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 GreyAura 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.
Granted, I’m not the first one to coin the phrase ‘New Wave of Dutch Black Metal’, but Dutch black metal music is definitely on the rise as was shown by the Roadburn line-up this year (2017) with many of the better bands from this country.
Though the scene is rather small, there’s a quite some high-quality output by bands like Laster, Nihill, Cirith Gorgor and many more. They represent different aspects of the black metal spectrum, so I wanted to look at some releases in that light in this article. I chose some releases that came out recently and that I would like to cover. This way I can put them in a slightly different light of the new wave of Dutch black metal, because I think there’s a lot of amazing homegrown music coming out.
Into the Out there with Dodecahedron, Laster, Terzij De Horde and Gnaw Their Tongues
Dodecahedron has recently released their second album, titled ‘Kwintessens’. A philosophical concept about the essence of things, the band moves in the footsteps of other acts for the thinking man like Laster, Nihill and Terzij De Horde. Inspired by literature and philosophy, amongst probably many other things, they deliver a type of black metal that moves beyond it’s common boundaries.
Doing this in a most effective and musical way, we find Terzij De Horde as one of the leading Dutch acts when it comes to stage performance, solid shows and captivating music. Sure, their music is not breaking the bonds of genre definitions, but definitely moves away from the traditional subject matter and has no need for frivolities. Their album ‘Self’ from 2015 showed the band shedding a former skin and for future music I expect nothing less from this band. Also, they are known for their distinctly awesome live performances, in which they surely deliver the quality that you would wish for (not a regular thing in the black metal world sadly). Bravely the band also went in the direction of literature, with a tribute release for the poet Henrik Marsman, who passed away 75 years earlier.
Laster is a band that you can find plenty of information about. Their music is a torrent of the absurd. Playful and somewhere touching upon the Carnavalesque in a Rabelaisian sense. Masked men deliver some of the most beautiful, peculiar sounding black metal in a long time. Surely the dissonance and harrowing screams are still there, but encapsulated in sounds that are pleasant, meandering and more accesible. It keeps surprising you, particularly the latest album ‘Ons Vrije Fatum’.
Grotesque at times, but also dauntingly experimental, the record of Dodecahedron incorporates various elements to create a mesmerizing display of force. Fronted by the legendary Michiel Eikenaar from Nihill, they have a confrontational and powerful live presence. Acts like these, with elements of experimental music, postrock and even jazz really show the far extents toward which black metal can still grow. Nihill did it with noise and industrial, Terzij de Horde used screamo. Long live the experiment.
Beautifull arches and passages are painted with sound, but tormented vocals with a demented urgency draw the listener away from the splendour into blast-beat-ridden turmoil only to wash up on beaches of ambient sound later. Call it avant-gard, call it progressive, it definitely pushes the boundaries. Fun fact is that part of Dodecahedron plays in Ulsect, a band playing a much more controlled and structured form of music. That contrast is one of the flattering things of the genre.
When we talk about acts that push the boundaries on the black metal genre, you have to talk about Gnaw Their Tongues and related projects by multi-instrumentalist Mories. If you take black metal and really distill it down to its essence, you pretty much get the music Mories produces. Eclectic, wild and horribly frightening, the use of samples, electronics and guitars becomes a very open field. The last album by Gnaw Their Tongues is a harrowing journey. ‘Hymns for the Broken, Swollen And Silent’ is the soundtrack to your nightmares. Musically this record shows the lack of boundaries for this musician. Interested? Check out his other projects Pyriphlegethon, Aderlating, Seirom and many, many more.
Sinking into the misery with Verwoed, Orewoet, Urfaust
Sometimes I like nothing better than to just sink into the layered swamp of sound that is atmospheric black metal. For me Verwoed is one of the best bands coming out of the woodwork in recent times. From the dissonant, bone-chilling opening riff onward, their album grabs you by the feels.
Amidst the whole waves of post black-metal and other deviations from the genre roots, it’s extremely comforting to have a band like Verwoed out there, playing music that is close to the wonderful original experience of black metal music (or atleast the one I had). It’s a feeling akin to much of the bands in the Cascadian corner (or whatever nice term they’ve conjured up these days for it), but lacks the focus on the natural realm. Verwoed focusses on the inwards emotions.
Another band I find is really similarly bewitching with beautifull riffs, swooping passages and an ethereal feal to the overal sound is Orewoet from the North of the Netherlands. Orewoet is a relative new player in the Dutch scene, who released ‘Afrodisiacum der Vroomheid’ last year, an EP that is worth your listening time for sure. Waves and waves of distorted black metal fold into eachother to create dreamy soundscapes to just surf away with.
To me the masters of the atmospheric sound and not just in the Netherlands are the drunkards of gloom, the clochards of Urfaust themselves. This band might be one of the most respected ones out there. The two member formula doesn’t allow for much intensity and complex layers, but does open a path to purposeful, fervent and incandescent sound. Their live performances are a stream of music, a wallowing experience for the listener, where immersion is like sinking into a swamp of debauched despair. On their last labum ‘Empty Space Meditation’, the duo pushes that envelope even further.
