After reading Sonny's list above, I got the inspiration to go back & revisit this old demo which I'd originally encountered through tape trading in the very early 1990's. I remember quite liking it but don't think it ever made quite the impact on me that it did on many others & this still seems to be the case. I was really into the South American extreme metal scene at the time & Blasphemy seemed to draw from the same sources of inspiration (i.e. Sodom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Slayer, etc.) which poses the question as to whether this combination of thrash, black & death metal really created an entirely new subgenre or not. I tend to think not as it doesn't sound all that different to a band like Sarcofago. "Blood Upon The Altar" definitely falls under the war metal banner by definition but I'm just not sure that "blackened death metal" doesn't cover this sound adequately enough without the requirement to create new descriptors.
Nocturnal Grave Desecrator & Black Winds' vocals aren't particularly strong & could have had a lot more aggression behind them but there's a truck load of youthful energy spread across the twenty minutes. I tend to enjoy the sheer blast-fests more than the tracks that go for chuggy thrash bridges as I don't think Blasphemy were particularly good at the thrashier stuff. They were at their best when they were simply blasting away uncontrollably & there's enough of that stuff here to keep me interested throughout the 21 minute duration. The eerie intro tracks are pretty effective too & add an additional element to an unblemished tracklisting.
"Blood Upon The Altar" may not be essential listening for all extreme metal fans but it does offer a raucous ride & a pretty fun experience throughout.
For fans of Archgoat, Proclamation & Black Witchery.
I absolutely hated Finnish folk metallers Moonsorrow's 2001 sophomore album "Voimasta ja kunniasta" when I first encountered it well over a decade ago now but thought I'd better give it another chance after hearing one of its more Viking-oriented tracks "Hiidenpelto" & quite liking it earlier this week. I guess you could say that I was doubting myself after discovering that I'd only awarded the album a miserable two stars previously & wanted to see if absence had made my heart grow fonder. So did it? Well..... I guess it must have made some sort of a difference as I've managed to bump my rating up by a half star but let me stress just how much of an internal battle I had to overcome before deciding on that arrangement. It was literally a line-ball decision. In the end I couldn't deny that the first three tracks may have painted my impressions of the rest of the album with an unfairly brown tinge as they pretty much represent everything I hate about folk metal but the second half of the record is noticeably stronger which is in a large part due to the influence of the previously mentioned Viking Metal anthem & the stronger Viking component in general. That's generally been the deciding factor in how much I like a Moonsorrow record too. They're always impeccably executed & produced but I'll always favour those releases where the Viking Metal vastly outweighs the Folk Metal. Here we have roughly a 50/50 equation but the cheese factor is ramped up to infinity & the Black Metal component has significantly diminished since their debut which causes me to regard "Voimasta ja kunniasta" as the least appealing Moonsorrow record I've encountered to date.
I think it's fair to say that "Kentucky" was never going to be something that I'd claim to be right up my alley but that's not to say that it's a bad record by any measure. I actually quite liked it in the end but there are a few things that hold me back from getting too excited about this coal-mining themed one-man black metal experiment. It's not a very dark black metal record with some of the more melodic sections possessing an atmosphere that glistens with a positivity that wouldn't feel out of place on a blackgaze release while the mining themes don't really seem to fit all that well within the context of such a cold, primitive & raw style of extreme music if you ask me. The other major obstacle I discovered is that the first few tracks do very little for me so the album doesn't really get going until track four in my opinion. That poor start meant that my first listen was a bit of a write-off as I was already pretty disappointed by track four & subsequently didn't allow the remainder of the record a decent chance of recovery. A couple of revisits have since seen me overcoming that issue & I've found that I actually get a fair bit of enjoyment out of tracks 4 through 9, particularly "Black Soot & Red Blood", "Killing the Giants As They Sleep" & "Black Waters" which are all very solid pieces of work in their own right.
