Label: Independent/Black Tapes Band: Grafjammer Origin: The Netherlands
Grafjammer has been hanging around Dutch graveyards and shady parts of harbors for a long while now, but only this year we can receive their second full length. The record, titled ‘Shalm & Schabauw’, contains primitive, violent black metal. The way you love it.
The band has members active in a variety of acts. From Wrang and Wesenwille to Kutschurft, it’s extreme all over. The group sticks to Dutch folklore and nautical themes in their music, which feels as vital as ever on this latest musical endeavor.
Oh yes, this record opens with the pounding punky beat you would be hoping for on an old-fashioned, raw black metal album. Tremolo riffs that immediately predict danger, violent vocals that spit venom. Grafjammer is the real thing, with their wonky, primitive sound on opener ‘Het Rottende Schompes’. The band can go to greater depths though, with the true visceral depravity displayed on ‘Drijvende Doodskist’, with vocals that sound truly demented.
With ‘Hijs het Lijk’, the band moves towards the more thunderous, almost doomy side of their sound. Still greatly enhanced by gritty sound and buzzsaw guitars, the song takes a slow pace full of rattling and noise. The lyrics rely on Dutch culture and tradition but bends and twist it to display a rotten core at the center of this. The results are grim and apocalyptic. If you manage to envision some paintings from the classic Dutch school, with Grafjammer playing, everything will turn to ashes.
Label: Independent Band: The Flesh Origin: The Netherlands
TheFlesh made their first appearance on the main stage during Netherlands Death Fest. I forgot who they were replacing, which is a good sign. It means I do remember the replacement very vividly. Though the lights could have been a better effort and the stage is really big for such an intense, threatening live act, they ruled.
Now, finally, you might say, the band has released their debut album. Titled ‘Dweller’, it’s one big jar of hot sauce with death and black elements and a lot of groove and thumping hardcore vibes. Featuring former members of Herder, BloodDiamond and Feast, no real surprise there I suppose.
The slow, crushing intro of the record is an instant hit on ‘Tot In Den Treure’, with that jangled, buzzing bass-line curdling up from below. When the band picks up the pace with those vitriolic, venomous vocals it’s a straight-up hell ride. They stick to a hardcore pace with songs clocking in under three minutes, as ‘Black Rain’ and ‘Siren’s Call’ ramble past at break-neck speed and intensity, with muddy, sludgy streams surging through the dense guitars and drums.
‘Dweller (In the Dark)’ is a truly harrowing track with a doomy premonition whispering through its cosmic horror-infused tunes. The inhuman roar on ‘Salax’ helps keep that vibe going onto the next half of the album, with that thick, death metal sound, barrelling onwards onto the high-paced ‘Thrones in the Sky’, where the bellowing vocalist takes the band to a whole new level of awesome and overwhelming. Full-on killer ‘A Knife To The Conformist’ is the closing cut for an excellent debut record. Where are you, label bosses?
Label: Haeresis Noviomagi Band: Iskandr Origin: The Netherlands
Iskandr is one of the odd ones out in the Dutch black metal scene and on ‘Euprosopon’ they’ve made the next step in complexity, atmosphere, and mystique. The album deals with the topic of the impossibility of an ideal man and the value of strife and heroism in an age of loss. They aim for medieval symbolism on this record, that stands as a timeless piece of art.
Iskandr is a project by Omar K., who is also active in Galg, LubbertDas, SolarTemple, and Turia. With this project, he explores more strange themes. The name itself is an eastern variation on that of Alexander the Great, which might explain some of that. This is the second album under this moniker.
The record opens much as a ritual, with slow, eerie passages and gentle prayer bells. Chanting emerges from the sides. Are we moving towards Clannad here? The guitars slowly turn dissonant, so I may be wrong as ‘Vlakte’ suddenly lunges into full speed with a remarkably melodic bit of riffing. There’s a subtlety to the sound, to the wavery riffing and the oft barely audible chants, woven into the texture of the songs Sure, there’s a working towards the summit of the song with violent turmoil and energy, but it is ever done with brute force, but smooth technical play. Much the same applies to ‘Regnum’, which contains some more mystique aspects and warm, upbeat sections. The vocals are commanding, but never full of venom, which is remarkably pleasant. I have to point out the Spanish guitar in the end as absolutely exquisite.
