Last night marked the new moon. The darkest night of the lunar month, when the terrestrial body, in its tireless rotation about the tellurian rock, is blackened by the very shadow of the earth itself, revealing the lights of the cosmos beyond the normal visibility of our night sky. Of course, this is but a fraction of what lies beyond the earthly plane, reminding us of the infinite nature of the universe and the possibilities beyond. One cannot fully ever comprehend the vast, boundless nature of the infinite, yet for one night a month we are given a slightly larger frame of reference. The sky of the new moon reveals just a bit more into how mind-bogglingly tiny we are in the grand scheme of things, while simultaneously showing us a minutely larger frame into what lurks in the cloak of seemingly dead, empty space around us.
Digging deep into the underworld of black metal can translate as a similarly overwhelming experience. It can seem like there are thousands upon thousands of black metal releases reaching the light of day every year from major labels to garage warehouse distros, from new bands, established acts, prolific solo artists, bedroom creeps, and nocturnal freaks all tapping into the magic of black metal—all searching for some kind of meaning in the noisy, cathartic din. Whether delving into the ancient past, performing sonic rituals of auditory necromancy, channeling aggression and rage, or mourning for a peaceful solstice amongst the pain of existence, black metal has a utilitarian function in the ease of accessibility in its creation. (You certainly don’t need to be a virtuoso to construct something that connects—something powerful and memorable, if only to the handful of people that “get” what it is you’re peddling.) Black metal is the chaos magick of the heavy metal world: a shortcut to manipulating the psyche to yield something tangible and identifiable in the boundless possibilities of the cosmos. Be forewarned: Much like chaos magick, it can yield unexpected results to those who aren’t entirely sure of what exactly it is they are dabbling with.
This being said, Black, Raw, & Bleeding serves as an attempt to expose some of the brighter stars of the past few months—the ones revealed by the overshadowing of the light of the celestial body most easily seen from Earth on any other night. In essence, it is a glimpse into the the raw, unchained spirit of the black metal underground. A flicker of candlelight exposing but a corner of the ever pulsing world of black metal as it forever churns its cosmic wheels against the grain of heavy music as a whole.
svrm – Занепад
Generally, there are two distinctive types of prolific artists: those who attempt to throw as much as they can out into the world hoping someone will take notice, and those who have an internalized fire that needs constant feeding. While the latter tends to be the exception, Ukrainian one-man project svrm falls distinctly into this category. Since the first demo in 2015, svrm has gone on to release no less than four other demos, five EP’s, and mark this past January’s Занепад as their second full-length studio album.
While notably less raw than pretty much any other band on this list, there is a tenacity and a furiousness behind the atmospheric grandiosity that simply exudes raw emotion here. Stylistically, svrm bears more than a little resemblance to their fellow countrymen in Drudkh, yet there are a few key differences that make svrm’s approach their own. The riff changes are much more frequent, relying less on hypnotic repetition and leaning more towards constructing moods across a variety of riffs. While the end goal and the emotional result are very similar, svrm takes their own path to get there. This project relies—nay, thrives—on delivering riff after riff, all flowing seamlessly in a blaze of inspiration rooted in despair, sorrow, and more than just a hint of defiant spirit against the darkness. Занепад is yet another fully realized and masterfully executed work that only further solidifies svrm’s place as an underground wunderkind and a true gem amongst the sea of so-called “prolific” artists in the black metal underground today.
Despondent Moon – The Infernal Shadows Of Winter
From the first seconds of Bathory’s debut, wind has remained a black metal trope that has retained a presence—not only in its use of ambience, but as a guiding force for black metal’s atmosphere. The Winds Of Mayhem carried from the first wave into the second, garnering strength and might as they swept their way across the globe. Norwegian bands like Immortal captured the power of the natural force into the wintery gale of their sound. Early Russian black metal harnessed the forces of the Siberian tundra, Hellenic bands used the warm Mediterranean winds to guide the sails of their warships, and North America would eventually harness the Cascadian gusts between its mountain ranges.
