Lines In Wax

THIRTEEN YEARS OF UNWANTED OPINION

black metal

Absurd – Grabgesang (2021)

Absurd gotta be one of the best black metal bands out there when it comes to vocals. Whether we’re talking the Wolf-fronted version (in this case) or the JFN-front version (such as Schwarze Bande), the way the vocals sound are both second to none. This is a peculiar release, though. I don’t want to say it’s a “knock off” version of Absurd, but it’s a curious lineup. Maybe I’m getting confused (it’s easy to when it comes to this band’s various lineups) and I’ve no clue of the intentions going forward, but this is a great little collection of songs. The cleaner vocals on the final track are a nice touch. Production is nothing to write home about but it packs a nice little punch. This also the first time I have noticed the “classic” Absurd logo swapping out the “Celtic cross” and hammer of Thor for more general pentagrams and inverted crosses, which again doesn’t really help the “unofficial” feel. I dunno, the whole thing is strange, even though it sounds great. Make of it what you will.

Graveland – Wotan Mit Mir (2008)

A considerably well made entry into the ever-flowing stream that is the Graveland discography. There is a lot of Graveland. Not all of it is good. Wotan Mit Mir is fantastic however, in both terms of production and songwriting. It is an EP that feels long enough to be a full length album. The only thing that’s a bit shite is the artwork, but even that looks great from far away.

Sigh – Infidel Art (1995)

On Infidel Art, Sigh really begin to expand their sonic wings, which is incredible because the Requiem… demo and Scorn Defeat were already incredible pieces of work with unique character and instrumentation from the off. Even when Sigh are silly (“the Zombie Terror”, anyone?) they retain all experimental integrity and flair. Highly recommended!

Sigh – Requiem For Fools (1992)

Considering this is a demo it is beyond fucking excellent in every possible way. The instrumentation on early Sigh is just second to none; raw black metal with incredible playing of traditional instruments in a timeless blend of sounds. Not many can do it this well!

Graveland / Nokturnal Mortum / North / Temnozor – Split CD (2007)

Graveland and Nokturnal Mortum stuff is great, if a little typical on Graveland’s end (I could be listening to one of what seems like 30 recent albums). Fantastic mix of folk elements in the NM track. North lose me a bit in the sheer fucking headache that is their track, before Temnozor bring their olde worlde pagan metal to the conclusion of this split. All in all, a mixed bag.

E.A.G.L.E. – Above It All (2024)

A noticeable improvement from the Autumn Hearts stuff, E.A.G.L.E.’s oddly morose yet triumphant riffs lead us through several more tracks of DIY black metal rawness, but this time with more maturity and evolved songwriting.

Der Sturmer – Areifatoi (2013)

With the ceveat of putting the NS themes to one side, musically this is exactly what I look for in my black metal. Raw production, but clear enough to make out what’s going on (with prominant bass), awesome vocals, hypnotic yet sinister riffs…. I could go on, but its a short EP so it’s probably easier to just listen to it rather than watch me waffle on. It’s great, though.

Mohammad Pedophile – Heir Of Mental Degeneration (2022)

Came here after hearing about the offensive name, stayed for the tunes. Production is fairly middle of the road but the songs and odd guitar melodies are interesting. I’d heard complaints about the vocals but I think they fit pretty well to be honest. The excellent cover of an Impaled Nazarene classic is the icing on the cake.

Capricornus – Alone Against All (2004)

This is an incredible piece of black metal. Capricornus is an enigmatic and controversial figure in the black metal world. His drumming in Graveland is questionable but undeniable unique and influential. The project Thor’s Hammer is well, not the best IMO. He shines in this project, though. I guess all the pieces just aligned; the songwriting, the riffs and the production. The drums sound a bit strange (did these triggers come cheap secondhand after Nick Barker finished Cruelty & The Beast?) but if anything it just adds to the atmosphere. This is an angry album, and the stock photo on the cover sums up the whole thing quite nicely, to be honest. Capricornus’ personal and political alignments will no doubt put some people off but this is genuinely great black metal music.

Gehenna – See Through The Veils Of Darkness (The Second Spell) (1995)

Beautifully conjured record of keyboard-led black metal, with a dual vocal attack. I’m no expert so I don’t know who is who but one vocalist is definitely preferable to the other. One of the guys hits these Shagrath a la Enthrone Darkness Triumphant kinda insane screeches which are just blood curdling (more like Shagrath should be compared to these guys as this came earlier). Comparisons can also be made to Emperor without being too lazy to think of something more kvlt or underground to say. The main difference is though, is that I think this is great, but I really don’t like Emperor at all. All in all, great clear production despite the genre and an excellent continuation to the groundwork laid on First Spell.

