Beats and yelling from: CNTMPT, Fugit, Asgrauw

CNTMPT: Von Unreiner Willk​ü​r
Out 3rd October on Into Endless Chaos Records

‘Von Unreiner Willk​ü​r’, the latest album from this German outfit, is ontologically a blackened grind album, but spiritually it has more in common with intensely melodic black metal in the style of early Gorgoroth or even Antaeus with a more insistent need to articulate a tune.

The opening track ‘Erheben aus Grau’ is bookended by two brief segments of dark ambience before delivering a near constant blast of noise and almost painfully fraught emotional intensity that lasts well past the point of discomfort. A pronounced melodic character does clearly win out over the course of the track, but it is so strained and mutated by the relentless demands of the blasting drums, the desperate vocalisations, and nightmarishly emotive intensity, that we are left with naught but the mere fragments of a tune, a decaying, wretched entity that is only tangentially recognisable as something that once bore a relationship to artistry.  

Then, in an almost comedic attempt to jolt our expectations out of complacency, track number two ‘Schwarzes Tuch’ commences with an almost cheery folk melody and foot stomping drumbeat. What at first presents as a melodically light hearted post black metal reprieve from the noise induced destitution of the album’s opener quickly devolves into a despairing march of the damned, as the pace picks up once again, the vocals strain from inhuman howls of nihilism, fragmentary choral mutations, and aggressively traditional black metal growls.

And so it continues. CNTMPT tease with a relatively conventional – dare we say it rather bland – opening riff, a flat but serviceable chord progression, a mid-paced but basic back beat, and rather run of the mill vocal stylings that are nevertheless without lyrics. But the slightest hint at abrasion, an accent of dissonance, an incline in tempo, a hint at textural density is suddenly gouged open, and a chasm of entropy opens to swallow all in is path. Tracks almost completely fall apart into a skewed, riven, ghoulish entity of tragedian blackened grind that one simply cannot wrench the ears from.

But what really binds the artistic impact of this album together, and ultimately makes it all the more enthralling to listen to, is comedy. The themes are repeated ad-absurdum, with only the most subtle variation in phrasing to get us through, the sheer gall of maintaining this degree of intensity both ontologically and emotively at near constant levels of breaking point throughout, the tragicomic colouring that could be best be approximated to what Frankenstein’s monster might have sounded like prior to learning language, and the use of flat, post black metal riffs as a trojan horse by which to gradually devolve such blandisms into a tortured rumination on the experience of an inescapable nightmare, all provokes the need to laugh. But not because the music is particularly funny (intentionally or not), but rather as a defence mechanism.

Horror and laughter as emotional weapons of the brain are closer kin than we often give them credit for. Both are reactions to unexpected occurrences, the unexplainable, or events that have truly run beyond our control. ‘Von Unreiner Willk​ür​’ is definitely an example of the latter of these. With each track starting from the most basic premise, only to gradually dissolve into utter absurdity through outrageous repetition, incremental devolutions of melodic character, and the total submission of a human core to the one reliable truth exemplified by the narrative structures at play across these tracks: things will only ever get worse.

Fugit: Nyctophilia Movements
Out 16th September, self-released

‘Nyctophilia Movements’ is a tantalisingly sparse and utterly unassuming EP of curious instrumental neoclassical and folk tangents. The backbone of which is made up of a classical guitar, touching on Spanish folk, classical harmonies, frantic arpeggio work, and darkly melancholic flourishes. It is accompanied by a minimal sprinkling of piano, light strings, and hauntingly wordless chanting on the closing track, simply titled ‘Movement IV’.   

The pieces shift from delicate self-confidence, to faltering stop-start riff patterns that threaten to completely implode into their own fragility. From the tragedian self confidence of the first movement which blazes forth with Julian Bream-esque swagger, picking up a steady trickle of piano arpeggios and earthy cello sounds along the way. To the final, staggeringly broken chords of the closing movement, Fugit is masterful in their manipulation of dynamics and empty spaces.

The austerity of the timbral range of this EP is compensated by raw creativity and talent when it comes to the instrumentation. Each instrument is deployed to utmost effect. The unadulterated rawness of the presentation is the embodiment of the minimalist philosophy. But the actual throughline that each instrument takes across each piece is pocketed with complexities and compellingly rich segments of information.

Empty space is deployed as a narrative device, eking out tension and release from between the frustrated momentum of the busy guitar lines. The shortest pause, or the most laboured of builds allows Fugit to work in the implication of grandeur without the need for any weighty symphonic underlayer on these pieces. Although the four movements are all instrumental, as mentioned, a female voice can be heard on the final piece, chanting simple melodies carried along by the cumulative sorrow of the music. This humanising contrast makes for an eerie finale to this short EP, elevating the fantastical, dreamlike quality of the music into something truly captivating.

Despite ‘Nyctophilia Movements’ having obvious musical reference points in classical guitar music, neofolk, ambient, and various folk traditions, it is a remarkably refreshing work of self-justificatory music, with little or no desire to either smash genre dogmas or impose them without thought. It weaves a barren yet oddly playful sound tapestry before the listener’s ears, one that requires little forethought to engage with, but nevertheless retains a substantial intellectual underbelly for those wishing to delve deeper into the mechanics and artistry behind the music itself.

Asgrauw: Façade
Out 7th October on Death Prayer Records

The year is an even number, which means we are to receive a new full length release from Dutch black metallers Asgrauw. Album number five goes by the name of ‘Façade’, and sees an expanded offering of haunting symphonics deployed to supplement what is at times an abrasively aggressive take on frantically melodic black metal. Intellectually we may not be much further advanced than their previous offering ‘IJsval’, but the degree to which Asgrauw have stepped up every aspect of their endeavour makes this a categorically superior release in every way.

A combination of worthy speed thrills and heightened melodrama gives ‘Façade’ its wings. The riffs are restless and many, packed tightly together in condensed units of melodic information, but enough space and light is allowed to creep through the cracks to allow the listener to effectively digest and retain thematic material before it is dispensed with and the piece moves on.

A wash of classically melodic black metal riffing makes up the centrepiece of this album, underpinned by audibly thundering basslines, and powerful yet oddly organic drums. Although speed is the name of the game here, with a plethora of tight blast-beats deployed across the album, Asgrauw drop the tempo when it counts, pulling things back from the brink of monotonous intensity with well placed drops to half-time or triumphalist marching segments.

Voices trade blows between typical black metal vocalisations and passionately clean wails of aggression and despair more fitting of a hardcore punk setting. Placed in this most epic of contexts this stylistic choice works however, and serves to raise the intensity of each piece in its entirety as a militaristic urgency grabs hold of the listener, commanding their attention.

Light symphonics are deployed as a welcome backdrop of etherealism to contrast with the foregrounded frenetic energy. Despite largely following the guitars and only offering the most minimal of complimentary harmonies, they are weaved in such a way as to bind these tracks together, giving them practical cohesion and poetic longevity. Despite its overt intensity, ‘Façade’ never becomes truly overwhelming for all the dense clusters of riffs and ideas. Moods, keys, and tempos are manipulated in simple yet effective ways to bolster the artistic and emotive impact of each piece.

This forces us to conclude that Asgrauw are indeed growing into a sophisticated entity of modern black metal with a distinctive identity. It may be taking them a little longer to get there than some artists. But a slow burn maturity is still preferable to no discernible growth at all, and in that regard these Dutch black metallers are certainly playing the long game.

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