Fell Ruin – Cast in Oil the Dressed Wrought (Tartarus/Death Psalm)
Clocking at barely over half an hour, the sophomore LP by Fell Ruin might appear like a short and sweet affair at first glance. In reality, it is anything but. When the final attacks of screaming, seesawing tremolos taper off on closing track “Sightless Amongst the Weavers”, leaving scorched Earth behind, you’ll instead feel as if minced and spewed out from a meat grinder. The Detroit, Michigan-based black metallers play a decidedly dissonant and destructive take on the genre, with bits of doom and death—even d-beat!—mixed in with ambient sections and off-kilter moments like the jazzy syncopations and growled chants of “Stain the Field”. This mixture of styles makes Cast in Oil the Dressed Wrought an extremely heavy and punishing yet irresistible piece of music. – Antonio Poscic
Haavard – Haavard (Prophecy)
Kveldssanger is a big chapter in the black metal mythos. The moment when Ulver stripped back all the black metal self from Bergtatt, allowing the folk side to stand on its own, was pivotal for extreme music. It revealed the underlying atmospheric roots or at least one side of these. Håvard Jørgensen was pivotal in this turn for the legendary act, and it is now 26 years after Kveldssanger that this romantic self is exposed again with Haavard’s self-titled debut. Rich acoustic guitars dominate of course, from the early melodic and melancholic tinges of “Printemps”. Håvard explores the landscapes of his native Norway with this magical companion, creating pure, blissful magic with “Snøhetta”. Multiple facets are investigated, from the minimal plays of “Sørgemarsj”, to the medieval interpretations of “Oberon” and “The Chase”, all the way to the traditional, Spanish extensions of “Emanuelle”.
Further elements embrace this protagonist, the strings being especially prominent. They add a further emotive depth to the proceedings, be it through the intimate applications of the opener, the hopeful perspective of “Niende Mars” and “Myrull”, or the darker and harrowing qualities of “Heartwood” and “Athena”. Flutes and accordions join in, and a guest vocal performance from the one and only Kristoffer Rygg completes this return to form. It is a strange feeling, to experience this work. There is so much history with Kveldssanger, where the lineage of black metal can be felt through.
Sure, there is no distortion, no blastbeats, and no gnarly vocals to reveal the extreme music aspect. Yet, the atmosphere alone speaks to the great folk injection that has defined black metal. The melodic qualities, verge from despairing to uplifting. The meticulous progression and spectrum of emotions encapsulate all the darkness, agony, and angst that have found their way into the Scandinavian scene. Yes, Håvard not only gives us another chapter to the great tradition of Kveldssanger, but he is also reminding us of an entire school of thought that shaped (at least part of) a genre. – Spyros Stasis
High Command – Eclipse of the Dual Moons (Southern Lord)
Sophomore record for High Command, who are moving to the frontlines of the hardcore/thrash crossover revival scene, a sound recently honed through the works of Iron Age, Enforced, and Power Trip. The band from Massachusetts continues to tinker with their recipe, combining their love for ‘80s epic and extreme metal with their affection for the D-beat progression. Eclipse of the Dual Moons drives through this shared space in stunning fashion. As soon as the dual guitar assault of the title track comes in, the havoc and ferocity are staggering. The Slayerized motifs shine through their vitriolic edge and lead the way forth.
High Command greatly explore this space. At times they bring down the tempo, leading to moments reminiscent of the doom grandeur found in South of Heaven. This mid-pace also allows the breakdowns to shine more, with High Command steadying themselves from the Discharge influence in the ending of “Fortified By Bloodshed”, towards a DRI-like presence. Blackened elements come to the front, “Immortal Savagery” channeling the early Celtic Frost attitude and Bathory’s epic presence. This epic quality is where High Command are most comfortable. Eclipse of the Dual Moons thrives through this approach, either in its blackened sense or in a more traditional metallic sense.
“Omniscient Flail of Infamy” features a heavy metal-inspired progression, while “Chamber of Agony” adds a Dio spin to the affair. Organs fill the space, chants add depth to the imposing background. This is the greatest strength of High Command, and their grasp on its form and characteristics is what makes Eclipse of the Dual Moons so enticing. It lends an extra boost of energy and enticement to long-form compositions, such as the 13-minute-long closer “Spires of Secartha”, something that is not that often undertaken in the scene. – Spyros Stasis
Judicator – The Majesty of Decay (Prosthetic)
I’ve written so effusively about Judicator in this very column in the past. As it turns out, I should have left some praise for later. The Majesty of Decay is the Blind Guardian album that we’ve been waiting for but have never been given. Unlike Judicator’s past albums that balanced between American and European visions of power metal, Majesty dives head first into the sound of Blind Guardian’s early records, complete with melodic yet aggressively thrashy riffs, galloping rhythms, and harmonized choruses. But this is not some offhand homage. This is music that feels alive and energized.
While their starting point is familiar, John Yelland and bandmates evolve the classic German power metal approach by adding to it bits and pieces of Nevermore’s thrash-inclinations (“The Majesty of Decay”), death metal-like brutality (“Daughter of Swords”), Symphony X’s progressive affectations, and traditional doom riffs (“From the Belly of the Whale”) underscored by jumping, exuberant Euro-power in the vein of Rhapsody (“Ursa Major”) and occasional traces of heavy psych rock (“The High Priestess”). On paper, it might sound like a jumble of styles taken too far. In reality, these elements are blended together masterfully to create what is, without a doubt, the best power metal album of the year. – Antonio Poscic
Kampfar – Til klovers takt (Indie Recordings)
After a four decades-long career, it seems fair to name Kampfar legends of Norwegian black metal, even outside their particular pagan/folk niche. That they’ve managed to maintain such a high level of quality throughout all this time is even more fascinating. And yet, Til klovers takt—their ninth full-length—is at least as strong, if not stronger, than its predecessors, the excellent Profan (2015) and Ofidians manifest (2019). Stretched over six shadowy cuts, the four-piece delivers on all elements that make Kampfar Kampfar.
“Lausdans Under Stjernen showcases occult, grandiose-sounding mid-tempo black metal dripping with rich earthy tones. “Fandens Trall” is a both textural and direct diversion into atmospheric black metal. The blistering, synth-laden second-wave black metal attacks of “Rekviem” (reminiscent of Eld-era Enslaved) and the grandiose doom-black of “Dødens Aperitiff” then top off what is a nigh flawless record. – Antonio Poscic
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