By Nathanas Trismegistus

Vassafor – To the Death; released, on all formats, August 7, 2020 by (who else) Iron Bonehead Productions. Despite continuing to dwell in relative obscurity today, Vassafor has existed since the olden days – the strange aeons – of black metal. However, the New Zealand unit never released any music until 1997. After their first demo, imaginatively titled “Demo I”, the band split up, only to reform, in 2005, and release a second demo, also imaginatively titled “Demo II”. Vassafor would not release their first, proper full-length album until 2012, but the build-up to Obsidian Codex was marked by some concise, but interesting, EPs and a compilation, released by Dark Descent Records, which, I think, really put them on the map. After another vast gulf of time, Vassafor released their follow-up, Malediction, in 2017. And here we are, in 2020, with the third, full-length assault by the warrior-occultists; an oblique, diabolical deathmarch to bloodstained glory.

To describe Vassafor’s musical style merely as black/death would be inaccurate. There’s definitely a lot more going on here. Elements of doom and thrash (if you can believe it) also comprise the infernal landscape of Vassafor’s musical domain. Their riffing style is, of course, similar in nature to that of Black Witchery or Teitanblood; though, on this album the interplay of rhythm and lead guitars is more akin to what Teitanblood was trying to achieve with their latest release. The closest possible comparison I could make would be with fellow Kiwis, Diocletian. But, imagine if Diocletian wrote songs that were more melodic, far more varied, and considerably longer. Seriously Vassafor songs clock in anywhere from three-to-five-times the length of your average Diocletian track. One Vassafor track could contain all the movements of an entire Diocletian album and that’s not an exaggeration, I think. And the fact that Diocletian is far more popular than Vassafor is an injustice, in my opinion.

The opening – and titular – track expresses the premise of To the Death very well; it is dark, bellicose assertion of apocalyptic mysticism. Tracks 2 and 3 continue the trend of smothering anxiety. I would have said that To the Death was the most succinct and trimmed Vassafor album, simply due to the stellar pacing and brisk tempos, but track 4 does seem like ultimately pointless and redundant padding. Tack 5 has a vicious, aggressive attitude which I thoroughly enjoyed. Track 6 has a lecherous allure and discomfiting brightness to it, but the vocals are so qualitatively dissimilar that it is sort of distracting; though, this may be due to use of a guess vocalist (it’s anyone’s guess who it is). The closing track truly is a journey, and probably – between 2 and 5 – one of my favorite tracks. The only real departures I can detect in the style of this specific album are the weird, whispery vocal segments (when you listen to this album, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about) which are so sparse one might wonder why they even bothered to include them. Certain riffs do culminate in an almost Baroquian fashion. This is also probably Vassafor’s least discordant album, or, rather, the riffs in To the Death alternate more frequently. One might be tempted to call it meandering and aimless composition, but I think this is, perhaps, only true to a lesser extent than previous offerings by the band. I think the songs reach a satisfying conclusion even though the listener might not immediately understand what that conclusion is. The songwriting, overall, is rather complex and, as a result, can be inscrutable. But, upon repeat listens, the point becomes increasingly evident.

The main issue I have with the production quality of Vassafor releases is that they simply have too much low end. They are all just overloaded with echoey bass, particularly with the percussion. And I get that this is a conscious, artistic choice and I wouldn’t begrudge them for achieving the sound that they are aiming to achieve. It is very murky, oppressive, and claustrophobic; but, it’s just not that dynamic. Certain musical artefacts, some of its personality, just gets kind of lost in the bellowing drone, and that might put off a lot of potential listeners. As much as I loved Nyogthaeblisz’s debut last year, it had a similar problem, and I know VK (the guitarist/bassist/vocalist of Vassafor) mastered that album, so he’s probably solely responsible. To be fair, though, the guitar leads (which are solid throughout) do manage to shimmer through the dour mix; and when it works, it does work well. Also, that ever-elusive analogue warmth is certainly present; this album feels like my taint after a trek through a sweltering, tropical rainforest (in a good way).

This album is the sonic equivalent of an atomic eruption, violently ascending, rending the clouds, and eclipsing the stars with baleful, thermonuclear refulgence. I would put To the Death at the same level as Malediction. Maybe a little higher. Technically better on certain fronts, especially the songwriting. It is definitely longer; in fact, it is the longest Vassafor release to date (if you don’t count the cassette version of Obsidian Codex). Just over sixty-five minutes of seething, despair-inducing, apocalyptic black/death metal. It has been a while since I listened to Obsidian Codex, so I’d have to go back and listen to it again, but for the purpose of this review I’ll go on record as saying that To the Death is the best Vassafor release yet. It is, without a doubt, the best release, in its category, this year. If it were up against, say, last year’s Sammath release, or even Hellvetron’s, then this would probably only get the bronze medal. (I do wish Vassafor would take notes from Sammath’s production quality.) LEAGUES better than Diocletian’s futile effort, though. Excellent work, nonetheless. I’ll buy it. Highly recommended listening, essential listening for this year!

