Tag Archives: Black Metal

10 Year Anniversary Tour

Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

Having spent a fair chunk of last week listening to various extreme metal albums (among them the rather good recent releases from Wolves In The Throne Room and Akercocke) on Friday evening it was time to experience some in the flesh at Fuel Rock Club in Cardiff.

Alpine PartyPlug Earplugs

Having suffered for days after attending a recent Death Angel show I was taking no chances this time, having invested in the meantime in a pair of Alpine PartyPlug earplugs, specifically designed to reduce the volume going into the ear without diminishing the quality heard. I found these through the British Tinnitus Association website, and having done subsequent research decided that they would make a good, fairly economical, choice. I’m pleased to say they worked perfectly and the ringing in my ears after the gig was only at the level that I’ve experienced daily for years now.

Nick Wallwork

Once I’d parked the car and navigated my way (eventually) to the club I had a quick drink in the bar. Between said bar and the performance area were the merchandise tables, and I was a little surprised to see the main attraction’s bassist Nick Wallwork sitting behind them. Before long there were loud guitar and drums sounds coming from said performance area and so I, and a fair number of those in the bar trooped through to find a space which with a capacity of just 150 matches the up-close-and-personal experience of the aforementioned Death Angel gig at Hobo’s in Bridgend.

The noise was coming from opening band Necronautical, a black metal band from Manchester. Having got their levels sorted the four-piece disappeared, only to reappear minutes later with stage outfits and corpse paint in place to storm through their set.

Flanked on either side of the small stage by red candles in candelabras, vocalist / guitarist Russ “Naut” Dobson led proceedings, with a rather Dani Filth-like spoken delivery, as he and his band (lead guitarist James “Carcarrion” Goodwin, bassist Matt “Anchorite” McGing and drummer Rob “Slugh” Harris) treated the still quite sparse audience to a theatrical thirty minute set comprised solely of four tracks from their second album “The Endurance At Night”.

Necronautical

The heat of the room meant that much of the corpse paint had melted by the time the band reached the climax of their set, but with a symphonic edge to their music (reminding me of the likes of Carach Angren) they were warmly received by the Cardiff crowd.

Setlist:

1. Strom / 2. Nihilartikel / 3. Spitzenkörper / 4. Oceanus Procellarum

1, 2, 3 and 4 originally from “The Endurance At Night” (2016)

Levy Seynaeve

It seemed only a few minutes followed before main support act Wiegedood were soundchecking and even less time before the now larger audience was pummelled into submission by the Belgian three-man outfit. Unusually the band do not have a bass guitar player, with the aural maelstrom being produced only by guitarist / vocalist Levy Seynaeve, guitarist Gilles Demolder and drummer Wim Sreppoc – all of whom are also involved with the band Oathbreaker – and I must say that the lack of bass wasn’t really noticeable.

Gilles Demolder

Whereas Necronautical have lyrical themes around the sea etc., I gather than Wiegedood’s output in concerned with death and anger. Granted it’s hard to tell what on earth Seynaeve is screaming about but the distinctly atmospheric black metal underpinning it all is certainly entrancing. I have to admit that I was a tad disappointed that Fen, the main support act from the mainland European leg of this tour, didn’t play the UK too. I have been impressed by both of Wiegedood’s albums to date but wasn’t sure what to expect in the live setting.

Wim Sreppoc

Well if you’re after witty repartee and lots of audience interaction then Wiegedood aren’t your band. Not a word was spoken before, during, or after the band’s forty-five minute appearance, as they clearly intend for their sonic intensity to be all-encompassing. And it worked as the crowd clearly responded enthusiastically to the almost trance-like wall of noise, albeit with the occasional quieter and more reflective passage (including the aforementioned Wallwork headbanging happily just in front of my vantage point). An experience for sure!

Setlist:

1. Svanesang / 2. Smeekbede / 3. Cataract / 4. De Doden Hebben Het Goed II / 5. Ontzieling

1 from “De Doden Hebben Het Goed” (2015) / 2, 3, 4 and 5 from “De Doden Hebben Het Goed II” (2017)

Nick Wallwork, Simon Lucas, Dan Capp & Chris Naughton

And so it was then on to the headliners, another Manchester black metal band – this one celebrating their ten-year anniversary – Winterfylleth. Alongside Wallwork, lead guitarist Dan Capp, drummer Simon Lucas and mainman Chris Naughton (vocals / guitar) took to the stage to do their own soundcheck. Naughton was already sporting a towel around his neck to wipe away the perspiration, such was the heat on stage – something he commented on a couple of times during the show too.

Winterfylleth

At 9:30pm they returned for their own performance, launching into “The Wayfarer Pt. I”, a track that has a singalong chant section at its close to get the heaving crowd going even more than they already were! This was my second time seeing the band live, having seen them open the show when Polish titans Behemoth played Birmingham nearly three years ago. At that time I was a bit underwhelmed by the experience.

Simon Lucas

If I’m honest (but maybe a bit harsh?) I did feel that, at times, the drumming from Lucas got a bit muddied and out of synch with the tremolo picking taking place at the front of the stage. I could be wrong, but the ex-drummer in me felt that it got that way a few times. That aside, this was a polished and extremely well received performance by a band whose brand of black metal has plenty of atmosphere. Whilst there are similarities at times with Wiegedood’s sound, Winterfylleth’s is probably better described as epic and has a much more English feel to it with the folk influences.