Fast forward to January of this year and UK raw symphonic black metal band Despondent Moon’s third album, The Infernal Shadows Of Winter, and it’s easy to see how the winds of darkness have retained their power across the decades. The sheer rawness of the guitar and harrowing, distant reverb of the vocals create gusts of otherworldly blizzards across the soundscapes of the record, constructing a violent, dense, inhuman atmosphere that ravishly spills out of the wind samples of the introduction. While the riffing does create a backbone for the melodies, the real power behind Despondent Moon is the compounded use of synths and orchestration, which creates a cinematic, almost operatic feel behind the music. (For the sake of reference, think Limbonic Art with Paysage d’Hiver production values.) The multitude of synth voices cry out like the spirits of thousands of souls lost to the wintery storm—harrowing and bone-chilling.
As with any lo-fi black metal band worth its salt, the studio becomes an instrument, particularly in the way the drums are mixed. The cymbals are compressed to all hell, battering the soundscape like mortar shells of icy hail. The fluctuation of the noise gates creates a bombardment of sonic assault, timed perfectly to create a driving rhythm of noise and release beneath the chaos. While none of these elements are new to the band, The Infernal Shadows Of Winter stands as Despondent Moon’s most balanced work in the production department; it retains dynamics without losing the chaos that made its predecessors so tormentingly infectious. Brief interludes within the songs, such as “Of The Black Cosmos, Pt. II,” provide a momentary sanctuary from the wall of operatic blizzard chaos that grabs the bulk of the album’s attention. Despondent Moon stand out in a sea of the relentless hailstorm of bands attempting to capture the violent nature of freezing winds, and they do so with a grandiosity rarely paralleled in its symphonic bombasity and over the top dramatism.
Midnight Betrothed – To Follow Your Spirit Into The Night…
There is a fine line between black metal and dungeon synth. And, judging from the band’s omission from the site, I’m willing to wager the folks over at Metal Archives group Midnight Betrothed in with the latter. Myself, I’m a bit more on the fence with this one. Sure, there really aren’t any “riffs” to speak of on the album—the guitar often does little more than strum along beneath the much more prominent keys. The mechanical drum work harkens back to that of Summoning, though the production and atmosphere on To Follow Your Spirit Into The Night… align with that of the more ambient works of Australian black metal act Drowning The Light. Ancient foggy mountainscapes devoid of evidence of human life, save for perhaps a few ruins blanketed in the fog of solitude, Midnight Betrothed capture the gothic bliss of a true misanthrope’s utopia in their simple yet catchy key melodies. It’s a trope that’s often attempted, yet something about Midnight Betrothed stands out. There’s a spirit about To Follow Your Spirit Into The Night… that just feels genuine and memorable, and with black metal, sometimes it’s best to just go with your gut. Save this one for sipping tea during the first cleansing rain on a Sunday morn after the inevitable apocalypse.
Mortevexis – Mortevexis
What better way to say “Fuck you and the iron boar you rode in on” to a loved one than with the gift of Mortevexis’ debut demo, Mortevexis. Part of the somewhat new GraveLight Order circle based out of the United States, this particular coven of black metal musicians has yet to hit the stride of some of the more established circles of the raw black metal style dominating the contemporary landscape, such as the Black Plague Circle in Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Aldebaran Black Circle out of Portugal. The circle is still establishing an identity, and Mortevexes provides a few clues as to its purpose and direction.
The combination of programmed drums and haphazard playing following the bizarre, ominous synth-replicating-horn intro to “Fire Erupting From The Iron Boar’s Mouth” are but minor offenses to the senses in comparison to the shrieks that break through the sound and molest the eardrums with the subtlety of a mace to the face. If you make it past that, kudos: You’ll be rewarded with indecipherable word-vomit in the form of chewed, sneering vocals. Not sure what they’re saying, but Mortevexis sure have a lot to say about whatever the hell it is they’re spitting and wailing about.
The guitars sound like they’re recorded at explosive volumes in a concrete bunker a few thousand miles and at least two mountain ranges away from the listener, and the bass is certainly audible, though it sounds almost bored with how out of time the playing is in relation to the guitars and drums. Yet tracks like “Ashen Embrace” show a certain ferocity beneath them, and while no apparent intent has yet to show its face, Mortevexis aren’t afraid to embrace a totally fucked mentality of deconstructing the idea of music and rebuilding it into some sort of Frankensteinian monstrosity.
