40 of the best – part 4 of 4
10: Marthe: Victimized
Marthe’s intoxicating blend of Bathoryisms and loose psychedelia only intensifies on this single. ‘Victimized’ picks up exactly where the ‘Sisters of Darkness’ EP left off, marrying foot stomping heavy metal with Viking intensity, soaring guitar leads rich in bracing spirituality yet minimal in melodic content, and a stirring blend of distorted and clean vocals, matching Quorthon for sheer dramatic commitment.
9: Cntmpt: Von Unreiner Willkür
Into Endless Chaos Records
Horror and laughter as emotional weapons of the brain are closer kin than we often give them credit for. Both are reactions to unexpected occurrences, the unexplainable, or events that have truly run beyond our control. ‘Von Unreiner Willkür’ is definitely an example of the latter of these. With each track starting from the most basic premise, only to gradually dissolve into utter absurdity through outrageous repetition, incremental devolutions of melodic character, and the total submission of the human core to the one reliable truth exemplified by the narrative structures at play across these tracks: things will only ever get worse.
8: Cultic: Of Fire and Sorcery
One way of reading ‘Of Fire and Sorcery’ is as a metal album set to a dungeon synth soundtrack. Or maybe a dungeon synth album elevated by interludes of dirge ridden death/doom. Whatever angle we come at this, there’s no denying the rich and captivating experience that Cultic have to offer. Despite the simplicity of each musical component, the album unfurls in a gradualist and deliberate manner, compelling us to continue listening. By adding a degree of unselfconscious bombast and naivety to a down and dirty metal formula, they imbue it with a sense of theatre and high drama that bolsters the experience into something entirely novel.
7: Vómito Vacuo: Locura y un cuerpo
Jarring transitions, sudden tonal swaps, elongated scale runs defined by uncertainty of resolution, riffs that build up momentum only to be cut down midway through by the angular drumming. All serve to make ‘Locura y un cuerpo’ an original carnival of psychological torments for both our musical sensibilities and our sense of truth and lie. It warps our perspective on reality, plays with our expectations, and fearlessly twists musical convention into freshly tortured and stretched formations.
6: Ultra Silvam: The Sanctity of Death
Shadow Records / Regain Records
It’s rare to meet an album that blends the most provocatively simple and abrasive elements of raw black metal with the sweeping scope and ambition of the genre’s more neoclassical ambitions, all the while elevating the artistic potential of these contrasting ends of the aesthetic spectrum. Adrenaline meshed seamlessly with artistic intrigue.
5: Rotheads: Slither in Slime
The latent dark romanticism of early Swedish death metal is brought to the fore on ‘Slither in Slime’, finding a subtle articulation via d-beats, droll guitar solos, and tritone driven doom segments. What makes the Rotheads approach so novel is their ability to air out these elements into grandiose statements of gothically tinged glum drama whilst retaining a poise and dynamism – and a healthy squelch of filth – that positions it squarely in the death metal camp, and an expertly focused and efficient variant at that.
4: Imprecation: In Nomine Diaboli
Dark Descent Records
The veil has been lifted, and those of us hunting for scraps within the qualitative frugalities of modern death metal have had our prayers answered and our eyes opened by ‘In Nomine Diaboli’, undoubtably a reacquaintance of our love for this genre. An oddly life affirming experience via this intoxicatingly violent form of music.
3: Cmpt: Krv i pepeo
I’m not one to drop a Burzum comparison lightly, but here the reference really is justified. Cmpt have a similar approach to getting more from less. The atmosphere and aesthetics of this album – whilst expertly placed – are relatively understated. Anything more would be a distraction. The riffs patiently build from the most minimal beginnings – a two note interchange, a gradual ascent – and through the manipulation of well-placed tempo changes, subtle layering or removal of guitar harmonies, and background keyboard effects, Cmpt craft a truly arcane experience.
2: Mortify: Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow
‘Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow’ is a work of sonic ambiguity, a bizarre, malformed universe of phantasmagorias and fragmented musical shards. Odd key and time signatures, chromatic play, tritones, clashes of tempo and novel harmonic interplay all factor into this recipe. But Mortify have clearly mapped out a lengthy recipe in order to properly ascertain where each element should be deployed, and in what order. As with many great albums, this is an act of world building that makes the listener forget about their preoccupations with genre, the politics of technique, and the stylistic burdens of history. It overcomes all this in order to reiterate what we already knew about death metal over all the noise of its current existential dualism: the tools and ingredients to create with total freedom and resolve are already there, it just takes someone with a little knowledge and imagination to breathe new and terrible life into these dormant facets once again.
1: Serpent Ascending: Hyperborean Folklore
I, Voidhanger Records
Stalwart Finnish death metal evolutionist Jarno Nurmi revitalises his post Desecresy project Serpent Ascending for album number two. Where ‘Aṇaṅku’ was a twisting, multi-faceted but ultimately smothering work of nocturnal claustrophobia, ‘Hyperborean Folklore’ seeks to bring us into the light. Death metal builds complexity by stuffing each moment with an excess of musical matter, challenging itself to organise the fragmented chaos into an internally coherent structure. Here, by contrast, Serpent Ascending have decluttered the picture, breathing air and room into each frame and thus allowing the listener greater opportunity to study the elegant detail of each moment. The riffs and their interplay are still relatively complex, but they are played with such fluidity, and at depressed tempos by death metal standards, that they fall into the listener’s mind almost subliminally. ‘Hyperborean Folklore’ is a work that allows us to see the process of its very construction, but loses no magic for providing the listener with a unique insight into its own formation, thus increasing our investment in the dramatic stakes of the music itself. We are at once captivated by the accessibility of its heady complexities and carried forward by its intuitively linear melodic drive.