Lines In Wax

TWELVE YEARS OF UNWANTED OPINION

black metal

Immortal – Damned In Black (2000)

Not a bad album by any stretch, Damned In Black instead has the misfortune of being the album that the band made between two of their absolute best records. Therefore, Damned In Black slips through the cracks a little, which is bizarre because it’s pretty fucking good. Coming out just over one year after At The Heart Of Winter, this effort combines Abbath-led songwriting with some of the ferocity of the earlier records. It strikes a good balance, but one that would be improved tenfold on the next record, Sons Of Northern Darkness. Either way, don’t snooze on this one.

Goatsmegma – Demonic Goat Smegma Eating Ritual (2019)

Little did I know that song titles like “Licking the Goat’s Vaginal Prolapse in the Name of Baphomet” existed. It is usually the pits of grindcore where such ridiculous songs are found, but alas war metal is also a mire ripe for the plundering in this regard. The excellently named Goatsmegma then, are to be commended for pushing the absurdities of such a genre into the next level. Thankfully, they have the sonic chops to pull this off without a hitch and the aural destruction present goes hand in hand with the art and song content. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. “Inserting an Inverted Cross Into Goat’s Uterus”, anyone?

Burzum – Reh / Demo 91 (1991)

Impossibly raw, barely audible tape demo that would no doubt be lost to time if it existed in solitude, but is now an incredibly important document in the history and development of extreme metal music. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insinuating that “Demo 2” from Varg is some slept on lost classic that scholars of black metal NEED to check out, but for those who have studied every other piece of work from Burzum and turned over every other rock, hearing the “classics” here in their rawest, primitive rehearsal form can be a rewarding experience.

Absurd / Pantheon – Split CD (2002)

The art for this thing is so absurd (lol), I want it blown up to 3m x 3m in size and have it mounted (oo er) on my wall, so I can admire every glistening muscle in high fidelity. Music-wise, Absurd’s production seems a bit thin on the ground (with the exception of the ever-excellent vocals) and I could have sworn that I have heard some of these songs before? Feel like I’m getting into an Agathocles-esque loop here, but alas. Pantheon hits a bit harder, at least on the first impression, especially with a drummer who has ants in his pants and cannot keep still. This is all well and good for the first track or so but then starts to wear thin fairly quickly. There’s a lot going on with Pantheon’s music, but sometimes everything struggles to stay attached to the framework provided. Messy.

Goatmoon – Stella Polaris (2017)

I’m being facetious of course, but similarities to something like Enthrone Darkness Triumphant are abound. Knowing the notorious reputation of Goatmoon it’s pretty funny to draw comparisons between the two, but alas I shall quit whilst I’m ahead. Stella Polaris does employ the same swirling pianos, orchestral hits, style of razor-sharp melodic riffing, and even a few pitchshifted narration vocals just like the record I am jokingly comparing it to, but Stella Polaris’ true singular sin is a toss of a coin between it’s run time and it’s lack of originality. It is a well produced album, with moments of beauty and absolute genius, but for the majority of its short runtime, you could be listening to literally anyone.

Ynkleudherhenavogyon / Venymysgourvleydh – Freudhek Kothni Sekus Lytherenna (2022)

One of the coolest things I’ve heard for a while from the black metal world. Super lo-fi, intense compositions from the forgotten lands of Cornwall. At first it can be quite difficult to tell the two projects apart, but whilst there are slight differences between them it is pretty obvious that they were both composed by the same individual. The production is (no doubt deliberately) obscure and the drums are muffled blurs of kicks and hits, but the riffs buried in this thing are second to none. Couple that with the intense atmosphere, artwork, ambient passages and those incredible names, and you’ve got a winner. Seriously cool shit. Well worth going off the beaten path for.

Black Magick SS – Symbols Of Great Power (2012)

Where it all began for the now infamous Black Magick SS. Black metal enthusiasts will no doubt feel right at home with the muddy, distant production, but fans of even the most dusty and occult psychedelic rock may be alienated somewhat by the intense layers of fog present on this thing. Despite this (I’m not complaining, just suggesting it may be a bit much for those outside of the lo-fi worlds lol), the magic (no pun intended) was clearly there from the start, albiet in more crude and primitive forms. Symbols Of Great Power is not a record I revisit often, but it is good to know the roots of one of the best projects in this style.

Anal Vomit – Demonic Flagellations (2005)

Don’t come into a project entitled Anal Vomit expecting the world, and you will be rewarded for your imaginative frugalilty with a cut of messy, unholy death/black hybrid. It would be too easy to add the tag of war metal to cover all of the above bases, but realistically this isn’t quite unhinged enough to fall into that punishing category, if one was to be anal about it (lol). And seeing as I am here vomiting out of my ass onto these review pages almost daily, I will take the ample opportunity here to be just that (anal, in case you couldn’t guess). Stand-out tracks? Bitch, you gotta be kidding. Just get the 36 minute slab of noise on repeat like a true maniac.

Bestial Summoning – The Dark War Has Begun (1992)

Raw, uncompromising, wobbly, rehearsal-room grade recording from a classic period of time. A formative time, you could say, with The Dark War… bridging the gap between Hellhammer / early Celtic Frost / early Bathory kinda shit and the styles of what would be dialled up to 1000 in the war metal genre. Evil demons, darkness, and all sorts of unholy shit abounds. Tidy.

Graveland – Creed Of Iron (2000)

The art is shite (developers of barely functional early 2000s photo editing software called, they want their crappy effects back), and at times this record reminds me of Mortician (never thought I’d be writing that on a Graveland review) what with it’s bizarre production. Despite these drawbacks (not that sounding like Mortician is always a drawback but for fucking Graveland it should be) Creed Of Iron is a very well made black metal record. What I’ve learned about Graveland over their albums is that whilst I may not like all of them, I cannot deny that they stand out on their own, doing their own thing, with their own unique approach and evolving sound.

Kaevum – Natur (2011)

Stunning black metal, that ticks all the boxes of what I look for from the genre (could take or leave the apparent NS element but there we go). On top of this, you’ve got the fucking trash can snare sound of goregrind! Surely not intentionally done, but the dustbin snare drum works very well here. But yeah, no fooling around, this shit is fucking fantastic. The riffs walk the line between sinister and majestic, and the vocals are hideous. You can’t go wrong.

Revenge – Scum.Collapse.Eradication (2012)

As I’ve no doubt said before, it seems almost ridiculous to try and review all of the Revenge albums. They are so similar that it’s almost funny, but the saving grace is that every single fucking album is just absolutely fucking unstoppable. Seriously, this shit is just so fucking relentless. The sound is huge, and the music is savage as fuck. It is hard to criticise this level of consistency across all outputs.

Satanic Warmaster / Clandestine Blaze – Split LP (2004)

Starts off really strong with the collaberation tracks, but then peters out considerably towards the end. At first I thought perhaps I wasn’t paying attention, but subsequent relistens has indicated to me that this just kinda falls apart towards the end. The tracks don’t seem to go anywhere, and by the time you get to SW’s own “To The Legions”, this release has totally lost me. Production wise, this is fairly raw but everything is audible in the mix. I commend the interesting concept of this release being both a split and a collab at the same time, but I can’t see me coming back to it all that often.

