Nocturnal Departure: Clandestine Theurgy
Out 30th December on Hells Headbangers
A pleasing blend of energetic, riff based black metal of the dirtiest order meets the refinement of the genre’s more cinematic aspirations on the latest album from Canada’s Nocturnal Departure. ‘Clandestine Theurgy’ is a diverse beast despite its relatively primitivist presentation. Riffs move from busy melodicism, boasting a dense package of choppy licks and refrains, to more measured, soaring sequences of traditionally cold miasmas, through to atonal punk barrages that hearken back to the very foundations of the genre. But thematically, the overall picture on ‘Clandestine Theurgy’ remains pleasingly tight, never losing its inner cohesion for the sake of cluttered stylistic references points.
Fundamentally however, this is work that trades more on its interchanges of riffs and tempo than on unique or immersive atmospheres. The drums provide a solid anchor for these staccato exchanges, flowing from tight blast-beats to galloping trancelike rhythms, knitted together by fills and patterns that are notably complex by black metal standards. By constantly keeping the things in a state of healthy rhythmic churn they unsettle the rest of the music, maintaining a sense of activity and life that never lets up throughout the entire course of the album.
The guitar tone is meaty and bass driven. There is enough refinement here to articulate the elements of cold black metal that make up the dramatic core of each track. But overall it is drenched with a dirt and grime that speaks of older influences stretching back to the primordial soup of the genre in the 1980s. They offer a busy array of transitions from the atonal to the melodic, shifting the emphasis and mood depending on the whims of the rhythm section with its ceaseless demands for activity.
Vocals are high end, articulate, and aggressive, displaying the solidity required to match the strict percussive needs of the music. They burrow into the bowels of the album along with the instrumentation, as opposed to attempting to soar above the mix in operatic wails of despair. This combination of unending activity embodied by each section of Nocturnal Departure with a conceptual and technical unity between the musicians leaves the overall work feeling markedly immediate, down to earth despite its frequent reaches toward the cosmos.
A sometimes tired and overworked iteration of black metal is granted new life via a drop of raw enthusiasm, technical ability, and attention to detail in the marriage of riffs and the contrasting and complementary thematic material they bring to each piece. A work that draws from the past but reaches to the future.
Spectral Corruption: Requiem
Out 21st December on Signal Rex
Raw yet sophisticated black metal boasting a strong melodic core makes up the periphery of the Spectral Corruption signature on their latest album ‘Requiem’. This Slovakian outfit looks to both France and Norway to serve as the underlying dimensions of their sound, but the mournful aspects of the former are well integrated into the high energy density of the latter. The package may be primitivist, but the presentation of the finished product aspires to the epic, boasting an almost regal air of snootiness that lends the music an elegance and grace beyond the raw black metal framing device.
Trebly guitars make up the bulk of the sonic offering. They are anchored by flat yet tight drum work that slides from basic punky back-beats to tight, flowing blast-beats consisting of loose ride cymbals and scant fills. A subtle underlayer of synth tones can be discerned at times, tightening up the harmonic character of the central riffs and signposting moments of finale. Vocals stick with an enraged variant on the black metal style, kept relatively to the mid-range, drama meets a degree of self control.
The riffs themselves pivot on cyclical repetitions. The tempo is fast, the picking tremolo, but the note interchanges are gradualist, with pitch, key, and phrasing undulating through a series of ponderous transitions. This puts one in mind of a complex clock work device, with layer upon layer of cycles all resolving according to their own time frame, but all linking up to create a supervenient whole. The riff character switches from yearning, mournful melodic threads to thrilling heroism defined by bracing speed and major key flirtation. This keeps the thematic churn of the album in good health, and elevates ‘Requiem’ above many aesthetically comparable albums in this regard.
Overall, despite the explicitly traditionalist orientation of Spectral Corruption, they do a fine job of sounding fresh, lively, and remarkably original. This begets a degree of knowledge, intimacy, and above all passion for the craft of meat ‘n’ two veg black metal that many working in this field do not share, and thus end up dumbing down what is – despite its reputation – a remarkably subtle craft. A reminder that it is often not the genre that is fault when people complain of sterility, but the actors within the genre who rely too heavily on well worn tropes. ‘Requiem’ is a striking rebuttal to this common complaint.
Tot aus dem Wald: Satan No Mono
Out 24th December on Wolfmond Productions
The opening number on ‘Satan No Mono’, entitled ‘Yuki, kalter als der Tod’, bears a riff so uncannily similar to ‘Natassja in Eternal Sleep’ that one could be forgiven for thinking that we’re in for another lacklustre Darkthrone rip off. But as Tot aus dem Wald pick up the pace on their latest album it becomes quickly apparent that there is more going on here than mere black metal box ticking. Eerie interludes consisting of minimal percussion, harsh wind instruments, and disjointed chants fill out the spaces between each track, boasting an oddly cloying, warm atmosphere reminiscent of early Xibalba for their understated creep.
The black metal itself fits broadly under the raw-as-fuck umbrella, but maintains a strained aggression that never leaves the music, articulated by harsh, tinny guitars and uncomfortably high pitches even for black metal, punky, barked vocals similar to Ildjarn, and relentlessly primitive drum work to anchor the waves of rage. Bass is non-existent, leaving the album with a hollow core that is oddly compelling, as if the music itself has been cut in two but persists all the same.
This leaves the guitar lines almost completely naked. With nothing but the background static of the pounding drums and histrionic vocals, they are left out in the cold to drag these pieces through their refrains. No keyboards are deployed to sweeten the pill or blanket the music in ancillary textures. Tot aus dem Wald offer a dense melodic package regardless, as the riffs eek out mournful soaring refrains of ascending note clusters that nevertheless articulate a degree of single minded persistence, dancing round the same pitch and theme with hypnotic determination.
The immediacy of the black metal scenery is juxtaposed against the cold distance of the background interludes that haunt the music with their emptiness. We are cloaked in the violent chaos foregrounded on these tracks, but this is ultimately a mere cover, shielding us from the realities of the barren wilderness that awaits once the chaos has again burnt itself out to an unsettling resolution. A work of rage fuelled black metal that succeeds owing to scant subtleties that play out across the entire narrative arc of the album in spite of its explicit monomaniacalism.