Label: Signal Rex Band: NYIÞ/Old Burial Temple Origin: Iceland/Australia
Of all the Icelandic bands that work the dark arts, NYIÞ is probably the most elusive and mysterious. Sure, the members are traceable through the not so thick ranks of Icelandic artists, but their sound is a ritualistic, dark ambient music filled with gloom and foreboding. This split will be their fourth release in 7 years.
Australian formation Old Burial Temple is a one man project from the prolific musician, named ‘Old’. He’s also active in Drohtnung and Snorri, but various other projects are listed under his name too.
Eerie drones welcome the listener to NYIÞ. A sparkling sound falling through, creating a bright sound in the middle of the gloomy darkness of an eternal night. The music features strings and minimal effects from various instruments on the first track by the Icelanders, titled ‘Rót’. Harrowing screams emerge from far away in the deep void of behind minimal guitar play and the sound of the wind. ‘Iða’ follows, with somber and sonorous tones, with ragged flares of string instruments floating around, which generates the experience of an empty chapel or tomb. Ever crack or sound becomes a frightening disturbance, any shift a landslide. That is the power of minimalism and ritual music.
Old Burial Temple takes us below ground on ‘Movement XIII’, with frightening murmurings and samples, merging into a deep and disturbing drone. Clanging is audible in the distance, as an uncanny chanting picks up through the hazy fogs. The drums kick-off, but dwindle down instantly. The rhythm is slow, ominous, and feels less like a progression, but more like a prelude to doom. The intense banging and rattle work to unnerve with a continuous procession of harrowing sounds. Exceptionally effective, this side of the split.
Label: Satanath Records/The Eastern Front Band: Garhelenth Origin: originally Iran, now Armenia
Garhelenth must have a story to tell, since the band is on its third run, currently residing in Armenia after a spell in Georgia. The band now comes on with their latest record ‘About Pessimistic Elements & Rebirth of Tragedy’, which is quite the charismatic release if I may say so.
This is only the second full length for the band, which has been active since 2010. The duo is dedicated to creating true black metal, devoid of any trends or cool sounding niches like DSBM or blackgaze, yet they’ve been lumped in the depressive corner fairly regularly with their dark lyrics concerned with themes of morals and mental states.
An ominous, dark ambient intro with mad, cackling laughter welcomes the listener to the strange realm of this band. After that reception, we launch into it with the song ‘Destruction of the Will’, which sounds quite mellow in a sense. The music forms a continuous flow of ripping riffs that fit together as a fish’s bones in rapid succession. The peculiar chanting is a noteworthy feature, but almost every song has some oddity happening. It’s exactly that, which makes the band stand out a lot.
The barked vocals work well with the particularly melodic and emotive songs and the harrowing riffs on tracks like ‘To Impersonal Mankind’ really do their job. The almost whiny noise, sustains the negative that permeates the sound completely. I particularly enjoyed the slow, threatening pace of ‘Perspective of Exorbitant’, which is strong, powerful, but also on a steady pace full of lumbering drums and grand movements. Even some operatic singing is added to the mix in granting the duo an even more strong sound. An exceptionally strong record, with strong emotional overtones in a classic jacket.
Label: Out of Season Band: Sequestered Keep Origin: United States
Magical sounds, lost keeps
Like most dungeon synth artists, the man or woman behind SequesteredKeep remains a mystery. What I managed to find out, is that he/she is a metal music as well. This Barbarian Skull interview is probably the most information available. Check it out, they do great stuff. Anyways, the moniker Wanderer is used for the genius behind the project.
The logo of ‘Wandering Far’, designed by Dan Capp from Wolcensmen, and all previous records since ‘Might of an Ancient Tale’ looks very fitting. Sequestered Keep hails from Salt Lake City in Utah, so that much is clear. Remarkable, since the music reminds me of lush forests in ancient England more so. The artwork as well, though that is in Germany… A rocky ruin, called Drachenfells, painted by CasparScheuren in 1852. A fitting cover.
The sound of Sequestered Keep is clean and regal. Calm tones, that are more used like a paintbrush, than the angry sketching of a pencil. Everything smoothly flows into one another, from ‘Once a Warrior of Forestcloaked Mountains’onwards. This one feels like an indoor song, near a fire in ancient stone chambers of old castles. The gentle picking of a harp resounds, as the wavery synths come in. By the time you get to the title track, the sounds resonate in sonorous harmony and connect smoothly to display the outdoors, the wide-open world.
