Cold wind biting means only one thing and that is that it is goddamn cold out there… at least in this part of the country that has seasons. As the nights get blacker and bleaker (how about that Solstice/lunar eclipse, huh?) so does the metal… and that is a wonderful occasion. Where I celebrated thrash and the like in the sunshine it is now time to concentrate on the utter despair that we all love so well. No, I am not talking about personal despair nor will I listen to you about yours but simply the darkest of the dark from around the world. What a better way to start than with Germany's own…
...Unlight. Their latest, Sulphurblooded (Massacre Records), begins full throttle with warning feedbacks and straight into a blastbeat/melodic guitar team that truly prepares the listener where their next forty-five minutes will be spent. Combining classic black with modern death and a production value slick enough to decipher but filthy enough to please, Sulpuerblodded harmonizes everything that a metal fan could both want and pine for; let it be known that that will be the only harmonizing going on here—harm, yes, to the ears and the innocent spirit, and the suffix, "-izing", as in brutal. Blaspherion (vocals/guitar), Raptus (guitar), Lord Grond (drums), and session musician Nightbutcher (bass) have no intention of making friends, not even with babies, as evidenced in the intro to "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi," where a helpless wee one can be heard being traumatized by an outspoken goat. (Nothing says black Christmas like giving children nightmares in lieu of tangible playthings.) The sheer destruction in the opening of "Become an Opponent" is instantly reminiscent of modern day Behemoth in force and talent but then delves down to the more traditional Gorgoroth in speed and outright intensity… only to then retreat even further to a Watain-esque breakdown (ala "Sworn to the Dark" from 2007's album of the same name) giving the listener both attention-grabbing thoughts that overshadow anything possibly happening at the same time and staying power to be enjoyed for years to come. If this record is not celebrated by both fans and critics alike then the hell with everyone else, I don't understand you.
Norway's Elite have been quiet recently but that doesn't mean we can't still celebrate their 2008 release We Own the Mountains (Folter Records). I may be late in the game talking about …Mountains but not in the enjoyment of it. Maybe I just missed it but I heard no one, and I mean no one, talking about this when it was released so I feel that I should give it its due. From opener, "Volvens Vinterseld" to closer, "Odal," this is traditional, full frontal Norwegian black metal in the best way. Cleaner than your Burzum or your early Darkthrone and closer to Puritanical…-era Dimmu Borgir (before they were the silliness that is now), …Mountains is everything one could want from Norway. Bent Arne Mathisen (vocals) sings mostly in his native tongue (with the exception of "Winter Moon King" and "Legend") which should be celebrated in and of itself as the purity of why this fantastic, geo-centric genre began in the first place: Norwegian pride and the literal pushing-back of the infiltration of the western (most notably from the USA) culture. This is most evident in lines such as, "Let them not defeat/the knowledge that you reap," (from the aforementioned "Winter Moon King"); in this, one of the few songs I can understand, a western-white guilt should set in, and rightfully so. Speak against the violence of the mid-nineties black metal scene all you want… our culture spawned it. Commence oops-gulp now.
While Sweden's Kongh may not be through and through black metal, their incorporation of it into their mostly instru-metal (vocals appear in the blackest way possible but so rarely and deeply in the mix that it should be seen as merely another instrument) makes them a perfect fit for this edition of the Rattle. Shadows of the Shapeless (Seventh Rule Recordings [note: Chicago, represent!]) is a blackened/sludge masterpiece one year old now (hey… there is a lot of metal out there…) and shows no age whatsoever. The semi-recent popularity in post-metal (who else hates that term?) in bands such as Isis, Russian Circles, and Pelican really chaffed my metal pride; sure, it was heavy and looming and dark, but it was liking the ferocity of the shark with the spineless and easily avoidable jellyfish. That being said, there are plenty of wonderful, doom-laden, vocal-less (or vocal-as-instrument) bands out there well worth checking out, the majority being on Seventh Rule Recordings (listen to Indian… do it!). Kongh holds one's attention with sweeping, and punishing, slower parts to ease the strain on one's inner-drums, only to push it far beyond possibilities with permanently crushing weighty riffs. "Essence Asunder" proves this point perfectly with the dichotomy of parts, small and large gears working alongside, to move this machine forward and into your head and denying any tissue to your now bloody nose. While more doom than black, the overall beautiful barren landscape is a welcome assault to fakers everywhere.
Merrimack have been in the black metal game for a while now and with 2009's Grey Rigorism (Moribund Records/Osmose Productions) it is evident that they have no intentions of slowing down or bowing out. Hailing from France, a country now known more and more for its outstanding scene (more on that in just a minute), and sharing a few members with giants such as Aosoth, Glorior Belli, and Ancestral Fog, the pedigree is evident and the amazing songs and songwriting makes this apparent; check out "Omniabsence" for its harrowing chorus and the title track for a complete disembowelment of what you thought was possible with how a song could be both memorable and poignant. One of the best parts about not only Grey Rigorism but also the French scene in general is their well-deserved nod to metal forefathers but also their ability to stamp their own signature to it…
…enter Deathspell Omega and their new release Paracletus. With Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, and Fas-Its, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum, Paracletum rounds out the trilogy of concept records dealing with the theories of Satan (to which they have stated that any other interpretation of Satan is, "…invalid."), God, and man's relationship with both. Heady, huh? Yeah. I am not going to break down the philosophies (some I agree with and some, not… such things are best discussed in conversation and not a one-sided metal column) but simply the music, as that is the most important part, being the delivery system and all. The aforementioned Si Monumentum… found Deathspell veering further away from a rawness to a more technical and polished sound and with Paracletus the transition seems complete. The separation and melding of everything going on (what sounds like many guitars, drums, vocals, bass, and a handful of other things such as choirs, strings, etc.) makes this the most accessible Deathspell release to date, but that is only by comparing it to their other outings. While still extremely complex, jaw-dropping, at times confusing, and all in all a gift in and of itself, one cannot stand by and say that this isn't some of the most important metal happening today. At once chaotic and cacophonous and another time beautiful, it is difficult, read impossible, to explain where their abilities and ideas and execution spawn from therefore I cannot try. All that should be said about Paracletus, and every other release, is that it should be listened to fully and celebrated for what it is: a collection and a band that is unlike any other in this or any genre. What makes it even more dynamic and perplexing is the identities of the members; while always revolving and rumored upon, the stories and the faces are iffy at best. In addition, good luck finding the vinyl as each release is extremely numbered, but the CDs should be easy enough to order from your local indie record store.
