Label: Inferna Profundus Records/Rat King Records Band: Living Altar Origin: Lithuania
Blood upon the Altar
I first read about LivingAltar in Forgotten Path Zine. As it stands, the band has been around for a bit, but it took some time get a release out. After a demo and split release, this is their first album and it’s some pretty strong stuff from the Lithuanian group.
The trio has had some experience apart form Living Altar. They played in Regressive and Fuck Off And Die!, bringing a bit of speed and thrash to the mix that makes up Living Altar. Their inspiration is drawn from a psycho-spiritual world, making the band an interesting group.
‘Blinding Shower of Light’ is indeed much like a shower, pouring down on you visceral and vicious black metal. The rigid riffing finds contrast in the bestial drumming and battle-hungry vocals. A clear thrash influence can be detected early on in the songs when the guitars wail and scream. A different vibe is available on ‘Invert the Hearts’, which jangles and wallows in twangy guitars, that emit a more punky feel (like early Norwegian bands) with perhaps a bit of the current Polish bands atmosphere-wise. A strong moment on the record.
The recording quality is exceptionally good, but clearly muddled and dulled in production to create a certain lo-fi sound. Living Altar needs to sound primitive, it fits the brutal pummeling on the drums and frantic use of cymbals on tracks like ‘Dawn of Shadows’. They’re not renewers of the scene, but they are feisty worshippers of filthy, fierce black metal. That they deliver with conviction and fury.
This band brings a raw, feisty sound. They do it well and with power, so check them out.
Label: Casus Belli Musica/Beverina Band: Claret Ash Origin: Australia
Claret Ash is a black metal band from Australia and like most of those, they’re a bit different. The band has not been around that long yet, but have released two full-length records in the past. It seems that they’ve been experimenting a bit with their sound lately with a single and the EP, titled ‘ The Great Adjudication: Fragment One’.
The band appears to have a connection with Immorium, having had two members of this black metal band in their ranks. The Canberra act makes some interesting music and doesn’t follow the more well-trodden paths in their music, which is melodic and atmospheric. Time to dig in.
Ever opened the door and then got a full burst of sand or snow blown into your face? Well, that’s what pressing play for ‘Essence of Fire’ does for you. The song blasts off with those tremendous tremolo guitar riffs and roaring vocals. Much more surprising is the clean singing on ‘Devolution’, which takes on a melancholic, sensitive sound. The group is compared to Der Weg Einer Freiheit, and during the more energetic, angry parts I get it. I really do, but there’s something more to Claret Ash than that, which is where they become particularly interesting.
A track like ‘Plague Bearer’ then has a remarkable quality of ominous melody and atmosphere. A sinister threat, looming over you with big, hard-hitting drum salvo’s and particularly dire guitar parts unfolds. There’s little present in the way of cold, northern black metal, but a very particular sound. You feel their sound come up to the bottom of your stomach, resting there, slightly giving of tremors to make you feel wildly uncomfortable. Perhaps there’s something of an oldschool death metal vibe in their sound too, something less condensed into a particular genre. That’s definitely something you feel on ‘The Geir’, with clean singing and slow, doomy parts.
An album to dig into and explore continuously. Not that there’s a hidden layer to it, but it simply keeps being interesting.
A while ago I listed interesting black metal bands from the Netherlands, in what I planned to make an ongoing series. I surely missed out on one band there, because Hellevaert sounds like one hell of a sonic experience. Their album is self-titled, the name being the antonym of the Dutch word for Ascension day (which would be Hemelvaart, the journey to the heavens). I’ll let you make the translation by yourself.
Inspired by the likes of Dante Alighieri and Milton for their album, they draw up a tortured realm of dystopian proportions. The music has been enriched with samples and has not got the classic black metal feel. This is more crafted, less organic and more the creation of one brain, happening to be frontman Serpent. I know little more concerning the band, which helps to keep up the mystery.