Let me entertain you with some underground tunes by Ashbringer, Wederganger, Laster, Wilderun and Eternal Khan. Hopefully you find something you dig in there.
Ashbringer – Yūgen Avantgarde Music
The name Ashbringer resonates to me due to the obviousl link to Warcraft. The name of the legendary blade is almost as enchanting as the music of this band, which is unique, atmospheric and grand, but always staying on the edgy. Their debut was ‘Vacant’, released in 2015, by the Minnesota group. That already intrigued me, but ‘Yūgen’ is a whole different beast. The group formed around Nick Stanger (Astral Blood, No Heroes, ex-The Broken Are Crowned), who decided to pursue his solo dreams. To my dismay I found that I never got around to penning some words about Ashbringers debut, but do check that out if you have a chance.
Deep melancholy oozes from the sound of Ashbringer. Its’s full on, blazing black metal, swelling up like a roaring fire and rolling over you, but in there is a layer of synths. Those create that feeling of magic. The band is also not afraid to add folky elements to the music, not necessary hidden behind bushes of distortion, but offering an intermezzo in a track (even the opener) or soaring high throughout a song like ‘Oceans Apart’. It adds a postrock vibe to the atmosphere that Ashbringer delivers, but the twangy steel sound of the guitar on that song takes it somewhere else. It places the band completely on its own path. I think you can compare them to a Deafheaven, Woods of Desolation and ilk, but to me on ‘Yūgen’ the band has found their own sound, which is distinct. As the Asian word they chose as title indicates, it’s mysterious and profoundly expressing a sort of suffering. This is a glorious record.
Laster/Wederganger – Split Ván Records
Laster is a Dutch band, earlier I discussed their previous release. That was an experience in itself, there’s a poetic side to the bands sound and words. On this new ordeal, the band unleashes a song that lasts close to 20 minutes. ‘Vederlicht Verraad’ is their contribution to this split, so I’ll split this review up as well. There’s something unorthodox about this track, mainly on the rhythm section, which sounds almost like wooden drums. Full on salvo’s are unleashed, but there’s a continuous measure of control to the sound, as if the band tempers the energy they unleash. From there the band slowly works towards a repetition that slowly dulls the listener, bringing on a trance that is ended by the harsh buzzing noise that remains at the end of the track.
Wederganger is a whole different beast. Steeped in the clay of their region, closely connected to more historical orientated bands and up for a bit of dirty, grimy black metal, this will not be a pleasant experience. Their song ‘Klaroenen van den dood’ translates as ‘trumpets of death’ (roughly). It opens with a languid, sizzling riff that electrifies your spine. There’s a feel of something looming in this track, it never really gives you a moment of peace and calm. The ghoulish vocals are accompanied by a galloping rhythm, that keeps a slow melodic pace. Rattling drums crawl under a soaring, buzzing guitar riff that sounds really like it’s charged heavily. Clean vocals in Dutch chant about death, it’s a typical morbid day in Wederganger land.
Eternal Khan – Lost in the Night of Ages Independent
I think that Eternal Khan is the musical equivalent of taking a bat to the face, that’s how intense the Providence black/doom metal band comes across on their second full lenght ‘Lost in the Night of Ages’. The band takes on themes like absurdity of man’s existence, which does intrigue me. The artwork and other promises also suggest that there’s an element of mythology to the band. On previous covers a Mongolian warlord is depicted, hulking and brandishing weaponry. That feels different on this album, with a more fantasy like creature adorning its front.
The feel of the magnificent riffing might be dirgelike, there’s an urgency and commanding element to the steady horse-back galloping riffing on the record. Maybe I’m just interpreting the ‘khan’ title in the album, but the threatening tone is more than just creating a languid atmospheres. In that militant element, there’s definitely a wink at Satyricon you could suggest. Vocals are much more barked and guttural and there’s definitely more of a stomping feel to the doomed up beats. Still, this is no step back in black metal history, this is a record in its full right, exploring a new avenue from that direction. It’s brutal, atmospheric and one big pit of swirling chaos. I only miss the real mythological elements that everything seems to hint at.
Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth Independent
I’ve kinda left Wilderun for what it is for quite a while, untill I saw it pop up on some EoY lists here and there. The lustrous green hills on the cover did attract my eye, so I finally decided to give it a spin. Expecting something akin to Wildernessking I was surprised by the sound of this Boston group. The Americans produce their own specific sound of folk metal with symphonic elements. Now, this is a slippery slope that might lead up to a massive cheese fest of tacky, over the top metal music, but these guys manage to pull it of. Time to dig in and listen to the majesty that is Wilderun.
