Atramentus – Stygian
Stygian is vast, bleak, draped in ice and layered with loneliness. Beautiful on its stark and cold voyage from dying embers of Autumn to the eroding ice of Winter. A novel in the guise of funeral doom and a story that brings with it a sense of hopeless dread; the sun has long since died and the world is covered with deep swathes of snow. Our protagonist must find their way through the curse of immortality and live with the knowledge that all they know is dead and buried and their own quest will never cease to end.
Atramentus formed in 2012 after Philippe Tougas (also of Chthe’ilist) walked for hours in sub-zero temperatures, giving birth to the final track on Stygian on his return home and creating the impetus to bring the band to life. However, this took some time and it wasn’t until 2018 that a line-up was secured and their debut could be recorded. For Atramentus this long process was necessary as their music is as deep and rich as it steeped in the echelons of winter; the two “main” songs are bridged with a sombre instrumental passage – “Stygian II: In Ageless Slumber (As I Dream in the Doleful Embrace of the Howling Black Winds)” that links the ebbing warmth of autumn to the overarching frost of winter.
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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.
Mizmor – Cairn (Gilead Media)
Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast Records)
Schammasch – Hearts Of No Light (Prosthetic Records)
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Barshasketh – Barshasketh
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.
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Couch Slut – Contempt
Couch Slut aren’t taking any prisoners on their follow up to 2014s My Life as a Woman and on Contempt they continue to mine the terrifying real situations the band members have found themselves in. On first glance their music is a mind-melding mesh of noise, old school hardcore and even some nods to second wave black metal, but Couch Slut introduce increasingly off-kilter moments to create an atmosphere of dread and unnerving fury. Front-person Megan Osztrosits wraps her harsh, visceral tones around opener “Funeral Dyke” and its bizarre segues from raging punk to weirdo black metal and even a subtly beautiful riff that soars suddenly over all before fading into groove-laden guitar and screams.
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Bleak Metal is venturing into a slightly different realm for a show featuring Crowhurst and a whole evening of noise-led performances. It’s something we haven’t hosted before and so it promises to be quite an interesting event. Playing alongside the American project will be Caïna (who have recently contributed to an upcoming Crowhurst record) and the intriguing Warren Schoenbright. We will perhaps add one more act but that’s not confirmed at this time.
The show will be held at New River Studios and tickets are priced at £8.50 in advance with the door price being £10. A PayPal link is below!
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.
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This third edition of The Round Up Tapes features a couple of records I really enjoyed this year that are particularly bleak in sound and/or aesthetic. Because that’s the MO of this blog and who doesn’t like to feel bleak now and then?
Black Autumn – Losing The Sun
Black Autumn have been featured on Bleak Metal once before, when the wonderful The Advent October was released at the beginning of 2013. That EP was very much a favourite of last year and so when a full length arrived, excitement abounded. Losing The Sun follows its predecessor in that the melancholy rhythms and soft touches of light filter through the darkness of the sound, yet the record also steps up and forward in terms of the emotional response that is elicited from the listener.
“Losing The Sun” begins the album with huge, sweeping guitar movements that give way to M. Krall’s rasping voice and echoing passages that create a tangible sense of deep, mournful regret. The softer edges of this first track are soon ravaged by the harsh tones of “St Elm’s Fire” that signal its approach. Those hard moments are countered by sorrowful guitar lines that cascade into the song and lift it past just being a wallowing, sadness-filled pit of despair and instead into music that provokes and intrigues.
This one man project brings much to the black metal table in the music that is created as Black Autumn. Gorgeous instrumentation moves across the work as a whole with the piano sections in particular giving a stately grace to “From Whence We Came” and in turn the song breathes with a measured acceptance that the journey is full of pain and heartache. The electronic pulses of “The Distance” shows that much beauty can be found in utter desolation and Black Autumn is a project for which this adage rings wholly true.
Losing The Sun, along with the Black Autumn catalogue, can be found on bandcamp.
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If you’ve been reading Bleak Metal for a while (in which case, wow, thank you) then you may remember my End of Year list from, well, the end of last year. Now, I spoke a lot there about how terrible 2013 had been in a lot of respects, the biggest being that pretty soon I would be out of a job. That happened, and it sucked but y’know, I’m so bloody glad about it. Because losing that job meant that I got to do something hecka cool this summer – I went to America and attended Gilead Fest. And holy crap, it was brilliant. At that festival I saw friendly internet faces, bands I never thought I’d get to see (two of which I will talk about below) and I saw up close the passion and commitment that one of my favourite labels has for the community. I reviewed the event for Subterranea/Metal Hammer and you can see it here.
I also met some lovely people, two of whom were Bettina and Jonathan from Thrill Jockey Records who then put me in touch with Ken from the UK side. Since then Ken has sent some excellent works, a few of which I will now talk about because no one wants to hear me bang on about myself and the music is much more interesting.
Hit more for more!
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Forming in Oklahoma City, Idre are a melancholic, earthy and hypnotic entity. The former trio (now duo for the time being due to bassist Andon Whitehorn recently taking his leave of the band) are a delicious entry into the atmospheric sphere and their sound is quite difficult to pin down. Taking in elements of doom, sludge, drone and noise, even a martial beat (Nicholas Wojcik) during second track “Witch Trial”, Idre travel the path towards oblivion in many different ways yet their gloomy aura is coherent and each passage moves deftly into the next without losing track of the core of the band.
Vocals are sparse but delightfully gothic in tone with guitarist Ryan Davis adding a new sphere of darkness to proceedings with the recordings on this two track full length taking on a somewhat doomed country feeling at times – think True Widow or Earth’s latest for comparisons – and the sprawling, sculpted landscapes of sound the record conjures are truly mesmerising.
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French obscurity masters Neige Morte are adept at creating soundscapes so abhorrent that just getting through to the end of their second record is a lesson in endurance. Bicephaale doesn’t trip on the more prevalent French rawness or prettiness, instead it resides in filth and dissonance and the very dirt of the earth. “500 Jours de Haine” strips back any semblance of melody to begin the album and punish with swirling vortexes of noise. All gnashing vocals and clashing guitars and sickening drum beats – it’s truly a cacophony and the discordance is dizzying and bewildering. The echoing martial drum beat that blurs into view around fuzzy guitars and XT’s vocals allow the band to step back ever so slightly yet they never lose that forceful rhythm and desolate tone that has been built up so far.
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