Spooky’s Halloween Trifecta Part II: Black Metal for Black Cats
Saidan – Onryo II: Her Spirit Eternal
Melancholic sleet, a fondness for the ghostly, winds that howl in strife. Saidan can give you the essence of black metal in abundance, but that just gets them in the door. In a weird sort of way, Saidan are running a smuggling operation. The outer sheathe of ice-cold tremolo and arch-diabolic posturing lets Onryo II pass a sniff test for the conformist essentials. But just below the frost is a warm, beating heart, vital and impassioned but for being ripped in sorrow from its owner.
What I’m saying is I feel compelled more by Onryo II‘s sense of vulnerability, even distant joy, emanating through the cold. This record pours out its emotions, unguarded, through cathartic, uplifting breaks at each track’s climax, sometimes hitting onto downright punky changes that wouldn’t be out of place for a Green Day song (or maybe Streetlight Manifesto, if you can’t stomach that). “Queen Of The Haunted Dell” is a fine lesson, also mixing in a bit of thrashed up anchor riffage for added urgency. And much like a haunting, what at first seems a destructive, aggressive grief reveals itself instead as pleas for resolution, for someone to listen.
Most intriguing of all is the distinctly feminine bent that grief is cast in. Direct lyrical focus on ghost stories of wandering women and witches is only one aspect. In its bones, this record feels like it’s sloughing off an identity constructed for the sake of others and letting loose bottled up emotions in a banshee scream. As such, it comes off as more substantively retaliatory than many other bands with pretensions of rebellion that mostly just amount to empty spite. Wearing wounds that please, liberated from empty ire, Saidan may yet bloom.
Best for: resolving to swallow your fear and guide the sobbing wraith in your house back to her grave with a trail of cherry blossoms, the first kindness of her life and afterlife.
Sacred Sn – The Foul Deth of Engelond
Is this allowed? It’s not a conflict of interest, is it? It took me some time to realize that Sacred Son isn’t just some meme band with baffling vacation photo album art, comically snatched up as a mascot for this very site. I daresay, in fact, that The Foul Deth Of Engelond had to sneak past my bulwark of dismissal by deploying one fuckin’ riot of an album cover. But, as we all know, when a nerd takes off the glasses, they reveal a seductive, overlooked interior that the old façade just couldn’t do justice. It turns out that Dane was sexy all along.
The Foul Deth Of Engelond is a chaptered retelling of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, a bloody Dark Ages uprising fomented in the wake of the Black Death, which left England’s feudal society crumbling from within. It is an application of black metal in the same role as tremendous history paintings: at a glance, overwhelming one with a chaotic wave of violence chopping down the king’s door, and at close inspection telling many smaller stories within its grisly canvas. The core riffs, the canvas, are fittingly extensive, allowing a grand baroque sweep that hangs in the air like the iron taste of blood at a chopping block. Within that vista, Foul Deth can use more frantic or tempered passages to capture the mood of a vast mob, at times moving like an unstoppable tide to burn and despoil, and other times regrouping to find resolve and make demands of the nobles. From baying wolves to freedom fighters in the space of a drum fill.
The coda of “Le Blakheth” and the middle break of “The Boy King” are two of my highlights for this record, hitting on a tonality of mixed emotion that sounds to me like it is in awe of itself, of the monumental scale of a struggle, the sheer audacity of straining not just for survival, but even triumph by unlikely contenders. “The Boy King” is the most invigorating track of the bunch, illustrating a moment when the rabble’s goal is in sight, nearly won, wrapped in the sad irony of knowing that the cause is doomed. We can share in their weary hope, while also taking in the grotesque ugliness necessitated by the undertaking. This is the sound of coagulated bloodlust, grudges nursed and fanned into revolt against everything in sight, guilty or innocent. Black metal was made for this kind of story.
Best for: biding your time and burying stolen swords beneath your woodpile, sharing a knowing look with the carpenter next door who closes the shutters without a word.
Toadeater – Bexadde
Let’s get toxic. Toadeater has stopped calling their therapist and things are getting concerning in Bexadde, their new LP, filled to tears with the sort of alienating and unmooring psychological ravings that only Deutsch philosophy majors can concoct. Bexadde sets out on its lonely sojourn in post-black attire, leaving reverberating ghost trails in its path and playing with drones and big brown-note thrums that course through its rusty veins.
The pace is never slow, though, and the incessant drum blasts send these pools of deep sound into a spatter that pools around the central tremolo. Because of this billowing soundwork, the rhythm section is often impenetrable to the ears, with only hazy outlines of treble contour at the top to hint at the shapes within the cloud. “Molten Gold (Down Your Throat)” weeps with its undulating guitar whine that stabs through the dusty murk. The core of every riff is umbral, shadows on shadows. Intrusive thoughts crowd out ordered agency, a choir of interjections overlapping into abrasive gray noise.
Fittingly, Toadeater’s aim is to create a huge, razor-tinged fog, heavy as concrete when the mists settle on your shoulders. Like the stifling smokescreen of brain fog, a confused inner monologue struggling to form amid peals of worry. The second track creates a familiar sense of inner defeat as the vocals burst into clarity with the titular chorus, the only mantra that feels true enough to break free of the daze: “There is no cure… Let the darkness swallow you.” I wouldn’t call this type of brooding vulnerable, or desperate. It has a sort of passive hostility, overbearingly begging for your sympathies so it can swallow them whole, and assimilate you into its self-hating mire. This is a portrait of the sort of manic depressive breakdown that poisons the will with unwanted truth.
Best for: wearing treadmarks in the carpet from constant pacing, down to the hardwood, that mirror the sores incessantly picked in your skin by hands you barely seem to control anymore.