The classical guitar at the end of the release almost serves as a punchline: A certain musical prowess is required to play such an intricate melody, and it almost laughs in the face of the unstructured chaos that came before it, as if to say, “Yeah, fuck you and your iron boar. We don’t need to please you. This isn’t about your enjoyment.” Gotta admire the spirit.
Paezor – Paezor
Sometimes, there’s just no substitute for good old-fashioned black fucking metal, and Paezor really can’t be described as anything but. From the opening foray riff of “The Gateway,” it’s clear Paezor takes strong influence from the second wave, particularly honing in on the grey area of the time between black and death. There’s a Marduk feel to the riffing and energy that embraces the aggression of both genres, yet with that inherent, indisputable evilness found only in black metal. The synchronous vocals sound tortured with a burning and unholy burden, the leads sear their brand into the meat of the rhythm, and you can almost smell the searing flesh and feel the adrenaline of pain in the unstoppable energy of the drums. The bass adds to the tension, wandering ominously about the tracks in the shadow of “Life Eternal” Mayhem—out of the direct spotlight, yet subtly guiding the song along its unholy path.
The blaze keeps a’burnin’ through the barked incantations of “The Chaos Witch” and into the more driving “Executioner.” No matter what patterns and riffage they’re working with, Paezor hold fast to straightforward, energetically charged black metal that feeds off aggression and pure hatred and anguish. Even the slower bits are tainted with a malice, like the chain on a morningstar reaching maximum tension before the ultimate release into a particularly vulnerable section of the skull. The sheer fury of “Circle Of Nine” hits a choice vein, splattering blood across the soundscape with its relentless, thrashy riff-fest and splattering of cymbal work, not to mention the chaotic solo unleashed at its apex. Paezor are bloodthirsty, and Paezor stands as a testament to their channeling of chaotic violence into ritualistic blasphemy that burns with the fires of hell itself and cooking the blood of their victims in a stir-fry of the 90s’ most aggressive black metal.
TrveSovereign – The Dewerstone
No one has ever made a rule that raw, underground black metal can’t be melodic. And if they did, Devon, UK’s TrveSovereign never got the message. With one demo, three EP’s, and one full-length under the belt, TrveSovereign sneer in the face of the lamented tag of “bedroom black metal.” Every release has a certain home-recording quality to it (in the modern, more computer-based sense, as opposed to, say, the analogue values of a four-tracker), but not for the sense of creating a more “kvlt” sound as much as the root origin of the raw recording style: necessity. Project mastermind Korvus Blackwood is driven by the music, and the production seems to be more of a means to deliver than it is a particular stylistic choice. The focus of TrveSovereign lies in chaining together riffs in a melodic fashion similar to the classic Swedish approach a la Dissection, Dawn, and Sacramentum. With The Dewerstone, the band focuses in on local lore and legend for inspiration, channeling the spirit of myth into a loose collection that’s more of a thematic through-line than a fully realized concept album.
As previously mentioned, the real draw of the album comes from the riffing. TrveSovereign’s ear for melodic composition hooks from the start, with “The Sepulchre” bringing that triumphant, heroic feel to the dark art. In fact, upon closer listening on tracks like “Between Life And Death” and “Macabre Visions On A Midsummer’s Eve,” Korvus seems to have inadvertently tapped into a similar well of inspiration as the core Greek black metal acts with repetitive, heavily palm-muted, thrash-based riffs and the mechanization of the drums that build a sense of tension and conflict-ridden atmosphere across the songs. The deeper, almost death growl of the vocals reverberates this sentiment, drawing comparisons to early Rotting Christ and Varathron. The leads dance on tracks like “Wrath Of Cutty Dyer,” adding to the urgency of the melodies and bring a distinctly European feel to the music.
Don’t let the somewhat awkward band name and utilitarian production values fool you: TrveSovereign have created an excellent gem with The Dewerstone—a relentless riff fest that does justice to both Korvus’s homeland as well as the black metal style as a whole.
Old Nick – Haunted Loom!!
