You’ve got to hand it to Poland’s Arkona, flying their black metal freak flag for over twenty-five years, weathering changes in tastes, technology, and personnel without wandering a smidge from their original Mephistophelian masterplan. Their unique blend of earthy black metal and fancypants symphonic trappings has corrupted many a vulnerable mind over the last couple of decades, leaving their victims humming wicked hooks long after the chaos has ended. The combination of beaut and brute still can’t be slowed by conventional weapons, despite their mix of Polish/ English lyrics and their release history of obscure splits and full-lengths on tiny labels – this is a band fighting the good (bad) fight. Continue reading
Just as their geographical namesake suggests, Latitudes are an expansively-minded post-everything band with their view set far beyond the immediate horizon. Part Island (Debemur Morti), the band’s fourth album, isn’t just broad in its musical palate – which takes cues from the likes of Neurosis and Alcest – it also uses its sparse rural setting to tackle themes of desperation and emptiness in an always engaging way.
Following their return from hiatus in 2014, much to the delight of a sharp, in-the-know fanbase, Norway’s In The Woods… showed a glorious return to form with 2016’s Pure (Debemur Morti), an album that wasn’t a re-treading of past glories, but an alternate and matured direction for the band that highlighted their esoteric nature. Ever the shape-shifters, latest release Cease The Day (Debemur Morti) sees further subtle alterations, in what is their most commercially ambitious and accessible (within reason) to date.Continue reading
With their last proclamation Carrion Skies (Code666), British band Fen let the Black Metal flood back into their sound, releasing their strongest album to date and ultimately featuring in the Ghost Cult Magazine Top 40 Albums of 2014. In celebration of opening the sluice gates, front man The Watcher revealed the depth of his Black Metal love by unveiling his Top 5 unsung oft overlooked underground treasures
Setherial – Nord (Napalm Records – 1996)
Cold. That’s the one overriding word to sum up this furious blast of mid-nineties Swedish black metal – cold. Freezing, even. Taking its cues fairly heavily from Emperor’s seminal In the Nightside Eclipse (Candlelight) album, Nord strips backs the keyboards whilst simultaneously cranking up the intensity levels considerably. Riff after riff of freezing melody pours forth across thundering percussion, lengthy songs (the opener alone is nearly 12 minutes long) buoyed by relentless twists and turns. An exhilarating, windswept listen and serious contender for black metal’s finest hour.
Diabolical Masquerade – Nightwork (Avantgarde Music – 1998)
Anders Nystrom may be much better known for his “day job” in Katatonia but back in the mid-90s, as the mysterious Blakkheim he released four records of haunting, horror-themed black metal under the banner of Diabolical Masquerade. The pick is undoubtedly the third full-length Nightwork, a peak-laden brace of songs replete with infections fretwork, searing melody and an underlying sense of humour. This isn’t at all to detract from the ‘abandoned mansion’ atmospherics of the album and Nightwork simply oozes a convincing crepuscular ambience in amongst the riffage.
Armagedda – Ond Spiritism (Agonia – 2004)
From pure early Darkthrone worship on their debut to ‘fist-in-the face’ muscular black metal on ‘Only True Believers’ to occult-themed dungeonesque roamings, Sweden’s Armagedda explored a gamut of expressions within their short, three-album career. Swansong ‘Ond Spiritism’ is the peak – a lengthy, sprawling opus with an undeniable cloak of darkness wafting across the whole thing. Graav’s guttural croak spits venom in his native Swedish whilst the guitars and bass swirl like a thick fog. Absorbing and unsettling work from the young Swedes.
Tenebrae in Perpetuum – Antico Misticismo (Debemur Morti – 2006)
Yet another band who are no longer with us, Tenebrae in Perpetuum specialised in a particularly brittle, shrill form of frozen melodic black metal – made particularly surprising by the fact that they were actually Italian! Mainman Atratus’ guitar sound is one of the most distinctive you’ll hear – a treble-heavy, reverb soaked saw that nonetheless manages to convey the band’s excellently-developed sense of melody and song structure. All three of their full-length releases are worth tracking down so consistent is their quality but Antico Misticismo probably edges it thanks to a couple of genuinely spine-tingling moments.