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Khthoniik Cerviiks – Æequiizoiikum; released July 17, 2020 by Iron Bonehead Productions. This is the sophomore album from the German trio (which is surprising given the complexity of some of the chords and harmonies present in their music). This album was not my first (third?) encounter with this band, nor was their first. My introduction to Khthoniik Cerviiks came in the form of their 2017 split with US-based band, Howls of Ebb (RIP)—their contribution titled “Voiidwarp”. (The significance of doubling the letter I’s which appear in their track and album titles is a mystery.) This, of course, prompted me to check out their other releases. Though I wasn’t too impressed by their older output, I am happy to give the band a second chance. And I am even happier to report that Æequiizoiikum exceeded my expectations.

Khthoniik Cerviiks’ 2015 debut, SeroLogikkal Scars (a copy of which I do own but I wouldn’t deign to guess how long it’s been since I gave it a spin), was a confused, muddled Frankenstein’s monster of an album, in my opinion. At one moment it was a hellish descent into a Marduk-esque black metal maelstrom; at others it was a Demilich- or Demigod-esque experimental surgery of off-kilter, technical death metal; and at other times it was an auspicious, Voivod-esque, progressive/thrash interstellar jaunt. It was really interesting, refreshing, and – dare I say – engaging; but, ultimately, it was an overwhelming clusterfuck. And maybe that’s impression it sought to achieve.

Æequiizoiikum is definitely an improvement—definitely a step in the right direction. This new album takes Khthoniik Cerviiks’ unique, arcane vision (known, perhaps, only to the band members themselves) and amplifies and refines it. There are definitely some bangers on this album. Tracks 3, 4, and 5 specifically stood out to me. Here we have yet another case of reversed sagging middle; the quality of the middle utterly eclipsing the beginning and the end. The last few tracks, I think, are really where this album falters. The tonal range on this album can really be quite staggering at times. The musical style apparent on this album, to which I’ve already alluded, is a pastiche of progressive thrash, technical death, and orthodox black metal. However, these elements are all reigned in to a degree which is far more palatable and stylistically coherent than ever before achieved by Khthoniik Cerviiks. Æequiizoiikum is just as unpredictable as their first album, but without leaving the listener exhausted and bewildered. The lyrical content, I can only assume (because I have not yet read the lyrics), beneath its obvious references to science fiction, deals with the reliance on and obsession with technology, and the resultant intellectual degradative effect it has on the humans which created it.

If I had any complaints about this album, it would be the sound of the drums, as well as, to a lesser extent, its performance. The bass sound is very modern, clicky, and tech-deathy. The high-hat sounds excessively compressed and way too and prominent in the mix. At times, it seems like the high-hat is the only cymbal being hit And, I’m sorry, but it all just doesn’t sound real to me. I see Khthoniik Cerviiks brought on a new drummer this year. Did he perform on this new album? Did any drummer perform on this album? While I’m on the topic of production, though, the bass sounds great by itself, but is rendered rather emaciated when the full mix kicks in. The guitar tone I can see being a massive deterrent to the misguided fans of the trve kvlt/nekro sound who follow me and might be reading this review in search of bands which fit that mold. It is very mid-focused and trebly. I would consider it smooth, polished, and almost glass-like or not unlike some space-age, high-tech plastic; very much in keeping with a more modern metal sound and the band’s lyrical themes. (I would like to put forward the motion that this style of music be henceforth referred to as black/death polymer.) The overall production quality is vastly improved from other Khthoniik Cerviiks offerings. Whereas SeroLogikkal Scars sounded markedly anemic and hollow, Æequiizoiikum sounds vastly fuller and more dynamic.

Æequiizoiikum is a death-defying, superluminal slingshot maneuver around a supermassive black hole into spatial dimensions unknown. Definitely recommended for fans of Artificial Brain, Chthe’ilist, Demigod, Demilich, Gorguts, Mithras, Nocturnus, StarGazer, Timeghoul, Vektor, and Voivod. If you’re just getting sick of the typical black and death metal affair continuously getting cranked out this year, I would deem it essential. Obviously, not the heartiest of approbations, only because I don’t think Kthoniik Cerviiks necessarily does anything that some of the aforementioned, analogous bands haven’t done better already. Regardless, check it out and decide for yourselves.

