May Roundup: Black Metal, Dark Folk & Dungeon Synth
The latest from Yoth Iria, Cosmic Burial, S H R I E K I N G, Puddleglum, Häxanu, & Grift. Also Bhleg & Nechochwen.
Yoth Iria – Under His Sway
From the late ’80s onward, Jim Mutilator worked to make himself a household name in the Greek black metal scene. Best known as the bassist for two legends (Rotting Christ and Varathron) and appearing on both bands’ demos, Varathron’s debut and Rotting Christ’s three first full-lengths, he continued to collaborate with them as a lyricist even after his departure. Besides his playing in bands, he used to run a label called Curious Goods Productions, owned a record store called Metal Era, co-published the Genital Necrosis zine and contributed to Heavy Metal Cosmos webzine.
But slowly he began to drift into relative obscurity, and after relinquishing his store in 2009, he largely disappeared form the active scene—until last year, when his vocals could be heard on the first track of Mystifier‘s comeback album, followed by an announcement he had joined the reformed Medieval Demon. Then this year word got out he had reunited with Wampyr Magus Daoloth, his former Rotting Christ collaborator. Not long after, Under His Sway, the duo debut EP as Yoth Iria dropped, shadowed by news of Magus’ Necromantia bandmate Baron Blood’s passing, for whom the EP was dedicated to.
Though officially a duo, on Under His Sway Yoth Iria’s lineup was rounded out by a cavalcade of star musicians: keyboardist John Patsouris, drummer Maelstrom (Embrace of Thorns/Dephosphorus) and guitarist George Emmanuel (Lucifers Child). Each musician was carefully chosen for both their talent and also based on how well they fit the entity. Patsouris would appear to have family ties to Mutilator, Maelstrom performs with Magus in both Thou Art Lord and The Principality of Hell, and Emmanuel would also record, mix and master the EP.
At its heart the opening title track is a classic Greek black metal track, driven by its melodic riffs with that unmistakably Greek flavour. Its chorus takes a trajectory from classic to modern as the riffs take a sharper, jerking form and a ritualistic use of choir draws comparisons to later Rotting Christ, and this is where I would say Emmanuelle’s influence is best heard. His playing is informed by the decade he spent in Rotting Christ and the mix draws to further close the gap between the two bands—though the sound should perhaps be associated with Emmanuelle himself, and not any given band, considering he engineered and mixed Rotting Christ’s albums during his tenure as well.
“Sid Ed Djinn” takes Yoth Iria to a much darker place, as the doomy opening riff, Middle-Eastern vocal stylings and a scarce choir come together for a gloomy effect before an outburst of violence and aggression sweeps it away. With the reappearance of the sadly uncredited Middle-Eastern vocals and brief moments of calm, it’s a much more dynamic track than the first and bodes extremely well for the band’s future, which shouldn’t take too long to manifest considering Mutilator reportedly has two full-lengths composed. It should perhaps be noted that the composing of said full-lengths began over a decade ago, so they can hardly be blamed for hurrying their material. Hopefully it’s not a sign of their pace to come.
Closing with a cover of Rotting Christ’s “Visions of the Dead Lovers”, Under His Sway is a promising game opener from a group we will hopefully be hearing about for years to come. These men were there when these sounds were created, and it’s good to hear them take advantage of the style’s progression since, incorporating the best of both worlds into their music.
4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Cosmic Burial – Impakt
Impakt is a new solo album from V. V. of Nachtig and Valosta Varjoon, only the latter of which I am in any way familiar with, and only as that German band with the Finnish name (though naming your black metal band in German despite not speaking the language isn’t an oddity, so it was only a question of time for the tables to turn). Cosmic Burial released two demos last year, both of which I missed, and is now ready to be introduced to the world at large—and it’s no easy meal to chew. Four instrumental songs spanning a total of 76 minutes of self-described “ambient/atmospheric music for dreamers about space and time”.
