By now, it’s clear that many spring and summer events are cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting our planet. One such event is Roadburn Festival which takes place every April in Tilburg, The Netherlands.
The festival is best known for bringing excellent music to a dedicated audience and this year they really pushed themselves and their curators to convoke an interesting line-up. Artists would collaborate, albums would be debuted and newly commissioned works would be premiered. It is a shame that the 2020 edition is now postponed, in as much of its entirety as possible, until 2021 but there is still much that can be done to support the artists who will be losing income over these coming months from missing shows and being unable to ship merchandise to some parts of the world. The health of the world hangs in the balance and this is the only sensible and reasonable action that can be taken.
Switzerland’s black metal scene may be small but it has outgrown the spectres of its past to produce quality black metal that looks to the future. With AARA, the country has a project that takes the core elements of black metal and pushes the composition and emotional clarity to its peak. En Ergô Einai is a masterful display of musical knowledge – classical elements, ecclesiastical tones, synthesised projections, harsh shrieks – that all come together to create a work that belies the relative newness of the band. It speaks of a band who are completely in sync and after only two years as a project it is impressive that such fully realised works are already being made. Although, with just how small the local scene is, it wouldn’t be surprising if the people behind the band were already established in other known acts (those in the band prefer to use pseudonyms and cover their faces with extravagant, Venetian masks).
“Arkanum” is a deliciously rich opening with Vindsval of Blut Aus Nord contributing guitars in the initial moments and creating a base that feeds into the bands textures beautifully – these first steps are the calm before the storm and when “Arkanum” reveals its full self it is in a whirlwind of sound. The melodic channels of the album are divine and each song is laden with clear harmonics that give the listener something tangible to hold onto, something to guide them on the pathway towards revelation.
It’s the end of the year and the end of a decade that was driven by change. A lot changed for me, personally, over the last ten years and I can only hope that it led to my becoming a better person. But that is subjective, as is choosing a list of records that I super enjoyed over the last ten months. There was a lot of music released in 2019 and a lot of music I just didn’t hear. There was a lot of music I did hear and never wanted to listen to again. There was music I couldn’t get enough of and listened to constantly. I listened to a handful of non-metal records that I really loved – these records can be seen on a list that will soon be published on Scene Point Blank. I also wrote a list for Metal Hammer but due to deadlines this was required to be finalised at the beginning of October and so my “final” list of albums I really liked has changed a little since then.
For those two lists I had to rank my choices and here I will rank only my top three – these are the records that really made a huge impact on me this year. The remaining records are all excellent, too, of course. If there’s a review of the album then you can find it by clicking on the band name and if you navigate to the record label then you’ll find the bandcamp page for the album (where available) in order to show your own support to these artists.
If you read anything that I wrote this year, then thank you. I hope to continue in 2020.
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.
The black metal scene in Iceland has been thriving for many years and where many projects from the volcanic country are proving their worth with second full lengths and touring the world, Andavald have been slowly curating their sound and biding their time before unleashing their debut upon an unsuspecting scene. Undir skyggðarhaldi is the culmination of years of work with Andavald forming around 2014 but waiting until 2019 to release their music. Their debut is more moderately paced than, say, Sinmara’s work, but it’s no less impactful for it; instead the band use moments of doomed rhythm and slow, drawn out screams to create their darkness. Speed is not of the essence here and for Andavald it is the building of terror, the procession towards finality and the beauty found within the pitch black cosmos that serves Undir skyggðarhaldi the most.
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.