Flame, Dear Flame – Aegis (Eisenwald)
Eisenwald have been known primarily as an extreme metal label. However, it has been tipping its toes into the doom genre here and there. In 2020 the label released the excellent Scion of Aether from blackened doom/folk act Velnias and the sophomore work of hybrid black/doom duo Ashtar. And this year, the return of The Flight of Sleipnir was also released through Eisenwald. Yet, while the label has been drawing from the fringes of doom, they are keen on releasing something with a more traditional flavor. Enter Flame, Dear Flame hailing from Germany who are about to unleash their debut record Aegis.
In many ways, Aegis feels like a traditional doom record. There is the mandatory Sabbathian touch, infecting the heavy riffs and the pace. It is molding much of the structures of Aegis into a monolithic form, but that is not the whole story. Flame, Dear Flame opt to traverse the more otherworldly facade of the genre. In the past, how many acts chose to do this experiment was through psychedelic influences that gave rise to the likes of Jex Thoth and The Oath. But Flame, Dear Flame take their own path, stripping away the distortion and the weight and taking on a folksy influence.
The second part of “The Millennial Heartbeat” achieves this through the well-placed clean passages, while the start of “The Wolves and the Prioress” sees this delicate approach take full flesh. From there on, Aegis deftly stands on the shoulders of vocalist Maren Lemke and her balanced delivery. Her voice can provide powerful moments like the finale of “The Wolves and the Prioress”, while also retaining a sense of grace, like the final part of “The Millennial Heartbeat”. The other pillar of the record is David Kuri’s guitar, retaining a stripped-down but very to-the-point quality. Able to morph between the heavy doom passages and the clean folk interludes, adding the necessary lead work and solo and the occasional Iron Maidenesque part shows the versatility of the act.
If there is one criticism to make, it is that while the record is well balanced, there are times when a more explosive part would elevate it further, be it through a more over-the-top delivery from Lemke or a more pronounced rhythmic change. But still, for a debut, Aegis does an excellent job. – Spyros Stasis
Friisk – …un torügg bleev blot Sand (Vendetta)
There is something gorgeous about the fragility of Friisk’s black metal and how eschatological themes mesh with personal loss and clash against the immovable force of nature. The German quartet wear their hearts on sleeves as they slip in and out of atmospheric, old school, and Teutonic black metal. Here, expansive tremolo textures, bumbling bass and drum spirals, and marching attacks bring forth tortured growls and shrieks as if surfacing repressed memories.
Each of the styles of black metal in the band’s arsenal is used and rearranged tastefully. They are made to serve as vessels for emotions ranging from melancholy to incandescent rage, only to be then chained together into larger narratives. As a result, the album is simultaneously grandiose and intimidating, drawing from arcane stories to paint a bleak picture of the present. An album to send shivers down your spine even in the blazing heat of summer. – Antonio Poscic
King Woman – Celestial Blues (Relapse)
Kris Esfandiari has covered a lot of ground. In recent years, Kris has been a member of post-rock/shoegaze act Whirr before embarking on several different projects. With Miserable, Esfandiari explores the post-punk revival through a dream-pop perspective, releasing the excellent Loverboy/Dog Days record. She explores hip-hop with DALMATIAN and breakcore with NGHTCRWLR, but it feels that Esfandiari’s home has always been King Woman. Shifting between drone and doom, adding shoegaze and post-rock elements King Woman have produced a series of excellent works. The Doubt EP and the band’s debut Created in the Image of Suffering standing out in particular. Now, Esfandiari and company return with their sophomore record, Celestial Blues, building onto the legend of King Woman.
King Woman has been balancing between the gritty and the ethereal. The earthy and the otherworldly, a feature that has been highlighted in the split between doom/drone motifs and shoegaze verging on dream pop. It is a dichotomy that defines Celestial Blues, appearing straight away through the opening track. Bluesy in its demeanor, in that it carries a certain melancholy but at the same time being elevated to celestial heights. The Sabbathian heritage here is projected through a heavy indie approach, masterfully merging these two disparate worlds. It’s this progression, starting from the dreamy and mysterious in “Boghz”, moving in mesmerizing notions to explode in huge fits of doom grandeur. And there are times when an even harsher approach is taken, with the punkish attitude of “Coil” seeing an escalated angst and energy driving the progression.
