It may be the beginning of a new year, but the weather is still quite grim in the UK with its bone-chilling temperatures and foggy mornings (at least in Wales), so it’s still the season for black metal. So here, coming from someone who is new to every single one of these bands/artists, are some quick reviews and head ups on some still fairly recent black metal releases.
Ragnarok – Malediction
Released at the end of October of 2012 via Agonia Records, Malediction is the seventh full-length album over the course of Norwegian Ragnarok’s 18 years in motion.
Admittedly, the opening track “Blood of Saints” put me in a sceptic mood with its dramatic opening of orchestral instrumentation and angelic “ahhh” vocals as well as thunderous background effects, but as soon as the band themselves kicked in, all doubts were washed away.
Malediction is black metal, there’s no doubt about it, but it also has a death metal vibe that really throws some interesting sounds at you. “(Dolce et Decorum est) Pro Patria Mori” is perhaps the track that showcases it the most during its slowed down chug moments, and “Iron Cross – Posthumous” with its overall sound. Meanwhile, “Necromantic Summoning Ritual” has a strange sense of being hope (or just being up-beat) during the later section of its opening tremolo riff, appearing just over halfway through the track.
Ragnarok pride themselves on staying on the straight and narrow BM path, as not re-inventing the wheel but “improving” it and perhaps that is why this album is so easy to listen to – there’s no pretence here, no overbearing sense of trying to be that something else. That said, there seems to be some sort of experimentation or non-Black Metal influence going on here, and it’s definitely a good thing in this case.
Forgotten Tomb – …And Don’t Deliver Us From Evil…
Like Malediction, this album too was released at the end of October via Agonia Records. Although I hadn’t heard their music before, I had certainly seen Forgotten Tomb’s splashed around the blogosphere in high regard, and it’s understandable why.
However, there is a big difference in style. …And Don’t Deliver Us From Evil… is a mix of black’n’roll, DSBM and doom metal, all rolled into one frostbitten yet catchy experience. Yes… black metal and catchy. “Deprived” and “Let’s Torture Each Other” are perfect examples of this, with the distorted guitars and screechy vocals meeting a classic rock influence – which Forgotten Tomb pull off pretty well. Just imagine the last two Satyricon albums with traditional BM vocals.
But then there are more straight forward BM tracks, like the title track with relentless blastbeats and tremolo riffs. Then there are the more depressive tracks like “Cold Summer” and “Love Me Like You’d Love The Death, similar to the likes of Shining (ten years ago). The combination and mixture of these styles keep your ears and your interest pricked throughout.
It can feel humorous at times, even fun. Whether or not that was the intent for certain tracks, who knows, but if you find a black metal album a “fun” listen, then surely it’s something worth checking out?
Witchcraft – Hegyek felettem
While the two previous releases of this feature have been pretty clean in production, Witchcraft seem to shun that type of production entirely and Hegyek felettem sounds like it may have come out around the same period as Darkthrone’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky. However, the truth is that it was released mid-October in 2012 via Neverheard Distro.
Much like Darkthrone, you’re confronted with sinister sounding riffs, harsh drums and reverberated, coarse vocals that float in the mix, perhaps just a bit lower than the guitars. While it’s impressive that these Hungarians have managed to encapsulate the actual raw sound of lo-fi recording, this is pretty standard black metal.
It’s far from bad, very far from it, but there’s nothing new going on here idea-wise. “Összeesküvés” has a section of a sweepy guitar phrase as muddied holy-sounding chants come and go, and “Megittam a vért” has a nice slow groove midway through with the vocals just screamed/croaked for extended periods of time. But the bigger picture is that you could have sworn you’ve heard a lot of the riffs on the album before.
It is enjoyable though, it’s just not that challenging…
Veér – The Measure Of Waste
Veér, previously known as Ravenshades, shares two members with Witchcraft, drummer Knot and bassist Elzeril, who fills in on guitar as (ex-Witchcraft) guitarist M. left the band. To add to the connection, this 2009 debut, The Measure Of Waste, was re-released on vinyl by Neverheard Distro in October 2012.
Despite all these connections, there is a noticeable difference between these two bands. Veér are, even if by the slightest degree, cleaner than Witchcraft and each individual of the band stand clearer in the mix – you can actually hear the bass on this album, unlike Hegyek felettem.
However, this brings to attention how horrible the cymbals sound throughout the album, so much so that it becomes a little annoying. The guitar tone sounds dirty in the bad way, as if it’s being played through a practice amp, and hearing the clean bass with all that going on just sounds out of place. The redeemable aspect to this album is the vocals alone; Jim Jones is just a pretty snarly vocalist, sometimes sounding similar to Amebix’s Rob Miller.
Personally, this is just a really hard album to get through due to both the production and standard approach to the black metal sound. Nothing sparks an interest here.
Zaklon – Chornae Lis’ce
Zaklon is the one-man project of Temnarod from Belarus, who is responsible for all instruments, lyrics and vocals (which are all in Belarusian). The album was released in November 2012 on the Gardarika Musikk label after only previously being released on limited CD-r copies.
Unlike any of the other releases in this feature, Zaklon focuses heavily on atmosphere and ambience as well as black metal itself, with a very slight doom influence. Flute, keyboards, spoken word and background effects all make an appearance on Chornae Lis’ce, furthering the lonesome feel of the music.
“Naval’nica” starts with an acoustic guitar and flute with some nightime effects (light rain and crickets), until the signature black metal tremolo-picked guitar comes in with thunder in the background, soon joined by Temnarod’s strained vocals. Then “Amyarc’ven’ne” has an enlightened atmosphere with its monolithic riff and mid-paced double bass drums.
The only complaints about this album is that it sounds a mechanical at time: the drums just sound programmed at parts and the background effects come and go with no subtlety, suddenly introduced and cut off. However, the ideas are interesting and would probably be a lot easier to appreciate with better production, especially on the sound effects.