Beats and yelling from: Krvna, Hrad, Endless Loss

Krvna: For Thine is the Kingdom of the Flesh
Out 12th December on Third Eye Temple/Ancient Dead Productions

Having offered one of the most cohesive works of vampiric black metal of the last few years in the form of ‘Sempinfernus’ in 2021, Australia’s Krvna return with a swansong of the year, expanding their vision of ice ridden black metal into a theological rumination. Compared to many contemporaries, this is big budget black metal. All is enveloping theatre, as walls of flowing guitar layers swarm over the listener in waves of cold energy. Crisp and driving drums offer a fluid undercurrent of blast-beats that melt into elongated fills, unsettling the balance and keeping the music in a constant state of flux.

Guitars themselves are a layer-cake of cold textures, trading more on timbral qualities than memorably riffs. One could therefore argue that ‘For Thine is the Kingdom of the Flesh’ – for all its speed, theatre, and energy – is a work more philosophically aligned with atmospheric black metal. It seeks to guide the listener into its universe as a place suitable for habitation rather than offering intellectually rigorous musical material. Music for the soul more than the mind. That being said, there are a plethora of lead refrains and efficaciously repeated melodic licks that populate these pieces like hypnotic chants. They offer simple counterpoint, pivoting on their repetition, inducing a fugue state when set against the driving momentum of the rhythm section.

Given the extent to which the orchestral layers of guitar noise fill out the mix, there is little room for any additional clutter. That being said, light symphonic touches are scattered across the album, emphasising the dramatic stakes and softening the timbral palette at key junctures. Vocals are a typical black metal rasp sitting at the lower end of the spectrum, but they make use of a diverse stylistic repertoire, able to accommodate both uncontrolled passion and measured narrative passages.

As with the previous offering ‘Sempinfernus’, ‘For Thine is the Kingdom of the Flesh’ is the perfect execution of an idea. It brings together many common traits of black metal from the last twenty years or so and marries them into a fully cohesive and expressive statement of intent. This is not an album seeking to announce the grand next step for a conflicted genre, it is rather bookending a chapter in its history, consolidating the best stylistic elements and jettisoning any surplus fauna.

Hrad: The Forgotten Legacy
Out 2nd December on WereGnome Records/Huard Productions/Acid Vicious

Fragile yet pleasingly artificial violins and harps emanate from the speakers on the opening passages of the debut album from France’s Hrad, accompanied by a liberal – and a little distracting – sprinkling of wind samples. As the metal instrumentation eventually emerges on ‘A Grim Betrayal’, it’s clear that ‘The Forgotten Legacy’ is an album that wants to take its melding of medieval fantasy ambient and metal seriously…wants to.

The guitars and drums are not so much black metal as they are bouncy heavy metal rhythmically shaped almost as a jig in slow motion, similar to latter day Nokturnal Mortum or Obsequiae. Riddled with an array of ancillary instrumentation from flutes to brass to bells, the distorted guitars themselves are relegated to rhythm only, filling out the sound with size and strength. Vocals sit squarely in the black metal camp, contrasting well with the relatively soothing synth instrumentation.

Although the marriage of dungeon synth and black metal has a lengthy and close knit history, it is apparent that Hrad seem a little unsure of where to take their particular home brewed interpretation of this union. The energetic momentum of the melodic black metal segments is arrested by lengthy breakdowns of surprisingly well fleshed out dungeon synth. One would hesitate to call them interludes as they make up such a significant portion of the album. As the pieces progress the riffing becomes more sophisticated and distinctive, but again, it’s a development that remains stunted by frequent breaks into ambience.

There are moments when everything seems to gather together into a cohesive whole, for a period on the track ‘Necromant’ for instance, but for the most part ‘The Forgotten Legacy’ is an album that fails to choose a lane. Both the dungeon synth and the metal ethos are well developed by Hrad, but their integration is not quite there in the same way as an Old Sorcery, a Galdur, or of course a Summoning.

The conclusion, therefore, is not that Hrad need to dispose of any particular element of their style or influences, but instead take more time making the tracks flow and crystalise into coherence. Each individual segment works in its own right as a statement of intent, the germinal of an idea, but the tracks – despite their length – never bring their identity fully to bear in a clear and singular direction before veering into an entirely superfluous U-turn.

For all these shortcomings however, this is still an album as charming as it is enthralling, offering a pleasingly sincere tapestry of metal and ambient’s more unapologetic sojourns into the world of sword and sorcery. 

Endless Loss: Bloodletting Narcotic Divination
Out 29th October, self-released

Like witnessing a primordial soup of sound grasping for solidity and cohesion, Endless Loss offer a chasmic mix of war metal, grinding black metal, and straight up drone for their debut EP ‘Bloodletting Narcotic Divination’. No frigid odes to winter, no thin veneer of guitars or screeches of naturalistic passion. All is bass. All is black. Guitars are down tuned to fuckery, but are still viscous enough to articulate some riffs that hint at sophistication. Drums are raw and loose, boasting a performance with a primal immediacy that veers from loose blast-beats to aggressive punk breakdowns with ease.

Low-end guttural vocals provide additional anchorage along with the guitars in weighing down the mix with dread noise, a mix which at times chokes on its own inertia as each element fights to keep up with any unexpected shift in tempo. Screeching guitar leads do jump out across this brief EP, as does some banshee wails to expand the aesthetic offering. These are not deployed with sophisticated melodic material in mind so much as they are shifting the dramatic stakes of the setting itself.

For all its overt will-to-chaos and darkness however, ‘Bloodletting Narcotic Divination’ boasts a decent amount of memorable riffs when taken against many comparable releases. Endless Loss are quite comfortable collapsing their music into meaningless noise, but are just as at ease when marshalling every element together into unified punches of percussive death metal riffing, loose doom passages, and darkly melodic intent. This grants space for contrast without sacrificing the taught extremity of the overall package, heightening the intensity of pure noise by juxtaposing it against more formalistic structures where rules and logic would deign to apply. A brief but promising EP of obscure, grinding black metal, playing out as a zone of conflict between metal’s constant striving for order at the very borders of chaos.

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