With Bandcamp being such a universal platform, tongue-in-cheek black metal releases seem to pile on. (For instance, I think most of us remember the wave of Batushka parodies last year.) Sometimes it’s worth a cheap laugh and not much more than that. On the surface, Old Nick here seems to fall into that category, bolding proclaiming, “No renaissance, my home is in the dark ages. Haunted threads will entangle you, and banished from thine chamber pot keep away, for you know not the unfathomable deeps of the wells in which we dwell.” Adding to the flippancy are song titles such as “Banishêd from Thine Chamber Pot,” “The Executioner’s Execution,” and “!Fuck 17th Century!!!”. However, upon pushing play, it’s almost like discovering an eccentric, rich uncle who died centuries ago and now haunts the strange Victorian mansion that you just inherited for the indisputable bargain price of a single buck on Bandcamp as a mischievous poltergeist. Haunted Loom!! is playful, absurd, and mischievous, but also somewhat evil in how it feels like it could still crush your skull (thus, resulting in your untimely and supposedly tragic demise) by getting overly enthusiastic whilst whimsically chasing you through the quirky manor of said late uncle with a 150 pound bust of Edgar Allen Poe sporting a pink brasserie and one of those multi-colored spinning beanies.
This spirit is captured, at its core, by the presence of well-thought out and creative riffs that show a certain reverence for the style and a craftsmanship behind the music that’s often devoid in the more hokey, rushed attempts at satire found in the genre. But what’s really captivating is the synth work. The opening foray of Casios over the static on “Banishêd from Thine Chamber Pot” is right on par (if not better) than Departure Chandelier’s much more serious take on the style. And Old Nick offers even more with the playful, almost cute chimes of the wooden mallets tickling their gleeful rolls behind the ears. The zig-zag riffing, accentuated by handbell ringing on “The Executioner’s Execution” hits that balance between sinister and mischievous before the spirit soars high overhead to the wash of tremolo riffing at the close of the track. The cinematic feel of “Unfathomable Deeps” adds an air of that Victorian pomp and circumstance to the whole affair, again shifting at the conclusion to something more lurking and sinister. “Haunted Loom!!!” best embodies the quirky synth work as its hyperactivity flits about the necrotic sounds beneath it, really driving that feeling of a poltergeist infestation on home, which bleeds seamlessly into “!Fuck 17th Century!!!”
On the surface, Haunted Loom!! seems to be parodical nonsense. In actuality, it’s a full-on celebration of the absurdity of black metal, and – what’s more – it’s damn good. Purists may take one look at the cover or the band name or the description and dismiss it outright. Well, joke’s on you Mr. Kvlter-Than-Thou, you’ve just been gatekept from one of the most rewarding and bizzare excursions on this list. Lighten up, asshat, and loosen thyself from the eternal, oppressive darkness of thine own sphincter!
Lycopolis – Opener Of The Ways
For a country with such a rich sociological and mythological potential as Egypt, black metal bands from the region seem few and far between for some reason—or at least don’t get the spotlight they deserve. Luckily for us, the mysterious Asyut Governorate entity of Lycopolis emerged for the first time this year with their debut EP, Opener Of The Ways.
The EP kicks off with a slow intro that’s firmly steeped in a second-wave sound and quickly gives way to an unforgiving wave of tremolo riffing that nods reverently to Mgła’s knack for driving an infectious hook deep into the flesh. Granted, the production is much more distant and raw compared to the Polish duo’s modern incarnation, but that serves as a distancing factor that helps establish the band’s own identity.
“Dusk Becomes A Closing Portal” ups the propulsion with anxious gallop, pushing a groove into the torrent of sound—the weight of the riffs bearing down on the ever-pulsing drums. Broken only for a brief transition into the bridge, the pinch harmonics on the breakdown fill the void left by the absence of continual rhythm. The closing track, clocking in at an all-too-brief two minutes, packs the furious sandstorm of Lycopolis into a confined space. The result is the most aggressive fury of the band yet, pushing the tempo into near-Paysage d’Hiver territory—blinding and ripping like the coarse sands of erosion before the abrupt finish.
