Music

MetalMatters: June 2020 - Heavy Tunes Get Us Through the Heatwave

Visit the cold, desolate worlds of Paysage d'Hiver. Experience the boundless experimentation of Neptunian Maximalism. Watch in awe the death metal refactoring of Pyrrhon and so much more.

It is quite an experience having a wave of black metal records delivered at the start of the summer. Talk about a strange pairing listening to the desolate and snowy imaginarium of Paysage d'Hiver when a full-blown heatwave is passing through. On the same note, symphonic black metal returns with a vengeance in the excellent works of Carach Angren and Valdrin, while Fellwarden retrieve the folk past of the genre, and Dauþuz take us on a trip through the mines of Germany. One-person vehicles in Serment and Marthe contribute to a great creative tradition, while Aversio Humanitatis further modernize the genre with the pristine Behold the Silent Dwellers.

On the intersections, we find Diabolic Oath and Ulthar pivoting in the chaotic black/death space, as Inexorum take their technical prowess to new levels with Moonlit Navigation. On the same note, but with a thrashy sense, Ormskrik unveil a fun and explosive debut album. Meanwhile, more on the death metal side, there is, of course, VoidCeremony meeting head on their progressive urges, while Pyrrhon throw the manual out of the window and brutally punish, with their always fervent experimental touch, through Abscess Time. Just for good measure Stygian Crown unveil their epic doom metal through an exhilarating debut record. The ever-expanding vision (and line-up) of Neptunian Maximalism puts forth a deeply challenging, yet rewarding, journey through extreme music in the two-hour-long Éons. – Spyros Stasis

Heavy Metal Guitarist by The Digital Artist (Pixabay)

Aversio Humanitatis - Behold the Silent Dwellers (Debemur Morti)

Modernization can be attained without shedding away one's core values. Achieving such homeostasis is difficult on every occasion, but in the realm of black metal, it is a true feat of balance and agility. Yet, for Spain's Aversio Humanitatis, this approach comes naturally, flowing through their concepts and ideas. Founded in 2010, Aversio Humanitatis have kept releases on a sporadic frequency, their debut outing Abandonment Ritual having been released in 2011 is just now being succeeded by their excellent sophomore LP, Behold the Silent Dwellers.

Aversio Humanitatis retain a sharp and caustic quality, their melodies arriving with venomous intent, the vocals echoing through the abyss. One of the driving factors in this razor-like edge is the pristine production. Where most black metal acts relish the lo-fi characteristic to retain their mysterious and darkened aura, Aversio Humanitatis relish the clarity of their recording. It makes the riffs, the twists and turns of "The Wanderer of Abstract Paths" arrive with a devastating precision without compromising its raw vibe. It also lets the groove flourish, to present itself in the forefront, with the slithering progression of "The Presence in the Mist" being particularly captivating. A daring work that does not forget its inheritance, but looks into the evolution of its values. – Spyros Stasis

Carach Angren - Franckensteina Strataemontanus (Season of Mist)

The reports of the death of symphonic black metal have been greatly exaggerated. And in Carach Angren, we have living proof of the endurance of the genre. Franckensteina Strataemontanus sees the Dutch trio return to full form with an album inspired by and molded around horror stories. There is narrative, both spoken and played, at the album's heart, a thread which ties together rocking grooves, tasty riffing, progressive quirks, and lush symphonic elements, building a whole that's much larger than the sum of its parts. A grandiose sympho black opera. – Antonio Poscic

Valdrin - Effigy of Nightmares (Blood Harvest)

In contrast to Carach Angren, Valdrin lay down textures upon textures of analogue sounding synthesizers that instill a sense of existential horror. Then they explode into elegantly atmospheric melodic black metal, tame the fast and furious tremolos of "Red Burning Candles of Hatred" into the expansive balladry of "Serpentine Bloodhalls" and contort tremolos on the old school black metal hymn "Down the Oubliette of Maelstrom". Despite its brevity, Effigy of Nightmares is an exquisite and surprisingly varied piece of music. – Antonio Poscic

Dauþuz - Grubenfall 1727 (Amor Fati Productions)

"Traditional Mining in Germany and Europe", is how Encyclopaedia Metallum describes the lyrical themes of German atmospheric black metal duo Dauþuz. In a genre that usually deals with fantastic or Satanic elements, this sort of historical, sobering focus might seem nothing more than a quirky oddity at first. But in reality, these subjects—a mining accident in the case of Grubenfall 1727—have a grave impact on the music, gifting it with a solemn, mournful mood and placating the raw black metal attacks and folk overlays of a sorrowful, but gorgeous EP. – Antonio Poscic

