Greetings, Travl’r. The wake of the estival solstice has daylight enacting its measured retreat: Darkness marches forward, and once more the tides in the eternal war of time have begun to shift in the favour of its binding spell. It is a hushed eve between the final waxing and first waning; it is a time of stillness. Look closely on a clear night and the presence of the lunar orb can still be experienced, its occulted spirit revealed solely by the glow of the stars: The new moon is pure, unassuming, unscathed by the glare of the sun, and yet still a very tangible entity in the vast infinity of the cosmos.
As the dark moon settles into its cyclical reign and the veil of purest night closes across the eyes, another veil opens. Adjusting for this loss of vision, for example, the ear becomes more acute–the other senses awaken in the darkness. Instinct kicks in, and it becomes easier to feel presence than to merely see it. Perhaps this is why music tends to strike a little harder at night. We’re more receptive to the auditory and less concerned with what it is we see.
In the strictest use of the term, “raw” black metal provides a similar experience. Through the darkened haze of low fidelity production, it becomes easier for the mind to fill in the blanks and craft its own experience. Was that really a synth or a trick of the distortion? Was this intended, or strange coincidence? It makes for a unique relationship between The Creator and The Listener, in which The Listener has a hand in molding their own perception. It becomes an intimate conversation with the subconscious, especially considering music’s already inherent ability to sculpt emotion.
Seven tidings provide the luminescence to this edition of Black, Raw, & Bleeding. Seven offerings from the endless night sky of the black metal underground struck a nerve in some way, sparking this piece’s creation like flint to steel, casting shadows in a darkened wood. So I leave you with this meditation, Travl’r: Should any of these pieces stir something within you, I urge you to spend time with them under the spell of the night. Shut the lights off and ask of yourself:
What does thee seek in the darkness?
Dedicated to Coretta Denise
05/10/22 – 05/09/22
A spirit revealed solely in the light of the stars
Wandelaars – Verbroken
After revisting again and again, it’s hard to pinpoint which moment on “Verbroken Stilte,” the opening track of Wandelaars’ Verbroken, was the initial hooking point. The opening of the raw, honest recording of the wandering acoustic guitar certainly sets a mood, but it’s not until the gentle vibrato of the overdriven guitar glistens across the soundscape that the scope of Dutch black metal band’s sophomore album is truly felt. The greyscale of the album translates to a wash of distortion, yet the cleaner tones sit nicely atop it. The drums come in a slow, heavy doom pace that further impacts the feeling in the riff, and when those mighty, belt-it-from-the-mountaintop “woah’s” creep in behind them, it’s clear Wandelaars are crafting something very special here.
There’s a distinctly Eastern European feel to the record. The choice in moods and tones (Russian raw black metal) to the melodies used to execute them (Ukranian atmospheric black metal), to the epic doom pacing and breadth (back to Russia here, any fans of Scald who aren’t typically receptive of black metal might want to give this one a try) all feel very east of the band’s home country of the Netherlands. As the record unfolds it builds bigger and bigger, each subsequent track cresting to new, windswept highs, it becomes apparent Wandelaars are doing more than merely copy/pasting one distinct style: This is a work of proper inspiration born from a genuine love of the music. Wandelaars are selecting their toolbox carefully and using their instruments to craft their own vision.
The album’s cover is excellently matched with the vibe on Verbroken. The record is a vast, larger than life landscape delivered as a black-and-white sketch that is just far enough away that allows the imagination to add it’s own color and perspective. What’s more, it’s a work that is meticulously composed, boasting a surprising amount of layers and complexity as each track boldly marches towards climax. When the triumphant horns blare at the conclusion of “Dal, Kluit En Wortels,” it feels as though there is no way Wandelaars can reach any higher. Yet the last track, “Ten Pad Uit Rotsen,” still delivers an epic final stand. All the emotions Wandelaars have evoked across the record make their presence known; the music is somehow simultaneously sorrowful, nostalgic melancholy and furiously, defiantly exultant all rise in a reverent moment of black metal glory. There’s a feeling of both loss and victory; Perhaps they are the true black and white of the album, existing together to create a sketch of a colossal journey.