In saying that though, I'm definitely not onboard with the few sections that see an instrument that sounds very much like a pan-flute or a recorder being poorly amalgamated within an extreme metal framework. That shit just doesn't sit all that well with this old metalhead but thankfully those parts are generally short-lived & are often followed by some of the better sections of the album. There's a strong post-rock influence scattered across the tracklisting too & those sections clearly sit amongst the most impressive parts of the record for me as I'm quite partial to an introspective interlude or two in my extreme metal. The vocal shrieks aren't amazing & some of the instrumentation isn't as polished as some but there's a good energy to a lot of the more brutal sections & the solemn bluegrass pieces are well executed & generally offer a depth, authenticity & integrity that allows them to feel more substantial than anything you'd find on your run-of-the-mill folk metal release. In fact, the consistent inclusion of folk music on this album initially left me confused as to why "Kentucky" is rarely labelled as Pagan Black Metal but I've since realized that it's the subject matter that's the roadblock there.
I think it's fair to say that I found "Kentucky" to be an intriguing if not all that enticing prospect on paper but hindsight has seen me admitting that it's over-achieved on its promise in practice. I'm not sure it's the type of thing that I'll be returning to all that regularly which mostly comes down to taste but it certainly has some artistic merit & deserves points for effort & ambition as much as anything else.
For fans of Saor, Wolves In The Throne Room & Skagos.
Havukruunu continues to never miss on any of their records thus far, I think this is a phenomenal EP that makes me wonder why this isn't just the first half of a full album. Can't wait for their next full release. Any fan of Pagan Black Metal needs to check this out despite the cover being kind of silly, wish they would have kept the black and white motif.
These guys keep popping up on my radar and I never seem to get around to them. An EP might be a good place to start. Early impressions are enticing at least.
Super interesting one Saxy, definitely flying under the radar for how impressively unique it is. I agree a lot with what you said in your review about how this isn't a gimmick project at all, everything fits together extremely well considering what it is. It didn't initially blow me away the same way Kaatayra did for whatever reason, but I've been going back to it and I can only see my rating for it increasing as time goes on. I think it's a denser and more complex record than Kaatayra's acoustic Black Metal record, but I'm not sure it's as effective at the end of the day, which is why my score is initially lower. There's a ton of cool stuff I've never heard before in Wreche'sAll My Dreams Came True though and anyone who wants something new and different in the modern Black Metal landscape should definitely check it out. A grower for sure, but for now I'm going to stick with my 3.5/5 until I can give it more time to sink in and let the initial shock of piano Black Metal not completely influence my thoughts.
After seriously enjoying Drudkh'sBlood in Our Wells, I knew I had to check out their other albums, so I immediately went for Autumn Aurora and the more I listened to it the more I can't fathom how this one even comes close to Blood in Our Wells. Sure the atmosphere is different and unique from other Atmospheric Black Metal albums, but it's so uneventful in the way that it presents its style. It's lush and gorgeous, but the novelty of it wore off pretty quick for me and it became no more than nice sounding background noise. It's far from a bad album but I can't place this album even near the same level as Blood in Our Wells.
I think it's been a pretty good year for black metal. To prove it I've put together a playlist on Spotify of tracks from my top twenty albums (actually that's not strictly true as Pan-Amerikan Native Front aren't on Spotify and so Little Turtle's War couldn't be included).
Hands down the track of the month is that Sainte Marie des Loups number. Not sure how I have missed this trio but I will expanding my knowledge of them over the coming weeks. The French scene certainly rarely disappoints and this is further testimony to that. A subtle necroticism to it but also a real attitude to back it up. Yey, new things!
I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion Vinny that the French are currently the World Champions as far as modern black metal goes. They just seem to have so much going on and rarely is it that a French band disappoints (not an easy thing to admit for an Englishman!)
Solid work this month Vinny! I was very pleased with your feature album this month.
As I prepare to enter into my fourth decade on this planet, I'm continually asking myself whether or not I have gotten soft in recent years? As the years go by, thrash metal has become a dead genre to me; what used to be full of life and nonstop energy, now I view it as a black hole of empty chugging and solos, lacking in grooves and melodies and bands devoid of originality and would rather just copy the golden era of thrash of the 1980s. Even more so, my favour with those bands (i.e. Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica) has also faded as they have become tiresome and boring. And as I have grown into extreme metal genres like death/black metal, most of my favourite albums are of the melodic and atmospheric variety. For as epic as Saor and Panopticon albums sound, they won't be winning any "most brutal breakdown of all time" awards anytime soon.
