I like the beats and I like the yelling: Koldkrypt, Hellevaerder, Magnatar

Koldkrypt: Holocauste Global
Out 10th June on Hessian Firm

France’s Koldkrypt would have us believe that this is a work of utter misanthropy, an act of giving up on humanity as a project that will ever redeem itself from the crimes it has rendered on the earth and on itself. But the album itself is replete with traditional (and triumphalist) melodic material, indicative of an artist that desires to continue living, or at least to create works that carry the seed of life’s continuance.

‘Holocauste Global’ is essentially a tract on second wave black metal, updated with the deranged doomsaying and avant-gardist projectiles we’ve come to expect of French iterations of the form. It therefore walks a crowd-pleasing line between a retention of the exhilarating animalism that made black metal’s lo-fi impetus so appealing in the first place, with accessible and engaging melodic riffs that boast common ground with what is colloquially referred to as the “catchy”.

We are a long way from the medievalist static of Mutiilation or Vlad Tepes, nor are we anywhere close to the annihilation grind of Antaeus. Instead, Koldkrypt offer an aesthetic that retains the requisite raw credentials to be considered “legitimate” by the latter-day arbiters of scene credibility, but they do not let this requirement become a detriment to the rich melodic character of this brand of black metal. Drums, although relegated to flat, three dimensional metronomic expressions are still capable of watermarking each piece via urgent pacing and ice cold cymbal noise.

Guitars are nuanced and immersive, switching from thick tremolo brush strokes to bright and euphoric leads, to jagged, angular dissonance whilst losing none of their dramatic bight along the way. Vocals maintain a constant state of fraught high drama throughout, posing as ghoulish agent of chaos at one end to an activist desperately trying to wake humanity from its slouch toward annihilation at the other. Supplementary textures are provided by sporadic keyboards that function more as purveyors of minimalist noise and dark ambience as opposed to melodic vectors.      

Despite ‘Holocauste Global’ presenting as a work thoroughly at ease with its black metal self, this is a strikingly conflicted album. It uses highly traditional black metal forms as a Trojan Horse by which to smuggle in sharp breaks toward left-field dissonance, sound art, or exercises in the uncanny. Acoustic guitars, folk or medievalist inflections, even the epicism of traditional heavy metal are all returning characters on this album, at first presented as straightforward musical touchstones, only to then be warped, mutated, and manipulated over the course of the album into a state of collapse.

The result is a kind of carnival bizarre, where the familiar is presented as something threatening. The walls of safe black metal tropes are punctured, allowing dysmorphic spectres to bleed through the cracks and warp our municipal treasure trove of cultural signifiers. It’s the subtlety of Koldkrypt’s avant-gardist project that makes it all the more convincing. The competence of the compositions both in terms of melodic manipulation and raw playing ability allows them to slip into our minds with subconscious fluidity, thus rendering us more susceptible to receiving messages of horrific novelty than if this was a work of unrestrained taboo violation.

Hellevaerder: In de nevel van afgunst
Out 1st June on Zwaertgevegt

Some works of extreme metal are documents of decline, a real time account of mental, societal, or cultural decay, imagined or real. And some are works that emanate from a place after the “event”, where new forms of musical logic are constructed to express the inverted, warped, and wholly alien attitude to the “good” necessitated by the needs of a new historical moment where survival is predicated on understanding a world swept clean of yesterday’s axiomatic truths. For all the raw musical bluster constituting this riff laden take on grassroots black metal, ‘In de nevel van afgunst’ is a work defined by deep undertones of grim resignation.

Hellevaerder resituate the frantic, fast paced, and riff orientated Dutch take on black metal toward a dignified frugality, an acceptance of what we have lost and the construction of something new. Where a Sammath or a Cirith Gorgor would bludgeon the listener with sustained acts of sonic violence, Hellevaerder manipulate the same tools of raw yet crisp black metal into a melancholia free of self-indulgence.

This is undeniably harsh music, with jagged riffs define by mild dissonance, sharp transitions, disjointed staccato tangents and an ambiguous relationship to cadence. But the production retains a clarity and humanity that anchors the music in something recognisable as the emotive. Some tracks – such as the incremental exploration of being downtrodden as a process that is ‘Uit het vuur getrokken’ – are happy to articulate extended tremolo chord sequences with layered harmonic material, anchored by mid-paced blast-beats. These retain fidelity to their traditional black metal roots whilst updating the latent historicism with a swirl of modernist urban nihilism.

But for the most part this album is constantly refreshing the musical picture with frequent tempo changes, lead guitar refrains jumping out at odd angles, constructing their own harmonic logic only to disappear just as quickly. Vocals range from high end black metal crooning to more guttural pontifications that only augment Hellevaerder’s ability to render conflicting moods and themes into a remarkably unified sonic project.