Final Eclipse – Interminable Darkness
A bleak, thunderous tidal wave of fiery anger and hatred, Final Eclipse roar out into the black metal underground with their debut work, the full-length Interminable Darkness. The U.S.-based anonymous project picks up on a style first born on Immortal’s Pure Holocaust, a style that would work its way into the early days of Ukrainian black metal and brought into recent memory with fellow U.S. band Death Fortress. It’s a style that few bands truly and wholly latch onto, mostly because so few do so with convincing authenticity.
Final Eclipse prove to be a worthy contender, however, as their ability to harness bleak, greyscale atmospheres and pummeling aggression and forge them into songs that wash across the soundscape like merciless winds is apparent on the first track. “Way Of Eagles” spends little time on pretense, opening straight away with a gust of the riff before the listener is pushed out of their shelter and swept away by the violent storm. The rolling kick drums sound like a fucking stampede, a thousand unstoppable hooves galloping towards imminent destruction. Buried beneath the murk of the production, the two nonstop guitars swirl about one another on tracks like “Cold Chapter,’ each coiling around around its twin like serpents bound in an eternal struggle.
Tracks like “Receive My Curses” and “Circle Of Fire” are a welcoming step outside the otherwise tight scope of the style; it hits a bit more on the sorrowful, nostalgic atmosphere side of Drudkh. They contrast nicely against the onslaught of natural violence, placed nicely at the second and second-to last slots on the album as to not skew a first or final impression of where Final Eclipse’s core lies.
The unassuming album cover and imperfect production quality would make for a reasonable assumption that this was a 38 minute long demo, yet Metal Archives lists it as a full-length album. Was this by design, to keep the tulpa of Interminable Darkness in the shadows and away from prying eyes and gluttonous palates?
If that is the case, kindly forget you ever read this.
Horrid Litany – Lunar Memoriam
Dedicated to Simón Santana (Sanguine Eagle, Hand Of Glory), whose sudden and tragic passing last year echoed throughout the black metal underground, Horrid Litany offer their cold beauty to his memory, reaching to the darkness between the stars where he rests in eternal night.
The band certainly have their own style, but there is a presence of Lam’s work in Hand Of Glory that informs Horrid Litany’s work: the rhythm section in particular creates a foundation in the nihilistic post-punk of Joy Division. The otherwise upbeat swing of the music is downtrodden with the dreary melodies that Litany color their soundscape with (any fans of the Finnish band Starcave reading this should run, not walk to Lunar Memoriam).
The music elicits a feeling of aimless drifting in beautiful nothingness, far from the struggles of mortality. It yearns for the beyond, backlit by the starry twinkles that arise in the melodies of the guitars as they intertwine, reaching for meaning as the bass and vocals seek to drag it deeper into the abyss. By the closing track, “As You March Into The Blissful Paradise Of The Night Forever,” the black metal elements double down in the sorrowful alchemy of Horrid Litany. Bits of the melodic ferociousness of Sargiest can be found in the riffing, as well as the heavy weight of early Darkthrone. The center of the tune, however, still centers around this melancholy that the band have tapped into, the sort of bizarre cross-style alchemy that black metal thrives on.
Lunar Memoriam stands as an honorable testament to Lam delivered in the bands own style whilst tapping into the resonance of the artist’s legacy and the feeling of his loss, and proudly doing so within the band’s style. Rather than lifting from his style, they tap into Santana’s feeling of ultimate emptiness, the freedom he found in the darkness, and convey the bitter fruits of loss from their own perspective.
Olhava – Reborn
It takes something really special to make a record that uses tricks you’ve heard hundreds of times before feel fresh and new. It’s a bizarre experience when it happens though. The ears may scream out that they already know this one, but something inside begs for more.