With that being said, I recently gave The Dreaming I by American duo Akhlys a spin and... well I think it is safe to say that my suspicions might be true, but goddamn does Akhlys make the realm of Hades sound like a pretty awesome vacation spot! This is a marvelous record that takes the atmospheric and melodic side of black metal and combines it with some filthy grooves and riffs for one of the most impressive hybrids that I have heard in quite some time.
Whereas most of my black metal is of the open, soaring variety, Akhlys use the atmo-black sound to create a soundscape that resembles the floor opening up below your feet as you are dragged down into the abyss. The extended ambient intro of "Breath and Leviathan" sets the ominous mood right out of the gate, before what can only be compared to a B-list horror movie jumpscare, the serial killer pops up around the corner wielding their perfectly sharpened machete ready to murder you. The wall of sound black metal is sudden and shocking, and may increase your heart rate!
And if that doesn't scare you enough, the chase scene will. This black metal sound is relentless and is complimented by some fantastic sounding lead guitars and a dazzling vocal performance. The way in which this duo is able to effortlessly match their ambient interludes and atmo-black passages is both technically impressive and compositionally sound as they play off one another to create wonderful dichotomy's for cooldowns and making the wall of sound hit that much harder.
While this album is impressive, it does have a little bit of a length problem, in which some songs sound like they begin to lose momentum and would rather fade out to their conclusion, rather than with a full stop, perhaps signaling the end of the road. But perhaps the lack of an ending shows a group that would have you believe that their is no end to this path; it persists far beyond the end of a single song. However, "Consumation" has a definitive ending, but then proceeds to go on another two/three minute ambient outro and it feels out of place.
But forget the minor issues surrounding the length and how songs end! The intros and body are exquisite and the production is spectacular; the bass lines are very prominent adding to the depth. In the end, Akhlys' album The Dreaming I helps to restore my faith (however slightly) in the most extreme metal to still invoke a positive reaction out of me.
Caught some unexpected weekend downtime this morning so have been able to tuck into the North playlist earlier than planned.
I have been listening to that Ungfell album on and off since it came out and I still am yet to fully get to grips with it. It just has these weird moments that I find hard to put into words as to why they are so off-kilter to me but I am on the fence still with these Swiss black metallers.
First time of listening to Empyrium and at first I found those clean and deep vocals a bit off-putting but the track is so melancholic and beautiful that they do kinda fit on reflection. Will be exploring more of these guys based on this but I am not quite sure the folk metal is framed correctly alongside the symphonic elements based on this showing.
Violet Cold are a curved ball it is safe to say. Reading Saxy's review of this record earlier it summarises this track as the strongest. It starts far too busy for me and before I know it those female vocals are replaced by harsh black metal vocals and my mind is reeling for a few seconds. I think the female vocals kill the track in all honesty and the track would be far more appealing to me without them. There's some good ideas going on instrumentally and the overall warmth of proceedings does work for me but it just feels cluttered as a whole track and probably needed a couple of elements less to make a more positive impression on me.
Poccolus are another first time listen for me and their pagan leanings bring an energy in their delivery that is only really dampened by those fucking awful vocals. I mean, they destroy the atmosphere of the music entirely. Këkht Aräkh is an artist I keep seeing on YouTube as a suggestion but I never seem to get around to listening to. It is obvious that Mr Crying orc knows his black metal well and it shines through in the Burzum-like guitar tone and the balance of piano against riffs is skilfully done allowing a rich warmth to an otherwise cold sounding basis.
That Negură Bunget has been getting much airtime in the Vinny lair this past fortnight as I picked the album up on CD after enjoying reviewing it for the clan challenge so much. That incredible rumble to the bass is like a black metal pulse that travels through the floor into my very being and those ethereal melodies are striking to say the least. Sonny wins the playlist with his choice.
Opera IX are another previously unknown act to me and I like the death metal sound to accompany those equally deathy vocals also that make up the first three-and-a-half minutes of the track. There's a kind of doomy element to the track as it easies back to allow some build of atmosphere. I realise now that this is Cadaveria on vocals having only stumbled across her on a playlist recently with her current self-titled project. The solo work on this track is terrible though and I am not convinced all the instruments are that well arranged considering this is the opening track to the album but it is not that they are all that terribly arranged just that they meander a bit too much unfortunately.