Winterfylleth

All too soon the show was over and it was time to head back out into the very busy Cardiff city centre. It was a bit of a culture shock, in a way, coming from the intense atmosphere of three plus hours of black metal to see a line of miniskirted students queueing to get into a club opposite Fuel! Wandering through crowds of inebriated folk on my way back to the car it struck me just how vulnerable some of these young women become when they can barely stand up having got so out of it (I guess I sound like on old fogey now!) Next up on the gig front is a far more doomy proposition in US act Windhand, but in the meantime this really was a great show with which to usher in winterfylleth (Old English for the beginning of Winter and the month of October)

Setlist:

1. The Wayfarer Pt. I – The Solitary One Waits For Grace / 2. The Ghost Of Heritage / 3. The Dark Hereafter  / 4. Forsaken In Stone / 5. A Valley Thick With Oaks / 6. Whisper Of The Elements / 7. The Swart Raven / 8. Defending The Realm

1 and 5 originally from “The Mercian Sphere” (2010) / 2 and 8 originally from “The Ghost Of Heritage” (2008) / 3 originally from “The Dark Hereafter” (2016) / 4 and 6 originally from “The Divination Of Antiquity” (2014) / 7 originally from “The Threnody Of Triumph” (2012)

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Renaissance In Extremis

Akercocke

Today’s offering is from London-based black / death metal band Akercocke. The group was formed in 1997 with an initial line-up featuring guitarist / vocalist Jason Mendonca, guitarist Paul Scanlan, bassist Peter Theobalds and drummer David Gray.

Akercocke – Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene

Debut album “Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene” (1999) nailed the act’s colours pretty firmly to the mast with its mix of brutal death metal style riffing mixed with eerie horror interludes and a distinctly Satanic theme in the lyrics. The album didn’t boast the best production in the world so suffered somewhat from a muddy sound.

Akercocke – The Goat Of Mendes

The approach on second album “The Goat Of Mendes” (2001) was to refine things musically whilst ramping up the erotic content of the still- Satanic lyrics and the end result was a definite improvement on the debut. It was 2003’s “Choronzon” that first got me listening to Akercocke. This was a quite simple brilliant album, showing more progressive tendencies whilst still being chock-full of heavy riffing and yet more eerie interludes and film dialogue samples.

Akercocke – Choronzon

By now the band had a rising profile and were notable for being a black metal band who were dressing in suits rather than studs and corpse paint while hanging out with nubile lovelies – as perfectly demonstrated in their video for album highlight “Leviathan”.

The Devil Rides Out

To me that visual approach, together with the Satanism and sexuality of their songs gave them an air of having stepped out of a film such as the 1968 Hammer classic “The Devil Rides Out”. Despite what this might suggest, back in 2001 they’d given an interview in which they’d discussed their Satanism at length, saying that they weren’t “…preaching Hammer Horror Satanism…”.

Akercocke – Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone

That same interview contained quotes from both Mendonca and Gray stating “….this band is all about Satanism, there could never be a non-Satanic Akercocke song…” (Gray) and “…no Satanism, no Akercocke…” (Mendonca). This is significant when we come to the new album. Before we get to that though there were a further two studio releases from the group in “Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone” (2005) introducing guitarist Matt Wilcock in place of Scanlan and “Antichrist” (2007) seeing Theobalds replaced on bass by Peter Benjamin. Both albums continued with the same subject matter and both showed further progression musically – though I do retain a fondness for “Choronzon” over all of their initial five albums.

Akercocke In 2007

The band essentially disappeared off the radar for the best part of the next decade, with only sporadic gigs followed by a period of practically no information surfacing prior to the band’s official breakup in 2012. Subsequently Gray issued new music under the banners of both Voices (with Benjamin on guitar) and The Antichrist Imperium (which also featured Wilcock).

Akercocke – Antichrist

Then, nearly ten years after “Antichrist”, came the news that Akercocke were reuniting – Mendonca, Gray and Scanlan together with new bassist Nathanael Underwood and keyboardist Sam Loynes. Gone are the suits and so is the Satanism (so much for “no Satanism, no Akercocke” eh?! ). Hmm…

Akercocke In 2017

First track “Disappear” begins furiously enough before transforming into a brief lighter mid-section and then back into the metal again. The musicianship is top class from all concerned, and Mendonca’s vocals take on a number of approaches throughout the record.

Highlights for me include “Unbound By Sin”, “Insentience” and the excellent closer “A Particularly Cold September”. This is recognisably Akercocke – less dense and brutal than the first few albums, certainly more death metal then black metal in style, and with the progressive elements again more evident – but Akercocke nonetheless. And on the musical front it is most definitely a success. Lyrically I’m not so sure.

Jason Mendonca

I gather that Mendonca struggled massively with mental health issues during the band’s time away and the track “One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin” references his moving on fro that bleak period into more positive waters – and this has clearly fed into his songwriting in a big way, with a lot of positive phrases to be heard on this album. I do, I most confess, miss the out-and-out Satanic wordplay that adorned their previous work but that doesn’t stop this record from being a very high quality progressive death metal release. Welcome back Akercocke…

“Renaissance In Extremis” tracklist:

1. Disappear / 2. Unbound By Sin / 3. Insentience / 4. First To Leave The Funeral / 5. Familiar Ghosts / 6. A Final Glace Back Before Departing / 7. One Chapter Closing For Another To Begin / 8. Inner Sanctum / 9. A Particularly Cold September

Thrice Woven

I’m listening to quite a bit of extreme metal at the moment, partly getting myself in the zone ahead of the forthcoming Winterfylleth gig in Cardiff that I’m attending, but also because there are a number of significant recent and imminent releases in this area.

Wolves In The Throne Room

In the near future I will be wrapping my ears around new albums from Enslaved and Electric Wizard, whilst on rotation at the moment are those from Cradle Of Filth, From The Dead, Myrkur, Satyricon, Leprous and Akercocke as well as the one I’m looking at today – “Thrice Woven” by American black metal act Wolves In The Throne Room.

Nathan Weaver & Aaron Weaver

The band was formed sometime in 2003 by brothers Nathan Weaver (vocals / guitars) and Aaron Weaver (drums / bass / keyboards) together with Nick Paul (guitars) in Olympia, Washington State – an area bordering the Pacific Ocean and Canada, and which is also rich with National Forests and Reservations.

By the time debut album “Diadem Of 12 Stars” saw the light of day in early 2006 Paul had been replaced by guitarist Rick Dahlin, who also appeared on second album “Two Hunters” (2007). Album number three, “Black Cascade” saw Will Lindsay taking Dahlin’s spot, but then the next two albums were performed entirely by the Weaver brothers. That said, there was some vocal assistance from experimental singer Jessika Kenney on 2011’s “Celestial Lineage” (as there had been with “Two Hunters”) and some supporting musicians on the experimental ambient style follow-up “Celestite” three years later. Sabbath Assembly singer Jamie Myers has also provided some vocals for the band over the years.

