Music

MetalMatters: December 2019 - The End of the Decade

The last month of the 2010s was defined by an explosion of black metal grimness, modern and retro sprinkled with death metal brutality, caustic hardcore and some historic re-releases.

And so the 2010s end. A decade filled with awesome releases and this December, albeit a touch quieter, does not disappoint a bit. Hellsodomy turn back the clock with their sophomore record Morbid Cult oozing with a late '80s/early '90s death metal stench. Meanwhile, Diploid (who we, unfortunately, missed on our November feature) continue to cross over every possible extreme music genre to create a caustic, focused assault.

Yet, in the wintertime is when black metal thrives, with post-black metal pioneers Fen returning with The Dead Light continuing their excellent tradition of dim, atmospheric introspection. That's not all that the current generation of black metal artists has to offer. Negativa re-release their fantastic 2014 EP, Cult of Erinyes, undergoing a line-up change to achieve their darkest peak to date. In Human Form encapsulate all that an adventurous and daring mindset can bring with their jazz-infused third full-length. Similarly, through a different mindset Mosaic return to their folk origins in their much-awaited debut record, Secret Ambrosian Flames. Meanwhile, mysterious entity NEDXXX reminds everyone of the chaotic ecstasy that black metal can bring. Finally, a voice from the past was re-awakened in the mighty Arkona, unleashing their seventh record Age of Capricorn, reminding everyone the potency of their majestic alchemical experiments.

Talking about alchemical experiments and voices from the past, and since December was a bit sparser in terms of releases, we pay tribute to some works that defined decades past and are now getting the reissue treatment. Austrian epic, synth-based duo Summoning pretty much pioneered the stripped-down ambient black metal genre. Their deeply atmospheric Middle-Earth inspired black metal feels magical in Nightshade Forests through the ethereal "Kortirion Among the Trees" and the battle-ready "Flesh and Blood". That is not all for Summoning with Lost Tales also being re-released, featuring two of their more obscure offerings in the strangely experimental "Arcenstone" and the doom-laden "Saruman".

Heavy Metal Guitarist by The Digital Artist (Pixabay)

While Summoning always stuck to their guns, December sees a couple of unconventional works, which at the time spurred some controversy. First is Moonspell's third record Sin/Pecado. Following the black metal investigations of Wolfheart and the coming to form doom/goth of Irreligious, the band took a completely different path in 1998, mirroring a similar transformation that the Peaceville Three undertook during the same time. Infecting their doom metal with elements of darkwave and electronica, Sin/Pecado was a record filled with catchy hooks and a very dim perspective. "HandMadeGod" merged these sides beautifully with the grand, heavy riffs and thick ambiance joining the rocky chorus. Meanwhile, "Magdalene" and the otherworldly "Mute" displayed the laid-back detached mood that defined Moonspell's mindset. Even though some might view this mid-period of the band as a divergence from their true self, it was an intricate part in opening up Moonspell to different sounds and influences. In many ways, it was this period that fuelled the band's return in the 2000s with The Antidote, Memorial and Night Eternal.

And the best kept for last, of course. Having released one of the essential black metal works in 1996's Nemesis Divina, Satyricon returned in 1999 with a staggering release in Rebel Extravaganza. At a time where much of the genre was focusing on a more melodic, gothically inspired type of approach, Satyr and Frost refused to conform. They even refused to carry on their traditional approach. That is the infuriating and brilliant part about Rebel Extravaganza, its raging unwillingness to sound like anything that came before. From the long-form tracks like "Tied in Bronze Chains" and "The Scorn Torrent" with their over-ambitious progression and constant pressure, all the way to the venomous guitar sound and the lightning-fast drumming, Satyricon were not showing disdain for the past but a blueprint of how black metal could move forward.

In essence, Rebel Extravaganza ushered a new way of approaching the misanthropy and bleakness that the Scandinavian scene had ushered. And they were not afraid to do this either by means of the almost dance-inspired introduction to "Havoc Vulture", or by modernizing traditions of old in "Prime Evil Rennaisance". A true blueprint of the years that followed from a record ahead of its time. – Spyros Stasis

The Moonspell, Satyricon and Summoning re-issues are released through Napalm. They are available HERE.

Arkona - Age of Capricorn (Debemur Morti)

Arkona's name is interwoven in the black metal tradition of the 1990s. One of the first and original black metal acts to come out of Poland, Arkona, might not have reached the same level of fame as their fellow travelers, but they have always been a potent force in the field. Their fantastic debut record, Imperium, is a testament to the depth and richness of the 1990s Polish scene, showcasing how the band could bind together the aggressive with the majestic. An experiment that not many can pull off successfully.