Norway's Urgehal have been around as long as some of you reading this column. The difference is while you have grown and changed they, on the other hand, have stayed true to their origins, down to, for the most part, their members (which is rare in the metal world). Ikonoclast (Season of Mist) continues their journey into the netherworld and invites you, albeit not with a smile, to join them. Quality rides on through each song at an immense speed only to calm at times to, possibly, get the point across clearly. Notable tracks include "Cut Their Tongues Shut Their Prayers" and "Kniven Rider Dypt I Natt" where the best of what they do is showcased in little nuggets of time.
Iceland's Solstafir (literally "radiating sun beams") plays the, er, softer side of black metal. While subject matter and styles exercised now and over the past 16 years are pure black, they incorporate so many other sounds and genres that it is iffy to even call them black. (Although they have not taken to the extreme, such as France's Alcest, so as to question whether or not to still tag it as such.) With looming soundscapes and gentle, cold melodies hibernating underneath the ice, Köld (Spinefarm Records) is just that: barren, hospitable to few, and something one has to prepare for. Don't look for guttural proclamations about the unholy or celebrations of death. No, Solstafir remain far out of reach from many of their brethren, geographically and idealistically. An overall bleak vibe crawls aurally through the veins while the slumbering thunder of drums seems to nearly awaken gods that most westerners have never heard of. A little too melodic at parts for their own good, a less serious approach might prove beneficial to these boys in snow-covered black but, then again, if one can still keep afloat the spirit of black metal while surprising listeners with grandiose, soaring parts fit for an ad for running shoes who am I to judge?
Naxzul have quite the story to make their latest, Iconoclast (Eisenwald), somehow even more interesting than it is. I stated "latest" but this is actually only their second full length in fourteen years. There have been a few EPs and some splits but, yes, fourteen years since 1995's Totem (Vampire Records). While Iconoclast had been rumored and in the works for quite some time (the most legit date that I could dig up was 1998) it is the finished product that will be focused on here. Grandiose in everything from the orchestrations to the execution of such numbers as "Black Wings" and "Oath," the latter encompassing perfectly what this band is about. After finishing the tracking guitarist Greg Morelli was killed in a motorcycle accident leaving any live shows up in the air. However some quick changes (Infernal Method's Petar Peric filled in for the subsequent European tour and later joined as a full time member) allowed the band to continue, but who knows when another full length will be released. Relish Iconoclast, an album so many years in the making it could either be brilliant or a total slap to the face, now called the "Chinese Democracy." Luckily it was the former.
Hometown heroes of the underworld Nachtmystium had quite the feat before them. 2008's Assassins: Black Meddle Part I was a psychedelic black metal triumph in a genre that no one thought really had much staying power. An obvious bang of the head to Pink Floyd (whose Meddle is by far the greatest piece of music the Floyd ever recorded), it was celebrated far and wide with its inventive discourse on what impossible with metal, a genre that, to this day, remains prideful in its lack of rules, something punk gave up on a long time ago. Now we have Addicts: Black Meddle Part II and I was shitting blood out of excitement. As usually happens (when will I learn?) the anticipation far surpassed the actual product. While still inventive and definitely singular, this is a much tamer, produced, and melodic outing than, well, anything they've ever done. Opening with the chant, "N-O-T-H-I-N-G-H-U-R-T-S-M-O-R-E-T-H-A-N-B-E-I-N-G-B-O-R-N," the listener is dragged into familiar, wonderful territory with "High on Hate," a classic black metal pummeling complete with terrifying vocals (very few singers sound better than Blake Judd in the studio) and a nonstop freight train of, well, hate. "Nightfall" slows, only slightly allowing for the tambourine to cheer it up a bit. None too bad as everything is still melded in a cohesive celebration of all things dark with the few inklings of light so as to know what the other side sounds like. "No Funeral" is when shit starts getting weird. The mid-tempo showcases a keyboard line and now worry sets in. By the time "Blood Trance Fusion" comes around I am finding something else to listen to. The production remains clean, albeit now it is apparent that this is just too clean. "Ruined Life Continuum" is where the Mystiums lost me. If the change in direction were met with great songwriting then I would celebrate these sounds with pride. Maybe that's the problem with Addicts… as a whole. While the direction is certainly interesting, the execution is lackluster with boring verse/chorus structures that metal was supposed to be free of, at least the memorable and dangerous bands. Maybe with Asshats: Black Meddle Part III they will reel me back in. Or maybe I am so angry now that this calming atmosphere throughout Addicts… just doesn't apply to me anymore.
With the darkness covered as only a darkness can be, wipe your eyes and look for the next Death Rattle to lighten up a little with some truly weirdo acts coming from around the world. As we come into spring it will be time to remove the layers of black and corpse paint and get freaky not only with each other but also with each others ears.
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