Obsidian Tongue – A Nest of Ravens in the Throat of Time (Hypnotic Dirge – 2013)
The most recent release on this list and hopefully a band who won’t remain ‘hidden’ for too much longer, this US-based duo ply their trade with a particularly punishing brand of “Post” black metal. Building on the template laid down by the so-called ‘Cascadian’ sound (Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room et al), Brendan Hayter and Greg Murphy lay down a serious challenge on their sophomore effort here. Winding passaged of considered guitar, inventive percussion and a darker atmosphere than many of their peers render them a real one to watch. That they can pull it off live is just the icing on the cake.
The Watcher was speaking to STEVE TOVEY
The countdown to the Official Ghost Cult Magazine Album of the Year for 2014 continues. Please consume and enjoy the results of our 2014 Writers’ Poll. We hope it will introduce you to some of the incredible works of art you may have missed that we have had the immense pleasure of listening to and writing about this year.
In our second installment we bring you albums 40 through to 31
“Evolution from deathcore to a more compact, yet technical, death metal… complex and melodic structures accompany a diversified approach” DIOGO FERREIRA 7/10 Full review here
39. AGELESS OBLIVION – Pethos (Siege of Amida / Century Media)
Marrying both technical and atmospheric forms of Death Metal, Ageless Oblivion create their own brand of chilling yet punishing aggression, presented in a show of impressive progression.
“Cavalera, Puciato, Sanders, and Elitch put their stamp on this recording, making a memorable, political-flavored, heavy album that certainly lives up to the hype” KEITH ‘KEEFY’ CHACHKES 8.5/10 Full review here
37. AEVANGELIST – Writhes In The Murk (Debemur Morti)
“If you’re able to get past the initial disorientation and look inside, you’ll find an album that follows its own perverse ambition flawlessly, with not a shred of compromise, dilution or failure” RICHIE HR 10/10 Full review here
36. FEN – Carrion Skies (Code666)
“Fen are the rawer, rockier, more achingly human cousin to Tombs’ Neurosis-driven thunder, and among the richest and most emotionally expressive Metal albums of 2014” RICHIE HR 9/10 Full review here
35. JUDAS PRIEST – Redeemer of Souls (Epic/Columbia)
“Judas Priest has released a retrospective that nods to their career, recalling everything that has made them genuine legends of our metal world, Redeemer Of Souls has a beautifully warm and classic Priest feel”. STEVE TOVEY 8.5/10 Full review here
The phrase “Doom” doesn’t do justice to the ugly, polluted, measured sludgy bludgeon of IV.I.VIII; a beautifully horrible record of nihilistic malevolence, that dissolves doom, death, black and sludge in its fetid path.
“My advice? If you have never listened to Trap Them, get on this bandwagon before these guys run you over with it”. TIM LEDIN 8/10 Full review here
The hardest of hardcore punk fused with the blackest of Darkthrone’s black metal offspring, creating a crusty hell in aural format.
The gutsy pop-punk outfit release a cathartic biographical concept album of frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s experiences for their sixth album.
Ghost Cult ‘Albums Of The Year’ 50-41 here
Compiled by Steve Tovey
All reviewers know, in their secret hearts, that grading albums is an arbitrary process, and that the wider the scale the more subjective the judgement will be. Fans will argue and bicker over whether a given album is a 7.5 or an 8, somehow not realising that these are simply forced formalisations of a personal judgement, a qualitative emotional response squeezed into a quantitative shape. Every so often, however, an album comes along that by its sheer enormity, its absolute refusal to be pinned down so crudely, forces anyone hearing it to confront the essential meaninglessness of their numbers.
