Black Metal Mass Review: Aegrus, Asagraum & Ad Mortem
Three black metal bands from three corners of the world, each drawing from the genre’s classical vein, each with a sound of their own.
Aegrus – In Manus Satanas / Wolves Howl Revenge
Aegrus is no newcomer, having existed and steadily put out material since 2005, but it’s only recently that they’ve started to gain more traction. They’ve been a personal favourite for some time, with both of their previous full-lengths appearing on my EOTY lists for their respective years, and gaining recognition from other TovH writers as well. While their debut offered distinctively varied songwriting, reaching a level of dynamics rarely encountered in the second-wave style, the sophomore looked for a more consistent sound, not entirely unlike older Behexen. Both were great albums in their own right, as was the EP released in the interim, and it’s been an eager wait for the last two or so years.
This time, Aegrus strikes not only with two separate, almost simultaneous releases, but also with a renewed line-up. While most of their previous material was recorded by the central creative duo of drummer/vocalist Inculta and guitarist/bassist Lux Tenebris, the third full-length, In Manus Satanas, features drummer Serpentifer (who pulls the same duties in Gorephilia and Gloria Morti), and second guitarist Praestigiatoris.
In Manus Satanas continues very much on the path that Thy Numinous Darkness trod with it’s malodorous, menacing melodicism once more reminiscent of older Behexen, but in a manner that first and foremost evokes thoughts of Aegrus themselves, a sound they’ve honed and crafted for their own. What they may lack in uniqueness is made up in consistent quality.
I’ve played In Manus Satanas quite a few times now, and I can’t help but wonder how someone couldn’t get “Nightspirit Theosis'” driving riff stuck in their head, how “Hymn To The Firewinged One” wouldn’t grip you by the balls and never let go, or how “Gestalt of Perdition” could be shrugged off as a forgettably common black metal composition, but at first, I must admit, I harbored such thoughts. The songs haven’t grown in complexity but most of the riffing seems somewhat more reserved than before, the melodic placement more calculated and careful. Though only so, perhaps, in relation to its predecessor.
As a result, In Manus Satanas is less immediate than any of the band’s previous works, and would likely be more consistent as well if their previous works hadn’t already been very much so. This consistency is in danger of turning against the band—Thy Numinous Darkness did not often stray from its set path but did feature a few brief moments where the band broke away from their trappings, whereas In Manus Satanas features none of these; its approach is monochromatic enough to highlight “Ascending Shadows” merely because of its slow-burning nature.
The songs are strong enough to carry the album, however, and Aegrus triumphs this time. But even though I would be willing to call In Manus Satanas a very good album indeed, it’s not very far from becoming a tedious one. Surprisingly, accenting the consistency seems to be a conscious choice as the band is putting out a two-song 7″ EP, Wolves Howl Revenge, less than a month after the album, with both songs embracing livelier riffing and slithering melodicism that make for more instantly gripping songs. Whatever the case, Aegrus has two worthy releases lined-up, and if black metal is your thing, you’d be amiss to skip them.
Asagraum – Dawn of Infinite Fire
The Netherlands-based Asagraum has been moving fast on their career, with the debut Potestas Magicum Diaboli arriving only a couple of years after their initial formation, and now, the sophomore following it slightly less than two years later. Originally a duo of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Obscura and drummer Trish Kolsvart, their debut offered an intriguing mix of almost Svartidauði-like psychedelic and chaotic black metal on a much stronger foundation of ripping, violent and hateful classicism. Soon after the album, Kolsvart departed to focus on her numerous other projects, and briefly joined the death metal group Sister of Suffocation to replace Amber de Buijzer, who in turn had been drafted for drum duties in Asagraum. (Despite having a full live line-up, the band remains a duo officially and in the studio.)
Dawn of Infinite Fire is another album I had been eagerly waiting for, but when “Abomination’s Altar” dropped, I was disheartened enough that it took me a while to actually give the record, which had been sitting in my inbox for a time, a fighting chance. It seemed to signal a change in the proportions of their influences. Never had they delved too deep into the chaotic realms of dark psychedelia, but they’d constantly remain there and ladle its influence into their music.
Though it may not have been the most apparent influence on Potestas Magicum Diaboli at all times, it could still be said that the psychedelic aspect of their sound formed a good part of the foundation on top of which everything else was built. On Dawn of Infinite Fire, it is instead this ripping classicism that is being built on, and the psychedelia is barely a condiment; the band dips their toes into that realm here and there but doesn’t remain there with any consistency.
Okay, so the psychedelia on the first record was always subdued and the band would never have comfortably stood in the same corner of black metal bands like Svartidauði and the classicism was always a very prominent part of their sound. But something seems to have changed nevertheless.
On the other hand, Dawn of Infinite Fire is a much more gripping and catchy album, though this does not necessarily mean more memorable. While the stronger classic influence has lent them a more instant and hooking effect, the increased in-song dynamic keeps it from becoming too straightforward, and what presence the psychedelia retains should nicely add to the albums longevity.
Ad Mortem – Supreme Pestilence
A fairly new German band, Ad Mortem put out their debut demo, Supreme Pestilence, in August las year, and it was recently re-issued on CD along with a new split with Stnzr Cult. At five songs and a brisk twenty minutes, Supreme Pestilence’s length is befitting for its barbarous and ungainly sound reminiscent of the most brutish, melodic works of Finnish black metal’s earlier contenders.
Much as expected, Supreme Pestilence brings little new to the table and doesn’t provide any curve-balls or surprises throughout its length. Ad Mortem knows better, however, than to carve all of their songs from the same stone; “Crown of Hate” slows down from their mostly brisk pace and includes a main riff more wistful than the rest, while the closing “Totenkult” takes advantage of some additional keyboards. These are conventional means to broaden a palette, but the choices work.
I find myself drawn to Supreme Pestilence’s crude approach, and considering it’s the band’s very first release, there’s good potential here to build on, as long as the band can provide some sharper, more striking riffs next time around.
The Ceremonies of Apocalyptic Idolatry split adds Henker, who played keys on the demo, on four-string duty for the previously bassless band, but takes no particular advantage of additional low-end tones. The two songs feature a more rehearsed foursome, and though their music still remains fairly crude, much of the barbarity of Supreme Pestilence has gone missing, as the performances have grown tighter. Whether this will increase or decrease the band’s charm remains to be seen.
Each of these three bands has their social media pages linked above, so go click on those names, give them a like and tell them The Toilet said “Soup.”