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Irae – Lurking in the Depths; released June 26, 2020 by Signal Rex. Here we have another band I know very little to nothing about (and, admittedly, the same sentiment could be expressed regarding my knowledge and experience with the Portuguese black metal scene as a whole). Though Irae have been around for some time, having now released five full-length albums, this is the first one that I have ever listened to. I had only just recently listened to, and purchased, their 2019 compilation, Satanic Secrets from the Mausoleum; though, that release could hardly have prepared me for this new album as, stylistically speaking, the differences from that collection of unreleased tracks is so dramatic that Lurking in the Depths might as well have been released by an entirely different band. But don’t interpret that as negative criticism, this “new” (I am putting that in quotations because there are four other albums which I have yet to hear) sound is definitely closer to what I would consider to be an original sound. Now I have to put “original” in quotes as Irae clearly have their musical inspirations. Whereas I might have put last year’s compilation in the category of borderline-Satanic Warmaster covers, this new album I would probably place into the far more populated category of old school, Darkthrone- and Horna-worship; albeit, high in the ranks.

Interestingly, with Lurking in the Depths, Irae, unlike a lot of substandard black metal bands today, doesn’t frontload their album with all the good songs and collapse qualitatively after the third or fourth track (you know, probably well after you’ve already decided whether or not to purchase the album). In fact, the middle of this album is probably where you’ll find the most interesting compositions of the whole. That’s not to say it begins or ends weakly. Quite the contrary. Track 1 perfectly draws the listener in with probably the most darkly enchanting melodies I’ve heard in a while and track 2 follows closely in its impish footsteps. The album ends with a perilous, labyrinthine number, steeped in mystery and wonder. The true gems, though, like tracks 4, 5, and 6 (my personal favorites) are merely buried away, a nice reward for those stick with it all the way. The only tracks I probably didn’t care for would be tracks 3 and 7 only because I thought the former had an obnoxious rhythm and the latter didn’t seem to fit thematically with the rest of the album. Track 7, for some reason, reminded me a lot of Burzum’s “Key to the Gate” (which is strangely technical and progressive for black metal).

I cannot stress enough just how wickedly awesome I think some of the composition/songwriting of this album is. The eerie, haunting and evocative melodies deftly swept me into the path of a nameless, inexorable terror bourne through sylvan realms of distant memory and awakening, not unlike that which is represented by the album cover. They do vary from simple, memorable affairs to the more bizarre, intricate ones. A nice contrast, in my opinion, if given a fair chance experienced fully. If I had any complaints about this album, though, it would be that the rhythm-oriented riffs or sections of these songs are kind of weak—unspectacular. While I think the dark melodies are great, I think some focus should be shifted over to bolstering the chuggy, stompy bits.

The production on this album is very warm and wet—moist even. Particularly with the guitars. In that sense, Lurking in the Depths varies drastically from the typical cold, trebly Nordic black metal sound. The album glows with raw, dense saturation, which I would expect from a band hailing from the Iberian Peninsula. The sound is very reminiscent and emblematic of the Mediterranean climate from which it originates. Everything sounds real and fraught with that ever-elusive analogue warmth. Can that be faked? With today’s technology—certainly. But I trust that every instrument is real and their performances well captured; that is, except maybe the drums. The high hat specifically sounds a bit crushed and digitally distorted. Not that it’s a massive, immersion-shattering problem or anything, but I only ever hear that type of effect on overly compressed cymbal audio samples. It was marginally distracting once I noticed it and I, of course, couldn’t un-notice it. The shrill vocals, no doubt boosted with maximal gain and performed with an appropriately cheap mic, fry through the mix and the throbbing bass is pleasantly, and surprisingly, present and audible throughout.

In summation, I genuinely and thoroughly enjoyed this album, in its entirety. It’s a solid 8 (out of 10) for me only because it’s a style with which we’re all fairly familiar. Otherwise, nearly perfect. I will purchase this album, eventually, and I would highly recommend anyone with a similar taste in black metal to do the same. I would deem it essential listening for this year. Irae’s Lurking in the Depths is far from the best black metal album I’ve ever heard, but a fairly formidable contender for album of the year for 2020. What’s your homework for this week? Go give this album a listen. It clocks in at nearly 44 minutes, so it’s not short, but it’s not ridiculously long either. Perfect full-length LP running time, if you ask me. I’ve listened to it five times now; there’s no excuse. And now I must do my own homework and go back and listen to all of Irae’s other releases. Whenever I can find the time. Wish me luck.

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Fornicus – Sulphuric Omnipotence; released June 15, 2020 by Negative Earth Records. Now for something completely different and completely out of left field. Here we have the third full-length album from a completely unknown band. I mean, seriously, have you ever heard anyone talk about this band? Not trying to sound like some hipster pioneering some obscure, uncharted musical territory or anything, but I did discover Fornicus a couple years ago when researching somewhat local acts. Can’t say I was ever a huge fan of them. Can’t say I’ve ever even seen them perform live. But I have been aware of Fornicus for some time. And my feelings towards them have always been sort of “meh” ambivalence. I can’t say that this new album has really persuaded me in their favor.