Kody Keyworth

Now, with guitarist Kody Keyworth joining the brothers (having previously served as touring musician), the band are to back to black metal with their sixth studio album, the aforementioned “Thrice Woven”. Guests on this one are Swedish singer Anna Von Hausswolff and Neurosis frontman Steve Von Till.

Anna Von Hausswolff

Wolves In The Throne Room do not take the traditional (or perhaps more accurately, the stereotypical) approach to black metal. Not for them does black metal entail the wearing of lots of black, with corpse paint makeup and all songs played at high tempo utilising masses of tremolo picking (although there is still plenty of the latter technique to be heard). That’s not to say, however, that the music is not intense – it is, but as part of an overall rather epic soundscape. The band themselves put it on their website their approach is to “…re-imagine black metal as an ode to rain storms, wood smoke and the wild energies of the Pacific Northwest…” 

Steve Von Till

The inspiration behind the band’s music, according to Aaron Weaver, is “the idea of uncovering the occult or the spiritual or the energetic reality of place. Being deeply connected to a place and creating music and art that rises up out of a landscape…” In this respect there are distinct parallels, I feel, with acts such as Saor, Fen, Altar Of Plagues and Winterfylleth. This is atmospheric black metal rather than what I’d think of as more progressive black metal, more akin to the approach of those mentioned above rather than, for example, the likes of Ihsahn.

Metal Hammer – Subterranea

I don’t recall how exactly I got into this particular band, but it was about three years ago I think. I suspect, as with many acts that are unlikely to get much exposure via the airwaves – even via dedicated rock stations – it would have been either via Metal Hammer magazine’s “Subterranea” section that highlights extreme metal artists or as a result of reading up on one such act and finding mention of another that I’d not yet experienced.

Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestite

Regardless, I have over that period of time become pretty well acquainted with the band’s back catalogue, enough that I was pretty excited when I heard that “Thrice Woven” was on its way (especially as it was a return to their black metal roots after the not entirely convincing left-turn that was “Celestite”). So, now the album’s here and I’ve had a few days to immerse myself in it, how does it stack up?

Wolves In The Throne Room – Born From The Serpent’s Eye

Pretty well, truth be told. The album’s opening number “Born From The Serpent’s Eye” begins gently enough with a folk-ish sound until the frenetic drums and tremolo picking kick in after around thirty seconds. The songs fairly barrels along then until the 4:24 mark when it abruptly stops (as does the official video). Then, after a brief pause the ethereal vocals of Anna Von Hausswolff appear, singing in her native tongue (I think) until just after the six-minute point when the band re-enter with a huge, almost doomy, riff as the track builds before the guitars fade and give way to Von Hausswolff and expansive keyboard sounds as the song floats away after nine and a half minutes.

Imbolc Fire Display

Second track “The Old Ones Are With Us” is ushered in with narration from Steve Von Till. “Winter is dying, the sun is returning, ice is receding, rivers are flowing, the ground will be fertile, the seeds they awake, the ploughs will be charmed, fires are burning, the offerings are given, the old ones are with us, we are becoming…” he tells us over some acoustic guitar, monk-like chants and the sounds of a crackling fire before the band come in with a slow-paced number that relates the story of the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc, which marks the end of winter and start of spring. Von Till returns to sing briefly during an acoustic interlude halfway though proceedings, and this is a much more sedate and even anthemic sounding track than the preceding one.

Fenris Wolf (As Depicted In The Movie Thor : Ragnarok)

“Angrboda” is, at 10:02, the second-longest song on the record and sees the return of the tremolo picking approach. Named after “… a frost giantess who birthed Fenris Wolf, a beast who was destined to destroy the world and murder the gods…”. The track fades into a completely different vibe after the first five minutes or so with a deep rumbling under some very slow single note synthesizer work before the heaviness of the group is reinforced with another huge riff section. This leads to a sudden finish before the sounds of the sea and air introduce Von Hausswolff’s second appearance in the brief “Mother Owl, Father Ocean” – again sung in Swedish.

Pacific North West Coast

Finally, track five (the longest on the album at eleven and a half minutes) is the rather grand “Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon” which, after over nine minutes of ferocious black metal, gives way to the sound of the mighty sea for the final two minutes of the record. The lyrics apparently “…offer blessings to the waters of the earth as they flow from the high places to the source of darkness, the ocean…” The thing with this kind of music is that often the lyrical content is indecipherable unless you have them written down so the music has to do its job of taking the listener to where the artist wants them to be. “Thrice Woven” as a whole just does that. It may not be stylistically much different to the band’s previous black metal albums but it still feels like an evolution from those which went before. Given that the group is so concerned with the natural world I guess that’s the perfect way for their music to be.

Wolves In The Throne Room Live In 2017

There will be more boundary-pushing releases, and those that are more challenging than this one, but if you’re looking for one that will transport you and paint pictures in your mind then you could do far worse than checking out “Thrice Woven” – truly atmospheric black metal…

“Thrice Woven” tracklist:

1. Born From The Serpent’s Eye / 2. The Old Ones Are With Us / 3. Angrboda / 4. Mother Owl, Father Ocean / 5. Fires Roar In The Palace Of The Moon

Songs From The Fyrgen

Winterfylleth

I have written in the past about Manchester black metal band Winterfylleth – looking at their 2016 “The Dark Hereafter” album as well as a 2014 live show in Birmingham supporting Polish act Behemoth. Artist Dan Capp has been involved with the creation of Winterfylleth’s artwork for a number of years and joined the band as lead guitarist in early 2015.