‘Verban’ is truly regal in its delivery. A slow-flowing tune, with grand movements and scapes, that lures you in effortlessly. The rattling drums emerge but sound as if covered by a blanket of atmospheric guitar play, dulling their crunch and submerging it into the overall shape of the song. Yet it is ‘Herlwalt’ that takes up that mysterious ending of ‘Regnum’ and weaves an oriental tune around it for close to 15 minutes, with an air of utter mystery and bewilderment for the listener. It is as if the band is taking you to a completely different place, with some truly abyssal black metal as an intermezzo of an obscure, religious meet. As if all fades, bewilderment remains.
Iskandr solidly establishes their name as a surprising obscure black metal band, paving their own way in the field with rich and atmospheric sounds, well worth checking out. ‘Eurposopon’ is a masterpiece in my book.
Label: Tour de Garde Band: Verval Origin: Netherlands
The Dutch black metal scene is brimming with life and creativity but lacks the exotic splendor of the Icelandic movement. I wonder if that is why so much of the creativity here is overlooked, by bands like Verval on their debut record ‘Wederkeer’. An explosively colored cover and fresh approach, that stirs the sound in a new way.
Members of Verval have been active in SeaofTrees, Nevel, Wrang, WhiteOak and notable name Laster. Having shared many projects, they’re obviously used to collaborating and adding vocals to this project is singer Galgenvot, known from some of the same bands. That makes the record a cohesive and well-conceived effort.
The intro to ‘Uit As Herezen’ is a folky, gloomy tune, reminiscent of a Game of Thrones tune. It takes some time for black abyss to open up and swallow you whole. Melancholic black metal with grand yearning blasts out, unleashing tremolo guitars, big, lumbering rhythms and wildly frantic passages of eerie black metal in a track that lasts over 13 minutes. There’s a certain pop-sensibility in the music of Verval, which is immediately audible.
The daring guitar in ‘Vervreemding’ particularly stands out with its haunting melody, but also clean sound. The riffs are clear and never muddled away in a haze of riffing as most common in black metal music. During a calm intermezzo, fingerpicking guitar play really steps away from the assault of a more common sound, creating some fragile beauty.
On the final track, titled ‘Diepten Eeuwig Zwart’, we get even more classical, hauntingly beautiful passages. The music spirals onwards endlessly as the poetic, profound lyrics are howled at the heavens.
Label: Heidens Hart Band: Uuntar Origin: The Netherlands
The Netherlands is flat, which is its distinguishing fact and trait. It also means that most of our predecessors were farmers, working the flat, endless fields… That’s what the cover of the new Uuntar album shows, which is aptly titled ‘Voorvaderverering’, which translates roughly as “ancestral worship”.
The record was on the shelf for a while, after being recorded in 2010 by Herjann (HeimdallsWacht, Cultus, ex-Countess, ex-Mordaehoth) and Nortfalke (Kjeld, ex-Lugubre, Tarnkappe, Standvast). In this project, they focus on a more pagan black metal approach with vast epic movements and a sense of the grand.
The record opens with meandering synths and tribal drums on ‘Intrede’, which translates as intro, so it makes perfect sense. Nature sounds enrich the pasture on which we tread, as the music slowly swells. There’s a sense of the dramatic in the atmospheric black metal tunes that open up ‘Een Germaansche Grafheuvel’. The flowing melody is not even overpowered by the blast beats and grim vocals, sung in old Dutch, and ever streams onward.
