Skythala – Boreal Despair (I, Voidhanger)
There’s not much to divulge about Skythala, an avant black metal band so mysterious that they don’t even have an Encyclopaedia Metallum page. The press blurb suggests that the act is related to the American label Moonlight Cypress Archetypes with its members based in Tennessee and New Jersey, but doesn’t elaborate any further. In some strange way, it’s for the best. An aura of mysticism never hurt anyone. The music on Boreal Despair is among the strangest black metal released in recent years.
While dissonant atmo black is nothing new, the six cuts on the album appear to have more in common with European 20th-century avant-garde and contemporary classical music rather than any particular band from the scene apart from, tangentially, Jute Gyte. The black metal flesh of densely layered shrieking tremolos, growls, and blasts get draped over and embedded between the bones of these unusual skeletons. There are elements that might hint at your familiar symphonic metal at play here—synthetic trumpet blows, disembodied choirs, and billowing string textures—but their placement is distinctive, almost mischievous as the blankets of neoclassicism cradle crunchy black metal attacks in a surreal sacral mood, then embellish them with slivers of Derek Bailey-like spectral riffing. A singular, enthralling release. – Antonio Poscic
Marc Urselli’s SteppenDoom – SteppenDoom (Magnetic Eye)
Marc Urselli is primarily known for his work as a Grammy-winning producer, audio engineer, and sound designer, but in recent years he has started actively surfacing his own musical projects. The first of these was the result of a collaboration with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, film director Jim Jarmusch, and drummer Balazs Pandi, which took the form of improvised vignettes imbued with cinematic, noir-tinged avant-rock. While SteppenDoom shares a certain compositional sensibility and sense of muted grandiosity with that outfit, its aural manifestation is monumental and all-encompassing in comparison.
Featuring contributions from a truly all-star cast of musicians and throat singers—including Sleep’s Matt Pike, Neurosis’s Steve von Till, Scott “Wino” Weinrich, Tanya Tagaq, Yat-Kha’s Albert Kuvezin, and Huun-Huur-Tu—SteppenDoom meanders between pillaring towers of Sunn O))) evoking drone smoke and more direct stoner and sludge rock statements. Here, the feedback-laden, massive instrumental backdrops set the stage for the singers to chant and heal, and commune using overtones and extended vocal techniques. Each of the songs seems to be custom tailored around the singing and playing style of the particular cast on them, transforming the music from pure stoner doom on “Sedna & Eliduc” to the ritualistic, Phurpa-fuelled abstract drone of “A-dkar Theg Pa”. Listened as a whole, the album reveals an extraordinary journey. – Antonio Poscic
Terrörhammer – Gateways to Hades (Osmose Productions)
There is something mesmerizing and deviously elegant in the simplicity with which Terrörhammer pull off their take on thrash and speed-influenced black metal in the vein of Nunslaughter. The Serbian trio’s formula has just the right amounts of aggression and melodic inclinations, with ripping riffs and impish vocals roaring on through segments of rocking black metal. By often shifting from airier, chuggier sections (“Midnight Patrol”) into brutal, tremolo-ignited flames (“Inside the Nuclear Tomb”, “Tronized Goat Master”), they manage to maintain a sense of dynamism that’s often found missing in the genre. While it goes without saying that this is a fun album—it comes with the territory of the style—it also has staying power thanks to a well-thought-out structure and mean & lean songwriting. – Antonio Poscic
Tiwanaku – Earth Base One (Avantgarde Music/Unorthodox Emanations)
Ed Mowery formed Tiwanaku back in 2003 and released a demo album—featuring none other than Richard Christy on drums!–that was very well-received at the time. And then… nothing. Until this year, at least. Two decades after its inception, Mowery’s project finally has a proper debut on its hands. While some twenty years in the making, Earth Base One actually sounds incredibly fresh, dishing out ten superb cuts of sci-fi-themed progressive death metal.
Mowery’s new incarnation of the band—featuring veterans of the Tampa, Florida death metal scene—moves with conviction and gusto through the songs as tasty guitar leads intertwine and lay down a bed of spiky cacti for rumbling rhythms and vocals possessed by some malevolent cosmic entity. The music is surprisingly varied, as well. “Ghost War” drops way down into a huge, doomy sound reminiscent of Paradise Lost circa Icon, “Swarm” buzzes with old school death metal and bits of grooving thrash, while “Nightmare Hall” envisions a chilling atmosphere before becoming a strange avant death thing. – Antonio Poscic
Vittra – Blasphemy Blues (Independent)
Named like Naglfar’s seminal 1995 album, Swedish newcomers Vittra have a similar penchant for melodies like their famed compatriots, but choose to express it through death rather than black metal tropes. While there is a blackened tinge to it all, though, reminiscent of early Children of Bodom (RIP Alexi Laiho), Kalmah or In Flames, Blasphemy Blues leans on the thrashier side of the genre, switching gears between compact, blast beats-driven sections and more insidious grooves propelled by swirls of catchy riffs coupled with on point, abyssal growls. As a whole, the album has a slightly anachronistic, familiar sheen to it, but Vittra’s incorporation of obvious influences is done with taste and wrapped around solid, tight songwriting. The end result? A supremely fun romp underlined with just a bit of sonic nostalgia. – Antonio Poscic
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