I like the beats and I like the yelling: Order of Nosferat, Gorgon, Oppress

Order of Nosferat: Arrival of the Plague Bearer
Out 7th June 2021 on Purity Through Fire

This is the second LP from this German/Finnish to come out in 2021. If you’re releasing more than one LP a year, alarm bells should start ringing. Mitigating circumstance aside, pushing an album out even once a year is excessive. But the times they are a-content stuffed, and for one such as Order of Nosferat their path was apparently pretty well mapped out before a single note of their latest offering ‘Arrival of the Plague Bearer’ was written. This is cold black metal with a heavy vampiric bent (if the name wasn’t hint enough), that hits all the beats one would expect from this brand of traditionalism.

Thin, high guitar tones, suppressed bass, minimal but competent drums which – by the standards of this specific subgenre – are actually surprisingly clear. And of the course the high pitched, screeched vocals invoking the high gothic drama that lends itself so well to the basic black metal format. Between that, and tracks with titles like ‘Followed Path of the Carpathian Blood Wolves’ one could be forgiven for consigning this to the bin with all the other glorified tribute acts that concieved unwarranted aspirations of serious artistic legitimacy.  

But ‘Arrival of the Plague Bearer’ has two things going for it lacking in other Aldi own-brand knockoffs. The most obvious being the strong melodic character to each of the black metal tracks. Catchy riffs – that in a different context could almost be pop punk – lead into soaring tremolo passages enhanced by gentle and lo-fi keyboards that give the music a mournful, dreamlike quality. With the right kit, anyone can mimic the aesthetic qualities of lo-fi/raw/atmospheric black metal. But to actually imbue the beast with life takes a modicum of musical understanding and creativity, all of which is clearly present in Order of Nosferat, and makes this album infinitely more enjoyable than the countless other ill thought out aspirations to vampirism that litter Bandcamp.

The other more compelling element of ‘Arrival of the Plague Bearer’ is the dual function of this album as a dungeon synth work. Every other track is a lengthy keyboard piece. Each consisting of minimal instrumentation; the first of which – ‘Sleepless in Sorrow and Bloodthirst’ – is a simple yet atmospheric piano piece, the second – ‘The Castle of Haunting Silence’ – is a small exploration of the church organ. All are kept on the ambient side of minimal despite their modest range of timbres, but what’s more remarkable about them is the fact that they don’t break the flow of the album at all, fully integrating themselves into the black metal atmospheres and enhancing the tranquillity behind this mournful music.

In fact, given that the keyboard pieces take up the lion’s share of the runtime, we wouldn’t be out of order in declaring that ‘Arrival of the Plague Bearer’ is a dungeon synth-cum-neofolk album with some black metal tracks scattered throughout. But both serve to enhance the other. Order of Nosferat manage the pacing of this album well, between the momentum of the galloping, euphoric black metal to the stillness of solitary piano lines, the transitions and competition for airtime between these contrasting textures is balanced with ease.

There is something about this style that keeps a small but dedicated minority enthralled, with a fanbase as addicted as they are enduring regardless of serious musical innovation. For that reason, for all of this album’s virtues, there may not be enough here to convert the unconvinced, which will keep the appeal of this album limited to a chosen few. But within that niche remit, ‘Arrival of the Plague Bearer’ should be considered a resounding success.

Gorgon: Traditio Satanae
Out 11th June 2021 on Osmose Productions

‘Traditio Satanae’ is the second album after the reformation of this veteran black metal outfit and their sixth LP overall. Despite being one of the earliest to emerge from France in the second wave, the Gorgon name does not hold the same currency as many of their countrymen. But fortune favours a trier. So here we are again with a tight, dense, no thrills offering of polished, riff heavy black metal. I’d liken it to a Southern European version of Dissection, with the rich melodicism and hints of NWOBHM ancestry supplemented by Mediterranean theatrics.

One couldn’t ask for a cleaner mix on an extreme metal record. Thick, powerful drums thunder through a full compliment of common techniques for the genre, benefiting from a clear yet restrained position in the mix. Guitars boast equal clarity, with the distortion filling out the sound yet retaining definition and poise in service of the dense array of musicality thrown at the speakers. Vocals – in keeping with this generally hotter iteration of black metal – are kept at the mid-range, aggressive and sharp, allowing the rhythmic qualities to shine through over anything atmospheric.

