I like the beats and I like the yelling: Kjeld, Pestis Cultus, Perihelion Gnosis

Kjeld: Ofstan (2021)

Dutch black metal seems to consistently offer a tight hammer blow of audial experiences that are at once rich with melody yet bound along with near infectious aggression. Kjeld are no exception in this regard. Their latest LP ‘Ofstan’ offers hyper-fast black metal constructed of forceful, upfront riffing contrasted with moments of ethereal reflection that act as a stabilising force in this otherwise cacophonous array of sonic stimulation. From the controlled chaos of Cirith Ungol, to the compact melodicism of Kaeck or the audial assault that is Sammath, Kjeld fit neatly into this tradition with an expansive, near relentless array of music spread across this lengthy LP.

In this setting, the riff holds dominion. This means the mixing of this album is directed towards giving the guitars the greatest possible clarity without sacrificing their power. This aim is broadly achieved, although it does limit their impact in some of the slower passages, relying on light touches of keyboard harmonies and drums to work overtime to fill out the empty spaces. For the most part however the pace of this music rarely drops, leaving the guitars free to fill each second with dense, sharp riffs or sweeping tremolo passages that invite descriptive markers such as “heroism” or“triumphant”.

Drums themselves are also specifically constructed to squeeze every ounce of music out of each moment. To add to a forensically precise rhythmic showing are fills that usher in every new segment and twist of the guitars. This, along with patterns that are not so much complex as they are delayed in their resolution, building sophistication through the accumulation of variants as opposed to jazzy virtuosity.

Vocals stick with an aggressive variant of the black metal tradition. Keeping to the mid-range allows for each syllable to be fully articulated, whilst only occasionally submitting to a total loss of control. Black metal this riff-laden and dense presents an interesting challenge for a vocalist. Do they simply abandon any nuance of rhythm and pitch for the sake of providing broad, sweeping notes of small word clusters, focusing on texture over any other musical qualities? Or do they force themselves up in the music’s grill, offering full stanzas that require lyrical discipline to work with the brittle balance of riffs and tempo interchanges on display here? Vocalist Skier has opted for the latter approach on ‘Ofstan’, which only serves to heighten the drama and intensity of the music by adding yet another dimension of rhythmic and tonal interplay.

There’s a lot of music to unpack on this release. From traditional harmonic variations to self-contained dissonance, all are kept at a pace and intensity that the demands of good taste would decree overwhelming. But Kjeld somehow manage to craft this brittle, melodic black metal into longform works that constantly refresh themselves through relatively conventional tricks of key and contrast. There’s no denying the album could be trimmed down to a degree. But taken as read, they have achieved that rare balance between a constant and punchy sonic attack that never tires of its own relentlessness.

Pestis Cultus: Pestis Cultus (2021)

Fresh from the hills of Carpathia comes the self-titled debut LP from Pestis Cultus in all its ghoulish majesty. Except we are in fact in the most unCarpathian place imaginable: Perth, Australia. Boasting all the production values of early Graveland, the occultist aesthetic of Cultes des Ghoules, and a marked musicianship all of their own smuggled beneath the ultra-lo-fi aesthetic, Pestis Cultus offer a brief tour of black metal at its most primal and unselfconscious.

The production is as expected for black metal at its purest, with everything buried beneath a wash of static and overly zealous reverb. That being said, there are subtle hints that Pestis Cultus had more control over events during this recording than they let on. Although relegated to a tinny clatter, each aspect of the drumkit is clearly audible, and does full justice to the surprisingly tight performance. Despite the regular clatty of cymbals, the kick drum and creative fills shine through quite clearly above the cacophony. This goes for the guitars as well. The tone is harsh and abrasive, with the nuances of the riffing sometimes lost to these surplus noises during the faster passages. But there are moments where the guitars are layered up in interesting harmonies and intriguing meanders, and such subtleties are clearly audible despite the apparent limitations of this mix.

There are no keyboards to break up the raw onslaught on display here (aside from the intro/outro), which might explain why the dual guitar tracks often find themselves acting as an atmospheric stand in during the slower passages. The compositions themselves are diverse. This is no shallow collection of cliches. ‘Pestis Cultus’ is the application of actual and original ideas to admittedly pre-existing traditions, as opposed to a series of hollow reference points. From primitive black metal riffing set to mid-paced blast-beats, to simple yet characterful harmonies and layered chord progressions during the more contemplative moments of this album, to outright atonal blackened thrash riffs that bubble up on almost every track.

Each track shows a clear narrative thread via the push and pull of esoteric occultism fighting against raw, primal energy. In purely musical terms this plays out in a number of ways. From the varied tempos cutting across each other at regular intervals, to the guitars which accent the percussive qualities of strummed chords in direct contrast to the soaring lead melodies that rise above this bluntness. This will in turn give way to classic black metal of a euphoric bent, with simple melodic lines played out atop galloping blast-beats which seem to a signal a spiritual equilibrium after the direct conflicts of the music directly preceding it. For a prima facie lo-fi, traditional black metal romp, Pestis Cultus seems to fight against their own aesthetic cliches and work to artistry with a character all of its own beyond self-referential nostalgia.

Perihelion Gnosis: Syzugial Summoning (2021)

The debut demo from this death metal outfit is a sludgy, doomy affair with the emphasis on ‘sludge’, as it seems many of the slower riffs would be at home on an Eyehategod album as much as they would Cianide. Between the dirty slower passages and the shuffley punk rhythms that take over when the tempo does pick there is a clear development of ideas. But the overall commitment to empty minimalism lends a certain intrigue to the two tracks that make up ‘Syzugial Summoning’.

In an age that has seen the outer peripheries of extreme metal apparently taken to the very limits of noise that could still be sonically creditable as music, it’s refreshing to see Perihelion Gnosis take a more measured path. This is neither an overwhelming plethora of riffs and ideas, layered up in a sensory-overload-inducing mulch. Nor is it an overt attempt to craft deliberately minimal atmospheric metal, as some outliers of caverncore have been attempting to achieve in recent years with limited success.

Perihelion Gnosis work simple, punky rudiments of chord progressions into doom metal formats in the manner of sludge metal, and then use basic death metal narrative structures to build on this minimal format. Tempo becomes an indicator of narrative shift as much as any melodic component. Simple guitar leads carve out mournful harmonies of barely formed melodic lines, yet the sustained nature of these notes carries the music forwards as the chugging chords seem to collapse under their own pressure, with guttural death vocals doing little to inject any momentum.

There’s not much more to pick apart within these two tracks, other than to say that in not explicitly committing to either a path of sensory overload or self-knowing minimalism, Perihelion Gnosis have left the door open to reform death/doom away from the endless dead-ends that caverncore seems to be taking the genre up at the moment, and maybe bring back the virtue of experimentation through simplicity in the process.

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