This, dearest Travl’r, is what we refer to as “striking an emotional chord.”
Russia’s Olhava don’t just pluck at the heartstrings on their fifth full-length, Reborn: they glide across them like a violinist’s bow. Should the most jaded heart stumble upon this and declare it a failure in stirring even the coldest of emotions, may they forever be branded a liar.
Sure, the airy, the long-winded synth introduction (exactly 4:09) to opener “Mirror” is a staple of post-black metal, but the moments leading up to the breakout of pummeling hypnotic guitar and seething blasts build a glorious tension, particularly in its last few moments. The guitar, vocals, and drums construct a pillar of ice; It’s stone cold and frigid, jamming its way into the heart like an icicle. The warmth of the blood that pumps from the fatal penetration is provided most notably in the ethereal choirs and triumphant horns–they provide a purpose to the pain in the ravenous destruction of the guitar/vocal weapon. The bass sits neatly between the two, felt just below the surface but never showing directly through the wound.
But where the band truly show their mastery is in holding out moments just long enough, in providing relief where it is needed: The breakout from the blasts to the one-two beat becomes one of those moments where the hand of Olhava can be seen gliding the bow across the heartstrings of loss, despair, hope, and triumph all at once. The true striking of a chord, a chord they take higher and higher the second they have a hold on it. The composition uses sections of the band as full instruments, creating multi-faceted, layered orchestration as they leap from intensity to nostalgic and retrospective ambient moments
Perhaps the mention of ambience would sway the jaded heart, but Olhava have a knack for it, so much so that the second track, “Reflection,” feels like mere moments to one truly captivated by its charm (I am not generally one to throw shade, but they do more with Tangerine Dream in nineteen minutes than Blood Incantation did with an entire album). The aptly named “Reflection” provides a mirror for the raw emotional onslaught of “Mirror;” It is a cool-down, a time to, well, reflect. Again, Olhava are bowing across the emotions.
The album continues a similar pacing, relying on time-tried tropes of “post-black metal” to elicit an emotional response throughout the remainder of Reborn, yet they strike something far from boring or predictable. Their delivery is what makes it special, reverberating just the right notes at just the right time to leave a lasting impression that reverberates the soul. An album that needs to be experienced to truly understand its power.
Korpituli – In The Witches Circle
Finland’s Korpituli first began carving their presence in the fog of black metal in the summer of last year. Their debut, The Ancient Spells Of The Past, proved to be not only an oft-overlooked gem of the year, but a watershed moment for project mastermind S. Korpituli. Labeling the release KTuli 001, Korpituli Productions was born. Since then, the label have released now over a dozen productions of impressive quality; A venerable portal to new realms of the underground emerges.
Returning eleven months after its initial birth, S. Korpituli’s eponymous project returns with a three-track demo that serves as a teaser for the upcoming sophomore album. Continuing the tradition that with The Ancient Spells Of The Past, In The Witches Circle proves to be an incredibly balanced work of black metal. A mystic atmosphere flickers from the synths like the soft glow of embers from a ritual pyre. Coupled with the biting guitar tone, there’s a distinct Filosofem feeling that constructs the canvas of the demo.
Painted across this canvas, however, is a greater urgency. While a handful of riffs take their time sinking their hooks in, there is greater variation in the songwriting department than found in the constant repetition of Filosofem. There are more moments of urgency–the mad riffing of Mortuary Drape and the frantic ritualism of Cultes des Ghoules comes to mind, particularly in the absinthe-drunk execution of Korpituli’s vocals.
There are two notable improvements that stand out from the debut. The first and foremost is the songwriting: Korpituli’s already formidable chops feel refined, and each song has more memorable hooks and moments packed in. The second is the drumming. Korpituli sounds more comfortable behind the kit, taking a few more chances with fills and breaks, particularly on the doomier “The Eternal Shadows Dance.” The delivery seems effortless–there’s something of Bill Ward’s instinctual ability to punctuate just the right moments in the percussion department.
