Skaldic Curse was a band from UKBMs early 2000’s heyday, featuring members of Fen, Akercocke, and other contemporaries. Sadly, defunct after their second album World Suicide Machine I must admit I was rather surprised to see this album in my inbox for review as they officially split up back in 2011. Continue reading
One of the truly unique music labels in the underground, Prophecy Productions, returns with their really special music festival. Prophecy Fest takes place in a natural cave formed in the Old Stone Age – Balver Höhle. According to Germanic Saga, the blacksmith Wieland had his workshop in the cave. Balve, Germany, is situated in the center of Germany between Dortmund, Cologne, Frankfurt, and Hannover. Beyond myths, the show will be the stuff of legend with the following nine bands: Empyrium (Exclusive European performance 2019), Strid (Exclusive Central European performance 2019), Farsot and Coldworld (performing Toteninsel World Premiere) Year Of The Cobra, Disillusion, A Forest Of Stars, Laster, Fen, Tchornobog. Seven more bands will be announced at a later date. For tickets and full festival details, see the link below. Continue reading
Of all the grandchildren of heavy metal subgenres, one of the most precocious and still burgeoning is atmospheric black metal. As my colleague Richie HR noted in his recent new column for Ghost Cult, it seems that even the most mainstream bands are reaching for opportunities to expand their sonic palettes to include the more unconventional, and extreme styles. However, time and time again we return to the underground to seek greatness, from those who follow their own path, and eschew typical glory. One of those bands is Fen. Continue reading
Boasting members from illustrious UK acts such as Fen, Binah and Code, London doom/death dealers Indesinence are packing a pretty impressive line-up. Having been lurking in the shadows of the underground for nearly fifteen years now, their previous two records Noctambulism (Goat of Mendes) in 2006 and Vessels of Light and Decay six years later won numerous plaudits but were too far under the radar for most people to take notice of the ominous darkness contained within. Third record, the imaginatively titled III (both Profound Lore) is unlikely to win many new admirers, but for those who already dwell in the shadows, it’s a welcome treat.
While most doom/death acts are content to rip off My Dying Bride and hope the listeners are too miserable to notice, Indesinence have their own clearly defined sound; one that uplifts as well as bruises, with shades of dappled light amidst the stygian gloom. They’re still slaves to the lengthy track however as songs evolve over several minutes, with riffs unfurling languidly to strike at their own pace, while the stark, pounding drumbeats batter the listener into submission.
First track proper ‘Nostalgia’ is appropriately titled, for it calls to mind the sheer bleakness of US masters Evoken, as the devastatingly sad lead guitar work provides the perfect counterfoil to the gut-punching of the rhythm section. ‘Embryo Limbo’ sets the scene with some stately clean-picked notes before giving way to some crushing riffs that flirt with mid-paced mid-90s death metal, like Incantation after a heavy dose of lithium.
The first real burst of pace occurs on ‘Desert Trail’ with brisk blastbeats and strange melodies contributing to a strong feeling of malaise but the best is saved for the end of the album as the tortuous crawl of ‘Mountains of Mind/Five Years Ahead (Of My Time)’ soon gives way to a frantic chugging section, aided by eerie keyboards before a gloriously exuberant solo emerges from the mire and it becomes apparent that the band have wandered into full-on dark prog territory. The triumphant end-section is worth the price of the whole album.
Most bands would call it a day there, but Indesinence decide that things need to remain grim, which they do with aplomb on the seventeen minute dirge of ‘Strange Meridian’, an oppressive crawl through agonized soundscapes. The riffs are depressing, the vocals are truly anguished and were it not for another burst of soaring lead-guitar to end things again on a breathless, stargazing note, the whole thing might get too much. There really is no need to tack on a ten minute dark ambient closing track to finish things off though.
A difficult and undeniably too-long album, III is nonetheless a masterful and imposing piece of work. Doom/death is a naturally restrictive genre, but Indesinence have proven themselves to be one of the finest acts working in its field. Full-on misery can often get a bit one-note without some other forces to counteract the despair, and there are enough ideas going on here to ensure that even for an album approaching eighty minutes in length, attention will be maintained and engaged. The heirs to Disembowelment? Why not, eh?