Mayhem – Ordo Ad Chao (2007)

One of the weirder Mayhem albums. Kinda like A Grand Declaration Of War Part 2. Only not quite as good. Or as weird. As with anything post De Mysteriis, this Mayhem album is another offering of cold and frostbitten riff salad, topped with a garnish of incomprehensible drum flourishes and all sorts of bizarre artsy fartsy lyrics. Things aren’t quite as pompous as they were when Maniac was around, but it’s still very “artistic”. I like it, though.

Unholy Altar – Unholy Altar (2022)

A solid demo from US black metal act Unholy Altar. Expect hellishly distorted guitars drowning out the reverb drenched drum work, dissonance, blastbeats, carnage, frostbitten and anguished vocals – you name it! The four tracks are over like a shot, which is a shame, but I’m sure we can expect more from Unholy Altar. If I had any criticism it would be that this is very “by the numbers” second wave black metal, save for some unconventional sampling. However, if that’s what you are looking for, then look no further than this – it’ll have you covered!

Graveland – 1050 Years Of Pagan Cult (2016)

The award for most pointless session of re-recorded tunes goes to… this album. This wasn’t wanted or needed, I feel. I’m not sure the justification for doing this. The production is so smooth and big that it doesn’t even sound like modern Graveland, so it’s not even like it’s about modernising the sound. I’m not the biggest defender of the early Graveland records but this release is superfluous at best.

Graveland / Biały Viteź – Split CD (2012)

An excellent split (if you discount the cover art). Graveland tracks are prime cuts for this latter area; clanking, clattering drum programming and triumphant riffs, with the trademark Darken croak. Shup up and take my money! Bialy Vitez use a lot of traditional instruments and folk elements, which ties right in with their split mates. The production is fantastic and the mix of metal and olde worlde instruments is done to near perfection. More often than not, to my ears, bands mixing these two things rarely get it right, but Bialy Vitez hits it right on the money, Strongly recommended.

Graveland – Thunderbolts Of The Gods (2013)

It took me a few gos to get into this one. It’s not that Thunderbolts… is necessarily bad compared to other (original) albums from this era of Graveland, but it is considerably different. It has the same clusterfuck drumming (programmed at this point) with the overlapping, hypnotic riffs, but the whole thing hangs together with a darker, thicker sound than usual. The production plays a huge part in this, but so does the change in songwriting. Thunderbolts of the Gods is therefore not a typical Graveland release, but an interesting entry into the discography all the same. The opening track and “Wolf of the North” are particular highlights.

The Ancient Order – Neu Schwabenland (2020)

Sounds like a decent bit of psych that was recorded into a music box or something, but then it got dropped so it’s all fucked up and wonky; not so fucked up that it won’t play anymore but fucked up enough so that everything sounds broken and slightly off-kilter. Oh, also you are on acid. That’s what this Ancient Order single sounds like.

Todesstrafe / Hollentur – Split 7″ (2021)

Todesstrafe play hateful, venomous drum machine black metal. Thankfully, the programmed drums sound dark and powerful, which compliments the rest of the sound nicely. Hollentur on the other hand, kind of sound like the Autopsy of NSBM, with a drums-forward mix and ants-in-your-pants drumming; all sorts of cymbal flourishes and fills keep you guessing and the compositional elements of the song here are all over the place. I don’t mean that as a slight; it is super interesting, for sure. By the time the piano kicks in, I’m sold. I’d recommend this to any black metal fan but there is of course the elephant in the room that is the NS themes, which would no doubt alienate 90% of listeners, but there you go.

Totenwitch – Panzer Division Totenwitch (2023)

An EP of instrumental 1940s warfare-based black metal? Sounds good to me, on paper at least. Unfortunately, being devoid of vocals and sadly, also any real variation or dynamics in songwriting, Panzer Division Totenwitch (I’ve got Marduk’s lawyer on the phone!) feels unfinished. With a little more refinement – not to mention some vocals – this could be great.

Graveland / Honor – Split CD (2000)

Honor, on this split at least, sound like a poor man’s Absurd. It’s not bad, and in fact is entirely servicable, but the other bits and bobs I’ve heard from them are much better. This split has much more black metal oriented material rather than the RAC stuff that they seem to be much better at. As far as Graveland goes, the stuff here is also fairly middling, with much better quality sound and songwriting material found on any other Graveland release in this era. With all of the above in mind, and considering the wealth of material elsewhere from both bands, this split can only be rated average at best.

