The Round Up Tapes // Volume XVII

Sinmara – Hvísl Stjarnanna

Iceland’s black metal scene is one full of creativity and unique sounds and Sinmara are but one part in a much larger group of musicians who make music so unlike other current black metal that the small country is now home to some of the most interesting projects around. While the Icelandic sound is different to most modern black metal it’s still difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it so intriguing. Is it the vast, desolate landscapes of their home country? The pitch black darkness or blinding sun of the most extreme times of the year? The remoteness of their locale giving rise to untainted ideas and themes? It could be all of those things or none of those things but Sinmara are one of the trailblazers of a scene that is so revered that it became one of Roadburn Festival’s commissioned projects at the 2018 edition (although Sinmara members were not a part of this performance, many of their contemporaries were).

Sinmara’s second full length builds on 2014s Aphotic Womb and 2017s EP Within The Weaves of Infinity plays a large part in informing the melodic structures of this new record – Sinmara do not shy away from creating moments of great beauty within their chaos and many songs are deceptively harmonious at times. The dissonance of “Mephitic Haze” is tempered by Ólafur Guðjónsson rasping vocals and guitars that suddenly soar on high, rich notes that create passages of utter elegance.

“Crimson Stars” and its sorrowful guitar lines add dimension to a song whose lyrics speak of embracing death and whose pace belies the infinite sadness that is simmering beneath the surface. The closing moments of the song spin out into cosmic synth lines that decay slowly into the opening notes of “Úr kaleik martraða.”

Sinmara’s lyrics have always been good but on Hvísl Stjarnanna they are incredible – conjuring images of dying galaxies, mythological labyrinths and gardens of evil. There’s poetry within their words and the English lyrics bring as much of a romantic slant as their native tongue does, something many non-English speakers can often struggle with.

Hvísl Stjarnanna is full of resonant structures that speak of death and its intoxicating effect. Themes of out-lying stellar formations cascade throughout the album giving a voice to those who may exist on the fringes but who should not be forgotten or written off. For Sinmara this outsider feeling is one that carries them through the darkness.

Listen and purchase here.

Ultar – Pantheon MMXVIII

Having previously been known as Deafknife and recording an EP called Pantheon, Ultar changed their name in 2016 and started to work on refining their sound and creating music that spoke of Lovecraftian enterprise and horrors of the deep. It seems strange that they would go back and essentially re-record that EP (many of those songs also found their way onto Deafknife in 2012) and add one new song – “Au Seuil” – and somehow call it a new album but stranger things have indeed happened in the black metal world (although some mention of this in the press materials certainly wouldn’t go amiss).

Despite the age of the songs, they do sound fresh when laid down by this more mature and experienced version of Ultar so they can perhaps be excused for giving us old music and when the soaring vocals of “Father Dagon” and “Shub-Niggurath” kick in then you’ll surely forgive them (almost) anything. Keyboards play a large role in the Siberian’s music and the symphonic elements serve to add texture and dimension to songs that are already fairly epic in scale.

The newest track that Ultar offer on Pantheon MMXVIII is an entirely instrumental piece that conjures intrepidation in its subtle guitars, melodic keys and white noise-esque synths and while it’s not exactly breaking the boundaries for Ultar, it does serve to lead into “Beyond The Wall of Sleep” quite nicely and gives the song a much fuller sound that it’s previous incarnation on Deafknife’s Pantheon EP.

After Kadath in 2016 it’s clear that Ultar know their way around a song so it’s unclear what the goal is with recording these old songs and marketing them as “new” but it’s also apparent that there was such love for those tracks that the Ultar of today needed to put their  hearts into giving the songs the polish and care that they deserved. It will be interesting to hear where Ultar go next and one can only hope that they have the confidence to forge ahead and continue to make interesting and heartfelt black metal.

Venom Prison – Samsara

2016s Animus truly put British band Venom Prison on the proverbial map and in their take on modern death metal the band have tapped into the rage that is felt by many people all over the world. Their manifesto is one that speaks of strength, courage, revenge and anger at the world and in Larissa Stupar they have a vocalist who is not afraid to use their voice to gather the masses for protest. Personal elements inform much of Samsara’s lyrics yet Stupar also brings to the fore the fact that an endless cycle of misery is present in the lives of so many people in the world, women especially.

Samsara is equally as aggressive and on their second full length the band are a more refined act, one that has spent time honing their lyrics and giving their music the right amount of power without tipping over into the hysterical territory that death metal can find itself in. Venom Prison are more socially aware, more inclined to sing about human rights abuses (“Megillus & Leana”), the failure of humanity or the commodification of women in the third world (“Uterine Industrialisation”) than they are about whatever the genre initiators were screaming about thirty years ago. Their gore is more realistic and more rooted in the modern world than it is about the glorification of rape or torture and in Samsara they speak of the birth, life, death cycle with authority and clarity and don’t shy away from the punishment and persecution that many of their songs subjects are exposed to through no fault of their own.

For Venom Prison it’s not about creating fast, antagonistic music but rather about making music that means something to many and that can bring about change and hope for those who may be languishing on the outer rim of society. It’s for those people that Samsara  was created and the voices that can be heard throughout are of transgender people who have been cast aside, mothers with children ripped from their bodies for money or those people who feel the only way out is to hurt themselves (“Self-Inflicted Violence”).

As well as heavy subject matter the music itself is deafening; drums are punchy, guitars are prominent and rich and Larissa Stupar’s voice spits every word like her life depends on it. And you get the feeling that it does, that without this vessel nothing would matter. Venom Prison are important and are telling stories that need to be heard – the world is full of despair, violence and anger and Samsara is not shying away from that in the slightest.

The gorgeous soaring guitars of “Sadistic Rituals” jar against the dominant energy of Stupar’s screams and roars and the song tries to being elements of light to a fantastically powerful song. It’s a rare ray of hope in a record that does much to speak of the injustices faced by many people every day but perhaps Venom Prison are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel – that their destructive force is starting to do some good, that shouting for change could bring change  – if only people would listen.

Listen and purchase here.

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