Cauchemar: Rosa Mystica
Out 16th May on Temple of Mystery Records
Supplementing the hedonistic bounce of Witchfinder General with a much needed sobriety, add a dash of folk pageantry, and some raw creativity as far as riffing is concerned, and you have an approximation of the ‘Rosa Mystica’ formula. This is one of those albums that comes across as a very modest, down to earth traditional heavy metal album, with a hint of 70s revivalist doom worked in for good measure. But when one studies the mechanics beneath the surface, we see a bizarre yet compelling cultural crossroads, a shining iteration of metal as a globalist phenomenon.
More on that in a moment, first a word on aesthetics. The production is straight from the early 1980s, with the snare diminished to a light thud due to the removal of all decay, ditto the toms and bass. Diminishing the impact of the drums lends the entire mix a sense of modesty and humility that looks for all the world like sincerity. Guitars are equally retro, with a thin yet warm distortion focused toward sharpening the melodic character at the centre of Cauchemar’s riff philosophy, with just enough bight and power to imbue ‘Rosa Mystica’ with some heavy metal energy.
Vocals are the standard clean crooning we have come to expect of revivalist heavy metal that leans toward doom. Technically precise, but delivered with an emotional restraint that lends the music a sense of drabness and downbeat gravity to offset the sometimes bouncy rock ‘n’ roll edge to many of the riffs. Organs also make an appearance in places, but are kept minimal and low in the mix, thus avoiding the pitfalls of the hammy occultist fodder that seemed to be all the rage in the 2010s in the likes of Purson. The character and sincere intent behind Cauchemar’s delivery is enough to absorb this particular association in the listener’s mind, and render these tracks as nothing but well crafted and enduringly intriguing heavy metal numbers.
And this is really what we mean by the cultural crossroads that sits beneath the unassuming packaging of ‘Rosa Mystica’. We find nods to folk revivalism in many of the riffs, something which the doomier end of the NWOBHM absorbed in the wake of artists like Steeleye Span, which was a specifically English post war cultural quest for identity, now finding its reiteration in an underground Quebecoise outfit. As the vocals are delivered clean and placed front and centre in the mix, its also worth noting that this unmistakably English ancestry is recontextualised next to the unique rhythm and musicality of the French language. Knitting these two elements together is the connecting thread of medieval music that works its way into many of the guitar parts as a leitmotif across the album.
And then of course we have the more straightforward heavy metal lineage knitting these deeper influences together. Hints at thrash riffing, a nod to punk, but predominantly a doomy iteration of the metal that was in the late 1970s and early 80s, with boisterous riffing, a strong sense of melodic duty, a keenness to keep the energy flowing through switches in tempo and rhythmic emphasis, and even a hint of classical “party” metal on tracks like ‘Le tombeau de l’aube’, albeit delivered with the requisite sobriety.
The mask never slips from Cauchemar however. There is no hokey novelty, no crass revivalism or hint of the gimmicky occultist theatrics that dominated the post Electric Wizard doom landscape. It looks for all the world like an honest, original, creative piece of heavy metal magic with a strong doom orientation. And whether by accident or design can also be studied as a curious exercise in cross cultural and temporal musical pollination.
Synteleia: The Secret Last Syllable
Out 14th May on Floga Records
‘The Secret Last Syllable’ is the second album from the Greek outfit known as Synteleia. Close your ears and picture in your mind’s eye the archetypical Greek black metal sound. That’s pretty much what Synteleia are offering here. But whether it be Macabre Omen, Caedes Cruenta, latter day Varathron or one of Stefan Necroabyssious’ many other projects such as Katavasia and Funeral Storm, there is plenty of room for manoeuvre within this particular strain of black metal. Synteleia, despite the instantly recognisable touchstones that litter ‘The Secret Last Syllable’, sound remarkably refreshing.
As with many of the milestones within the Hellenic style, from an analytical point of view we must start with the premise that this is essentially a melodic heavy metal shell fitted with an extreme metal engine, and a gothic/symphonic paintjob. The production reflects this hierarchy. It presents the framework of guitar, bass, and drums with all the down to earth power and honesty of old school heavy metal, but retains enough clarity and depth to platform the unabashed theatrics that run through the occultist veins of this style. The guitar is rich and immersive, but is still closer to a standard heavy rock tone than Northern European black metal.