In a similar manner, the booming effect on ‘Firelight Swordshadows’, feels as if the darkness obscures the sound, hies it from a clear perception in shadows. We get more light-footed on ‘Elvenwoods’, where light pierces through the leafy, natural roof. One imagines as if here the gentle flutes are playing, in a bright mood. The next dish serves melancholy on ‘Battles in Falling Mist’, a slow and gentle tune with a certain calm grandeur to it, while never really expressing fierce clashes. Now we come to the special part, with a dungeon synth Bathory cover. ‘Hammerheart’ achieved a special place in many metal-fan hearts, therefore this version brings it to the very essence.
On a rainy wednesday night I headed to 013 in Tilburg. Originally I scheduled an interview singer and composer Chris S.R. from Schammasch for a chat about their music. Thee insanity of modern day touring made an interview simply too much for the Swiss artist. Still, I went to check it out, because Batushka is always a charm and I’ve never seen Trepaneringsritualen before.
Opener is that act from Göteborg, which uses beat driven industrial to bark defiance at the gods over. It’s a strange act in this line-up, but thanks to the dark, gloomy atmosphere it just works. The sole member on stage generates a sense of magic with a performance that is as much a ritualistic experience as a commander barking words at you. Yeah, that works together actually.
Then we await the mighty Swiss band, who have just released their latest record ‘The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite’. The EP format puzzles me since it seems to simply be a value judgment these days, more than a length indication. Regardless, a great listening experience after the opus magnus that is ‘Triangle’, with its 100 minutes of music over three records.
Schammasch starts of with drumming, setting the atmosphere of bombastic, grand music that combines black and doom elements with ambient and simple spoken word. Frontman Chris is adorned in a ritual garb and has his face painted black with gold. Call it an act if you will, it is more part of the message of spiritualism and art the band offers. Within the void of doom driven, rhythmic frames, the singer proclaims the words of Maldoror, with wide open eyes. The music stimulates your imagination, engages your body with the poetry of the Comte de Leautremont. The music simply immerses the listener, like a warm bath. As a frontman, the presence of Chris S.R. radiates conviction and strength, but also a remarkable absence of ego.
The set leaves you with an altered state of mind.
Then we head for the traditional orthodox mass, but turned onto its head. Batushka seems to struggle with some parts of the set-up but almost on time the band gets on the stage. Unfortunately, a draft blows out candles on one side of the stage, which the nameless priest tries to light anew a couple of times with no success. A guitarist gets stuck in the banner but once the band is settled, all that evaporates like snow in the burning fires of hell.
The sound of Batushka seems to have become more harmonious through the constant touring and the chanting has merged more and more with the black metal. That is good news because it makes the show even more captivating and removes the feeling that some moments are mere gimmicks. As a listener you simply allow the flow of the mass to carry you, with the bulky frontman as your impressive and confident guide.
In a haze of torrentous, though melodic black metal, Gregorian chanting and the smell of incense, one can truly experience the music of this Polish group of mystery man. The experience is good and complete, even with half the candles out.
Label: Unsigned Band: Blencathra Origin: United Kingdom
Blencathra is a hill in the north of England. A beautiful part of the country that immediately makes you think of the rich past the nation has. It’s also a band, that plays black metal with sole member Nicholas Fry in the lead. This is the first album, titled ‘These Bones Became The Roots of the Forest…’.
As an artist Fry, and therefore the sound of Blencathra is inspired by British bands like Fen, Winterfylleth, and Saor, which makes sense. The pictures he shares on Facebook show the landscapes that inspire a particular sound. Densely atmospheric black metal, with a slight sense of melancholy from the British Isles. You have to love that (and this awesome cover).
With a pleasant acoustic tune opening the album, we’re soon moving into a dense blanket of blackish metal. There’s a particular element of distortion in the sound that may not be to everyone’s appeal. It’s almost annoying how woolly the album sounds at times. That doesn’t take away the absolute beauty of a tune like ‘As the Shadows Rise’. Big blistering walls of guitar, but also the melancholic twangy intermissions that reverberate.
The meandering folk tunes now and then offer respite, like the haunting ‘Drifting Through Autumn Trees’. With only a distant cry of guitars, the song seems to give a little intermezzo, until a tide of distortion floods everything once more. For me, the biggest downside of this record is exactly that. The brisk nature sounds, samples, and acoustic parts are hauntingly beautiful but often drown in the reverb and distortion. It’s possibly a choice, but I’d like to hear a more crisp production Blencathra personally, so the riffs shine even brighter.
