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.

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Written by Nathanas Trismegistus

Medico Peste – ב: The Black Bile; released March 20, 2020 by Season of Mist under their cringeworthy “Underground Activist” banner. Medico Peste, on the other hand, is not cringeworthy. Far from it. Their music will, however, provoke some measure of mental anguish in the listener. I’m not sure what the point of ordering their albums with letters of the Hebrew alphabet is (other than the obvious religious references). A lot of bands start out by ordering their albums with – typically – Roman numerals, but eventually discontinue the trend later in their career when they realize how pointless it is or when their musical style evolves. It is somewhat appropriate, however, in this instance as The Black Bile acts as a logical conclusion in the progression of Medico Peste albums, from their 2012 debut, א: Tremendum et Fascinatio, through to their 2017 EP, Herzogian Darkness. (I have never listened to their demo so I cannot comment.) It will certainly be interesting to see where they take their musical style next.

Medico Peste is composed, mostly, of live band members of Mgła. One member, the bassist (who certainly worked his ass off for this release), is in another excellent Polish band, Over the Voids…, which you should definitely check out. What I find puzzling is how the Metal Archives page for this band lists four different, current guitarists for Medico Peste. I’d have to get my hands on a physical copy with a booklet (assuming credits are even given) before I can confirm this, though. (And considering how crazy things are with shipping during this COVID-19 crisis, I can’t foresee securing a copy anytime in the near future.) Regardless, Medico Peste’s music bears almost no similarities with that of Mgła. Whereas Mgła deigns to flirt with beautifully-somber melodies, Medico Peste infects the listener with noxious, hideous, sickening dissonance (really appropriate for our current predicament). I would compare their style, maybe, more to the dissonant Icelandic/U.S. bands, such as Wormlust and Skaphe, or maybe even Voidcræft; but, especially, Deathspell Omega (particularly with the opening track). I tend to look at Medico Peste as Mgła’s manic-depressive, suicidal, schizophrenic little brother.

There is a notable increase in the number of musical breaks throughout this album, as opposed to their debut. Several of them are astonishingly catchy despite the progressive approach. In fact, this album is so progressive that I dare say it borders on jazz. The leap to more “progressive” elements reminds me a lot of the leap made by Craft back in 2018 with their obliquely self-aware release, White Noise and Black Metal. Most surprising of all, however, is how much emphasis is placed on the bass in this album. This might be one of those rare instances, in black metal, where the bass is incorporated very well into the musical composition. So, unsurprisingly, the composition of ב: The Black Bile is the big draw for me. The performances are all excellent. Production-wise, I have absolutely no qualms with this album. Everything sounds balanced, clear, pronounced, and amazing.

I meant to have this review up earlier; but, you know, things have been a little hectic as of late. After a couple listens, I have deemed Medico Peste’s ב: The Black Bile a worthy addition to the collection. Favorite tracks are “All Too Human”, “Numinous Catastrophy” (probably my absolute favorite), “Skin”, and the eponymous track. “Were Saviours Believers?” and “Holy Opium” were, in my opinion, the only weak tracks. I would definitely recommend this album, but (TRVE KVLT BE WARNED!) this is not your typical black metal affair. It definitely favors the progressive side of the black metal spectrum. I cannot, however, deem it essential. Though it was unconventional, lugubrious, atmospheric, and decrepit, it wasn’t mind-blowingly so. Nevertheless, if you managed to snatch up a copy before your city (or country) got locked down, definitely give it a spin. For the rest of you, it’s streaming for free on YouTube and Bandcamp. What else have you got to do? It’s a satisfying enough way to pass the time while you’re stuck under martial quarantine.

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By Nathanas Trismegistus

Wilczyca’s self-titled debut; released February 2, 2020 by Godz Ov War Productions. Naturally, being from an obscure, European label, this album will likely take some time to acquire. But, I’ll never let that stop me from shambling together a terrible, half-assed review.

And out of the naked blue comes this Polish two-piece black metal monstrosity. First off, fuck you and your unpronounceable language, Poland. There’s just too goddamn many adjacent consonants that I couldn’t guess how any of your words or names are pronounced. Second off, Poland is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture – staunchly Christian conservative – and there is a small subset of underground enthusiasts who have decided, “fuck all that shit, let’s make some blasphemous black metal.” It is my understanding that Poland’s black metal scene is a very understated, small, and (probably) very tight-knit circle of personae non gratae. Of course, Behemoth, a prominent metal band signed to a prominent metal label, is from Poland and they got their start by playing pagan black metal. And, of course, fans of black metal are no doubt familiar with Mgla and Batushka. And Graveland is, of course, infamous. But few people – at least with whom I am acquainted – are familiar with bands like Arkona, Czort, North, and Plaga; excellent bands which are criminally underrated or simply forgotten. (Fuck Besatt.) Even fewer people are familiar with Wilczyca. In fact, I know absolutely nothing about this band beyond their name and their one and only (studio?) release, which is a fantastic position to be in for anyone trying to uphold the “trve kvlt” tradition of mystery and isolation. They’ve probably had a demo (or is this the demo?) or two floating about the Polish underground scene, but it’s never crossed my path.

The production quality on Wilczyca is ore raw. It’s cold, abrasive, and absolutely sickening. The drums are perfectly sculpted for that muffled, dirty mattress sound for which black metal is famous. I’d dare say the bass drum mics were placed so low on the ground that they had to dig up holes in the studio’s basement just to position them. Every drum hit is granite hard. Every kick drum’s pound feels like a punch to the gut and every snare slam feels like a slap to the temple. The vocals, a phlegmy, throaty agonal rasp – laboriously scrape their way into the mix the way someone who was buried alive desperately claws their way to freedom. The bass, as usual, farts in the background.

As far as their music is concerned, I would compare Wilczyca most to the aforementioned Plaga. There are some weird, off-putting harmonies interrupted by the occasional warped, arpeggiated chords, each lending to the oppressive, melancholic atmosphere. The drums are played with an arrogant and aggressive strut throughout the album. Really infectious, high-energy style. I like it. However, this band does eventually succumb to the temptation of mindless repetition of blast beats and traditional tremolo-picked melodies, which is unfortunate.

As far as I’m concerned, the track 1, “Na Przeklętej Ziemi”, is just wasted space. I guess it sets the tone of the album well enough, but it doesn’t add much. There were a couple tracks, “Ego Memini Inferno” and “Przyjdź” (2 and 6, respectively), released in the last couple of months to promote the album’s release. Naturally, these were the best songs on the album. Track 3, the eponymous track to the eponymous album, is also good—has a good old-school vibe. I swear, though. Tracks 2, 3, and 5 sound like they belong on a different album than the rest. There really are two, distinct voices here vying for dominance. Track 4, “Burza”, as well as tracks 1, 6, and 7 are all instrumentals, which are always risky because of how – potentially – boring they are; and, for a seven-song album, that’s a lot of instrumentals. Track 7, “Proch”, just sounds like they dipped their patch cables in dogshit and let their cat run amok across their synth pad. What an awful way to end an otherwise respectable effort. What were they thinking?

Overall, I genuinely liked Wilczyca’s debut album and will probably listen to it again (I’ve listened to it three times now). It’s a nasty, vicious, yet succinct jaunt through ancient catacombs. (Does Poland have catacombs?) As for a recommendation, I think it’s purely a numbers game. If we were to enumerate the positives and negatives, side by side, in a list, I think the positives would genuinely outnumber the negatives. Fans of Plaga and old Mgla will probably like it. Definitely worth a listen. Not essential, though.

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