Einherjer – North Star (Napalm Records)
For many metal fans growing up in the 1990s, Einherjer’s melodic and folk-tinged sort of black metal was an early gateway into harsher and rawer forms of the genre. While paving the way for a whole new style, they were, of course, considered “untrve” at the time. Constrained to the guilty pleasure drawer by the scene at large, their viking metal was either too soft and tuneful or their ideologies not edgy enough to be part of the cool crowd. Yet looking back to their long career with an open mind, their contributions to the genre are undeniable.
Not only that, but their ninth LP introduces some of their best songs to date. Continuing where 2018’s excellent Norrøne spor left off, North Star is unabashedly catchy and melodic in the way it packages symphonic, folk, progressive, and power metal elements into black metal attacks. At first, there’s the relentless rumble of “The Blood and the Iron,” the chug and start-stop rhythms of “West Coast Groove,” and the patiently built, Moonsorrow-like dirge “Ascension.” Then, they introduce melodeath riffs on “Higher Fire” and power-cum-thrash elation on the mid tempo scorcher “Listen to the Graves,” which is like Grave Digger gone black metal. Taken as a whole, these stylistically varied songs paint a picture of a self-assured band that sounds like having fun and, in turn, sounds like serious fun. – Antonio Poscic
Emptiness – Vide Season of Mist)
Evolution can take the strangest of routes, and can end up in the weirdest of places. For Emptiness, their origins were founded in the chaotic side of the black metal and death metal intersections. Their early output was raw and uncompromising, resulting in aggressive records like Guilty to Exist and Oblivion. Yet slowly, Emptiness started to drift away from their black and death roots, subtly at first and then more pronounced. Nothing But The Whole saw them place more weight on their experimental side, leaning towards a post-metallic ideal. Industrial influences and avantgarde motifs became apparent, and post-punk felt like it was only a step away in tracks like “All Is Known”. 2017’s Not For Music would carry on this transformative path, as black metal atmosphere combined with the darkwave aura, and now its successor Vide arrives completing the metamorphosis.
If Not For Music was a work that stood between Emptiness’ black metal past and their post-punk aspirations, Vide tilts the scale towards the latter. Shedding away their black metal side, while only retaining some of its eerie perspective, Emptiness transform Vide to a complete post-punk tour. And it is a dark one, travelling through darkwave lanes and deathrock distortions to deliver its caustic vision. Vide starts in pure venomous fashion, as a respirator provides the rhythmic backbone in opener “Un corps a l’abandon”, with Emptiness masterfully weaving the guitar licks around it.
From that point on, Emptiness meticulously construct an understated and downplayed work. The obscure progression of “Vide, incomplet” and the beautifully melancholic guitar lines of “Ce beau visage qui brule”, the psychedelic injections of “Detruis-moi a l’amour” and the almost romantic core of “On n’en fini pas” showcase this newfound perspective. It has been a long journey for Emptiness, but they have found themselves in a very interesting and unique place with Vide. – Spyros Stasis
Forhist – Forhist (Debemur Morti)
At its core, Forhist sees Blut Aus Nord’s Vindsval stripping down to a raw and organic form of black metal. In place of the intricate progressions, layers of avant-dissonance, and unhinged energy of his main band, Forhist taps into something more primordial. It harks back to the first and second wave of Norwegian black metal, but with an understanding of contemporary aesthetics.
Case in point, the record opens with a field recording of birds warbling and chirruping peacefully, adorning the stage with a sense of woodland mystique and foggy landscapes. Then it explodes. A winter blaze razes everything as voluminous tremolos and blast beats caress disembodied vocals, atmospheric synth textures, and gorgeous melodies.
As a whole, Forhist is an album of ambience, of describing not a journey through the forest, but the self-reflection it fuels. The emotions it evokes. The spirituality it awakens. Yet there are moments of aggression and power here. Droning riffs swirling like fire into the sky. Expansive harmonies and eerie chants hidden between pillars of forlorn introspection. Sounds of thunder cushioning dissonant atmo black and blackgaze idioms. This exquisite sonic landscaping is coupled with songwriting that at times eclipses the bands it takes inspiration from (see: Immortal, Darkthrone, Satyricon) and makes for one of the most striking black metal releases I’ve heard in a while. – Antonio Poscic
Gravesend – Methods of Human Disposal (20 Buck Spin)
20 Buck Spin has developed this uncanny ability in unearthing extreme metal gems. Crawling through the dark vastness of the underground, they have curated a new generational front of black, death and their intersections. Their latest finding in this expedition is New York’s black/grind powerhouse Gravesend. Not much is known about this new act, having just manifested out of the gutter with their sickening demo Preparations for Human Disposal. And now, with the preparations complete Gravesend move onto their main course with debut full-length Methods of Human Disposal.
This is as unforgiving as a record can get. Even the prelude to this work arrives with a harrowing tonality as the synthesizer of “Fear City” slowly spreads through retro manifestation, taking a “Tubular Bells” influence to turn it on its head. What comes after still only wets the palette as a sludge-oid manifestation with slow, heavy groove rises in “STH-10”. Then the real massacre begins, as the title track does not hold back, exploding in a haze of snare hits and cutthroat vocals, dissonant guitars filling the space and causing everything to tremble in their wake. Brutal death metal renditions in “End of The Line”, a grindcore touch infused with its punk past in “Subterranean Solitude” and the black heart of “Absolute Filth”, complete this trifecta of devastation. A stronger statement could not have been issued. – Spyros Stasis