A Touch of the Dutch

Black metal faces crudely photoshopped onto Dutch football fans.

Let’s check in with the Swamp Germans, as Eenzaamheid calls his people. I’ve been keeping an eye on the ever-innovative scene for a while, and since it’s been a while since I’ve written and a while since we’ve discussed the Netherlands’ black metal riches, now seemed a perfect opportunity to dip back into the lowlands for another injection of ferocity from Utrecht, Zwolle and elsewhere. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Alburnum – Buitenlucht

Painted in muted tones and dabbed with touches of accordion and mandolin, Alburnum‘s Buitenlucht is a woodland reverie of a black metal record. It’s oddly warm and hushed for a black metal record—no traces of that Nordic chill to be found here—so despite the vicious vocals, the record feels introspective and approachable.

If you’re super trve and that description sounds too Cascadian for your palate, consider that this record is far closer to Fluisteraars than Saor inasmuch as it approaches black metal not as a hiker approaches a forest but as a badger in the woods approaches an interloper. While trees-‘n’-shit black metal has a more Romanticist bent, Alburnum’s work on tracks like “Fluisterend Water” feels much more ancient. This isn’t music about the trees, it’s music of the trees, and that makes a massive difference.

“Eeuwig Licht” is an excellent example. Urged on at a midtempo pace by languid drums and snatches of acoustic instrumentation, the shrieked vocals and blastbeats are the only thing that place this song outside of a folk music tradition. One could imagine layered choirs instead of screams here, but the vocals inject a primal quality to Buitenlucht that complement, rather than stand out from, the melodies. This is music to get lost to.

Dinbethes – Balans

Now we’re cooking with gas. If Alburnum have captured het bosch, then Dinbethes have captured the fickle might of the sea. Like Alburnum’s full-length, their debut record dropped earlier this summer via small-but-mighty Babylon Doom Cult. Unlike BuitenluchtBalans is a big record, with a relentless rhythm section and searing harsh vocal performance from J. (also of WeerzinShagor et al.). eenzy gave us a little preview of this carefully assembled album during our Dall-E Mini musings with a closer look at the album’s keystone song, “Geboren.”

As with other bands affiliated with Swarte Yssel, Dinbethes are clearly adept at channeling a broad range of influences through a polished lens of songwriting. Like using a magnifiying glass to fry ants, Dinbethes mastermind J. has focused old and new sounds into a five-track album that culminates in a sweeping 11-minute title track with a hair-raising, doomed-out bridge and epic coda. Shoutout to Dinbethes’ guest vocalists for making parts of the album sound as if they were recorded in a church being reclaimed by the tide.

IJdelheid – Unholy

Remember that Grey Aura album I wrote about way back when? What if I told you the same songwriter who engineered that kaleidoscopic look at a fraying Modernist mind released a gorgeous darkwave album earlier this year?

The album in question would be Unholy by IJdelheid. Where Grey Aura traffic in constructivist chaos, Unholy explores intimate spaces on hushed footfalls. Take “Gathering,” the album’s second track, an acoustic waltz borne along by pizzicato plucking and classical percussion that shows Grey Aura frontman Ruben Wijlacker’s softer side. Wijlacker is responsible for everything here, and the Utrecht Gesamtkünstler proves to have instrumental and vocal versatility throughout the album, shifting as he does from a gentle tenor on “Gathering” to a purring baritone on “Justine.”

Given Wijlacker’s obvious commitment to his literary work, it would be interesting to know whether Unholy has similar underpinnings. Regardless, this is a great album for a stroll and one I plan to revisit when the leaves start to turn.

Terzij de Horde – In One of These, I Am Your Enemy

I talked about writing about this fucking blistering Terzij de Horde record when it came out, but the issue became the fact that I was simply enjoying it too much to do so. A punishing record that is so clearly black metal yet so clearly made of sterner stuff, In One of These… is front-to-back relentless. Any criticisms I had of this record have melted away on repeat listens. “Maybe it’s a little bit short.” No, you’re wrong. It’s the perfect length. “Maybe it could be in Dutch.” Who gives a shit? Now I know what they’re saying. “Maybe the cover could be like some sick art instead of a lone firefighter?” Nah, man. That cover goes super hard.

In particular, this record has one of those songs with a moment so hair-raisingly good that I’ve listened to it probably two dozen times, several of those immediately after the last. Of course, I’m talking about the bridge section at 4:43 in the title track. It’s one of those building clean guitar sections that spills over into a massive bridge and makes my hackles instantly go up.

I feel comfortable saying this is Terzij de Horde’s best effort to date. That said, In One of These… also shows what a back catalogue these avowed anti-fascists have been able to build on. Terzij de Horde has unleashed a concise, well-crafted and approachable record that is almost certainly going to land on my favorites list for 2022.

Got other Dutch metal suggestions? Put ’em in the comments!

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