The Fifth Alliance hail from The Netherlands and their sound is one of blackened edges – black metal, doom and sludge all feature – and this amalgation of influences makes for an intriguing and harrowing journey into darkness. Silvia Saunders vocals range from gorgeous, mournful cleans to deep, guttural roars and it’s this stark contrast that gives The Fifth Alliance a stunning lead over others in the post-black metal genre. Opening the album is “Black,” a song which begins on slow, deliberate strikes of guitar and simple drum patterns before Silvia’s voice winds through the instrumentation on soft, haunting clean lines that evokes melancholy. Slowly, the song starts to build towards something more monolithic and the drums pound a more urgent beat and guitars ramp up their own tension behind the serenity of the vocals. Of course, such peace is not built to last and soon the song flips its MO entirely, becoming a blackened and raging act of defiance. Vocals are switched to harsh shouts and the black metal influences are given space over the doomier initial steps of the song.
Imber Luminis is one of many projects from Belgian artist Déhà and while his output is incredibly prolific, the work doesn’t seem to suffer so much as become elevated through his preternatural drive to create. Of course, such efforts will sap the energy of the person behind them and so it seems that Imber Luminis, while dwelling somewhere between depressive black metal, atmospheric black metal and doom, deals with feelings of being overwhelmed and of suffering on a more human level. Same Old Silences moves through its horror via two songs that are split into sections, each giving weight and desolation to the next and it’s through these movements that Imber Luminis creates waves of sadness and depression that are so tangible it almost becomes your own.
Faith is an intensely personal matter, yet for some, that faith is tested and broken and the subsequent fallout discussed and laid bare for all to see. Portland’s Mizmor is one such instance of faith being a central pillar of a person’s existence before life created ways in which to test and create cracks within that belief. This year’s full-length, Cairn (which was written about here), is the result of many years of searching, thinking and creating from it’s sole recording member, A.L.N., and here we talk about the moments that led up to his belief in God diverging from that of family and friends and the ultimate separation that needed to occur.
I would like to thank A.L.N. for his openness and honesty in discussing difficult subjects and for creating such challenging music that brings about much introspection and catharsis.
Faith is a central theme in your music and the path you took to this point is one that is coloured with many intensely personal moments – can you please explain a little about how Mizmor came to be, your reasons for rejecting this idea of a God and your reasons for choosing the name?
I was raised in a Christian family whose practice of Evangelical Christianity (Christian Missionary Alliance denomination, to be precise) was central to our lives and relationships. I was “dedicated” as a baby in the church, went to Sunday school as a kid, and to youth groups as an adolescent. In my early teens I began to reject the faith, seeing it as something my parents subscribed to that I didn’t necessarily believe in. I was interested in exploring other religions, philosophies, and worldviews and also wanted to experiment with “worldly” things forbidden by the church. I pulled away on the inside but was forced to attend church every Sunday until I turned 18. I (obviously) stopped going once I reached that age. However when I was 19 or 20 I had a conversion experience that led me to see Christianity with new eyes and take it on as an adult, for myself, in all seriousness. This was very different than my force-fed experience of Christianity as a younger person. It resulted in an immersion in the scriptures, hours of daily devotional prayer and worship, the compulsion for outreach, and an overall transformation of many of my personal qualities which defined my identity (for good or bad).
The acceptance or rejection of religion is a process that is personal and can often be fraught with turmoil and fear. For many the acceptance of a God is something that is instilled from a young age – they are brought up with the knowledge that their parents believe and therefore so should they. Some find religion at a later age and use it to overcome hardship, grief or troubling times. Some reject their God during their childhood and some come to the realisation later that God is not the all-powerful being they were led to believe and reject those ideas in favour of a different approach, one that eschews religion and takes a more personalised path to self-discovery.
For Portland’s מזמור (written as Mizmor) the process of rejection began later in life and for founder and sole recording member A.L.N. that process was one wracked with pain, guilt and the knowledge that God does not have the answers. The struggle between this and what was promised via religion is one that A.L.N. has documented through the blackened doom lens of Mizmor’s music since its inception seven years ago and the process has never felt more real and intimate than it does on Cairn.
Bern’s Dachstock is the kind of venue that seems lived in; the graffiti that adorns every available wall space feels like it’s been there since the dawn of time and the punk aesthetic that seeps into the atmosphere is the kind that you’d have expected to find when Neurosis were still starting out – it’s fitting then, that this is the place that they are playing this evening and the hot, stifling air only adds to the electric atmosphere that is already rippling through the venue as Oakland’s Kowloon Walled City take to the stage.