AEvangelist have only been around since 2011, and have already released three full-length albums, two EPs and a split, during which they have developed their sinister Death Metal into a genuinely unique style. The blending of Extreme Metal with Dark Ambient/Electronic Noise is nothing new – indeed, my role at Ghost Cult seems to be chasing the multiple products of this relationship and hitting them with a big stick – but bands have disagreed over how to approach it: Portal borrow the composition and layering approach of Noise artists to turn their Death Metal into a dense, chaotic swamp, whereas Grave Upheaval strip their Metal down to its barest skeleton, casting aside all ostentation until nothing is left but fetid Dark Ambient drones. AEvangelist’s approach – more maximalist, and initially quite overwhelming – is to simply PLAY EVERYTHING AT ONCE. At times it seems like there are two AEvangelists – the claustrophobic, shrieking Ambient Noise artist and the cavernous, meandering Death Metal band – and neither is prepared to give the other a moment to themselves, both bands playing their music on top of, alongside and writhing between the notes of the other.
Each subsequent album has taken this approach a little far, and Writhes In The Murk (Debemur Morti) reveals it in its most excessive, most intoxicating, most entirely singular form yet, and on the first few listens it can almost impossible to pick anything out at all. Riffs are buried in noise and static, atmospheric passages are interrupted by monotonous, rumbling-drainpipe vocals, the whole thing could easily be dismissed as an exercise in extremity for its own sake, an example of why musicians set themselves boundaries to work in – many people will doubtless stop listening with that impression in mind, and it’s hard to say that they’re wrong to do so. Persevere, though (and it IS perseverance – this album will make you work for everything it has to give) and a structure starts to emerge from the mire, an alien, shifting but nevertheless consistent logic that reveals Writhes In The Murk as a true album rather than a collection of disparate noises. The key to unlocking its shape lies in the pairing of ambient instrumental ‘Disquiet’ and the heaving, chaotic shambles that is ‘Aelixir’ – all saxophones and flailing, smoky tendrils of broken Jazz – at the centre, with a trio of more conventional (by this band’s standards) Death Metal songs at either side.
Grading music in numbers is, as explained already, a useful lie – painting the veneer of objectivity onto a subjective process that works right up until someone like AEvangelist comes along with an album so utterly, undeniably itself that only the very bottom or the very top of the marking scale could possibly make any sense at all. Writhes In The Murk is not the perfect album (imagining for a moment that such a thing could ever exist), and a lot of people are going to hate it for perfectly valid reasons. However, if you’re able to get past the initial disorientation and look inside, you’ll find an album that follows its own perverse ambition flawlessly, with not a shred of compromise, dilution or failure.
Most bands go through different periods of stagnation and productivity, however there are few that can boast such extreme fluctuations in releases as French based Blut Aus Nord. For a career that began with an almost well-paced output, recent years have seen a flurry of work unleashed. For many bands this can see a slip in the quality or consistency of their records, however Blut Aus Nord defy this trend, being one of the few bands that manage to astound with every album, consistently defying expectations. While every album may be different and offer a new musical direction, there’s no denying that they all have a distinct sound that only main man Vindsval can achieve. Their latest offering is no exception.
Saturnian Poetry (Debemur Morti) comes in as the third album in the Memoria Vetusta series, following on from Fathers of the Icy Age (Impure Creations) in 1996 and more recently Dialogue with the Stars (Candlelight) in 2009 and quickly proves the most relatable of the series, and of Vindsval’s work as of late, particularly when compared to his 777 series or even his most recent split with P.H.O.B.O.S., Triunity (Debemur Morti), and is one of the best-defined and most enjoyable albums the band has released to date. Many of their previous releases have tended towards the avant-garde, alienating the listener with dissonant harmonies and awkward time changes, however Saturnian Poetry takes a step back from this constant push towards new ground. Some may view this as regression, falling back into the vast realms of relatable music, but the album still carries the distinct Blut Aus Nord sound without feeling like they have traded in any of their principals, or turned to a more mainstream position.