Serment - Chante, Ô Flamme de la Liberté (Sepulchral Productions)

While Dauþuz dwell in mines and blood-soaked caverns, the music of Quebec based one-person band Serment lives in vast, snow-covered meadows and mountains. The six cuts on Chante, Ô Flamme de la Liberté (Sing, Oh Flame of Freedom) conjure a deeply felt pastoral landscape using majestic, synth-induced blackgaze passages and incisive black metal shards. Throughout, the vision of sole member Moribond is bright and elegiac, often chilling and striking in its expansiveness. – Antonio Poscic

Diabolic Oath - Profane Death Exodus (Sentient Ruin)

The joining forces of black and death metal have produced some of the most extreme output that metal has to offer, be it through Blasphemy's early sadistic visions or Revenge's chaotic carnage sense. A new entity that abides by those teachings is now rising in Portland in the trio of Diabolic Oath. Featuring members of death metal outfit Shroud of the Heretic and deathgrind horror enthusiasts Blood Freak, Diabolic Oath are now preparing to take over with their debut record Profane Death Exodus.

The war-like mentality is shining through every second of Profane Death Exodus. From the get-go, Diabolic Oath do not hold back for an instant, as the heavy distortion of "Towards Exalted Coronation" explodes through the repetitive and relentless blastbeats. Still, in their manic and frenzied facade, there is something almost spiritual about Diabolic Oath's approach. This is not just a polemic anthem, but an incantation for carnage and devastation. The slower moments in "Immaculate Conjuration of Infernal Recrudescence" see this modus operandi come to terrifying form, reaching a doom weight as schizoid leads fly off in the background.

The pinnacle of this work is, of course, closer "Chalice of Conquering Blood", an opus that binds together the pungent black/death spirit with an ambient twist to create a perfectly harrowing moment of grandeur. An overall fantastic introduction to an extremely promising act. – Spyros Stasis

Fellwarden - Wreathed in Mourncloud (Eisenwald)

Fen arrived in the scene during black metal's transformative phase in the 2000s, with the London-based act joining the atmospheric essence of the genre with an intriguing blend of post tendencies. That resulted in a series of great works, including, The Malediction Fields, Carrion Skies , and most recently Winter and The Dead Light. During this journey, Fen's guitarist/vocalist, the Watcher, spawned another project in Fellwarden. While Fen's focus was on the post-metallic driven future of the genre, Fellwarden gazed into the past, lamenting the folk foundations of the genre.

Fellwarden return after 2017's Oathbearer with Wreathed in Mourncloud, a record that further builds on the epic spirit of black metal grimness. The protagonist here is the ambiance and how the duo of the Watcher and Havenless (also of Fen) weave the atmospherics. The introduction with "Pathmaker" is simply stunning, as clean guitars and echoing vocals fall into a steady progression, reminiscent of the epic spirit found in Primordial's work. These passages arrive with much power and intent and have a magnificent impact throughout this work, at times with a melancholic touch as in "Scafell's Blight", and at others with a grand and towering sense as in closer "Upon Stone".

Upon all these, Fellwarden still unleash full-blown black metal furies, relentless assaults of traditional riffing, and full cutthroat vocals, making a relentless appearance in the title track and through a melodic lens in "An Elder Reckoning" accompanied by a magnificent pad of synthesizers, ultimately collecting all the necessary pieces to complete this work. – Spyros Stasis

Inexorum - Moonlit Navigation (Gilead Media)

While a member of the death/thrash outfit Antiverse, guitarist/vocalist Carl Skildum reinvigorated his interest in the lost art of early melodic black/death. The intersection of death metal groove with the eerie black metal sense, coupled of course with very immediate and catchy applications. And so Inexorum came to be, with Skildum being soon joined by another Antiverse member in vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Matthew Kirkland and releasing soon after that their debut record in Lore of the Lakes. Having found a new home for Inexorum in Gilead Media, the duo now return with Moonlit Navigation.

With their sophomore full-length, Skildum and Kirkland cover a fair amount of ground. They relish in the cataclysmic effect that black metal can provide in its traditional form, shining through "Breaking Point", coupling its effect with deep, guttural death metal vocalizations to apply more pressure. There are further extensions that complement Inexorum's palette, be it through the melodic interludes, most notably "Wild Magic", and the incorporation of clean vocals to create instances of ethereal grandeur.

