Black Metal has become such a multi-faceted entity with insane levels of creativity, particularly in recent years with bands pushing extremities and dynamics to all new limits. Amongst a fast-growing Dutch scene, the trio of Laster have been a shining beacon of mesmeric and near absurdist songcraft. An unshackled approach that has hit an even greater peak of greatness on latest effort Het Wassen Oog (Prophecy Productions). Continue reading
The relationship between Metal, heavy music and other genres has always been an intriguing and often intertwining one, where artists seem to fall under our umbrella without sharing obvious similar qualities. Case in point is that of Hexvessel, who despite an ever-changing output and a folky base to their sound, have intrinsic links to their native Black Metal scene that has hardly ever even encroached into the territory of distorted guitars. Continue reading
In France’s hugely abundant and ever reaching music scene, Fursy Teyssier is a name that should be heralded as a driving force and an important figurehead within its wealth. Formerly a part of both Alcest and Amesoeurs’ fabric (in different capacities), Les Discrets is Teyssier’s main outlet today and represented a chance to branch out in artistic ways he could not in previous. With such a pedigree in the Shoegaze/Black Metal that Alcest are especially renowned for, it may surprise many to see the stylistic shift that third full length Prédateurs (Prophecy) has undertaken; but its sheer quality and artistic integrity should not be a shock. Continue reading
I think that how excited you’re prepared to be about a new Arcturus album depends on what stage you were at in 1997 when they released La Masquerade Infernale (Music For Nations) in a burst of masks, frilly shirts and knowingly ludicrous poses. Though neither their first album nor universally the most popular, it was LMI that made them seem, no matter how briefly, so ferociously IMPORTANT. At a time when the Norwegian Black Metal scene was rapidly torn between fragmenting and shrinking into insular irrelevance, Arcturus were at the very forefront of the bands shining a torch into entirely new vistas.
Bold, dramatic, frequently funny and entirely possessed of itself, the combination of Hellhammer’s thundering drums, Garm’s gleefully pompous vocals and Sverd’s densely intricate instrumentation created something that Black Metal fans had genuinely never heard before. It cast a long shadow over the “avant garde” side of Black Metal (to the extent that they could truly be called that anymore) for years afterwards – even suffering that most 90’s of indulgences, the Remix Album – to the extent that though many fans preferred 2002’s more “progressive” The Sham Mirrors (Ad Astra Enterprises), it seemed to others like a futile attempt to recapture their brief majesty.
An odd choice to spend so long talking about an old album in a review of the new one, perhaps, but in this case the context is essential – because Arcturion (Prophecy) sees the also-ran, half-hearted entity that Arcturus have been over the last two albums shut the door behind them and let LMI Arcturus back into the room. Everything that made that late 90’s classic so… well… CLASSIC is back in full force here, but they’ve also brought some new tricks learned over the last twenty years.
Once again every track has its own theme and spirit – the “carnivalesque” sound that has been part of their image since LMI is still present on tracks like ‘Bane’, but they’re no longer pounding it with repetitive monotony as they did on Sideshow Symphonies (Season Of Mist). Elsewhere ‘Ad Astra’s meditative cosmic vibe returns on ‘Warp’, ‘The Arcturion Sign’ conjures up found memories of ‘Master Of Disguise’ and ‘Angst’ even sees them recapturing some of their Black Metal fury far more successfully than they did on Sham Mirrors.
Which is all rather lovely, but makes it sound as though they’ve simply gone back to a twenty year old album and tried to recapture the formula. Fortunately, that’s not the case at all. Firstly, they’ve broadened their palette noticeably – the driving, contemplative Rock of ‘Game Over’ and ‘Demon’s sleazy electronic Pop aren’t quite like anything they’ve recorded before, yet manage to retain the feel and character of both the band and the album. Secondly, and even more importantly, though is the undeniable feel that this band has grown up. Maturity, such a difficult concept to pin down but easy one to recognise, shines in every second of Arcturion. They’re every bit as arrogant and forceful as they were on LMI, but precocious youth has now been replaced by the confidence of age. In Garm’s absence ICS Vortex (who sang LMI’s standout ‘The Chaos Path’) brings a range and depth that exceeds his predecessor’s bold but often limited operatics.
Arcturion is not likely to blow any modern listeners away in quite the shocking fashion that La Masquerade Infernale managed in 1997 – both the Metal scene and the way we engage with music have changed dramatically since those days – but in terms of musical excellence and thematic power it matches or even exceeds that classic album.
Whether or not you’ve ever engaged with Arcturus before, do so now.
Given Britain’s tendency to produce eccentrics, the emergence of Leeds troupe A Forest of Stars in 2007 may have caused a few heads to turn, but their glorious weirdness, even in a scene as narrow and regimented as black metal, has always worked to their advantage. Existing in their own interpretation of Victorian England where decadence, occult magick and narcotic experimentation reigned supreme, the septet’s three previous albums were all well received, with plaudits given for their enthralling storytelling and atmosphere as well as explorations into psychedelic territory and pastoral folk amid the crushing black metal dynamics. Further accolades look set to follow, for fourth effort Beware the Sword You Cannot See (Lupus Lounge/Prophecy) is an unabashed masterpiece.