Korpituli hints that his momentum is only beginning as In The Witches Circle proves to be not only a teaser of what is to come, but a noteworthy release in its own right. With the excellent production values (making the “demo” term a little misleading) this is the kind of demo that deserves a 7″ pressing.
Xirgan – Demos I & II
Last year, a handful of releases began materializing from the central United States. Various projects appeared, mostly centered around a pair of individuals. Occasionally conspiring with various international musicians, this small congregation of bands have mostly been working in demos, splits, and EPs as the musicians tweak and experiment with their darkened sorcery.
Repose Records have recently bundled the initial 2019 demo offerings of one such band, Xirgan, into a 12″ vinyl compilation pragmatically titled Demos I & II. Perhaps it is not so surprising, as Xirgan’s The Alchemists Curse and Prolonging The Archaic Slumber are some of the more easily digested of the unnamed circle’s work. Were someone to ask for a common denominator example of what the US raw black metal scene was currently like, Demos I & II would serve as an adequate baseline. This isn’t necessarily a slight, as the music is well-composed and executed. Xirgan aren’t looking to add a gimmick or shove a singular defining characteristic in your face, they merely rely on good old fashioned songwriting.
In almost predictable fashion, the first side, The Alchemists Curse, opens with a very dungeon synth introductory piece. It’s good (and not too long) and adequately sets a tone for the demo, but unfortunately the almost exhaustive use of this trope in genre these days makes it difficult to appreciate it solely on its own merit. The opening creed uttered by vocalist/keyboardist Roanoke leading into the black metal proper on “II” is pretty awesome, the sickened “Blegh!” followed by the full fury of the band is enough to stir at least a twinge of feeling in even the most jaded listener. The frenzy that follows has genuine energy behind it, and even if the riffs themselves aren’t wholly original, they’re delivered with passion and an acute sense of melody. The slower passage, highlighted with twinkling synths, is almost a stereotype of the medieval raw black metal sound (albeit a very good one). “III” and “IV” continue to play into the tropes, but it makes for good meat ‘n’ potatoes raw black metal–there’s no denying the talent behind it. For example, that synth melody on the closer is a fucking ear worm, and the almost poppy syncopated rhythm section is strangely pleasing when delivered with necrotic distortion and sickly vocals.
Prolonging The Archaic Slumber opens as the more somber and tortured of the two demos with a more ominous string introduction (“V”). The whimsical, lighter component of the first demo is dropped for a more serious take on raw black metal. Hell, take out the brass-modulating synths on “VI” and the glowing aura of the keys on “VII,” and this would be considered some solid Sargeist worship. The ferocity as the hands carve their melodies out of the fretboard at greased lightning speed and the wrist-cramping blasts are impressive in their own right.
Is the Demos I & II compilation an absolute essential release? Certainly not, but it does showcase the competency of the musicians. It’s an admittedly enjoyable listen, and though fans of this style may not be blown away by anything new, perhaps their interest will be piqued enough by Xirgan’s reverence and ability to dig deeper into this collective’s workings (most of which can be found digitally on the Till Bandcamp page–I’m particularly partial to the Tome Of Alisaire demo that was recently released.)
Grave Gnosis / Hvile I Kaos – Towards The Nameless Darkness
Even some of the most devout followers of the Left Hand Path oft search for a final endgame. Various currents may be explored, but so frequently it seems to be done so with the mindset of “which one fits me the best.” The real work comes not from seeking a final endgame, but constant trial and error in the quest for spiritual knowledge. After all, you aren’t exactly the same person as you were yesterday, now are you? Stagnation breeds weakness, and, as with anything, the mind and soul need to be challenged to stay fit. A bodybuilder doesn’t simply achieve their first goal and stop, they start adding more weights to their bars and experimenting with new exercise regimens to see just how far they can go.