Black metal’s overarching treatments of grand scale themes finds a way to marry itself to the intimacy of internal experience on ‘In de nevel van afgunst’. But unlike so many other attempts to achieve this in the last two decades or so – from DSBM to the well meaning but ultimately pointless tangents of post black metal – the understated sobriety of Hellevaeder’s delivery, tempering any musical excess and blanketing the emotive topography of the album with a dignified resolution to cope in a post decline world mark this out as a far more interesting treatment of black metal re-interpretated as an individualist art form. It comes to us from the airwaves of the near future, signposting the realisation that it is already too late to save what was, and attempts to resolves us to the task of building anew on the ruins.

Magnatar: Crushed
Out 3rd June on Seeing Red Records

Sludge – unlike its stoner cousins – often benefits from a healthy dose of post rock etherealism. Stoner is at its best when revelling in a form of occultist b-movie horror-cum-melodrama so over the top as to be dismissed as base vulgarity under common law good taste, but in actuality elevates a genre in constant danger of falling into stale box ticking clichés into something truly enveloping; think Electric Wizard at the height of their powers at the turn of the century.

Not so for sludge. Ever since the elongated soundscape metal of Neurosis, sludge has been battling between retaining fidelity to its hardcore roots through rampant tracts on the nature of aggression and the angst of the downtrodden, or else levitating into treatments of celestial wisdom, meditative, long form, and deeply reflective of the theological hole left in the hearts of an increasingly secular people. Yob are perhaps the only act of the recent present that have managed to marry these competing forces into a convincing artistic project. Inverting the “down there” Satanism of Electric Wizard into a form of new age spiritualism, granted weight and legitimacy via the abrasive barbs of sludge.

Enter New Hampshire’s Magnatar and their debut album ‘Crushed’. What at first seems a highly conflicted release, meandering from post rock’s atmospheric minimalism to the punchy groove-on-Valium of atonal sludge, whilst also evincing the genre’s increasingly postmodernist conception of extreme metal as a sampler buffet, with riffs from black metal, melodic death metal, grunge, hardcore punk, and heavy metal all sitting happily alongside each other; metal as montage, sonic history as newspaper cuttings, tracks constructed from fragments of the recent past.

With such a broad cultural remit at their disposal, and a clear desire to reconstruct the fragmented history of sludge into a beast as unified as it is emotively broad, the production may not quite be up to the task of capturing this. The drums retain a mechanistic artificiality that stands in opposition to the loose organicism of the rest of the music. The snare drum has no decay, the bass and toms amount to little more than dull, pillow punching thuds, this, despite the undeniable dynamism behind the performance itself.

The bass guitar equally links up with this mechanistic drive, with a tone overly distorted and lacking in dynamics. Again, this would be entirely fitting for a down-the-barrel barrage of post hardcore animalism, but Magnatar are clearly shooting for a more cinematic undertaking here, yet find themselves hampered somewhat by these aesthetic choices.

The guitars and vocals suffer from no such shortcomings however. The former ranging from wet slaps of earthy distortion to gentle, clean harmonics, soaring and crisply overdriven guitar leads, reverb drenched arpeggios, and the non-music scene setting of ambient sound serving to both place the listener in the moment and create extended passages of tension.

Bongripper can be heard as a key influence here, with their extended exercises in the manipulation of stoner, hardcore punk, post rock, and sludge resulting in sonic monoliths of absurdist urban isolation that spoke of a yearning for a “beyond”, which as a term was essentially a place holder for whatever fantasy the listener had concocted in their mind as to the ontology of existence outside of the crushing mundanity of simply being in the major urban sprawls of the West. It’s telling, however, that Bongripper could perhaps only achieve this ambiguous resonance as an instrumental outfit.

Magnator condense this format, stripping the fat from the lengthy bombast of Bongripper. As a result the contrasts are sharper, the mood swings more jarring, and the overall impact more restless, urgent, fraught. The vocals sit at the apex of this tension, veering from traditional street level hardcore barks of blue-collar outrage, to soaring clean vocals that exercise a degree of emotive restraint despite their resonance, to a more popist approach of straightforward clean singing that would be at home on any post grunge rock album of the mid-1990s. All is parcelled into a concise and austere work in spite of the breadth of musicality that ‘Crushed’ displays.

Debuts are not what they once were. Formatively the preserve of artists finding their voice within genres that were still in the act of definition, now they present as a kind of historical summary, a review of source material and an attempt on the part of the artist to find a gap in the research in works weighted down by their own reference points. ‘Crushed’ is no different, but the grains of futurism, of originality within the conflicted remit of sludge metal’s recent history are more strikingly apparent here than many of Magnatar’s peers. A work as diverse as it is telling of a genre’s limitations, and the desperate struggle to overcome them.  

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