Grausamkeit – Christenschmähung (2000)

Rawer than a cheesegrater to the balls, but more authentic for it. Don’t mistake autenticity for a seal of quality however; a lot is lost to the background hiss and flutter on this one. Whilst it does have its moments of genius, at other times it seems a bit listless. If you appreciate the art of music production, I’d avoid this one.

Immortal – Blizzard Beasts (1997)

Immortal – Blizzard Beasts (1997)

The first real miss from the mostly excellent Immortal. Blizzard Beasts suffers from a sub par production, with what should be an unstoppable barrage of drums being barely audible and buried beneath the hollow muck of the guitar. The riffs are on point however, in the usual frenetic Immortal style. Expect blurs of cold hell in the way of exquisite fretboard wankery (at the lower end of course), but the sound is just a little bit off and there is such an imbalance between the percussion and strings that it is really offputting and spoils the whole album.

Winds Of The Black Mountains – Sing Thou Unholy Servants (1998)

Winds Of The Black Mountains – Sing Thou Unholy Servants (1998)

Beautiful artwork (always a good start). It took me a few listens to get into this. I enjoyed the core of the black metal sound, but found the other elements meandering, distracting even. I am glad however that I took the time to return to Unholy Servants multiple times over the last few months. The “White Rabbit” cover aside (here as “Black Goat”), this is a fantastic record. There is a lot of merit in having a core sound and using it as a base to build off and experiment. I think this record showcases that kind of approach brilliantly.

Dimmu Borgir – Spiritual Black Dimensions (1999)

Dimmu Borgir – Spiritual Black Dimensions (1999)

Oddly dense yet also fairly hollow and empty, Spiritual Black Dimensions has the unfortunate displeasure of having no stand-out tracks on an album that is sandwiched between two albums considered greats of their respective eras. This is a slight shame because those trademark early Dimmu riffs are to-die for, as is the general performance. Production-wise, this attempts to be an Enthrone… part 2, but musically it is just not as strong.

Wurdulak – Ceremony In Flames (2001)

Wurdulak – Ceremony In Flames (2001)

People seem to shit on this project but I’ve enjoyed both the full lengths I’ve heard. Ceremony In Flames gives black metal a bit of groove, and Maniac’s vocals (shared here with Killjoy from Necrophagia) are always a fucking pleasure to listen to. If you think Maniac is a shit vocalist you need to get your fucking head checked. Production is thick and chunky yet dynamic and organic – which works well with cold black metal riffs (who’d have thought?) as well as the more groovier passages. This shit rules. Fuck the haters.

Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma (1993)

Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma (1993)

One of the most perfect extreme metal records of all time. Why? Well 1.) the drums are not drowned out by all the other shit. 2.) this fucker mixes grindcore and black metal / war metal in the best possible way, on top of which subtle melodies also play on some tracks (“Horny And The Horned” being the best example). Besides, the super inoffensive cover art pissed a lot of religious folk off, which is also a giant tick in the box for a band from 1993, as that stuff was all the rage back then (the reissued cover art is shite mind you). But yeah – not gonna ramble for hours on this one. Music go brrrr.

Vothana – Biệt động quân / Commando (2020)

Vothana – Biệt động quân / Commando (2020)

There is a tangible undercurrent to Vothana’s work that at first I didn’t quite understand. I mean, that sounds pretty silly I guess because this is just very noisy, lo-fi black metal with a lot of melody hidden in it. But it is the way in which said melodies are composed. All the songs sound immediately like Vothana in their uniqueness away from other artists in the field, yet also rather somewhat all sound similar to each other in the context of an album. Throw in the fact that this thing is as long as it is, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster, on paper at least. Thankfully, in execution, Commando (etc etc) is a pleasure to listen to. The production is grimy, but is a massive part of the charm.

Necromantia – Ancient Pride (1997)

Necromantia – Ancient Pride (1997)

I have a love / hate relationship with Necromantia. I can only imagine it’s due to how they use a bass guitar (or two), which is far from usual. Sometimes it works, other times it’s just absolute carnage (and not in a good way). This early EP is fantastic however, with a fair and balanced production and a brilliant set of songs.

Darkthrone – Astral Fortress (2022)

Darkthrone – Astral Fortress (2022)

I really love what Darkthrone have come back around to doing. This is some sort of very organic mix of black and doom metal, which works with a confident ease you could only attain no doubt after several decades in the game. It’s odd, because there’s not all that many people playing in this style, but it sounds like such an obvious blend of metal subgenres. Tracks like “Impeccable Caverns Of Satan” and “Stalagmite Necklace” are some of Darkthrone’s best from any era.

Angstloch – The Shades of Pale Night (2023)

Angstloch – The Shades of Pale Night (2023)

Love the art so got myself a digital copy – vocals let this thing down, to be honest. They are halfway between a croak and a shout, giving off a frog gargling rocks effect, which I’m sure they were not going for. Underneath all of that however, there is a wall of fuzz punctuated with some nice dreamy synths. The tracks are fairly meandering – I just wish this hit a little tiny bit better. Hopefully the project can build off this sound into something bigger and better.

Beherit – Electric Doom Synthesis (1996)

Beherit – Electric Doom Synthesis (1996)

Pardon me for being tride in offering the plain fact that this is just more or less H418ov21.C Part II. There are slight differences, for example Holocaust’s production skill has come along a little bit and it therefore isn’t as spare perhaps as it’s predecessor, but for the most part, if you like sparse, ambient electronics with a slightly spooky cyber feel, you’ll be right at home here.

Beherit – H418ov21.C (1994)

Beherit – H418ov21.C (1994)

What the ever-loving fuck is this? Hahaha To be fair, after the initial adjustment of coming from “war metal” Beherit, this thing starts off pretty good. It eventually devolves into a series of silly noises but when it hits (which is about half of the time to be honest) then this record comes at you like some sort of cult 90s PC game OST (think Doom 64 crossed with Syndicate Wars).

Absurd – Werwolfthron (2001)

Absurd – Werwolfthron (2001)

An atmospheric, excellent offering from the controversial Absurd. The instrumentals (which are short but very effective) set the pace for the rabid black metal attack to follow. As always with this era of Absurd, the vocals are the high point in my opinion. Really great, evil and terrifying vocals lead the way. The riffs are simple, based around more traditional folk melodies perhaps, but they do the trick. Only downside for me is the drumming is kind of drowned out in the mix.

Operation Volkstod – Anti-Fascist Black Metal (2019)

Operation Volkstod – Anti-Fascist Black Metal (2019)

This seems to get a lot of shit online, but I’ve got to say that the whole operation (lol) is very well made, IMO. I do understand the (perhaps ironic) constant nods to Burzum in the guitar deparment (not that Burzum is a NSBM band but that’s another story for another day), but hey, this shit fucking rules. What it does lose points for however is the fairly bland and mechanical drum programming. As a fanatic of the most awful and disgusting drum machine grindcore however, I can look past this, but I can understand why maybe others cannot. Don’t get me wrong, it works well, until maybe there are pummelling blasts, double-bass etc., and then it just sounds mechanical as fuck. Aborym has entered the chat. But yeah, this is fucking good.