Dan Capp

Wolcensmen is Capp’s solo project that has been in the works for several years, and was inspired by the acoustic parts of music by the likes of Ulver, Opeth and Empyrium and also by Capp witnessing an Irish folk band playing in a Dublin pub, leading him to reflect that he felt an English version – local pubs etc. with acts regularly performing English folk music – was lacking. Wolcensmen is his answer to that void though, as he says, “…as it happens, the music I’d go on to record had none of the happy, merry-making appeal I’d first envisioned, but anyhow…” I’d venture that Wolcensmen are the English equivalent to the rather super Norwegian act Wardruna who aim to create musical representations of Norse traditions.

Children Of The Stones

“Songs From The Fyrgen” is the debut album from Wolcensmen. The “fyrgen” in the album title refers to mountain woods or a wooded hilltop, so it’s natural that the music contained within should evoke such surroundings. I suppose that the closest his day-job band come to the music found on the record would be something like “Children Of The Stones” (also the title of a super TV series originally broadcast back in 1977) or perhaps “Æfterield-fréon” – both excellent, delicate and atmospheric acoustic pieces.

Jake Rogers

So it is with this album. Beginning with one of the shortest numbers “Withershins” this is full of acoustic guitars and very natural vocals by the main man, augmented by percussion by Dan & Mark Capp, flute (by American Jake Rogers), some synthesizer (by Grimrik from Germany), piano (by Dries Gaerdelen from Belgium), cello (by Canadian Raphael Weinroth-Browne) and some ritualistic vocals from Norwegian Nash Rothanburg. Despite the multi-national support cast I feel that this record is a very English sounding one.

Grimrik

And that was certainly Capp’s intention. He stated in an interview that Wolcensmen is “…specifically a celebration of old England…”. It is also definitely thematically heathen – “…the Heathen aspect is vital, because I am a Heathen and Wolcensmen is essentially a cultural statement. It is meant to be romantic, and I simply can’t see that there’s anything to romanticise about post-Christian England. It was the beginning of our decline. The stories are mine, except for ‘The Mon o’ Micht’, which is lyrically traditional, and ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’ whose lyrics are based on the names of the horses belonging to the Asa (Aesir) gods, on which they ride across Bifrost, ‘the shimmering path’, to Asgard. My other lyrics are inspired by folk tales, natural phenomena and esoteric concepts…”

Dries Gaerdelen

“The Fyre-Bough” is up next and is one of the high points of the album for me. Capp’s voice is almost acapella at points here and there are no rock star histrionics, just an understated delivery that sits perfectly with the theme of the music. The cello and flute parts really shine though on this track too. “Sunne”, the album’s briefest track at 2:42, follows and leads into the excellent “Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path” which has the aforementioned Rothanburg intoning ancient Norse poetry in the background.

Raphael Weinroth-Browne

The ten-minute plus Heathen epic “‘Neath A Wreath Of Furs” contains all that’s good about the album and just about knocks the later “The Bekens Are Aliht” into second place in terms of my favourite numbers here. In truth there really isn’t a bad track here and the album as a whole is, in my opinion, up there with Skuggsjá’s “A Piece For Mind & Mirror” and “Mausoleum” by Murkur – in fact, had I discovered “Songs From The Fyrgen” last year when it was released, rather than recently, it would likely have elbowed its way onto my top ten albums of the year.

Nash Rothanburg

Another quote from Capp is that “…Wolcensmen exists for a specific purpose – to inspire people to reconnect with their ancestors and the old ways of their people. It is Romanticism – not in an unrealistic sense but in an idealistic… don’t settle for what is, strive for what could be… I’d like Wolcensmen to be a small beacon of light in an age of darkness; a small reminder to those not yet dead inside to maintain their inner-spark whilst many of those around them have let it die, wanting for nothing more than to consume and follow…” This really is a fantastic record that transports you to an arguably better time and place. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Wolcensmen. Highly recommended to anyone with a love of good folk music, nature, mythology etc…15192708_1298269950233600_1833899633855275345_n

“Songs From The Fyrgen” tracklist:

1. Withershins / 2. The Fyre-Bough / 3. Sunne / 4. Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path / 5. ‘Neath A Wreath Of Firs / 6. The Mon O’ Micht / 7. Snowfall / 8. The Bekens Are Aliht / 9. Yerninge

Pure

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The Local Woods, This Morning
The Local Woods, This Morning

When I took the dog out for a nice long walk in the woods this morning it was rather foggy, and I took a few pictures as the scenery put me very much in mind of the kind of imagery that can be found on numerous black metal albums, such as “The Dark Hereafter” by Winterfylleth, Darkthrone’s “Panzerfaust”, “In These Woods, From These Mountains” from The Wretched End and “Death Of The Sun” by Wyrd.

In The Woods
In The Woods…

Naturally this, coupled with the atmosphere such conditions evoke, led me to spin some black metal albums when I returned home. One of these albums found itself on repeat, and it seems more than appropriate that the record in question was “Pure”, the latest release from Norwegian band In The Woods…

Christian "X" Botteri
Christian “X” Botteri

The band formed way back around 1992 by three members of metal band Green Carnation – being guitarist Christian “X” Botteri, bass player Christopher “C:M.” Botteri and drummer Anders Kobro.

Adding singer Jan Kenneth Transeth and guitarist Oddvar “A:M” Moi, the band released three studio albums between 1995 and 1999 before the band split in 2000 after the release of compilation album “Three Times Seven On A Pilgrimage”.

Christopher "C:M." Botteri
Christopher “C:M.” Botteri

In 2014 it was announced that the initial threesome of Botteri, Botteri and Kobro had reunited as In The Woods… and then last year came news that singer James Fogarty was to complete the new incarnation of the group. These four are responsible for “Pure”, with additional lead guitar provided on the final three tracks by Bjørn “Berserk” Harstad.

Anders Kobro
Anders Kobro

Looking at the few pictures of the band that can be found online you’d be forgiven for thinking that In The Woods… are not perhaps the happiest of bands. Lyrically, however, “Pure” would seem to counter that to some degree with lines such as  “…a shining future waiting, a promise of the pure…” or “…we left the darkness, walking into the light…” to balance against mentions of darkness, black holes and grief.

