I like the beats and I like the yelling: Mosaic, Manipura, Anatomia/Undergang

Mosaic: Heimatspuk
Out 22nd April on Eisenwald

From the heart of Germany (Thuringia to be precise) comes the latest album from Mosaic, entitled ‘Heimatspuk’, an impressively original work of eerie black metal, steeped in regional folklore and the weighty legacy of Goethe. The lyrics may be laden with high concept baggage – referencing Thuringian poetry and mythology, all for the large part sung cleanly in the regional dialect – but the music itself offers a sparse blend of folk, ambient, and atmospheric black metal traditions, all whipped tightly into a work with a clear sense of its own identity.

The mix has an obscurantist, vaguely dreamlike quality to it, as if the music is part manifested in another reality just beyond the veil of modernity. Drums take a leaf out of the ‘Transylvanian Hunger’ book in offering a steam of mid-paced blast-beats with only minimal fills and accents to sit beneath the wash of atmosphere produced by the rest of the instruments. Guitars swing between clattering clean tremolo picked riffs and the more traditional tinny black metal distortion. Acoustic guitars, a sprinkling of synths for flavour, and the impassioned wails of the vocals colour any blank spaces left in the mix.  Descriptively this may sound a tad run of the mill, but all is buried in a fog of mystical atmosphere, as if we’re hearing the music emanate from another room or across the next valley.

Mosaic combine the usual melancholy and sorrow of black metal with an oddly hopeful undertone, giving these compositions a bittersweet flavour that sits beneath the undeniably imposing moods evinced by these tracks. Repetition meets subtle melodic development as the music takes on a ritualistic structure, an invocation to forces beyond the known. The vocals switch from husky folk crooning to spoken word to distortion in line with the ebbs and flows of aggression within the music. The unselfconscious commitment to the theatre and occultist melodrama of the moment goes a long way to bringing the largely minimalist music to life with layers of emotive complexity.

Creating new space within the realms of atmospheric and folk infused black metal is no mean feat in 2022, but Mosaic are quietly carving out a niche for themselves that is only furthered with the release of ‘Heimatspuk’. The unique sonic environment created by this album very much speaks for itself. The listener is invited into an unfamiliar realm packed with unexplained sounds, weird textures, and haunting vocalisations. We must inhabit a space where one is sincerely required to forget self.

Manipura: Anomia
Out 15th April on Babylon Doom Cult Records

Industrial black metal is one of those subgenres that looks great on paper, but when measuring the sheer weight of misses against the rare hits one has to conclude that the constituent parts are too closely related in all the wrong ways to allow for a stable marriage. Manipura are a black metal duo from Athens who have thrown themselves into the task of salvaging this legacy with no shortage of enthusiasm.

Their latest offering ‘Anomia’ sees them blend the sharp, mildly dissonant riffing style of post Euronymous Mayhem, Zyklon-B, or Dødheimsgard with a more marked industrial aesthetic via the rhythm section. Many black metal bands well outside the industrially flirtatious variety have made use of a drum machine, but Manipura make a point of treating it like an actual machine as opposed to a stand for the real thing. The rhythms are more in line with hard bass than they are anything normally found in black metal. They offer a persistent pulse of driving beats decorated by pockets of accents and fills articulated in such a way as to make the artificial heart of this instrument explicit.

Atop this central framework, the more traditional black metal riffs find themselves placed within a new context and are forced to adapt accordingly. The DNA of each refrain is still very much black metal, but their progression is cyclical and stilted. The music does not flow and break in the same way that much extreme metal does. Instead riffs are placed in order to fill the gaps left by the rhythm section, only to be dropped in order to make way for the next segment. Any drive toward melodic or thematic development has been all but dropped. This conveyor belt approach is again indicative of an artist whose mind is in a very electronic place, and simply using the textures and spare parts of black metal to flesh out what is largely an exercise in rhythm and texture which is more commonly called industrial music.

The high-end black metal vocalisations work well in this context, and are indeed one of the key points of commonality between the two genres. Here they work through an array of inhumanly high screams and wails that – if one is not listening fully – seem to bear no relation to the music they are set to. They simply insert an extra level of chaos and distortion to sit atop the persistent and uniform pounding of the drums.

‘Anomia’ sits happily alongside Thorns, Tristwood, Benthik Zone, Black Funeral, or Blut Aus Nord as one of the few successful alchemists in the industrial black metal sphere. In tempering the melodrama both genres are prone to and focusing on the actual musical architecture of each style they have found a way to marry the two in a way that both avoids sounding forced and manages to leverage new creative capital within both traditions by bending and breaking the compositional norms of each and forcing them into a shotgun wedding of lo-fi extreme music.

Anatomia/Undergang: split
Out 15th April on Me Saco Un Ojo / Dark Descent

Two stalwarts of contemporary death metal are joined once again for a split EP of filthily direct music. The first side sees Japan’s Anatomia return to their death/doom roots after the exploration of metallic decay that was ‘Corporeal Torment’ released in 2021. The door to the chasm is still wide open, but we have pulled back from the brink somewhat, tightened up the rhythm section, and supplemented those entropic doom segments with some punchier Celtic Frost riffs.

Anatomia have always been admirable for their willingness to leverage empty space to create tension, an underrated and all too rare commodity in modern extreme metal. The opening track ‘Total Darkness’ may kick off with some bouncy riffs, borderline up-tempo drumming, and tight guttural vocals, but it quickly decays into achingly slow doom. Guitars elongate chords to such an extent that we almost lose the thread of the riff completely and submit to an entirely ambient experience. Equally the vocals move right to the back of the throat, favouring layers of imposing texture over rhythmic precision.

Despite this being a step toward normality in the timeline of this artist, it remains a pleasure to see them use the space afforded by the EP format to play with their style, shift the boundaries of the acceptable and the commonplace vs. rampant experimentation. They are one of the few death metal artists to utilise atmosphere as a compositional tool and not a mere decoration atop the riffing. The chasmic emptiness at the heart of their music is a key structural ingredient in the Anatomia formula, and sits even beneath their busiest of riffs (which are ultimately not very busy by death metal standards).

Denmark’s Undergang – for anyone criminally unfamiliar with them – are a cut above the usual OSDM crop, despite sitting firmly in that camp stylistically. Here we see them on typically dirty form, with three tracks of blunt, murky death metal that feels like it’s being fashioned from mud before our ears. The riffs may be drab and dirge ridden, but they present as positively playful next to Anatomia. The guitar tone is all inertia, entirely geared toward articulating the filthiest of down tuned atonal riffing with absolutely no room for subtlety. Leads do jump out with a pleasing frequency to offer a semblance of solidity atop the mulch, but otherwise all is focused toward dirt.

Vocals offer the trademark guttural histrionics with the occasional throaty growl by way of supplementation. Drums are perhaps the most complex and nuanced of instruments on these tracks, as they offer an understated and precise framing of the riffs, elevating their rhythmic offering with subtle shifts in tempo and emphasis. Bass melts away into the guitar with distorted abandon, but can be discerned by the attentive ear.

Undergang are far from a one trick pony however, as they offer thematic developments, builds of tension, releases of energy, and even melodic progression over the course of these three mid-length tracks. Despite the weighty task of following the unabashed weirdness of Anatomia’s ambient death/doom , Undergang are able to hold their own and raise the stakes for simplistic old school death metal. Even at its most down and dirty, there is still plenty of room for imaginative compositional thinking and the gentle hand of multifaceted meaning to see daylight over the battering ram of down tuned guitars and pounding drums.  

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