The word I would use to describe Fornicus’ music is “confused”. It seems that, in one minute, the band wants to have this vicious, aggressive Perdition Temple/Lucifyre/Teitanblood vibe, but, in the next minute, wants to have this Dark Funeral-esque aura of mystique. They seem to simultaneously want to be Profanatica and Demoncy, which simply does not work for me. I also hear some echoes of Incantation and Necros Christos. Not that I am in any position to judge, of course. Our music clearly draws influence from all over the spectrum of black and death metal. And these guys have, obviously, been writing music a lot longer than we have and, clearly, have a firmer grasp on the formula. So, not trying to throw stones in glass houses or anything. (Why am I ever here reviewing other peoples’ music?) I saw in the promotional/publicity photos for the band, one them was wearing a Hellgoat shirt. That would be a mostly apt comparison, but it’s rather difficult to stand in such an iniquitously titanic shadow.

The album does start strongly. The first three tracks are probably the best, with the first being my favorite (it has this absolutely twisted, sickening melody towards the end Before you all start claiming I’m not giving it a fair chance or I’m not listening to the album in its entirety, you’ll just have to take my word that I listen to every album I review at least three times. By the fourth or fifth track, the album has lost much of its potency as the grindy melodies become increasingly inane and derivative. To be fair, track 7 does sort of redeem it towards the end; it has a sick melodic groove to it. Conversely, I do not like Fornicus’ vocals. Sorry. Most of the time it’s seemingly stuck somewhere between worlds of extreme metal. It’s neither deep, growly and bellowing enough to be death metal, nor is it shrill, raspy and piercing enough to be black metal. I don’t mean to single Fornicus out on this, though, as there are a lot of bands that fall into this trap (the recent Bythos debut comes to mind). I realize the band only has two members. I would suggest maybe considering hiring a vocalist who could double as a bassist (a la Motörhead/Slayer/Deicide), especially for live shows.

Some positives I can definitely affirm? Well, the album does sound great. The production quality is not too weak or sterile (unlike that of their debut album). There’s definitely some grit, some space, some juice, some fuzz, some dripping dankness. Everything is mixed remarkably well. The drumwork is all very stellar and aggressive. There are some ripping solos to be found throughout this album. The artwork is great; looks like something ripped straight off of a Drawn & Quartered album cover. But that’s essentially the extent of my approbation for this album.

I saw their first album, Storming Heaven, has a 100% rating on Metal Archives, which it absolutely does not deserve. Their sophomore album, Hymns of Dominion was far better than that one. And this new one is an even greater leap towards the domains of originality and excellence. But, sadly, it falls just short for me. I want to like this band. I really do. There aren’t enough extreme metal bands to come out of Appalachia, and I certainly don’t want to discourage any fledgling, hitherto-undiscovered bands in the area. I will probably – eventually – buy this record simply to show my support for the almost non-existent Appalachian scene. Unfortunately, I cannot really recommend it, nor can I deem it essential.

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Revenge – Strike.Smother.Dehumanize; released May 22, 2020 by Season of Mist, or, rather, Season of Mist’s redundant and utterly insipid “Underground Activists” sub-label. Seriously, I’ll never understand the significance or necessity of the distinction. But who cares? A new Revenge album! Or, at least, that’s what all the milquetoast, wannabe-underground, crater-dome, knuckle-dragging, super-stratum-dwelling, superficial, bullet belt-wearing, battle vest-bedecked poseurs have been clamoring for. The fleeting, unwashed masses have flocked around Revenge for one, very simple reason. Their music – while, superficially, abrasive and brutal – is vague enough in the subject matter of its lyrical content to be socially acceptable or politically correct; and, therefore, marketable. That’s why bigger labels, like Season of Mist, are willing to publish their content. That’s why mainstream metal magazines and websites are willing to endlessly sing their praises.

Revenge needs no introduction. Every hack internet music critic knows who Revenge is at this point. But for the average Joe Q. Public who may have accidentally wandered onto my blog, I will give you a concise biography. From the ashes of Conqueror – a beloved, underground Canadian war metal band comprised of Blasphemy guitarist, Ryan Förster (AKA “Deathlord of Abomination and War Apocalypse”) and Cremation drummer, James Read – Revenge was formed by the latter, but without the former. Their musical styles are similar enough that one could consider Revenge the only legitimate spiritual successor to Conqueror. It should be noted that the same sentiment could also be expressed about Death Worship as it possesses the same line-up as Conqueror. What can I say? The Canadian war metal scene – or Ross Bay Cult – is very incestuous in that regard.

Revenge’s music can be broadly described as war metal, or black/death metal. It is aggressive, fast-tempo, stampede of blast-beats and grinding, low-tuned guitars. What distinguishes Revenge from your garden-variety war metal band is J. Read’s ridiculously skillful and idiosyncratic percussion. It’s like if Hellhammer filled less with his double bass and more with his toms. In fact, I suspect that Revenge has only managed to coast by on J. Read’s drumming prowess and clout alone.

