SIX: VOLAHN – Aq’Ab’Al
Far flung from the grim and frostbitten kingdoms of Scandinavia, California’s sun-kissed landscapes offer an entirely different breath of inspiration, and this in turn forms a part of what makes Volahn’s music so strikingly superlative. As excruciating as it is to listen to something that sounds like it was recorded inside a vacuum cleaner, black metal fans probably won’t be too put off, and honestly, acclimatisation works wonders here. There’s a lot to digest amidst Aq’Ab’Al’s turbulent existence, but if one constant prevails, it’s the frenzied barrage of raw black metal fury and intense guitar melody, meticulously crafted through Volahn’s skilled instrumentation.
FIVE: SKAPHE S/T
Words can be powerful things. The word used here to describe Skáphe’s music is ‘asphyxiating’, and they use it before I even get the chance to, predominantly because an invisible entity suddenly lunges at my throat and claws incessantly, preventing the flow of air through some unknown means. Is it the humidity of this stifling summer evening, or have this mysterious troupe created something so utterly overwhelming that it can inflict such an experience upon the unwary listener? This is how their music is described, and it appears to be no exaggeration. Within walls of atmosphere and bleaker-than-thou black metal do Skáphe craft their cavernous hell, using reverberation to invoke and catalyze sensations of claustrophobia and crushing despondency.
FOUR: BARGHEST – The Virtuous Purge
On their second full-length album, Louisiana black metal bruisers Barghest return with a huge fucking barrage of evil and destruction, with a pure and unmistakeable statement of complete filth and with a black metal craft that is so swollen with ruin, decay and inhumanity that it is possibly one of the best and most ruinous blackened metal albums of the year. The Virtuous Purge is grand in the fact that it is also a hard to classify black metal album, something which stands completely on its own for a number of different reasons: the unusual production choice, the blending of various and often antithetical styles and metric aesthetics, and the hard to define attitude in performing their uber-ugly craft, which seems to be far more rooted in punk and hardcore than your average black metal band. In comparison to their debut self-titled album, The Virtuous Purge is a far more focused, concise and compact-sounding release. It is aided by a far more crispy, rounded out, and bombastic production than in the past, a trait that really enhances the band’s low end, bringing the bass and drums to the forefront to thundering effects and therefore making it an unusual black metal release, something that sonically pretty much doesn’t exist anywhere else, and which could potentially be considered as a new breed of black metal, a crossroad of sorts where black metal, raw sludge, death metal and extremely belligerent and annihilated punk aesthetics collide to devastating effects.
THREE: NIHILL – Verderf
One of my favorite bands is up for review this time around. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for some of you that Nihill don’t fit into any sub-genre or niche in metal. They use so many elements: noise, post-punk, black metal, doom, industrial. Their music is extreme, and that’s t
he only appropriate term to describe their music – extreme. Their Verdonkermann record was grim and frosty. This time around, they don’t settle on being ear-marked as second-wave influenced. Instead, they layer their sound with noise and heavy vocal effects to enhance their demented approach to writing music. Verderf, in fact, starts off with a lot of white noise and sampled screaming in the background. It gets the record off to a difficult start for even the best of us who can withstand such noise. It qualifies as a proper track, not an orchestral intro, spanning two minutes plus of runtime, causing permanent damage on the ear drums. The second track features the band playing more conventional black metal, that is until the screaming and noise-layering accompanies the blasts, and you get caught up in a dense wall of sound that compares to a transistor radio after its been dropped into your bubble bath. They have some slower jams making up the doom sections. The guitar riffs sound like jagged-edged crystals are grating on the steel strings.
TWO: NIGHTBRINGER – Ego Dominus Tuus
Few moments in the pursuit of audio ecstasy result in one’s jaw dropping open within the first few minutes of an opening song. Nightbringer’s Ego Dominus Tuus sends a chill down my spine, as “Et Nox Illumination Mea in Deliciis” first titillates the eardrums with twin guitar harmonies invoked from the esoteric. Winding, shredded leads tickle the ears of the dark souls famished for dark music. Ritual black metal straying into pastoral fields and melancholic landscapes continue to elude me after all. I seem to lack an appreciation for albums that use elements of black metal in the effective use of parody. Nightbringer, meanwhile, continue to deliver quality black metal only practitioners of the black arts shall appreciate, without the dour appreciation for bands less than lethal.
ONE: THANTIFAXATH – Sacred White Noise
Indeed, Sacred White Noise comes off as a cognitive crushing treatise on the maelstrom of sanity-shattering variables that make up our condition; it evokes feelings of estrangement, madness and the complete, utter fallibility of the flesh. We’re capable of comprehension, and yet, have been thrown into a world without meaning, and whose workings are often incomprehensible to the human mind. This sensation comes through clearly on the stunning opening track, “The Great White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel,” when the rapid atonal riffing of Thantifaxath hits full tilt and the vocalist can be heard screaming about a forgotten purpose, a forgotten name – perhaps a symptom of the madness that comes with revelation.