Vampirska – Torturous Omens of Blood and Candlewax (2020)

Vampirska – Torturous Omens of Blood and Candlewax (2020)

I love everything about this. The cover is perhaps a little bit on the nose, but I can live with that. The sound is warm, yet cacophonous and necro as fuck (or is that fukk?). These songs are no jokes, and epics like “A Pale Face Eclipsed by Shadows” and the oddly-titled closer “Feasting on the Dried Blood of Majesties” have cemented Vampirska as a project for me to explore further. Beautiful stuff.

Grausamkeit – Der Alles Vernichtende Blitz (2001/2019)

Grausamkeit – Der Alles Vernichtende Blitz (2001/2019)

Probably up there with the rawest of the raw, this profilic project has some interesting gems. Unfortunately, Der alles vernichtende Blitz isn’t really one of them. It is a good lo-fi BM recording, but nothing really elevates it into the sphere of gods except for the final track, “V”, which sounds like it’s from a different session altogether. Honestly, if all the tracks were as good as this one, this one would be there with the best Grausamkeit has to offer.

Etzhasatan – Moon Shining Through The Window (2022)

Etzhasatan – Moon Shining Through The Window (2022)

One of the best black metal releases that I have come across in recent weeks! Raw, lo-fi black metal is of course the order of the day, but there is this amazing touch of sorrowful melody laid over the top of the fuzzy, dusty instruments. I guess it is another guitar, but damn, the way it cuts through all the songs, it gives them a whole new meaning and life. Couple this with the raw production and either some sort of tape effect or tremolo effect on the melody and it sounds very sorrowful. The tape is on it’s way to Lines in Wax HQ, no doubt it will sound even better when I play back the cassette. Highly recommended black metal!

Forgotten Ruin – Incantation Of Lust (2022)

Forgotten Ruin – Incantation Of Lust (2022)

Well then, this is all kinds of awful lmao – there is an underlying charm to proceedings but the shakiness is really hard to ignore, particularly when it comes to the percussion. The drums are all over the place and really distract you from the songs. I can get behind lo-fi production, bad guitar and bad vocals, but as soon as the drums can’t keep time you might as well just start over.

V.G.F. / Warhorness – Split Tape (2001)

V.G.F. / Warhorness – Split Tape (2001)

VGF is an interesting project. Blurring the lines between black metal and noisecore, the side farts and rattles through some disgusting lo fi material. Speaking of lo fi, the Warhorness side isn’t exactly “mastered at half speed over at Abbey Road” quality, but it’s a damn sight clearer than VGF. Songs from Warhorness are in the dirty noisy grind style; short, sharp bursts with callbacks to 80s proto-black/death. Think Nunslaughter but even more perverted and you wouldn’t be too far off.

Isengard – Vinterskugge (1995)

Isengard – Vinterskugge (1995)

Whilst this is a collection of various different sessions, things are surprisingly coherent (that is until we get to Chapter Three perhaps). I’m happy to just sit and listen to Fenriz do his thing for a solid hour, I’ll be honest. The man is a talented songwriter, what can I say. Musically, Vinterskugge is a collection of black and proto-black metal with Fenriz’s own personal touch and interesting flourishes, especially on the drums, although the riffs are not to be sneezed at. From an instrumental / “dungeon synth” perspective, track 5 (“In the Halls and Chambers of Stardust the Crystallic Heavens Open”) is one of the best things I’ve heard in the style for quite some time. I don’t drink anymore but I really feel like a flagon of mead in front of roaring fire all of a sudden.

Pissmoon – The Cryptic Winds Of Black Divinity (2019)

Pissmoon – The Cryptic Winds Of Black Divinity (2019)

Enjoyable lo-fi black metal with dungeon synth “moments”. Through the inpenetrable fuzz of the production, little moments of clarity can be snatched if one is paying attention. There is an underlying melody to the dust-caked, mouldy proceedings. A perfect example of this would be the variations on the key melody in “Enthroning of the Immortal Majesty”. I really enjoyed this. The name is pretty funny too.

Concrete Winds – Primitive Force (2019)

Concrete Winds – Primitive Force (2019)

Primitive Force comes at you with quite a regimented and organised sound, which is refreshing for a genre that is usually wallowing in unhinged, boundless carnage. That is not to say, of course, that a fair share of carnage is not present on this record. The Josefsson’s batter you into the ground with their military-grade precision and fathomless brutality. It is perhaps not as unforgiving as some music in the war metal style, but where the band make up for this is in the production and the unholy guitar tone, which is one of the best tones I’ve heard in some time. Genuinely sick shit, love it!

Dark Funeral – Secrets Of The Black Arts (1996)

Dark Funeral – Secrets Of The Black Arts (1996)

Disappointingly bland on both accounts, whether you are addressing the original “demos” / studio version or the Tagtgren-led second attempt. There is nothing “wrong” per se with any of the elements that come together to compose Secrets Of The Black Arts, its just everything comes together in such a way to leave you with the most uninspired and “safe” intepretation of the black metal sound. It is crazy to me that this came out in 1995, it feels like a clone from ten years later rather than a band that was a forerunner in the style. A shame.

Immortal – Battles In The North (1995)

Immortal – Battles In The North (1995)

One of the most perfect sonic cauldrons of sound ever created, Battles In The North is absolute and total blastbeat annihilation from start to finish. If your tolerance for such drumming doth not extend past the length of your average grindcore track length, then perhaps Battles In The North is not for you. Otherwise, carry on my blackened vessel of hatred, carry on! The one downside that I will bring to attention is the fact that on face-value the production can seem a little thin. Immortal would perfect this brittle guitar tone as time went on and your ears do adjust to the “wet paper” drum sound by the end of the opening title track.

Wolfnacht / Goatmoon / Thy Serpent – Split CD (2022)

Wolfnacht / Goatmoon / Thy Serpent – Split CD (2022)

Wolfnacht is not a band that I had heard before this split, but after listening to this a whole bunch of times over the last few months I have to admit that their material is my favourite on this thing. Wolfnacht’s material here is majestic and grandiose, but also with that harsh bite that you want from good black metal. The vocals are rabid and fitting, and additional synth work over the top varies from sounding like 90s CoF to going a bit more “cosmic” in it’s choice of patches and melodies. Great stuff. Goatmoon’s stuff here seems a bit silly in comparison, with a haunted house piano and vocals that sound like some sort of demented crow squawking over the tunes. An interesting choice, but the songs here sound oddly rigid and stunted for Goatmoon, whose folk-tinged black metal usually has such a free-flowing and natural feel to it. Thy Serpent is the final band, and it’s around this time is when I tend to lose interest, if I’m honest. Their stuff isn’t particularly bad it’s just Goatmoon and Wolfnacht sound so unique that the slog that is their plodding black metal feels almost like its running at a treacle pace. The production is heavy in the “middle”, which makes the bass guitar shine, and the vocals are really cool when they do kick in, for the most part this final band didn’t really do anything for me. I’m sure they have some full-length work worth checking out though.

Immortal – Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism (1992)

Immortal – Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism (1992)

Did anybody order any blastbeats? Because Immortal are having a sale right now. LOL. Whilst the band have retained that intricate air of chaos across its different eras and lineups, the early Immortal records were a different beast altogether. Frenetic cold energy is here by the truckload; frozen riffs propelled by batshit drums and the croaky vocals that we all love. This is absolute carnage. I love it.