Graveland – Spears Of Heaven (2009)

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Spears Of Heaven recently, purely because I don’t really know how I feel about it. On the surface of it, it’s like a poor man’s version of Will Stronger Than Death, at least in regards to production and the incredibly grating drum programming, which seems to have lost all nuance and is reduced to a ear-fatiguing series of clicks and clatters. On the other hand, in isolation, nearly every track on Spears Of Heaven is an excellent Graveland track. So there is quite the dilemma here. I guess the decision is easy to make however, when there is so much Graveland material, and a lot of which is better – then the choice is easy. This may make Spears Of Heaven an underdog of sorts.

Graveland – Prawo Stali (2000)

I made a jokey comment in my Creed Of Iron review that the production and heavy riffing on that album made Graveland sound like Mortician. Now, this pointless fucking remix only goes and doubles down on that feature, so I guess it’s not a joke anymore lmao – the already dense sound of Creed is remixed with extra layers of fuzz and distortion. Listening to a Graveland reworking (my good heavens does that man like to revisit old recordings) is always a surprise. Here’s my official call for the remix of 1000 Swords (retitled 1001 Swords) where all the songs are redone in the style of Mortician. Make it happen!

Graveland – Will Stronger Than Death (2007)

Another stormer album from Graveland. The latter era is far superior to the original trve kvlt shit, I think I can safely say that now (subjective to my own tastes of course). Drums on this thing are still manic as fuck but seem to be more under control – I’m guessing they are programmed in now as they seem far more precise than in the past. Production is heavy and chunky, harking back to Creed Of Iron but without going totally ham on the heaviness. All in all it’s a fucking brilliant cocooning, and listening to these sheer fucking EPICS unfold over and over is just bliss, to be honest. Shame the cover art is so shite haha

The Gates / Behrosth – Split LP (2022)

Nice split. The Gates are really solid, with excellent production and a down to earth 70s kinda sound with just the right amount of added flair. The Behrosth side is a little more unstable, which arguably allows for more exploration and expermentation in the black metal meets occult rock style. With both their similarities and also their differences, these two bands match each other perfectly for this split.

Graveland – The Fire Of Awakening (2003)

Edit: When I initially reviewed this I made the mistake of listening to the 2014 remake first, so my perspective was perhaps a bit skewed by coming back to the original afterwards. I really like both versions however, as they each have something to offer. They are both easily 4/5 albums at a minimum. The original review is below. Cheers! I didn’t get off to a very good start with Graveland. The classic albums, which are fawned over so much, hit me with a resounding “meh”. I have gone on to develop an appreciation for albums like Thousands Swords but some of those early records are still so laughably bad that I cannot to this day understand what all the fuss is about. Mid/latter period Graveland however, has u-turned my scepticism around the group and solidified me as a fan of Darken’s music. The hat trick of Creed Of Iron, Memory And Destiny and now Fire Of Awakening has sealed the deal. Darken and his legions were on something of a roll in the early 2000s. Production is not hugely different here nor is the style of songwriting, but the tracks are just phenomenal, especially album closer “The Four Wings Of The Sun” (mmm I wonder what they could possibly be talking about there), which is probably my favourite Graveland track to date.

Graveland – Dawn Of Iron Blades (2018)

Quite possibly one of the most pointless re-recordings in the history of metal. Dawn Of Iron Blades 2018 does little to absolutely zero in regards to either improving or worsening the experience of said album. If anything, the original sounds a bit dingier, and this a little brighter, but once you’ve adjusted during the first track the rest of the experience is more or less the same, in my eyes (or ears).

Berosth – Оазис (2021)

I’m not entirely sure what to call this whole subgenre of “Black Magick SS worship”, there simply must be a better name for it? Anyway, Berosth, in their recent release of Oasis, if you’ll forgive my heathen anglicisation, is a solid example of how to operate in the genre. Black metal is mixed with kooky occult sounds and a little dollop of Uriah Heep, and voila, she lives! Oasis has the benefit of also being very well produced indeed. There’s a lot of garbage out there in this style (sorry) but Berosth immediately stands out as having their shit together.