Yet, the underlying theme that truly brings everything home for Moonlit Navigation is the embrace of the melodic element, stemming straight from the '80s heavy metal doctrines. It is this same melodic core that infected the DNA of the '90s melodic black/death scene, and Inexorum pay full tribute in moments like "Chains of Loss" and "Signal Fires". Throw in the duo's technical prowess, and you have a work that ticks every box. – Spyros Stasis

Marthe - Sisters of Darkness (Caligari Records)

For a long time, one-person metal outfits appeared to be exclusive playgrounds for brooding nihilists dabbing in humdrum atmospheric black metal and suspect philosophies. While the situation has improved in recent years, what we have been truly and sorely missing was an outspoken, empowered one-woman project. A band like Marthe.

While the aesthetic of Marthe is largely defined by its proto black and punk roots—the production, riffs, and terroir recall Bathory and Celtic Frost—where the music really shines is in its symbiosis with progressive, unapologetic stances. The Italian project's sole member Marzia identifies herself as "anti-fascist, feminist, misanthropic", and this energy, along with her powerful DIY foundation and history in hardcore, overflows the four tunes on Sisters of Darkness.

On the title track, Marzia haunts notes with the multiplicity of her voice like a coven of witches chanting a dark ritual. Then she subverts doom and sludge elements into carriers of empathy. And as "Ave Mysteris" and "Awake Arise Silence" reach towards the beyond, confidently searching for the occult, we can almost hear Marthe inquiring, paraphrasing, offering: "Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?" – Antonio Poscic

Neptunian Maximalism - Éons (I, Voidhanger Records)

Where does one even begin in describing the genre and eon spanning work of Neptunian Maximalism? The project, or "community of cultural engineers", launched by multi-instrumentalist Guillaume Cazalet took only two years from their inception to reach what will surely be a defining work in their career and one of 2020's most impressive releases in both breadth and scale. Throughout its two hours, Éons is epic in the truest sense of the word. It first eclipses the boundaries of metal. Then it creates and bridges the divide between Sunn O))) inspired drones, free jazz freakouts infused with the raw ferocity of Peter Brötzmann, and psychedelic, folk-laden krautrock akin to what German progressive legends Embryo used to release in the mid-'90s.

The music is as sprawling and ambitious as the album's thematic framework—one dealing with the end of Anthropocene and the onset of the Earthly domination of elephants—yet feels incredibly light, emerging from spaces and rituals of spiritual balance. A true masterpiece. – Antonio Poscic

Ormskrik - Ormskrik (Fysisk Format)

There is something devilishly joyful about Ormskrik's amalgamation of thrash, death, and black metal. Perhaps it's a result of the Norwegian band's eponymous full-length debut being, above all else, chock-full of energy, which radiates through each bout of thrash destruction and pushes aside the more controlled black and death metal elements. Take the opening "Occultness", for example, a cut that pummels into life, finds a massive groove, and disperses it with melodic leads and big choruses to become a D-beat romp. Then, suddenly, blazing second wave black metal tremolos rise and fall on "Destroyer of Worlds", a track which sits in musical contrast with its predecessor, but remains connected through a similarly driven, angeldust-laced attack. Crazy fun record. – Antonio Poscic

Paysage d'Hiver - Im Wald (Kunsthall Produktionen)

The 1990s black metal explosion spread like wildfire, as the core ethos of the genre was further experimented and tempered with to an extreme extent. Everything from epic and melodic to industrialized and experimental appeared through the dark. Yet, it was later on in the early 2000s that the full cosmic potential of the genre was exposed. Switzerland's Darkspace found a potent formula, tilting their ambient leanings not towards introspective darkness, but outwards facing the ever-expanding cosmos. Their works have been astounding, offering long-form trips through extreme landscapes with a dark ambient leaning, not compromising their raw and brutal origin for this further trespassing.

While Darkspace's offerings have sadly become sparser and sparser, one of their ranks is returning to fill this void. The band's guitarist/vocalist Wroth founded his solo project Paysage d'Hiver before joining Darkspace, yet for all this time, its grandeur echoed only through demos and splits. Well, this has now changed as Im Wald arrives, a two-hour-long work of ambitious, introverted ambient black metal essence.

Where Darkspace's gaze was always fixed on the cosmos, Paysage d'Hiver is instead looking to the chthonian. This is not a tale that travels through the darkened void, exploring its vast majesty and untold terror. No, this is a story bound to the cold earth, navigating through dark forests amid the heartless winter. Wroth provides a plethora of interpretations for this imagery, through cataclysmic assaults of fury and purpose with opener "Im Winterwald" or through dark ambient passages that explore the vast mysteries of this Earth, as in "Verweilen" and "Wurzel".