Grabgesang – Of Medieval Graveyard Frost (1995)

Grabgesang – Of Medieval Graveyard Frost (1995)

Asides from the hissing sibilance of the hi hat cymbals eating away at my inner ears like some giant mastoid, Of Medieval Graveyard Frost is a fabulous second-wave black metal offering. Underneath the grime and hiss of the tape, the songs sound very solid and well assembled. They are led by a maniacally riffing tremolo attack mostly, slowing into more sinister riffs periodically to really hammer home the atmosphere. The drums, as in, the actual snare etc. are very clear, it is only the cymbal elements which become ensnared in lossy cassette noise.

Wiatyk – Tron Wlen (1996)

Wiatyk – Tron Wlen (1996)

I took one look at that cover and there was no way in hell that I was not going to have a listen to this thing. Great riffs here, really cool melodic compositions, if not a bit rudimentary, lead the way ahead of snarling, howling raspy vocals. Unfortunately the drumming is very loose, but not to the point where it adds some sort of shambolic charm to proceedings. Sure, it is servicable, especially considering this is a cassette demo from 1996, but the percussion misses and off-beats can be a little off-putting.

Nokturnal Mortum – До лунарної поезії (To Lunar Poetry) (2022)

Nokturnal Mortum – До лунарної поезії (To Lunar Poetry) (2022)

Is it as good as the original? No, no it’s not. I am often a listener who is at odds with bands who choose to do this kind of re-recording (or total remixing) of older albums. I respect and honour their right to do so, but more often than not it is a pointless excercise. Nokturnal Mortum however, while they do not drop the ball, fail to really enrapture me with this modern re-recording of their cult classic. Admittedly, everything sounds great and the mix is fantastic, but if I had to provide one criticism it would be that the super modern, almost artificial feel for the drumming really does not match the vibe such a record original gave off. Likewise, the art is a massive, massive step down from what was once a haunting and evocative accompaniment to a brilliant album. Not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but one that I probably won’t return to.

Nokturnal Mortum – Lunar Poetry (1996)

Nokturnal Mortum – Lunar Poetry (1996)

The debut from Nocturnal Mortum is a stunning, ice-cold black metal affair, with fantastic keyboard work layered over the frosted, often melodic riffs. The cover art itself is beautiful and a huge part of summoning the ethereal atmosphere that this record enthralls you in. A slightly more “off the path” gem of the 90s releases in this genre, for sure.

Vothana – Không bao giờ nộp / Never To Submit (2019)

Vothana – Không bao giờ nộp / Never To Submit (2019)

If you love lo-fi shit but also love a little melody in your black metal then look no further than the controversial / confusing Vothana. Falling very nearly close to becoming an overhyped darling of the limited vinyl collecting elite, Vothana is undeniably a project that is worth your time and attention. Khong… for example is a great archetype for their releases, being overly long yet chock full of not only excellent but really interesting melodies and song structures. Don’t expect clear or hospitable production, but the layers of grime just add more charm to the whole record.

Keys to the Astral Gates and Mystic Doors – Keys to the Astral Gates and Mystic Doors (2023)

Keys to the Astral Gates and Mystic Doors – Keys to the Astral Gates and Mystic Doors (2023)

Came for the logo, stayed for the lo-fi goodness. I’m a sucker for some raw, lo-fi black metal. Keys To The Astral Gates And Mystic Doors (what a name!) deliver in spades for this style, giving twenty minutes of this on their debut release. I don’t have any stand-out tracks to report per-se, as for the three times I’ve listened to it I’ve just enjoyed the whole thing in one go. For fans of: Revenant Marquis, Old Nick, Gate Master, possibly Ildjarn

Absurd – Der Fünfzehnjährige Krieg (2008)

Absurd – Der Fünfzehnjährige Krieg (2008)

Unless I’m very much mistaken, this is a collection of older tracks from several early demos, EPs, splits etc. but re-recorded in the Totenlieder / Blutgericht style, with the same excellent production. However, it’s an idea I think which will perhaps only be appreciated by only the most die-hard Absurd fans. Whilst the folk-like simplicity (feel’s weird writing “folk” like that to indicate simple song structuring – just look at Peste Noire’s folk music) offering the only form of rigidity the old demos actually had (let’s be honest, they are terrible), and that same traditional songwriting informed this later period of the band too. Sonically, Totenlieder / Blutgericht etc are a million miles away from the grimey demos of old, but on the “theory” side, musically they are not so different. Unfortunately, the crystal clear production and the well-oiled machine that is Absurd during this era only serves to expose these early songs for what they are: not very good. As cool as it is to hear something like “Gates Of Heaven” get the treatment it deserves, a lot of these songs are too shaky on their feet and do not hold up well in the bright and unforgiving light of modern production clarity and better musical performance. This is quite a long album too, so as I said, unless you are invested somewhat in the music of Absurd, then this is going to be a slog.

Absurd – Blutgericht (2005)

Absurd – Blutgericht (2005)

I’ve always found Absurd to be as awful musically as their personal beliefs but after randomly stumbling onto their “second wind” period I was forced to change my mind. Totenlieder, with its powerful riffs and rabid vocals (some of the best in the game), coupled with its folk-simplicity and morose melodic qualities, had me re-assessing my viewpoint on Absurd. Blutgericht is well, maybe not more of the same as what we got on Totenlieder, but it is very similar and unfortunately just not as good. It’s not to say that Blutgericht is bad, it just doesn’t have the memorable songs that came before in the previous record. Production-wise, things are more or less the same, with the same polished sound and excellent clarity. The vocals, drumming and riffs are all great once more, but this just doesn’t come out as memorable as Totenlieder.

Grand Belial’s Key – Kosherat (2005)

Grand Belial’s Key – Kosherat (2005)

For all the shit I threw at Arghoslent for being racist, over-hyped trash, I have to admit that Grand Belial’s Key is pretty fucking great in comparison. The motives, themes, and folks behind this are still low on my list of likeable people for obvious reasons, but Kosherat is a solid black metal album. The production is fairly warm and clear, which itself is refreshing for black metal, but if anything this just allows the band to hammer home their sound more efficiently. The drumming is varied, and well balanced in the overall mix, underpinning the razor-sharp riffs and the excellent vocals. The vocals themselves are layered up, kinda in a war metal way. The shrieks and rasps are sometimes backed up by what sounds like pitchshifted growls (or the same raspy yelps but an octava lower). This unironically reminds me of Shagrath’s vocal techniques on Enthrone Darkness Triumphant era Dimmu Borgir, but of course GBK (Gormet Burger Kitchen?) is a completely different beast. There are also passages that are influenced from other forms of metal which added together to the cauldron of hatred make this an excellent listen. All in all, I liked this a lot more than I expected I would.

Forgotten Tomb – Songs To Leave (2002)

Forgotten Tomb – Songs To Leave (2002)

Over the last few months, this debut record from Forgotten Tomb has cemented itself as one of my favourite records in the “DSBM” style. Possessing a crisp, clean production which is the exact opposite of what I look for in my black metal, Songs To Leave is part horrifying / scary and part achingly beautiful. Such is the fragile balance that music in this style is attempting to tread, I suppose. I was going to report to some stand out songs but after putting this record on one more time to refresh myself, I found myself listening to the whole thing in one go and just loving the whole experience. The whole record flows beautifully, and I don’t know if it’s my imagination and that I’m going into some sort of low-key trance state, but there seems to be reoccuring motifs, or at least thematically similar riffs, that pull these epic tracks together into one coherent 50 minute experience. Truly, excellent stuff.