The music is explosive, with intents blast beats and riffing that plows over you without any symptom of mercy. Apart from strange spoken samples, there’s little respite for the listener. The extreme and violent sounds rain down upon them, coalescing into massive slabs of black metal. Notable are the warped operatic vocals on ‘Hell And Apocalypse Await Eden’, which soars over the lo-fi sounding music at the start of the track. Samples from the Paradise Lost opera by Krzysztof Penderecki fill the gaps in the music.
The haze sometimes has peculiar fingerpicking guitar work breaking through the fog, like a rare sunray it is instantly noticeable. Probably due to the constant hemorrhaging fury of the music, which creates a landscape so desolate and full of grief. This must be the inferno. At times, Hellevaert approaches an almost cinematic quality with the cut and paste elements. You hear it on tracks like ‘Great Beast Of Tormenting Trials’, where jittery electronic music, samples, and explosions make up a hellish, almost Hieronymus Bosch-like soundscape. The band sounds strongly like a studio creation, but that’s where its strength lies.
Hellevaert delivers one hell of a record, that might be a bit too much in one bite. Enjoy it nonetheless, as you journey into the abyss.
Label: Hathenter/Giliad Media Band: Krallice Origin: USA
How do you even get to this level of productivity, without slacking somehow in your quality? I have no idea how they do it, but here’s the new Krallice, titled ‘Go Be Forgotten’. It’s their second full length of 2017 and one hell of a record, mixing jazzy noise with black metal and hardcore-sludge or whatever.
The band has sort of just released ‘Löum’, together with Dave Edwardson from Neurosis. You’d say that we may have slightly recovered from that piece of work. This is the latest and it actually made it to various end of year lists. Good on you guys, I’d say. I was just a bit baffled after listening to it because these New Yorkers rarely make for an easy listen.
It seems like Krallice is moving in the direction of noise or even something akin to industrial, with the gritty beats on ‘This Forest For Which We Have Killed’. A solid layer of bass forms, like a curtain of pulverized glass or construction residue. Beyond that layer is space, for the vocals to bark into the void. Relentless aptly describes the flow of fury that Krallice directs at the listener. Frantically paced and never opening up for a breath, the band sounds more and more like a blend of hardcore, noise and black metal to me.
Remarkably, a grand experience can also be a part of that violent, abrasive sound. The title track embraces big arches and soaring synths. The wide contrast opens up a whole new space for Krallice to play in. The sound explores restlessness, dynamics, and complex structures, sometimes verging on jazz even? The 10-minute onslaught of ‘Ground Prayer’ for example, seems to meander from different pace as much as in intensity, with every new measure, while the vocals keep insistently barking at you.
Krallice may be one of the most intense and surprising bands out there and like every one of their records, this may take you some time to wrap your head around.
The Latvian black metallers Eschatos have in my opinion never made a bad record. Sure, their production is not as high, but if you bring out stuff like ‘MÆRE’, I think we’re fine. It’s the third release by the band, that calls Riga their home and has had a steady line-up since 2012.
Interesting enough, this is their first EP. Maere offers a new look and feel to the band, driven more towards the artistic connections of the band members perhaps. More a voice of themselves, with a cover that stands out in a black and white adoring scene. Perhaps we are seeing Eschatos rise from the cocoon of the last few years here and find a unique voice in the black metal landscape.
This is immediately clear on ‘Luminary Eye Against The Sky’. The music works more as a flow, with a particular glow, seemingly moving in a more post-metal direction. The harrowing vocals of singer Kristiāna Kārkliņa are still there to raise the hair on the back of your neck, but it’s Marko Rass who really colors the sound with effects, keys, and even organ sounds. A slight folky element seeps into the song at the intro already. It’s the core of the music that changed most though, dynamic drum work by Edvards Percevs and a throbbing bass by Tomass Beķeris make the world of difference.
