Nihill: Verdonkermaan

It's always a revelation when you discover a metal band that resonates with you deeply, one that hits you right in the gut, or tugs at the old heartstrings.



Label: Hydra Head
US Release Date: 2012-09-21
UK Release Date: 2012-10-03

It's always a revelation when you discover a metal band that resonates with you deeply, one that hits you right in the gut, or tugs at the old heartstrings. However, it's even better when you find a band that calls to mind, with searing intensity, agonies you've tried your very best to forget. If that all sounds a touch masochistic, keep in mind that the best heavy metal has always summoned tragedy or torment in one form or another. Case in point, the latest album from Netherlands-based black metal trio Nihill. Verdonkermaan is a dissonant hypnotic blur of atmospheric invocations and wretched vomitus – but those aren't even its best features. It also echoes the hellacious memories of one of the worst nights of my life.

You see, a few years back I was extremely ill in hospital, feverish and delirious with pain. I remember a doctor leaning over me and saying "meningitis" and "lumbar puncture", and then I watched as he unwrapped the longest hypodermic needle in existence. If you've never had a lumbar puncture – or, keeping with the spirit of a metal review, a spinal tap – essentially a 20-odd-gauge needle is inserted into your lower back and fluid is drawn from your spinal column. It's an unpleasant experience, as excruciating as it sounds. It's the kind of thing you definitely should wish upon your worst enemies.

Now, I realize you haven't come here to read about my medical woes. But Verdonkermaan, Nihill's concluding album in a trilogy, is extremely evocative of just such disturbing procedures. Like its equally harrowing predecessors, Krach and Grond, it mixes the horror of imminent suffering with the terror of being at the mercy of someone who looks as if they’ll take hellish delight in harming you.

As with anything invasive, Verdonkermaan is nerve shattering from the start, with fiendish and raw black metal eliciting stratospheric heights of anxiety on the 10-minute opener "Vuur: The Deathwind of Resurrection". Vocalist Michiel Eikenaar (who also fronts excellent experimental black metal outfit Dodecahedron) screeches with demoniacal abandon, while all around him a premonitory vortex of blackened noise swirls. You couldn’t hope for a more unsettling beginning. Off-kilter and unorthodox, the song perfectly represents Nihill's vision of destruction and decomposition; like that needle that pierced my back, it comes with the realization that no amount of anesthetic will dull the impending trauma.

Nihill sits on the avant-garde end of the black metal spectrum. The band crafts black holes of noise, sharing commonalties with Stygian French experimentalists Blut Aus Nord, and black/noise artists such as Gnaw Their Tongues and Wold. The five lengthy songs on Verdonkermaan form an inverted sacramental suite, where catchy refrains and congenial hooks are entirely absent. The album is a 43-minute remorseless surge of buried melodies and eccentric animus, accompanied by the callousness and frostbitten discomfort of bitter and abrasive black metal.

Built around splintering shelves of rancor, "Spiral: The Tail Eater" and "Oerbron: Returning to the Primal Matter" comprise static-ridden riffs, ice-cold feedback, and masses of sinister overtones. "Gnosis Pt. IV" is diaphanous in comparison; its bone-chilling whispers and hypothermic drone are acutely unnerving, increasing the claustrophobia. By the time you reach the aptly titled final track, "Trauma: Crushing Serpens Mercuriales", the free-form turmoil of Nihill reining-in, realigning, and plowing ahead into even more fragmenting mayhem makes for one darkly divine gyre. Nihill's dive into the raging pyres of chaos and esotericism is unconventional, but there’s a very clear sense that the band is in complete control of its direction.

Like my lumbar puncture, there’s method to the madness. Although, admittedly, Nihill’s purpose isn't likely to prove beneficial to your health. The band seeks to corrupt (this is the blackest of black metal, after all), taking as much delight in tightening the vice as it does in contradicting expectations. Where you might expect some coherent or linear structure there is none. Only misanthropic crawls heaped upon atonal cacophonies – completing the trilogy in a wholly appropriate cataclysmic crescendo.

When the doctor pushed that needle through muscle and sinew towards my spine, existentially gruesome images flashed through my mind and monstrous wails filled my head. That’s exactly the kind of emotional state that Nihill induces. The band takes understandable experiences and thrusts them into surreal realms. Verdonkermann contains all the familiar elements of black metal – blastbeats, harsh production, dissonance galore – and is replete with a black-hearted nefariousness. But those familiarities exist as reference points, as Nihill takes the recognizable and mutates it all with devilish glee into an elongated smear of filthy noise.

As I discovered when that hypodermic was being slowly withdrawn, such experiences are conduits into a cosmos of unexplored pain and bewilderment. Verdonkermann is a purgatorial blast into diabolical spheres, a fitting end to a tormenting, three-album procedure, and a dirty needle stabbed straight into your spine.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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