The winter shut down that affects most of the music scene doesn’t extend it’s reach to our underground… indeed, tis the season not only to be jolly, but for dark, harsh and extreme music. Ghost Cult shines a light through the murk of early nights, and frost-bitten mornings on some of 2019’s primal releases…
Mo’ynoq – Dreaming In A Dead Language (self-released)
Dreaming In A Dead Language, is so far one of the most interesting works to emerge out of the confused, larval stages of the new year. Having established their progressive credentials to good effect on their 2017 EP Bardo, this latest offering cuts straight to the definite article of breathless, hard-edged Black Metal with their opening salvo: ‘Empyreal Decay’ and ‘The Collector’. But even from the outset, Mo’ynoq’s post-Rock influences are made evident through precisely delivered shifts of pace and brief, nuanced melodic flourishes. The tempo shifts towards the latter half of the album, with the moody piano interlude of ‘Doomed To Endure’ giving way to the band’s effective Opeth tribute in the form of ‘Carve My Name’. 8 / 10
Whitby Bay – Gothic Attack Vehicle (independent/Bandcamp)
Emerging under the oblique motto ‘Mardy Music for Mardy People’ from the back of the underground extreme metal zine Buried, the London trio’s first full-length output is a low-fi monstrosity that combines a raw, Punk dynamic of first wave Black Metal with a sludgy overtones reminiscent of Iron Monkey. This, paired with intermittently theatrical melodic flourishes and a self-consciously nasty kind of humour, its dramatic oeuvre calls to mind a sense of the demonic grounded firmly in Hammer Horror territory. In terms of production, Gothic Attack Vehicle does a lot with very little, playing with a kind of diegesis of deliberately decayed-sounding audio (evoking the media transparency of early Dungeon Synth cassette labels) intermeshing with the primary recordings. In the same way, the artwork is done in a reproduced block print in the manner of a medieval woodcut. If one were to open a book in a haunted library in a Dennis Wheatley novel only for a 12” to anachronistically spring out, this is accurately what one might expect it to sound like. Over a gramophone, naturally. 7 / 10
Astrophobos – Malice Of Antiquity (Triumvirate)
Malice Of Antiquity is gripping in a way that’s difficult to place. Produced with a high degree of competence and exhibiting the refined skills of a band entering its tenth year of existence, its opening movements ‘Fire Of Catharsis’ and ‘Begotten In Black’ come across a little formulaic. But like their previous EP – Enthroned In Flesh – the album is sustained by the fact that it’s both brutal and camply fun. This carries through on a steady unfolding patchwork of Lovecraftian mythscapes depicted in Mikael Broman’s fierce yet steadfastly precise vocals, and a melodic progression that verges at times on folk metal. The album culminates in the solid banger of ‘The Nourishing Hate’, and the gloriously overblown ‘Imperator Noctis’. 6 / 10
Phlebotomized – Deformation Of Humanity (Hammerheart)
Phlebotomized are a band that make considerably more sense once it becomes clear they possess about the same amount of thematic coherence as you would expect from a Metal band named after a routine blood test. Added to their fractured line-up history – guitarist Tom Palms is the only form either of their previous iterations – the re-formed Phlebotomized presents a confusing picture. Stylistically Deformation Of Humanity evokes some of the less fondly remembered elements of the early 2000’s, it’s schlock overture, chug-heavy riffs and awkward spoken word interludes, complemented by album artwork that looks like a rejected Korn cover piece. And while a slightly sterile production has rendered their prominent symphonic elements a little shallow, the album does still manage to merge these with their more grind-heavy sections to good effect, in a way that evokes their early EPs. One element of their mid-period album Skycontact that seems to have also carried over is their occasionally evident desire to sound like Rush. This comes out to most effect on the eponymous ninth track.
All told, it’s still an extremely competent work, intermingling a sincere Rock energy – in particular with ‘Eyes On The Prize’ and ‘Deformation Of Humanity’ – and overtones of genuine menace; the opener, ‘Chambre Ardente’ perhaps most strongly. 5 / 10
Krukh – Безглуздість! (I, Voidhanger)
The Ukrainian expat group Krukh’s debut starts on a distinctive nod to Immortal’s ‘Call of the Wintermoon’; it’s eponymous ‘Безглуздість (Absurdity)’ threading a ponderous, drawn-out overture against a cacophony of blast beats, with weirdly almost punk-sounding interludes. Its second, ‘Бесмысленность (Meaninglessness)’ keeps up this pace, before breaking into the ambient, rain-soaked solo guitar intermission of ‘Bтрачений (Lost)’. As it advances into its fourth part – ‘Горесть (Grief)’, the tone shifts taking up a more purposeful heading, with martial overtones nonetheless undercut by an air of impending doom. Despite these occasional variations in pace, the album has the overall feeling of a slow-motion tragedy.
