The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal is the mother flower from which all styles of metal began to branch out. As anyone who was there at the time and the following years through the eighties will be quick to point out, it doesn’t matter how many microgenres you break it down to, “it’s all just heavy metal.” This, of course, is true, but with the benefit of retrospect, it’s easier to describe a band’s sound by using genre tags and descriptors than listing out the influences an artist draws upon.
“Raw” black metal is, in a way, as old as black metal itself. The strongest root of the style in the NWOBHM is obviously Venom, a band that notoriously had low-budget recordings (though this isn’t exclusive to black metal, speed metal pioneers in Raven and Satan had pretty rough early production as well). This factor, along with the DIY ethos that bled into metal from the punk and hardcore scenes of the late 70’s and early 80’s, followed black metal into the works of other genre pioneers in Bathory and Hellhammer. More the result of a lack of a proper recording budget than an aesthetic choice, the more raw production nevertheless suited the tones of the music. Filthy, necrotic, and evil, there is something to be said for the spirit invoked when the static crackles, hisses, and pops slither over tritone riffs as a tape slowly, steadily feeds vile, nefarious vibrations into an amplifier, through the speakers and ultimately possesses the ears of anyone in earshot. Raw production remained largely a byproduct of low budgets up to the early 90s, when Norwegian bands like Darkthrone and Burzum began to see necro production as an aesthetic, another tool to be used in creating the darkest, most sinister music possible. Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger especially laid out a blueprint that many bands would attempt to copy, with most failing to even come close to capturing the atmosphere laid out with a simple four-track recorder and a few creative techniques. While the downside of the copycats that followed is a horde of mediocre to downright horrible Transilvanian Hunger clones, the album did indisputably level the playing field. Talent, in it’s traditional sense, was no longer a factor. It opened up black metal to anyone with a passion to create malevolent soundscapes, to paint their own interpretation of auditory nightmares of grief and terror, of evil, suffering, or whatever sinister forces nudged them to make abrasive and gritting music.
Operating beneath the hype machine and outside of trendy circles, raw black metal beats its own pulse in the deep crypts of the underground. What results from the democratization of black metal is a world of diverse interpretation. As seen in this look at some of the rawer black metal releases of 2019, these interpretations vary greatly, from trying to recreate the past to blazing new and creative trails in a fuzz-laden marriage between riffs and atmosphere. The real beauty lies in the fact that anyone could create it; none of the musicians here have Malmsteen-level technical prowess. But when we re-examine how we define talent, and see it not just as being proficient at an instrument, but rather the ability to evoke a mood, well, that’s when the real magic happens and the world of raw black metal begins to really open up.
What follows is an examination of some of the more noteworthy raw black metal releases that have stood out so far this year. From the worship of the style’s forefathers to more experimental acts seeking to break new ground, raw black metal truly does work at its own pace outside of trends and hype, sticking close to the fertile soil of obscurity.
Akantha – Baptism In Psychical Analects
Not two notes in and it’s abundantly clear Akantha aren’t subscribing to the black metal style of their home country of Greece. In fact, the band draw almost exclusively from the United States, with Judas Iscariot being the primary (sole?) muse for the band. From the very beginning of Baptism In Psychical Analects the style sounds almost identical to Heaven In Flames, with the band all starting with a full-on blast into an almost indecipherably modified version of the “An Eternal Kingdom Of Fire” riff. The production is spot on, nailing the grit and jagged tones of Judas Iscariot’s classic while the drum style and riff changes all mirror the source material with uncanny accuracy.
Luckily, Akantha’s sophomore release doesn’t entirely lift all its riffs from Judas Iscariot. While staying firmly in that era of their predecessor, the flow of the album takes on a bit of its own identity, with more frequent changes beneath the dry atmosphere. “The Monotheistic Pharoah” alternates between the mid range and upper range of the guitar over nonstop blast beats, trading tremolo riffs back and forth before dropping into a slower, more melancholy section that breaks up the flurried wall of sound. Small touches make all the difference on songs like “Thesis And Antithesis,” from the audible slides as the riffs shift across the neck of the guitar to the chimes of the ride that ring crisply through the static fog.
