The final month of the year, and while December is usually expected to be a touch quieter when it comes to releases, there were no less than 16 records that caught our attention. Black metal and death metal in all their different flavors, from old-school to avant-garde, post-rock and post-metal, avant-doom, and even some classic heavy metal. And of course, going off-kilter with some fierce noise and experimental electronica. So dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Akhlys – Melinoë (Debemur Morti)
Despite their unforgiving black metal outlook, Akhlys actually started off as a dark ambient exploration. Their debut record, Supplication stood away from the aggression and hostility of black metal, with Akhlys instead engulfing it in atmospheric eeriness and dark ambient inspired industrial machinations. This complete dedication to the electronic sound would not last long for Akhlys, and in time they would fiercely introduce an extravagance of black metal flavors to the project, but without completely abandoning the dark ambient etherealism. The Dreaming I was the bitter result of this transfiguration, a devastating offering of grim, dissonant bliss. Yet, it is the return now with Melinoe that sees Aklhys complete their vision.
Aptly named after the Greek nymph, a bringer of nightmares and madness, Akhlys take advantage of their dichotomy between the atmospheric and the aggressive. Dark ambient passages herald the coming darkness in “Somniloquy”, before the full force of the blackened onslaught ensues. And it is something Akhlys performs with conviction and purpose. What is striking with this blend is the retained sense of balance of this work, managing to always hold on to an ethereal and otherworldly facade, even when unleashing full-blown chaos. The long-form “Pnigalion” augments this feeling of anxiety through these bursts of angst and agony. Yet, Melinoe takes its most terrifying form when the ambiance sets in, either through the ritualistic pacing of “Ephialtes” or the complete plunge into the unknown abyss with “Succubare”. No matter the case Akhlys have reached a creative peak, aptly weaving dark ambient and black metal to create a horrifying experience in Melinoe. – Spyros Stasis
Black Soul Horde – Land of Demise (Independent)
If I could go back and revise my year-end list of metal albums for 2020, the sophomore release by Black Soul Horde would be right up there with the best of them. On the surface, the music of the Greek trio is fairly straightforward in terms of heavy metal tropes. Their riffs are as massive as they are harmonically vibrant. Rhythms gallop over plains of dynamic drum patterns and burrowing bass. Vocal lines soar to Halford-like falsettos and descend into silky baritones. Throughout, a sense of epic atmosphere and groove prevails. But above all, the eight tracks on Land of Demise are so well-written and performed with such gusto and prowess that they leave all competition behind, eclipsing even the likes of the excellent Megaton Sword. In short, Black Soul Horde have created, excuse my cliché, a modern classic. A trad and retro heavy metal album that sounds anything but dated. – Antonio Poscic
Black Wing – No Moon (The Flenser)
The common thread running through all of Dan Barrett’s creative output is a sense of melancholia. Be it through the post-punk structures and lo-fi aesthetics of Have a Nice Life, or the acoustic passageways of Giles Corey, that sense of fragile gloom is always present. And while Barrett’s adventurous spirit has led him to explore the electronic domain, with his Black Wing project, this trademark quality still arises. Releasing an intriguing debut record in …is Doomed, Barrett stepped into a digital realm comprising indie-pop sensibilities with chillwave methodologies.
The return now with No Moon, Black Wing’s sophomore record, sees Barrett continue to drive the electronica theme. Abstracted dark dancehalls appear through the bleakness, as the catchy choruses of “Bollywood Apologetics” spread through the spacious scenery. Heavier moments of infectious groove rise, with the sub-bass on “Ominous ’80s” reaching an obscene level, yet there is always this distinct feeling of longing and sadness that prevails. Where Barrett breaks ranks with Black Wing’s past is with the regard to the strictness of the electronic genre, instead opting for looser forms that carry over towards an ambient domain in the likes of “Twinkling”, or going to complete noise forms with “Vulnerable” and spoken words samples in “Choir of Assholes”. – Spyros Stasis
Boris with Merzbow – 2R0I0P0 (Relapse)
In Merzbow’s vast and varied catalog, the collaborations with Boris rank among his best works. Born from a seemingly incongruous fusion of harsh noise, post-rock, doom, and psychedelia, these records often achieved an otherworldly harmony, allowing noise’s positive and healing affectivity to shine through. In this sense, 2R0I0P0 is another triumph.
While based on re-recordings of songs from Boris’s middling 2019 release LφVE & EVφL, 2R0I0P0 really is a thing of its own. For one, Boris’s re-interpretations of their own material follow a more effervescent and invigorated score, adding flavor where they previously lacked it. Simultaneously, Merzbow’s noisy interventions erase traces of silence left between melodies, inject themselves into swells of riffs, shape themselves around rhythms, and swallow them whole in culminations of post-rock crescendos.
Especially striking are cuts like “Love”, where Merzbow’s noise embraces a sorrowful guitar line, buzzing and bustling as if trying to touch sound with sound, and “Journey” on which meandering, softer waves of white noise and static hum a pensive lullaby. Elsewhere, on “Boris” and “Absolutego” Boris turn to noise rock patterns and filthy proto-doom as Merzbow’s effects explode above and below them into thrilling shards of fireworks.
But for all the aural and sonic maximalism of this music, its soul is gentle and optimistic, consumed by an invocation of a better tomorrow. Or, as Boris themselves put it, it is a “monument to the requiem of the previous era. From here, a new world begins again.” – Antonio Poscic