Altarage hail from the Spanish city of Bilbao in northern Basque Country. Their identities buried beneath black veils, Altarage are a band whose music stands and falls on its own merits. Their murky, disorienting species of blackened death metal is dragged straight from the depths of Lovecraftian horror, as chilling howls cry out from the roiling maelstrom of churning guitars and percussion. This is the musical equivalent of not just staring into the abyss, but entirely submerging oneself in the bleak depths; Endinghent is an evocative, psychosis-inducing ritual of relentlessly oppressive death metal.
Finland has always pioneered various forms of disturbing, unsettling death metal. Demilich, Demigod, Convulse, and Adramalech have gone on to inspire waves of death/black metal bands far beyond Finland’s borders. Desolate Shrine is very much a different kind of beast, equal parts black metal and death metal, with the crushing weight of doom metal and disturbing flourishes of unhinged dissonance and chaos. Their fourth full-length album finds the band refining and evolving their sound by exploring old influences in new ways on their best album to date.
I’ve always believed that Myrkur had it in her to release a truly great album. Amalie Bruun strikes me as a woman invested in the music she creates, who loves what she does, and has been steadily but surely improving and refining her music since her debut EP in 2014. I still think that her self-titled EP didn’t do her justice, and said as much in my review at the time. Her debut full-length album M the following year was a significant improvement, but I knew she was capable of more, if only she would let go of the need to stick so rigidly to writing “black metal” and allow herself to compile a more diverse set of songs; on her second full-length album Mareridt, Myrkur finally delivers on all the promise that I knew she had, and has succeeded in creating the best album of her career to date, and one of the best albums of 2017.
There are perhaps few genres more niche than dungeon synth. This strange love-child of black metal and dark ambient music was birthed in the early 90s, often tracing its roots back to albums by Burzum, Mortiis and Summoning. On an aesthetic level, dungeon synth is deeply indebted to the black metal scene of which its early pioneering artists were members, and frequently draws on many of the same themes and concepts: high fantasy literature, melancholy and sombre moods, nature, and — of course — dark, mouldy dungeons. But the means by which it creates these sometimes ominous, other times triumphant, atmospheres could not be more different. Even today, artists still more often than not rely on ancient analogue synthesizers and little else. There’s an enormous sense of respect for the old ways of doing things — an ethos one can of course trace back to the genre’s roots in black metal.
The deep love of many black metal musicians for the fictional work created by J. R. R. Tolkien is well-established at this point, and it goes back almost to the birth of the genre itself. Thangorodrim is in fact named after the three enormous volcanoes within the Iron Mountains which Morgoth raised during the First Age, while his third album’s title means ‘Star of High Hope’ in Sindarin. Since his last album, Taur Nu Fuin, Thangorodrim has been spoken of in tones of reverence among the dungeon synth community, and as such the anticipation for Gil-Estel has been high.
Vancouver-based technical death metal crew Archspire have been active since 2009, but gained attention after their previous album, 2014’s The Lucid Collective, mainly due to the incredible speed and technical skill of the musicians on that record. It was fast, violent, and hectic, and predictably divided opinion over the issue of whether the music was simply so technical and polished that it lacked any soul. On their third full-length album Relentless Mutation Archspire seem to have engaged in some critical self-reflection, enabling them to create one of the most stunning albums in the entire genre to date.
I needed an album like this in 2017. An album to take me away from things as they are, away from all the specifics of my own circumstances, and to a place I think many of us have a kind of subconscious nostalgia for, a place we might never have been to, a place which perhaps never existed at all. Olypmia, Washington black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room have always succeeded in this respect. With their debut album ‘Diadem of 12 Stars’, the band translated the cold style of Norwegian black metal into their own American cultural context, re-emerging as an expression of the band’s deep connection with the Pacific North West. The band don’t fundamentally change their approach on “Thrice Woven”, but it’s certainly a more aggressive and immediately gratifying approach to a familiar concept.
Profane Nexus is yet another superb offering from one of the most consistent bands in death metal. Rather than seeking to reinvent the wheel, Incantation have been focusing on polishing and refining their genre-defining sound and honing their song-writing chops. Recent years have seen a surge in bands inspired by Incantation‘s cavernous, morbid approach to doom-drenched death metal, but Profane Nexus proves that Incantation are still the reigning kings, as they return with a vengeance. Continue reading “Album review: Incantation – “Profane Nexus””
Time Lurker is a one-man atmospheric black metal project that came to life in Strasbourg, France in 2014. Though it is technically a solo project, a number of other musicians contributed to this record, including members of Paramnesia, Pyrecult, and Le Mal des Ardents. Their debut full-length album, the eponymous Time Lurker, channels charts a course that explores the nature of the human condition through the medium of introspective, atmospheric black metal. Stylistically it reminds me of Mare Cognitum, Aureole, or Spectral Lore. The sheer scale and ambition of the compositions contained within is as impressive as it is daunting, the intensity of the emotions and the consequential catharsis exhausting. While it very occasionally bites off more than it can chew, Time Lurker is an exhilarating, emotionally draining record from start to finish. Continue reading “Review: Time Lurker – “Time Lurker””
I first came across Nexion at their performance at Oration Festival MMXVII in Reykjavik. A friend of mine knew them, and made me aware that they were well worth seeing. Their blistering show suggested a band with real experience on stage, despite having not yet released any recordings under the name Nexion. As it transpires, vocalist John Rood is also in Fenrismaw, while guitarist Jóhannes Smárason used to perform live with Svartidauði, and fellow guitarist Óskar Rúnarsson plays in Blood Feud. As with many of Iceland’s bands, there is cross-pollination. But Nexion‘s new music differs quite substantially from much of the black metal that has erupted from the little Island in its approach to blackened death metal. Read on for the review, as well as an interview with vocalist Josh Rood. Continue reading “Review and Interview: Nexion”
Lithuania’s Au-Dessus‘s debut album “End of Chapter” is a haunting, moving piece of post-black metal mastery. Conceptualised as both sequel and conclusion to their 2015 self-titled EP, “End of Chapter” sees Au-Dessus push deeper into the realms of dissonant, unsettling extreme metal. Comparisons with bands such as Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, and Schammasch are natural and appropriate, but Au-Dessus more than do enough to carve out their own niche in this flourishing style of black metal. Jarring, dissonant guitar riffs metamorphose into crushing passages of atmospheric sludge metal brutality; inhuman, tortured howls give way to melodic, passionate singing. Make no mistake about it: Despite the sleek visual aesthetic, this is challenging, harsh music that requires patience and careful attention to appreciate and come to grips with. With “End of Chapter”, Au-Dessus have crafted one of the most fascinating and powerful metal records in recent memory. Continue reading “Review: Au-Dessus – “End of Chapter””