While the number of Judas Iscariot clones across the globe at any given time probably reaches into the hundreds, few play it with such accuracy, showing a true passion for the original style and channeling it into the band’s own creativity. It’s the love for the style that drives Akantha, and it shows on Baptism In Psychical Analects with flying colors. Like a good friend told me recently, “You ain’t gotta bend the rules to make lemonade,” and Akantha make a damn good glass of it.
F45.2 – Parasitosis
Released back at the very beginning of February, F45.2 is one I’ve been sitting on for a while. Drawing heavily from the black metal styles of Paysage d’Hiver, as well as more contemporary interpretations such as Darkspace or Sutekh Hexen, F45.2 embrace a different kind of coldness than those of windswept fjords and blizzardous tundras. The coldness here is sterile and precise, like the cold chill of an operating theatre. Fitting, considering the band name is derived from the medical code for hypochondia. Even more fitting that each project so far seems to be an exploration of the mind’s ability to trick itself into thinking a disorder is real. ‘Parasitosis’ is defined as a false belief that the affected’s body is infected with parasites, and the band’s debut demo encompasses a claustrophobic feeling of being covered with squirming, otherworldly insects deep in the bowels of a quarantined laboratory. The harsh wall of static guitar washes over throbbing bass as bits of noise skitter and crawl across the soundscape. The vocals are barely noticeable amongst the cacophony, much less decipherable, as though smothered behind the enclosing wave of parasitic arachnids. What is noticeable is the haunting presence of reverberated synth tones cutting through, the only grasping bits of reality against the smothering wash of insanity.
F45.2 also released a follow-up EP in March entitled Bromosis, which delves into the irrational belief that one’s body odor is extremely foul, so be sure to furiously slather on deoderant before listening. Both releases show incredible promise for the project, and I hope to hear more from F45.2 in the future exploring similar themes.
Oculus Vacui – Alkahest
The Netherlands has been putting out quite a bit of fantastic black metal lately, and the debut release of Oculus Vacui is no exception. Drawing from more atmospheric forms of black metal than that of the strictly raw, the Alkahest double LP is packed to the brim with epic builds that paint a tapestry of sorrow and emptiness over vast lands devoid of human life.
The term “Alkahest” itself is a nod to the true universal solvent, rumored amongst alchemists to be able to dissolve any substance to its base material. It has usage in magical practices to clear away obstructions and unconscious fog in order to manifest one’s intent, and the album certainly fits into the feeling of the former. Etching sorrowful melodies out of the haze, Oculus Vacui create surprisingly melodic and beautiful melodies across its vast sonic landscapes. The howls of the vocals wail mournfully beneath the moving passages and long-form builds, the drums pulsing mid-tempo runs and blasts beneath much of the melodious passages. The songs are long form, each comprising of a single side of each LP, yet occupy the space given without a moment wasted. Each constructs towards its epic conclusion, releasing beautiful energy that tugs at the spirit longing for escape.
Lamp Of Murmuur – Thunder Vigil And Ecstasy
The debut demo of Olympia, WA’s Lamp Of Murmuur encompasses everything orthodox about raw black metal. Organic, fuzzy-laden production with plenty of tremolo riffs and blastbeats to go around, Thunder Vigil And Ecstasy sounds like it came straight out of 1993. What sets Lamp Of Murmuur apart from the thousands of other raw black metal artists that emerge every year from bedrooms across the world, besides the sheer intensity and the honest worship of all things necro, is the nonstop quality of riffs across it’s thirteen-minute duration. The demo never loses its momentum or atmosphere, and, to be honest, the attention to the mid-range a la pre-second wave black metal is a welcome relief.
The vocal lines echo and die like a tortured victim of sacrifice over the decayed production, Lamp Of Murmuur sounds like something you would find on cassette in the desk drawer of a decrepit, abandoned motel in a backwoods town. Cheap synth flourishes add a bit more character to the demo, increasing the spooky factor on Thunder Vigil & Ecstasy sixfold. The four tracks bleed into one another, and, considering they are only available through a single, demo-long edit digitally or via cassette, are intended to be consumed as such. Sure, some may perceive this as a try-hard attempt to be seen as “trve kvlt,” but, in actuality, it works for Lamp Of Murmuur as an artistic decision to stay loyal to a medium becoming scarce in an age where listening to a full body of work is, in itself, a lost art.
