Greetings once again, Trav’lers. It’s been many moons since we last held palaver–in fact, the Harvest Moon just occurred this past Monday, ushering in the season of Pieces. It’s not been for lack of trying, several false starts to this entry to the the archives of Black, Raw, and Bleeding occurred along the way. Yet these things have a way of happening when they are ready and not when they are so rudely summoned under the presumption of any sort of deadline. In fact, one may surmise that the latest rendition of Our Unholy Communion is one of providence. See, for today marks that of the Autumnal Equinox–the time when the season of death draws near and isolation creeps its frigid fingers around the psyche.
What better time to dwell on the stygian mysteries? What is black metal, really? One could ask Qurothon, Fenriz, Gaahl, Cronos, or any of a legion of black metal icons, musicians, and fans alike and get wildly different answers. Scientifically, black is not a color: It is a shade, specifically the one that absorbs all visible colors of the spectrum. So when we gaze upon the obsidian mirror, what do we see? It’s not so much an accurate reflection of ourselves, per se, so much as a reflection of the shadow self, ripe with contradiction. It can be both beautiful and crude, raw and refined, ignorant and intellectual, reactionary and radical, regressive and progressive. Only the one gazing into the the black mirror can decipher what it is they see. And that’s the beauty of the black mirror: It’s extremely personal. Be you creator or consumer, only you can see your reflection and determine what it is you’re reflecting or projecting. If you’re lying about what it is you see, then you are only lying to yourself. Black metal is the shadow work of heavy metal proper–the black, raw, and bleeding subconscious of the genre that dwells beneath the surface. Some ideas are toyed with only to be cast aside, others grow to greater fruition. Orthodoxy and experimentation are locked in eternal struggle, collectively, it truly does become a singular, all encompassing shade.
So, dearest Trav’ler, without further ado, a few glances in the obsidian reflection for your consideration:
Lionoka – Tides Of Triumph
Ever since Bathory blazed a trail of self-identity from crude, Satanic deconstructionism to Quorthon’s more mature rediscovery of his ancestral roots, black metal has been finding ways of not only romanticizing, but preserving the past as well. Drawing inspiration from the Pasqua-Yaqui tribe of the southwestern United States, Lionoka have crafted a full-length debut of indigenous raw black metal infused with ancient mythologies, mystic woodwinds, hand drums, and all sorts of twists.
Lionoka jumps right into the deep end from the first track, the fifteen-minute long epic of “Many Faces Of The Great Spirits.” The song shifts from a mighty, pagan-esque mid tempo powered by a fist-pumping riff seamlessly into fluid blasts and slower, more contemplative passages. Though the woodwinds sound a touch off-key in comparison to the guitar, it almost highlights them a bit more and adds to the raw charm of the album. The ear quickly adapts, and it becomes increasingly easy to get lost in the music. “Huge Aniwa” is a bit of a reprieve between journeys, relying on acoustic instrumentation and native-tongue vocals. It’s got a terrific build, tugging on heartstrings of melancholic nostalgia and hope–honestly I’d check out an EP of just this style should Lionoka ever get the urge to craft such a piece.
The black metal returns slowly and quietly, like the creeping of a tide on “The Way Of Divine Destinies.” The rally of the woodwinds kick the song into a powerful stampede: The faster drumming and harsh vocals kick up dust in the otherwise peaceful landscape of strummed leads and soft winds. This dichotomy continues as the song unfolds with a progressive mentality, genuinely feeling like a journey with peaks and valleys. At the song’s pinnacle, the two guitars interweave tremolo melodies with ferocious intensity before the instrumentation fades beneath the acoustics and woodwinds.
That quest-like feel comes to a conclusion with “The Push And Pull In The Tides Of Triumph,” which ebbs and flows with the elements of the prior tracks with an even greater attention to dynamics. The builds, crescendos, and deconstructions lap like waves into the slow dissolution of the music along the shoreline until all that remains is the soft crashing of the ocean. It’s a fitting and contemplative ending, and Lionoka should be an interesting project to keep an eye one. Another triumph for First Nations black metal.