Without fear, Paysage d'Hiver take their time exploring this world they have built, the long-form tracks allowing for a meticulous and complete investigation of this harsh reality through its textural qualities and moods. The switches of perspective are perfect, rising from the ambient abyss in true fury with "Ueber den Baeumen", or taking on a majestic leaning of epic quality with "La Reve Lucide", and even traveling to the underworld in a funeral-esque progression with "Weiter Immer Weiter". Im Wald is a masterful work, tapping into all that black metal has to offer, relying on the atmospherics and the raw vibe, the grand and the minimal using the textures to build the world and the progression to dictate the narrative. A true opus. – Spyros Stasis

Pyrrhon - Abscess Time (Willowtip)

One of the iconoclasts, New York's Pyrrhon have always defied guidelines and norms, instead chose to bend the rules and always pave their own path towards the technical death metal pantheon. An Excellent Servant But a Terrible Master, The Mother of Virtues and the insane What Passes for Survival, have all highlighted the unconventional methodology of Pyrrhon. Technical death metal for them is not defined by strict instructions regarding technical aptitude and endless aggression; it is about experimentation and openness. That remains true for their latest offering in Abscess Time.

The title track immediately presents Pyrrhon's deconstructed view. The pace is glacial, slower than death itself. Yet, all the ideas remain extremely complex, the beat constantly eluding, the guitars spiraling out of control with their dissonant touch. It is almost as if Pyrrhon are moving towards a strange drone trajectory before they unleash something more in-your-face with "Down At Liberty Ashes". A meticulous progression that constantly twists and turns in unpredictable fashion while the cacophony of the guitar solos creates pure havoc. No matter the state, be it slow and epic, fast and unforgiving, or taking on heavier groove elements, Abscess Time does not hinder any domain. It is the accumulation of all elements that make forward-thinking and innovative death metal so thrilling and intoxicating. – Spyros Stasis

Stygian Crown - Stygian Crown (Cruz del Sur Music)

In its essence, the music of LA based group Stygian Crown is pure and simple doom metal. No more, no less. Freed from unnecessary flourishes and superfluous elements, the music flows in a familiar, but viscerally pleasant way, immersing the listener in huge, bellowing guitar riffs accompanied by a stomping rhythm section and an omnipresent air of regality.

This instrumental heaviness is then wrapped around the towering, operatic voice of Melissa Pinion, whose powerful inflection hangs in the space between notes, equally imposing on slower crawlers like "Up from the Depths" and faster, almost-scorchers such as "Through Divine Rite". A most promising full-length debut burdened only by an occasional lack of diversity. – Antonio Poscic

Ulthar - Providence (20 Buck Spin)

Erratic and unpredictable. While the black/death brew of Bay Area's Ulthar are defined by the old-school spirit and its retro element, it is these two characteristics that set them apart. Founded in 2014 by members of Mastery, Void Omnia, and Vastum, Ulthar unleashed their tentacle-like progression in full force with their 2018 debut Cosmovore. A multifaceted assault from all directions unveiled an adversary essence, set to achieve complete devastation. And it is exactly this same drive that propels them to new heights with Providence.

Proto-death metal, thrash infusions greet you at the door with "Churn", as Ulthar open up their Lovecraft-ian realm to all who dare listen. The schizoid element, beautifully captured by the maniacal riffs and the rapid vocal delivery, build an impressive portal, a pedal to the metal attitude. Surprises are still welcome as Ulthar opens up "Undying Spear'' with an acoustic passage, before once more plunging to their blackened mania. It is the layers of this work that define its depth, as Ulthar go the extra mile in meticulously constructing this world. Everything has its place in their palace, from the dark ambient interludes of "Through Downward Dynasties" to the black metal howls of "Furnace Hibernation" and the doom processions of closer "Humanoid Knot". –Spyros Stasis

VoidCeremony - Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel (20 Buck Spin)

The debut from California's progressive death and black metal quartet VoidCeremony is something of an oxymoron. On the one hand, they play the sort of thick, murky, and faintly old school death metal so characteristic of their label 20 Buck Spin. On the other, they twirl, twist, and turn this sludgy, filthy mass with maneuvers that should be physically impossible, shaping and reshaping it around a core of fretless bass leads, deep guitar growls, and insane progressive segues.

I can't think of many albums on which a song like "Empty, Grand Majesty (Cyclical Descent of Causality)" could first march in the manner of Iron Maiden's "Genghis Khan", then be followed with monstrous guitar leads and harmonies of "Abandoned Reality", before cutting across sonic meat and shattering atmospheric bones on "Solemn Reflections of the Void". All of this makes Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel, along with albums like Cryptic Shift's Visitations from Enceladus, some of the most out-there, mind-bending death metal of the year. – Antonio Poscic

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