Longing For The Mercy Of Winter
It’s so fucking hot out right now.
As I begin to write, it’s now June 28th, Day Whatever of the New Seattle Heatwave, peaking at 110 degrees Fahrenheit. I’d like to thank the fine folks at ExxonMobil and Shell for their continual patronage of global CO production, and of course all the little people like me who make the dream possible with our daily commutes and interminable traffic jams. Really makes you feel like you’re part of something grand. I’m swaddling my dog in wet rags and performing regular water changes to keep my aquarium from roasting its residents. It’s almost too odious to think of what these temperatures are doing to folks here with no AC in their PNW heat-trap homes, or to those without homes at all. Any scrap of winter essence is an escape, which in me has manifested in a brief hunger for atmospheric black metal.
While enveloped in the same bristling, choleric sensibilities as its parent genre, atmoblack is typically sought for the inspired moments of peace and stillness that emerge when the fury subsides, all the more pronounced for the contrast. With the archetypal focus on bracing wintry cold and tranquil wilderness, in the burning of summer it lends itself to fantasies of escape, particularly when planted alongside seeds of mournful folk. Escape from the impending incineration of all that civilization has built around me is a comforting fantasy for today. Tomorrow is a better time for the work of salvation, because it’s just too damn hot for that shit now.
Grima – Rotten Garden – Naturmacht Productions
A pagan offering from Russia that thawed back in January, Grima took a little while to hit my ears in the rush for early 2021 releases. True to their arboreal focus, they survived the long winter and now help to trap some heat and provide a cooling shade. While there is more focus on synthetic texture here than its brethren, Rotten Garden is nonetheless an organic being at heart. The lead guitars curl and glide like rivulets of wind, with stabs of balletic orchestra to spur them on from underneath. Garden‘s songs flit through progressions arcane and inquisitive, creating breaks weighty with majesty. Grandiose hanging chords paint vistas with sound, and acoustic sunbeams cut through the haze. “At The Foot Of The Red Mountains” and the title track come through as well with plenty of folk accompaniment via accordion and organ, further boosting the rustic flavors at play.
Like the roots of an ancient oak, these melodies entwine with the mossy screams into an anchor that sprouts through the entire record. Grima‘s tone on this release is more dramatized and sweeping than our other selections here. They don’t quite have Panopticon‘s naked vulnerability, or Felled‘s fully integrated folksy sway, but instead construct a poetic grandiosity with their clear-cut, sharp riffs and well-timed cutaways to give their folk accompaniment the full stage for a few fleeting measures. The mood is always troubled, never truly peaceful, but resolute all the same.
Best For When: You are encumbered and stung by the grudges and follies of your fellow man and seek the solemn grove to feel the catharsis of absolution.
Panopticon – Again Into The Light – Bindrune Recordings
I am an admitted fan of Austin Lunn’s, but I will also admit to having trouble with his longer works. While certainly a more digestible bite than 2018’s double-length Scars of Man, his newest outing still matches his second longest album with an hour-plus run time. On my early listens, many of the soft passages felt a bit too adrift, and the hard passages a bit too overbearing to track. Perhaps it’s backhanded praise, but this record finally sank into my bones while reading One Man’s Wilderness, an account by an Alaska carpenter of building a cabin in Twin Lakes for a 30-year stay of solitude. I guess it’s not really Panopticon unless I’m reading essays concerning meditative mountain men. It instills the patience necessary to absorb and reflect upon the radiant, reverberating guitar that make up the landscape of Again Into The Light.
While melancholy and rumination come standard in Panopticon, there is a certain ambiguity to the voicing of many sections, such as the truly haunting main refrain of “A Snowless Winter”, that brings those emotions an even more conflicted grandeur. Given that a running theme on this record is taking control of one’s flawed psyche, it feels appropriately that the strains of hope must be sieved from within dour and chronic episodes of ache. Lunn’s renowned bluegrass tendencies are still as touching and contemplative as ever, with this album finding melodic definition in recurrent violin, styled like gentle birdsong against the blasting drums and flurries of tremolo. The production seems focused on giving every instrument a certain distance, stretching out to meet each other through heavy reverb, but sometimes when the registers overlap it becomes stifling. It’s the sort of record that washes over you, projecting its feelings of scale and discovery in aggregate.
Best For When: You are in awe at the enduring kinship between man and nature, that still thrives all around you, despite the terror engulfing both from all sides.
Felled – The Intimate Earth – Transcending Obscurity Records
Once a two-piece named Moss Of Moonlight, before adding a more permanent bassist and a dedicated violinist, Felled gives us a renewed first showing with The Intimate Earth. The basic framework of the album is what I’d call an all-rounder, hitting all the right feelings available through the classic black metal vocabulary of inverted chords and harrowing tremolo, and takes some care to play the guitar and drums off one another for varied pace. Not as light on its feet as Nechochwen, but not as plodding as Odroerir either, to name two of my favorites who operate in similar territory. It never races into extreme speed or heaviness, not becoming a display of excess because its vision depends on leaving ample space for newcomer Tiffany Holliday’s string arrangements.
It’s a fine showing from Holliday and guitarist Cavan Wagner, avoiding the issue of either over- or under-focusing on the violin, which would have relegated it to a background piece or a garish gimmick. Instead, Intimate Earth keeps its eye on the ball, which is mournful interplay between the guitar and chilling strings. The two instruments are inseparable partners here, giving each other constant contrast and context. The careful composition and atmosphere make the orchestral outsider feel like a native, striking a noble balance. Before I forget to mention, there’s an equally deft balance in the vocals as well, with Jenn Grunigen’s velvet chants giving way to Wagner’s keratinous growl underneath. Felled have a unified grasp on their elements and look to be setting out for snow-peaked hills, and I’d happily follow along in their tread.
Best For When: You are pensive yet resigned, and hoping for epiphany to rescue you from the placid sea of your burdensome brooding.
I’m now writing on July 1st. The Heat Wave is passed, the temperature having dropped nearly 40 degrees in the course of two days, and now I’m watching an Exxon lobbyist admit on video that they are dedicated to bribing legislators and dodging any attempts at giving them even the lightest financial slap on the wrist for the decades and decades of avoiding the truth they knew about all along. I’m seeing footage of an underwater oil pipeline burning straight up through the bubbling surface of the ocean. I’m having visions of loping naked on all fours across Rex Tillerson’s lawn and ripping his throat out with my teeth. But my body is still here in my desk chair, and I’ve got to drive out to work again in the morning. I will never get to live in any world but the one built by its most ruthless, selfish, short-sighted denizens. At least I have these stupid records to take the edge off my utter codependence on the global framework of extraction and apathy, boiling like a frog in a pot. The winter can’t come soon enough.
I think I need to switch to Cattle Decap for a while.