Wiccan – Enochian Stardust
It’s interesting, particularly in black metal, how sometimes you can tell when a project is heralded by a single individual. It’s not a good or bad thing, hell, half the charm of Burzum’s classics lie in that feeling of solitude they invoke.
Wiccan are such a project, one of almost a dozen projects of the individual credited (on this release, anyway) as Hel MMXXII in the last few years. There’s an inherent introspection going on between the guitars laden with just the right amount of fuzz and grit, the loose swing of the drum work, and the memorable, simple pagan melodies of the cheap Casio synths that nestle their hooks in the brain with relative ease. It feels alone, a small slice of solitude and peace to unleash aggression as the spirit wanders freely.
There’s almost a bit of whimsy to be found in the synth play on “Enchanted Blood,” the tones dancing atop the mid-tempo riffs before the song picks to a more aggressive pace. The deceptive simplicity of the elements adds to the charm, and the constant feeling of moving forward keeps the song interesting up through the slower, doomed conclusion. In fact, it’s this sort of pacing that sells the album. If Hel has learned anything in his short prolific span of time, it’s how to construct a good tune. Despite the stripped down nature of the instrumentation and the production, Wiccan makes the most of their minimal toolbox. Even the bass, one of the most famously underutilized core instruments in black metal, has the strongest hook on “With Your Silver Dagger.” This tune in particular morphs into one of the more epic numbers on Enochian Stardust thanks to the clean guitars at the onset of the bridge that hit peak isolation with the withdrawal of the drums. As the conclusion builds, reverberated synths wash over the track, their tones not unlike the demo work of Finland’s Crimson Evenfall.
Fans of the more curious corners of contemporary, minimally symphonic raw black metal such as Starcave or Old Nick are sure to find a lot to love in the vision of Wiccan, and Enochian Stardust certainly has me curious to explore more of Hel’s body of work.
Trenches – II
Understandably, there are a lot of bands who cite Darkthrone as an influence. Yet, there are few who truly invoke the spirit of the band, most being content to focus on a specific era. Darkthrone were always about the 80’s, man. It goes well beyond the “trilogy” – the more the works of Nocturnal Culto and Fenriz progressed, the more the point of the whole band became clear. After Soulside Journey, it was about resurrecting the past. In that way, Darkthrone were the truest necromancers of black metal – employing the resurrected corpses of the past to their service.
The sonic comparisons to (especially latter-era) Darkthrone are apparent from opener to the second album from Victoria, Australia’s Trenches, “The Merlin Engine.” As soon as that Celtic Frost d-beat riff hits, followed by very gravelly, street-worn vocals, it’s clear Trenches are utlizing Darkthrone’s spellbook. However, they aren’t ripping off Darkthrone riffs–at least, not any more than Darkthrone rip off Celtic Frost. Instead, Trenches resurrect their own corpses of influence to add to their undead riff horde. The grooving riff before the sputtering engine kicks off is way closer to death metal than Darkthrone have touched upon since A Blaze In The Northern Sky, and the main riff on “Christperverter” feels a hell of a lot like Twisted Sister’s classic “Burn In Hell,” if missing a few chunks of flesh from the resurrection process. Still though, it’s those punky, primitive Celtic Frosted Flakes (Complete with “OUGH!”) that hold it all together: It’s the crucial ingredient in this sort of necromancy.
Trenches’ originality extends into “Murderer.” Kicking into a strong, black ‘n’ roll midpace, the vocals occasionally take a surprising turn into cleaner territory–and, what’s more–it works. There’s almost a feeling of terror and panic in them, and they don’t deviate from the feel of the record. If anything, the vocal presence adds yet another dynamic to witching brew of the band, all the way up to the full on death growls before another Tom G. Warrior classic of “C’MON!” ushers in the running kicks for a thrashy bridge.