The key ingredient in this entire endeavor is Esfandiari’s delivery, which is, as always, spot on. Her vocal quality is unique, able to co-exist with the heavy riffs and pierce through when necessary. “Entwined” is a perfect example of this chameleonic approach, starting through an elusive and pretty delivery that transforms to a harrowing and terrifying blackened crescendo near the end. The mystique is further enhanced by Esfandiari’s experiences and her growing up as a Charismatic Christian, which flows through the narrative of this work.
Be it the hymnal invocations of “Golgotha”, the evocative nature of “Ruse”, or the direct approach of “Morning Star”, this work feels like it is reaching towards a spiritual level. The Miltionian aspect seals it all together through the minimal “Paradise Lost”, leaving you with the lines from “Morning Star” echoing in your head, “You know that it could have been you, so don’t you judge the things that I do”. – Spyros Stasis
madam data – The Gospel of the Devourer (PTP)
When interviewed for Bandcamp Daily about their 2020 collaborative album Slug/Savior with Savan DePaul, the multifaceted artist madam data described their speculative work “as a way of writing and manifesting a better future”. Their motivation was to present ideas “in a way that suggests a way out, a transformation”, using music as a medium that “carries the divine gift of being able to hold a feeling and transmute it into healing, or action, or joy”. However, all the transformative power of Slug/Savior pales in comparison to the enormity of poiesis and scope of madam data’s new solo record.
Built on top of similar ideas of kinetic narration that desires agency in the real world, The Gospel of the Devourer is concrete poetry and emotion manifested on a cosmic scale. True to all the best sci-fi stories, the tales of interdimensional war and cosmic conflict told here occupy an interstitial space, between metaphor and reality and what was and what will be. They encapsulate all the pasts, presents, and futures at once, then explode the cathartic pain and elation across galaxies and stars and nebulae and planets.
The musical forms these concepts inhabit are fluid and unstable. They flicker into life through barrages of diffused black metal, spillover Sunn O)))-like voluminous drones, and trickle-down into hypnagogic ambient. At times, the narration floats along on barely perceptible undulations of bass and hissing textures that crawl through the ether, mimicking sonified microwave background radiation. At others, it pushes forward relentlessly with harsh noise. Each of the cuts might last a second or an eon – you get lost and can never be sure.
Time passes differently in their microcosms, untethered from everything and anything, with the only points of reference found in the ephemeral voices of others like Moor Mother or King Vision Ultra. “I want the water to guide me / I want to forgive the water,” one of them whispers. “With open eyes seems like a mystery,” concludes another that came before it. And as this future history fades, it begins anew while the apparent triumph becomes a disaster. Because after all, “we are not luminous; only opaque beyond understanding, unending and inevitable.” – Antonio Poscic
Mannveira – Vitahringur (Dark Descent)
Mannveira are the late bloomers of the Icelandic black metal scene. While Svartidauði explored the Deathspell Omega realm, Misþyrming evolved their orthodox black metal sound into a Mgła influenced directness, and Wormlust opened up the doors to psychedelia, Mannveira were still brewing their sound. With just their 2014 EP, Von Er Eitur, and a 2016 split with Canadian black/death underground powerhouse Ellorsith, there seemed to be no sight of a full-length. Thankfully, this now comes to an end with Vitahringur.
In many ways, it is elementary to detect that Mannveira are a product of their surroundings. Vitahringur oozes with the sense of Iceland’s current extreme scene. The dissonance and the grand perspective are both there, twisting the early visions of Ved Buens Ende and grimly projecting them through opener “Ópin rjúfa þögnina”. This is not the traditional, aggressive black metal form that attacks the mind; this is music that ravages the soul. And Mannveira make the most of the impact, masterfully controlling the pace. The mid-tempo meanness of “Í köldum faðmi” combined with the discordance brings to mind visions of Mortuus, giving rise to sickening ritualism in “Framtíðin myrt” or evoking introspective psychedelia.
It is a nightmarish scenery, only complete with the almost doom plunge of “Kverkatak eilífra martraða” concluding the album. It is unclear how long Mannveira has been working on their debut record. The only known fact is that the recording process took place in 2018 and 2019. Still, this feels like a record that has been in the works for a while. It dazzles with a feeling of purpose and meticulousness. The only downside is this style has been explored quite consistently and to great depths by many, which makes Mannveira’s take less original, but their playing and structures are very much on point. – Spyros Stasis