With a concept heavily focused on death and rebirth, this is the album that shows A Forest of Stars transcending the rigid parameters of their earthly shackles and soaring off into the unknown with aplomb. The thunderous tremolo picking and double-bass assault evident on tracks such as ‘A Blaze of Hammers’ leaves the listener in no doubt that the band aren’t going to do an Opeth on us, but it’s the surging progressive flourishes and sense of ambition that makes this such a special listening experience, as demonstrated by the ascending chords and lush female vocals courtesy of violinist Kathryne Queen of the Ghosts on the magnificent album opener ‘Drawing Down the Rain.’ Speaking of ambition, the six part odyssey that is ‘Pawn on the Universal Chessboard’ which comprises the latter half of the album is mind-boggling in scope, ranging from spacy Tangerine Dream style synths on ‘Mindslide’, masterful dark prog on ‘Have You Got a Light, Boy?’ to pummelling black metal orthodoxy on ‘Lowly Worm.’
Special mention must go to vocalist Mr Curse for a truly astonishing performance where he shrieks, yelps and dips heavily into theatrical spoken word delivery to tell the story of the album, producing some fantastic lyrics (“Fuck you and the worms you rode in on!”) and acting as demonic ringleader to this spectacular carnival of unearthly delights. It may be too early to call A Forest of Stars the British answer to Enslaved but if they keep on producing records as excellent as this then their status will be in no doubt.
Early contender for one of the albums of the year.
Romanian folk-infused black metallers Negură Bunget have more than upped their game with their latest release, TĂU (Code666/Prophecy), an album that marks the inaugural release of the bands ‘Transylvanian Trilogy’, a series of three albums that act as a sonic tribute to the band’s naturally visually striking home country. The first album in the trilogy deals with Romanian nature, and as a result feels earthy, but at the same time otherworldly and elemental.
Having won hearts and minds with 2006’s genre masterwork, Om (Code666), the very pinnacle of atmospheric indigenous black metal, Negură Bunget have remained relatively quiet with just one album in the nine intervening years that have been spent recovering from a damaging line-up change. Erstwhile band members Hupogrammos Disciple and Sol Faur moved on to pastures new and impressed with Dar de duh (Prophecy), the debut opus of new outfit Dordeduh, while Negru retained the band name and released Vîrstele Pămîntului (Code666) in 2010 to a mixed reception, raising as many questions over the longevity and remaining quality of the band as it answered.
The idea behind TĂU is ambitious and out of the band’s comfort zone and for those familiar with the Negură Bunget sound this is apparent from opener ‘Nametenie’. The chanting backing vocals provide ritualistic foundations, while the harsher black metal elements combine to give a very primeval feel. The intent of this album is a visual one, and TĂU’s cinematic ability to transport you visually to the Romanian landscape is unlike anything the band has done before. Each song on the album represents a different landscape, and album closer ‘Schimniceste’ is a black metal ambient master class. Its pensiveness and hypnotic rhythms aurally transport you to another world, one that you cannot see but can certainly feel.
Accompanying this release will be a 72-page art book edition, which in addition to featuring stunning photography will also include the history of the various featured landscapes. It is clear that immeasurable care and attention to detail has taken place throughout this project, and the band’s dedication to attentively bringing to life the natural world makes this a wholly unique record.
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 third installment we bring you albums 30 through to 21
“Casualties of Cool is an intriguing experiment from a man who excels in making left-field music. Go in expecting massive a prog-metal exercise will only lead to disappointment, but having an open mind will result in a rewarding experience” DAN SWINHOE 8/10 Full review here
29. ANATHEMA – Distant Satellites (KScope)
“One of our world’s most understated bands, despite the plaudits they get, Anathema have once again showcased their knack for penning both forward thinking and emotionally driven music which oozes real human character and sentimentality”. CHRIS TIPPELL 9/10 Full review here
“When we look back on this part of their career, we will likely understand that these are less like regular EPs that other bands release, and much more like a mini-opus, in pieces. Down clearly realizes their collective vision, no matter who is in the lineup, every time”. KEITH ‘KEEFY’ CHACHKES 9.5/10 Full review here
“Sadistic and aggressive with endless moments of bleak reflection Splinters is a leviathan unleashed upon unsuspecting listeners and a release surely destined to grace many year end lists” ROSS BAKER 9/10 Full review here
Like a massive-antlered stag glimpsed amidst a wintry landscape, breathtaking, elusive and hard to pin down, The Serpent and the Sphere looks set to continue their elegant and ever-evolving legacy JAMES CONWAY 9/10 Full review here
25. THOU – Heathen (Gilead Media)
“A storm manifest as a piece of music, as devastating as it is awe-inspiring, Heathen is varied and compelling for the entire runtime”. TOM SAUNDERS 9/10 Full review here
“Sharp, buzzing riffs and symphonic keys, strength and brutality amongst moments of pomp and beauty, bloody entertaining and another show of form” PAUL QUINN 8.5/10 Full review here
23. PYRRHON – The Mother of Virtues (Relapse)
“The Mother Of Virtues doesn’t just challenge what is “extreme”, but calls into question whether some of what is produced is actually even music. Completely and utterly impenetrable, and exceptional with it”. STEVE TOVEY 9.5/10 Full review here
“Eyehategod continue to age like a good whiskey, seeming to improve as time goes by, but by no means losing their sting”. CHRIS TIPPELL 9/10 Full review here
21. ALCEST – Shelter (Prophecy)
“Shedding the last vestiges of metal, let-alone any lingering black metal leanings, a captivating and stunning piece of music poured straight from the heart”. JAMES CONWAY 9/10 Full review here
Ghost Cult Magazine Albums of the Year: 50-41
Ghost Cult Magazine Albums of the Year: 40-31