The whole album is littered with mood and pace changes, Trenches are exhuming inspiration with unnatural fervor. From the doom-laden, ritualistic meat found on “Corpse Of Control” (complete with tormented Attila Csihar vocals) that gives way to full blast/tremolo mayhemic fury to the Pentagram/Witchfinder General classic doom feel on “The Sin Complete,” the band nail that Darkthrone spirit and make it their own. Even the influences from outside of the 80’s (a forbidden necromancy for Fenriz and Ted seamlessly work their way into Trenches’ sound: The almost Panzer Division Marduk blood shed at the onset of “God Of Nefarious Kind” still finds way to seamlessly pump in and out of the punk/thrash heart of the band. “Nemesis” is littered with 70’s Sabbath, polluted with animalistic vocals and a furious conclusion.
Honestly, the album deserves a full, in-depth review. Unfortunately, I can only get to the album’s final number, “Hellish Fiends Of Thrash,” so many times before I find myself buried in a slew of empty cans. It’s a lager-soaked denim rager of a number and a hell of a closer, complete with falsettos, palm mutes, sloppy solos, and, of course, the opening and closing with the snap of a beer can. The dexterity of the band is pretty remarkable. For instance, when they want to sound evil and serious, they do. When they want to sound evil and aggressive, they do. When they want to sound evil and ominous, they do. When they want to sound like evil is throwing a party at the moontower and everyone’s invited, they do. Yet that cohesiveness of the album, delivered with excellent production that serves the songs with just the right amount of grit, holds it all together. Trenches have not only studied the Darkthrone spell book, they’ve bent its texts to their own sinister will. Absolute rager of a record that gets better with every listen. HOUGH!
Kerasfóra – Denn Die Todten Reiten Schnell
I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but for my money, Chile is the most under-celebrated country in metal right now. From visceral witching thrash to molten modern death to epic doom, the quality/quantity ratio is off the charts.
Hailing from an undisclosed location somewhere in the southern regions of the country, Kerasfóra emerge from the shadows with their debut demo, Denn Die Todten Reiten Schnell (“Because The Dead Ride Fast”). Comprised of four tracks of haunting, half-paced raw black metal, the band’s style is certainly an outlier for the region, but the quality found within certainly holds up to the high standards of the country.
“Southern Wind” is essentially an introductory number, with classical guitar fingerpicking harrowing melodies as the winds of mayhem pick up in the background before “Night’s Symbol” unleashes the full weight of Kerasfóra’s power into the track. Teasing with haunting shimmering synths at the onset, the first riff hits like a curse, dragging the listener further into the darkness as the twinkling starlight of the synths glimmer from above. Despite the slower tempo, Denn Die Todten Reiten Schnell is packed with energy. The hypnotic dirge of the guitars is kept interesting by the countermelodies of the keys, striking a balance across the demo to the ultimate conclusion on “A Silver Light,” packing a final punch with a bit more urgency and leaving a taste for more before fading out with a final dying melody from the acoustic guitar. Littered with the haunts of twilight specters, it’s a perfect album for stargazing on a clear night and pondering the mysteries of the far beyond. It’s one hell of a promising debut for Kerasfóra, as well as a strong start for new Chilean label Templo del Sol Muerto. Keep an eye on both, there’s a lot of potential packed into this demo!
गौतम बुद्ध – पुनर्जन्म भाग १
There’s a certain weight given to authenticity in metal: I think more than a few of us remember the uproar around a certain band from North Dakota claiming to be from China. However, regardless of whether or not गौतम बुद्ध (Hindi for “Gautam Buddha”) are actually from Kushinagar, India–the site of the Buddha’s मौत (“death”) and subsequent परिनिर्वाण (“parinirvana,” or “nirvana after death”) isn’t really important. It’s more another breadcrumb to understanding where गौतम बुद्ध are coming from.
पुनर्जन्म भाग १ (“Reincarnation, Part 1”) is the debut album from this mysterious entity, assumingely the first half of a two-part suite focusing on the first four of the eight reasons for reincarnation found in Buddhism. In this case: “By The Command Of God,” “At The End Of Virtue,” “To Enjoy The Fruits Of Virtue,” and “To Enjoy The Fruits Of Sin,” each corresponding with the four tracks on the album.
