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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AARA – En Ergô Einai
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.
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The Fifth Alliance – The Depth of the Darkness
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.
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Imber Luminis – Same Old Silences
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.
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Andavald – Undir skyggðarhaldi
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.
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Dead To A Dying World – Elegy
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.
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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.
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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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Devouring Star – The Arteries of Heresy
Finland’s Devouring Star plays with evil as theme but does so in less Satanic ways and rather explains that mankind itself is the ultimate embodiment of sin, that humans are the scourge and that religion is not the hopeful tenet that we have been led to believe.
The Arteries of Heresy is Devouring Star’s second full length and the person behind it all, JL, is using the band as a vessel of deliverance for personal enlightenment. There’s a sense that the evil that lurks within is one of primal matter and on “Procreation of Blood” the chaos is laid bare for all to see. Within the maelstrom are subtle grooves that can be latched on to in order to orientate oneself but for the most part the song, and the album as a whole, is an ode to embracing sin and taking it into yourself in order to fulfil your purpose on this earth.
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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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