The problem I have with Revenge is not that I think their music is terrible. It’s that they’ve outlived their relevance as a band—as artists. The same, I think, could be said, in general, about the Ross Bay Cult. The scene might as well be dead. It’s essentially on life-support, sustained solely by certain parties (not naming any names, but you know who you are) who wish to capitalize on nostalgia and dupe useful hipster idiots, who are into “retro”, “underground” music, into purchasing a repress of or merch for a 30-year old album. Blasphemy can’t write any new material. Conqueror no longer exists. Any new music must be released, for some reason, by a proxy band with a different name and tedious variations or combinations of old line-ups. And Revenge (you know, the subject of this review) has to release the same album over and over again. Granted, they did attempt to diversify their sound with 2012’s Scum.Collapse.Eradication; but, I think, by the time Behold.Total.Rejection came out, in 2015, people had finally just had enough. People just got sick of buying and listening to the same album repeatedly. Just looking at these album covers and layouts Revenge seem to have mastered the process of commodifying and industrializing their own content. Every album looks, feels, and sounds the same, like a good, familiar cookie-cutter product should. The sound is so consistent throughout their career, in fact, that I have to wonder if they’ve been using the exact same gear to record their music for the last two decades.

The only microscopic, exiguous difference I can glean from Strike.Smother.Dehumanize is that they’ve dialed back the terrible, repetitive solos. The frenetic, chromatic, atonal solos which are emblematic of the genre appear only infrequently throughout this album; and, instead of bare, overdriven tone, they seem to be oversaturated with a modulated filter this time around. J. Read’s drumming sounds even punchier in this album, but that can be merely attributed to slightly bumping up the ratio knob on the compressor or limiter during mixing.

So, how did I feel about the album? Meh. That’s it. It’s like depersonalizing, eyes glazed over, awash with the harsh sound of your drill instructor harshly berating you for your failures at boot camp. If you ask me, Revenge peaked with Infiltration.Downfall.Death and probably should have ended with Scum.Collapse.Eradiaction. If you’ve already listened to either of those albums, then you’ve already heard Strike.Smother.Dehumanize. I can’t recommend this album only because I don’t wish to condone this sort of behavior. It’s not bad. It’s not the total rejection of originality that is Behold.Total.Rejection and it is marginally better than Scum.Collapse.Eradication. I won’t lie, I did find myself banging my head along every now and then. I’m not immune to the allure of Revenge’s infectious grind. In the end, though, it’s just tired and overplayed. Strike.Smother.Dehumanize is no more essential than any of Revenge’s other albums.

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Esoctrilihum – Eternity of Shaog; released May 22, 2020 by I, Voidhanger Records. Another year, another release from the mysterious French occultist, Asthâghul. Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably knew how eagerly I was anticipating this album. Those of you who read my “Black Metal 2019: Year in Review” article may have read my raving review for The Telluric Ashes… and were aware of my positive disposition towards this band; my view of their musical output as a seemingly endless wellspring of excellence. My initial impression on this album is not so much that of disappointment, but more that this album represents a stark, unmistakable misstep on the path to glory. I still maintain that Esoctrilihum is one of my best Bandcamp discoveries. But this is far from the band’s best efforts.

Even though I said The Telluric Ashes… was the band’s best album to date, I didn’t take into account that it was a very different album from Inhüma—stylistically, compositionally, etc. Inhüma is probably a better album, objectively. It is definitely more aggressive, dissonant, and better fits what can broadly be defined as black metal. The Telluric Ashes… is definitely more unique in its approach, but the two are hardly comparable. Eternity of Shaog, however, continues the style of composition established by the last album. Except, in this album, the most noticeable changes are to the instrumentation. In addition to the Middle Eastern folk instruments featured, sparingly, in the last album, this album now includes symphonic elements as well as some terrible violin and cliché piano pieces. These new components add, ultimately, nothing to the overall experience and – no joke – fall to the wayside about halfway through the album. Moreover, if the composition of The Telluric Ashes… seemed, at all, vague or meandering; well, that problem is only magnified in Eternity of Shaog.

Whereas I thought The Telluric Ashes… lost steam after track 7, Eternity of Shaog seemingly loses steam after track 3. It’s really kind of sad, because the album started off rather strongly. Cranking out albums on an annual basis probably isn’t doing this project any favors. I rarely ever skip a track when I’m reviewing an album, but I actually did have to skip track 4 it was so obnoxious. Track five is just terrible filler. Track 7 – I swear – verbatim reuses a riff from The Telluric Ashes… (Are they plagiarizing themselves?) Track 8 is just awful. Track 9 has a bizarre thrash, pagan/Viking metal hybrid feel to it which just felt plain wrong and out of place. To be fair, track 10 does sort of redeem Eternity of Shaog, if only slightly.