Florida’s Grave Gnosis apply this mentality to their quest for arcane enlightenment, and the music–one facet of their spiritual work–reflects this. There is no one style of black metal they subscribe to (ignore that “atmospheric black metal” tag on Metal Archives), if anything the band are more in tune with the oddball, orthodox black metal coming from Europe in the 00’s or, more accurately, Canada’s contemporary esoteric black/death scene (think Antediluvian, A.M.S.G.). Their spiritual philosophy is based around the fusing of various channels into a system called Vedantic Nihilism, which is described as “a practice [that] stands somewhere between Hindu ontology, Semitic mysticism, Voodoo trance practice, Alchemy, Gnosticism, and Vajrayana Buddhism.” Simultaneously, the music itself also draws a throughline between pummeling black/death executed with vicious brutality, soaring atmospherics and twisted beauty, primitive barbarity and carnal release, and thoughtful, intricate orchestration and songwriting.
Last year’s impressive but daunting Lux Nigredo full-length felt like but an overview of the various gateways the band were unlocking–there were so many deviations and ideas thrust upon the listener that it was easy to become lost had one not sacrificed the proper time and attention to give it proper devotion. Their latest effort, a split with occult ambient act Hvile I Kaos, showcases a more focused (but no less unhinged) Grave Gnosis. The two tracks are more fluid in the connections between styles, the instrumentation more intricately woven, the layers blending into a singular vision. While the production still doesn’t feel like it quite captures the band’s full sound (Lux Nigredo was muddy in a detracting way and robbed of its dynamic potential), the dynamics on Towards The Nameless Darkness are more tangible and organic. The rhythm section has more depth, particularly in the “thwonk” of the bass that draws more than a passing comparison to the low end of Autopsy’s Severed Survival. It drives the pair of tunes, grounding them for the harsh, hoarse whispered/screamed incantations of the vocals and the ethereal synths to wash across the soundscape. The guitar, in its intermediary role connecting the two, is more felt than it is directly heard in the chaos (the lead tremolo on “Carnivorous Darkness” being a standout exception)–often its not until it’s listened for specifically that its actually “heard.” The same goes for the cello: It’s mostly providing a subliminal layer an intricately layered soundscape, but would be absolutely missed were it taken out of the songs. The band more than have the chops, songwriting, devotion, and execution for greatness–they just need to find the right engineer to breathe full life into the recordings. Their half of Towards The Nameless Darkness is a huge step forward towards properly showcasing the band’s potential.
Hvile I Kaos, the project of the aforementioned cellist, perform self-proclaimed “ritual chamber music.” That’s chamber music in the original sense: This isn’t some mad Captain hammering away at the organ in his quarters on a vessel traversing the depths of the ocean or a tortured vampyric count fiddling on a piano in the Northwest tower of his manor. This is, quite literally, a small classical arrangement made to be played in a chamber. The percussive element really throws the moniker off, as there’s just as much of Wardruna’s brand of dark folk to be found in the hypnotic tattoo of the hand drums and whispered chanting on “My Hatred Is Just.” The melodies just further this case with their folkish swagger. There is certainly a dark element to the mood, but it’s not the overwhelming sensibility here. “Locusts” carries that mood to further complexity, blending more unnerving tones into the mix. The cello continues to carry dominance, but the layers beneath it unfold beautifully, with the acoustic guitar working in tandem just beneath the surface. The music tenses and coils like witnessing the beautiful, dangerous fluidity of a rattlesnake. The occasional sickened black metal snarl of vocals go off like a natural warning that something dangerous lurks within its beauty.
Remove the connections between the bands and it seems like an odd split–on paper. However, both bands seem to find kinship not only in unsettling music, but in the way they layer their compositions–they both have a knack for creating surface level interest that holds much more under a focused examination. Dig up one layer of soil and another beckons to be lifted. Every listen reveals more, but, after all: You aren’t the same person as you were the first time you listened, now are you?
Until another night most black beckons, Travl’r…