Light Bearer was formed in 2010 as a means for band vocalist Alex Bradshaw to explore his Æsahættr Tetralogy narrative in musical from. His expansive atheist/anti-theist tale aims to dismantle doctrines that should have been “abandoned before the dark ages”, and while that’s a considerably mammoth goal, you can’t fault Light Bearer’s dedication to the task.
The band’s 2013 release, Silver Tongue, weaves philosophical radicalism through a theatrical mix of post-hardcore and ambient, sludge, and progressive metal. Multi-layered, with hymnal and hostile passages borne on fluctuating time changes, Silver Tongue saw mournful orchestral swells slam into fevered metal blasts. Vastly operatic in scope, Silver Tongue was 80 minutes of kaleidoscopic severity and serenity. It was a powerful and altogether impassioned declaration, with the album’s dynamism and zeal offering myriad colors, textures, and revolutionary ideas to explore. (See also: the progressive brilliance of Leprous’s Coal.)
You’re spoilt for choice in picking a fantastic Svart records release in 2013, with great albums from the likes of Speedtrap, Goatess, Oranssi Pazuzu, Tombstoned, and Jess and the Ancient Ones. Any one of those is worthy of a bombastic word or two, but I’m going with Domovoyd, lest the quartet become lost in the crowd.
Domovoyd’s debut for Svart this year, Oh Sensibility, featured ’60s and ’70s psychedelia all smothered in the amp-melting miasma of Sleep or Electric Wizard. Giant lysergic riffs tumbled through sinsemilla fields on Oh Sensibility, but plenty of dark clouds gathered when Domovoyd dropped into reverb-ringing pits. What Domovoyd brought most to Oh Sensibility were long-form hikes into the hinterlands of cosmic doom, and for astral obsessives, Domovoyd’s rocket-riff voyages made for some of 2013’s trippiest. (See also: toke-friendly pursuits on Cathedral’s The Last Spire, Orchid’s The Mouths of Madness, and Kröwnn’s Hyborian Age demo.)
In February 2014, a hugely anticipated collaboration between sound-explorer Ulver and earthshaking drone demon Sunn O))) is set to be released, but late in 2013 we were gifted an extraordinary collaboration between Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio and Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley via their Äänipää project.
Joining void-gazers Vainio and O’Malley on Äänipää’s Through a Pre-Memory were Khanate vocalist Alan Dubin (howling the musings of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova), Eyvind Kang (providing string arrangements), and Randall Dunn (handling the tape manipulations). Four tracks hovering around the 20-minute mark featured grim electronic and guitar treks, all set under a bitter canopy. Droning doom vibrated on the cellular level, programmed percussion pounded holes into the psyche, and Vaino and O’Malley’s minimalist menace ensured that Through a Pre-Memory dragged huge slabs of sound over fathomless glacial rhythms. (See also: Ulver’s Messe I.X-VI.X, Daniel Menche’s Vilke, and Kevin Drumm’s continued run of droning discord in 2013.)
Some albums are simply made to test your will, and Obsidian Codex is definitely one of those. The full-length debut from New Zealand’s Vassafor wasn’t for the faint of heart, and although it was technically released in December 2012, I’m sneaking it in here for good reason. Obsidian Codex was 90 minutes of hell on earth, all poured forth with the backlog of scorn of a band founded by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist VK back in 1997. It’s a masterwork of deeply ritualistic black metal, but due to the time of its release, it just didn’t see enough coverage in early 2013.
Obsidian Codex’s lengthy grinds across cratered doomscapes used whatever tools were necessary to smash the spirit. With a massively heavy and dense production, sombre tones shifted from creeping to crushing throughout, and the album’s musical execution was presented with an extraordinary degree of ferocious focus, something that never dropped one iota over Obsidian Codex’s running time. I couldn’t recommend Obsidian Codex highly enough. It’s punishing perfection. (See also: Sinistrous Diabolus’s long-awaited Total Doom//Desecration, and, looming on the horizon, Gesundrian, the upcoming full-length from doom cult luminary, Diocletian.)
In 2012, label Daemon Worship planted itself firmly on the map, releasing a raft of visceral and demented black metal, including one of the year’s very best albums in Svartidauði’s Flesh Cathedral. This year, the label released more antagonistic fare from the likes of Arfsynd and Perditor, but the album that impressed most was Wormlust’s debut, The Feral Wisdom.
The first full-length from the one-man Icelandic band saw psychedelic black metal propel The Feral Wisdom into a spine-chilling orbit. Much like the Kraut/space/black metal mix found on Oranssi Pazuzu’s Valonielu this year, Wormlust took bare-boned second-wave screeds and bound those tight with Hawkwindian and Tangerine Dream-like astral projections. The Feral Wisdom captured the chaos of the outer limits exceptionally well, and its left-field synth, ice-cold riffs, and blast-beat detonations ripped open the fabric of time, space and, most importantly of all, the mind. (See also: the black metal of Cosmic Church‘s Ylistys, A Pregnant Light’s Stars Will Fall, Zemial’s Nykta, and the Botanist’s most adventurous release yet, IV: Mandragora.)