And perhaps it is a Western bias to want to read everything from the former Soviet states with as some explicit (or not so explicit) tribute to Sergei Eisenstein, but this sense of kinetic, multifaceted drama that Безглуздість – thinking of the Odessa steps – manages to create does seem to find a common ground between its thematic progression and tense soundscape of crowds, storm and tumult. All of this comes to a head in its twelve minute finale, aptly named ‘Голод (Hunger)’, whose recurring motif echoes the reflective desolation of the latter movements of Tsutomu Ōhashi’s score for Akira.
Parsing the message of Безглуздість seems like a challenge even beyond the language barrier, but its structure makes a narrative reading hard to avoid. Its press release places focus on the confusion of the band’s transposition into the unfamiliar environs of the Portland, Oregon Extreme Metal scene, but declines to raise the spectre of the ongoing conflict at the Eastern border of their homeland. Even so, the spectre of that struggle seems hard to ignore. 8 / 10
Imha Tarikat – Kara Ihlas (Vendetta)
For an album that commences with a solid onslaught of noise and declamatory bellowing, the Germano-Turkish duo’s debut feels weirdly understated. Its points of distinction only really start to emerge when the initial barrage of the first movement begins to fragment into a freer, more lucid picture. While the vocals aren’t low in the mix, they’re kept deliberately distant – like the cries of some shadowed preacher exhorting some spiritual labour from the assembled mass – allowing them to merge with the undercurrents of rhythm guitar and give an interesting focus to the drums during the earlier segments. It is also significant how little it relies on studio effects or intermissions to achieve the soundscape it does.
The opening salvo is the first of four movements, each consisting of one to three tracks in an oblique cognitive strategy towards meditation (according to the band’s own account). This is the essence of Kara Ihlas an invocation for the dead that translates roughly as ‘black purity’. And while this makes the album initially kind of impenetrable, each does over time come to possess its own distinct character, with a handful of more self-contained segments also emerging from the pervading darkness. 7 / 10
Barshaketh – Barshaketh (WTC)
With so much of current discourse surrounding Black Metal dominated by its post-Rock inflected, hipster-palatable (maxima mea culpa), experimental variants – so much it has effectively eclipsed the creative potential of nominally traditional forms of second wave Black Metal – Barshaketh’s self-titled work comes as a welcome counterpoint. Stalwarts of the UK Black Metal scene for over a decade, the new release brings to the fore a complex mythic tableaux, delivered artfully and with great force. Foreshadowed heavily in their 2015 release, Ophidian Henosis, this marks a progression in both sound and theme – invoking both shadowy antique lore and a potently contemporary sense of entropy and rebirth in eight tight movements.
While impressive from the outset, the album’s true strength comes to the fore in its second movement, the two-track sequence ‘Consciousness’. Its conclusion, the epic ‘Recrudesence – The Entropic Return Of Primordial Chaos’ brings together all of the elements of this compacted epic before leaving on a haunting two-minute drone/guitar outro hinting at other unknowable things to come. 8 / 10
Mz.412 – In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi (Coldspring)
Even with expansive scope of thematic potential in the realms of hard electronica the last ten years have demonstrated, it feels like the creative potential for its occult application has been underexplored. The reissue of In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi by Coldspring – in preparation for the impending release of Svartmyrkr – still shows how much there has been and still is to be done. On its original release in 1995, the Satanic ritual abuse panic in the US and Britain was a very recent memory, and its questionable revelations permeate and drive the album’s thematic progression. Yet in the ongoing resurgence of post 2016 conspiracy thinking, its evocations of media-inflected paranoia seem all too relevant.
Combining hazy ritual drumming, disorienting synth loops, excerpts of trial recordings and savage noise by way of a fitting analogue for the reality-warping presence of the speculatively demonic, In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi possesses an unease that transcends mere sound. Its surprise reappearance bodes dubiously well for the impending successor. 7 / 10