The music itself is frantic and melodic, but broadly sticks to minor keys and tritones with the occasional underlay of dissonance. Gorgon keep the tracks short, apparently attempting a blunt and no thrills aesthetic. There are moments that seem to reach for something more epic in line with their Northern European cousins, such as on the fittingly titled ‘The Long Quest’ for instance. But their loyalties lie with black metal’s more suffocating, sweaty, fiery iterations motivated by theological preoccupations. For that reason every moment is kept at a certain level of intensity and drama, with little let up in the overall tone or mood from track to track.

That being said, each individual riff bursts out with a pronounced character, and there is much contrast between the elements built from traditional melodies and the atonal bludgeoning of power chords, as if Gorgon are using these juxtapositions to hammer home the rampant aggression at the core of this music no matter how flowery the guitar lines become.

I am reminded of Cirith Gorgor for black metal that at first comes across as a messy cluster of riffs and ideas spat forth at breakneck tempos, one that is liable to overwhelm the listener with information, and ultimately make them switch off to the narrative progression from moment to moment. But there is a logic and underlying progression to these tracks that makes sense within context. Gorgon breathe life into these moments of utter density with a flavour of traditional heavy metal melodies. This creates important moments whereby the music is allowed to air out somewhat. That being said, the character of the work overall does not really stand out from contemporary offerings in this field, which from one angle looks doubly disappointing given the age and experience of this act. But it remains a worthy offering that achieves what it set out to do, short, to the point, with no weak links over the course of the forty-minute runtime.

Oppress: Regina Mundi
Out 17th June, self-released

In the lifespan of any genre, there comes a point where the very possibility of originality in the true meaning of the word all but disappears. But a lot of would-be saviours of our scene seem to miss the forest for the trees, adjusting the most minor aspects of pre-existing stylistic conventions to disguise a lack of novelty. A little more dissonance here, a richer guitar tone there, or minutely specific conceptual material informing the lyrics. We’re all pulling at the same basic levers and have been for many years now.

The forest that these ultra-specialised stylistic tweakers seem to miss is the fact that what made these genres great was not just aesthetics or technique, it was the individual character and originality of the actual musicians who contributed these foundational works. This is why acts like Rotting Christ, Summoning, the big four of Norway, or Dissection, or Blasphemy, or Beherit, all are repeatedly referred to when describing modern releases for a reason. The unique character of the individuals shaped their music, and it just so happened that a broadly black metal framework was the most effective means by which they could express this character. For those that followed, the impetous became to create black metal in the style of these foundational acts, and not to express any groundbreaking artistic vision

The UK’s Oppress have just released a new EP entitled ‘Regina Mundi’. It’s a swirling, lo-fi exercise in dissonance, abrasion, and almost comically ghoulish vocals. It sits very much in the raw black metal camp, jumping from Iljdarn esque farse to the outright abrasion of Les Legions Noise. Out of tune guitar lines are bolstered by a thundering, distorted bass tone, and rough but surprisingly clear drums that have an ambiguous relationship to rhythmic consistency.

‘Regina Mundi’ stands out precisely because the fact that it’s a black metal EP seems almost incidental. Many genre boxes are ticked, from Yamatu to Mutiilation to early Black Funeral, Oppress’s style is not unprecedented. But these surface level elements seem to exist for the sole purpose of articulating a particular artistic vision. A factual description of the sounds that greet your ears on first spinning ‘Regina Mundi’ just doesn’t get you very far. From random jumps in tempo, to oddly conventional melodies cutting across riffs in jarringly clashing keys (or no key at all), to vocals that operate on their own timetable of cadence and rhythm, all is expressed through the lens of black metal as the most effective way to communicate this unique and unsettling vision.

But Oppress seem so insistent on being themselves that the borders of genre melt away in the face of the specific character that shines through on each of these four tracks. And this is ultimately where the unique triumph of this EP lies. Oppress make the elements of genre work toward achieving a vision, and not the other way around. This instantly makes it stand out over others that allow genre to dictate the very soul of their musical creations. This also makes the inherently alien, disorientating moral compass that this music engenders seem utterly free of contrivance. And in this regard ‘Regina Mundi’ at least shares common ground with those few idiosyncratic artists at the experimental borders of extreme metal, who are placed there for the simple reason that extreme metal is the best tool by which to express this character.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s