Peste Noire – Ballade Cuntre Lo Anemi Francor (2009)

Peste Noire – Ballade Cuntre Lo Anemi Francor (2009)

I think I am going to have to admit to myself that Peste Noire is not the band for me. As I work my way through the group’s discography, I’ve gone from absolutely astounded to bored to fucking tears. I have no idea what’s going on here, I guess there is some sort of artistic vision that I simply “do not get”, specifically in the mix of French folk and black metal. I’ve given Ballade Cuntre… (lol) a number of playthroughs and it is just not working for me at all. Throw the personal politics of Famine in on top and I’ve got no reason to keep plowing on if all of the albums after the first sound like this. I guess we shall see, but for now, my verdict is, this sucks ass.

Gate Master – Relics (2023)

Gate Master – Relics (2023)

Gate Master knocks it out of the park once more with the follow up to In Pursuit Of Forbidden Knowledge. I love the black metal here, easily some of my favourite dissonant, barely audible stuff (haha). It sounds like I’m joking but this thing is absolutely dripping in atmopshere. The “dungeon synth” style pieces that punctuate the record also help serve to this function, before closer “My Journey To The Stars” goes off to oblivion. Unsure if it is a coincidence in titling or a homage to Burzum, but the song title is the same here as on the Burzum self-titled. Mortiis also has “Towards The Gate Of Stars”, which is kinda applicable here but now I’m just rambling so best to wrap this up. TLDR: This is class.

Satanic Warmaster – Carelian Satanist Madness (2005)

Satanic Warmaster – Carelian Satanist Madness (2005)

For all its edgy rubbing up against of controversial subjects (“My Dreams Of 8” much?), Satanic Warmaster is mostly a solid and very well executed black metal project. Some albums are better than others, but Carelian Satanist Madness (sounds like another one of those triple-barrel Dimmu Borgir albums doesn’t it haha) is probably my personal favourite in regards to a distillation of Satanic Warmaster’s perfect sound. Ignore the cringe song titles, just turn off the lights and listen to the whole thing in the dark. It has the perfect blend of that second wave sound with the uniqueness of the Finnish scene.

Cradle Of Filth – Live Bait For The Dead (2002)

Cradle Of Filth – Live Bait For The Dead (2002)

I had this live album as a kid because I was obsessed with Cradle and wanted to collect all their CDs. I remember also queuing up at HMV or Virgin Megastore (I forget which) with a copy of 11 Burial Masses in my hand. I was nonchalantly reading the tracklist on the back when I realised: “shit, I already own this!”. I have absolutely no fucking idea why Live Bait For The Dead was rereleased as 11 Burial Masses (sans bonus disc of material). If you throw in the DVD too then this live set has been released three fucking times. Which is a bit much, to be honest. Looking back now however, after Cradle continued to lose members and evolve into something that is barely recognisable to what is on display here, it is perhaps difficult to not analyse Live Bait through rose tinted glasses. Released in the Succubi… era, when the band were addressing older material anyway (with new-old members lol), Live Bait was the perfect concoction of the Cradle material available at the time. The sound is a bit muddy. but everyone sounds great individually. The bonus disc contains a whole bunch of stinkers and pointless crap but the Twisted Sister cover is unironically fucking amazing. Dani’s vocals on this thing are outstanding.

Iselder – Metel Du Gwir Cymreig (2022)

Iselder – Metel Du Gwir Cymreig (2022)

With an intro speech that is no doubt going to fire up any self-respecting Welshman (I almost went out into the garden and raised a flag myself, I won’t lie to you), it is hard to not be disappointed when the first track “I’r Gad” first pops in through the speakers. The sound is flat, compressed, artificial and well… an antithesis to anything that I would associate with black metal and its production styles. Despite this, a lot of the riffs here are pretty fucking cool, even if the execution is a bit silly (“Cont”, anyone?). After the demos and EPs, I perhaps expected a bit more from an Iselder full length that what we get here.

Curta’n Wall – Curta’n Wall (2021)

Curta’n Wall – Curta’n Wall (2021)

What a lovely, lovely release (lmao). I did not expect such amazing music from such a lo-fi and kvlt black metal release, but here we are. Colour me surprised, as always. Without going off subject too much, its discoveries like this, the real special and interesting gems, that makes trawling through thousands of releases worthwhile. Like… what in the actual fuck is going on here? On the surface of it, Curta’n Wall is a medieval / seige warfare focussed black metal band, playing in a very minimal and lo-fi style. But, take some time to peel back some layers of grime and you will be infinitely rewarded. Not only is there a twinkling sense of melody beneath these slabs of dust (even the YouTube link I’m using to listen to this right now sounds like a 30 year old cassette), but the songwriting is fantastic. There are moments of total genius in each song. For example, the “Silvester Anfang”-baiting timpani in the opening song, or the closing jaunty almost flute-sounding melody closing “The Enemy So Bold”. This gave me the same exciting feeling as when I discovered Black Magick SS, only this has less terrible singing and perhaps more importantly, no NS bullshit.

Primordial Serpent – The Funereal Winter (2023)

Primordial Serpent – The Funereal Winter (2023)

I was drawn in by the fantastic cover art (who can resist fog and trees when it comes to black metal) and I was not at all disappointed by what I found. Majestic is a word that gets thrown around alot when it comes to certain elements of black metal, but maybe not so much when it comes to lo-fi one man projects. Primordial Serpent is not lo-fi to the point of becoming unlistenable (and to be honest, it doesn’t sound like it was deliberately recorded on a potato), but there is a duality between the simplicity of the setup and the sprawling nature of the epic guitar riffs. This is one of the many dualities that makes black metal so exciting, if you ask me, so it’s absolutely great to see that at play here. My main complaint with The Funereal Winter is that it is over too quickly. This kind of songwriting is more fitting for the LP format in my view, and I find myself playing this through twice every time I put it on, because the 20 minute or so runtime just doesn’t seem to be enough. All in all, this is hardly a bad thing, and I greatly look forward to hearing more Primordial Serpent material.

Absurd – God’s Death (1992)

Absurd – God’s Death (1992)

Absurd-ly bad (lol, I’ll show myself out). We have to give them the benefit of the doubt (talent wise, actions and beliefs wise they can get in the bin) as they are so young here, but this demo is not one that has stood the test of time, nor is it one that promises a bright future in this particular thread of black metal. It is interesting hearing “Gates Of Heaven” here after hearing it on a later Absurd record. For real though, this thing is about 60% samples, 30% bad rehearsal room metal and 10% bad vocals.

Lamp of Murmuur – Submission and Slavery (2021)

Lamp of Murmuur – Submission and Slavery (2021)

An interesting blend of styles, taking the savagery of blasting black metal and mixing it with Lamp’s (lol) flare for extravagant synth work (we’re not talking Bal Sagoth levels of pomp here, but the synthesizers are at least more dynamic and interesting than a lot of other black metal), as well as sprinkling in the aesthetic and vibe of dark 80s pop such as The Sisters Of Mercy, which should be entirely evident from the cover art alone. Lamp Of Murmuur may be one of the front-most carriages on the modern black metal hype train, but they are a solid, consistent outfit with an interesting edge to them. Submission And Slavery is an excellent example of that.

