I like the beats and I like the yelling: Sorcier des Glaces, Goatcraft, Kyrios

Sorcier des Glaces: Un Monde de Glace et de Sang (2020)

2020 is an even number. As such, we were due a new Sorcier des Glaces album. Their rise from obscure one-time hitters with 1998’s ‘Snowland’ to one of the most celebrated pillars of Canadian black metal has been a slow and steady march. A march not without its stumbles, let’s be honest. But if the ship needed righting then ‘Un Monde de Glace et de Sang’ certainly serves that purpose. This album sees this project swing back into the realms of the epic and symphonic direction of the first two albums, and away from the primitive, satanic aesthetic of ‘Ritual of the End’.  

But whether it’s old school occult black metal, obscure northern landscape worshiping atmospherics, or graceful melodic narratives, Sorcier des Glaces again demonstrate their complete ease with black metal’s hidden diversities on ‘Un Monde de Glace et de Sang’. This album sees SDG at their most expansive, offering over an hour’s worth of material. The central backbone of the music echoes ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’ in its concoction of elegantly simple, soaring chord progressions articulated on guitars and synths contrasted alongside an older, atonal influence, accented by more traditionally ‘evil’ sounding chord progressions. That being said, SDG have always been more comfortable than most in throwing a liberal dollop of major chords into the mix and still sounding menacing.

Production has changed little since ‘The Puressence of Primitive Forests’; with a crisp, clear guitar tone. Multiple tracks emphasize complementary harmonic elements. Drums have a subtle synthetic feel to them, despite the wealth of creativity and energy behind the kit in long time sticksman Luc Gaulin. Keyboards make regular appearances in a supportive role to the guitars, adding levels of atmosphere and size to the mix. Vocals are a controlled mid-range rasp, although on the title track Robitaille lets loose with some ferocious high-end screeching. A rare moment of artistic passion from a project that is notable for its controlled restraint compared to many of their contemporaries.

Compositionally speaking, this is the most focused and unified we have seen SDG since ‘Moonrise in Total Darkness’. The focus is on creating grandiose, epic narratives of symphonic black metal evoking the cold, Northern landscapes this project pays tribute to. Even a cover of Necromantia’s ‘The Warlock’ is recontextualised to service the overall aesthetic of this album, and feels completely at home despite the markedly different take on the form when compared to the original. Frequent acoustic interludes and a piano outro also feature. As ornaments to the metal tracks they give the music greater size and scope. But they also indicate an artist increasingly at ease in its ability to carve out these epic odes to Northern nature, and still breathe colour and life into what are by now pretty safe tropes for any black metal project. It just goes to show that with certain aging styles of metal, it’s not always the musical conventions or technique that are tired, but simply people’s treatment of them. SDG reaffirm the power and potential still left in this highly orthodox form of elaborate metal, and reassert themselves as champions for the Canadian scene. 

Goatcraft: Mephistophelian Exordium (2020)

Hot off the heals of the Goatcraft/Plutonian Shore split EP released back in September on Hessian Firm comes this significant two-disc collection of historic output from this singular project. Here we have a collection of early demos recorded back in 2010, a twenty minute radio performance for KSYM in San Antonio recorded live in 2015, and the track ‘Mephistophelian Exordium’, originally written for Goatcraft’s third album ‘Yersinia Pestis’. All this makes for a weighty body of work to dive into on this release. For a collection of disparate works that is both a historical document and a unified body of work in itself, I am reminded of the archive of material that swamped Ildjarn collections around the world after the release of ‘Ildjarn is Dead’ back in 2005.

For those unfamiliar with Goatcraft, this collection is probably an ideal place to start, exhibiting as it does the full complexity of these part compositions, part improvisations for piano, as well as some of the earlier forays into dark ambient that were later melded together with the piano works on Goatcraft’s full length albums. But Goatcraft stands apart from other metal adjacent dark ambient and neofolk projects. This is largely down to the level of raw musicality on display. Within a broadly metal setting, rarely outside of self-indulgent prog metal has the keyboard been treated with so much virtuosity and creative conviction. Of course, many projects have made use of keyboards and synths over the years, but this usually extends no further than achieving a range of textures, or the simplest of melodies and arpeggios. Here the piano is not only placed front and centre, but its full expressive and atmospheric range is brought into the light.  