Atmospheric black metal is the easiest box for Cosmic Burial’s repetitive, mournful and synth-drenched music. Any ties to black metal are mostly superficial, never invading the songwriting and the lengthy passages are spent solely on keys, more often than not repeating one finger melodies ad nauseam. If Eldamar or Lustre with more distorted guitars is something you crave, Impakt may sate a hunger in you, but it lacks the captivating motifs of either, instead relying on the entity to deliver. Though I enjoy it, it’s a full-length that only delivers in the big picture, and as such, it’s less-than-memorable, extremely long-winded songwriting might be too much.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
S H R I E K I N G / Puddleglum
S H R I E K I N G is a California-based project focused on self-destruction, queerness, fury at the established norm and elements of sci-fi and fantasy, set against the background of ambient and black metal infused post-metal/sludge. Puddleglum is a Saint Louis based dungeon synth project from Wretched Empires/Barren Branches/Redbait guitarist Will J, “taking sonic cues from Kobold, Fief, and computer game composers like Mark Siebert and Aubrey Hodges”. And for whatever godforsaken reason, they’ve decided to team up for a split.
And for whatever godforsaken reason, it works. Instead of their usual hodgepodge of influences S H R I E K I N G focuses on their ambient side. Droning keyboards make up most of seven offerings, their dismal meditations only briefly broken from. The opening “Set On a Doomed Path” uses acoustic guitar in a way that makes it seem more lo-fi than the record actually is, and though something remains of the first two songs’ harsh and dark mood, as their side progresses towards appreciation for meaninglessness, the music becomes more soothing.
Particularly the “Necromantic Druidism/ Cliffside Knight/ The end is always quiet… and yet” trio hit upon traditional dungeon synth grounds with excellent results. Unfortunately, they take a turn back, and the closing piano track “Home is with Them” especially feels unfulfilling. Despite its uneven nature, there’s much to be enjoyed in S H R I E K I N G’s half for a dungeon synth fan shunning purity.
Comparing your release to Fogweaver and Voormithadreth is guaranteed to catch my attention, and almost guaranteed to catch my ire as well, if you fail to live up to the high standards set by the projects. I may not have been familiar with Puddleglum long enough (before the arrival of this promo) to judge its longevity, but its strong resemblance to a warmer Voormithadreth spares Will my impotent, verbal wrath. To its advantage, the songwriting on Puddleglum’s half is not as informed by the above-mentioned artist as its sound, more active than droning, and not as mystic. Reportedly, it explores a more ambient-driven, less melodic direction than previously, focusing instead on the harmonic interplay across repeated structures while “[meditating] on body image, disconnection from the natural world, and also whales”.
The style remains more unified than on S H R I E K I N G’s half, sans the penultimate “soma sema” with its noisy percussion and a growing sense of disturbance, as if we were to fall victim to the (e)zine and blog habit of manufacturing competition between split mates, Puddleglum would draw the longer straw, bu there’s no need for such thing, and it isn’t what this split is about. Though the two projects don’t bounce ideas off of each other, in some ways their respective styles here complement each other, making for a fuller exploration of a niche genre braking out of its frames.
3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Häxanu – Snare of All Salvation
Alex Poole is a busy man. You’d think Krieg, Ringarë, Skáphe, Matröd, Gargdghastr, Entheogen, Chaos Moon and the inevitable few I’ve forgotten would be enough but here he comes with yet another new project. Häxanu is a raw and frenzied take on the genre, faster and more aggressive than many other Poole projects, though neither is an unwavering constant. The keyboards are used to add a mystic atmosphere to contradict the hectic blasting, alongside plentifully melodic riffing.
There’s the distinct sound and feel of a “Poole project” abound, but less than usually and Häxanu is different enough, from some of his other projects at least; each song has great riffs and at its best (“Sulfur, Salt, Mercury”) and most ambitious (the 17+ minute title track) it’s almost worth finding a new name for. Almost. When so many of your bands work the same field, even if it’s from different aspects, it’s all going to blur together, just ask Naas Alcameth. And Poole is beginning to hit on that hard. It’s a good album though, so I reckon it’ll grow on me eventually. After its own character starts to shine through the blurring a bit better. Can’t escape the feeling there’s no point whatsoever to all these different projects though. Not enough anyways.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Horn – Mohngang
A longstanding one-man band from Cross Vault vocalist Nerrath, Horn has spent a whopping 18 years developing its folk/black metal. What once produced collections of good, but underdeveloped ideas, interspersed with less brilliant songs, has come to lay golden eggs. Well maybe not golden, but some kind of metal implying a positive value anyways. There are almost no traditional instruments used on the record, in that sense it’s very traditional black metal, though its lack of outward, hateful aggression anchors it on the atmospheric side of the genre. On Mohngang the detailed descriptions of nature Horn once provided have instead become more serious folkloristic and sinister themes, but the folk influence remains strong. It courses through the upbeat melodic riffing, and its aura envelopes the album.
