Beats and yelling from: Petrale, Defiled, Urku Llanthu

Petrale: Salvation Precipitates
Out 2nd May, self-released

Weird black metal from Croatia now, with the latest offering from solo project Petrale. ‘Salvation Precipitates’ is a surrealist concoction of older (pre-1990) black metal elements, yet rife with dissonance, menace, and *contradiction in terms trigger warning* “modernist avant-garde”. I say this because the way the music is presented, the timbre, the production, the stylistic philosophy, all speak of a highly contextualised artist, keen to present their music as organic, DIY, artisanal, very much crafted from within the contemporary social and emotional moment (modernist). But the compositions sitting atop this ontology are explicitly abstract, disorientating, non-linear, it breaks through accepted genre norms with an adeptness and weaving subtlety lacking on more explicitly experimental works (subtly avant-garde).

In bypassing the frigid tremolo strumming and blast-beats of Norwegian black metal, Petrale do not entirely eschew the calling cards of the Nordic genre, but they are of course given a warmer hue here, bolstered by the organically understated drums. Ghoulish mid-range vocals grant the music a dark, sweaty ritualism, framing all with an uncannily humanistic orientation, but this is used merely as a jumping off point to augment the twisting, warping psychology at play.

Guitars swirl between riffs that look like a distant ancestor of Celtic Frost, but through the lens of Demilich, and more recent iterations of dissonant black metal. The rhythmic emphasis of this music has more in common with death metal for its arrested momentum and choppy transitions. But atop the many moving parts of the rhythm section is a wash of anomic harmonic material, appearing logical at times, only to sweep any coherence away in favour of entropic dissonance or chromatic interplay.

This tense collision of rigorous death metal versus the loose informalism of black metal calls to mind California’s Mefitis, who also use restrained dissonance as a connecting tissue to bind these central yin and yangs of extreme metal together in the most coherent way imaginable. And it is this coherence that grants ‘Salvation Precipitates’ a sense of holistic conviction so lacking in many comparable musical outliers. But this talk of antecedents and genre signifiers is ultimately window dressing to the fact that Petrale appear to be moving beyond the shackles of yesterday’s extreme metal templates, and into new, as yet uncharted territory.

Despite the obvious eccentricity of the compositions themselves, the vision is subtle, restrained, incrementally building on what has come before. But between the cracks a new logic is articulated. Petrale offer a peripheral, conflicted work seeking to reconcile order and disorder, control and chaos, formal logic and Dada, through the jarring tempo shifts, the fits and starts of melodic momentum, the choppy chromaticism and the abrasive ambience of dissonant guitar noise, an emergent meta lucidity slowly arising from this bizarrest brume.

Defiled: The Highest Level
Out 28th April on Season of Mist

Tokyo’s Defiled offer us another vision of death metal in miniature on their latest album ‘The Highest Level’. Having been playing at the also-ran level of death metal for three decades now, they continue to view mould breaking as someone else’s game, offering another pounding, punk driven gut punch of basic, monomaniacal death metal. That’s not to say that the package is irredeemably basic, they manage to work in moments of intrigue and eccentricity into these short, sparse pieces, theirs is a primitivism so explicit that it begins to look like profundity from a certain angle.

The production appears to be compressed beyond the point where the speakers can even contain and communicate the information they are given. The bass drum constantly clips the audio, and for any bars cluttered with too much sonic information the mix simply cuts out any dynamic nuance or implied trills for the sake of maintaining a constant level of intensity. This gives the otherwise organic drums an artificial guise that lends the music an underlayer of brutality. Guitars present almost no distance between themselves and the listener’s ear, with no reverb, chorus, or anything that would place a barrier between the brute distortion and our absorption of it. This gives the album a cloying, claustrophobic aesthetic that serves the illogical intensity well.

These tracks are short, most are under the three minute mark. This, combined with the blunt, unassuming brutality of the delivery lends them an efficiency lacking in more overproduced death metal. There is no room for deviation here, no meandering filler, and certainly no space left in the mix to deliver anything that is not a riff or the supportive binding threads of percussive and vocal infrastructure.

Although one is left with an abiding impression of mechanistic music, one should not overstate this fact. There is still spontaneity, human calculation, and sadism at play. It just presents as more random than is common to death metal. Elements of hardcore punk, grind, thrash, and tech-death do make inroads from time to time, but the overall guiding logic is anything but, harnessing the rampant energy and momentum of the music into odd waves of phrasing and crescendo, waves that build and fall across multiple tracks. All the while individual molecules of music appear as completely illogical, delivered entirely with their own engender in mind, and no thought given to their interaction with the surrounding bars.

Taken at the macro level (the er, highest level if you will), ‘The Highest Level’ has more in common with jazz than may first initially appear, as these pulses of energy and troughs of simplicity ride across the album, a build of information accumulates, one that each individual track is merely put in service of. This makes for a curious and intense listen, the intent of which is hard to gauge beyond the prima facie dog whistles of blue collar death metal. But it is worth seeking out for its curiosities despite its superficial boneheadedness.

Urku Llanthu: Ayapampa
Out 6th February on Takiri Productions

When it comes to dungeon synth, I think it’s generally agreed that – outside a solemnly monastic inner circle – this micro offshoot of ambient and black metal has well and truly exited the dungeon by this point. Ecuadorian outfit Urku Llanthu’s latest album ‘Ayapampa’ pivots on the same minimalist concoction of folk flavourings, RPG subtexts, and lo-fi ambient, but this loose conglomerate of signifiers is here dedicated to Andean spiritual traditions, specifically in relation to rituals honouring the dead.

The background wind samples and a crackling fire may sound distracting on paper, but in execution they set the tranquil, solitary mountainous scene rather well. Onto this sparse canvas are painted gentle folk flourishes so austere and barren of additional musical language that the effect is almost too fragile to bear. Wind instruments, bells, vaguely metallic percussion, all are augmented through a series of synth patches that emphasise attack rather than sustain. This creates a near complete emptiness at the centre of the music, and again emphasising the vast valleys that surround the conceptual narrative of this album.

Simple refrains with fanatically modest developmental material make up the centrepiece of each track, with the lack of background furniture creating a tension threatening to split the music apart into total emptiness at times. But despite the dearth of information, the music itself never feels repetitive or underdeveloped. There is a strange hypnotism to be found in the incremental steps the music takes via the subtle evolution of each phrase, either through something as simple as the addition or subtraction of a note from a particular bar, or by working a theme through different synth patches and allowing the timbre to do the heavy lifting of offering us new perspectives on familiar material.

‘Ayapampa’ may offer a gaping emptiness more than anything else, but despite this fact it manages to envelop the listener within its concept, taking us out of our present context and placing us in the surroundings required to absorb these melancholy refrains. A work that takes the most recognisable – and sometimes the most heavily criticised – elements of dungeon synth, and directs them toward the communication of a specific idea to great effect.

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