Excellent releases from the likes of Sub Rosa, Uzala, and Batillus have all presented differing shades, shapes, and weights of doom this year. However, when it comes to dense and disgusting doom, Missouri sludge trio Fister served up some most putrid audio-torture with Gemini this year.
Fister’s second full-length offered trauma-inducing songs, slathered in crust and injected with an overdose of sinister stoner rock. Think Eyehategod’s chaos and distortion combined with Buzzov•en’s indignation and you’ll get a sense of Fister’s baseline brew. Chugging guitar crawls were drowned in caustic feedback, while longer tracks presented Fister with an opportunity to lock the choke-holds on. With throat-scarring bellows, battering riffs, and intimidating levels of filthy punishment, Gemini contained perfectly sadistic tunes, for the masochist in all of us. (See also Batillus’s bruising Concrete Sustain, and the recent split release from Noothgrush and Coffins.)
The release of Merkstave’s self-titled full-length debut this year also marked the end of the band. The Oregon funeral doom collective featured members from groups such as Hell and Velnias, and had released two obscure demos before Merkstave mysteriously appeared in August this year. Recorded, produced, and mastered entirely in analog, the album featured three excruciatingly slow and disheartening tracks, and Merkstave was a devastatingly heavy reminder of our infinitesimally small place in the universe.
Merkstave’s voyage into the abyss saw bleak melodies bleed into voluminous drones, opening huge gulfs of sound for an immersive experience overall. It is, of course, a tragedy that Merkstave has gone after such a magnificent display of life-sapping doom on debut; but then, given the band set out to crush spirits, that situation couldn’t be more apt. (See also: the recent live release from Hell, Tour Through Hell, which collects 60 minutes of punishing dirges, and the upcoming split between Hell and Mizmor in January 2014.)
Paris-based black metal trio Aosoth has yet to release an album that’s anything less than a demoniacal delight. And while I had my doubts that the band could better the unrepentant and unholy rite of 2011’s III: Violence and Variation, I was deliriously happy to have been proven wrong with Aosoth’s 2013 release, IV: An Arrow in Heart.
IV: An Arrow in Heart seethed with Satanic hostility as Aosoth deftly wielded its Mephistophelian melodies more potently than ever. The hallmarks of the band’s black metal traditionalism (intricate icy tremolo, and MkM’s howling Hades vocals) surged through blasphemous atmospherics, while clawing shifts in tempo on long-form, cyclical compositions wormed their way under the skin. IV: An Arrow in Heart was magnificently corruptive, and while it favored the past sonically, there wasn’t anything antiquated about its message. For Aosoth, Christianity is a plague to be wiped out, and the band committed to that goal with utter fervency. (See also: Gevurah’s EP, Necheshirion, and the wolf-pack ferocity of Arckanum’s Fenris Kindir.)
Beyond All Light, the sophomore release from Kentucky-based Anagnorisis, was an album that set out on an epic journey, but maintained an intimate and introspective heart. Split into two parts, with each act featuring three mammoth songs, Beyond All Light offered 50 thunderous minutes of evocative black metal, with Anagnorisis’s classical influences ever present.
Anagnorisis mixed sweeping, symphonically styled black metal with a dash of death metal’s snarl on Beyond All Light. Drudkh or Agalloch would be reference points—at least in Anagnorisis’s ability to sculpt vast cinematic scenes. Beyond All Light featured saxophone, mandolin, violin, and varying folk instrumentation, all blended with dynamic tremolo picking, on the band’s mini-symphonies. Anagnorisis kept the overall ambience grand, but it launched into scorching sections of bleak black metal throughout, with the band melding a raft of influences into a unique vision. (See also: fascinating flavors of epic black metal including Lake of Blood’s Omnipotens Tyrannus, Thrawsunblat’s Thrawsunblat II: Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings, Skagos’s Anarchic, Caladan Brood’s Echoes of Battle, and Cnoc An Tursa’s The Giants of Auld.)
Since 2008, US black metal enigma Torture Chain has released a demo a year building up to the (one-man) band’s ‘official’ debut on 2013’s Mutilating Astral Entities. Like a lot of Torture Chain’s lo-fi, sawtoothed, and punk-informed kin, the line between demo and debut is exceedingly thin, and Mutilating Astral Entities certainly continued Torture Chain’s reign of releasing impressively hideous and toxic noise.
Mutilating Astral Entities contained that very same element that has made the work of punk/black metal hybrid Bone Awl and sludge/doom miscreant Hell so enjoyable—namely, a fiercely underground DIY disposition. Mutilating Astral Entities featured torrents of black metal dunked in vats of boiling acid, with guitars corrosively slashing on an album that teetered on the edge of collapsing into a vortex throughout. If the notion of black metal’s end times celebrations wrapped in a bloody punk rock cowl sounds attractive, then Mutilating Astral Entities is exactly the kind of ugly, shrieking, and macabre album you’ve been waiting for. (See also: the existential punk/metal worship on Raspberry Bulbs’ extremely enjoyable Deformed Worship.)