Beats and yelling from: Galicia, Forlesen, Vévaki

Galicia: Precipice
Out 21st October on Hessian Firm

An odd concoction greets the ear on Galicia’s debut album ‘Precipice’. Hailing from California, this outfit whip up a strangely hypnotic interplay between the informal violence of war metal and the melancholic melodic aspirations of Nordic black metal, employing elements of death and blackened thrash as mediators supervising this tense exchange of ideas. It’s as if the music is attempting to overcome its own drive to chaos by wresting more formal structures from the ground itself.

Aesthetically ‘Precipice’ is a lo-fi album, with a mix lifted straight from the rehearsal room that only goes to enhance the primitivist aspects of this release. Riffs and their percussive accompaniments are packed tightly together, as the music lurches between tempo and key with ease. The production is clear enough to allow the listener some visibility on the intricate interplay between drums and guitar. But whilst justice is done to the performances, Galicia proudly position themselves at the dirty, primal end of underground extreme metal. Vocals are a cavalcade of monstrous black metal rasps, guttural death growls that would sit quite happily on a goregrind album, and banshee wails adding a degree of high fantasy drama to supplement the violence.

Compensation for the rough mix goes further than mere vocal ornamentation however. The guitar work is replete with a unique melodic character, reaching back to the very early days of melodic extreme metal in the ‘The Red in the Sky is Ours’ or even mid-90s Absu. Narratively, the riffs take on a conversational attitude to one another.

Tracks typically open with an atonal rumble of primal war metal, upon which is placed meandering melodic material situated somewhere between the mournful, the heroic, and the cathartic. But rather than the riff resolving itself in order to be repeated in a predictable sequence before new material is introduced, they taper off as unfinished melodic fragments. The cadence left hanging, the next riff will follow directly from the last initially building from the same starting point, only to drive the music in an entirely different direction; like witnessing an exchange between two participants in a debate, both bouncing off the other’s ideas, yet both not entirely in control of the direction and pace of the subject matter.

In this sense Galicia are an ultra compressed version of their label mates Into Oblivion, who adopt a similarly unpredictable, tangential attitude to the melodic character of their riffs. The music seems to be constantly fighting itself for direction, meaning, structure, but as the music compounds on itself a gradual forward motion can be discerned from the superficially chaotic miasma of ideas that is thrown at the listener. A densely packed slab of information that cloaks its own complexities behind the veneer of disorder, only revealing its internal logics via intimate and persistent study.

Forlesen: Black Terrain
Out 28th October on I, Voidhanger Records

Somewhere between the grim defeatism of funeral doom, the rich melodic tangents of epic doom, and the emotional release of post metal, sits the latest album from California’s Forlesen. Quality doom is about so much more than depreciated tempos. Aside from simply being “metal, but slower”, the chord sequences – especially for the depressive iterations of the style – often circle round a sense of inevitability. This could be achieved by a slow and inevitable climb down to a cadence, as descending chords gradually march to their conclusion, or it could be through achieving tension by gradual repetitions that build and compound into a frustrated rumination on being.

Forlesen deploy these techniques certainly, but doom metal is simply the canvas onto which a form of soundscape metal is gradually and achingly rendered over the course of ‘Black Terrain’. Reverb driven clean guitars echo above the mix, bringing a sheen of Americana reminiscent of latter day Earth. A mixture of ethereal vocalisations echoes across these lengthy tracks as ghostly visages haunting our passage through the album. Slow, rolling drums compound on each other, bringing these pieces to patient yet inevitable climaxes, utilising the virtues of volume manipulation as much as exponentially developing segments of information.

