Label: Tartarus Records Band: Grey Aura Origin: Netherlands
Grey Aura kind of dazzled me with their first release, which I reviewed for Echoes & Dust. The record series is based on a book, created by singer Ruben Wijlacker’s novel De Protodood in Zwarte Haren (The Proto-dead in Black Hair). The records are full of references to cultural pillars like Malevich, the De Stijl movement and this time in title with ‘ 2: De Bezwijkende Deugd’ also Gustave Flaubert.
Other references we read about in the bio are Rimbaud, Bataille, and Kandinsky. The record is also filled with field recordings and spoken word dialogues, done by professional voice actors. These complex efforts towards the narrative of the record are particularly noteworthy and grant Grey Aura an aura of the artistic and complex, which is reflected in their expressive live shows (which I enjoyed witnessing during the 2019 Roadburn festival).
The intro is a dialogue, spoken in terse, serious tones before we launch into ‘De onnoemelijke verleidelijkheid van de bezwijkende deugd’. The vocals of Wijlakker are something to experience, as they rip asunder any black metal cliché. He screams, bellows and then hoarsely speaks as a man lost to the listener as odd rhythms and sounds enter the song and transfigure it into something completely different.
Grey Aura doesn’t shun stepping far over their genre boundaries, as done on ‘Parijs is een portaal’. Mild Spanish guitar and a jazzy, fresh rhythm evoke the vibe of the Parisian nights. We even get some polka rhythm on ‘De Drenkeling’ a moment later, while the lyrics take the overhand in telling us the story, which you can find on the Bandcamp page in a more elaborate form. This grand canvas behind the record is what makes it all stick together, even if you don’t know about it. That is the absolute strength of this record in my opinion. It’s internal coherence and consistent delivery of surprising tunes. As you hit ‘Sierlijke Schaduwmond’ little remains, but gentle jazzy music and spoken poetry. Captivating, mesmerizing and enthralling the listener with occasional screams of fury and anguish.
The play ends with ‘De Drenkeling’, a spiraling song of despair, ending in a rigorous march with a fatalistic edge. Marching into the sea, into doom. What will follow?
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!