If The Telluric Ashes… was an enlightening, mélange-fueled journey along the spectacular, endless deserts of Arrakis, then Eternity of Shaog must be a nightmare-filled, fatal overdose. It is over an hour long. The songs are very long (most of them exceed six minutes). It is very dense. I couldn’t recommend Eternity of Shaog to just anyone. Even though the sound – the production quality – is rather good (even though I think it sounds cheap and fake), it’s by no means accessible. The obliqueness of the songwriting will probably just confuse and agitate (or, heaven forbid, bore) the average metal listener. I would, obviously, recommend it to fans of Esoctrilihum. I would recommend it to fans of weird, exotic-sounding, psychedelic music in general. I would, more so, recommend their last album, though. The vinyl release of this album is limited to 300 copies, if I’m not mistaken. The CD, which comes in an A5 digipak, is limited only to 200 copies, making it the most limited Esoctrilihum release. So, snatch them up while you can (but save one for me, please). Is it essential, though? The Telluric Ashes… is essential. Inhüma is essential. But this one? Not so much.

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Czort – Apostoł; released April 30, 2020 by Under the Sign of Garazel Productions, a mouthful of a business name which, I’m sure, is an absolute pain in the ass when filling out paperwork; however, between them and Godz ov War Productions, they are very much keeping the Polish underground alive. This is the sophomore album from the nascent Polish band, and, as such, this is the perfect time for such a young band to start experimenting and really make a name for themselves. But do (or will) they accomplish this with the release of their second album? To the latter, well, only time can tell. To the former, though, that’s definitely more complicated and warrants some scrutiny. So let’s get into it.

Czort, as I’ve mentioned already, is a black metal band from Poland. The name “Czort” is actually a reference to a pig-faced demon of Slavic mythology. In typical Levyan fashion, the band has associated this name, or entity, with personal, or spiritual, freedom and an emphasis on individuality. However, the band presents itself as a collective, responding to interviews and touring (with little regard to a sense of individuality or personal identity) simply as Czort. Beyond these small details, I can’t really claim to know much about this band. I can only repeat what I’ve heard. I don’t know who they are or what other bands they may have played in. Apparently, though, the members of Czort wear black face paint for their shows. They might want to reconsider if they ever make their way to the States. Evidently, this aesthetical choice was influenced by the Markov Soroka solo-project, Tchornobog. Their musical style, conversely, is nothing like Tchornobog.

Czort have broken with black metal tradition by forgoing the demo process and diving straight into their first studio album, Czarna ewangelia, which was released in 2018, of course, by UTSOGP. It was a solid release; thoroughly enjoyable. What was most striking about it, though, was the unique style which Czort brought with that album. The sporadic breaks, the lavish leads, the sweeping melodies, and the weird harmonies – though not untypical among other Polish bands like Arkona, Cultes des Ghoules, Plaga, or even the recently reviewed Wilczyca – were all utilized to a satisfying end. With Apostoł, the uniqueness of this band is slightly dialed back. It still possesses all of these unique traits, but to a measurably lesser degree, definitely to the point that I would call it a step in the wrong direction; but, others might argue that they were merely reigned in to achieve a better balance. This album is, undoubtedly, a smoother, easier listen. But did these artistic choices result in a superior album? I don’t think so.

The melodies are all very simple, yet infectious and, dare I say, memorable (unlike a certain other album I just reviewed). But the simplicity really is giving me flashbacks to Porta Nigra’s latest exercise in pretention (which I also recently reviewed). The musical “breaks” or “pauses” or whatever you want to call them are used very sparingly. I don’t what it is, but, whereas the utilization of musical breaks felt more “punkish” and “headbang-able” in Czarna ewangelia, here they feel more like a vague, empty space between riffs. Czort seem to be going for a more “classical” sound and look (as, I think, is evidenced by the album artwork which has a color palette which, I swear, I’ve seen a million times), but I think “classical”, in this case, would be more accurately described as “conventional”. Czarna ewangelia was, by all accounts, a more “experimental” album (and I don’t mean that in the Porta Nigra pretentious avant-garde sense), particularly concerning the composition.

The pacing on this album is excellent. Every song leads into the next astonishingly well, even to the point that you might not even realize the song has changed. An easy almost 48-minute listen. The production quality, as I’ve alluded to already, is also excellent. Apostoł sounds amazingly polished, relative even to contemporary black metal standards. I would describe the sound of this album as very warm and golden, almost honeylike. There is a distinct lack of punchiness, though, especially since the roughness and “edge” of Czarna ewangelia are all but absent in this album. There is also a sort of sponginess which, I think, kind of weakens the sound of the guitars and, especially, the drums.