‘Black Terrain’ is spliced into four lengthy tracks. The spaces between the traditional rockist setup of guitars, drums, and vocals are so great, and so sparse, pivoting on droning guitar noise, distant vocalisations, and minimal, pulsing drum work, that the music falls entirely out of the “post” metal milieu and into ambient. The atmospheric virtues of blackened doom metal are deployed to heighten the dramatic stakes of the music, as with the midpoint Ruins of Beverastian intro to ‘Harrowed Earth’. This aesthetic choice works well alongside the gentler soundscaping, serving to contrast and elevate the artistic and emotional stakes of the album when totalitarian stasis becomes a real threat.

But for the most part, so imperceptibly slow and at times simple are the melodic narratives of these pieces that it helps to perceive them as soundscapes bleeding into one another rather than solidified “pieces”. Even when engaging in blast-beats, the melodic development of the music is still tectonically slow, but driven by a galloping momentum that pulls the listener along in a manner reminiscent of Sorta Magora.

And soundscape metal is really where Forlesen have ended up with this release. Some of the textural scenery may be recognisably metallic. Occasionally the music coalesces into homogenous passages of doom metal, but for the most part this is crafted around sound manipulation, contrasting tones, tension via repetition, and sequences building information as an exercise in gradualism. And as far as manipulators of sound are concerned, Forlesen are adept at their craft. ‘Black Terrain’ pulls the best elements from metal and adjacent subgenres renowned for their superficially pleasing textures and resituates them as structural and theatrical signifiers that truly elevates their artistic potential. A masterstroke of patient incrementalism.

Vévaki: Fórnspeki
Out 28th October on Season of Mist

The growth of the Nordic folk movement continues apace, with a UK chapter expanding in the form of Vévaki’s second LP ‘Fórnspeki’. The music – and statements from Vévaki themselves – speak of this historically orientated genre attempted to shed the dogmas of ironclad authenticity or academic accuracy – something already proudly championed by Heilung – and instead seeks to build on the Wardruna format as a self-justificatory contemporary genre.

As far as ‘Fórnspeki’ itself is concerned, it seems to swing from the intimate and energetic fireside folk of Byrdi to the more cinematic aspirations of the genre’s big hitters in Heilung or Danheim. Whilst it’s certainly true that Vévaki have few surprises to offer anyone at least casually acquainted with this booming genre, there is a seamless fluidity and dynamism to their approach that keeps one engaged.

The pieces avoid the usual pitfalls of “ritualism”. By that I mean music specifically crafted for ceremonial purposes, designed to induce reverential trances or intoxicating pulses via simple percussive repetitions, sequential fiddle work, and monotone chants. The intention and purpose is clear, but the artform is better kept as a live entity, being ill suited to the album format to be enjoyed in the comfort of home where the appropriate mood may not be forthcoming.

Vévaki duck this particular pitfall by simply not concerning themselves with authenticity. Sure the instrumentation, theory, and execution behind this work is undeniably adept, but this ontology is bent toward achieving the individual artistic goal of this outfit rather than paying homage to ritualistic or spiritual roots of this music too liberally.

We are therefore treated to the same earthy, organic, swelling atmospheres that make Nordic folk so appealing, but this is used as a backdrop to deliver deep, expansive, swelling soundscapes of rich and nuanced neofolk. There is a definite feeling of freedom and play that offsets the pronounced aesthetic dogmas of this style. Maybe not a sense that anything could happen, but certainly the possibility that something might happen beyond a series of instrumentally rich but melodically limited trancelike repetitions.

And perhaps this is where the real future of Nordic folk lies within a modern audience. Setting aside the appeal of the Disneyfication-via-90s-rave that Heilung struck upon, for the modern audience, folk music (real folk music that is) is now an acquired taste. The project of lifting elements from these traditions – instrumentation, vocal techniques, tonality – and applying them to today’s rather cinematic expectations of neofolk may be a decidedly postmodern project. But this is partly true of any modern genre, Nordic folk just makes this dynamic all the more explicit. Albums like ‘Fórnspeki’ are simply pointing the way. A route for this style that retains a degree of academic curiosity about its origins whilst allowing room for the individual artists involved to stamp their free creative drive onto the format.

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