Guitars do much to even put more feeling and drive in the sound. Edgars Gultnieks, formerly of Grondh and also active in Protean, knows his stuff. Mārtiņš Platais, also in Pulse of Nebulae, adds work on guitars, bass, and keys to the whole array of sound as the producer. That wealth of instruments is particularly clear on the second part of the album, titled ‘The Night of the White Devil (part I, II & III)’. A big piece, filled with elements of postrock and even proggy sections as the suite spirals forwards, exploring various musical directions on its way. An interesting fact is that the mastering was done by DanSwanö, perhaps explaining the clear and melodic sound of the record. The second song is definitely a big masterpiece, where Kārkliņa can demonstrate the full range of her vocal talent.
This is Eschatos at its best this far, I love it. MÆRE offers a journey that is exciting, every step of the way. Full of surprising elements, but in all its variety always coherent in its majesty.
Auðn is that one band from Iceland with members that are not a part of every other band. Yeah, the island of ice and snow has a unique, small black metal scene, with passionate musicians. These gents have been active since 2010 and now are finally returning with their second album. ‘Farvegir Fyrndar is an absolute gem in the modern black metal landscape and from its artwork to sound oozes a unique flavor.
Not just within the black metal realm is Auðn a noteworthy name, even within the Icelandic scene they stand apart. Their first self-titled album came out back in 2014 and in my humble opinion, it simply stands apart from the scene at large thanks to its refinement in the sound of the Hveragerði band.
There’s something vibrant and lush in the music of Auðn. Their atmospheric music often simply relies on generating just that, the feeling of an environment full of life and with a flourishing energy to boot. At times the band can sound utterly melancholic, like on ‘Skuggar’, but the best version of the Icelanders to me is when they create such a throbbing, invigorating burst of energy and warmth. This is what you get on ‘Lífvana Jörð’. The piercing vocals of Hjalti Sveinsson have a fire in them that really hits the mark.
‘Prísund’ is another stand-out track, because it utilizes the wall of guitar, that creates the sensation of rain. Coming down like showers, on one of those miserable days when everything feels grey. At times Auðn moves in an even more and more postrock-defined direction, pushing together the elements to create an almost tapestry of sound. Then a slight tremolo shimmer emerges in the pattern and shakes it all apart again.
It’s a remarkable record, that shows how the right soil produces greatness.
Stephen Lockhart is a man of dedication and after leaving his native Ireland, he has hooked up with the Icelandic scene ever since. The man played in Sinmara but has also returned to his own project RebirthofNefast after almost 10 years. The album ‘Tabernaculum’ is an extraordinary work of art and one that has been in the making for years due to the desire of Lockhart to make something monumental.
Rebirth of Nefast has not released a full length before ‘Tabernaculum’, but a demo and a split. Lockhart has in the meantime also played in Myrkr, the epic Wormlust and Haud Mundus. There’s a reverie with which to approach a record, that took so much honing of the craftwork to make. I feel awed by it’s magnitude and force, but what a great listen it is!
Great, but not easy, because ‘The lifting of the Veil’ opens with an 11-minute bombardment, introduced with eerie tones, which surges over you like a tidal wave. As the abyss itself slowly unfolds, the warped, guttural words creep out. Whispers and soft picked notes create an even more dense atmosphere as if fumes rise up and envelop the listener. And then… you go off into the deep end with Rebirth of Nefast.
The trick is not to rely on sheer ferocity, but the suggestion of that. When this band has swallowed you whole, everything starts to sound huge and foreboding. Sure, when ‘The First Born of the Dead’ kicks of, the blast beats are heavy and hitting where it hurts, but they’re balanced, controlled and carry the atmosphere with them. The sound simply flows, like a dark horde in the night. Full of strength, but never needing to fully put it on display, the record is one of the best things I’ve heard in a while.
Closer ‘Dead the Age of Hollow Vessels’ feels ashen grey, full of vitriol and with a mild hint of melancholy. It’s all there on this album, ready to be absorbed into your bloodstream and cool your heart.
Label: Gilead Media Band: Yellow Eyes Origin: United States
In the cabin of Yellow Eyes
I don’t know every band, but sometimes names just keep hanging in that ‘need to listen to’ list. I never got around to YellowEyes, but the frequency of them being mentioned around me definitely makes me excited to get into ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’. The latest album by the New York group, two years after their last effort ‘Stick With Bloom’.