Overall, it gets a bit difficult to differentiate from track to track, which slightly dampens the thematic impact, but nevertheless, the album evokes some truly gorgeous melodies beneath the din of the lo-fi production. Of particular note, however, is the soft and slow introduction to the second track, “पुण्य समाप्त हो जाने पर.” While it is quite clearly a guitar, there is a certain amount of twang and reverb to the tone that evokes images of a sitar. All of a sudden, it clicks! Throughout the album there are times where even sounds like there are three, maybe even four guitars playing different interwoven melodies on top of one another (of particular note on “पाप का फल भोगने के लिए।,” the album’s closer. This sort of melodic interplay is one of the strengths of the sitar, and गौतम बुद्ध manage to use the studio as an instrument to create this effect beneath the guise of raw black metal. The deeper the listen, the more it unfolds into these beautifully layered passages.
Véreux – Véreux
Véreux is one for the raw black metal purists. The debut demo from the Québecois duo is packed with grit and gravedirt. It rarely picks up above a labored tempo, yet packs plenty of scraggly, necrotic riffs within its haunted atmosphere. It sounds like something composed in a single, pitch-black night, it’s creation driven by little more than the sheer drive to capture a moment of foul inspiration.
“L’absence” sets the tone for the record between drummer/vocalist Crasseux’s steady lurking mid-tempo one-two beat and his ear-shattering shriek that gives way to harsh, cursed vocals. These elements, in addition to the synthesizers (handled by guitarist/bassist Véreux) take up the majority of the sound space, which makes the muffled licks between guitar riffs (notably with the sextuplet lick that pops up when the riff comes back on the second verse around the 1:20 mark) feel that much more intense when they emerge from the static.
Speaking of the synthesizers, the centerpiece of the trio of tracks that compose Véreux is a full-on dungeon synth number in the form of the “Vers La Mort” interlude. What’s awesome about it is it doesn’t focus on misty mountain majesty, no–this sounds like a proper dungeon. Haunting and suspenseful, ancient and dark, the layering of the keys keeps an air of tension throughout the track’s ever-evolving five-minute duration.
Véreux return to the sluggish primitivism of their black metal for the demo’s conclusion, “Vermine.” Hitting full force with the pounding tempo and intermittent guitar licks that peaked their previous tune, Véreux up the ante when the bridge hits–it’s hard to tell if it’s a recorded inclusion or a trick of the production, but there appear to be very softly buried chants in the background, almost humming along with the riffs and rolling horns of the synth hits. The band cuts, and an even more sinister riff replaces it. For the briefest of moments, it feels like Véreux are going to unleash, yet the shackles of that steady driving one-two beat drives them back to the the verse. It’s a sinister tease, but it works for the band as they play through a few more carefully timed riff swaps (there’s even an OUGH! in there!) before returning to the almost poltergeistic licks from the beginning of the song and bringing the demo to a fitting conclusion.
While Véreux certainly isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, pursuers of the more obscure corners of the pure raw black metal underground will find a certain comfort in the chill of Véreux’s channeling of death. Rough, riffy, ambient, and improvised in darkness with intent to destroy: The essence of a raw black metal demo.
Gärgäntuäh – Urmystyk
Even in this, the year of our Unholy Lord 2021, second-wave worship bands are a dime a dozen. Throw a battle mace into any crowd at a festival, and you’re likely to kill someone with a bedroom Burzum clone. Even in the higher ranks, bands ape the same tired formulas and techniques while failing to capture the essence of what made that music feel so enticing and mystically sinister.
Enter Gärgäntuäh. The Dutch duo seemed to craft a pact to breathe life into the decrepit spirits late last year with the release of Dödenlicht, a delectably ferocious little debut EP that injected the spirit of Scandinavian black metal into not only the frigid winds of unrelenting tremolo riffs, haunting choirs of darkness, and a dynamic vocal performance all shrouded by the night of tastefully harsh production and somehow made it their own.
