South African metal may not be super familiar to fans of the genre, but the continent plays host to a great many interesting metal bands, so much so that Wildernessking member Keenan Nathan Oakes collected together six of the best, and current, metal bands South Africa has to offer in a compilation entitled Secret Ceremonies. This is Volume I of what will hopefully be a long running series and a collection of incredibly different sounds – from the gorgeous instrumental post-rock of Strage, to the cold harshness of Nihil, and everything in between. South Africa is a interesting place, and its music follows suit. Each song heard here is exclusive to the release and while it’s only available digitally for the time being, it will be released on vinyl later this year.
The first track comes courtesy of Strage, who play a dark, atmospheric type of post-metal that straddles sludge and embraces vast landscapes of instrumentation. “Ceremonies” plays with light and shade and its progression from softer moments to heavier elements is slow, graceful and ultimately beautiful and in stark contrast to Wildnernessking who follow.
“Soundless Longing” is an excellent example of a band moving forward and expanding their sound and while the base elements are there to hear, it’s obvious that Wildernessking have been spending their time since 2012s The Writing of Gods in the Sand expanding their skills and curating music that is emotive and heavy and uncompromising. Shimmering guitars play off harsh voices and “Soundless Longing” speaks volumes for this young band and their future.
Ark Synesis contribute the wonderfully techy “Vection” to Secret Ceremonies and in turn show that South Africa isn’t all about beauty in their instrumention. “Vection” is a crunchy, solid work that showcases a band not afraid to roam the psychedelic outer limits. Tool-esque passages slip into view at times but the moments are subtle homages and instead spin out into electronically rendered streams that build and take hold before Aural Sun take a turn into an altogether more progressive mood.
Spoken word sections feed over stunning, echoing guitars and tribal drum beats that work in harmony to create swirls of music that dip and bend into each other before coming back around to a singular voice. Aural Sun are quite different to anything else heard on Secret Ceremonies in that they are the most distinctly “un-metal” offering here (for the most part), but their sound is unique and interesting and that’s what this compilation is about.
Peasant offer no such niceties with their track, which breaks one minute, but only slightly. “Coexist” is a raging piece of modern hardcore which starts as it means to go on – with absolute aggression and frantic pace. It’s hardly enough time to figure this band out, but it’s enough to whet the appetite for more.
Nihil, on the other hand, spend much longer in getting their message across and “Celestial” is a nigh-on ten minute composition that cuts a horrific figure in black. Cold, icy blasts of guitar lay over wastelands of harsh vocals that creep and curl with malice, allowing nothing but darkness to be seen. This duo create black metal in the atmospheric sphere and Nihil stand firmly on the side of the shadows, there’s not beauty here as with Wildernessking, and instead “Celestial” constantly moves forward and upward towards the inevitable and crushing climax.
Secret Ceremonies is a wonderful look into a scene not often thought of, hopefully Oakes brings us more of this series as South Africa has a diverse and unique scene to be showcased.
You can stream and/or buy Secret Ceremonies here.