My favorite tracks would definitely be tracks 1, 2, and 7 (no I’m not going to write their obnoxiously long Polish titles out). While I think their previous effort was far superior, this is by no means a bad album. It is definitely a more accessible album and may indeed lead to greater success as a result, if anybody actually listens to it. Definitely worth giving it a chance. I think Czort missed their opportunity to really go wild with their performances and songwriting. The production quality kind of annoys me, but, for most, this is probably a non-issue. I would recommend Apostoł to almost any black metal aficionado. Not essential, though, unfortunately.

Listen/buy here:

By Nathanas Trismegistus

Order of Orias – Ablaze; released April 30 by World Terror Committee, a label which has a seemingly endless roster of middling occult black metal bands on a regularly scheduled rotation for release. By the way, I’m aware that there is a whole sub-sub-sub-genre of bands which call themselves “occult black metal”, but their “occult”-ness refers more to their characteristic obscure, echoey, raw sound than their occult themes. Watain-inspired, dissonant-to-melodic alternating bands, like Order of Orias, employ more traditional occult, or “orthodox Satanist” (I’m aware that they’re not the same thing, but they are, nonetheless, related), themes and imagery, which is why I refer to them as such. Just wanted to clear that up.

This relatively unknown band from Australia has apparently been around for some time; since 2007, as Order of Orias, and since 2005 as Eidölon. Despite being around for a decade and a half, they have only released two albums, Ablaze included. Is it a matter of quality over quantity? Not exactly, but I’ll get into that momentarily. (I actually do own their other album, but I wouldn’t deign to guess when the last time I listened to it was.) A lot of worthwhile black metal bands have emerged from Down Under. Drowning the Light, Rattenkönig, Goatblood all come to mind. Of course, I like Portal, Impetuous Ritual, Grave Upheaval and all those, even though they’re not strictly “black metal”. The closest, obvious comparison to Order of Orias’ musical style would, of course, be Barshasketh. Though they are not Aussies (they’re Kiwis), their respective musical styles both follow that sort of Swedish melodic black metal pattern. Barshasketh have also been around about as long as Order of Orias, but they’ve managed to crank out four albums of commensurate quality (the latest of which I’ve already reviewed).

You really can’t knock Order of Orias’ performances, let alone the production quality of this album and its pacing. It’s all really good. The nearly 40-minute runtime blazes past you. Everything sounds crisp and clear. This band’s priority is obviously more oriented towards capturing their musical work rather than emulating any mythical “trve kvlt” sound. But it’s also obvious that Order of Orias are trying to emulate something and it’s obvious what it is. And they do it very well, so, if their goal is to carry the aforementioned torch of such sinister melodic Swedish acts as Watain, Ondskapt, and Malign – all of whom, I would add, are still active even if they don’t continue to make music – then they certainly achieve that goal. The weaknesses of this album, though, really are the lack of originality or ingenuity. Also, with regards to the pacing, it’s less a matter of “wow, that album was so engaging, I can’t believe it was 40 minutes long!” and more a matter of “where was I the last 40 minutes?”, which is never a good thing, in my opinion. The composition is all fine, but nothing was really all that memorable. Seriously, not a single note of this album has managed to linger in my mind. It’s a lot of droning dissonance with the intermittent fast-paced trem-picked melody. Really nothing of any special significance or noteworthiness to be found here.

The best word I could use to describe Ablaze would be “nondescript”, and I really hate those sorts of albums because they are the hardest to review. You’ve probably heard a similar sentiment expressed regarding other kinds of media, but it’s certainly true for black metal as well. I can’t bring myself to care about spending the time to write a review for something so unrepentantly banal. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend it unless you just want a wall of sound to accompany your child sacrifice, or whatever it is you do in your spare time. Obviously, not essential.

Regardless, decide for yourself. Listen/buy here:

By Nathanas Trismegistus

Seeds of Iblis – Morbid Muhammad; released April 20, 2020 by Pest Productions. Why April 20? Who can say? This is the band’s second album, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember if I ever listed to their first, 2013’s Anti Quran Rituals. I do own their second EP, “The Black Quran”, which is a short but thoroughly enjoyable (if not for the production quality) listen. Since that particular release comprises the whole of my experience, it will also be my sole source of reference and comparison. No doubt that, due to the nature and sensitivity of the subject matter which this album and this controversial band represent, some would criticize me for drawing attention to it. Well, I expect to hear the same objections every time I review an anti-Christian band from now on.

Seeds of Iblis has three claims to fame: they are a black metal band from Iraq, they are an anti-Islamic black metal band from Iraq, and they are fronted by a woman who, presumably, is obligated to wear a burqa whenever in public. Of course, these claims are all specious at best. Nobody really knows if the band ever has (or still does) reside in Iraq. Nobody really knows anything regarding the identities of the band members. The band seem really determined to uphold the kvlt tradition of mystery and anonymity, which is respectable, even if necessary in this case. A lot of black metal bands like to maintain this facade of mystique, but very few are ever in any real, direct threat to their lives or livelihoods. You could say that Seeds of Iblis is the “real deal”.

