Negativa – 04 (Mystískaos / Dissociative Visions / Nebular Carcoma)
Like their Mystískaos labelmates Skáphe, Spain’s one-person project Negativa tests black metal’s sonic and spiritual limits by taking all of the genre’s most oppressive elements and driving them beyond saturation. Yet despite the crushing spiritual and aural density at work here, the music ebbs and flows with purpose. Industrial noises and murmuring guitars interlock with digging bass lines and collapsing drum patterns to trace structures that astonishingly feel almost inviting in their chaotic visions. Perhaps it’s the sound of one’s spirit finally crumbling and all defenses going down. However, there is beauty to be found in 04’s Vantablack, no-hope-left sort of darkness—a trace of heaven in an eternal hell. – Antonio Poscic
Nocturnal Graves – An Outlaw’s Stand (Season of Mist)
Apart from its vibrant black metal scene, the land down under has also spawned a number of excellent proto-black metal acts. Gospel of the Horns and Destroyer 666 are among the most famous, but slowly Nocturnal Graves have been making their way towards that pantheon. The Melbourne group was founded in the mid-2000s, and their edgy black/death/thrash mix has led them to release some excellent works in the likes of Satan’s Cross and Titan. They return with their second album for Season of Mist, An Outlaw’s Stand.
From the get-go, the blazing riffs of “Death To Pigs” initiate this stampede as the furious drums accompany the dissonant lead work. It is a fiery offering, drawing inspiration from the early days of Slayer and the proto-death metal of Possessed, felt in full through the purpose and conviction of “Command For Conflict”. Not forgetting the blackened teachings of the first phase of Bathory, “Ruthless Fight”, propels its darkness forward. Meanwhile, the constant beatdown of “No Mercy for Weakness” sees the death metallic touch attaching to the thrash modus operandi. It is a brutal and chaotic onslaught, and when Nocturnal Graves drop to their mid-tempo mode, their evil touch gets a further boost. “Across the Acheron” sees them steadily applying their sharp riffs to an infectious, slow groove. With that same mentality, they can reach peak thrash majesty in the likes of “Law of the Blade”, as the harshness melts into a mesmerizing progression.
There are really no surprises here. Nocturnal Graves are very intuned with their underlying philosophy, which is the core component of An Outlaw’s Stand. Traveling back in time, they find the singular moment when extreme metal was in a state of unison. Back when the proto-black metal of Bathory and the proto-death metal of Possessed were not that far removed from their thrash lineage. In finding this sweet spot, Nocturnal Graves exploit it to no end, relishing its polemic nature and anthemic relentlessness. I wouldn’t have expected anything less. – Spyros Stasis
Silhouette – Les Retranchements (Antiq)
The debut by Montpellier-based black metal outfit Silhouette—originally Maxime Roos aka Achlys’s one-person band—is a work that arises from a fissure that I imagine formed during an arcane struggle between staggering beauty and brutal gloom. Throughout the half-hour of music and seven cuts on the album, the former is represented by concentric waves of gorgeous folk that simultaneously draw from and embrace Lilas Dupont’s luscious vocal lines and drops of acoustic instrumentation. Opposite to them, walls of depressive black metal wails tower over Agalloch-ian atmospheres and melodies constructed from an amalgam of razing and bumbling tremolo-picked guitars, blast beats, and bass pulses. And between these contrasts and clashes, the allure of Les Retranchements reaches its zenith. – Antonio Poscic
Verbum – Exhortation to the Impure (Iron Bonehead)
Oh, the fringes of doom/death always make for some crushing listening experiences. Verbum, who focus on the more obscure and extreme end of the spectrum, is the latest addition to this excellent tradition. Following their 2016 debut EP, Processio Fiagellates, they now make a return with their first full-length in Exhortation to the Impure.
Straightaway they go for the jugular. The old-school, nasty death metal methodology is front and center, as the Autopsy infused stench kicks things off with a fierce assault in the intro. From there on, they call upon some of the forbears of extreme doom/death in the legendary dISEMBOWLMENT. As such, they further increase the venom of their work, taking heads off with their poisonous lead work in “Abrahamic Sedition”, as the glacial space rises from the abyss.
This ability can split the focus between the extreme doom/death pace and the death metal guttural stench. The title track sees them do that brilliantly, using the death metal self for maintaining the heavy and persistent cacophony. And then it is the flawless alterations between ceaseless death metal onslaught and glacial extreme doom/death pace. “Nihil Privativum” is exhilarating, moving from the slow groove of doom/death to full-blown death metal chaos, only to return to its minimal origins. Verbum’s ability to balance being edgy and extreme but also atmospheric and mystical is quite otherworldly. The perfect example here is “Silent Oratorium” and its slithering progression moving brilliantly through this processional endeavor. All in all, Verbum’s Exhortation to the Impure is a fiery reminder of the potency of extreme doom/death. – Spyros Stasis
Wiegedood – There’s Always Blood at the End of the Road (Century Media)
If you are among those that like me consider Wiegedood’s De doden hebben het goed trilogy among the most interesting takes on contemporary black metal in the past decade, let me first assure you that despite abandoning the naming pattern, There’s Always Blood at the End of the Road maintains the same level of excellence that we’ve come to expect from the Belgian trio. Their music is still focused around a meaty, tasty core of black metal and inundated by stray melodies. But where past releases concerned themselves with forlorn, almost grieving motifs, this new album is rage incarnated.
Throughout, Wim Coppers on drums, Gilles Demolder on guitar, and Levy Seynaeve on guitar and vocals release an uninterrupted stream of strange but oh so right sounding black metal. Equally raw and melodic, old school and modern, their approach remains predominantly characterized by their unusual choices of guitar tuning and instrumental setup. But there is no time for respite, expansive songwriting, or meditation here. Instead, the nine tight cuts blaze from extreme to extreme with incandescent fury, leaving a trail of destruction behind while galloping towards an apocalyptic future. As the end approaches, it becomes clear that this is unmistakably a Wiegedood album, albeit one that shows a previously undisclosed, utterly ruthless side to the band. – Antonio Poscic