Revenant Marquis – Polterngeyst
I’ll be honest with you: Revanent Marquis is for the raw die hards. Polterngeyst is a tough nut to crack, and probably the most inaccessible of the releases listed in this roundup. This being said, fans of Black Cilice that weren’t particularly pleased with the direction the band has taken in more recent years will most likely celebrate this find.
The production is isolating, sounding like all the microphones were shoved directly into the amps save for the single condenser mic hanging from the flickering light above the drum kit. The levels are all pushed well beyond the red, creating a pulsating sonic fortress that blankets the songs in a near-indecipherable level of sonic smog, like the fog of war, a repressed memory that the mind tries so desperately to forget for the sake of its own sanity.
The guitar work is atonal, seemingly working against the bass to create the most horrid, mind-bending abrasion on “Descending At Last Into An Impenetrable Blackness.” Living up to its title, the song seems to deconstruct and beings sliding off the rails into madness. Brief attempts to snap back into reality are found as the instruments come together in syncopated blasts, as though fighting off the horror and insanity in ultimate futility.
The album is broken up with the haunting synth interlude of “Starvation,” providing a break from the nightmarish sounds. It’s hard to tell from the static of the production, but it sounds like the vibrations from the synth are rattling unplayed snares beneath a drum, adding a touch of authenticity and painting the scene of the album a touch more.
“Absolute Untethered Vengeance” takes a minor melody, barely audible beneath the thundering drums and proceeds to desecrate it in an act of audio perversion. While the drums constantly batter and hog the soundscape, small treasures are to be found beneath the cacophony of noise. Haunting, eerie ooo’s seep their way in as a near constant rhythm guitar hooks its way into the subconscious before the drums make a final assault on the production.
Absolutely a difficult listen, but not one without its merits and rewards. Once you can find that spot in the production to focus on, Polterngeyst plays out like its namesake, creating a haunted world of psychological terror.
Voëmmr – O Ovnh Intot Adr Mordrb
Having thoroughly enjoyed Voëmmr’s debut demo last year, I was particularly pleased that the band’s disturbing approach to the raw style of black metal would be getting the full album treatment in April via Harvest Of Death. The demo was sadistic and twisted, unsettling and disturbing, and O ovnh intot adr mordrb follows suit.
The sophomore album captures the hopelessness of the prior demo quite well, as the opening track “Coecr Od Deomrz (Part II)” is quick to confirm. The music echoes through cold, stone corridors, with the riffs and drums ever slightly giving way to the vocals, which sound like the maniacal screams of a victim of some forgotten form of medieval torture. Dusty synths add to the dry stuffiness of the atmosphere, echoing as spirits trapped for hundreds of years in the dank, dark, winding passages beneath the decrepit ruins of a castle most sinister.
The thumbscrews really twist in on “Dorbd Divn,” as the shrieks cut out through the echoes with desperate torment. A peppy one-two beat offsets the otherwise slow, doomy pace, building up to the blasts as maximum agony levels are reached, sure to give a tickle to any sadist worth their salt-and-papercuts.
Despite the rough nature of the recording, the production is fairly well crafted. The sounds bleed over one another just enough to keep O Ovnh Intot Adr Mordrb raw and unfettered, but allowing enough room for each instrument to be heard. The bass ticks away like a doomsday clock on “Vin Ad Mordrb” and the crashing hi-hats on “Profvndr”, mixed with the pitter-patter running kicks, create a very organic drum sound, marching obediently like a dungeon keeper amongst the wailing sounds of suffering around it.
Sutekh Hexen / 夢遊病者 – Sutekh Hexen / 夢遊病者
Two of Sentient Ruin’s most boundary-stretching black metal acts teaming up to release a split? Sign me up! While both bands certainly draw from different wells of influence, they share a commonality in their shared desire to create something new, twisting the rigid definitions of black metal into a form more malleable to their respective visions.
The Sutekh Hexen side of the split is instantly recognizable by the band’s trademark alchemic white noise manipulation, smothering any lingering bits of melody in a cacophony of static. Less music than a spell designed to overwhelm the senses in a wash of subconscious assault, the bands stays true to their vision. In carrying with the theme of the record with conjoining the aspects of both artists, “ནག་པ་” shares 夢遊病者’s fascination with the power of language: the title derived from the Tibetan word for Nigella, an herb believed to have vast healing potential by the old world. Sutekh Hexen’s ability to bury their music beneath the grasp of the conscious mind makes for a strange experience that feels both isolating and welcoming to those who seek to get lost in their brand of sonic manipulation.
