I like the beats and I like the yelling: Sacrilegious Crown, Riven, Nunslaughter/Blood

Sacrilegious Crown: Forbidden Vestiges of Veneration
Out 3rd June on Xenoglossy Productions

Somewhere between the ritualistic and ambient strains of black metal, funeral doom, and DSBM – although don’t let that last tag put you off – sits the latest EP from Italy’s Sacrilegious Crown. Whilst comparisons to Elysian Blaze are somewhat inevitable, Sacrilegious Crown offer a more compact, direct iteration of obscurantist atmospheric black metal that is nevertheless steeped in esoterica. For a style of music that feels like it is constantly on the verge of collapse – both rhythmically and melodically, but also in terms of its grip on this plane of existence – there is a remarkable amount of raw compositional material to sink one’s teeth into on ‘Forbidden Vestiges of Veneration’.

But it should be noted that sparsity is the order of the day here. The EP is bookended by passages of near silent ambience, ghosts of notes seeping through the speakers to the eardrums on an almost preconscious level, as if manifesting out of a state of pre-existence. Once the metallic elements cut in we are treated to Sacrilegious Crown’s (by now) patented concoction of achingly lackadaisical drums, mournfully deep layers of guitar lines than could just as well have been composed for a string quartet, all set in a cavernous sonic environment invoking images of cathedrals or great caves.

Vocals forego almost any fidelity to time and pitch in favour of elongated ejaculations of a despair divorced from time and place. The emotive impact is too monstrous and irrational to be accused of the usually overly emotional self-indulgence of the allegedly downtrodden that pervades much of this genre.

The three metal tracks that make up ‘Forbidden Vestiges of Veneration’ are relatively short for this variant of blackened funeral doom, all clocking in at under five minutes. It is therefore testament to Sacrilegious Crown’s ability to work in an element of grandeur and deep time into each riff, thus deepening the artistic impact of each passage via richly crafted musical ontology. There is no wasted space on this EP, no moment lost to a meandering repetition or overworked noise segment that goes nowhere.

The lead guitar fleshes out melodic material that almost feels lyrical at times, constantly driving the music forward via dramatic ascending riffs that conclude in earned finales. The rhythm guitar works on more of a textural level than a musical one. It is more likely to follow the shape of the lead guitar than to indulge in the contrapuntal. But in painting an enveloping backdrop of droning, drab minor chord sequences the distinctive melodic character of the lead guitars are given greater legitimacy.

‘Forbidden Vestiges of Veneration’ is therefore interesting not just as quality atmospheric black metal in its own right, but also as an experiment in miniaturisation. This brand of cavernous, blackened funeral doom by definition plays out in a longform environment, gradually and painfully teasing out the narrative over the course of considerable movements. But here we see the same qualities fleshed out in brief, yet losing none of the epic, monolithic scale of this music in the process. A successful EP on its own terms and a challenge to others working in this field to cut the fat from their work, and only commit that which is absolutely essential in bringing the artistic message to bear.    

Riven: Cretaceous
Out 8th May, self-released

It’s honestly refreshing to hear an artist taking funeral doom back to its weird roots. Listening back to early Skepticism, Thergothon, or Switzerland’s Mordor, one forgets just how bizarre these early iterations of the genre were when compared to the strained emotive contrivances of modern day operatics.

On their new EP ‘Cretaceous’, Belgium’s Riven offer up two lengthy tracks of slow, strained, obscure, ambient metal that meanders from straightforward plodding doom to lo-fi synth tangents, static ridden atmospherics, and aesthetics that take this well outside of a metal remit and into minimalist electronica or video game music at times. The spectre of dungeon synth lurks behind many of the symphonic elements on here; primitive, basic, yet imbued with a sense of childlike wonder in the act of creation, one that has little regard for the rules of key, cadence, or conventional melodic shaping.