Opener Of The Ways is a promising foothold for a band, and three tracks is not nearly enough to satiate the curiosity in regards to their potential. Lycopolis has the spirit and the intensity to evolve into something much bigger than a twelve minute EP could possibly offer—keep an eye on them.
Ages Of Blood – Pagan Medieval Aristocracy
We’ve all been there: You’re scrolling through YouTube or Bandcamp and hoping to scratch that itch for some obscure and curious black metal, you see a totally awesome cover with a castle or an ancient sea vessel or any kind of badass medieval shit, and you think to yourself, “Oh, hell yeah.” But there’s always that feeling of doubt in the back of your mind. It will never not be there—that enduring ambiguity which whispers from the deepest recesses of your mind, “I hope this isn’t another dungeon synth album.”
These are precisely the doubts that set in with regard to “Frozen Casket In The Mist,” the first track from Pagan Medieval Aristocracy, the debut demo from Argentina’s Ages Of Blood. Granted, the intro is good dungeon synth, layering textures of keyboards over one another to the light beating of war drums in the background. However, the title track that follows quickly washes those doubts from the mind with a confident count-off on the hi-hats before dropping into a particularly triumphant class of full-on, pure, indubitable black metal.
The running kicks have plenty of space to build a groove, and the guitars are a fuzz-laden cacophony; we’re getting some solid second wave going on with Ages Of Blood. Furthermore, the tremolo leads are particularly impactful and pristinely executed for maximum impact. All well and good and all done well and good before, time and again, yet there’s a conviction in Ages Of Blood’s method that can’t help but get under the skin. And then everything drops out. The slower, burning build beneath the gentle rain adds a softness to the song as a solo begins to sculpt itself around the reflective melancholy of the music. A shift occurs, albeit jarring and off-time, and the errors add to the impact of the change back to twin waves of tremolo picking.
Across the album, Ages Of Blood has a knack for capturing that medieval sound, compounding cleaner, melodic, more emotive moments against the soaring aggression of the black metal core. The duality is served best on “Feeble Whispers From An Old Witch” and bass-heavy closer “Black Harvest,” which reaches for a soaring feel above ancient architecture like eternal spirits searching for a lost purpose, cursed to forever haunt the Earth in search of a past long forgotten.
Herxheim – Incised Arrival
Black doom is for the weirdos. It’s a very loose and open-ended term, usually referring to bands with a slower-to-mid pace approach and that “blackened” element. Outside of that, there are few unilateral tropes that restrict the style, making it a wonderful playground for the nocturnal freak. Herxheim provide a soundtrack to the beasts of the night, adding a quasi-psychedelic experience to their tribal, ritualistic black doom. One of the new projects that coincides with the dissolution of the much-beloved (in certain circles) Howls Of Ebb, project mastermind Brungard strips the mind-bending style back to basics. Incised Arrival, while still a psilocybin-drenched brain bender in its own way, is a more analogue and organic trip through the twisted psyche of its creator than its mother project.
The guitars are a grimy, filthy affair—weighted with soot and soil and down-tuned to the point of blending with the fuzz-drenched bass. The riffs are punctual and rhythmic, seeping into the repetitive tattoo of the toms. Don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of the musicianship, as there is true talent in the way the riffs are constructed and seamlessly flow into one another like a well-rehearsed rite. The synths wander like spirits, swirling and drifting away freely and contrasting the repetition of the ritual beneath them. The vocals are bestial and aggressive—you can even hear the gurgle of phlegm burbling in Brungard’s esophagus, courtesy of the surprisingly clear nature of the production. It’s filthy but decipherable, and hails are due the engineer who knew exactly how to capture this style. Correspondingly, the climax on “Chateaux Delirium,” or the warped and funky leads giving way to the ethereal winds on “Warrior Master Lore,” simply wouldn’t have the same effect with a bedroom four-tracker.
Fans of Howls Of Ebb, Beherit, Perverted Ceremony / Moenen Of Xezbeth, Xantotol, Tatanhammer, Ride For Revenge, and Cultes Des Ghoules will all find a lot to love in the haunted, occult atmosphere of Herxheim. Incised Arrival is the soundtrack to mass ritual sacrifice to the insatiable bloodlust of an incorrigible god, and I say let the blood flow freely.