And so six records have passed, and Arkona return with Age of Capricorn. Not much has changed in terms of the band's ethos or style. They know what they do best, and they hone their craft. The fleeting synth line amongst the waves of drums and dissonant leads in "Alone Among Wolves" is the quintessential manifestation of Arkona. It is a stellar combination of light and darkness, with the synths and sparse samples raising the ambiance but without taking away from the relentless progression. As the record unfolds, the brutal perspective is further exposed. The erratic "Deathskull Mystherium" feels like a hymn opening a portal to a different dimension, the heavier breakdowns of "Towards the Dark" arrive with an obliterating groove and finally closer "Grand Manifest of Death" eradicates all hope. Exactly like an Arkona album should do. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Cult of Erinyes - Aestivation (Amor Fati)

Changes of personnel never come easy, especially if the band has been together for a long time. Cult of Erinyes started with three core members in Corvus, Baal, and Mastema and unleashed an excellent series of works from debut EP Golgotha to their third full-length Tiberivs, at which point both Baal and Mastema had departed the band. Many would take a step to recuperate, but frontperson Corvus acted quickly, enlisting the help of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Deha and spawning an impressive return with the Veneer EP.

What becomes prevalent with this lineup change, and it was also the striking attribute of Veneer is the much more darkened perspective that Cult of Erinyes developed. Where their previous works possessed inherent aggression, there was always a splatter of color that brightened the message, as in "Casus Belli" from Tiberivs. However, in Aestivation , everything is obscured and despairing, resulting in a much more intense and thrilling listen. The energy and conviction of "Broken Conclave" ooze with this cutthroat quality, with the dissonant lead work seemingly bending reality and providing a hallucinogenic effect.

The black metal tradition racing through the band's DNA is that much more volatile, with the cataclysmic riffs of "Corruption" and "Healer - Fever" causing absolute havoc. At the same time, the grand progression of "Nothing Is Owed to the Void" adds a further cacophonous touch with its slow tempo. In Aestivation Cult of Erinyes are not only reborn, but they fulfill their potential. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Diploid - Glorify (Ars as Catharsis)

Grind. Post-metal. Hardcore. Black metal. Noise. Powerviolence. Like Lightning Bolt meeting Merzbow to cover Man Is the Bastard. Or the Body and Thou records played simultaneously at ridiculous speeds. Condensed with determination, anger, and above all empathy, Melbournian trio Diploid mix and match aggressive genres as they see fit to create the 23 furious, restless minutes of their third LP Glorify.

Paying respect to the traditions of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and the pain inflicted on them by white colonialism, Diploid's music gets continually consumed and reborn as they wear their emotions on their sleeves and knock out the listener with a series of punches. First, they create sludgy implosions and a never-ending crescendo on the opener "Intrusive". Then they play destructive fucking grindcore on "One-Minute Cure" and drown the listener in sheets of cacophony on the title track. Finally, they patiently deconstruct and piece back together elements of sludge and noise rock on "No Funeral". Rinse and repeat. Always remember. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Fen - The Dead Light (Prophecy)

At the beginning of the 2010s, London's Fen, along with the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room, ranked among the most hyped and best-known representatives of a new wave of eco-minded, pastoral black metal. Pregnant with atmosphere and desolate, but gorgeous landscapes, their style was one of the most successful experimental branches of the genre. Now, with the decade ending, they seem to have fallen out of the limelight, their music suddenly obsolete.

It is a shame considering how the band's sixth full-length The Dead Light might also be their best, a masterful amalgamation of acoustic ambient passages, post-metal meditations, and blazing black metal assaults. The Dead Light is also a surprisingly diverse and evolved record, one which doesn't shy away from employing grooves ("The Dead Light Part 1"), balladry ("Nebula"), and a firm, progressive variant of blackgaze ("Labyrinthine Echoes"), offering something neoteric for old followers and an excellent starting point for new fans. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Halphas - The Infernal Path Into Oblivion (Folter)

Galloping blast beats. Canorous passages carried by swirling tremolos. Hymnal zeniths and intimate acoustic sanctuaries. Bone-chilling growls. Riffs. Huge, sterling riffs. Halphas' The Infernal Path Into Oblivion is one of those fairly straightforward black metal records that do many things right and almost nothing wrong. Reverent of the genre's tradition and not in the slightest revolutionary, but still enlightened with a modern sense of songwriting. Best served cold and raw. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Hellsodomy - Morbid Cult (Saturnal)

There is a certain style of death metal that is usually associated with the Hells Headbangers label. It is an approach to the genre characterized by continuously meaty and groovy, yet compact assaults laden with big, seesawing riffs and melodious thrash elements. While the Istanbul quartet Hellsodomy are on a different label—the Finnish black metal-oriented outfit Saturnal Records—their music is a pinnacle of this sort of lean & mean sound.

The group's sophomore LP Morbid Cult further compacts and then explodes this energetic attack. Right from the tasty first minutes of the instrumental intro "Into Perversion", Hellsodomy madly alternate ingenious riffs, rhythmic breaks, twirling leads, and solos, forging seemingly chaotic, but exquisitely coherent cuts. Sometimes they buzz and smolder like "Pestilence of Black Blood", sometimes they brutally crawl like "From the Seed to the Grave" and "Souls Devoured", but they never relent. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

In Human Form - III (I, Voidhanger)

What if Atheist, Death, and Cynic played black metal? Perhaps their music would sound exactly like that of Lowell, Massachusetts quintet In Human Form, who weave patches of progressive rock, jazz, and fusion into black metal fabric. Take "Apocrypha Carrion", for example. The nearly 20-minute-long journey ventures into the world as a melodic black metal pupa, before it assembles growls, intricate riffs, and syncopated drums into twisting progressions. Then, it briefly maintains shape in the service of song building but soon transforms again on the crest of a mournful and poignant saxophone lick.

