Ultra Silvam: The Spearwound Salvation
Sweden’s Ultra Silvam released their debut LP ‘The Spearwound Salvation’ this year. Right out of the gate it makes itself known as an exercise in triumphalism, via the use of black metal stylistic leanings. In the first instant of hitting play I was immediately reminded of Darkthrone’s ‘Under a Funeral Moon’, and despaired of yet another march through well-trodden territory. However, it only takes a moment for the riffs to move and flow into a far more fluid and diverse beast.
The production is raw but clear. The guitar tone is thin and crisp, allowing each wave of intricate riffs their full due in terms of clarity. A thing similar could be said of drums, which offer barrels of rhythmic diversity. They are sometimes buried beneath the chaos of the breakneck pace the music reaches, but with just enough depth to allow a glimpse into the complexity of the beats. Vocals are a despairing mid-range growl, often buried in the mix, lending intensity when required, but never deigning to lead the music forward.
So what could be said of ‘The Spearwound Salvation’? It is essentially an exploration of contrasting styles shoved through the sonic blender that is black metal’s favourite toolbox. The riffs are many, they are fast, and varied. But after a few listens one can discern influences ranging from punk, power metal, folk, and neo-classical. The result is cheerful, bouncy, energetic black metal that places in triumphant ecstasy before solitude and misanthropy.
There is a danger with music such as this that it all becomes a bit overwhelming. The brain is bludgeoned with a surplus of ideas, and ceases to engage, the music washing over the ears devoid of impact, boredom conquers. Not so with Ultra Silvam. It’s a fast, dense ride, but a pleasingly short one, and each riff follows from the next in a logical structure, carefully crafted to lead into the next. A masterclass in ‘fun’ black metal done right.
Tides of Sulfur: Paralysis of Reason
These Welsh sludge lovers offered up a new EP in March this year following on from the monolithic ‘Extinction Curse’ LP in 2016. ‘Paralysis of Reason’ sees them pick up the pace and tighten up the sound. ‘Extinction Curse’ was a murky, dark, brooding release, and although ‘Paralysis of Reason’ is doesn’t skimp on the dirge, the production has reigned in the guitars somewhat, and lifted the drums to cut clearly across the mix, lending bounce and urgency to this energetic sludge metal. The guitars themselves are sporting a down-tuned variant on the classic Swedish buzzsaw effect, with enough gain to let the slower drone chords hang that much longer.
The result is a punchy opener informed as much by hardcore punk as it is sludge metal. A dual vocal attack lends energy and intrigue to even the slowest moments found on this EP. Heavy, menacing, ponderous riffs are punctuated by a restless rhythm section that never lets the music stray into boredom. Occasionally TOS will devolve into barely coherent noise, which compliments the liberal use of politically charged samples that litter this release. The edited sample of Thatcher’s famous quotation of St Francis of Assisi on the steps of Downing Street at the dawn of her premiership is particularly well executed.
Although Tides of Sulfur make good use of the doomier traditions in metal, they never once forget the importance of a percussive backbone to slow music. This is exemplified by guitarist Anthony O’Shea’s style. Although he helms the sole lead instrument, he sometimes abandons this role altogether to indulge in rhythm play with the other two members. This is a trait more associated with technical death metal than the looser realms of sludge that Tides of Sulfur pretend to.
This makes for an enjoyable and intense EP with many pleasant surprises. An all too rare thing in what is frankly an obscenely over saturated genre.
Suhnopfer: Hic Regnant Borbonii Manes
Suhnopfer are France’s answer to the classic Swedish blackened death metal style perfected by Sacramentum, Dawn, and Dissection. Their latest LP ‘Hic Regnant Borbonii Manes’ released in May this year is a slick professional release, from musicians that are clearly very at home in their craft. To dig a little deeper however, it’s apparent that Sulnopfer’s approach to riffcraft is a little less patient than those aforementioned Swedes. They are reluctant to rest on one idea, one passage, one tempo, for more than a few bars. This puts their sound more in line with Cirith Gorgor on a melodic day than blackened death metal per se.
This is a classic case of riff salad syndrome. The drums and guitars twist around each, sometimes playing in unison, sometimes splitting apart into chaos. It’s like watching two divergent lines on a graph which occasionally intertwine, seemingly at random. This is until one zooms one’s gaze outwards and looks at the work with the knowledge that distance affords. For chaos this is, but only when standing but a few feet from the wall. If you concentrate, and take a step back, you will begin to notice the call backs to previous riffs, the inversions, the repetitions.
This approach to composition is sophisticated and time consuming, and it can very easily go awry. Sulnopfer walk the line between genius and taking the piss. The problem being that if all one does is vary the riffs, then variation itself becomes draining, repetitive, boring. Repetition serves an important purpose in music (conventional music at least), it grounds the listener, provides context, rewards the brain. There is great beauty to the music on HRBM, but it really does demand all one’s attention to see it. Zone out for even a second and it can become a disorientating mess.
Opinion is divided whether the hard earned joys of music such as this are a vice or virtue. Some blame the listener for demanding to be force fed compositions that make sense i.e. ideas they have heard before. Others would blame the musicians for being self-indulgent, more focused on showcasing technical ability than artistic will. Whatever the right answer, much metal sits on this line. This is chaotic, unconventionally structured music, that offers no variation or dynamics besides the riffs themselves. If one cannot glean enjoyment from these riffs and their underlying architecture without the aid of surface level adornments (keyboards, solos, clean vocals, interludes) then metal of this nature is probably not for you.