Jan Kenneth Transeth
Jan Kenneth Transeth

Musically, the band are not straight forward black metal by any means. With progressive and avant-garde stylings present throughout their relatively brief back catalogue one could perhaps make comparisons to the likes of fellow Norwegian act Ulver. I felt there are echoes of modern-day Enslaved and Swallow The Sun to be heard within these grooves.

Oddvar "A:M" Moi
Oddvar “A:M” Moi

What’s beyond dispute (at least to my ears) is that this is the kind of album that lends itself perfectly to this time of year and the colder, gloomier weather that comes with it – just as the aforementioned Swallow The Sun’s epic three-disc “Songs From The North” from last year still does. Granted “Pure” cannot compare with “Songs…” in terms of scale and variety but more than holds its own as a great piece of work.

James Fogarty
James Fogarty

Opening with the title track the vibe is at once doomy yet spacey, and displays the album’s rich and warm production. Fogarty’s voice is powerful enough to stand out over the heaviness of the guitars, bass and drums and the compositions are both complex and accessible – which is no mean feat.

There isn’t a truly weak track on this record, but for me the picks of the bunch would have to be “Towards The Black Surreal”, “Cult Of Shining Stars” and the ten-minute-plus instrumental piece “Transmission KRS”. “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” isn’t far behind either.

In The Woods...
In The Woods…

Guitar work throughout the album is imaginative and impressive. Sometimes hypnotic and sometimes crushing, but never dull. The same can be said of the vocal lines too. I suppose atmosphere is the word that might best be used when thinking about the sound of this record.

Many reviewers have commented that the album sounds dated and disappoints in comparison to the group’s earlier work. Well, “Pure” is my entry point to the band so I am, I guess, in the fortunate position of not being able to hold it up against the likes of “Omnio” (1997) or the debut “Heart Of The Ages”. I wouldn’t agree that the material sounds dated, however. To me “Pure” is fresh, has vitality and is an organic sounding album that ought to see wider recognition that will likely be the case for a relatively low-key band in a niche genre. Good stuff!…btm

“Pure” tracklist:

1. Pure / 2. Blue Oceans Rise (Like A War) / 3. Devil’s At The Door / 4. Recalcitrant Protagonist / 5. The Cave Of Dreams / 6. Cult Of Shining Stars / 7. Towards The Black Surreal / 8. Transmission KRS / 9. This Dark Dream / 10. Mystery Of The Constellations

Mausoleum

myrkur-mausoleum

Myrkur
Myrkur

A recent discovery here in the shadows is Danish black metal project Myrkur. When the first recording was released, the 2014 seven song self-titled EP, nothing was known publicly about the personnel behind the music other than it was a one-woman band from “…the darkness of Scandinavia…” The music contained thereon was described by the artist as “…a combination of ethereal choir vocals and evil guitars and aggressive blast beats…” She went on to say “…I always dreamed about becoming a Huldra, an Elver girl, a Valkyrie, the goddess Freja. These powerful women in Norse Mythology have an element of beauty and mystique, but they are also deadly…”.

Amalie Bruun
Amalie Bruun

There was some controversy and something of a backlash (including death threats!) from less open-minded black metal fans when the woman behind Myrkur was revealed to be New York based model and singer / songwriter Amalie Bruun, previously frontwoman of pop/rock band Ex-Cops.

Amalie Bruun - Black Metal Girl At Heart
Amalie Bruun – Black Metal Girl At Heart

I haven’t heard Ex-Cops, or indeed any of Denmark-born Bruun’s earlier solo work but I can attest that since moving into the world of black metal (although it’s worth pointing out that she stated that she was “…a black metal girl at heart…” in an interview she did for a fashion website back in 2012) her music certainly fits the aforementioned description of fusing ethereal singing with traditional black metal sounds.

Kristoffer Rygg & Myrkur
Kristoffer Rygg & Myrkur

The impressive full debut album, titled “M”, was produced by Kristoffer Rygg, vocalist and keyboardist for Norwegian avant-garde black metallers Ulver and released to generally positive reviews – if still resistance from some of the genre’s fan-base – in August of 2015. This is probably oe of my favourite extreme metal releases of last year.

Emanuel Vigeland's Museum / Mausoleum
Emanuel Vigeland’s Museum / Mausoleum

For a project whose name, Myrkur, apparently means “darkness” in Icelandic it seems entirely fitting that the third release should have been recorded live in the rather stunning venue that is Emanuel Vigeland’s museum / mausoleum in Slemdal, Oslo.

Norwegian Girls Choir
Norwegian Girls Choir

Leaving the blast beats and abrasive black metal guitars at home, Bruun is accompanied on this haunting acoustic recording by the Norwegian Girls Choir and former Ulver member Håvard Jørgensen.

Myrkur
Myrkur

Not an acoustic album in the usual sense, the songs are recognisable from the original versions and yet the treatment given here means that they do stand up in their own right. In fairness, I find it impossible to point to any particular highlights on this record as all nine tracks are uniformly excellent. Despite not having the extremes in sound of the studio work this beautiful recording still enchants the listener. Best listened to late at night in the dark, or perhaps out in the forest or on a hill without modern civilisation breaking the spell, this is twenty-seven minutes of pure atmosphere. Utterly compelling listening…myrkur-btm

“Mausoleum” tracklist:

1. Vølvens Spådom / 2. Jeg Er Guden, I Er Tjenerne / 3. Skøgen Skulle Dø / 4. Byssan Lull / 5. Den Lille Piges Død / 6. Frosne Vind / 7. Onde Børn / 8. Song To Hall Up High / 9. Dybt I Skoven

1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9 originally from “M” (2015) / 5 originally a single release (2015) / 6 originally from “Myrkur” (2014) / 8 cover of Bathory song from “Hammerheart” (1990)

The Dark Hereafter

winterfylleth-the-dark-hereafter

winterfyllethI have talked briefly about Manchester-based black metal band Winterfylleth before, when they were the opening act at Behemoth’s 2014 show at the O2 Academy in Birmingham. At that time I mentioned that the band’s name is taken from the Old English for “Winter Full Moon”. Other sources have stated the word to represent an ancient heathen festival to welcome the first full moon of winter, and others still that it simply means “October”. The band’s own stance on this, taken from their official website, states that it “represents the first full moon in October as well as the Anglo-Saxon festival of the arrival of winter.”