Bookended by a lengthy intro and cello quartet & piano version of Turm un Hang’s “Die mit dem Bogen auf dem Kreuz”, the album is cloven in half by the mid-album duo of “Upstream Canals, a Ship’s Bell Sounds” (developing unlike any other song on the record, from acoustic origins to a vast mid-tempo sections with a trumpet, recalling the epic-minded pagan metal bands, before transitioning to melodic blast beat fury, performed entirely with clean vocals) and the aptly titled “Dulcimerstück”. Mohngang finds itself alternating, as much as balancing, between its influences.
While “Upstream Canals…” is the most extreme example of Horn wandering away from its black metal roots, at times closing in on older Borknagar territory, many of its elements make appearances all over the album. From “Satt scheint der Sud der Tat’s” inclusion of dulcimer and clean vocals to “Wär nicht Traubhagel’s” folk-rhythm driven guitarwork and “Ødegård und Pendelschlag’s” one-man choirs, and though some of the songs still rely stronger on the black metal side of the band, Horn’s strengths aren’t wasted on their layered and rich arrangements. Horn’s finest work to date, Mohngang delivers on every promise made on past albums, and adds a few of its own.
4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Bhleg / Nechochwen
Yes, this came out a time ago. In the May of last year, to be exact, and so, in the very least, the majority of those potentially interested have jumped on this wagon a long time ago, but I felt like including it anyways. Just in case. The Swedish Bhleg‘s massive Solarmegin made its way deep into my heart, and as “Sorlande Sky”, their investment for this split, was the first material since, so I was quick to jump on it, but for whatever reason, failed to write about it. It starts life as a somber, melodic trees ‘n shit black metal piece, but fairly quickly gives way to calmer music, juxtaposed with mouth harp and a violin. Only the dry and desperate growls, and eventually, re-invigorated blasting, anchor the song in black metal. Circling back into black metal fury before closing on a hopeful guitar melody and flutes, Bhleg fills their composition with a variety moods and instrument rivaled by few, and though I am not a big fan of splits as short as this, the songs are good enough to give it a pass.
Nechochwen is a West Virginian folk/black metal and neofolk duo invested in Native American history and traditions. Though they had put out The Ancient Pulse compilation of non-album material rather recently at that point, I couldn’t help but to feel it had been years and years since I had last had the chance to bask in their brand of black metal, so “Majestic Translucence” was far from enough to sate my hunger. At least it’s an excellent track showcasing their inimitable style, placing acoustic and distorted electric guitars against each other, alternating between growls and enthralling clean vocals for one of the single best representations of their metal side. Now I just need more, dammit.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Grift – Budet
Grift’s almost depressing, but folky black metal left a deep impression with Syner, Arvet & the Drudkh split between the two. On Budet, the style remains intact, Grift retreats further into its own world. Oh yes, the black metal influence is strong, and undeniable here, but clearly less so than previously. Tremolo riffs are plentiful, the drums unmistakably metal and the vocals driven and desperate. But acoustic guitars, reed organ and violins, among other traditional instruments, hold a big place in Budet’s sound, sometimes placed against a more metal backdrop, sometimes individually. Erik Gärdefors’ vocals never relent though, and are at times more pained than ever before, serving as a constant reminder of the extreme styles beating at Grift’s heart.
In the end, Budet is more melancholic than depressing, there’s a sense of somber acceptance to many of the melodies and riffs. Throughout a feeling of coming to terms with being overcome with pain and darkness lurks, and though the songwriting is complex in ways traditional folk music rarely is, Budet feels, above all, like a twisted, malformed and dark folk record, despite being performed as a, and on the instrumentation of a, black metal album.
4/5 Flaming toilets ov Hell