Black Metal Roundup: Annihilatus, Aihos, Ultra Silvam & Hecate Enthroned
Four black metal records, from three corners of the world, brought by two-of-the-four winds
Annihilatus – Death From Above
Annihilatus’ history reaches back into 1999, when Nightside alumni War Inquisitor Serpent and Viha decided to channel their creativity into a more primitive, riff-centered black metal band in the vein of Darkthrone and Celtic Frost/Hellhammer. After one full-length, several smaller releases and only a handful of years, the band called it quits, until news of resurgence rose a couple of years back. And finally, after sixteen years, their sophomore, Death From Above, has seen the light of day.
Their barbaric, primitive black metal is every bit as determinant and imperative as before, dealing largely in mid-tempo Death From Above has dropped the few faster, blast-heavy songs from their repertoire, for a more linear, single-minded punishment. “Religions Undone” charges out with a fairly memorable riff, and true to the band’s ascetic vision, the song seems to grow from the minimal variation it is subjected to, rather than a variety of motifs and their permutations. By “War to End All Wars”, however, you’ve heard it all, and most of it thrice. Death From Above quickly descends into a monotonous, negligible mass. Often times it doesn’t even sound like the band is playing the same song over and over again, as much as it does like they’ve only got one riff they’re trying to vary.
The few standout moments become the unquestionable highlights of the record – closer “Cold” takes additional advantage of synths, and “Anti-Magic” possesses a riff more magnetic than the rest. It’s lyrical subject would also seem to diverge from the rest, in that the usual ostentation, bluster and bravado appears directed towards black metal bands supposedly dabbling in the occult or dark arts. A minor twist, but refreshing all the same. Though unfortunately, the more casual approach of the remaining songs, in comparison, sounds like the baying of toothless dogs, Robert E. Howard’s power fantasy, had he mistook himself for the mighty barbarian of his most famous tales. In most cases, I’d find no complaints to be made regarding them, but Death From Above is a very dull record, and one defined by it’s uniformity to a degree where I find myself compelled to clutch at any which straw I can to survive it.
2/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Aihos – Hävityksen Maa
Aihos has been a band for seven years, but only has one previous release – Ikuisuuden Suojaan EP from 2013 – under their belt. Simple, straightforward and uptempo black metal was the name of the game then, and it is so today, the only changes between now and then being a new drummer, and a vocalist with slightly more coarse sound, and clearer diction than his predecessor. Though there’s a constant feeling of familiarity on Hävityksen Maa, it never sounds like you’ve heard a particular song before and Aihos are not completely unoriginal either with their tendency to overlay riffs and melodies rather than merge them, lending them an edge they’ve used to settle into a sound of their own.
A few more acute riffs keep Hävityksen Maa interesting throughout it’s 48 minute run, and the soft-but-raw mix makes it pleasant on the ears. No particular song stands out from the record, though the re-recorded “Tuulen ja Jään Liitto” obviously rings with more familiarity and the English-sung closer “Ancestors Blood” comes armed with slightly more inter-song variation than most of the others. With Hävityksen Maa, Aihos has crafted a strong, consistent debut album that should sit comfortably next to the likes of (mid-era) Horna, and I can only hope that they keep on their current upward trajectory.
3,5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Ultra Silvam – The Spearwound Salvation
A relative newcomer, Sweden’s Ultra Silvam only has one demo released prior to The Spearwound Salvation. A 28-minute ripper of intense, lo-fi black metal that’s chock full o’ riffs, blasting and poignancy. Though the band entertains a melodic ardency, they never stoop towards ambient-influenced, hypnotic or atmospheric structures, preferring to keep the songs moving and developing, as well as introducing new motifs and themes throughout their lengths.
Both their urgency, as well as song structures are more reminiscent of older thrash than black metal bands, and though there’s no influence of such to be heard in Ultra Silvam’s music it does give them an edge vaguely reminiscent of first wave black metal. Thanks to this, The Spearwound Salvation retains a threatening aura despite it’s abundant, and occasionally even bright melodicism. An early favourite without a question.
Hecate Enthroned – Embrace of the Godless Aeon
Hecate Enthroned has been around snce 1993 and while they’ve made something of a name for themselves, greater success has eluded them – despite Upon Promethean Shores EP and The Slaughter of Innocence, A Requiem for Mighty LP being considered classics in some circles. On the earlier years if their existence they were often compared to Cradle of Filth, even accused of ripping the band off, and not entirely for naugh. Those early recordings were more than a little reminiscent of the Suffolk-six, but from the late 90’s forwards Hecate Enthroned adopted a more melodeath-influenced sound, and it’s around this time that I lost track of them. Though it appears that I have not lost much, as following 2001’s Miasma, the band has only out out two full-lengths, with almost a decade between them, filled only with short tours and cancelled South American appearances.
Almost six years since their last appearance, Hecate Enthroned are ready to conquer
the world Wales once more with Embrace of The Godless Aeon. And apparently they’ve steered quite a bit back into their old sound somewhere along the line, because when the very first riff in “Revelations In Autumn Flame” hits, it sounds more like 90’s CoF than Filth’s gang has in nigh 20 years. And possibly moreso than Hecate Enthroned themselves have. “Temples That Breathe” does little to change the sentiment, besides moving the melodic heft from strings to keys, but despite the striking similarities the one-two punch works well enough, and if nothing else, Embrace… makes promises of a good time.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your stance, “Goddess of Dark Misfits” takes a turn into more contemplative and ambitious songwriting, while foregoing much of the melodic riffing. Although the outcome sounds quite a bit less like CoF, it’s almost as if Hecate Enthroned wasn’t truly comfortable forging their own path, and so the song, as well as the similar, 9-minute closer “Erebus and Terror” feature plentiful guest spots from one Sarah Jezebel Diva, best known as th ebest known female vocalist of Cradle of Filth. What’s truly lamentable is that it’s also the point where the record takes a turn for the worse, several of the following songs are rather forgettable. It isn’t really until “The Shuddering Giant” and “Silent Conversations with Distant Stars”, which return the band to the path trod by the first two tracks, but try to apply some of the more ambitious scope of the preceding few to the formula, that the album begins to leave trace again.
All in all, I wouldn’t have objected to an albums worth of the melodic, more or less symphonic black metal that Hecate Enthroned offers for the first few tracks here, even though it mostly lacks any trace of originality, as whenever the band drops the attempt to sound like their more famous contemporaries, they lose a good bit of their charm.