The quartet are heavy where it counts and despite the weighty tones thrown out by the guitars and prominent bass, there is a sparse feeling to their sound – the music is allowed to breathe and move around Scott Evans’ voice, which is throaty and rage-filled from beginning to end, while still fulfilling the sludge aesthetic. Kowloon Walled City play with their sound enough to make them stand out from the crowded “post” scene and their approach is crushing and one that leaves the audience visibly shaken.
Dead To A Dying World do not do anything by halves and the six members of the Texan band are joined by several more players on their third full length, giving their already bombastic sound an energy that drives it further forward into thoughtful realms. Elegy is a beautiful work that truly seeps under your skin – from the opening simplicity of “Syzygy” and Mike Yeager’s deep voice to the closing moments of the monolithic “Of Moss and Stone,” – and the record takes you on an emotional journey with a deft handle on the quiet/loud dynamic and a roster of guest appearances that serve to add dimension and clarity.
The relative serenity of the opening ode is entirely at odds with the aggressive pitch of the next track and “The Seer’s Embrace” plays Yeager’s voice against the screams of Heidi Moore and the gorgeous depth of Eva Vonne’s viola (an instrument really brought to the fore on this album) to create layers of sound that caress tenderly before snatching back any promise of safety. Each aspect of Dead To A Dying World’s sound is given space to flourish and while there are several members of the band, there are no overpowering moments to be heard – everything works in harmony, including the vocalists that have been asked to participate in the album. Emil Rapstine (The Angelus) adds a light, ethereal voice in the quieter passages that form the mid-section of the song and this voice works so well, blends so seamlessly into the band’s sound that it becomes an element that was seemingly always there.
Beginning a review is always the most difficult part of the writing process. There are many thoughts and feelings that you want to express and so many experiences that you want to put across in the right way and your train of thought moves fluidly from one thing to the next…. but getting that down in a coherent and interesting way is something that often falls short. For a weekend spent at Roadburn Festival that process becomes ten times more difficult as experiences are not exactly in short supply and each person has their own unique take on what the city of Tilburg has given them for the four day festival run. No two people will likely have exactly the same experience of Roadburn and it’s often said by the festival team and those who have attended many times “Roadburn is what you make of it, it’s personal, it’s yours.” And that is such a true statement. This is my third Roadburn and while it’s not a festival I can claim to have been to as many times as another person…it often feels like some bands are being booked directly out of my dreams and for the thousands of other attendees this is most probably true for them. Somehow Walter gets into your mind and pulls out your musical desires and the festival becomes as much a part of you as it is for the organisers.
Originally a one-man band from New Zealand, founding member Krigeist’s relocation to Scotland brought new opportunities to enhance his music and after session members and live line-ups were solidified, Barshasketh began to take the form that we see today on their fourth full-length, Barshasketh. Stripping back their sound to that of their early days, Barshasketh are reclaiming the essence of black metal and while their music isn’t breaking down barriers or smashing genre lines, the expertise and musicianship on display here is more than solid and definitely worth multiple listens.
This year has been incredible for music and metal in particular. Choosing records to include on a “best of” list is a personal thing and so I chose records that I enjoyed for their creativity, emotion, spirituality or message.
I did some cool things in 2018 in terms of writing and I went to some new places. Switzerland felt more like home each day. My day job in interesting and I’m learning a lot. I took lots of photographs and some will be included on an album release.
I hope to continue writing for Metal Hammer, The Quietus, Scene Point Blank and sporadically, myself in 2019 and I hope to hear a lot more exciting music.
2017 has been an interesting year for music, for realisations, for speaking out and for making changes. Personally, I made a big move to another country (Switzerland) which has been overwhelming at times. I got a job fairly quickly and I’m still trying to figure this country out but mostly I feel settled here.
I thought I should say something here because it’s been at least one hundred years (four months) since I did and somehow a round-up slipped my mind in 2016. It’s been a busy year for writing and sadly this little blog has suffered due to other commitments. I continue to write for Metal Hammer and recently joined the team at the Quietus. I’ve written for Noisey a number of times this year and Scene Point Blank continues to be a big part of my writing life.
This year I contributed to Metal Hammer’s Top 100, the metal list for tQ and Scene Point Blank’s Top 25 – which will be a more general list that includes things other than metal but here on Bleak Metal I will list a few records that I enjoyed very much this year.
2018 has already begun in the writer’s world and I’ve heard a few records already – Watain’s Trident Wolf Eclipse, Tribulation’s Down Below, Portal’s Ion, Summoning’s With Doom We Come and Erdve’s Vaitojimas – and so far the calibre of music coming out in the first few months of the new year is extremely high. My plans are to do more here on Bleak Metal (which I say every bloody year) and as long as my hands don’t fall off then it should be possible.
Thank you for reading this little blog and for taking an interest.