2020 has been a cracking year for black metal, to the extent that lower profile gems aren’t just common enough to be littered throughout all the Below The Light columns so far – they are enough to form an entire column. So this is it.
Here’s a whistlestop tour of under-the-radar black metal from all across the globe, and in the entirely predictable wide range of interpretations – and that ends in a record whose geographic inspiration is very appropriate for an item called “The Googly“…
Aversio Humanitatis – Behold The Silent Dwellers
Thoroughly modern, clearly post-DsO savagery from Spain, Aversio Humanitatis’ second album – their first for nine years – is a furiously oppressive listen. Imagine if Schammasch moved on from Contradiction and, instead of the more avant-garde direction they went in, stripped back the sound to focus on their more BM side, and simplified their song structures to focus on searing your face off rather than scaring the fuck out of you, and you’re close to this.
Dissonance and brief contemplative moments provide some of the contrast, but despite being (for the terrain, anyway) comparatively accessible, this is far from lacking in subtlety. The band shift of pace, and switch between well produced but traditional BM and the more outre French bands’ influence. This results in actual songs amidst the assault, rather than just incoherent relentlessness – which means you feel the punches more. Also, keeping it brief (36 minutes) was smart, as there’s no filler to speak of, and that maximises both impact, and how well you remember everything.
Horrible, yes, but memorable.
Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota
Finnish thunder from label mates of Marrasmieli (BTL#1), Havukruunu’s third record is about as Finnish-sounding as you can imagine for something probably more directly related to Mithotyn or Windiir (or, at a stretch, Primordial or Drudkh). Galloping rhythms provide a shit-ton of momentum, and glorious lead guitars and very sparingly-used clean vocals (which are ever so slightly Einar Selvik in sound) provide a surprising amount of texture for something that is fairly savage throughout.
Most of this does take a few listens to really notice, though, as Uinuos Syömein Sota simply makes you want to put your head down, and then move it up again really fast – and then repeat this a lot. It is very well executed and skilled, but it’s so immediate and ferociously fun that you could easily miss that if you get sucked in. Which you should.
Kaatayra – Só Quem Viu o Relâmpago à Sua Direita Sabe
Kaatayra – Toda História pela Frente
Kaatayra is an astonishing new voice in black metal. The Brazilian one-man act only released his debut in March 2019, and these two full-length records are his third and fourth albums since already.
While both are absolutely gorgeous, nature- and environment-focused atmospheric black metal, they really could not sound more different while still obviously being the same project.
Só Quem Viu o Relâmpago à Sua Direita Sabe uses acoustic guitars rather than distorted ones, producing an sound surprisingly not a million miles from Botanist, and it’s absolutely mesmerising. It helps that the riffs he’s playing still rule, of course, and that his anguished shrieks and clean vocals are hugely evocative, but the way everything fits together so seamlessly, and the emotional power it conveys, is quite extraordinary.
Toda História pela Frente from later in 2020 brings in the distortion pedal for most of its running time, and ramps up the song length, which does bring it closer to more conventional circa-2009 atmospheric black metal in theory, but still sounds completely distinctive at the same time. Crucially, it also manages to make you feel like you’re outdoors somewhere lush, green, beautiful and completely peaceful, despite how often the music itself creates swirling chaos.
Both are worth your time in their own right, as they’re almost as excellent as each other.
Taster tracks: ‘Chama Terra, Chama Chuva‘, ‘Toda Mágoa do Mundo‘
Where to hear it: Bandcamp
Turia – Degen Van Licht
Yet another entry on the list of killer Dutch BM, following on from Fluisteraars last time, Turia’s latest is a similarly grim, chilly affair. Don’t expect much moonlight to brighten up this frigid night of a record, as the pared-back sound and structures are matched by the complete absence of hope offered by the tone of the ideas involved.
That said, for something so overtly, in-your-face raw, it’s surprisingly contemplative in feel – like it knows something fucking awful is about to happen, but has resigned itself to the imminent pain. And if you do find yourself being dragged into the woods to be ritually sacrificed, there are far, far worse things you could have playing while it happens to you.
Vengeful Spectre – Vengeful Spectre
Searingly vicious black metal from southern China, Vengeful Spectre’s debut uses just a smattering of traditional Chinese music to colour its otherwise straight-ahead-no-frills attack. Add in a few atmospheric little effects like the screams of battle that open ‘Desperate War‘, and you’ve got a surprisingly epic feel to something this focused on riffs, and just generally getting the fuck on with it.
What’s most apparent, though, is the sheer impact of everything. Although the building blocks are very clearly black metal, there’s very little use of BM’s trademark repetition. Ideas fly past extremely quickly and are almost gone before you’ve had time to really scratch them inside your skull, so the short play time (36 minutes again, coincidentally) means you’re never bored – and it’s essential to making you want to come back for the repeat visits this needs to get the most out of. And you should give it those repeat spins, because it earns them.
XIV Dark Centuries – Waldvolk
These Germans’ black/folk metal really isn’t pushing the envelope at all (if you gave them a lot of booze and a keyboard, this is essentially a black metal-ified version of early Ensiferum) but it is doing it all very well.
Cerebral or subtle, Waldvolk is not, however it’s definitely bags of fun, and that’s the core test this stuff has to pass – and it does so with aplomb. Good riffs, a strong rhythm section, and an ear for a scratchily barked vocal hook makes this a cracking mood-lift album. It’s possibly all a little sillier than intended, but from the perspective of the listener, that’s to its advantage.
Taster track: ‘Skogafulka‘
Where to hear it: Bandcamp, Spotify
Fellwarden – Wreathed In Mourncloud
Fellwarden is a sideproject from The Watcher, guitarist/vocalist of Fen, that absolutely wonderful mistily atmospheric black metal band tinged with post-y stuff and themed around The Fens of East Anglia – an landscape particularly close to my heart, given the edge of it is about 400 yards from my front door and I look out across it every time I look right from my PC.
Fellwarden, however, are a mistily atmospheric black metal band inspired by the landscape of northern England. And, much like Fen’s output, Wreathed In Mourncloud is hugely evocative and absolutely lush and gorgeous. Great riffs and surging tempos are intertwined with aptly mournful melodies and song structures that beautifully evoke a wander across a fell.
So, given I’m offering no caveat as to how bloody great this is, why is this a Googly, not just a regular entry?
Because I do not see the point of this being separate from Fen. Sure, it’s a little different; the warm post-y bits that Fen would have are played with a cleaner, gentler guitar sound; it’s a little less eerie and a bit colder and Fen are.
But this sounds way closer to early Fen releases like Epoch than recent Fen releases do. The different inspiration may have taken The Watcher in a slightly different direction to where his other band are now, but Wreathed In Mourncloud has less dissimilarity to the last Fen album than your typical Enslaved record has to its predecessor, and that’s without mentioning their more radical gear shifts like Vertebrae. I’m not sure if shifts in sound this slight should necessitate a new band entirely – especially in a genre that owes its creative success over the years to artists feeling free to change as much and as often as they feel is appropriate.
However, that incredibly geeky, obsessive, anal-retentive quibble only matters if, like me, you’re a huge Fen fan.
If you’re new to either band, just dive in.