards a slow, grinding break before we launch into full speed. It’s just bad-ass all the way. Crushing riffs and gut-punching drums, it doesn’t stop. Mortuary Punishment really focusses on the cavemen simplicity. Effect. That’s all that matters. ‘Slaughter the Sheep’ is the crushing final chapter of this crushing, primordial release and what a record it is. Check out this punishing release and get smashed with this dangerous bit of death doom!

Underground Sounds: Vanum – Ageless Fire

Label: Profound Lore
Band: Vanum
Origin: USA

Vanum is a cooperation between members of Ash Borer, Yellow Eyes, Predatory Light, Vilkacis and Fell Voices (and 3 of these names apply to one man). That puts them in a particular bracket of black metal, with pure, undiluted fury. This is their second full length, following two years after the ‘Burning Arrow’ EP and it promises nothing but power.

Vanum is all about the grand gesture, the simplified sweep, over the miserly details. That, in itself, is a testament of their power and maximum delivery and I’m glad to have witnessed this life. ‘Ageless Fire’ is the title of this album and for me its an instant elevation to the status of modern-day black metal deity.

‘War’ is like a marching song, into the flames. Slowly, majestic and strong it comes on and delivers us to a mellow tremolo riff at its ending, which fades gradually. It hardly primes you for ‘Jaws of Rapture’, which follows on the heels of a church bell. Like a cold rain, the song hits you with a wall of contentious guitars. The sky is grey, the air cold, but fire burns behind the war engine that is Vanum.

What follows after that is the 10-minute epic ‘Eternity’, which feels like a long baptizing of fire. While furious in its delivery and barked vocals claw at you with maddening fervor, the melody is leading the track. When it drops back to a slower pace, you can even feel a bit of a rock groove emerge. Yet never does it relent as soaring guitar melody enters and carious onwards. By the time you reach ‘Under the Banner of Death’, you’re battered and tired. Yet this track, with its melancholic opening salvo, digs even deeper as we go into the trenches once more.

The music of Vanum always carries both. There’s an overly epic aspect to it, a grandeur and unmistakable beauty, as we hear on the title track. But it always carries the fires of war and the eternal fog arising from it. ‘Erebus’ is then the finalizing track, the last notes, where suddenly a blissful calm has been reached. Has the fire burned everything, or are we in the fire?

Neither flesh nor fleshless,
Neither from nor towards.
Spirit terror in the mortal abyss
Rise through the nexus as the wheel turns.

Underground Sounds: Laster – Het Wassen Oog

Label: Prophecy Productions
Band: Laster
Origin: Netherlands

Laster is an oddity in the black metal universe. Not just in the looks, but musically the band leans heavily on something completely different as their peers. Though 2 of the members are active in more rootsy black metal band Nusquama, their sounds are more like those of Grey Aura than any of the more conservative projects. And their latest statement is another gem.

‘Het Wassen Oog’ is already the third full length by the Utrecht band, maintaining their sound and visual aesthetics. This time on Prophecy Productions, a label open to that which lacks categorizing. I’m not sure if it will appeal to the more conservative listener, but as a fan of the experiment and expressive, I enjoy very much the sound these guys produce on this album.

‘Vacuüm ≠ behoud’ maybe references clearly one of their influences, by addressing the theme of a different world and closing with the line ‘Ceci n’est pas un souvenir’. Is that a nod to Alcest (‘Souvenirs d’un autre monde’). It wouldn’t be surprising as the music is filled with the sweet sounds of postrocky/shoegazy passages. Dreamy, yet also containing harsh screams, the music offers a strange contrast, that is eerily beautiful. It allows you to sink into the obscure dance music.

Often there are these peculiar, repetitive parts that have something carnivalesque, that mesmerizing mystery of the circus. It is a different kind of dark, but equally alluring in their music. This can be heard on tracks like ‘Ondersteboven’, which also has a funky bass line, but also ‘Weerworm’. In between, ‘Haat & Bonhomie’ breaks the mold and surges into classic black metal in all its formal fury. Yet, there’s always a mystique. A movement, a dance between the instruments. It simply feels enjoyable, inviting, and fills you with excitement.

It’s hard to really put to words what Laster submits you to, but it’s a highly immersive experience. Catchy, surprising and still very much true to the essence of what this black metal record should sound like.

From the bowels of the Dutch Black Metal Scene

I keep being amazed by the unique sounds that emerge from the Dutch black metal scene. Moerasbasterdwerik, Ibex Angel Order, Nachtdwaelen and Himelvaruwe are proof of a diverse, urgent and intense sound.

This was mostly written a longer while ago, but I think these records are great and warrant a bit of notoriety if I can help it. I enjoyed them very much. 

Moerasbasterdwerik – Gebaag uit de Banmade

Self-released

The Moerasbasterdwederik is actually a cute little flower, but in this case, it’s some grisly, gruesome black metal from the heart of the Netherlands. Gebaag uit de Banmade was produced by a duo that has a love for nature and vodka, judging from their limited range of band photos. In that sense, Moerasbasterdwederik (which is a fucking nightmare to remember or write correctly) reflects some classic black metal tendencies and attitude. That’s a good thing in an overly mystified and over-intellectualized genre. Wait, was that a bird chirping in the middle of the abyssal sounds of ‘Doodsroeper, Weeklager’, a track that sounds remarkably underproduced. just right for my tastes.