Graveland – Immortal Pride (1999)

Graveland – Immortal Pride (1999)

A sloppy yet endearing entry into the Graveland catalogue. Granted, it’s probably not fair to use “sloppy” as a descriptive word for this thing as every early Graveland record I’ve heard has some degree of wonkiness or amateurishness to it. Here however, the balance is struck where it definitely lends to the music’s favour rather than detracts from it. What happens when you mix Nazis, Bathory-worship and dungeon synth? You get Immortal Pride! (inb4 “ackshually RoB dArKeN iS a NeO PaGan- etc etc”)

Impaled Nazarene – Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz… (1993)

Impaled Nazarene – Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz… (1993)

I love this thing. Dense, fathomless, evil as fuck – but with a twisted sense of humour too. Production is dank and echoic, which can make the blasting sections a bit difficult to decipher, but generally the production really lends a lot of atmosphere to the proceedings. What I didn’t expect to really enjoy was some of the slower riff sections, where the excellence of the guitar work can be easily noticed, as well as the awesome drum production. Vocally, shit is absolutely insane as is par for the course with Impaled Nazarene, but with lots of pitchshifter to go with the maniacal shrieks. Fucking scary shit, and a highlight of the early Finnish scene, for sure. I’ve long been a fan of Impaled Nazarene but coming back to the debut is massively overdue for me, so very happy to be here writing this review with a cassette copy of this dark masterpiece. Goooooaaaat Perverssiooonn!!!

Peste Noire – Folkfuck Folie (2007)

Peste Noire – Folkfuck Folie (2007)

Well then, things don’t half fall off after the first record. Folkfuck Folie (what is the title about?) is not necessarily bad but is absolutely not what I was expecting after the super intense, evil and evocative black metal whirlwind that was the band’s debut. Folkfukk is far more fractured and experimental, heading into directions and tangents that, at first at least, seem to distract from the core material on the album – that being similar to the debut but more angular and just downright weird. I’m not bemoaning the album’s acoustic moments nor the more avant-garde atmospheric or folk-like passages such as marching drums, general sombre ambience and passages that are basically spoken word in form, but this just isn’t as good as the first album, whichever way you cut the cake.

Venom – At War With Satan (1984)

Venom – At War With Satan (1984)

I won’t lie to you, I’ve avoided this album for about 15 years, only because Venom doing a 20 minute song has never really been something that has appealed to me. However, the joke’s on me becuase this shit fuckin’ rules. Also, generally, across this whole record, the production is fantastic. The sound isn’t a million miles away from the other earlier albums, but the guitar tone is just so goddamn sick and crunchy. I’m all about that, for sure. “Rip Ride” has gotta be my favourite song here. Aaaaargghh!

1349 – Liberation (2003)

1349 – Liberation (2003)

The only truly “meh” release in the 1349 catalog. This is down to the production more than anything else. If this was an bedroom album by a one-man industrial / black metal artist then I would be very impressed, but it isn’t – it’s 1349, with some of the best players in the game. There is no need for something as fast and crazy as this to sound so brittle and lifeless. A rare swing and a miss from the black metal powerhouse that is 1349. It is even stranger that this was their debut full length. Kinda started things off on the wrong foot, for sure.

Goatmoon – Voitto Tai Valhalla (2014)

Goatmoon – Voitto Tai Valhalla (2014)

Perhaps closer to the themes and songwriting on Varjot than on the more “kvlt” Finnish Steel Storms or Death Before Dishonour, and whilst I prefer Varjot to the others mentioned above, I can’t help but feel that Voitto tai Valhalla lacks focus. Variety is one thing, but a lack of direction is another. I’m sure this was not the case during the writing and recording sessions, but I can’t help shake this feeling when more of the tracks “plod” here more than ever before. There’s a fairly long Burzum-like track and the opener is pretty cool, but nothing else stands out to me over repeat listens.

Hate Forest – Purity (2003)

Hate Forest – Purity (2003)

Love this album. I love the balance between the (dare I say) atmospheric, hypnotic riffs (a la Burzum) and just flat out brutality in the drum department. Guess it’s like Varg jamming with Frost or Nick Barker, only the drummers are not allowed to deploy their flagrant tom rolls and cymbal flourishes and must instead just focus on their machine-gun precision. Such stupid comparisons aside, Purity is fucking great. The songs are quite lengthy but do not feel so. The vocals are a different kettle of fish to most black metal and I think this helped, if anything. The vocal delivery is far more guttural than the usual expected otherworldly shrieks and howls that the genre promises. I’m not sure if this is sketch or not (the songs appear to be about Lovecraft stuff in the main?) but as I’ve said, it’s a really impressive album. Side note: I’m familiar with the reissue above, but the original art below is pretty cool too.

Revenge – Infiltration.Downfall.Death (2008)

Revenge – Infiltration.Downfall.Death (2008)

Quality.Consistency.Brutality – You can always count on Revenge to deliver the full-blown headcrashing sledgehammer of unstoppable war metal goodness. Infiltration.Downfall.Death is no different to any of the albums that have come before it (sans as many groove parts as its predecessor, perhaps, but we are splitting hairs), but the quality of the sonic madness offered is so high that one really does not mind to be fed the same carnage over and over and over (and to be glad to recieve it). Honestly, fucking brutal. Love it.

Veles – Night on the Bare Mountain (1996)

Veles – Night on the Bare Mountain (1996)

Shaky, ramshackle black metal from the early daze of the Polish scene. Had no idea these guys had ties to Graveland, but the world of black metal is quite incestuous. Night on the Bare Mountain tickles in all the right places, and those turning over rocks after having heard all the genres greats will perhaps find some merit in this blackened gem, as I have. As many have said before, the acoustic passages sparkle with life but the black metal can appear quite flat in parts, which is very odd. Anyway, there we go.

Commander Agares – Legions of Descending Twilight (2021)

Commander Agares – Legions of Descending Twilight (2021)

This release is great. Reminds me of Carelean-era Satanic Warmaster. There’s a lot of parallels with Satanic Warmaster, actually – the artwork too gives heavy similarities to vibes and themes that Werwolf has used with that project. I know the Finland scene can sometimes be rather incestous, so perhaps there is more going on here with this connection that tourists like me realise. The guitar tone is very fuzzy. Probably gonna be a WTF reaction but reminds me in part of abstract Brazilian goregrinders Lymphatic Phlegm. The dense fuzz of the guitar gives these tunes an unique sound, again going back to that Finnish art of balancing immense distortion and “kvlt” production with streaks of irresistable melody. I was gonna say actually, this is like a sketch-free alternative to Satanic Warmaster, but this project went and done a split with Graveland, so there’s that gone out the fucking window LOL

Gorgon – The Lady Rides A Black Horse (1995)

Gorgon – The Lady Rides A Black Horse (1995)

I love this. Definitely an under-rated gem and not one that I have ever come across before, so I was very happy to unearth it. I can’t speak for the rest of the band’s discography, which appears to have a more mixed reception than their debut, but the interestingly titled The Lady Rides A Black Horse is a fantastic 90s black metal record. The production is actually quite dense for black metal, having more in common with Turn Loose The Swans era My Dying Bride than anything more Darkthrone or Burzum. It is this warm, heavy sound (the bass pops through so well) that carries these blackened compositions of history and fantasy.