Ah, some proper Irish black/death fromt he crew of Beithíoch. The band hails from the north-west of the green Island and has been consistently pushing out records over the last few years. The band name translates as ‘beast’ or ‘animal’, which sort of matches their intense sound.
It appears as if the group has been trying to find a particular sound for their Irish roots, moving through different styles over the albums. This EP appears to be the next experiment in this long line of explorations, titled ‘ Storms of War’. It’s a short but powerful endeavor worth listening to.
What remains is a cavernous, lumbering monstrosity, that shows little to know subtle movement in this dense, atmospheric record. Opening track ‘Morrígan’ has slow waves of distorted guitar crashing into the listener as a crow caws. It’s more a dungeon synthy intro, before ‘The Jaws of Death’ launches in big, wavy fashion. The sound feels very dark, with a shadowy melody line emphasizing the way the sound seems to work within confined space. The song just barrels onward, showing little subtlety or nuance.
Once more, the track ‘Funeral Pyre’ introduces the final song.
‘Dornán Talaimh’ comes on like atmospheric black metal, with lingering and languid riffs. The vocals are almost a whisper from the abyss. The deep guttural barks that roared through the first half of the record have made room for calm and measured murmuring. It shows another side of the band in this way too short release.
Beithíoch spawns forth some creeping chaos on this EP, that will take you to some dark places.
I’ve written before about the magic that is murmur mori. The Italian nature worshipping folkers have now released a new album, that goes in a slightly more familiar direction with move singing and folky passages, but the ambient nature sounds and organic feel are still a large part of their sound.
The members of the Stramonium Collective earlier released the album ‘O’ and it was inspiring enough to try and learn more. Here you can read the interview I did with the group a while ago. It remains a fascinating entity to me and I’m very happy to be able to tell you about ‘Radici’.
The group takes the approach of music for children, which is an interesting approach but it makes much sense. Children are open to many things, to stories and sounds, to wisdom and knowledge adults may find trivial. It explains the more lively and vibrant sound of the album. Though the chanting on songs like ‘La Calza Rossa’ is calm and quiet, the music is driven with piping flutes. The singing sounds like something you’d easily join in with and that seems to be the point, the magic of the songs. The emotional vocals of Kuro Silvia on ‘Il Sole e l’Eremita’ are full of yearning and really touch the heartstrings. This album touches something of simple play and discovery, the child in our hearts.
The music on this album sounds uncomplicated, direct and therefore amazing. Making music that simply captures the listener is hard because it requires to strip it of useless ornaments. Sometimes a simple rhythm suffices, the other time a lingering melody. The song needs to carry the listener along and that is something murmur mori does very well on songs like ‘La Tomba del Busento’. The beat is what you latch onto. Every song on this record is inspired by Italian folksong or legend. That makes this record a journey in itself.
A recommended record for those who enjoy the calm of nature, simple instruments and pleasantly soothing songs. Check out murmur mori.
I didn’t come up with Ljosazabojstwa, but it’s by far one of the most exotic band names I’ve encountered. The band hails from Belarus and in a sense for many people this is as exotic as it gets since the mere mention of the country evokes a grey canvas of unknownness. This is the second release by the Minsk natives and it is titled ‘Sychodžańnie’.
The group is fairly fresh, having only started in 2013. The previous release was a demo titled ‘Staražytnaje licha’. The band likes to blend black metal atmosphere with some death metal swagger. This results in a sound that can probably be closest described by comparing it to Behemoth. Still, thanks to the Russian language there’s a special vibe to this group.
Ljosazabojstwa has a sound that is both clean and menacing but holds a death metal groove just as well. There’s also the odd classical experience, like on ‘Zhuba’, where the lone guitar player demonstrates his icy skill. Or that eerie organ intro ‘Pozirk u biezdan’, that sounds like it comes straight from a horror film in those glory days. There’s a deep, heavy groove to the menacing death metal riffs on the first track. It slowly waxes and wanes, like the heavy clashes of sea against the shores.
The deep, abyssal grunts of the vocalist really work well with that slow and steady sound. You’d almost put a doom sticker on this heavy, creeping sound when listening to ‘Piekla’. Spoken word parts fill up the blanks in the story, but soon we launch into the next assault of the song. Rapid, thrashing guitar play and that gravelly, intimidating sound speed up and slow down to beat at the listener. This is music to overwhelm, to strike fear into the listener with the continuous ominous vibe. The use of those synths is definitely striking on that front.
Though the sound of these Belarussians is pretty straight forward, they manage to display a lot of different facets. Various ways to absolutely crush any sort of opponents, to deluge their listeners in harsh, Belarussian swamps. An excellent piece of music with an exotic flavor to it.