Featuring Mike Rekevics of Vanum, Sleepwalker and FellVoices, expectations rise. Other Yellow Eyes members play in various other projects too. This means that this band is a particular project with a clear sonic direction. For recording this album, the band went into a cabin in Connecticut and stuck with similar methods as on their previous album. Yellow Eyes are not an iconoclastic breaker of bonds in the black metal scene, but they definitely are pushing the genre in new directions. This new record is a testament to that.
The inspiration for this album was also drawn from a visit to Siberia. After the gentle sounds of the bells ringing out over a sleepy town, the record launches in earnest with ‘Old Alpine Pang’. The guitar sound offers an urgency, a need for movement and action. The tremolo playing style and high notes give a sound that is slightly of the beaten path for the listener. The tortured screams are a bit muddled away in the mix but stick to a more traditional expression. The band likes to put in some atmospheric interludes here and there, that convey an otherness. An almost ritualistic vibe, which expands in songs like ‘Blue as Blue’, which is a vibrant, bombastic assault.
At times you could really put this band in the post-black metal corner, thanks to its smooth flow and post rocky vibe, but every time you feel getting comfortable the fun ends. Blistering guitars and frantic blast beats hit you with an uncanny ferocity. The field recordings from Siberia in between tracks offer moments of respite, before the doom and gloom of a tune like ‘Velvet on the Horns’ launches once more into big, arching glory. Sometimes the band sounds truly estranging and off-beat. It works in making the listener feel a bit more uneasy. Fortunately, the traditional black metal assaults in torrentuous force are still just as much a part of the Yellow Eyes sound.
Yellow Eyes combines forward-thinking, almost experimental black metal with the traditional narrative. That makes them exciting and daring. The use of the field recordings adds an organic vibe to the complete image. A great piece of music for sure.
Label: Shadowplay Records (album released independently) Band: Isa Origin: Russia
It seems that Russian act Isa has now determinedly started to move away from their black metal sound on ‘Небо в солёных колодцах’, which translates as ‘The Sky in the Salty Wells’. Not only in sound, but also in artwork and track titles. From the first release onward, Isa numbered their tracks in a continuous sequence, stringing the songs on four releases together into one descriptive piece of art detailing the pastoral Russian country life.
Previous releases would feature covers with landscapes. An almost still life of rural life depicted on them. This record shifts to a new dimension, where it seems like the human aspect takes the forefront. The cover features a collage of images of people land and nature, cut and paste together in an odd manner. It feels like a logical next step in the career of this Novosibirsk band, who constantly amaze with their beautiful music.
The result is a shimmering, brooding record full of melancholy. It is as if the winter has covered all the land, all life, and passion submerged by the mercy of a white blanket over its soil. Warm tones creep by, never really taking on any sort of force. The drums sound muffled, buried in the music that flows like a warm bath. Noteworthy is the collaboration with Lesnoy Tanets on the track ‘Poplars’, where hushed vocals speak raspy words over
On ‘Blind Man’ it is as if an accordion is woven into the sound. It feels folky, but also hazy. Almost as if you’re listening to memories of the past in abandoned streets. Yet, streets where only the ghosts of a better time dwell. The gentle murmurings never feel urgent. The music progresses slowly, which feels a lot like the daydreaming on a winters day, staring out over the frosty landscape. The melancholic sound of Isa is a mellow swamp of keyboards, guitars, and drums, all melting together. As a result, the music becomes an immersive dream. Melancholic and cold, most noteworthy on ‘Singing Skyline’ with its wonderful intro, is a highlight.
Isa has made a remarkable new album and found a direction to explore musically. I’m keen to hear what new works may come in the future, but this one is a record to keep coming back to.
Books I read recently by Coetzee, Murakami, Becket and Ikäheimonen on black metal, barbarians, women, and men that are waiting.