The 夢遊病者 side of the record continues the band’s enigmatic take on black metal, masking the complex musicality beneath a dreamlike haze that twists and turns, working its magic beneath the psyche. It seems no matter how deep and focused the listen may be, there are always more layers beneath the surface. Ever cryptic as 夢遊病者 tends to be, the song’s title appears to be a reference to coordinates, with the location being right along the peace line between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea. What is 夢遊病者 trying to say beneath the waves of exotic melodies and ceremonious chanting? Dive deep, let your mind wander and get lost in this side for yet another subconsciously rewarding listen.
Nocturnal Departure – Cathartic Black Rituals
I was debating whether or not this qualified enough as “raw” to be included in this roundup, as it falls more in line with traditional second-wave worship than what most fans would consider to be raw, however its just too damn fun to pass up.
The band’s debut album (and overall debut release, no basement tape demos to be found here) kicks into full gear after the somewhat elongated intro of ambient synthwork and indecipherable growls with a formidably gritty bit of second-wave black metal worship that reaches its icy hand straight for the throat. The riffs are never sacrificed for the fuzzy atmosphere, breaking out in thrash-ready momentum that calls back to the earlier days of Sweden’s Craft. Plenty of lead tremolo work scatters across the songs, adding an edge of melodicism to Nocturnal Departure’s sound.
Even when the band slows down a little bit on tracks like “Astral Transcendence” or “Mental Abyss,” allowing the bass a bit of play around the picked guitar, the breaks in energy are never long, quickly breaking out in waves of intensity as the blasting drums give way to driving breakout riffs. The vocals are delivered with a sinister passion, and show a bit of dexterity on “Insidious Strangulation,” jumping from throaty roars to tortured shrieks to wolf howls, adding color and dynamic to an area often overlooked by disciples of the second wave of black metal. Nocturnal Departure are bringing their A-game to stand out amongst an often stagnented style and breathe unholy life into the crypts of the past.
Neptrecus – Ars Gallica
One of the more experienced bands on this list, France’s Neptrecus released their third full length, Ars Gallica, in August of this year. Another band that skirts just outside the raw tag, there’s enough grit here for the band to be included. Delivering their historical and mythological influences in their native French over a fairly melodic approach that sounds like a triumphant march of evil over conquered lands, Neptrecus create sonic tapestries of war and evil glory. From the first track, “Notre berceau – notre tombeau,” Neptrecus lean into the swing of the rhythm section to help create this feeling of ancient battle hymns – even the blasts swing a bit beneath the uplifting call of the guitar. Rapidly shifting rhythms and patterns add a sense of urgency before the big build that rises like a megalith over fields of blood.
The drums are by far the driving force of the band, with plenty of running kicks, ride tings, cymbal splashes, fills, and pattern changes fueling the energy of the guitars. “Soyons Terribles Pour Dispenser Le Peuple De L’être” (which, going by the notoriously unreliable Google, translates roughly to “Let’s Be Terrible To Dispense The People From Being”) is littered with plenty of great guitar moments, from the acoustic, classical touches giving way to building, tapping leads to the breakout riff about four and a half minutes in settling the stage for a solo that feeds into a blasting conclusion to the track
The rest of the album follows suit, constantly shifting and changing, with actual, proper riffs finding their way to the surface amongst the assault, coupled with tasteful leads that add a sense of traditional European melodies to the whole affair. Neptrecus are coming with plenty of tools in the box to create a black metal album without any frills or hacky attempts to stand out – just damn fine black metal.
Pa Vesh En – Pyrefication
Since Pa Vesh En’s debut demo,
Knife Ritual, back at the tail end of 2017, the band has been firing on all cylinders, pumping out another demo, an EP, a split with Temple Moon, and a debut full-length, Church Of Bones. This year is proving to be just as fruitful, with the Cryptic Rites Of Necromancy EP released back in May and a sophomore album, Pyrefication following in August.
