About a year ago, one-man black metal outfit Void Ritual, the brainchild of Daniel Jackson, released Heretical Wisdom, a frosty yet melodic tribute to Scandinavian black metal that encapsulated what made that particular scene so exciting. It comprised densely layered melodies that uncurled to reveal chaotic energy with a dark, earthy atmosphere. Continue reading
In this edition of our Reviews Round-Up, our fearless Editor Steve Tovey takes on some new and recently released albums to see if they pass the smell test.
One of the most controversial and iconic bands in the Norwegian black metal scene, for many years the extracurricular activities of Gorgoroth members eclipsed the music being recorded. We had the over-the-top blasphemy of the infamous Warsaw gig of 2004, complete with nude crucified models and sheep heads on spikes, the rape allegations levelled at founding member Infernus in 2006, then the schism a year later which saw imposing frontman Gaahl and songwriter/bassist King ov Hell fail in their attempt to wrest control of the band from Infernus.
Thankfully all these distractions appear to be at an end, although Infernus has been unable to hold onto a stable line-up. Ninth full-length studio effort Instinctus Bestialis (Soulseller), originally recorded in 2013, has finally been released with former Obituary member Frank Watkins (Bøddel) and Thomas Asklund returning on bass and drums, and newbie Atteringer stepping up to the mic. So, after all the drama of the past decade, has the six year wait since 2009’s QuantosPossunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt (Regain) been worth it?
Upon pressing play, it’s instantly apparent that the band’s trademark blasting ferocity has not been reined in one iota. The vicious, clipped riffing and light speed blastbeats of ‘Radix Malorum’ will quite simply pin your ears back. The same can be said of next track ‘Dionysian Rite’ with Infernus doubling-up furiously and one of the three (yes, three) hired lead guitarists adding slick pinch harmonics to proceedings. The breakdown is suitably sinister with Atteringer intoning “Intoxication!” like a deranged, drunken cult leader. ‘Ad Omnipotens Aeterne Diabolus’ starts off slowly and mournfully, playing around with different tempos and ideas including some vaguely Dissection tasting guitar lines.
While the band more or less perfected their style several years ago, somewhere between 2000’s Incipit Satan and 2003’s Twilight of the Idols (both Nuclear Blast), it’s evident that Infernus and his acolytes have plenty more to offer. The naked aggressiveness of the riffing could still blast all the snow off a Norwegian mountain-top with ease and the overriding feeling of being repeatedly pounded by the hammer of Satan is something that you can only get with a Gorgoroth album, and Instinctus Bestialis is no exception. The death metal that infects ‘Come Night’ and ‘Rage in His Light’ are welcome additions that prevent things from being too one-dimensional, with the fantastic solo in the latter raising the bar again.
One noticeable change from previous albums is the vocal style of Atteringer. Opting for a low-pitched growl instead of the high pitched shrieks and rasps favoured by previous vocalists Hat and Pest, his low, unhurried intonations lend proceedings a darker air, especially in the slower moments which allow the tension to build once more. The production is crisp, ensuring all instruments are heard, although the sheer prominence of the guitars and relentless drums in the mix at times threaten to turn things into a stew, but this is thankfully dodged.
Hopefully now the music will be all that matters, and with Instinctus Bestialis, Gorgoroth have re-established their position as standard bearers of the Norwegian second wave.
True Satanic Black Metal has never felt so alive.
Subtlety isn’t the done thing when it comes to black metal. Take Arvas for example. Their promo pictures are utterly hilarious; contorted, gurning faces slathered in corpsepaint which have the unfortunate side effect of highlighting how certain members of the band could do with brushing their teeth. The title of their third full-length Black Satanic Mysticism (Aeternitas Tenebarum Musicae Fundamentum) was probably selected by throwing darts at pages torn from Watain liner notes, while the cover is haphazardly covered with occult symbols with little thought for aesthetic value. Needless to say, the music they peddle is unashamed second-wave worship which sticks so rigidly to convention you wonder why they even bothered, even if it ticks all the right boxes.