That Shining track further cements my opinion of what a flawed genius Kvarforth is. The chug of those riffs pulls the very air around the speakers towards their sweet menace. I do need to check out more Shining as virtually everything I hear is superb. It is good to see COF get a bit of airtime on the playlist, that album being the only one of theirs that I own in physical format having come very late to the COF party just some two years ago. I love the progressive drive to Funeral In Carpathia that keeps things interesting. The theme of classic bm bands continues well with Rotting Christ and their often overlooked 2016 album, this track embodies the tribalism of that album whilst still capturing that warm melodic richness we all know to expect from them. The spoken word parts are distracting though from Danai Katsameni but I am guessing that they are essential to the subject matter of the song somehow.
If there is one band I am guilty of spending too little time with, it is Spectral Lore. I love III but I have nevermanaged to sit down with anything else. I have heard good things about this release (despite that artwork suggesting otherwise) and the rather aggressive opening to this track is certainly evidence of great promise. **Updates Trello Board with further music to check out**
As usual with these playlists I found much to check out and also some albums to revisit. Thanks for putting together Daniel.
Massive fan of this one and I'm not quite getting the "untapped potential" aspect that Daniel/Vinny are describing even though I can see where they're coming from. I haven't listened to any Attila outside of Mayhem so it might be hard for me to tell whether he's phoning it in or not, but I never thought I'd consider myself a fan of his vocal style outside of De mysteriis dom Sathanas. His strange croaks work really well with the more extreme edge this album has with its insanely fast drumming and more thrashy style of tremolo riffing that balances melody and aggression really well. I'm also inclined to agree with Daniel in that there isn't too much Melodic Black Metal here apart from having a few more riff transitions than normal in tracks like "Come Damnation". I think this album works so well for me because it's an EP and not a full-length, since I could see myself getting tired of the relentless and somewhat repetitive aggression past the 40-minute mark. All in all though this release is exactly what I want and expect from a star lineup of Black Metal musicians and I thoroughly enjoy every single song on this album, although "Obliterator" is where I can start to understand Vinny's "jumbled ideas" comment since it definitely lags behind the 3 other full songs on the album. "Come Damnation" is probably the best Black Metal track I've heard in months though, so it's a small price to pay.
I thought this month's playlist got off to a great start with Vinny's trio of selections kicking us off in fine style. That impetus was lost by the Skyclad and Lantlôs tracks unfortunately - Skyclad I've never liked and this was a particularly awful track and I found the Lantlôs track a bit boring. Still, the remainder off the list had some awesome tracks I'm familiar with from Panopticon, Darkthrone, Kanonenfieber, Batushka and Emperor and some unfamiliar and interesting stuff from Djevel and Evilfeast as well as the three bands at the beginning of the playlist. Overall another great playlist with something for everyone I guess.
Since there's already a Panopticon thread here, I've been digging into ...And Again Into the Light all this week and really enjoying it, but there's one thing that I'm just not getting about the album even after multiple listens. It feels like the folk element completely leaves during the back half of "Rope Burn Exit" and for the entirety of "A Snowless Winter" plus "Moth Eaten Soul" and awkwardly comes back in full force in "As Golden Laughter Echoes" only to be replaced by Post-Metal for the final two songs. Maybe because I enjoy the atmosphere and style of the opening track into "Dead Loons" so much that having the album progress away from that feels out of place, even though the progression makes sense? Pretty torn on it, still one of the best albums of the year but I feel like I'm missing something.
After Mestarin kynsi won pretty much all of the critics 2020 best metal albums award, it was only a matter of time before those of us who caught on to Oranssi Pazuzu late would have to take the deep dive into the bands 2016 album, Värähtelijä. This album was equally as well received, if not more so, by critics at the time and as an outside looking in, I can only imagine why Oranssi Pazuzu were given such a loose second opportunity.
That's not to say that I do not like Värähtelijä, I absolutely do! But I've heard many atmospheric and psychedelic black metal albums in the years since this album was released and can only see it as a stepping stone towards greater things for Oranssi Pazuzu, including Mestarin kynsi!