Winterfylleth - The Ghost Of Heritage (2008)
Winterfylleth – The Ghost Of Heritage (2008)

Lyrically the group strive to portray “tales of England’s archaic history, re-counting major events, battles, the spiritual outlook of the people and the way they lived and even draw inspiration from certain sites and scenery that grace the countryside of England and have played an integral part in England’s history.”

Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere (2010)
Winterfylleth – The Mercian Sphere (2010)

This intent has led to accusations of racism in the past and the band describing themselves as English Heritage Black Metal is bound to draw comparisons with other bands who celebrate the ancient heritage of their particular countries. Inevitably this national pride is often viewed as national socialism, or simply put, Nazism – particularly during turbulent times such as those we find ourselves in these days with such fierce debate around subjects such as multiculturalism and migration where folk talking of their country’s history are often perceived as anti-everywhere-else.

Winterfylleth - The Threnody Of Triumph (2012)
Winterfylleth – The Threnody Of Triumph (2012)

I am not overly concerned with the personal views of the members of bands that I listen to, and take the view that the lyrics form a part of the whole package – just as plot elements of films and books do – and that I don’t have to agree with or endorse any such views to appreciate the music on offer, as touched upon when talking about Shining’s latest album “XI : Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends”. That said, I do not personally feel that writing and singing about the history and landscapes of your homeland should be considered as racism and that too often these days political correctness does more harm than good.

Winterfylleth - The Divination Of Antiquity (2014)
Winterfylleth – The Divination Of Antiquity (2014)

Anyway, enough rambling – what’s the new record like, I hear you ask? Well, “The Dark Hereafter” is Winterfylleth’s fifth studio album and follows on from 2014’s offering “The Divination Of Antiquity”. The first thing to note is that whilst previous albums have nine or ten tracks and clocked in at around an hour, this one contains only five tracks and has a duration of just over 40 minutes.

Ulver - Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (1995)
Ulver – Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (1995)

Of those five tracks one, “Led Astray In The Forest Dark”, is a translated-into-English cover of a track first recorded under the title “Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild” by Norwegian band Ulver back in 1995 on their debut album “Bergtatt – Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler”. Ulver are one of the band’s primarily influences, along with acts such as Enslaved and Slavic black metal bands like Drudkh. The album artwork is also clearly influenced by the Ulver debut.

Chris Naughton
Chris Naughton

Another track, “Pariah’s Path”, appeared as a bonus track on the aforementioned “The Divination Of Antiquity”. This suggests that, even though band leader Chris Naughton reckons that they are about two albums further down the line in terms of writing they were perhaps a little short of inspiration when preparing for “The Dark Hereafter”?

Simon Lucas
Simon Lucas

Whether or not that is the case I do think it’s fair to say that this is another really good record from one of the shining lights of today’s black metal scene. It may not be black metal in the traditional corpse paint and Satanism sense, but there seems to be a definite shift in appreciation for history and nature in recent years and Winterfylleth’s music fits in with this perfectly.

Nick Wallwork
Nick Wallwork

This isn’t “summery” music. The soundscapes here compliment the colder and bleaker seasons and suggest the majesty and beauty of the beautiful lands in which we live. Beauty may seem like an odd choice of word for such harsh and brutal music but the elements of folk music (though there is less of that than on the previous albums) together with clean and choral vocals that form part of the sound help to give a broader feel to proceedings. I also think it’s perfectly possible to appreciate the beauty in our landscapes during the coldest and wettest times of year so see no issue with doing the same with the aural representation on this album.

Dan Capp
Dan Capp

Of the remaining tracks it is without doubt “Green Cathedral” that is the highlight and centrepiece of the whole record. Not only due to its length (using up 13 of the 40 minute total) but also due to the sheer expansiveness of the song. Apparently influenced by author Ben Myers who wrote “The Green Cathedral is a place, a series of places, a philosophy, a feeling, a mind-set, a movement, a lack of movement, a meditation. Many meditations. It is walking and running, sitting and seeing…” this is surely the group encouraging us to get out and reconnect with nature – or at very least imagine that we are doing so whilst immersing ourselves in the music (best experienced through headphones). A truly excellent piece of music.

Mark Deeks
Mark Deeks

Winterfylleth these days features founding members Naughton (vocals / guitars) and Simon Lucas (drums / vocals) joined by long serving bassist Nick Wallwork, new boy guitarist Dan Capp (who also does the artwork) and keyboard player Mark Deeks. Though the overall sonic template hasn’t altered much since day one for this distinctive outfit I do feel that each release has shown some progression and development from the previous one, and “The Dark Hereafter” is no exception.

Winterfylleth
Winterfylleth In 2015

Although if you discount the inclusion of “Pariah’s Path” it is essentially only really three new songs and a cover this is still a really worthwhile addition to the band’s catalogue. The title track and “Ensigns Of Victory” are good, if typical, Winterfylleth tunes, but the best of the record is without doubt the aforementioned “Green Cathedral” and the really great version of “Led Astray In The Forest Dark”. Well worth exploring as the winter draws in…winterfylleth-btm

“The Dark Hereafter” tracklist:

1. The Dark Hereafter / 2. Pariah’s Path / 3. Ensigns Of Victory / 4. Green Cathedral / 5. Led Astray In The Forest Dark

In These Woods, From These Mountains

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Tomas Thormodsæter "Samoth" Haugen
Tomas Thormodsæter “Samoth” Haugen

A band that have recently assaulted by senses for the first time are Norwegian band The Wretched End. Formed in 2008, the group initially comprised just guitarist Tomas Thormodsæter “Samoth” Haugen and guitarist / bassist / vocalist André “Cosmo” Søgnen.

Samoth had previously been a member of black metal band Zyklon and has been in black metal legends Emperor since the early 1990s. For his part Cosmo is also a member of Mindgrinder, another black metal band.

