Beats and yelling from: Ayyur, Zvylpwkua, Hordous

Ayyur: Hidden Rooms Sessions I
Out 11th November on Xenoglossy

‘Hidden Rooms Sessions I’ is the first instalment of a new trilogy from this Tunisian outfit, consisting of obscurantist, atmospheric black metal of a decidedly drab aesthetic. But given the sheer quantity of artists and releases that fall under these banners the descriptors seem almost superfluous. Once one gets past the rather understated opening number ‘They Learned to Suffer in Silence’ with its stilted, reverb driven clean guitar, the wider textural package of this music manages to be almost unbearably sparse, yet fraught with a tension and poise rarely seen within modern black metal.

This is largely down to two elements that Ayyur manipulate that few others seem willing to delve into: frustrated momentum, and silence. ‘An Empty Hand has Nothing to Give’ opens with a galloping tempo and a driving black metal riff reminiscent of the Ukrainian style, but this pleasing framework dissolves away almost immediately after it is established. It’s as if Ayyur wish to comment on the triumphalist aspects of this music, only to have it slowly melt away into air, leaving nothing but an overwhelming perception of emptiness.

They use elements of doom metal to emphasise these expanses of silence. But again, there is no wash of droning chords filling out the sound withn sustained distortion, but rather achingly lengthy pauses stretched between reverb driven clean guitar, a sudden crash of drums which disappear just as quickly into void, with nothing but ghostly fragile visages of clean melody left to stitch together the empty expanses of sound.

This frustrated momentum stretches across the entire EP, to the point where any transition between tracks is all but indiscernible, and entirely redundant. We are instead given a series of recognisable signifiers from drab black metal, depressive doom metal, post metal, and ambient, and left to slowly witness their decay into near total non-existence, as each olive branch of familiarity that Ayyur offer to the listener melts into the overwhelming backdrop of silence that pervades this EP.

Even the vocals indulge in this teasing push and pull of expectation vs. payoff, with nothing but a monotonous spoken word narration occupying the space where strained howls of distorted morass should sit. It may sound awfully cliché, but ‘Hidden Rooms Sessions I’ is one of those releases that makes one stop and take stock. Not of one’s life necessarily, or meaning thereof, but more a commentary on the music it mirrors. All of the fanfare, the bombast, the clutter of information that haunts extreme metal, all dissolves away on this EP, forcing is to reconsider its purpose, its goal, and ultimately its appeal. Ayyur strip away this ancillary furniture, leaving us only the sparsest of musical landscapes to inhabit, existing in perpetual confrontation with the lurking chasm behind it all, a patient force awaiting its final and inevitable triumph over the superfluous activity of extreme metal as a collective endeavour.

Zvylpwkua: Anomalous Altrium
Out 4th November, self-released

It would probably be more instructive to approach acts like Zvylpwkua as noise with form. We could come at this from the angle of the death metaller, witnessing the ongoing malformation of angular riffcraft through ever more convoluted avenues of dissonance, illogical rhythms, and lost cadences. But such a perspective makes for a chaotic, fragmented listen, always in flux, never settling. All of which would describe Zvylpwkua’s debut album ‘Anomalous Altrium’ down to a T, but with our metal hats on it also makes the music decidedly unapproachable.

Instead we should don our Merzbow hats and be pleasantly surprised that there are recognisable rhythms and notes, a transition or two at play here. Free jazz plays a significant role, as the faster segments of loose blast-beating and near endlessly wandering tangents take on a semi-improvised feel. Each instrument appears to be exploring the limits of timbre and tonal clashes more than displaying any interest in forming a melodic core. These often coalesce into what I imagine is Zvylpwkua’s answer to a guitar solo, as the instrument slowly crawls up the fretboard to deliver random note clusters that take on a conversational position to one another in a far more literal sense than commonplace notions of how melodic hooks are “supposed” to look.

Surrounding it all is a swirl of atmospheric static and droning synths. This serves to contextualise what would otherwise be a collection of statements of marked intellectual content if not emotively appealing on an artistic level. But the murky synthetica framing this dissection of musical mores elevates the entire format from a collection of curious aphorisms to a creeping, lurking, beast of malevolent intent. One is reminded of latter day Havohej for a similar act that walks the borders of noise and metal, albeit from a more direct, primal black metal point of view.

What makes ‘Anomalous Altrium’ standout amongst similar releases that attempt to mesh aspects of noise with extreme metal is the care taken to properly integrate these divergent traditions into a cohesive unit. This is not just dissonant technical death metal with a noise flavour, rather the noise and electronic elements are deployed in such a way as to resituate the true meaning and artistic import we as listeners are able to garner from this album. The balance between substantive instrumentation and near total musical collapse is maintained throughout, a tension that stretches across the album and never once waivers from its goal.

Hordous: Mon Fant​ô​me
Out 2nd November on Transcendance

Black metal could give emo a run for its money sometimes. There’s no denying that emotion has always played a pivotal role within the construction of this craft. But – wariness at presenting a formal schematic for such a subjective arena granted – the emotional content of black metal in its original incarnation, when not geared toward aggression or bacchanalian revelry, was more preoccupied with reverence, a profound sense of loss, or the transgressive joy to be found in the acceptance of our own helplessness in the face of forces far beyond our existence.

Various iterations of DSBM, post black metal or folky derivations have distorted this ethos somewhat. The subversive melodrama whipped into a concoction of emotional catharsis, placing the individual at the heart of the experience. This is an inversion of black metal’s strengths as an artform, and no matter how dominant it becomes in the narrative of the style, I will always view it as an aberration

Enter Bordeaux’s Hordous, and their debut album ‘Mon Fant​ô​me’. This is every bit as mid-paced, melodic, emotionally strained, and plodding as any bog-standard Fen album. But there is a hypnotic quality to the riffs and sequential melodic flourishes that immediately marks it apart from the crowd. Each track functions around an elegantly simple rolling arpeggio that burrows into the mind like a lullaby. This is ear candy, but not in the insidiously popular meaning of the word, the layering melodic character of each track enters the listener at a more fundamental level. Each riff could be immediately forgotten, yet also feels like it has always existed.

Although the traditional black metal milieu makes up the predominant timbral range of this album, acoustic guitars serve as a binding texture via interludes and additional layering for the crisply distorted guitars. Vocals are strained, and a little contrived in their melodramatic pleading, but ultimately serve the music well by adding an abrasive, grim edge to this otherwise comforting sound pocket.

Even when Hordous do pick up the pace on tracks like ‘L’éveil’ they manage to maintain this infectious melodic core that speaks of a fantastical, childlike quality as heartening as it is unsettling. But fantastical in a far less literal sense than black metal is wont to explicitly indulge in. This is a yearning for naivety, a yearning to be enchanted by the world once again and to find wonder in the experience of existing, lost to all as they enter adulthood. Ultimately, despite the fact that ‘Mon Fant​ô​me’ suffers from pacing issues and emotive positioning at times, it works by virtue of its ability to articulate that profound sense of loss and sorrow we all feel at the hands of the passage of time, and the knowledge that the overwhelming exhilaration at the new we experience in our formative years will never return.

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