I like the beats and I like the yelling: Morguiliath, Prospectors, Dauþuz

Morguiliath: Occult Sins, New Unholy Dimension
Out 26th November on Osmose Productions

Old gods under new lights, this is apparently the order of the day for this French black metal outfit. Morguiliath is the solo project of one…Rats. Their new album ‘Occult Sins, New Unholy Dimension ‘ sees Rats offer up a template of raw but not minimal black metal with a pronounced undercurrent of thrash. Although these tracks are generous with the riffs, they all follow a certain commonality that is not so much variations on a theme as it is the same idea presented in constantly new and interesting ways. This oddly cyclical approach to composition lends this album an industrial quality that is not unwelcome.

Production is as you would expect for raw black metal. Especially the French variety, which continues to offer all kinds of off the wall elements to even the most straightforward of setups. Whilst clearer than Mutiilation even on a good day, the mix does bear comparison to Black Funeral and other industrial influenced black metal projects. The guitar tone is thin and tinny, but there are plenty of guitar tracks running parallel to one another, fleshing out the sound and allowing Morguiliath the ability to work in some subtle counterpoint. Drums are raw and punky, with the presentation working in defiance of a notably complex performance given the standards of the genre.

The same could be said of the musical ethos as a whole. Beneath the façade of relatively straightforward thrashy black metal with a traditionally evil aesthetic sits a work of multifaceted avant-gardist metal. From the bizarre toing and froing of ‘Ad Mortem Festinamus’ (featuring a guest vocal slot from RMS Hreidmarr) to the achingly single-minded ruminations of ‘Aborted Inquisition’, this album offers many hidden corridors and unexpected doorways beyond simple darkness and abrasion.

The key to this is Morguiliath’s sense of subtlety in what is often considered a very unsubtle genre. It’s an experience akin to viewing a painting rendered in a very realist style, only to discover upon closer scrutiny many weird corners and odd distortions of perspective. A generic guitar riff might be offset by an unexpectedly creative (and surprisingly audible) bassline, weird dark ambient interludes signpost key junctures of transition, which in turn give way to almost jarringly traditional blackened thrash. These are odd juxtapositions which make even the most run of the mill moments of ‘Occult Sins, New Unholy Dimension’ fraught with tension and intrigue.

A truly weird piece of avant-garde black metal sits beneath what is otherwise a very meat ‘n’ two veg offering. But the choice to present the more out there elements of this album under the guise of down the barrel old school metal makes the experience all the more rewarding. We are not force-fed contrived experimentalism, nor are we browbeaten into praising Morguiliath’s progressive credentials. Instead, these elements work their way into the subconscious through the power of hint, suggestion, subliminal messaging, as opposed to the billboard advertising of less subtle progressive outfits.

‘Occult Sins, New Unholy Dimension’, for all the overt theatrics and excessive trappings of this brand of black metal, has proven to be something a dark horse. A fluid offering of industrial, ambient, and thrash collected together under the black metal banner. All resulting in an unexpected triumph of slow burn originality.

Prospectors: Proven Lands
Out 12th November, self-released

‘Proven Lands’, the debut LP from this Dutch outfit, is one of those releases where we must commend the effort in spite of the lingering question marks over the actual outcome. As far as progressive/avant-garde death metal goes, one can smell the welcome and familiar fingerprints of Gorguts and Disharmonic Orchestra a mile away.

But Prospectors have offered us a game of two halves it seems, each of wildly diverging quality. The first breezes past in undulating, dissonant, disjointed procession. Whilst plenty of interesting angles and unexpected tangents are unpacked, it’s all too easy to lose one’s place, to lose sight of any overarching intentionality or purpose behind these pieces at all. The underlying problem seems to be that the music is distracted by itself. The “for what?” question has not been asked. Dense for what? Avant-garde for what? Musically complex for what?

