None More Black: Bythos, Grieve & Mørketida
This time, we’ve an assembly of very good black metal exclusively.
Bythos – The Womb of Zero
Members of Behexen and Demilich have come together to “combine cold melodies and versatile riffs, creating rich and numinous landscapes which encounters powerful and vicious liturgies.” Signing with Terratur Possessions for The Womb of Zero, an album providing an “interdimensional view of the underworld and its deities, emphasizing strongly on the spiritual evolution to liberate the imprisoned powers, and make one with the outer darkness.” Such is the premise of the existence of Bythos.
Freezing cold guitars, a hint of dissonance and scarce finesse amidst the crash of cymbals set a dark, malignant mood. Hoath Torog roars with passion, emotion and strength the likes of which I have not heard from him, at least in a very long time. There is a great difference between the styles he utilized on the earlier Behexen records and the ones he has settled into nowadays, and I never knew I could favour the latter, yet here we are. Hypnotic, twisting and chaotic melodic hooks that owe more to Icelandic scene than anything else impale the composition from all angles. Thus “Black Labyrinth” sets the pace for The Womb of Zero. But in many ways, it’s but a teaser for what is to come, and the next handful of songs makes even better use of Bythos’ strengths.
Despite what the careful inclusion of dissonance might have you believe, The Womb of Zero has a far less chaotic mix than, say , the latest Behexen, and while this greatly benefits the melodic work, Torog is the primary benefactor. The subtle variation in his vocals is more easily picked up when doesn’t spend most of his time trying to be heard over a wall of noise. The emotional peak of his performance might be reached early on, his voice almost cracks at the height of an impassioned moment on the opener, but stays consistent throughout.
Likewise, the Icelandic influence, though not shunned, isn’t further banked on as much as I’d hope, but the following songs each find a twist to the formula, with which they differentiate. “When Gold Turns into Lead” and “Sorath the Opposer” play around most with the twisting melodic hooks—while the shadow of melodic death metal is not often far from Bythos’ music, the former takes it furthest, at times entering early Amon Amarth territory, whereas the latter, otherwise a more plainly black metal song, as well as “Omega Dragon”, carry the most infectious choruses on the record, as simple as title chants they may be.
“Call of the Burning Blood” works as something of a watershed between the extremely strong front and the back that struggles to maintain the level, mainly relying on the preceding tracks’ tricks, less well, but elevating itself with the use of synths and a brief guitar solo. “Hymn to Lucifer” presents clean vocals, far less intelligible than the harsh vocals, mixed as if coming from a distance, while “Legacy of Naahmah” includes an acoustic section and “Destroyer of Illusions” takes advantage of vocal distortion.
And thus we’ve broken the unwritten rule and devolved into a track-by-track review, but this once I’ll let it pass to make a point. Point being the unfortunate closer “Luciferian Dawn” which finds no twist of its own. It’s also the longest song on the record, and the only one that fails to hit home, as if by this point the band’s ideas were running thin, though in reality there’s no way of knowing whether it was the last song to be written or not.
Though there exists a struggle between the two halves, any actual drop only comes towards the end, and even so, it is not steep. The Womb of Zero is an amazing debut, and easily among the finest black metal records released this year.
4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Grieve – Grieve…
Not much is known of Grieve. They are an atmospheric black metal entity from somewhere in Finland and seemingly consist of four members. There have been no published recordings before this self-titled 12″ MLP. Much like its name implies, Grieve is a melancholic affair, filled with nightly melodies, in a recognizably Finnish fashion. Occasionally the riffs touch upon similar places the most melancholic of Satanic Warmaster’s back catalog has, and there’s something strikingly familiar about the faintly used synths that I can’t quite put my finger on, but that has me convinced whoever is responsible for them is not an unknown character in the scene.
Very much in the vein of the 90’s Finnish scene, but not without a flavour that over time could develop into strictly their own, Grieve is a short, four songs on the LP, two on the digital, and simple opening statement from the group. As a lover of that particular era’s approach to symphonic black metal, and given how well the keyboards are used here, I could have stood to hear them being used a bit more, but that is hardly a great grievance.
4/5 Flaming toilets ov Hell
Mørketida – Traveler of the Untouched
A rehearsal demo in 2010 as Evil Rites, and another two years later after a name change, followed by a lengthy silence before 2018’s Panphage Mysticism—and now that debut is to be followed by an EP announced roughly a year ago. Mørketida works as they will, a creed reflected in their music.
Panphage Mysticism did not look upon the pantheon of the Finnish scene for guidance, nor indeed align with any other particular sound. Mostly downtempo, raw and aptly named for its mystic atmosphere, it took advantage of organs and bass in ways black metal bands do not often do. To quote, or possibly paraphrase, a bygone champion from a bygone era: “They hung about in the air, in the exact manner that bricks do not.” There was spiritual camaraderie between them and Blood Red Fog, while the tempo and vibe could at times invoke Thrall. But there seemed no other that touched upon the very essence of Mørketida.
Nor do the three concern themselves with a further examination of the vices and virtues of Panphage Mysticism. While Traveler of the Untouched does keep the heart intact, it expands upon its predecessor with wilder, more vibrant ideas, often sacrificing the mystic tones for better or worse. While still working largely in downtempo, the general pace has been picked up and the organs have been cast aside. “Descent of Purple Mist” spews mockery upon all expectations, its blasting pace and heavy synths uncharacteristic for Mørketida, until now. A taunt beyond the grave can be heard, as organs briefly howl, reminding of what has been left behind.
“Upon the Aged Heavens'” comes closest to Panphage Mysticism with a steady marching beat, rugged riffs coupled first with plaintive leads and then with a wandering bassline, while the title track bridges the gap between the two and then some. The cheapest-Casio-possible sounding synths take some getting used to, but as they weave a parallel synth line and change up the riffs beneath it all comes together nicely. There’s a cover of Immortal’s “Unsilent Storms in the North Abyss” at the end, but though it’s a great song lifted from Demonaz’s peak riff era, it can’t compete with the scope and vision of the band’s original work and feels tacked on for balance between the sides.
Traveler of the Untouched is not a follow-up I knew to wait for or want, but Mørketida builds upon their established sound with myriad influences, only briefly revisiting that sound and leveling the competition, as it were. While I definitely hope Møketida never lets go of all of the sounds present on their debut, it’ll be very interesting to see where they head next. After Traveler, all doors are open.
3.5/5 flaming Toilets ov Hell