Yet, for all its complexity, this is deeply soulful music, particularly on the post-rock, synthesizer-infused ballad "Weeping Stone" and subtly through each heavy note of the dynamic, grooving doom of "Canonical Detritus". Coupled with the thought-provoking, if opaque lyrics, it makes III one of the most interesting black metal releases of 2019. – Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Mosaic - Secret Ambrosian Fire (Eisenwald)

Martin van Valkenstijn is a very busy member of the black metal and gothic scenes, in his native Germany but also beyond. He has been a performing member for legendary acts in This Vision Bleak and Empyrium and is currently the bassist for Nachtmystium. Finding time from all these commitments, van Valkenstijn retreats to his project Mosaic, a mystical essence navigating the black metal spectrum in all its glory. Even though the band has been around since the 2000s, it is only now that their debut record Secret Ambrosian Fire sees the light of the day, and it is about time.

Mosaic thrive in the transcendental and otherworldly, using many of the adjacent black metal components to create a spiritual domain, influenced by their native Thuringian region. The descent into this world begins ceremonially with the grandiose opener "Am Teufelsacker" as processional drums, folk influences, and deep vocal deliveries mold the soundscapes. From there, the path takes an epic turn with "Brimstone Blossoms", crafting a haze of black metal notions, but never fully exploding with the stentorian vocals instead dictating the mood.

The break finally comes in full-blown fashion with "Cloven Fires" as dissonant leads combined with the faster pace fully expose the band's core. From there on, van Valkenstijn spends most of the record's duration attending to the fume-y essence of this extraordinary realm, enacting ancient ceremonies and walking through the mountain paths of the Hörselberge, only raising Mosaic's ugly head in fierce moments such as "The Devil's Place". It results in an exquisite experience, highlighting the depths of the songwriter's inspiration and the versatility of the black metal sound. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

NEDXXX - NEDXXX (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

No one knows who they are and where they come from, but the mysterious entity fashioning the NEDXXX moniker is a cosmic force to be reckoned with. Their extreme metal brew knows no bounds, as the band starts from a black metal core but spreads its tentacles much further, unleashing a debut record with a wide and uncompromising scope. Their DNA is drenched in the latter days, avant-garde ethos of Deathspell Omega, while their demonical, feverish angst displays a kinship to the great Abigor. But do not confuse them for simple followers of past practices because with their debut record NEDXXX prove to be a different kind of animal.

The purposely clunky drumming of the opening track leads the way to a rabbit hole of darkened proportions, decorated brilliantly through the dissonant riffage. With a Voivod-ian approach, the band create a storm of riffs, highlighted by the schizoid leads that seemingly attack from all sides. The pacing is equally devious, with the band carrying this assault forward in "NED XXX 2", shifting elegantly through all-out assaults, blazingly placed blastbeats to drunken mid-pace groove before they plunge this entire endeavor to an ambiently induced, sample-driven recital.

That is not the end, though. It is merely the beginning for NEDXXX who transform the infernal recital to a ritually drenched, tribalistic ceremony before resuming their extravagant form. The remainder of their exquisite debut carries down this unpredictable, ambitious pathway taking all the right turns and creating an exhilarating experience through a volatile realm, envisioned to be as dim, relentless, and chaotic as their vision for the end times. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Negativa - 01 (Nebular Carcoma)

Negativa is the amalgamation of two obscure forces hailing from the Spanish black metal underground. Multi-instrumentalist DB appeared stunningly with his sonic vehicle Delirant in 2018, unleashing the exquisite, lo-fi chaos of the project's self-titled debut. On the other hand, vocalist DR has been quite active with his experimental black metal project Atrabilis, producing a bizarre, multi-dimensional take on the genre, encompassing its most dissonant essence to its eerie ambiances.

Yet, it is the common endeavor of these two artists that displays the most promise. Negativa is a chthonic entity, designed to follow many of the black metal principles and still be able to surpass a few. The re-release of their first EP 0101 is an exemplary offering that flourishes through the inherent disorder and aggression of the genre, while never straying too far away from its adventurous principles. Putting constant pressure, through hazes of blastbeats and cutthroat vocals as in "V", the duo never hide their allure towards the melodic edge of the spectrum. The breakdown features a lead of epic proportions, infused with a darkened melody. The ambiance is dim and threatening, yet it does not feature the claustrophobic quality of the genre's mainstream. Negativa refuse to be bounded, forced to look within. Instead, they choose to look outwards to the cosmos and all its endless potential. – Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2020 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.