Of course, the rejoinder to this would be that this brand of leftfield progressive extreme metal is supposed to be disorientating. And whilst that’s true, it’s certainly not meant to be pointless, and for a while ‘Proven Lands’ threatens to be just that. It feels like we’re using the CD skip button to fast forward through the music, with all those tempo shifts, esoteric key signatures, and jarring chord progressions failing to marry up into a greater vision. It’s a frustrating experience as one feels the tension build. Riffs move and circulate like chess pieces moving on a board. Only for the final checkmate to be abandoned, and the reset button is hit, a new game is commenced with no connection to the last.

But things do eventually coalesce by track number three, ‘Descent into the Unknown’, which manages to settle on some ideas long enough to air them out, let them breathe, follow them through to their logical conclusion. By the time the ambient interlude of ‘Become Void’ sets in to guide us into the second half of the album Prospectors really hit their stride. The two pieces that follow manage to string ideas together that last the course of the whole track without losing any of their unpredictability, which makes the finale of the closing number ‘Vortex’ all the more satisfying.

The value of this album is there, lurking beneath the surface and certainly salvageable. But one cannot help but wonder if Prospectors would actually have benefited from working some more pedestrian ideas into their at times contrived avant-gardism. ‘Proven Lands’ seems so intent on being off the wall, abrasive, alienating, that somewhere along the way any message or meaning behind all these obscurantist musical curiosities becomes lost in the fudge.

These harsh words come with caveats and qualifiers however. When Prospectors do get into a groove it can be infectious. They’re not quite up there with ‘Not to Be Undimensional Conscious’ just yet, but the rich brew of black metal dissonance, jazz bass, and death metal cum noise rock is an engaging one.

Dauþuz: Vom schwarzen Schmied
Out 12th November on Amor Fati Productions

German mining enthusiasts Dauþuz return this year for album number four, entitled ‘Vom schwarzen Schmied’ (Of the Blacksmith). Who knew that so much milage could be garnered from a project that deals exclusively with European mining accidents? We tensely await the eventual treatment of Aberfan with bated breath. But as far as this album goes, we’re on pretty safe melodic black metal territory, both epic in scope and intimately folky.

The production speaks to this duality of purpose. The tales are very human centric, involving as they do the culture and traditions around mining. But the treatment is able to capture and do justice to the size and breadth of the macro historical context that these stories are set in. For that reason the raw drums, clean singing, and sometimes outrageously catchy melodic lines sit well beside the larger aspects of this mix. The guitars for instance are thin but clear, focused on high end tremolo picked melodic lines with a seemingly unappeasable appetite for euphoria.

Drums, despite boasting a fairly organic sound, have plenty of low-end bolstered by the reverb drenched toms, which swell and rise out of the mix at key moments of intense drama. But alongside this almost orchestral performance sit playfully bouncy punk rhythms and the almost humorous jaunt of folk dances. Vocals veer from high pitched impassioned wails to baritone folk crooning, giving full voice to the many moods and themes unpacked on this lengthy work.

What Dauþuz do, they do very well. This is exhilarating and almost uplifting black metal with a deep sense of catharsis. But the underlying problem is that this is all Dauþuz seem to be able to offer. For all its majesty, all the raw instrumental components packed within ‘Vom schwarzen Schmied’, the music only touches on one mood throughout. Whilst this is not entirely a detriment – many of the best works of black metal are singular pieces of profound rumination – it is surprising how little Dauþuz manage to do with so much.

This does not present itself as a work of minimalism, or deliberately monotone exercise in abrasion. There is a lot of music packed into this album. It is shooting for a panoramic treatment of its conceptual material, comprehensive and epic. And although it entirely succeeds in setting the scene, it fails to develop the narrative from there, and take us beyond where we started from. As uplifting melodic black metal goes this is above par, with folky elements integrated in a manner both tasteful and subtle. But it falls short of being a truly great album for failing to broaden the emotive and thematic reach within the music itself.

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