Rimruna hails from Berlin and its two members are also active under the name Drangskapur. Rimruna has been active as a project since 2011 and this album is the second full length for the duo. The last one came out back in 2014. The title ‘Der Hatz Entronnen’ translates as ‘Escaped from hate’.
The music of Rimruna fits well into the German tradition of folk-flavored, atmospheric black metal. Thematically the band appears to have a particular fascination for the winter season. Much effort goes into the lyrics for this band it would seem. They are written in German, which might be a bit of work for you, but totally worth it. Being part of the Naturmacht stable, this group fits right in with their sound.
The dark folkloric sound is as dark cloud gathering and following you. Strong, galloping rhythms and drum rolls hit home, while the guitars seem to produce a thin but compelling sound of swooping dissonance. The gnarly vocals are as bent and twisted as old tree trunks sticking out from the snow, with the particular bite the language allows for.
The sound holds a clarity, which gives it a direct and melodic feel. On the other hand, it also makes particularly the rhythm section sound pretty raw and aggressive on a track like ‘Tor der Zeit’, where the melodies meander past, while the drums assault the hearing. That contradiction in sound is one of the great alluring powers of Rimruna, who truly drag the listener in all directions and often sound close to some of the blackgaze bands of these days. The sound is harrowing, but filled with melancholic melodies that take the listener along.
Still, the sound is rooted in raw black metal and that is what you get mostly. The tremolo guitar play on a song like ‘In Ewigkeit Versunken’ takes nothing away from that, but just makes the story and flow of the album so much more captivating and pleasant. This certainly is a good bit of music!
This is the third part, where I attempt to highlight some of the names that make up the blossoming (well, withering if you prefer that) Dutch black metal scene. Dutch zine Never Mind The Hype coined the phrase ‘New Wave of Dutch Black Metal’, due to the bookings at Roadburn last year. This prompted this investigation.
Black metal has its share of underground musicians, who work on their own, zealously producing music according to their own vision in relative isolation. Musicans that only release music through obscure means, like tape labels. Who remain faceless and don’t play live. Well, we have some gems in the Netherlands too. And I’m not jus talking about the dark wizardry of Mories with Black Mouth of Spite and Pyriphlegethon
Three numbered releases is all we can really tell about Kaffaljidhma, named after a distant star system. The musician Olibanum (that in turn is a type of resin) is inspired by the stars and his music sounds as distant and estranging as you might expect. Think of Mesarthim and Mare Cognitum, but then more underground, darker and at times barely audible through the grey noise. Releasing tunes on The Throat, the artist is also active in some other acts, but this one is definitely one of the most fascinating ones.
The Throat is a label with some unexpectedly, excellently odd releases and the latest effort by Himelvaruwe definitely puts them in that category. The sound approaches dark ambient or even just noise. A grey fog envelops the listener, who just sinks into the swamp that is Himelvaruwe. Occasional high pitched screams come through the fog, distorted and grim, but the weary drag really is getting you too much down to really look up anymore. Everything is grey and all is lost, that is the feeling this act evokes on the majest ‘CCIII’, give it a listen.
Another strange entity is Voidspell, who draw their listeners down into the pitch black of the absolute void with their noisy, abrasive sound. Let them take you along for an eternal trip into the endless with their debut release ‘The Eternal Voyage Through The Eternal Void’. A meandering descent with despair seeping into every note the band plays. It’s a spiralling fall with these guys, who sound truly dark and foreboding. A real recommendation!
For the one-man metal fan, there’s quite some gems to be found in the Netherlands. Another taste of ravishing grimness we get with Kraggsygh, a project that has been around for only a few years, but has been highly productive. A lot of releases, including this little gem with Russian band Wounded Orb. Sole bandmember Count Azathoth creates a gurgling, formless mass, a dark creeping sound that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Well worth your time again.
Dark artistry: Grey Aura, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Moenen
The band GreyAura from Utrecht is exploring the boundaries of what black metal can be. They are currently working on a four demo series, which will shape up to be a 2,5 hours piece to accompany a novel one of the members is writing. In the music they’ve integrated even flamenco music and traditional flamenco singing. The record is a mixture of fierce black metal, conversations and ambient passages. It says alot about the new direction some bands are taking the music in these days. Greay Aura is definitely turning this music into art.