Drums are equally tied to the rock roots of this music, but that’s not to say they lack in scope and ambition. These are epic pieces of dramatic heavy metal that wear these ambitions on their sleeve. Subtle yet rich synth adornments solidify the connection in the mind of the listener between this brand of epic extreme metal and the fathomless epics of antiquity. Mid-range distorted vocals flesh out this complex ballet with a sense of the monstrous, anchoring this music with a much needed abrasive edge. Thundering bass can also be discerned beneath the cacophony, grounding the music into the earth as the keyboards and guitar leads reach for the heavens.
Classic metal harmonies meet the speed and intensity of extreme metal, with each element balancing the other, resulting in a fully realised dance of music as nuanced as it is intense. This is ultimately the key to the enduring appeal of this brand of black metal. It forces musicians to explore traditional melodic structures, and how to build them into compositions both epic yet direct. No avant-garde pretences, no over reliance on noise art or abrasive dissonance to fill airtime.
This is extreme metal at its most naked, it must limit itself to very traditional notions of what it means to compose, but from there allows for all manner of ambition and scope as far as mood, theme, drama, intensity, or dynamic range is concerned. And in this regard Synteleia are another reason to believe that this particular sonic branch of black metal’s familiar tree will retain its relevance and uniqueness within the pantheon for some years to come yet.
Kexelür: Llave a las profundidades...
Out 29th April, self released
‘Llave a las profundidades...’ is the debut demo from this Chilean outfit. What at first glance looks for all the world like a run of mill lo-fi black metal outing quickly unfolds into a very modernist and quirky unravelling of traditional genre hallmarks, until we become witness to a pleasingly eccentric and unpredictable artistic undertaking. This demo consists of three lengthy tracks, each one taking time to gradually unfurl its more left-field elements so as not to present as jarring to the listener.
‘Llave a las profundidades...’ initially presents as a fairly typical dissonant black metal offering, warranting comparisons to Les Légions Noires and early Norwegian efforts. But gradually the cold, hard core of this style begins to be peeled back, giving way to fascinating pockets of tangential melodicism, semi-improvised guitar licks, and odd vocal inflections. Kexelür structure this in a linear, non-cyclical manner, meaning that each passage feeds intuitively into the next, but rarely do we circle back to a particular idea or theme once it has been dispensed with. This is at once disorientating and yet oddly comforting, as the music pulls us forward, constantly refreshing the mood, key, intensity, or tempo in refreshingly unexpected ways.
Despite the deliberately self-limiting timbral package this brand of black metal restricts itself to, Kexelür overcome this with an array of accents and odd melodic licks that season the underlying fog of the mix with character. Many are borrowed from completely different styles of music, and feel as if they belong to anything from melodic heavy metal, to jazz, or to straight up rock music. But in this context they look positively avant-garde.
Drums are presented completely raw, with no enhancement at the mixing desk (if there was one) to mitigate the garage aesthetic. But again, much like the guitars, despite this deliberate self-limitation, the performance is far from a barrage of flat, mid-paced blast-beats. Instead they match the guitars for their range of stylistic easter eggs, a performance little marred by the typically raw black metal mix.
‘Llave a las profundidades...’ is something of a Trojan Horse then. It introduces itself as yet another demo of lo-fi, raw black metal with all the drab trappings that such a thing implies. But as we peel back the layers beneath these three pieces we find a multi-faceted demonstration of obscure music’s enduring capacity for depth and nuance. It is at once a survey of musical styles from a range of different cultures and periods. An exercise in strictly linear composition within a metallic setting, eschewing the typical riff tessellation in favour of sequential structures. It is also a demonstration of the power of juxtaposition, as competing moods, themes, and compositional philosophies are compressed together, and sometimes played in tandem. It is both effortlessly weird and profoundly eerie. A superficially shallow aesthetic form, that slowly reveals its boundless hidden depths.