André "Cosmo" Søgnen
André “Cosmo” Søgnen

By the time the band’s debut album “Ominous” was recorded and hit the shelves in 2010 the pair had been joined by drummer Nils “Dominator” Fjellström of black metal act Dark Funeral.

Second album “Inroads” followed in 2012 and now, after a four-year gap, comes album number three “In These Woods, From These Mountains” – a title that evokes imagery similar to that seen on the album cover before you even see it.

Nils "Dominator" Fjellström
Nils “Dominator” Fjellström

Despite the band members’ backgrounds the sound of The Wretched End is probably best described as simply extreme metal, containing, as it does, elements of black metal, death metal and thrash metal. That said, now that I’ve had a chance to hear their back catalogue too I reckon that the new album is the most black metal sounding, to me, of the three. Indeed Samoth has been quoted as saying that “It’s great to finally have this album ready for release. It took us some years for various reasons; different things in our every day and professional lives that took a lot of focus on our parts. We never felt any great pressure.  Looking back, I think the whole process affected the album in a positive way. I personally feel I’ve almost come full circle with this new album, bringing more elements rooted in the darkness of black metal.”

Attila Csihar
Attila Csihar

The album kicks off with the furious sounding “Dead Icons”, a fabulous slice of black metal with all the requisite glacial guitar sounds, blastbeat drumming and guttural vocal delivery. This leads into the slightly more sedate “Primordial Freedom”, before “Old Norwegian Soul” brings the first guest appearance on the album with Attila Csihar, vocalist with fellow Norwegian black metallers Mayhem, lending his pipes to the track.

Einar Solberg
Einar Solberg

The other guests crop up on the final track “Dewy Fields”, which is a cover of a track by Norwegian pop act Bel Canto. This features vocals from Leprous member Einar Solberg and programming work from Lars Sørensen of Red Harvest. This particular track feels somewhat out of place stylistically to be honest and I’m not sure that the album wouldn’t have been better without it tacked onto the end.

The Wretched EndHowever, prior to that, the rest of the album continues with some solid black metal tunes, the best of which are probably “Atheos”, “Generic Drone” and the fabulous “The Decline And Fall”. Granted there’s nothing really groundbreaking to be found on this record but this is nonetheless a worthwhile black metal album that could easily soundtrack a journey down from the mountains of Norway and into the woods on a particularly bleak day and I’d say that it’s the best of the band’s work to date…btm

“In These Woods, From These Mountains” tracklist:

1. Dead Icons / 2. Primordial Freedom / 3. Old Norwegian Soul / 4. Misery Harbour / 5. Atheos / 6. The Decline And Fall / 7. Burrowing Deep / 8. Dewy Fields

Triangle

Schammasch 2016 Triangle

Swiss avant-garde black metal band Schammasch was formed in the city of Basel in 2009 by guitarist / vocalist Christopher “CSR” Ruf, drummer Boris “BAW” AW and guitarist Marc “MA” Altorfer. They were joined in 2012 by current bassist Swart “AT” (CSR having also handled bass guitar up until that point).

Christopher "CSR" Ruf
Christopher “CSR” Ruf

I’ve not been able to find out much about this somewhat mysterious outfit, save that the band’s name is taken from that of a sun-god in ancient Babylonian mythology. The group’s debut album “Sic Lvceat Lvx” was released in 2010, and the second album – a double album titled “Contradiction” followed in 2014 and was a marked improvement on the first record.

Not being content with producing a double album, the group’s latest release is no less than a triple album, which is titled “Triangle”. Each disc has its own title – I is “The Process Of Dying”, II is “Metaflesh” and III is “The Supernal Clear Light Of The Void”.

Schammasch
Schammasch

Although “Triangle” follows in the footsteps of Swallow The Sun’s excellent “Songs From The North” triple album last year, with a distinct sound to each disc, Schammasch have taken the concept even further by carefully arranging for each disc to have a running time of 33:30 thus ensuring that each point of this particular triangle accounts for exactly a third of the whole. Granted, 100 minutes of music could easily be spilt into just two discs but the Swiss troupe clearly felt it was important for their artistic statement to be arranged in the manner in which it is presented.

Schammasch
Schammasch

Conceptually the project, according to songwriter CSR, reflects “three different steps towards a fulfilled state of being. The Process of Dying describes the experience of loss and change through death, and furthermore its acceptance. Metaflesh stands as the balance between earthly life and the spirit world, pointing out the necessity and the reality of both of them. The Supernal Clear Light of the Void represents the final state, the mastering of the ego, a state of freedom, light or void.” In addition, it would seem that the band’s albums are, thus far at least, connected to numerology in that the debut was looking at the number one, “Contradiction” concerned the number two (hence two discs) and “Triangle” obviously also tackles the number three, with the album “based on the number three in which is the symbol for the state of unity in various religious contexts. The three chapters of the album can be seen as an abstraction of the holy trinity symbol.” 

1So far, so deep. But what of the musical contents? Well, kicking off with “Crepusculum”, the first of two instrumentals on “The Process Of Dying”, disc one is the most traditional sounding in black metal terms. There are doom metal influences to be felt too, but the overall atmosphere is very much black metal. “In Dialogue With Death” and, especially, “Consensus” are the standout tracks on this disc.

2The “Metaflesh” disc begins with “The World Destroyed By Water”, and this track demonstrates that this is going to be a more experimental sounding piece of work. There are no instrumentals on this disc, but the songs all have numerous stylistic changes and textures within them, with much more clean vocal and guitar lines in evidence, with “Above The Stars Of God” being the highlight of the record, “Metanoia” coming a close second. The comparatively delicate “Conclusion” brings part two to a suitable end.

3Finally we have “The Supernal Clear Light Of The Void”. For the most part this is an instrumental piece of work, with the exception of the last track “The Empyrean”. This disc has ambient and world music elements, tribal percussion, chanting and non-singing vocals – making the whole thing seem initially very un-black metal. However, many black metal bands are expanding their musical horizons these days whilst still staying true to their beliefs and artistic vision and clearly that’s what Schammasch are attempting to do here, with some very impressive results.

