Black Metal Double Review: Kyprian’s Circle and Azaghal
We’ve got two almost-new albums from Finnish black metal stalwarts for you to ignore!
Azaghal – Valo Pohjoisesta
Azaghal is the best known band of the so called HVNK KVLT scene, centered around a few individuals, each a member of approximately 268 bands. With that, it may not surprise you to learn that Azaghal, like most of the scene at large, isn’t known for consistently putting out a modern classic after another. Though Azaghal – named so after Tolkien’s dwarven king – has had their days in the sun. Their first demo, Noituuden Torni, and debut LP, Mustamaa, released a few years later were straightforward 90’s black metal which wore their influences on their sleeves, sometimes a little too obviously, but have nevertheless earned their status as their status as something akin to cult-classics. Unfortunately, briefly after their sophomore – the short and very much pissed off Helvetin Yhdeksän Piiriä that moved them closer towards the brutal sound they’ve since inhabited – the quality began to drop alarmingly, though most fans of the band would still seem to prefer Of Beasts and Vultures to the majority of their discography. Perhaps it did not do them much good to release several splits between each album, seemingly putting something out every two months, but it took all the way to 2012’s Nemesis for the band to hit their mark (although the previous few had carefully began to reverse the ever-coiling downward spiral). Azaghal’s primus motor, Narqath, always had a knack for making good songs even when he didn’t have the best raw material, so when the riffs finally did become of better fare the result was one of the most repeat-worthy, listenable – though by no means the best – black metal albums of the decade. The simplistic songs, often built of two or three riffs, contained enough variety, memorable riffs and catchy choruses to keep the album interesting throughout it’s length and the formerly soft hiss of distortion had become a harsher buzz that was more pleasing to the ear.
A band that had never before hit too many correct spots at once suddenly did everything right – of course, this was also a time I wasn’t being malignantly flooded with an armada of promos per week, so I didn’t yet have so firmly harsh opinions on most things. While it’s follow-up, Madon Sanat, was a less consistent record, it still had some of the band’s best material and if Valo Pohjoisesta would have been released there and then, I would have been fairly well excited about it. But time passes and the band has been plagued by guitarist problems – JL Nokturnal was forced to retire due to hearing loss, and his successor Ruho’s stint proved very short – forgettable at best splits, and one of the worst performance’s I’ve seen. Kids, at least be sober enough to act like you can play the guitar throughout your set, or stand up, especially if you only have one guitarist, thank you. So my expectations for Valo Pohjoisesta had rather hit rock bottom. The artwork came close to winning me over, but then the first single, “AIWASS” hit, unremarkable blasts betwixt a central, stomping riff alternating ad nauseam. And I was ready to sign this album off.
Following the two-minute intro, the duo of “Mato Joka Sinut Turmelee” and “Valo Pohjoisesta” are, fortunately, a spirit raising effort with vibrant tremolo riffs and catchy choruses – Azaghal has never shied away from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus songwriting, though not using it as a crutch either. Most of the record follows suit, the deviating riffwork of “AIWASS” making much better sense in context, especially since elsewhere deviation from the structure doesn’t last a song’s length, or reach their structural core – the clean-sung part in “Ajaton”, the low gutturals of “Argenturm Astrum” and the leads and solos former guitarist JL Nokturnal returned to spread here and there – these mostly make up the highlights of the album as well. What truly makes Valo Pohjoisesta, however, is it’s production. Clear and discernible, but lacking the big studio sterility – drums are neither muffled nor clipping, but they don’ carry the plastic clang either. The bass is loud and clear sometimes sounding like it was doubled with another, heavily distorted line, and the guitars retain the harsh buzz from Nemesis. One of the best sounding (black metal) records I’ve heard in 2018 – in context(!). Niflungr’s delivery remains as hoarse and dry as ever, fairly discernible and both, competent and powerful enough to make up for the monochromatic approach of it (despite the aforementioned breaks).
There are no songs on Valo Pohjoisesta that would rise above the others, but the consistency of it makes for a good listen. Coupled with the good artwork and exceeding any expectation I had, Valo Pohjoisesta gets half-a-flaming-toilet higher a score than it otherwise might.
3,5 / 5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL
Kyprian’s Circle – Noitatulen Vartija
Kyprian’s Circle was a short-lived black metal collective centered around it’s guitarist and only official member, Kyprian Nurmi. They/he released a few demos in the mid-nineties, with a more-or-less rotating group of session musicians before calling it a day. But not before sitting down to write and record Noitatulen Vartija, a 5 song, 19-minute EP released originally through Silverhorn Productions, and now re-issued on Werewolf Records. Aided by a group that included vocalist Nazgul (Horna/Satanic Warmaster/White Death) and Toni Raehalme, who would go on to play violin for Shape of Despair, Noitatulen Vartija is the longest and most perfect distill of Kyprian’s Circle’s sound. Raw as the time would have it, but atmospheric rather than furious. Ethereal in a way that no other band at the time, nor too many since, sought to be. It’s lyrical content isn’t, nor was it ever, something out of the ordinary, but veiled, perhaps, in a more mystical veil than most, to befit the material of the record, that also took advantage of acoustic guitars and more honest use of piano than is common black metal. Yet it shared little-to-no connection with the overwrought 90’s sympho-black scene. As Noitatulen Vartija is a re-release, I’ll abstain from scoring it, but strongly urge anyone to give it a whirl, 19 years after it’s birth.