Through a complex and sometimes dazzling array of classical piano techniques, dense and heavy compositions unfold that are at once musically sophisticated, but also achieve the oppressive, suffocating atmospheres of gothic horror common to full blown metal styles. The longform live performance is a tour of what this artist is capable of both on a technical and artistic level. Motifs are spun out and reach a climax whereby the arpeggios gain such an urgency and volume that they collapse in on themselves, to be replaced by low end, throbbing chords. The component notes of these lower chords then resonate and accumulate into dissonance as the piece once again folds into chaos. At times, Lonegoat seems to lose complete control of proceedings, as we feel the strength of each blow struck on the keyboard, before the music is brought back from the brink of collapse into a restrained and delicate melody that signals the renewal of the piece, and the next motif can begin.

The themes and techniques of the live recording are then unpacked further on the untitled demo tracks. Some are brief hints at one atmosphere or mood. Some are more expansive and fleshed out pieces, that focus in on a particular motif or chord sequence, played through several variations before reaching a climax. What makes this approach enduringly compelling – especially in the context of metal’s treatment of ambient music over the years – is the expressive range Goatcraft is capable of whilst keeping the focus purely on the piano. These compositions are at once spontaneous and freeform, yet come across as highly formal and structured. Other artists – especially in black metal – have made use of the piano over the years. But few have managed or even attempted to sound as authentic and colourful. A testament to how little this territory has been explored by metal minded musicians and fans.

Kyrios: Saturnal Chambers (2020)

Kyrios are a new avant-garde black metal project out of New York; all words that – when placed in succession – are pretty tough to take seriously from an artistic perspective. And after the first few seconds of hitting play it feels like this will be yet another dissonant drive down abrasion road, as so many have taken since Deathspell Omega’s rise to infamy. But if one removes the theatricality of the ghoulish vocals, and one or two of riffs, this is actually more in line with modern technical death metal of the sci-fi themed variety than it is dissonant/depressive black metal.

The glum opening chord sequence to the track ‘The Utterance of Foul Truths’ quickly gives way to some Gorguts inspired staccato riffs, accompanied by subtle choral keyboards, and prog metal guitar leads. This genre hopping journey Kyrios take us on in such a short space of time is surprising and unexpectedly fresh. If we had to pin it down, we would call ‘blackened progressive death metal’ (sorry guys). A genre amalgamation as dense as the adjectives suggest.

It’s a short EP made up of two metal tracks that are broken up by an experimental synth interlude, which again apes on the dark sci-fi atmosphere that the metal tracks are channelling. Heavy synths are accompanied by what sounds like a harpsichord arpeggio, working through some weird chord progressions, before the closing number ‘A Mare in the Wire’ consolidates the technical death metal that was hinted at on the first track. It’s not unlike Cryptic Shift’s ‘Visitations from Enceladus’, with a more avant-garde metal flavour to it. There is a Nocturnas-on-a-bad-trip vibe at work beneath the cacophony, as the keyboards jump out unexpectedly before fading into the abrasion just as quickly.

The get-in/get-out nature of this EP works very well for this dense style of metal. Every segment is packed with musical nutriments, with absolutely no wasted space. With the newfound popularity of sci-fi inspired metal veterans Obliveon, Voivod and Nocturnas in recent years, it was probably only a matter of time before someone tried to meld this with a black metal aesthetic. And as shotgun weddings go, it could’ve gone a lot worse. Attempting such a tight rendering of complex and disparate influences is always a risky game, but Kyrios pull it off by wisely sticking to a brief EP that only hints at new musical pastures yet to come.

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