The vocals contain a trace of yearning and despair, as they beckon to the olden days of our ancestors. Praising and hailing them as from beyond the grave, which is what the title ‘Ganggraf’ refers to as well as ‘Lof op ‘t Hunebed’. Though the sound rarely shifts from its initial modus, the topic does on ‘Bloed om Bloed’, which is more battle ready and speaks of taking up arms against the enemy. The rhythm does punch harder and more densely, creating a more fierce and heated sound. An urgency takes over as the guttural barks bellow forth. German deities are appraised as we reach these calm, flowing pieces of utter static guitar play. An aural bath almost, with a heavy distorted sound form the strings.
The slow progression of ‘Uittrede’ (you can guess what that means) takes us back from the past to the here and now. With a sense of regret and forlorn emotions, we come to the end of this fantastic record by Uuntar.
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!
Thanks everyone for reading my ‘Sounds of the Underground’. It’s much appreciated, so here’s #25 with Graveworm, Murg, Witchsorrow and Fluisteraars.
Graveworm – Ascending Hate
Things tend to get back to you in time and bite you in the face it seems. Graveworm is one of the first extreme metal bands I got to hear and genuinely scared me at the time. Their album covers fascinated me, specially in the early days. Now, the Italian band is back with a death/symphonic/blackened explosion titled ‘Ascending Hate’, which to me sounds most like Cradle of Filth having a car crash with Therion.
The album is very well produced, which helps bring forward the symphonic and melodic elements in the music, which has soaring guitars and ambience enhancing keys playing throughout the songs. The harsh, barked vocals offer a contrast of brutality, together with the death metal barrage of guitars, but the bands doesn’t shy away from using their softer side when they can, like ‘To The Empire Of Madness’. There’s a beauty to this album, that unfortunately not the whole world will appreciate.
Murg – Varg & Björn
Fuck yeah, black metal the way it used to be made, that’s what I want! This album brings back the fury of the original second wave in the hand of this Swedish company. Blistering guitar play and a dense, northern atmosphre make this a well worthy ride, full of frostbitten grimness. These are songs with blast beats the way you love and cherish them, in full furious swing and high on energy. There over you hear the tremolo guitar play, reaching up to this static buzzing sound.
It is rather hard to find info on the band, but there’s a good interview out there if you are interested. To the sound, though it can be murky and harrowing, there is also a certain beauty and melodic nature to the sound, hidden underneath tones that speak of decay and morbididty. Big, wavy guitar parts speak in no uncertain terms of a grandeur and power of nature, which is an influence clearly to be felt in the music of this mysterious duo. This record brings back the past, but a bit more in its grandeur and passion. A next album might come into being, so I’m rooting for that one.
Witchsorrow – No Light Only Fire
Brittish doom lords Witchsorrow have a new one, which looks rather good on first sight. The eye does not lie with this record, but it’s not just doom. Opening title track is a jagged, heavy stoner anthem with a break neck speed. The vocals are restrained, as if the full power of the band is waiting to be unleashed as yet on this record, which happens on the thrudging ‘The Martyr’. The celebration of their 10 year anniversary is definitely one this three piece does by showing the full scale of their skills.
The slow and heavy part is definitely in order with these guys, who manage to combine that element with a certain hardcore vibe. All the sound is crisp, clear and filled with a certain venom. This is however, without ever sounding like anything that isn’t doom. Witchsorrow is one of those bands that reinvigorate the genre with a catchy and open sound. It is not without reason that album immediately resonates with me and I sincerely recommend it to anyone who bears love for the genre as a testament to its enduring longevity.
Fluisteraars – Luwte
There’s this new wave of black metal in the Netherlands, which seems to rely strongly on a certain poetic aesthetic. I think of Laster and Terzij De Horde, but Fluisteraars also puts on a particular brand of sweeping majesty into the sound they paint. In their bio, the band speaks of windswept black metal and that sort of makes sense when you listen to the organic, wavering sound of the band. The Gelderland collective is definitely taking the listener on a journey with their specific sound.
Continuously surging guitar parts drag you along in a sonic river of grief, remorse and sadness, where now and then an echo of hope seems to be woven into the sound. The band manages to lift that sound up to etheral hights. Without any hesitation the sound then twists and turns around again, like a u-turn into a shouty cacophony on ‘Angstvrees’. The track then resumes the stream. The record takes an epic approach to the black metal genre, which is truly captivating.