Moerasbasterdzwerik likes their high-paced, whiny guitars and rattling drums. There’s something quite odd about the guitar sounds, which almost sound like a continuous flow at times, dissonant, yet pleasing. The vocals are just a wild how hard to decipher at the best of times. Most interesting is the amount of little sound-effects like snapping twigs you hear on this record, suddenly breaking your mesmerized state. Truly, you can listen to ‘Grijsbehaard, de Oude Wilg’ in a complete state of trance. I guess this is the music produced by the filthy patches of green in our inner cities. There is undeniable beauty to be found in it, but also the grim reality of defiled patches of gras by human filth. That’s how I feel about this record at least, as ‘Vliegend Onraad’ closes with some doomy black metal punk and harrowing acoustics.

Ibex Angel Order -I​.​Ô. CREATÔR / I​.​Ô. DESTRÔYER EPIbex Angel Order

Heidens Hart/Terratur Possessions/Ván Records/Fallen Temple

If anyone is putting the occult back in occult black metal, it is the Ibex Angel Order. A duo, connected through bands like Sauron, Abysmal Darkening and Funeral Goat, while singer and guitar player Herr Aids is also individually active in acts like Sekte and Verbum Verus. The vocals surge into the wavery tides of abyssal riffing with the strength of a doom speech from a prophet. ‘I.ô. Creatôr’ is declaiming the words of the end times. The music is hypnotic and feels almost hypnotic in its dense, wall of sound-like quality. There is a simple yet effective cadence to the way the music spikes out and grows. Battle horns, clean shouts and a bombastic, grand opening in the middle with fierce tremolo riffs complete the image.

The movements become grimmer on ‘I.ô. Destrôyer’. Its intro feels like a run-up, the way a wave pulls in and creates a strange calm just before it falls down with all its crushing weight. Yet the song raises itself upwards even further, as the pace quickens and the voice growls about the rotting fruits of our world. The song ever rises and keeps you on your toes till the end, which is a remarkable effort of speed and force.

Nachtdwaelen – Dodenmasker

Self-released/Zwaertgevegt

I have found relatively little information about the project Nachtdwaelen, but in 2018 the act emerged and this release came out earlier this year, following 2018 release ‘Geestenstroom’. The sound is high-paced, frantic at times with an immense amount of layered tremolo riffing and dense production. At times it all presses together into the swirling, grand movements that make it so captivating. Surprisingly, Nachtdwaeler is the sole member of this band, which only emphasizes its strength as a piece of music that for me touches upon the very essence of what I like in black metal. Speed, aggression, darkness and oppressive atmosphere as delivered on the title track and the foggy haze of guitars that is ‘Mist’

On ‘Duister’ we get a bit more dense and violent, as chanting opens up the track. Blasting through it on ferocious drums, the song rains down on the listener with vitriolic urgency. On ‘Zwerver’ we really get into the depths of darkness, that I so love about this type of metal. It feels like everything is crashing down to untold depths in this eerily atmospheric song. The gentle melody wraps itself around the cold streams of sound that keep on flowing. It is here that Nachtdwaelen, to me, truly captures something harrowingly beautiful with the sound.

Himelvaruwe – Het Ondenkbare

Independent
Himelvaruwe - Het Ondenkbare

This project by T., also active in Kaffaljidhma and Mirre, has been around for a while. This demo was released in 2019 and the style is described as mystical black metal. Notable is the white/blue cover art and the transcendental keys that waver as a backdrop to the repetitive, gritty rhythm. There’s a sense of clarity to the music, therefore, which bespells the listener easily. This Himelvaruwe release was recorded during a fever dream, and that it definitely feels like.

Yet at the heart of the sound is something primal and nihilistic, there’s only that forward motion. The eerie atmospheric music and rhythm don’t interact, they don’t converse and weave into each other, they just let you follow. As they compete, the distorted, violent side takes over and seems to pick up in urgency, but that might just be listeners’ perception here. As what seems as an angelic voice soars above, we burn away the darkness towards a crescendo with haste and then… there’s merely silence.

Underground Sounds: Nelecc – The Stars

Label: Independent
Artist: Nelecc
Origin: Kenya

Metal touches hearts and minds in far-off places and Nelecc is a solitary act in Kenya. Seeker, the man behind the act, is intrigued by nature and solitude, but also the stars are significant in his work.

Recently, he also engaged with other East-African artists in the project Krummholz, which clearly shows his artistic vision of atmospheric black metal as well. It’s all about immersion, storytelling and a strange way of letting go. That is the beauty of his work and what I love about ‘The Stars’.

Nelecc is a star gazer and that is what his music brings forth with an almost shimmering quality as opener ‘The Stars’ unfolds. The melancholy in the initial sound is deep, profound and warming. The song merges into ‘A Thousand Suns’, which contains some storytelling passages, with spoken word, introducing the overall story. Though muddled slightly in the mix, the music is tight and captures the attention like a steady stream. All of it flows with a cosmic languidity.

The music is epic in its formulation, slowly building from a murmur to a warm blanket, draped over everything in sight and filling one as a listener with a pleasant sensation. But as we advance, up the slopes towards harsher grounds, the sound becomes more punishing, more battering. ‘Forest of Gloom’ thus is an onslaught of blast beats and heaviness, hitting you like cold rains. In that way Nelecc shows its diversity and potential, Wonderfully hazy, dreamy and yet resonating broadly. It’s a record to listen to, now.

Final song ‘Amidst the Mist’ is an eulogy, a farewell with longing to a place of magic. It’s one you wouldn’t want to leave with the lo-fi sound and pools of sonic magic.