J.A. Coetzee – Waiting For The Barbarians
I started this book on a whim and rather soon I was captivated by it. It’s not a pretty book, in fact most of it is rather grim and the main character only really finds any shine at the end or in his suffering. Before that, you merely sympathize with the sad figure he is. What I like most, is that this story to an extent feels relevant to today. Not in the sense that there is still uncharted ground with wild tribes about, but in the need for one people to tell another how to be and how to live. This, unfortunately, has not changed over time I fear. The writing is quick paced and miraculously evokes images more than it describes.
The story takes place in a border town. Regardless of how you read it, it’s an imperialist force at work, trying to subdue the world and telling the ‘savage’ what is right and what is wrong. Sounds familiar? I read this as if it concerns Brittish colonialism, but this goes for most of those forces. The magistrate of the town welcomes a military man, who is investigating the tribes. He then goes and captures a lot of these tribesmen, tortures them and then leaves. The magistrate feels an affinity with one crippled woman left behind and feels all his previous views of the world break down in the sleepy border town. His world changes then. This book is a good read, I recommend it to anyone.
Tero Ikäheimonen – The Devil’s Cradle: The Story of Finnish Black Metal
Finnish black metal is something else. It’s dirty, raw and violent, much more intense in a way, compared to their western neighbors. When the history of metal is written, the country is often overlooked but that is about to change with this fantastic book by Tero Ikäheimonen, who tracks the history of the genre in Finland through a string of bands that made it what it is today. He does this through interviews, which are lengthy and sincere.
From Barathrum, Beherit and Impaled Nazarene to the stranger bands that still are active in the scene, this is a work that may not be complete but gets close to painting a total picture. The author sometimes doesn’t manage to really pierce the surface with bands and get to the bottom of things, but that leaves the band as they chose to be. Personally, I was disappointed to not see the build-up towards the nazi-question concerning Satanic Warmaster remain unanswered. Ah well, can’t win ‘m all. Anyone who is into black metal should have this. Really.
Haruki Murakami – Men Without Women
In this book with short stories, Murakami seems to explore the relationship between men and women and what happens when it’s separated. Not as in lost to one another, but more as if there’s a glass plate separating the two. The Japanese setting often feels slightly alien to me, which makes the stories more significant and poignant, because it’s not really in the book but in the back of my head where this alienation takes place. The loneliness and alienation is embedded in the protagonists that walk the pages of this short story collection, which was published in 2017. Interestingly enough, that is 90 years after Hemingway released a collection of similar stories under the same title.
Like the critics said about Hemingway’s stories, there is a certain vulgarity to the characters in the books. Their humanity shines through in every expression and act. Their banal activities all seem so exhaustingly significantly when Murakami illuminates them with his pen. Where further deduction might lead to finding a common denominator through the stories, I think it’s more the overall feeling that they leave with the reader. It’s a sense of recognition, of looking into a mirror that shows the flawed nature of us men when we are without women. Maybe it shows women the same, like the Platonic split whole human, we are simply not complete when we are on our own (regardless of what sort of partnership, gender or orientation, this works in all cases).
Samuel Becket – Waiting For Godot
I’ve had this book on my reader for a while and finally got around to checking it out. It’s not the longest bit of reading, but as this is a play, the form requires a different form of focus on the words and acts that occur. The story is an absurd tale of two men, who are waiting for Godot. It’s not clear who Godot is and why they are waiting, but they keep asking eachother random questions, trying to figure out the nature of their situation. The story is circular as in that it repeats the same pattern over 2 nights, where they wait and Godot doesn’t show. Another character shows up with his mute servant, who they seem to clash with in a particular manner, but nothing really leads them anywhere.
The peculiar thing about this story, is that it is completely open. Interpret it as you will and experience it whatever way you like. I’m still not entirely certain what meaning I derive from it. For me it conveys a feeling of meaninglessness that the human condition is now in this time. We move towards a horizon that never emerges to find what we never find, because contentment has become a myth. That’s the faith of Vladimir and Estragon it seems…