Needless to say, expectations are high for the follow-up full length, but Gärgäntuäh prove the EP was more than a fluke with Urkmystyk. The production may come off as a bit more muted than the blistering punishment of the EP, but upon increasing the volume on “Skrattansfior,” an even richer sonic tapestry reveals itself beneath the surface. The bass, the backing chants of the vocals, the synth melodies are all buried beneath the aggression of the guitars and lead vocals, with the drums holding down the space between. The mood holds a certain power in it’s dark majesty–this would certainly fit with other bands emerging from that first spark of Scandinavian black metal around ’94-’96. There’s a hell of a lot of Gorgoroth and Trelldom parallels to be made, but those same parallels could be traced to the early demo work of Finland’s second wave just as easily.
Speaking of Trelldom, vocalist/string weilder Forgotten has a knack for throwing curveball changes to his vocal attack. From the baritone sing/chant/scream that escalates to throat-shredding gnashing on “Iik” and album highlight “Trolldskjoering” to the echoing contortions of the larynx found on “Hargu af Daudr,” the vocals are well more than an afterthought, adding even more dynamics across fluid tempo changes, dark orchestral tapestries, and, of course, searing riffs. Urmystyk is a study in how to make 90’s black metal tropes feel fresh and inspired in both songwriting and execution, and one of the better gems spawned in the black metal underground this year.
Pa Vesh En – Maniac Manifest
If there is one band in raw black metal that I can’t get enough of, it’s Pa Vesh En. Across what is now three full-length albums, three EP’s, two demos, and a split, the Belarusian band continue to evoke something in me that no other band has. There is something about how pitch-dark their desecrated black/doom is, be it the overpowering rumble of the bass, the agonizing vocals, the explosive intensity of the drumming, or the howling undead symphonies sculpted from the contorted guitar, painting mournful sounds with feverish emotion across the soundscape.
However, it’s always been behind this veil. There’s been comfort in the almost intentionally overcompressed production the band thrives on, yet last year’s Burial EP hinted at two essential shifts in the band: 1) A bit of a lifting of the veil with a more separated and decipherable production, and 2) A barbaric, primitivism that began to reveal itself amongst the inky midst–an unhinged desire to not only commune with death, but to create it.
Pa Vesh En have continued the trajectory of the bulk of Burial on their third full-length, Maniac Manifest. Appropriately titled, the album sees the band further exploring their perverted auditory worship of death. While the ambient opening to the album feels like a pitch-black reeking chamber of death, the piercing screams of terror that usher in the first overbearing strikes of homocidal lust of the band proper speak to the terror of a being still confined by their clinging to this mortal coil–and Pa Vesh En are here to free them of shackles of mortal self-preservation. “Homicidal Sacrifice,” indeed.
The album’s introduction plays like the cold open of a thriller film, where the climax of the picture is hinted at during the opening credits, only to flash back to the chronological start. Maniac Manifest‘s second track plays out as such, feeling more like the graverobbing necrophilic lust of earlier Pa Vesh En–ambient, hypnotically heavy, cathartic, and, most of all, alone in its obsessive torture (save for the presence of the dead). Chills rub across the spine like the touch of cold, dead flesh–the shiver it sends is not unlike that of the thrill of indulging in taboo perversion. With “Chamber Of The Rotten Flesh,” it’s as though Pa Vesh En can no longer satisfy themselves with passive necroworship. The absolute violence in this track! It’s as though the band can no longer control themselves as the violent riff navigates across the intense blasting drums and punctuated, throat-ripping screams. A few moments of heavy breathing are taken when the song drops to a groove. As the instruments drop out, the singular thrash riff that breaks out feels like the first blood that Pa Vesh En have been waiting to shed. From that point on, the band get a taste for that tangible bloodshed. The thrashy riffs indulge themselves between the more cerebral, ambient black doom moments that Pa Vesh En are more familiar with. The band’s evolution is slowly beginning to mirror the escalation of a psychopath flipping between obsessed fantasy and violent reality.
