Beats and yelling from: The Evil, Lamp of Murmuur, Svinfylking/Isataii

The Evil: Seven Acts to Apocalypse
Out 31st March on Osmose Productions

‘Seven Acts to Apocalypse’, predictably segmented into seven tracks each dedicated to a deadly sin, is fundamentally the work of a so-so stoner doom outfit elevated beyond their station by a very talented vocalist, one whose eclectic range brings drama and borderline symphonic weight to these rather flat Electric Wizard offcut riffs and – dare we say – quaint retro psychedelic occultism. Mistress Wournous’s vocal diversity traverses the bombast of Candlemass, to emotive alt rock crooning, to gravelly ritualism. Evidently operatically trained, she is able to commit to each genre without compunction, with her style bleeding into the surrounding music, thus shifting its overall orientation and impact.

Perhaps this is a little unfair to the remaining members of The Evil. Each track is littered with two or three memorable riffs, and scatterings of character beyond the loose drone of tritone fuelled stoner doom. It’s just that the style they play in is by now rather dated even if we speak in revivalist terms. The trend of Black Sabbath aping psychedelic stoner doom triggered by the likes of Electric Wizard and brought to its zenith by Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats looks rather tired in 2023. The Evil bring some much needed energy and activity to the framework, but if it were not for Mistress Wournous’s vocals I probably would not have even filtered this out for review.

The music is well produced, exhibiting the industry standard analogue organicism for this genre. A dirge of bass ridden guitars fleshes out the bulk of the mix, with loose yet busy drums stitching together the gaps between each droning chord together with creative fills, exhibiting patterns that do not overly rely on crash cymbals (another common failing of the genre) despite their heavy use. Thundering bass serves its purpose in lending some much needed gravitas. Ancillary keyboards and “weird” guitar effects further populate the mix with welcome activity and character.

But most importantly, each song is defined by at least one memorable theme. Development may be found wanting, but The Evil do a good job of communicating a lurking sense of menacing ritualism, of commandingly dark spiritualism defined by a rampant intoxication that is ultimately the central thematic pillar of stoner doom.

But it is left to Mistress Wournous to bring that extra edge to this music that graduates it into something truly exceptional. Clean vocals are always a risk within a metal setting, it being the instrument most tied to a sense of individualised emotion that threatens to bring the listener out of the cinematic experience. Or at an even more basic level, one may simply be averse to a particular vocalist’s timbre.

But here they are delivered with such commitment, talent, and range that it gives The Evil another dimension to play with, one not available for many of their peers. Indeed it warps not only the thematic and emotive impact of the music, but even the genre itself, allowing it to bleed into traditional heavy metal, symphonic metal, and heavy psych with ease. This leaves us forced to regard ‘Seven Acts to Apocalypse’ as a shining example of how to resurrect this stale subgenre from its current mire, and bring a sense of motion to the otherwise tepid creative cul-de-sacs it currently finds itself in.

Lamp of Murmuur: Saturnian Bloodstorm
Out 26th March on Argento Records

Currently one of the hottest properties on the black metal market right, California’s Lamp of Murmuur return for a new full length outing. If previous offerings aped raw, vampiric black metal sprinkled with a sugary coating of melodic hooks fit for the funderground audience, ‘Saturnian Bloodstorm’ sees this outfit turn its “talents” to a reimaging of Immortal’s ‘At the Heart of Winter’, via poppy melodic blackened thrash, flexing just enough muscle to allow self-identifying “serious” music fans to confess their enjoyment without sacrificing credibility.

As far as the description of the album is concerned, this is basically a concoction of thrash era Immortal, with a slightly denser melodic offering, an injection of dynamic riffing and rhythmic interplay. Indeed, some of the riffs go so far as to bleed into homage, tribute, reverence maybe. There are…shall we say quirks, that betray a character beyond the stark nexus of influence, but these moments of novelty are mere seasoning, a loose thread knitting together an Immortal shaped tapestry. 

But what’s more remarkable about ‘Saturnian Bloodstorm’ is how this album, and this artist, has been received by the scene. Every now and then, whether through intelligent promotion or a chance plug, a superficially “pure” black metal outfit raises its head above the canopy of the metal community, and gains some notoriety amongst a wider music listening public. Lamp of Murmuur is one such artist. On ‘Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism’, their ability to weave the look and feel of Les Legions Noire style raw black metal with hooks domesticated enough to resonate with the black metal crowd more preoccupied with veneers than they are substantive music discourse gained them an audience.

Here we see them apply the same logic to melodic blackened thrash. As mentioned, there are accents and quotations that speak of other influences, maybe a character of its own. But what cannot be denied is that Lamp of Murmuur are positioning themselves as one of black metal’s celebrated shapeshifters, much like Blut Aus Nord before them. But it’s not really clear why this phenomenon attracts such lavish attention.

Of course we can point to the shiny wrapping paper, the opulent package of recognisable elements concocted into something that looks new but is anything but, or the more cynical reading that this is simply down to clever PR. Whatever the real story behind this artist’s increasingly high standing within the scene, the music we are presented with on ‘Saturnian Bloodstorm’ amounts to nothing more than a retelling of ‘At the Heart of Winter’ from the uncanny valley at best, at worst this is contextless ephemera, an empty vessel for scenic virtue signalling, a vessel into which insecure critics and fans are invited to pour their cultural capital, reaffirming a sense of credibility via a work that will be disposed of once it has served this purpose. 

Svinfylking/Isataii: split
Out 27th March on Nithstang Productions

This split EP sees two of the more straightforward voices of USBM brought to the fore, showcasing a no thrills tour of vibrant, unpretentious blue collar black metal. Florida’s Svinfylking open up proceedings with a variant of bracing, raw black metal studded with oi punk optimism and a worryingly adept penchant for catchy hooks, so worrying in fact that I had to double check that this wasn’t NSBM. But no, the anthemic, almost cathartic melodic content is bent toward more libertarian thematic material.

The setup is spiritually aligned with a basic shot of punk adrenaline, rousing calls to arms and all. But despite the raspy vocals and hints of uncontrolled aggression, it is more aligned with earthy folk traditions than anything of a hardcore lineage. The drums rarely elevate themselves to a blast-beat, and the riffs maintain a pronounced aversion to atonality. But Svinfylking do not sacrifice the grassroots urgency of punk, indeed one of the key strengths of this blend of hyper charged melodic black metal with intimate folk punk is its ability to balance the once-removed-from-reality mysticism of full blooded black metal with the realism of punk, blending them into a concoction more than the sum of the parts.

Isataii occupy the more overtly obscurantist space on this EP, offering four tracks of submerged, laconic, isolationist black metal that mixes the galloping bravado of Ukrainian and Eastern European stylings with the raw primitivism of traditional USBM. A pleasing bass throb sits at the heart of these tracks, swelling up the centre of the mix and providing a solid bulk for the guitars to apply layers of abrasion and minimalist melodic material. Vocals sit high in the mix, offering a maniacal scream of aggression, supplemented by punches of guttural ejaculations.  

The pieces demonstrate the submerged power of traditional raw black metal, but a variant retaining an expressive melodic core, applying purpose and reason to the chaos. Because – aside from the anarchic vocals and loose percussive barrage – a single guitar line remains the chief voice, the music gains complexity by the implication left between each lurking chord sequence as opposed to any ontological nuance. The pieces themselves are dirt simple. But great mileage is achieved by the patient and intuitive layering of competing yet complimentary emotive voices within the compositional narrative. A superficially primitive work that reveals pockets of nuance in the unpacking.

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