I like the beats and I like the yelling: Sorgelig, Damim, Forgjord

Sorgelig: Sorgelig (2020)

Greece’s Sorgelig return with a self-titled EP; a final offering dropped into our laps for us to explore before going into hibernation to escape the old Rona-19. This sees them further elaborate on their densely packed but fluid approach to no nonsense black metal, in the tradition of early Gorgoroth amongst others. The jarring piano intro sets one off guard as its disjointed, stop start dissonance gradually builds tension. This is in direct contrast to the free flowing, intuitive nature of Sorgelig’s approach to riffs. They have a familiar yet creative melodic core that runs through each track. Whilst this is certainly frantic and fast paced black metal, they do not feel the need to overwhelm the listener with an over-abundance of ideas. Each passage progresses logically but engagingly to the next. Sometimes enhancing the very same riff with a simple lead harmony that shifts the mood of the track enough without losing any momentum to the barrage.

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This formality and tightness to the instrumentation is set in direct contrast to the vocals, which are almost freeform. While in other acts I have found this approach gimmicky, the rigid uniformity to the music they are set to makes this work. There is less rhythmic discipline to them, and whilst they loosely follow the transitions of the music, the passionate screams and wails feel more like a dramatic reading with backing music than traditional vocals.

Drums exemplify what is required for this dense yet intuitive black metal. They provide urgency, consistency, and only occasionally break from uniform rhythms to emphasise the dramatic builds in the music. It’s a work of stamina and restraint. If a drummer were to over-perform with this lightning fast and melodically packed black metal, it would overpower proceedings, but oftentimes technically proficient drummers cannot resist the urge to showcase their skills, servicing ego over the finished work as a whole. Not so here.

This is a rewarding EP of good old-fashioned black metal done to perfection. And a great example of how to move within well-trodden ground without sounding stale or tired.

Damim: A Fine Game of Nil (2019)

Well now, here’s a death metal album that caught me by surprise. Damim are from that London, and ‘A Fine Game of Nil’ is their third full length. It’s one of those albums that’s a real melting pot of influences stirred together that – I’m amazed to say – doesn’t come off as a complete mess. Quite the opposite in fact. Guitars operate at the very low end, almost to the point where they feel as if they belong on a doom album. However, there is enough clarity to them to capture the more frantic passages; which range from straight up thrash riffs to alienating tremolo strummed melodies, the closest comparison of which I can call to mind would be Supuration.

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Drums cut through the dirge of the guitars perfectly, both allowing the genuinely creative performance to shine through whilst allowing the listener to navigate the murkier passages with some semblance of normality. Vocals are equally schizophrenic. Bouncing from high end screeching, to more standard guttural growls, to a deep, earthy clean vocalisation that feels like it almost belongs on a gothic metal album. But the more remarkable thing is that it works when set to these incredibly idiosyncratic riffs. It’s like a disorientating journey through cavernous passageways without end. By applying just a few small tweaks to otherwise familiar musical elements, Damim have stumbled upon a truly alienating atmosphere, but one with a clear thematic unity holding the whole thing together.

This is one of those albums that, when described, sounds like it could be a hot mess. Atmospheric death metal, leaning heavily towards the more technical end of the genre, but with goth influenced vocals, riffs that swing from melodic death metal to thrash to doom to black metal at points. But what really stands out about Damim’s mastery of all these loose ends is how they don’t beat the listener over the head with them. It’s a hard notion to pin down. But some albums that are, for want of a better word, ‘weird’, tend to force their unconventionality down your throat, and any enjoyment that could be had is sucked out by the band’s own self-satisfaction. But ‘A Fine Game of Nil’ avoids the pitfalls of the unusual…somehow. There’s no browbeating, no pretension; the performances, for all the honest to god music that has gone into them, come across as subtle and understated. It’s not weird for the sake of weird, it just ‘is’.

Forgjord: Laulu Kuolemasta (2020)

‘Laulu Kuolemasta’ is the latest LP from Finnish black metallers Forgjord. I guess the important thing to note is how this album takes us back to black metal’s first principles – the four-track tape recorder mix, the tinny guitars, flat drums, high pitched goblinoid vocals – whilst also actually containing some music. Too many bands that purport to go back to the true roots of this genre offer a highly aesthetic sound that ticks all those necro boxes, but apparently forgets to write music of worth to actually prop up these empty statements. And that’s one of the reasons ‘Laulu Kuolemasta’ is such a breath of fresh, icy air.

The lo-fi production, the thin guitars with way too much reverb, the screeching vocals buried beneath yet more reverb, drums that might as well be dustbin lids; all these things that were initially associated with black metal were a reaction to the over polished world of death metal. But after this people quickly realised the creative potential of some these elements. If used correctly they can provide a unique atmosphere to black metal’s soaring, epic approach to riffcraft. It can do strange things to music, creating truly otherworldly sounds; and yes, it is truly isolating and solitary music that sounds not of the modern world, despite being crafted from modern technology of sorts.

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On ‘Laula Kuolemasta’, we have an album that transcends gimmick into a refreshing and surprisingly diverse piece of obscure black metal. The first thing to note is their approach to melodic progression, which runs throughout the entire album, with longform compositions constructed of chord sequences whose true meaning is revealed over the course of the album. They are worked through slow, meandering intros, to gradual builds, before the music kicks off into full blast-beat territory and a finale of sorts is reached. And this natural talent for this style of composition is aided not hampered by the grainy mix.

But Forgjord don’t limit themselves to meat ‘n’ potatoes black metal alone. There’s plenty of acoustic interludes and brief ambient passages that break up the static. Many of the riffs are so engaging and varied in their own right that I could easily do without these non-metal passages. But they are pleasing enough all the same, and follow on from the same musical ideas that the metal tracks follow, emphasising thematic unity. It’s worth pointing out, because this album offers such a broad emotional range rarely found in black metal, let alone the ultra lo-fi version kind Forgjord are operating in. From the darkly atmospheric, to sweepingly epic to the point of euphoria, to mournful, to aggression and genuinely haunting. It’s an accomplished work of highly aesthetic yet fully fleshed out black metal that has many secrets to reveal.

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