Note clusters fall out of the speakers at depressed tempos, seemingly almost at random were it not for the anchor of repetition. Tinny, static guitars form the backdrop of these pieces, given further impact by the guttural vocal delivery. In place of lead guitar are keyboards, usually favouring a low brass tone that deviates little from the central melodic pattern, but proves adept at lending weight to crescendos, with little regard for the synthetic aesthetic they present with when compared to the rich orchestration of modern funeral doom.

Bass guitar is also a feature in the backdrop, we are even treated to a bass solo for a brief breakdown on the first track ’66 Million Years Ago’. This is also where we see the drums take on a lead role in a manner similar to Skepticism. The rhythm succumbs entirely to the dictates of melodic emphasis, stripped of any accent or flourish that would lend the music the ambiguity of groove. The interaction between snare, toms, and bass is treated as if they have melodic qualities, and the gaps between each note is teased out to full effect, lending tension and poise beneath the undeniably sparse musical ontology.

With its achingly slow unfolding of tangential sonic pockets, its unabashed indulgence in a cheap aesthetic that revels in its own left-of-centre delivery, and the willingness to forego contrived emotive finales for the sake of carving out its own inherent artistic identities, ‘Cretaceous’ is a refreshing dose of 90s weirdness. One that digs beneath the surface of what we hope or want to remember about that decade’s crowd pleasing hits, and actually reveals the truly bizarre sonic pockets that were eked out at the time but went largely unexplored for the sake of bigger budget theatrical offerings or emotionally manipulative metal-as-sentiment vehicles.

Nunslaughter/ Blood: split
Out 27th May on Hells Headbangers

It’s great to see Blood back in action. Like the villain in a slasher film, it doesn’t matter how many times their career is presumed dead, it keeps reawakening for one more act of violence. For this split EP they deliver four tracks of their patented euphorically nihilistic death/grind in a manner that offers total continuity with their past and yet still manages to sound as fresh as ever.

Boasting production that rivals Celtic Frost’s ‘Monotheist’ for overwhelmingly fat guitar tones, these tracks falter between bursts of unbridled speed and violence and stilted, creeping doom segments that reveal the true awesome power behind Blood’s treatment of sonic brutality. Authenticity is a tough concept to pin down, but there is a naturalism to Blood’s delivery that makes their performance all the more convincing. Ruthlessly simple atonal riffs bulge with power of a deeply impersonal, authoritarian bent that outdoes any self-proclaimed brutal death metal outfit for sheer physical impact on the listener.

Vocals match this dualistic structure via alien, guttural vocals punctuated by maniacal screams of pain or revelry. Ambiguity reigns. Are these short grind tracks stuffed with existential doom, celebratory brutality, and mutated logic an affirmation of life’s senselessness? A cry of protest? Or a resigned acceptance that the reality that confronts us is the only one available, and the mutilated narratives that sit beneath this music the only recourse we have to cope? Whatever the answer, Blood have always been adept at translating these existential quandaries into sonic material defined by an austerity of delivery that belies any argument that musical complexity is a prerequisite for communicating such urgently fraught reflections. 

And….Nunslaughter also recorded some sounds for this EP…It’s unbecoming to pit artists directly against each other on a split, but the contrast between the two approaches to primitive metal is so striking here that such comparisons become unavoidable. Nunslaughter are a band practically made for the Hells Headbangers ethos. Dirty, primitive, direct, and loosely backward looking. This flat collection of tired cliches and lazily generic riffing is so banal that it’s a wonder adults made it.

Nunslaughter is a name that commands some respect in underground circles precisely because they deliver this package of metal affirmations without shame or apology. This is old school extreme metal giving itself a hand job. A step beyond sincere yet boilerplate attempts to render a particular stream of revivalism, Nunslaughter exist just below parody. But where a Profanatica or Impaled Nazarene move beyond parody through sheer extremity of attitude and delivery into something that looks like performance art, Nunslaughter look more like a “build your own metal band” toy set, uncanny, hollow, this is metal boiled down to its most one-dimensional and pointless. It poses as something extreme, rotten, dirty, all the creds of traditionally filthy music, but the result is not even trivial.

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