July Roundup: Bhleg, Silver Knife, Cirkeln & Armagedda
Like the cleaning of a house… it never ends. The torrent of new music is eternal.
Bhleg – Äril
Released a good while ago, Bhleg‘s Äril, and the band in general, seems to have slipped past too many trees’n’shit black metal enthusiasts. It’s only three songs, but almost half an hour in length—a most excellent door into the duo’s world for the uninitiated as well. Informed by the Nordic tradition, nature and folk music in the same sense Panopticon could be said to be informed by the Midwestern, and Southern US’ equivalents, it’s rooted in, but not limited to the ’90s. With glorious tremolo-picked riffs, carefully placed, moderately used keyboards and a mix of both choirs and dry, harsh vocals, “Vittra och dö” introduces the band’s varied, mid-to-slow paced approach to their music, and to the changing of seasons, from the dying of the summer, through the fires of autumn, into the hibernation of winter that govern Äril’s cycle. “Fråm eld till aska” further expands the band’s scope with violin (or is that a nyckelharpa? Kinda sounds like both) while the rough and unpolished, but not raw production/mix achieves the perfect combination for its kind.
Silver Knife – Unyielding/Unseeing
An international group consisting of veterans from Hypothermia, Laster, Cult of Erinyes and Nusquama, and no prior recordings to their name, Silver Knife focuses on offering a harsh incentive for trying times, “a soundtrack for those too reluctant to wallow in self-pity”. Both aggressive and melancholic, their black metal relies on repetition of simple tremolo-picked riffs and harsh, high-pitched shrieks buried in the mix. Occasionally a careful keyboard melody is mixed in, and the melodic riffs take a more triumphant turn, which in “This Numinous Loom” draws the band closer to Yellow Eyes. The repetition and near constant blasting lend Unyielding/Unseeing a stagnant feel and picks away at the aggression, not unlike a variety of post-black groups, a resemblance not lessened by the calm sections more frequently appearing on the second half. (The song lengths don’t help either). Mostly between 7-8 minutes, Silver Knife does not often do well to dwell on their compositions. The first 3-4 minutes of “Conjuring Traces” are the best the album has to offer, and a black metal delight, but the rest feel like padding that could have served as a foundation to another decent song. “Sundown” and “Unyielding” have great ideas and don’t struggle to find their way through their length, but feel bit lost somehow anyway. With a little condensation, Silver Knife’s debut could’ve been one of the most enthralling (post-)black albums of 2020, but all too much is lost on the way. At least Mare Cognitum‘s Jake’s production does the album the right kind of justice.
Cirkeln – Kingdoms That No One Remembers
Founded only last year, Cirkeln is already dropping their debut full-length, only months after an EP of no inconsiderate length either. That’s never going to sound promising, but especially with a band as new as Cirkeln, I’m willing to give them a chance in hopes that either they’ve got a prodigy among their ranks, or else the songs were written over a much longer period than the actual founding of the band would suggest. I cannot attest to the latter, and lone member Våndarr isn’t the former, but Kingdoms That No One Remembers is, fortunately, good. Drawing heavily from the more mythological end of the Tolkien legendarium, and in doing so, invalidating its title, Cirkeln builds upon the legacy of viking-era Bathory rather than Summoning and incorporates influences ranging from doom to heavy metal and traditional black metal into fold as well, “Sing of Frozen Dreams” even recalls old In Flames of all bands. Even though it may not be the single biggest influence, black metal is used to glue all the others together, and in a decision fitting with this, the vocals are performed almost exclusively as harsh, dry growls. Cirkeln is a welcome addition to the fold, even if at this point the music isn’t quite as good as the mix is interesting. With a few additional years and releases down the line that should be even less of a problem. And their outspoken politics don’t exactly hurt either.
Armagedda – Svindeldjup Ättestup
Armagedda evolved from the fledgling Volkermord as the ’90s prepared to close their eyes for good. They produced a series of smaller releases at an extremely brisk pace, culminating in the raw, very simplified, direct and unsophisticated debut, The Final War Approaching, only two years into their existence. Both the debut and Only True Believers, the now-duo’s sophomore full-length with less pronounced treble, and slightly more focused songwriting, drew deeply from the same well as Darkthrone and Craft, and propelled Armagedda into cult popularity that has only since grown. Their fire burned bright and releases quickly followed each other, so perhaps it was not a surprise that with the release of their third album, Ond Spiritism: Djæfvvlens Skalder Anno Serpenti MMIV, a somewhat cleaner effort introducing a sense of calm into the band’s narrow repertoire, their saga came to an end.
Petterson and Sandström continued to work together for a further decade in Lönndom, combining folk, rock and metal into a depressive tribute to their surrounding woods. Soon after Armagedda’s demise, Petterson founded a label, Nordvis Produktion, and has continued to run it to this day, while at some point Sandström became a born-again Christian, leading into the destruction of the duo’s friendship and killing any hope that the band would one day reunite. Neither would give up on making music themselves though, as Petterson began a fruitful relationship with the trio of Bergraven, leading into several projects including the post-black of De Arma, the raw atmosphere of Stilla and the avant-garde of Whirling, and birthed the folkier solo project Saiva. Meanwhile Sandström, between spouts of studying theology, continued to expunge rocking material under the name LIK (Lekamen Illusionen Kallet) from himself. The two would reconnect rather soon though, and eventually Sandström grew disillusioned with the political power-struggles embedded in Christianity and renounced his faith, making a return into metal last year as Ehlder.
Despite having ceased to exist, Armagedda did not cease releasing new material. An EP of rehearsal material would be followed by compilations of unreleased songs, demos, splits and the like, and it appeared to take all the way until 2010 for the band’s swansong, another EP of previously unheard songs (recorded around the same time as their debut) to finally see the light of day. Even though 2019 was riddled with re-releases of not only all their studio albums, but of a few select singles from V/A compilations and such, few would have guessed Svindeldjup Ättestup would ever materialize, yet here we are, as literally every band that’s ever released anything crawls back from the dead, Armagedda too was dragged into sunlight. Whether it was against or according to its will makes little difference.
In 2020, Armagedda still sounds very much like itself, but not all that much like its first two albums did. The sound is much more airy and the raw, distorted tones have been cast aside. The tempo is still fairly brisk, the playing barbarous and the style hasn’t wandered far off the middle-road, nor are there many embellishments, but neither Craft nor Darkthrone come through very much in the sound anymore. Instead, their influence has been replaced with bits and pieces from basically every band the duo has been playing in since their original demise. The new colors work well with the refined melodic language to brighten up an otherwise very narrow musical scope. Svindeldjup Ättestup might not be the best Armagedda, but it is a very good, if not terribly exciting, comeback album.