Vast ethereal landscapes captured in layers of distortion, erratic drumming and harrowed screams throw us into a desolate but majestic landscape. There is truly only one way to describe this album: cold. Despite its tendency towards grand melodic lines, Saturnian Poetry avoids large symphonic instrumentals, instead making the guitars the main feature of the music with majestic chord progressions backed by occasional synth or vocal lines. It does however contain Vindsval’s usual tendency towards progressive structuring, rapidly twisting through varying soundscapes as each song unfolds. There is also a marked improvement in production quality, and with such an intensive mix of instrumentation lines, this allows the subtler touches to shine through.
This release also marks the entrance of drummer Thorns, whose vast collection of previous work includes Frostmoon Eclipse, Deathrow and Acherontas. While previous albums have featured talented collaborations with artists or programming by Vindsval, Thorns seems to gel naturally with the music in a way that the others haven’t managed in the past. His tendency towards unusual patterns, breaks and crashes seem a natural part of the music, and often prove some of the most compelling performances on Saturnian Poetry.
Opening on a soft electronic intro with ‘prelude’, it’s a deceptively calm start before the ravages of ‘Paien’ kick in and the sound of the album truly unfolds. Both ‘Paien’ and ‘Tellus Mater’ set a vast, majestic tone that carries through, allowing for soaring vocal lines and large but chaotic guitar parts. There are few moments on the album that really steps back to allow the listener to rest, save for the intro and sections of ‘Forhist,’ whose mid-tempo riffs are often interspersed with manic fills across the drum kit. While the album fits together best as a whole rather than being taken by its individual parts, it’s ‘Henosis’ that provides the stand out moments. Opening on the albums more majestic sound, it intersperses hints of Blut Aus Nord’s more dissonant tendencies halfway through the track, an effective and welcome nod to previous work while simultaneously embracing the new style.
‘Metaphor of the Moon’ and ‘Clarissima Mundi Lumina’ take this another step further when closing the album with a subtle shift in sound. Low growls and stabs of awkward uneasy guitar cutting through, these tracks are significantly darker than the others – each track is a descent toward the closing darkness and demands the listeners full attention if they ever hope to draw the best out of this album.
Saturnian Poetry sees Vindsval provide some of his most compelling music to date and further cements Blut Aus Nord as one of the most exciting black metal acts in the scene today.
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Blut Aus Nord are one of those bands whose discographies should come with a map. Starting off with an atmospheric, expansive approach to Black Metal, they’ve spent two decades letting that approach lead them through a variety of approaches and styles, each united by the same cosmic aesthetic and adventurous spirit.
Their contribution to the Triunity (Debemur Morti) split shows them operating in a similar territory to 2007’s Odinist, but with a much greater reliance on structure. The more Metal moments of the first 777 album also spring to mind at points – thick, almost chugging guitars overlaid with haunting, progressive-minded leads and processed vocals. What’s interesting here is how much ground they’re able to cover in just under twenty minutes – the three tracks run together into an expansive whole which manages to be both heavy, introspective and surprisingly aggressive in parts; a great bite-size introduction to the band, and a perfect confirmation for fans that they’re still pushing their own distinctive musical vision forward.
One of the problems with splits is often that the bands are too similar in sound – Triunity avoids that by picking two acts who share aesthetic qualities but are musically quite distinct. With repetitive processed guitars, clipped mechanical vocals and sinister ambient noise, P.H.O.B.O.S most readily call to mind early Godflesh if they gave up on all that urban decay business and looked to the cosmos. “Industrial” – surely among the most abused words in music – is a good enough fit here, but this is an eldritch, half-tangible factory in the middle of a desolate spiritual wasteland, staffed by ghosts endlessly working at machines whose working conform to no known principles of engineering. Possibly making things for Argos.
Of the two sides, BAN’s is the most accomplished and satisfying in itself – P.H.O.B.O.S rely perhaps too heavily on repetition, and over such a short length can seem a little hollow – but Triunity shows two bands offering a similarly mystical take on two different styles, and is an engaging and captivating listen either in parts or taken as a whole.
8 / 10
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