Dawn Ray’d – The Unlawful Assembly (2017)

Dawn Ray’d – The Unlawful Assembly (2017)

Dawn Ray’d seem to get a lot of shit flung at them but I think that this is more to do with their “politics” than their actual music. All that “its just evil riffs bro” shit goes out the fucking window when those NSBM loving edgelords get a whiff of some of the more prominent bands in the RABM scene. If you’re getting filtered by the existence of bands like Dawn Ray’d or idk Feminazgul but clutch your pearls when people call you out on having a Goatmoon patch or something, then you need to take a good fucking look in the mirror. I try to view both sides of the coin from an anthropological standpoint (lol), but the hypocrisy here is unreal. Just thought I’d point that out. Anyways, The Unlawful Assembly, at first, comes across like good ol’ straight and narrow black metal, but with a lovely production (the drums in particular sound amazing). What’s special about Dawn Ray’d however – as many have already noted over the years – is the inclusion of violin, which really does elevate these compositions to the next level. The only track that’s really a swing and a miss is the closing track, otherwise everything else really is great. It’s a strange feeling to be listening to a black metal record and wondering when the guitars are gonna stop so the violin can come back in – it really does work incredibly well in this setting. I’m looking forward to playing catch up with the rest of Dawn Ray’d’s work.

Goatmoon – Tahdon Riemuvoitto (2013)

Goatmoon – Tahdon Riemuvoitto (2013)

The Nazi bastards threw me for a loop here, I got nice and comfortable thinking that this was a lovely acoustic album or EP, but several tracks in things harshly cut back to fucking black metal. It’s a lovely effect, really makes the blackened shit seem brutal and sinister as fuck. Despite the dodgy lyrical content, the later metal tracks are fucking class. If only they’d cool it on the NS politics, Goatmoon would then be right up my alley.

Goatmoon – Varjot (2011)

Goatmoon – Varjot (2011)

Personally, I find Varjot to be an improvement on the earlier Goatmoon records. There is less in the way of sheer rawness and more focus on the folkier elements of the music, which work well with the cleaner production. Generally, I prefer black metal to be raw and disgusting but these changes seem to work well for Goatmoon, and the trademark feral shrieks are retained so there’s that too.

Der Stürmer / Totenburg – Split CD (2007)

Der Stürmer / Totenburg – Split CD (2007)

Der Sturmer, another band in the NSBM world that reportedly has the best riffs so are therefore worth checking out. I mean, their stuff here is pretty good, but I need to hear more releases to be absolutely sure. Totenburg… well, I nearly turned this off after five minutes as the production seemed a bit wonky but then some fucking incredible guitar playing started. I guess it’s the end of the first track on their side of the split, I’m not sure, but damn it was some sweet riffage. As always, this would be infinitely better if it didn’t wallow in silly imagery like sonnenrands and what have you. Kinda gives me the ick even if the music is good.

Graveland – The Celtic Winter (1994/1996)

Graveland – The Celtic Winter (1994/1996)

I have been perhaps less than flattering when describing the earlier works of Graveland, but I was convinced to give them another go when I was told that Celtic Winter was peak second wave black metal. I have to admit, that I somewhat agree with my friend who told me this. Celtic Winter is head and shoulders above any of the other earlier Graveland records, which are either mired with shit production, shit synthesisers, shit art, and shit drumming. I have a high threshold for shit black metal, but early Graveland is just pure shit. Except Celtic Winter, of course – this is worth a listen or six. I’m not really sure why this thing has 37 different intros (never thought Graveland and Insane Clown Posse would have anything in common but this is like the black metal version of Carnival Of Carnage – just get to the damn point for fuck sake), but when it gets going the riffs are razor sharp and devastating. The drumming, is admittedly, still pretty fucking rubbish but is servicable for the duration. Vocally, the echoic screeches akin to second wave classics are also present here. Also, being a Celt myself, I can attest that a Celtic Winter sounds cool, but in reality it isn’t all that impressive in the grand scheme of things. I think that sums this album up perfectly, to be honest.

Vampyress – Order of the Dragon (2021)

Vampyress – Order of the Dragon (2021)

I love Vampyress(SS?)’ aesthetic and vibe but the reality is that Order Of The Dragon is a mixed bag of inconsistent quality. The artwork is fantastic, and I love the mix of the grainy b-movie still and the more vibrant styles used by Assassination / BMSS etc: these two things work very well together I find. “Tales From The Ghoulag” (compiled here from the 7″) is probably the highlight of the record, IMO, although the original demo version of “Realm Of My Heart” is pretty fuckin’ good too.

Vampyress / Billy Odal – Emascula / Death Machine (2022)

Vampyress / Billy Odal – Emascula / Death Machine (2022)

Vampyress (VampyreSS?) play in a brilliant occult rock style, definitely in the BMSS school of thought for sure, but never the less the composition is brilliant. The whole vibe and sound is just fantastic, and as a first impression, I’m really into this and looking forward to checking out the other EP / compilation. Billy Odal takes a little more warming to, but it’s still well made. Kinda reminds me of King Dude, but a bit less flakey and more in the occult rock style.

Revenge – Strike.Smother.Dehumanize (2020)

Revenge – Strike.Smother.Dehumanize (2020)

I don’t think it would be unfair to call Revenge a one-dimensional band. Their dimension, is, of course, absolute fucking brutality. You come to Revenge knowing what to expect, and if you don’t, then you come unknowingly, you get your wig split, and then you keep coming back for more (unless you are, as Manowar said, a wimp and / or a poser). The uniform cover art across all releases, in the same stark colour scheme and thematic area with minute differences, seems to reinforce this point. Why then, bother reviewing a Revenge album? If you’ve heard one then you’ve heard them all right? True in some regard, but not completely. Idiots like me and complete gluttons for punishment may notice several smaller details that differentiate Strike… from the other releases. The production is slightly… cleaner. I hesitate because I don’t know if that is the right word. Revenge has always had “good” production – that being, it blows your facking heid off, guvnor. There does seem to be an additional level of clarity here, though, which – trust me – does not detract from the aural carnage. The second detail is the abrupt drops into slow, groove sections. These are used sparingly, but not only do they offer a respite from the blastbeats and therefore serve to accentuate those sections, but my god do they hit just as hard. Some of these groovy slow parts are super intense. All in all, another banger from Revenge. I would expect nothing less, to be honest. This is a band whose track record is becoming almost impeccable.

Black Magick SS – Panzerwitch (2013)

Black Magick SS – Panzerwitch (2013)

Lo-fi, low-key beginnings for the excellent BMSS. Spooky, dusty, cavernous vibes are the order of the day, a far cry from what the band would go on to do with stuff like Rainbow Nights and Burning Bridges. I also never knew these guys released anything on At War With False Noise, so I guess every day is a learning experience. Highlight of this thing has to be the closing creeper that is the title-track, which is split into two distinct parts.