Combine the penchant for the dramatic storytelling of Turisas with the grandeur of musical brilliance of Opeth and you have a pretty adequate description of what the sound of this group is. Vocally and lyrically the work of Evan Anderson Berry is very strong and theatrical, but a bit too slick for my tastes. The same goes for the bombastic arrangements. When finally a shreddin guitar enters the fray on ‘The Means to Preserve’ I think I sigh audibly every time. Equally for the more gruff vocals by the way, but I can’t escape the notion that this is a majestic record, filled with grandeur and beauty of it’s very own kind by a band who are masters at their craft. It’s grandeur and picturesque nature remains unsurpassed and this is indeed a great album that I would recommend to those who like their music epic and sountracky.
Once more I’ve tried to pick out some new interesting records from the underground to inform you of what is out there. This time I’ve got for you Sea Witch, Drudkh, Laster and Frown.
Sea Witch – As Above (demo 1)
I like the band name Sea Witch. It immediately feels like one can easily get into the greatest depths of doom. The bottomless sea and its many mysteries forms a great basis for a band that plays the clean and deep sound of the abyss, like Sea Witch does. The band from Nova Scotia incorporates atmospheric black metal, drone and a pinch of folk into their ‘nautical doom’. Inspiration obviously comes from the sea. There’s also a video released recently.
The full demo can be listened to on their bandcamp and is part of a series of two, the second titled ‘…So Below’ (like you didn’t see that one coming). The element ‘nautical’ is fairly important here, since it inspires the distinct sound the band demonstrates. There’s a threatening element to the sound, something looming in the dark. The slow sound is clear but full of reverberation. The listener loses sense of up or down on ‘The Atlantic’. Or the slow and atmospheric ‘Out Of The Depths’. It’s a haunting and wonderful experience, to get submerged in their music.
Drudkh – Eastern Frontiers On Fire
Drudkh from Ukraine has never shied away from a little provocation in their words and titles. Obviously, the dangerous NSBM tag has been mentioned in relation to the band. This record is a collection of songs from the EP’s ‘Anti Urban’ and ‘Slavonic Chronicles’ and their work released on the split the band did with Winterfylleth “Thousands of Moons Ago / The Gates”. Slow mesmerizing black metal opens on ‘Fallen Into Oblivion’, followed by the jangling ‘Ashes’. The tracks feel grey and dry.
The tracks ‘Tam gdzie gaśnie dzień… (Sacrilegium cover)’ and ‘Indiánská píseň hrůzy (Master’s Hammer cover)’ are more raw, but brought in an unmistakable Drudkh way. The slow, cascading sound has an epic quality and atmosphere to it. The atmosphere is like the far lands of Ukraine on a dusty summer day. What no one seems to wish to get into is the title of the compilation, which is a clear reference to the current situation. It is unclear to me why only the title and probably cover refer to this. That does however not diminish the beauty of the music that Drudkh shares us. It does serve as a reminder of the harsh place the origin of their sound has become.
Laster – Die Verste Verte Is Hier
The Utrecht atmospheric black metal band Laster has released their debut album with four tracks, seemingly lasting forever. Their slow and dense sounding tracks have little agression in them and focus mainly on a cold and thought provoking atmosphere. The lyrics are in Dutch and have a wonderfull poetic quality to them.
‘Tot de tocht ons verlicht’ is a torrent of sound, swirling around the listener who will get the feeling depicted on the cover of the album of falling down through this haze. The sudden clean singing marks a shift to more shoegaze-like atmospheres. There are some industrial elements towards the end of the track. ‘Mijn Masker’ is much more furious and hectic, though maintaining the static, sonic layers of sound. Screams pierce the cloudy sound, creating an grim atmopshere of depressing and dark sound. The music ebbs away, giving room for gentle piano play which wraps up this intriguing track. ‘De Verste Verte Is Hier’ stands out with its gothic chanting and postpunk/shoegaze rhythm. Howling vocals and clean sounds mark those influences even more in what is the most dreamy song on this album. The impressive sound of Laster makes them clearly an intriguing band to take heed of.
Frown – The Greatest Gift To Give
Though I have to admit to finding the name Frown a bit awkward, the unique sound of this band was quite impressive and captivating. The raw and abbrasive vocal style is what stands out most. After the prayer bells sound, the opening riffs of ‘Trial By Ordeal’ storm in with a kolossal strenght. The nasal and barked vocals of their singer reminds the listener of primitive black metal. The sound lacks the muddy, full sound of a sludgy doom band. It’s really the atmosphere that counts and the reverb in the guitar sound.
‘Harpocrates Unborn’ is a reference to the God of Silence of Greek mythology. The venomous dripping sounds that open up the track are a prelude to the gloomy sound that the guys produce. A dark and mesmerizing descent into despair follows. Apparently it takes up more muscles to frown than you need to smile. That says something about the complexity the band looks for in their different and unique sound. The Australians blow distorted and gravelling guitar sounds through the thrudging doom of ‘Cold Gail That Blows My Lonely Grave’. The slow and droning track is calm but full of this feeling that something wicked this way comes. ‘Offering’ closes the record with an almost ten minutes lasting drag that would not be amiss on a Sabbath album.