Beats and yelling from:  Oerheks, Vertebrae Fetish Totem, Unholy Craft

Oerheks: Landschapsanachronismen
Out 22nd February on Amor Fati Productions

Obscure, peripheral, melancholy, yet oddly wistful, there’s no denying the rich emotional brew Belgium’s Oerheks whip up on their latest demo ‘Landschapsanachronismen’. A pleasingly symmetrical release consisting of two epic pieces of obscure black metal pulling at similar heartstrings as those attempted by much of the post black metal subgenre, but here those heartstrings retain a sense of gravitas, jeopardy, and grandeur, extending the expressive range of the music and allowing us to be swallowed whole by the experience on both a philosophical and an emotive level.

The mix feels oddly submerged, playing on that well worn trope within black metal of positioning the music as if just beyond a veil of perception via the lo-fi production values. But here the production is remarkably cinematic, with an assertive guitar tone, and a depth of field granting room for ancillary atmospheric textures, distant melodramatic vocalisations, and a surprisingly tight drum performance.

All is focused toward articulating taut, highly melodic refrains that circle between expressions of loss, to a bracing sense of adventure, to reverence not without cheer. In short, a strong case could be made for interpreting this as unapologetic escapism incarnate. There is no denying that the presentation and execution are a finely crafted operation directed at achieving precisely that end. It is difficult to resist the urge to completely lose oneself in the experience of this demo.

But this is not a work of formless emotive yearning alone. The compositions are tight, efficient, well oiled machines. The drums, despite the limited remit required for this style, eke out creative space regardless, offering compressed and pleasing fills that do not distract from the bombast of the music, played with nuance enough to contribute to the building crescendos, gaining real currency in what dynamic range there is across these tracks.

Equally, the guitars offer a flowing, dreamlike conveyor belt of light melodic refrains, finding just the right balance between compliment and contrast to give both a sense of journey and continuity as each composition flows and develops. They are layered in such a way as to express melodies as a lifecycle, with each played in unison meeting at a different point in its journey to resolution, thus giving the music a constant state of motion and unease even as one guitar refrain reaches a point of cadential rest.

All this makes for an EP that hits both the heart and the head in unexpectedly striking ways. A reassertion of black metal as both a music of yearning and agency, willing the listener to embrace their purpose within the journey, whilst acknowledging grief as a natural and necessary aspect of life, and finding the expressive space to give voice to this conflicted experiential brew through these fragile lamentations.

Vertebrae Fetish Totem: Cult
Out 16th February on Centipede Abyss

Entropic death metal of raw, monomaniacal ooze fills the speakers with its haze on ‘Cult’, the new album from Vertebrae Fetish Totem. From a technical stance, this is about as sloppy as they come as far as death metal is concerned. Basic, repetitive riffs, linear percussive patterns trading on transitions from mid-paced blast-beats to collapsing doom metal, arhythmic vocalisations of inhuman, throaty outbursts. But the slop this material is moulded from is precisely the point, and a frankly refreshing break from the norm as far as contemporary death metal is concerned.

The music is at once schizophrenic yet oddly single minded. It lurches between transitions with little thought given to arrested momentum or the collapse of theme. Yet the riffs circle around the same set of ideas with an oddly compelling reliability.

Production is of demo quality. Drums are presented in the nude. A raw, tinny snare sound cuts through the mix with ease, whilst toms and bass are somewhat lost in the mix, as is often the case with recordings from the practice studio where a dearth of mics places limitations on capturing the kit. But this is all to the good as far as the wider picture found on ‘Cult’ is concerned. The loose performance does not preclude a degree of intentionality at work behind the scenes, a deliberate attempt at disorientation and misdirection.

This is just as well as the guitars are remarkably focused. The tone is chewy, able to dominate the flow of both the mix and the compositions with only the most limited substance to the riffs themselves. They trade on basic chromatic punches, droning, dissonant progressions, and the occasional foray into loose yet aggressive atonality lifted from a hardcore punk lineage. But – as with the drums – there is poise and premeditation behind this performance, an intentionality demonstrative of a higher consciousness at work directing the violent heaves of motion that superficially present as random.

‘Cult’ is a compelling and oddly challenging work of lo-fi, DIY death metal that reaches beyond the limited means of the music’s presentation, connecting with the alien “other” in pleasingly novel ways. Death metal that is both accessible in the more literal sense that the music is easy to follow, but the supervenient order and intention behind this screen presents as a wholly alien “other”, as joyful as it is horrific.

Unholy Craft: Naar All Tid Er Omme
Out 27th February on Purity Through Fire

Unholy Craft’s debut ‘Naar All Tid Er Omme’ embodies many facets of traditional black metal, to the point where, if taken at face value, this album could be dismissed as equally disposable as the other 90s aligned works of lo-fi histrionics that are churned out each week. But there is a difference of approach across this album, a slightly left-field orientation, that makes Unholy Craft’s…craft, more worthy of study.

The artist references the usual suspects as influences, from Darkthrone’s original black metal trilogy to early Gorgoroth, but also the likes of Kvist, the latter two of which, to my mind, are where we need to insert ourselves into this beast. Although this is prima facie a work of mood and atmosphere, these reference points speak of an artist equally preoccupied with black metal retaining the art of riffcraft. The marked aesthetic rules of the genre explode and kaleidoscope elements of metal riffing in new and unexpected directions, but in order to achieve this imaginarium effect one must actually insert some infrastructure into the equation.

Unholy Craft have done just that. There’s riffs and content aplenty. But in crafting this highly energetic, dense, fast variant of black metal on the far side of raw, they also present as oddly eccentric, this album is straining at the leash of abrasion. At points the fast paced, galloping tempos turn the music from pleasingly alienating black metal into an almost unbearably tinny expression of the avant-garde. This album is threatening to burst from its own seams and overwhelm the speakers and the listener’s psyche with fraught expressions of misanthropic aggression.

This bombast is contrasted with many of the melodic refrains that – despite their speed and assertiveness – embody an oddly drab, downbeat thematic core that works in perfect juxtaposition to the manner in which the music is phrased out in actuality. Vocals join the cacophony, offering strained, high end screeches of inhuman despair and violence. Although unremarkable in context, the total lack of expressive or dynamic range is in itself oddly noteworthy. This release has little to offer for those seeking the next frontier of extreme metal. But as a reinterpretation of a well worn style, it has much to say. It is a juiced up, exaggerated, hyper charged version of straightforward black metal of a more riff orientated variant. For fans and scholars of this style, it is well worth a nosey for its outrageous disregard for the norms of organising highs and lows of intensity in any logical or aesthetically pleasing way. 

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