A satisfyingly raw production that in all likelihood was engineered through thoughtful design rather than accident reminds us that Arvas consider themselves to be the real deal. They’ve obviously spent a long time absorbing the classic releases of the likes of Gorgoroth, Mayhem and Darkthrone and over forty-seven minutes repeatedly remind you that those bands did it first and better. The repetitive riff that drives ‘Flames of Black’ should have remained in the rehearsal room while the out-and-out Bathory worship of ‘Follow the Raven’ is so derivative of Stockholm’s finest that Quorthorn deserves a writing credit. The same can be said for the blatant Carpathian Forest rip-off that is ‘Faith of Negatron.’
While their commitment to replicating older material ensures that a few engaging riffs are present on Black Satanic Mysticism, the utter lack of originality displayed by Arvas is troubling for a band that has been around in some form or another since 1993. Black metal is meant to be lawless, creative and dangerous, not safe, predictable and clichéd. Bands such as this may think they are keeping the old flame alive but in reality they are just tending a field of scorched earth.
After forming in 2003, Dutch quintet Kjeld has finally got round to releasing their debut album, with the wait presumably down to the difficulty the band has had in translating their lyrical concepts of anti-cosmic mysticism and the nature of death into the Friesian language, a difficult tongue to master. Well, the wait was worth it, for Skym (Hammerheart) is a suitably grim piece of Second-wave worship that fans of Gorgoroth and Enthroned will lap up like blood from a chalice.
With a knack for imbuing searing black metal riffs with a feeling of unease and coldness like the true greats of the genre, the band members have evidently put a lot of thought and effort into crafting the songs for this debut effort. The slightly murky production, with the snare drum in particular high in the mix, ensures that the atmosphere is claustrophobic and full of dread while the pace remains varied throughout.
Although rooted in the light-speed riffing of the Norwegian great and good, as demonstrated on the aggressive opening salvo of ‘Tûzen Sinnen’ and the title track, the lurch into mid-paced suicidal depressive black metal territory on the Forgotten Tomb-worshipping ‘Gerlofs Donia’ is evidence that the band have a few tricks up their sleeves, further demonstrated by the monolithic power of classy album closer ‘Bern Fan Freya.’
While their fellow countrymen Sammath failed to stake a claim for the importance of black metal from the Low Countries with the disappointing Godless Arrogance (Hammerheart), Kjeld has proven that relatively gimmick-free black metal still has a future and that there’s a lot to be said in waiting to ensure you get your debut release right instead of rushing things and being disappointed with the result. On that basis, Kjeld have begun their career in just the right way.
Let’s get it on the table – Godless Arrogance (Hammerheart) is well played and excellently produced with a good energy. Frontman J. Kruitwagen unleashes powerful, feral howls, and Koos Bos shines with a 36 minute holocaust from behind the kit. This is a decent black metal release with very obvious Gorgoroth and Immortal reference points.
However, for all its competency, like so many faceless corpse-painted albums before it, Godless Arrogance is pointless. It has no personality, no individuality and serves no real purpose. Not every album should, or can be boundary pushing, but sticking rigidly to a style and formula that has been stuck rigidly to for nigh on twenty years by countless others leaves them in the middle of an unspectacular and very large pack.
Black Metal is intrinsically a scene of contradiction – claiming rebellion and anarchy while entrenched in blatant retrospection and reverence to a select few hallowed reference points. But these days it’s a blunted rebellion, stunted by a refusal to move beyond a formula that was first laid down 25 years ago by Bathory and then refined and defined by Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Emperor et al.
Staring out the window wistfully, a half-grin plays on the lips as fond memories tickle the brain of a time when black metal was exciting and boasted creativity and diversity, when acts mutated and pushed boundaries. Sadly Godless Arrogance, for all its’ sonic strength and no matter how well played it is, lacks any desire to be anything other than just another black metal album. If they were alone in their Gorgoroth/Immortal worship, then I might think more kindly, but it’s over 20 years since Pure Holocaust (Osmose) and 19 since Antichrist (Malicious). The repetition of sound and style by Sammath and others is well beyond boring now.