In every musical movement, the leaders are the ones who bring their own twist, their own innovation, to the collective sound. Since Portal’s cross-over from novelty clock-head band to serious underground phenomenon, the number of bands following them into abstract Noise-damaged eldritch Death Metal have steadily increased until it constitutes a genuine – if deeply underground – trend. We’re still at the point where even the orthodox followers can still deliver a genuine impact, but the big hitters are already identifiable as the ones with their own distinctive contribution to the formula; Portal, of course, with their ferocious creativity and nightmarish song structures; Aevangelist with their super-dense wall of Noise overload and Impetuous Ritual with their underpants. With their let’s-have-fun-with-syllables third album Antikatastaseis (Profound Lore), British one-piece Abyssal step firmly up to join the top tier.
Having mastered their thick, oppressive brand of Murky Death Metal over two previous albums, Abyssal’s grand bid for innovation here is to mix it up with a hefty dose of what I’ll grudgingly call “post-rock” – the expansive, contemplative sound-scaping (another grudgingly used term) that’s been an increasing part of Metal’s musical landscape since Neurosis. On paper it sounds hackneyed and forced, and the first listen may not do much to dispel that impression – the more post-heavy passages sound surprisingly conventional, almost twee, to ears prepared for eldritch cacophony, and the transition between them and the more typically murky passages seem a little abrupt – but give it time and it develops into something genuinely distinctive and unsettling.
The key to Antikatastaseis’ success is probably that Abyssal haven’t softened the attack of their Death Metal elements in any way – they’re still as cavernous and oppressive as anything on Novit Enim Dominus… (Independent) – but they have put them in a different context. Whirlwinds of chaotic Death Metal are dragged and distorted into unexpected, atmospheric shapes that would almost be beautiful if they weren’t so ugly. Passages of genuine harmony collapse into sudden, jarring violence, or fade into chilling ambient drones. At times the effect calls to mind Black Metal bands like Fen or Winterfylleth, but with their bucolic pastoralism replaced with nightmarish horror. This isn’t Portal-lite – though it may have the potential to cross over to a wider audience than some of their peers – it’s the work of a band who are putting their inspirations into a new and distinctive form, just like all innovators.
The temptation to make a joke about Antikatastaseis being as hard to listen to as it is to say is pretty hard to resist, but they deserve better. It’s also not true – once you’ve adjusted to the combination of elements, it’s a surprisingly intuitive and engaging sound that develops with each listen. Whatever you think of the current state of spooky abstract Death Metal, Abyssal have simultaneously appointed themselves to the top tiers of the scene, and created an album with the potential to draw in fans from outside it.
Abyssal. Too kvlt for Social Media.
Although emotive, the dark harshness of Vattnet Viskar’s sound seemed a strange choice to accompany the heavier, more melodic Pallbearer on last winter’s US tour. Look deeper, however, into the very British blackness of Settler (Century Media), the New Hampshire quartet’s second album, and the melancholy shines through.
Brutal stickwork permeates the tremolo riffs of ‘Colony’ until a wholly unexpected mid-point breakdown of slow, deliberate Shoegaze, reappearing at the track’s coda, marks the band out as a different breed. ‘Yearn’ begins with a portentous yet evocative passage, building with delicate synth effects into vocalist Nicholas Thornbury’s colossal yet almost whispered, dry bark; a more Doom-laden pace seeing lead shimmerings emerge only in a Post-style underpin. It’s a savage track, yet pregnant with emotion: the layered, twisting chicanes sending the sound into the more inventive horror of Inter Arma’s Blackened spin-off Bastard Sapling, rather than that of the band’s core which is heavily influenced by Winterfylleth, Fen et al. ‘Impact’, for example, evokes images of rolling, furze-heavy hills in winter, as is expected from that UK Pagan contingent: yet a Viking element adds punch to this truly moving track.
This is an album giving true meaning to the ‘Atmospheric Black Metal’ tag: expertly blending the hostile, hissing tundra with chest-swelling passion and, in doing so, creating a living monster. Seamus Menihane’s pounding, resonant tubs return as the direction for the aptly named ‘Glory’, more sadness wrought from that lead guitar as an initial Trad metal rhythm gives way to dual Post wails, crushing riffs returning at the height of the ensuing explosion, an emphysemic roar coating the whole in a wonderful disease. The brutalised, throbbing heartbreak of both the title track and ‘Heirs’, meanwhile, where those expressions of angst remain constantly on the right side of Metalcore to emit sincere feeling, are supreme examples of the band’s organic versatility and heart of fire.
Closer ‘Coldwar’ melds elements of Black, Melancholia, Post-metal and Rock in a swelling, distraught yet euphoric finale. A refreshing, ambitious effort whilst remaining faithful to the dark core, Settler shows Vattnet Viskar to the stage of serious contenders.
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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