Also, three of these bands are duos and one is a solo project. What’s in the water over there? There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.

A Pale December  – The Shrine of Primal Fire

First on the list is an Italian duo releasing their first LP. The first thing you’ll notice is the obvious Agalloch influence with the nature-infused atmospheric black metal and folky touches. It’s depressive in an upbeat kinda way, like having a great day while trudging through a cold misty fen.


They don’t run with a riff for very long, which I usually prefer, but sometimes I’d like them to linger more. Longer runs and recurring themes could help songs feel more cohesive, but the riff hopping reveals some great moments. The meandering tremolos have a powerful effect on the melody when they hit full black metal mode, which isn’t too often, but the stretches between are never boring. For example, “Cimmerian Veil” starts as what sounds like will be the heaviest track, but then they insert a smooth jazz interlude right in the middle and some even goofier shit at the end. Most of me absolutely loves it, but it also compromises its sincerity in a weird way, if you care about such things.

As much as I hate traditional black metal, I think these guys could actually experiment less and easily get away with a nicely varied album. The wide array of vocal styles keep things in flux and most fit the mood well (I’m looking at you weird hard-rock-ish style that pops up for a second in “The Path of Stars”).

I should also pre-warn you of the programmed drums. They are tolerable most of the time, but moments like in ”Midwinter Ritual” get a little icky with the clicky and later sound like a basketball in an empty gym. But hey, when you’re recording in a home studio, you gotta do what you gotta do. The guitar work is really the showstopper anyway.

Everything comes together on the 14-minute closer. They prove that even in a long format, they have the ability to stay focused, transition smoothly, and just rip a guitar to shreds. Their next album will be a 5/5 if they follow this formula (and maybe get a real drummer).  

Ah Ciliz & Chiral, Origins Split

Ah Ciliz is yet another duo from the land of carbs, and boy do they throw a happy marinara sauce over everything! A stereotypical-bell-cutting-through-wind theme kicks off the split before bursting into one of those uncommonly upbeat black metal tremolos. Minus the fluffy vocals, I get a strong Astronoid vibe from them. The drumming could be a little tighter, but the gritty vocals and melodic guitar play off each other in a really fun way. The songs don’t really progress, but the riffs are so dang catchy and memorable that it doesn’t even matter. The second track would be a nice melodic break during a full-length but is a little odd on this short split. I’ll be keeping an eye out for new Ah Ciliz, that’s for sure.


Chiral is a one-man band doing a strangely similar thing. It’s a really well-paired split. While the guitar just shreds through high-notes, he uses some electronics to build the theme. Sometimes spooky and sometimes technical, they are the most memorable sections of the tracks due to their unexpectedness.

Hornwood Fell, My Body, My Time

Hornwoord Fell‘s third LP is an evolution from their more classic black metal style, adding some progressive elements. The forest imagery is out and instead focuses on the human, which maybe explains why vocals are high in the mix. Again, there’s decent variation with melo-death cleans mixed in. However, there are a lot of vocal portions that are more or less just spoken, which I don’t love.


Over it all, there’s a well developed dark and tortured theme. The rapid variations are unpredictable, but not jarring. The raw drum sound is pretty nice, with most of the songs starting out blasting with a d-beat, then winding down and end with an extended outro. Creating a cohesion across the album without getting repetitive. I’m slightly less enthused by this one due to a lack of captivating melodic parts, but I predict many of you will dig it.

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