First and foremost, I see Värähtelijä as an experimental project by comparison to its later sequel being the more refined mending of ideas together. This album contains a similar number of tracks as its follow up, but the tunes feel less impressive. The obvious outlier here is "Vasemman käden hierarkia", which sounds more like an extended jam session rather than a collection of ideas formulated together into something spectacular. At the very least, Ornassi Pazuzu are smart enough to make each of the tracks distinguishable from one another; a problem that many psychedelic albums face. After "Lahja" and the title track leave lots of space for post-rock elements, "Hypnotisoitu viharukous" drastically ramps up the intensity and is further explored on "Havuluu". And ending the album on the relatively laid back "Valveavaruus" gives this record a truly unsettling conclusion to a mostly unsettling project.
And even though the production on this album is very muddy, it does play into its benefit slightly. Psychedelic rock does not need to be riff-centric when it is the wall of sound technique that has been imported from atmospheric black metal that creates the comfortable, yet unsettling environment. I found that the fewer synthetic sounds did not help matters in making this nearly as unsettling as Ornassi Pazuzu may have thought, but these advances were made on later albums, so once again, I feel like this was an experiment for the band to see what would stick and then develop that sound further on subsequent releases.
But in the end, I know why people enjoy this record so much and while it may not be my personal cup of tea, I certainly appreciate its quality. For me, I prefer my atmo-black metal with sweeping melodic phrases and epic hooks and tales of folklore. Bit for an unsettling taste of psychedelic rock meets atmospheric black metal, you can never go wrong with Oranssi Pazuzu, even though I feel Mestarin kynsi is the culmination of this sound.
P.S. This absolutely needs to be essential listening if you enjoyed this months Infinite featured release: Lucid Planet II.
A strong start to this month's North list with that Spectral Wound track which is one of my regular spins of the past month or so. Once I get the mining riffs of Fuath out of my head I soon find myself wondering why I have never really pursued more Obsequiae and quickly make a note to check out more of their stuff. Moving swiftly into one of the worst things I have ever heard from Skyclad (not my usual experience of them) but then all is saved by the rich earthiness of that WITTR track - the in form Sonny does it again!
Heretoir just drifts by after that - through no fault of their own, just a tough track to follow - and I find myself reaching for the skip button to end the nonsense that is Bal-Sagoth before Arkona get things back on track - although at first I found myself caught off-guard because this clearly wasn't the Russian band I was familiar with. More quality stuff from Shining follows and I have a little sleep during that Xasthur track to recharge my batteries (good track just heard it many times so spied my opportunity) before my new favourite band Mare Cognitum drop another stellar track which forces me to go even further into their back catalogue. The conflict of whether I like Diabolical Masquerade this year or not is presented to me next and I decide 2021 is a good year for Blackheim.
Now I discover that Wintherr's at it again and this news has passed me by somehow. I fell out with him for Im Wald which was far too long and my attention span struggled massively with it. On this release it seems the internet is a bit upset with this release but from what I hear on this track it is nice and abrasive stuff. Sonny wins himself another 100 internet points for putting my second favourite band in the world Yith on the list.
After Achatius had a near year-long run for me in 2019 since it came out in mid-February, going back to it leaves me feeling the same way as I did back then. I really enjoy this album just because of how unique it is in a variety of different ways, from the incredibly extended songwriting, the chaotic and somewhat messy performances, and its modern take on a more lo-fi Black Metal production. I still haven't come across anything that has the same sort of energy that Achatius brings to the table, so it remains near the top of my highly regarded Black Metal albums.
I figured that there would be some discourse here and there because this album absolutely isn't for everyone, as I can see where Daniel is coming from given how messy the album can sound in places. There's so many different guitar harmonies and dueling melodies that if you listen very closely there are some obvious blemishes, but I don't think that errors in the performance ever affected me that much just because this release has always sort of embraced the chaos for me. You never really know what's coming next, there aren't many "main riffs" to speak of, almost no choruses, so the fact that Funereal Presence was able to create a gripping concept album out of all these different elements will always be impressive to me. The messiness and the slight production issues become a feature rather than a fault, at least to me in the end.
The only interesting take I found in this discussion was Daniel's claim in "failing to understand modern conventional Black Metal" because I definitely wouldn't consider Achatius to be that. I chose this album knowing that someone was bound to fall on the negative side of the argument given how expansive and somewhat weird it can be, so I don't think that's any fault of your own. I'd consider "traditional modern Black Metal" to be something like Mgla, which garners incredibly good reviews and scores from most of the community, and Achatius is worlds away from any Mgla release in my opinion.