40 of the best – part 3 of 4
20: Pestilength: Basom Gryphos
Nuclear Winter/Sentient Ruin/Goat Throne
Every time death metal tries to break out of its funk it seems to fall further backward. Until we end up in the bizarre situation where explicitly retro acts like Blood Incantation are praised for their forward thinking ethos. The problem being that actual quality death metal that breaks the mould is just not as sexy as the postmodern bells and whistles of current media darlings. ‘Basom Gryphos’ is one such example of death metal frankly just being itself, opening out a creative space through music with blood coursing through its veins without feeling like a repeat of the past.
19: Desecresy: Unveil in the Abyss
Few death metal outfits can boast an instantly recognisable style in today’s crowded field. The formula may have developed only incrementally over seven albums, but here it’s as if they have suddenly rediscovered why they love what they do, and this love shines forth in every sinew of the music. The performances and compositions themselves present with renewed fluidity, demonstrative of an artist truly enjoying their craft, and allowing the music to flow out of them with ease.
18: Gnipahalan: I nordisk vredeslusta
Purity Through Fire
A symphonic retelling of Burzum. All the sombre grandeur of black metal is on display, including the pathos and deep sense of loss that stands as an unanswerable accusation at the heart of the style. But any opportunity for silent reflection is swept away in the bombastic certainty of Gnipahalan’s theatricality. The expression is so total, the delivery so untroubled by context or pacing, and the sonic palette so overstuffed with information that we are forced to act against our best interests and continue to sodden ourselves in the experience. Gnipahalan bottle the essence of the black metal project on this album.
17: Hail Conjurer: Earth Penetration
Signal Rex/Bestial Burst
Uses genre alchemy as a trojan horse, blending styles and techniques without making this the centrepiece of the music itself. ‘Earth Penetration’ is an undeniably weird album from whichever angle one approaches it, but it is thus and so in a totally natural and uncontrived manner. The eccentricities of its many stylistic leanings work in conjunction with each other to create this bizarre, unpredictable, and eminently novel experience.
16: Live Burial: Curse of the Forlorn
Transcending Obscurity Records
A swirling, dynamic, diverse, cinematic menagerie of death metal that pivots on marrying grim, chasmic atmospheres with energetic riffing, bolstered by lead guitar work that veers from baroque melodicism to eerie, cyclical refrains whipping up an intoxicating sense of dread. To give greater currency to the contrasting elements of reflective, despondent meditation, these rather delicate musical qualities are collided against breakneck blast-beats and frantic riff impetuses that guide the listener through a phantasmagoria of competing yet complimentary moods.
15: Kostnatění: Oheň hoří tam, kde padl
By working in the intriguing and epic aspects of Turkish folk music, Kostnatění have stumbled onto a surprisingly effective formula for retaining the raw power and technical complexity of black metal whilst injecting melody, harmony, and a clear purpose. Each moment feels like it’s about to buckle under the weight of information stuffed within it. But from these atomised units of polyrhythms, layered guitars, contrapuntal play, and ambiguity of key arise epic themes and glorious melodic refrains that feel like they could belong nowhere else.
14: Ancient Gate: Forgotten Dark Age
True to both the name Ancient Gate and the title of this EP, ‘Forgotten Dark Age’ feels like peering through a window into another age replete with its own self contained narratives and Homeric moral standards. These tracks have a melodic character that supervenes over and above any individual riff or chord sequence. Even the simplest two note exchange takes on new significance when placed within these epic soundscapes.
13: Benthik Zone: εἴδωλον
Masters of scene setting, Benthik Zone show their hand early by forcing the listener through such abrasive and unwholesome transitions that by the time track three ‘Sonho-a Desnuda’ kicks in we are primed to accept almost anything. And this focus on arrangements complimenting their rich brew of competing flavours is what sets this album apart from similar endeavours. From there they marshal their textural armoury into a battering ram of industrial black metal with a strong doom aesthetic.
12: Swords of Dis: Cor Mundum Crea in Me, Sanctum Ignis
From the home of metal itself, Birmingham’s Swords of Dis offer angular, dissonant, doom-laden black metal that takes the oppressive nihilism of Mayhem’s ‘Ordo ad Chao’ and strips the presentation back to a restrained sparsity. Swords of Dis imbue the nihilistic undercurrent of modern black metal with an emotive core born of a desperate theological rumination. Grating, high-end guitar lines weaving in and out of one another via deliberately off-key meanderings juxtaposing with the almost Gregorian ritualism of clean vocals. Although dissonant black metal is almost the default setting for the genre, Swords of Dis are carving out new creative spaces within this aesthetic.
11: Krolok: Funeral Winds & Crimson Sky
A clash of primitive black metal with subtle yet pronounced atmospheric flourishes allows Krolok to work in elongated narratives that suck the listener down ever more twisted and alien pathways. It’s as if we are witnessing an old school, primitive black metal outfit attempt to compose an ambient black metal album. The result emphasises the strengths of each contrasting approach. And as it unfolds, many hidden pockets of intrigue are revealed under this broad thematic range that only get bolder as the album progresses. ‘Funeral Winds & Crimson Sky’ bursts forth with full confidence in black metal’s ability to conjure very specific atmospheric qualities as a means of mapping out ambitious and original song structures that invoke escapism and jeopardy in equal measure.