This is the second sound of the Underground of 2015, with bands like Inquisitor, Odota, An Autumn For Crippled Children and Baptists. So much good stuff left over from last year.
Inquisitor – Clinamen | Episteme
The Lithuanian scene is a truly hidden gem and the band Inquisitor was recommended to me for listening. The band has been around for 12 years already and makes a dense combination of hard riffing and passionate melodies in what can be perceived as an organic whole. Funky, hectic grooves lace the song ‘Hearken, Memmius!’ that opens their new record. Soaring guitars. That playful weird sound is apparently their schtick, also the semi-clean vocals offer a new persective. ‘Hence The Mouthful of Time’ is full of progressive piano elements and peculiar elements.
Though progressive and embracing avant-garde, there is nothing tame about the groups sound. The album shows much variation, but also sheer brutality and grim atmospheres to the listener. The strenght however, is the detailed extremes the band seems to play with in their music, going from typical black metal to a form of jazz or funk and back again. The sound is always bleak and all you would expect from a band that labels as black metal. The intelligent sound of these guys is definitely worth the attention of the avid metal fan though and I cannot wait to hear more from them.
An Autumn For Crippled Children – try not to love everything you destroy EP
With probably the must fucked-up bandname in a long time of fucked-up bandnames, this group does make an extremely beautiful sort of post-black metal. Soaring film score elements accompany a layered, atmospheric barrage of guitar and sonic effects on the titletrack. There’s a warmth in the sound of this mysterious group from the Netherlands that has no equal. It’s the warmth of embracing a certain fatalism. Fun fact is the reference of the title to previous full lenght ‘Try Not to Destroy Everything You Love’.
The second song is ‘post war’, which has fierce guitar structures that even with their smooth effects sound like typical black metal riffing. The sound is rich and reminds the listener of obvious names like Deafheaven and Liturgy, but with a weird twist of their own. This is a band that has done amazing work this far and is worth recommending to anyone who is into this music, but also those outside of it.
Baptists – Bloodmines
Luckily, there are still good hardcore records coming out now and then and this new one by Vancouver residents Baptists is a true blistering masterpiece of what hardcore should be. A lot of squeeking guitar work and gritty rhythm combinations makes the sound of the Canadians agressive and controlled. Their aesthetic is something with man versus nature, which is displayed in the beautiful cover that expresses a dark perspective on this struggle. That darkness is taken into the sound of songs like ‘Vistas’ and ‘Harm Introduction’.
Grinding guitars and hectic breaks form the base of the raging songs the band keeps chugging out. The furious vocals are spat out at break-neck speed, furious at the world and followed by pounding drums. The sound is coherent and organic though, there is little artfical about this band and I guess that is one of their main charms. Hopefully they cross the ocean soon, so we can admire their live antics as well.
Odota – Fever Marshall
Jarmo Nuutre is a peculiar dude, who does fantastic tattoo’s and used to make mammoth-stomping sludge with Talbot. This is his new project and it is filled with a lot of awesome. Slow creeping sound, filled with strange atmospheric effects accompany the searing guitarwork. Black metal inspired, industrial tinged noise on a slow, doomy pace is what best captures the sound on this first release. The heavy distorted vocals and rest of the sound offer a sound that envelopes the listener. Tracks like ‘Bad Medicine’ stand out due to their dark and frightening atmosphere.
Strangely, a song like ‘Half Eagle’ feels more like a video game soundtrack mixed with an evil EBM song that you have to dance to in the intro. The sound samples Nuutre choses, betray an eclectic sound and a creative mind that is free of boundaries. Closer ‘Rattlesnakes Unfold’ is a tidal wave that keeps pushing you under in a dense rattling, drumming sound, waves of distorted guitar wafting over you, while vocals seem to just scream at the sky. This debut of Odota is an unholy experience of awesome and for those who like a little bit of experiment and doom in their blackened noise metal. Did I capture it there?