Spear of Longinus – Nazi Occult Metal (1995)

Spear of Longinus – Nazi Occult Metal (1995)

A recent talk by Dr. Ben Hillier on “Esoteric Fascism in Extreme Metal Music” (well worth a watch for those who are – like me – perhaps on the outside looking in at this stuff) had me realising that out of all the “OG” NSBM acts, I had overlooked Spear Of Longinus. There is no beating around the bush here. There are no dogwhistles or covert symbolism: its all there, I suppose to their credit, in the title. There is no guessing here (and certainly no “are SOL suss?” threads on Reddit). Musically, the demo is a little monotonous but not to the point of offense. Either way, you are not missing out if you are one of those people who gives NSBM bands a wide berth. The unsettling thing about this demo is that the same tracks repeat twice, once with “harsh” black metal vocals and the second time through with additional folky / shouted / clean vocals. Going back to Ben Hillier a second, he attributed this second recording with cleaner vocals to be a clear and deliberate attempt to make sure that the listener was able to understand and digest the message here. Personally, I find even the second run through to be just as obtuse as the first, but yeah, there is absolutely no denying the message here. To summarise: hateful, hateful shit, and musically just above avarage.

Isengard – Høstmørke (1995)

Isengard – Høstmørke (1995)

An interesting record from Fenriz that comes on at first like a mix of leftover Darkthrone tracks with a bunch of folk elements thrown over the top of it. Hostmorke is, of course, far more than just this cynical first take. The songs are fantastic, and the black metal parts are incredibly good. The folk elements, those being mainly heavy, echoic, pounding drums and clean, chanted vocals, are a welcome addition to what we are already know and love Fenriz for. At first, Hostmorke may seem like a patch work of styles, but repeat listens are especially rewarding as the pieces fall into place.

Bathory – Blood Fire Death (1988)

Bathory – Blood Fire Death (1988)

For a black metal record, Blood Fire Death sure doesn’t half thrash hard! (I’m messing around, but damn does this thing go hard in parts). Nothing really hits the spot like Bathory (except maybe one of a thousand Bathory clones), here the band takes two approaches: one of building thrashing walls of whirlwind speed and another of conjuring powerful, hypnotic grooves. Both of these things are then pulled together into a dense production job, giving you a rich, reverb-blanketed tapestry of what extreme metal was all about back in 1988.

Assassination – Circles Within Circles (2019)

Assassination – Circles Within Circles (2019)

Annnnd this mushroom is for you! Chomp chomp, motherfucker. What do we call this genre? Surely it’s not BlackMagickSScore? Either way, it’s fucking great. Assassination’s full length isn’t the strongest offering from this scene but that’s not to mean that Circles Within Circles does not have its moments. I can’t escape the fact that the drums sound very fake, like it’s an out of the box VSTi, but all of the other instruments (and vocals) are great.

Black Magick SS – Rainbow Nights (2020)

Black Magick SS – Rainbow Nights (2020)

I’ve been struggling to find the words to review this one for a while. It is also worth mentioning that Rainbow Nights has been in my regular rotation for a while now as well. There is just something so perfect about the balance of sounds here. I’ve never really been one much for 60s/70s rock or the recent occult rock revival movement, but this thing builds off of those two elements brilliantly, as well as adding lots of 80s style synthesizers and hard rock / hair metal style melodies. Add that to the usual Black Magick SS roots of psychedelic black metal and all of this on paper should be a complete disaster, but honestly, this is slowly becoming one of my favourite albums. I love all of the songs, but the title track’s chorus is a highlight of the record, as is the track “Mother’s Lullaby” which really comes out of left-field and ups the electronic elements in such a bizarre and also rather moving way. The production on Rainbow Nights is also a considerable step up from the previous works from the band, and some listeners may not be too happy with the stripping back of the “black metal” elements, there are less growly vocals here than ever before, for example. As for the elephant in the room, we’re not exactly dealing with NSBM here but there is an element to the esotericism that BMSS put forward that has an obvious undertone to it that may not exactly enthuse some people. I’m still developing my thoughts on it, having only recently deciding in the last year or so to always listen to something objectively regardless of its political / personal alignments – keeping that switch on would have caused me to miss out on this beautiful music – but if you have somehow missed the subtle nods inside BMSS’ music and artwork, just be aware of what lurks just below the surface.

Master’s Hammer – Ritual (1991)

Master’s Hammer – Ritual (1991)

There’s a lot of big brain takes about this album, its sound, its place in the history of metal and therefore and its influence, but I am not anywhere near qualified enough to comment on these matters so I’ll keep this much more down to earth. My Foundation Degree in Master’s Hammer permits me to speak soley about the music and its production, and not much else. Maybe once I get my Advanced Diploma + in Master’s Hammer I can return to this and offer a more panoramic take. Anyway, I always thought Master’s Hammer were a doom metal band. I mean, with a name like that, I can be forgiven, right? But no, Master’s Hammer, are, of course, a black metal band. An unique one that are seemingly lodged somewhere between the first wave and second wave of black metal. I suppose you could compare it to the third/fourth album eras of Bathory, but Ritual is absolutely its own beast. The entire album has this stunted, compressed sound, giving the record a “sound check” kind of feel. It’s almost as if the engineer had the entire band record their parts, and then realised he had no idea how to mix any of this shit, and just stared at the console for a few hours before declaring it a job well done. Despite this, Ritual does not sound particularly bad, in fact I think it sounds rather good and the oddness of its production instead lends to the unique atmosphere that the band conjures with this release. This is not just one for the black metal historians. Do not think that. This is as great metal record for anyone who is interested in such a thing.

Bethlehem – Dictius Te Necare (1996)

Bethlehem – Dictius Te Necare (1996)

I first heard of Bethlehem after Ralner Landfermann appeared on an Anaal Nathrakh song, and I was blown away by how crazy the vocals were. So perhaps my enjoyment of this album has been primed somewhat, unlike say someone who stumbled upon this talked about mid-90s release and had no idea what was coming when they pressed play. I have actively come here in search of these vocals, and I am very much on board with them, as divisive as they may be. In fact, I would go as far as to say they are one of the highlights of Bethlehem’s sound. Musically, the band fluctuate between “traditional” black metal riffery and plodding, slightly melodic doom metal, with these slower riffs and passages – along with the wailing, screeching vocals – giving Dictius Te Necare a very unique sound for a black metal record from the 90s. The production is as clear as it is rough around the edges, but I couldn’t really imagine this working with a bigger, better production. I don’t have any stand-out tracks to recommend per se, as all were really good, but closer “Dorn Meiner Allmacht” caught my attention as it rounded out the album with a much slower pace and more sinister vibe. The absurd vocals may not be for everyone, but if you can get into them, then this is a gem of an album.

Bathory – Under The Sign Of The Black Mark (1987)

Bathory – Under The Sign Of The Black Mark (1987)

My professional opinion about this piece of work is thus: this shit fucking slaps. Everything from the artwork to the production to the guitar tone is just absolutely fucking perfect. Well, not perfect, but pretty damn fucking good, y’know? Anyway, Under The Sign Of The Black Mark is when Quothorn more or less takes the fate of Bathory into his own hands, performing pretty much fucking every single role on this thing except for the drums. Everything that was great about the first two Bathory albums is turned up to 11 here: the riffs are far more sinister, the drums aren’t as sloppy and the vocals are absolutely savage. As daft as it might sound, things slow down a lot too, falling into some wicked grooves, like on “Call From The Grave”. Contender for best Bathory album? Definitely.