Seeds of Iblis’ music is certainly something of note. It’s very melodic. It’s very pleasant, at least to my ears. Of course, I’ve always liked music with a Middle Eastern flair. The drums are very simple (and probably not real). There are some very faint symphonic elements which remind me of Drowning the Light. The most notable of this bands elements are the vocals. They’re very strange. Very weak; almost like they were whispered into the microphone. If they were performed in secret, then that would certainly explain their peculiarity. Don’t expect much from the production quality. It’s not good. Very raw and unpolished, but not the right kind of raw and unpolished. Nothing sounds real, except maybe the guitars. But, again, understandable given the likelihood that none of the band members have any access to decent equipment. If I had any complaints about this album, it would be the voice samples of various speeches which riddle this album. I don’t know where they’re from. I don’t know what they’re saying (presumably all in Arabic). I don’t know if its important. But there’s too much of it. If you trimmed all of that out, this album would probably only be 38 minutes long (from 45 minutes).

Seeds of Iblis stands as a testament that, if you truly – in your heart of hearts – want to accomplish any given goal, if you want to start that band or musical project but inhibition, for some reason, prevents you, there is absolutely no fucking excuse. Seeds of Iblis (purportedly) hail from a society that is markedly conservative, oppressive, and intolerant of their views, and yet they continue to make blasphemous black metal. Is it good, though? I certainly think so. Favorite track? Definitely tracks 3 and 7 (although, I have to say that intro riff sounds very familiar). Track 1 is a phenomenal intro, really sets the tone well. If your tolerance for weak production and extremely unbalanced performances is high, if your expectations can be appropriately tempered, I would absolutely recommend this album to any fan of kvlt blasphemous black metal. Is it essential, though? Really difficult to say. There’s nothing terribly original going on here. They don’t do anything which I haven’t heard other bands in their category do better. It’s definitely flawed. Maybe too much padding. Relative to its circumstances, though, I would consider it essential. We’ll call Morbid Muhammad an “honorary” essential album. First of its kind. Check it out!

Listen/buy here:

By Nathanas Trismegistus

Förgjord – Laulu kuolemasta (translates to “A song of death”); released April 3, 2020 by Werewolf Records. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Finnish Kvlt is alive and well with bands like Förgjord. Not even a year after the release of Ilmestykset, the masters of the black craft return with yet another masterpiece. Werewolf Records seems to have finally taken a break from its steady stream of mediocre symphonic black metal releases in order to unleash this avalanche of austere elegance.

Haunting, glacial melodies and wicked, inauspicious atmosphere abound. The drums pompously stamp and stomp in anticipation until the inevitable charge of blast-beats. The guitars alternately needle you with acrid, melancholic dissonance and lull you with drifts of soft, pleasant consonance; a perfect musical representation, I think, of the experience of hypothermic death. The shrill vocals are like a foul, caustic voice conveyed upon the winds of a blizzard. All in all, this album plays like a revenant, tireless and malevolent, hunting you down in the perplexity of the unbroken, opalescence of a labyrinthine forest during a stark, winter whiteout. Laulu kuolemasta album really is an exercise in refinement. Förgjord seems to have tasked themselves with trimming all the fat off their previous effort (and, yet its running time exceeds that of Ilmestykset). Nothing is wasted. Nothing is waste. Nevertheless, I’m really anxious to find out if their next album manages to exceed this one in quality or if Förgjord finally break their streak of unremitting excellence. Tracks 2 and 4 are probably my favorites; but, really, this album should be experienced, properly, in its entirety.

Bitter. Harsh. Cold. Grim. This album is an auricular icicle impalement. If you consider yourself a fan of Finnish black metal, you should own at least one Förgjord album. They’re all good. I think each successive album improves, in some small way, on the last. Laulu kuolemasta is no exception. If you want the best and can only afford one (I know almost everyone is financially struggling right now), buy it. A fair warning, though: the production really facilitates the disturbing atmospheres as I’ve described them. It is appropriately raw; so, if you have the ears of the uninitiated, this album will not appeal to you. For some reason, though – I don’t know if it was a request of the band or some weird, contractual obligation – this album is neither streaming on the band’s Bandcamp nor the label’s. Physical copies – CDs exclusively (for the time being) – exist, but good luck acquiring a copy. Your only option – as far as I’m aware – is to buy from Werewolf Records directly via e-mail, which is some strange, pathetic attempt at bringing back the “glory days” of mail orders during the age of the Internet. I get it. You want to cull the un-Trve from the black metal scene. Whatever. I will try to secure a copy and I suggest you do the same. Absolutely recommended. Absolutely essential.