40 of the best – part 2 of 4
30: Theandric: Flight Among the Tombs
Theandric lack the darkness of Cirith Ungol, the shameless intensity of Candlemass, the glamourous swagger of Queensrÿche, or the speed and exhilaration of Iron Maiden. What they do have is a shit load of riffs, an ear for melodic development, and a seemingly bottomless well of creative space in which to work. For these reasons alone I’d wager that this EP could and should reach an audience far beyond the usual (and weirdly specific) crowd of dedicated traditional heavy metal fans.
29: Tsalal: Agnosthesia
Akin to witnessing the emergence of black metal from the primordial soup of noise itself, undulating between the most basic of raw black metal structures into disjointed noise, minimalist industrial, and dark ambient. Here we see the inner turmoil of black metal centre on singular collisions of structure and void, of clean and distorted tones, even of tonal and atonal music itself. Each piece pivots on a clash between viscous drone and concrete solidity.
28: Krvna: For Thine is the Kingdom of the Flesh
Third Eye Temple/Ancient Dead Productions
As with the previous offering ‘Sempinfernus’, this is the perfect execution of an idea, bringing together many common traits of black metal from the last twenty years and marrying them into a fully cohesive and expressive statement of intent. This is not an album seeking to announce the grand next step for this conflicted genre, but rather bookends a chapter in its history, consolidating the best stylistic elements and jettisoning the surplus fauna.
27: Skare: Skare
As a compositional beast this is a taught workhorse of an album, delivering fluid, intuitive, artisanal musical clusters that comprehensively fill out any empty spaces in one’s consciousness. As a spectacle of simple yet effective arrangements it is just as worthy of praise. There is no one star of the show, no single instrument overly foregrounded to the detriment of the whole. A testament to restraint despite the lavishness of the music. A strikingly well crafted debut that reaffirms black metal as the delicate art of nose-to-tail composition and mastery over an array of textural pastures.
26: Holyarrow: 大員合戰 / 1661 – 1662 The Siege of Fort Zeelandia
Xiamen’s Holyarrow pack a considerable punch on this brief EP. A release timed to coincide with the 360th anniversary of the passing of Koxinga, Prince of Yanping, who led troops on a landing at Lakjemuyse, leading to the titular Siege of Fort Zeelandia, where they prevailed over Dutch colonists and thus ended the Dutch East India Company’s rule over Taiwan. Even on this brief EP, Holyarrow are able to pack a dense array of musicality that would give their opposite numbers in Scandinavia a run for their money, all without coming across as cluttered or unfocused.
25: Cauchemar: Rosa Mystica
Temple of Mystery Records
Supplementing the hedonistic bounce of Witchfinder General with a much needed sobriety, along with a dash of folk pageantry, and some raw creativity in the riff department, this is an approximation of the Cauchemar formula. ‘Rosa Mystica’ is one of those albums that poses as modesty incarnate, but upon studying the mechanics beneath, we see a bizarre yet compelling cultural crossroads, a shining iteration of metal as a globalist phenomenon. It looks for all the world like an honest, original, creative piece of heavy metal magic with a strong doom orientation because it is precisely that. But whether by accident or design it can also be studied as a curious exercise in cross cultural and temporal musical pollination.
24: Theomachia: The Theosophist
This conceptually weighty EP self identifies as “gnostic black metal”, and although familiar genre cogs are at work behind the scenes, they work in direct contradiction to the underlying themes of the music, which lean toward neofolk in spirit. Most black metal searches for a means to transgress modernity through encounters with external forces beyond the self, eschewing the immediacy of the human psyche, self-reflection, ritual, and intuition. ‘The Theosophist’ by contrast, is black metal that seeks revelation by looking inward, to the boundless eternity of the self, to which the exterior forces of reality and nature would seem to be antagonistic.
23: Battlestorm: Summon Decimation
It’s a hard concept to pin down, but as any experienced listener will know, there’s a feeling to certain albums that just lets you know that the musicians really mean it. There’s a quality to the delivery, a flow to the compositions, and an intuitive aesthetic connection which opens up a direct channel from the listener’s musical brain to that of the artist. That’s the feeling one gets upon spinning ‘Summon Decimation’ a combination of old school black metal, early death metal, and Teutonic thrash. Whilst utterly packed with riffs, choppy blast-beats, screaming guitar leads, percussive breakdowns, vitriolic vocals, and banshee wails, behind these run-of-the-mill descriptors sits a degree of quality control and attention to detail so lacking in many comparable releases recently. Every moment is stuffed with class, aggression, vitality.
22: Medieval Demon: Black Coven
Medieval Demon pose as a link between various forms of underground metal, from the Hammer Horror worship of retro doom and psychedelic metal, to the ghoulishness of Mortuary Drape or Necromantia, wrapping this into symphonics and no small element of traditional heavy metal deployed as link riffs between each rumination on regal necroticism. ‘Black Coven’ is as daring as it is cliché ridden, indulgent as it is masterfully composed and arranged, and as eclectic as it is specifically fixated on its deliciously limited aesthetic. A deceptive layer-cake of an album concealing many hidden revelations for those willing to take the plunge.
21: Táltos: Érezd hogy élsz
A sincere and largely successful attempt to render the trancelike experience of pagan ritual, with all its intoxicating undertones, randomness fashioned into internal logics through the perspective of raw experience into sonic form. What can at first seem inexplicable, without coherence, coalesces into a phenomenon with sui generis meaning, one that collapses upon contact with the cold light of day, but by inserting oneself into the experience of ‘Érezd hogy élsz’, it brings to solidity a representation of those liminal experiences and grants them a sense of permanence.