The most peculiar and often misunderstood project from the Netherlands must be An Autumn For Crippled Children. In nine years the post-blackmetal band spat out 6 albums of the most harrowing atmospheric music. The band has been moving to a more postrock-orientated sound, which they do pretty well actually. This probably will alienate listeners, but their bandname was doing that anyways, so this is not for any real purists. It’s an engrossing sound , completely captivating and full of warm hope of this mysterious group, check out their latest to see if it’s something for you.
Another one that stood out for me is Moenen from Dordrecht. Moenen may not be one of those mysterious one-man metal bands in the traditional sense, but it is the side project of a Arminus member, creating atmospheric black metal with some synth elements. The sound is particularly smooth and mellow, but with an ever present dark edge. Moenen might not be that far out from what is common use of black metal these days, but there’s something really catchy to the sound. On bandcamp the krautrock tag is listed, which makes sense. Really worth listening to if you like some shoegaze with your black.
Stranger Gods: Solar Temple, Hellevaert, Slechtvalk, Cultus
Solar Temple worships at the altar of the otherness. They’ve just released a very first demo, with the song ‘Rays of Brilliance’. It’s out on Haeresis Noviomagi in conspiracy with Fallen Empire Records and offers something quite peculiar. The sound is a continuous barrage of lo-fi black metal, blasting and riffing away to get this static, continuous sound of hypnotic, psychedelic music. Pious chanting can be heard and ever so gently does the sound shift. Alluring and charming the listener into submission, this is a band that may be close to Urfaust on some fronts, but totally distinct in its otherworldliness.
From the southern part of the Netherlands hails the band Hellevaert and though the artwork might appear to be traditional in the Dutch black metal scene, we hear a distinct sound here. Blasting drums and wavery, melancholic guitars lead the way in a dreamy and dark descent on their debut album. There are no vocals most of the time, therefor the music needs to do the work and the storytelling.
On the song ‘Hell And Apocalypse Await Eden’ we do hear samples and some operatic singing, but mostly it is just music. The drums sound a bit computeresque, but overall this is something to just sink away in.
When we talk of stranger gods, the band Slechtvalk comes to mind. Regardless how you feel about a band implementing Christian themes, they were boldly different and bravely defiant of the norms in the black metal world. That Christian thing was actually never a thing, but it has tainted the band for the rest for their carreer. Unfortunately this happens. The band from Deventer plays black metal for a good 18 years now and has released many excellent albums. Sure, they’ve moved into a more viking metal direction, but their solid sound, excellent production and powerful presentation make them impossible to ignore. Their latest album came out in 2016 and though it is much more accesible, it sounds damn good in my opinion.
If we stick to these different divinities, other than Satan I mean, then Cultus definitely should be here. Not only are they one of the long standing names in Dutch black metal, yet they sound as roaringly angry on ‘Gezeteld in Zegeruïnen’ as they did 20 years ago. The themes of their music revolve around the old Germanic history. There was a period of inactivity before, but this album must be one of the most powerful releases in a while and it has a certain bombast and strength to it, that is hard to emulate. It feels epic and powerful, like a sky filled with thunder.
The Verdant Realm: Irrwish, Wilds Forlorn, Flooded Grave
Nature is a theme of worship in black metal. With longing we think of the dark forests of old and Irrwisch expresses that. The band name refers to the forest spirits of yore. You might considered the sound quite traditional. There’s a more to it though. There is a melancholy of beautifull melodies interwoven in the songs. The production left a lot of hazy noise in the songs, which really works on the slower parts. Irrwisch is like a black metal snow storm. It completely overwhelms you, batters you and cradles you in the heart of the natural realms at the very same time. They haven’t released anything since 2014. I’d love to hear more from this group from the Nijmegen region, releasing material on Those Opposed records in France.
Another band drawn to the wilderness is Wilds Forlorn. A one man project playing black metal from Utrecht with sole member Yuri Theuns (also active in Ascese and Eater of Souls). The band has been silent for a few years. Now with the single ‘Upon The Horns’ the project is back alive. A twenty minute epic with roaring black metal and classic piano intermezzo’s to boot. It sounds like a bit of a Primordial vibe on this release, yet that might be a bit far fetched to other listeners. Powerful, roaring passages with a visceral effect on the listner definitely hit home. We can definitely hope for more from this musician, it’ll be well worth it.
Final entry in this edition is Flooded Grave. A solo endeavour of Adonai Nero of Heavens Fall, also inspired by nature and myths. The band has not released that much work yet, but this tune is very promising. The latest release is an odd three way split record, which you can pick up from Zwaertgevegt. The band is very new, while sticking to traditional sound. Check this band out, because thisis good stuff!