This holds true on “In The Wood Of The Hanged Men.” The beginning of the song returns to that trademark contemplative trance of Pa Vesh En–the bass sliding soothingly over the ravenous violence of the guitar and vocals. There’s almost a regret in the tune, as though tortured by their violent actions in the prior track. But just before the 3:00 mark, the compulsion rises again; the bass dropping from a soothing slide to a despondent, tri-tonal terror. “Conquerentes de Iniqua Nece Confessionem,” however, does drift a bit. It doesn’t have that payoff “kill” of the prior tracks to satiate the bloodlust, nor does it have the captivating leads that wrap around the subconscious the way the medley at the heart of “Spellbound By The Witchmoon” does. That simple spell plays under the entirety of the track, across tempo changes, bass slides, a suffocating choir of expired victims howling in terror. The clumsy, yet oddly emotional guitar (maybe it’s a bass?) solo at the song’s conclusion feels like the delirium of asphyxiation.
Once crossing the dirge/drone of “The Black Coffin,” “Sister Of Sin” again dives into twisted doom-laden psychosis, that bleak, tortured soul of Pa Vesh En shining in the darkness through it all, screaming like a maniac bathing crudely in the blood of its victims. The album’s conclusion plays out in ominous noise before the rumbling hammer of piano plays out like the lowering of a coffin into the ground, fading as the casket is swallowed by the earth.
Maniac Manifest is the sound of horror, psychosis, and black fucking murder. Pa Vesh En have done it again, and continue to explore the depths of this raw, depraved sonic nightmare that they have unleashed.
Lamp Of Murmuur – Submission And Slavery
I struggled with whether to include either of these last two releases in the feature–after all, to me, the essence of Black, Raw, & Bleeding is to shed but a flicker of the candle’s light on the black metal underground, and both Pa Vesh En and Lamp Of Murmuur are entities with a history in this feature. Both have achieved a semblance of success and notoriety, yet both have an entirely different reflection in that polished mirror of obsidian.
Lamp Of Murmuur’s sophomore full-length, Submission And Slavery, hits with a similar veracity as it’s predecessor, last year’s Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism. Yet it quickly surpasses the more narrow scope of the prior album on the first track alone. While the scroching second-wave tremolo crests across the intro in somewhat predictable fashion–albeit delivered with a fevered aggression–it quickly descends into a goth/synth punk number with a natural fluidity. The synth feels almost like a direct nod to the Screamers’ infamous “122 Hours Of Fear.” Given the band’s slightly hamfisted tribute to The Sisters Of Mercy’s 1987 classic Floodland on the cover, I feel I must forgive myself for searching for instances of copy/paste; however, it proves to be an unfounded fear.
The fluidity with which Lamp Of Murmuur shift towards Mercyful Fate-styled shuffling riffs and scorching thrash in the very same song all while including these post-punk synth elements obliterates all doubt. We’re in for the haul here, baby, Lamp definitely know exactly what they’re doing here and it’s working. Even the King-Diamond-By-Way-Of-Off-Key-Fenriz falsetto towards the song’s conclusion drives the point home. It’s impressive just how many memorable riffs the band pack into just the opening track, and it’s a trend that continues across the album.
What began as a crude gaze into the black mirror has now begun to reflect a clearer identity. The production is understandably clearer than anything Lamp Of Murmuur have done in the past. The hollowed, clean tones on “Dominatrix’s Call,” shine with the nocturnal gleam of latex without robbing the whip of its bite. The vocals are delivered with a fevered, convincing angst, raked over the scalding velvet drops from the melting wax of a candle. A saccharine bliss is achieved in the pain at the conclusion of the track, and almost holy understanding of the balance of pleasure and pain.
“Deformed Erotic Visage” hits with a punky, speed metal fury from the gate, charging like V8 Motörhead into this ethereal synth world–in all honesty it wouldn’t be out of place in the final shot of Mandy. The visceral blasting quickly interrupts such thoughts, battering violence into the cranium with unbridled force. There’s a full-on Blood Fire Death era Bathory moment just around the midpoint of the track that fucking peaks! Not to mention the soulful, traditional feel of the solo that seals the deal on this album highlight.
There is this ever-commitment to balance with the blackness across the duration of Submission & Slavery, it encompasses and infects every bit of influence the band can throw at it. The album is a justifiable burner from front to back, packed with surprises and illuminations, reflections and projections as Lamp Of Murmuur make the most of this time within the onyx looking glass, daring to see their reflection from a fresh angle at every turn.
Until next time, Trav’lers…