For those already familiar with the band, there isn’t anything incredibly new happening on Pyrefication, but Pa Vesh En commands such a mastery over raw, ceremonial black metal that it stands on its own as a hypnotic, captivating ritual experience. Crushingly heavy guitars plod through the introductory ambiance with a pace akin to that of the living dead (as in Night Of The Living Dead, not that fast-moving Walking Dead take on “zombies”). Feedback peaks over the weight over the guitars like a sinister mockery of singing bowls, adding to the ritual hypnotism brought on by the repetitive drone of the slow strums.
The pace is picked up a notch on “Wastelands Of Plague,” with the main riff evoking “The Imperial March” vibes. Ritualitic howling in the vain of Urfaust works as a counter harmony to the muffled shrieking of the vocals, pushed way in the back of the tomb. The megalith repetition of the music is what’s important here, everything else merely adds flavor and context as Pa Vesh En constructs a necrotic shrine in a cavern of skeletal cadavers.
The opening to “Call Of The Dead” features a noticeable nod to Mayhem’s “Freezing Moon,” though noticeably slower, drudgier, and generally filthier. A bit of lead guitar can be found echoing in the hollows between the arpeggiated guitar strums. Pa Vesh En continues to find creative ways to litter the repetitive soundscapes with different bits of flavor, such as the didgeridoo effect on the vocals for “A Cacophony Of Spiritual Transition” or the carefully manipulated feedback on “Pyre Of The Forgotten.” “Grotesque Abomination” features an unusually fast track for the band, comprised mostly of punky one-two beats and blasts from the drum department, and its as though the ritual work of the earlier half of the album are coming to fruition and spirits of the dead begin swirling around the listener. The uptick in tempo carries over to the following tracks, adding a shift in dynamic to the second half of the record, though without abandoning the doom sections that make up the backbone of the band’s sound.
Probably my favorite release on this list, its surprising just how deep, how heavy Pa Vesh En can make their take on doomy black metal, especially in the raw realm where production is so often brittle and thin. Pyrefication is easily the best and most fully realized work since Knife Ritual, and I’m curious to see how far Pa Vesh En can push their style of necro-worshipping ritual in the future.
Black Cilice – Transfixion Of Spirits
Portugal’s scene has been gaining plenty of traction in underground circles in the last decade, thanks in no small part to their darling child of static wielding sorcerers, Black Cilice. With 2017’s critically acclaimed album, Banished From Time, Black Cilice evolved into a more mature sound without losing the noisey, barely decipherable atmosphere that has become a trademark for the band. While several long-time fans may have seen this as an attempt to sell out, it simply marked a point in which Black Cilice obtained a masters in manipulation of distortion and static wizardry.
The band seems happy with its direction, as it’s continued on the newest album, Transfixion Of Spirits. Still featuring plenty of noisey, raw recording, the mixing process remains more refined, blending the raw materials into a smoother final product. If anything, the remaining biting edges of Banished From Time have been sanded down even further, creating a foggier and more diluted atmosphere. The individual picking of the guitar on “Darkness And Fog” is impossible to pick up, blending the tremelo riffs into a whitewash of warbling sound, like an unstable connection between our realm and a realm of unfathomable darkness and sorrow.
The vocals, too, cannot be made out specifically, instead contributing as but another instrument of despair to The Big Picture. The drums mostly hyper-blast through “Maze Of Spirits,” moving so fast they become a blur of sound, merely pulsing the energy of the song up to the mid-way breakdown where everything opens up a bit for a breather. It works as a songwriting choice, however it’s a bit awkward and difficult to swallow in the context. Yet when the rolling kicks burst in on the buildup it regains a bit of lost momentum. By the time the lead kicks in over the build its apparent the sacrifice in intensity was worth it to deliver a grander conclusion to the track.
The epic riffing beneath the atmospheric fog continues into “Outerbody Incarnation”- it’s clear that this is the most melodic Black Cilice release to date. The drop into the break here is handled with a bit more grace, though the buildup is quickly skirted to return to the blasting pulse of the fog.
Longtime fans looking for a return to the more abrasive days of the band may find disappointment here, but for those who enjoyed Banished From Time, it serves as the next step forward for a band maturing in both their sound and approach to songwriting.