I don’t think Schammasch have quite managed to produce a work as impressive as the aforementioned Swallow The Sun release, as “Songs From The North” is more accessible and contains more beauty (not perhaps a word generally associated with black metal anyway) to my ears. Nonetheless, “Triangle” is a seriously good piece of work and should be heard by many more people than it is, sadly, likely to reach. Worth a spin…Schammasch btm

“Triangle – Part I : The Process Of Dying” tracklist:

1. Crepusculum / 2. Father’s Breath / 3. In Dialogue With Death / 4. Diluculum / 5. Consensus / 6. Awakening From The Dream Of Life

“Triangle – Part II : Metaflesh” tracklist:

1. The World Destroyed By Water / 2. Satori / 3. Matanoia / 4. Above The Stars Of God / 5. Conclusion

“Triangle – Part III : The Supernal Clear Light Of The Void” tracklist:

1. The Third Ray Of Light / 2. Cathartic Confession / 3. Jacob’s Dream / 4. Maelstrom / 5. The Empyrean

Abbath

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Immortal In 1992
Immortal In 1992

Norwegian black metal band Immortal were formed during 1990 by vocalist / bassist Olve “Abbath Doom Occulta” Eikemo (also simply known as Abbath), and guitarist Harald “Demonaz Doom Occulta” Nævdal (aka Demonaz) and drummer Gerhard “Armagedda” Herfindal.

Abbath & Demonaz
Abbath & Demonaz

This line-up produced the band’s first studio album, 1992’s “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism”, but by the time of the second album “Pure Holocaust” the following year Armagedda was history and the drums were performed by Abbath (even though Erik “Grim” Brødreskift is pictured on the record’s cover and credited as the drummer). Abbath and Demonaz were the only performers on album number three “Blizzard Beasts” in 1997 as well.

Horgh
Horgh

Demonaz suffered acute tendonitis, meaning that he was unable to play guitar in the style required for the band, so he concentrated on lyric writing for the band whilst Abbath took over guitar duties in addition to his usual roles for 1999’s “At The Heart Of Winter” – which also saw the introduction of drummer Reidar “Horgh” Horghagen. The band’s lyrics centre on a fictional place called Blashyrkh, imagined by Demonaz and Abbath as a kind of mirror isolation felt living close to the Norwegian countryside around Bergen

Immortal - Damned In Black
Immortal – Damned In Black

Bass player Stian “Iscariah” Smørholm was on board for “Damned In Black” in 2000, joining Abbath and Horgh, and remained for 2002’s “Sons Of Northern Darkness”. As had been the case since 1999, Abbath and Horgh composed the music with Demonaz penning the lyrical content.

Apollyon
Apollyon

The band split in 2003, with Abbath and Demonaz working together on a short-lived band simply named I. However, before that outfit’s debut album “Between Two Worlds” saw the light of day in late 2006 the pair, along with Horgh, had resurrected Immortal. With a new bassist, Ole Jørgen “Apollyon” Moe, joining thetrio of Abbath, Horgh and Demonaz, the band recorded 2009’s “All Shall Fall” album.

Immortal In 2010
Immortal Live In 2010

In 2014 it was reported that issues between Abbath on one side and Horgh and Demonaz on the other had resulted in a stalemate with the band unable to move forward on a follow-up to “All Shall Fall”. This seems to have intensified when Abbath applied to obtain sole rights to the band’s name and logo – a move that was blocked by lawyers acting for the other two.

Abbath
Abbath

Early last year it was reported that Abbath was moving forward without the other members of Immortal, under the banner Abbath, with Immortal being laid to rest. Abbath was quoted as saying “…the name of Immortal… will rest ; the essence, the power, the music – and Abbath – will not…”. However, a few months later came the announcement that “Norwegian black metallers Immortal – now consisting of lyricist/guitarist Demonaz and drummer Horgh following last year’s split with frontman Abbath – are working on material for the band’s next album, to be released via the Nuclear Blast label”. The remaining pair have subsequently put their version of events on their website, putting the blame firmly at the door of Abbath and his “personal problems”. Time will tell how successful the newest incarnation of Immortal, without their founding frontman, will be.

Abbath
Abbath

Now, though, we have the first album to be unleashed under the Abbath banner, also called “Abbath”. Rounding out this new band are bassist Tom Cato “King Ov Hell” Visnes, formerly of Gorgoroth and drummer Kevin “Creature” Foley.

King Ov Hell
King Ov Hell

The record starts with “To War”, a headbang-inducing number which is, to my ears, a great mix of black and traditional heavy metal. Abbath’s lyrics are, as is so often the case in black metal, pretty much unintelligible so can’t really comment on the subject matter but it’s a pretty good opener.

Creature
Creature

“Winter Bane”, a single from the album, is up next and is another good number with a decent groove going for it. The tempo increases noticeably by the time “Ashes Of The Damned” comes around – with some impressive stickwork from Creature on display and some flourishes that sound distinctly brass-flavoured.

Abbath Live In 2015
Abbath Live In 2015

Abbath’s vocal delivery is just what you’d expect if you are at all familiar with the work of Immortal. Musically the comparisons are there to be had too, as well as maybe hints of Gorgoroth too, but this is an album that stands on its own merits too and is definitely a step up from the aforementioned “All Shall Fall” opus.

Abbath
Abbath

King Ov Hell and Creature supply some excellent black metal backing, but Abbath is – naturally – the star of the show with his fierce vocals and impressive riffing and some tasty lead work too.

Favourite tracks are “Fenrir Hunts”, “Root Of The Mountain”, “Winter Bane” and “Count The Dead”. The bonus track, a cover of Judas Priest’s classic “Riding On The Wind” is perhaps unnecessary (let’s be honest, Abbath is no Rob Halford vocally, but then it is a bonus track!) but in “Abbath” I do believe we have the first great black metal record of 2016…

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“Abbath” tracklist:

1. To War / 2. Winter Bane / 3. Ashes Of The Damned / 4. Ocean Of Wounds / 5. Count The Dead / 6. Fenrir Hunts / 7. Root Of The Mountain / 8. Eternal / 9. Riding On The Wind