Graveland – Fire Chariots Of Destruction (2005)

Not sure who or what lit the fire under Rob Darken’s arse but the difference between this album and the previous year’s release, Dawn Of Iron Blades, is staggering. Production is fat, riffs for DAYS, croaky frog vokills better than Abbath and Dagon combined, tales of pride and glory and warships and fuck knows what else. The percussion is still shambolic, like a Viking warrior stumbling onwards from the battle field riddled with arrows and bleeding from the head, but shambling onwards nonetheless. Bless that (war)horse you rode in on, Mr. Darken, this could well be the best Graveland album. Oh, and is it just me or does “War Wolf” sound like the theme to Twin Peaks? I must be tripping.

Satanic Warmaster – Aamongandr (2022)

If you thought Fimbulwinter was clean then get your dirty little ears around wrapped around this clinical fucking record! SW really did come full circle from misty / muddy / kvlt as fuck black metal tinged with that trademark Finnish melody, right through to a polished album producing powerhouse filled with triumphant hymns that illicit knotted erections from furries, black metallers and enraged redditors all the same. What am I trying to say, exactly? What is this fever dream of a review? Aamongandr is tight as fuck, let’s not debate that. The guitar work is great, the production is fantastic and Werwolf’s vocals are insanely good. Despite the time gap, it builts off the template laid by Fimbulwinter, but is perhaps, in a fair criticism (and the only criticism I can levy at it aside from making furry jokes), it is now too clinical a sound for a project known to be at the forefront of the intense and trve black metal underground. The sound is, perhaps, a little too sterile now. It is a minor complaint, because otherwise Aamongandr is a very enjoyable listen. Anyways, I’m off to place a massive order of wolf cocks over at Bad Dragon.

Burzum – Den Store Samlingen (2009)

I have a version of this CD (South American with different art) that I thought would be a cool way to pick up a ton of Burzum bootlegs in one fell swoop. Alas, little did I know, I would say about 2/3 of this CD is actually old Ildjarn tracks. Now, I like old Ildjarn tracks, but it’s not exactly what I signed up for. Either way, this thing is another bizarre oddity in the Burzum unofficial history, and it’s cool to have it just to have the Once Emperor and Et hvitt lys over skogen EPs in my collection, as the 7″s cost a fucking fortune.

Burzum (Ildjarn) – Svarte Dauen (2003)

I have absolutely zero fucking idea what I have here, but it does not match the tracklist for any of the versions of Svarte Dauen that I can find online, from any country or release year. Yet, apparently, what I have is a version of Svarte Duaen, released as a 10″ EP. (sigh) – as if the world of Burzum bootlegs wasn’t confusing enough. “My Key to the Purgatory” and “Rite of the Cleansure” are track names that appear on the Burzum Reh 1 demo from 1991, but what I’ve got here I’m pretty sure is more Ildjarn stuff passed off as Burzum. The final track on this thing (on my version and on the ones I can find online), is “Seven Harmonies Of Unknown Truth”, which is 100% an Ildjarn track, which hilariously found its way onto an “official” Burzum compilation pressed by Back On Black. What a fucking joke. This is a fun listen of lo-fi black metal and spacey synths. I;’m just pretty sure 75%+ of it is not even Burzum. I have this EP bundled into the Den Store Samlingen CD and the tracklist is completely different: 1. Channeling the Power of Souls into a New God2. My Key to the Purgatory3. Rite of the Cleansure4. Seven Harmonies of the Unknow Truth

Burzum (Ildjarn) – Spell Of Destruction (2002)

As with the Feeble Screams 7″, this is a fake bootleg consisting of fucking Ildjarn demos, not Burzum songs. It’s interesting that so many fake Burzum bootlegs exist. Whoever made this (and perhaps the other releases) is either a colossal idiot or a scammer. Either way, they have permanently muddied the waters for those looking for unreleased or hard to find Burzum demos. As for this release, yeah it’s cool – but it’s not Burzum.

Burzum – Once Emperor (2001)

Verrry dusty, very old, very lo-fi demos from Varg released in bootleg 7″ form. Almost unlistenable in some respects, yet very interesting in others. This is definitely a release for the collectors out there. I believe you can also find versions of these tracks on the semi-official Draugen – Rarities compilation.

Burzum – Et hvitt lys over skogen (????)

The title track is fantastic, if a little rustic, but this is to be expected. I’d never heard this before now even though it appears on the Draugen compilation, that comp is such a shitshow I never made it all the way through. A great early Burzum track and well worth seeking out, It is on the b-side here however where the audio quality drops off. It contains what appears to be a rehearsal demo or very early rough take of “Lost Wisdom”, which phases in and out as the tape it is sourced from appears to be degraded significantly. Either way, it is still a vital listen for die hards and archivist types. The release date of this 7″ is disputed, hence the ???? I have placed in the title. It is believed to either be late 90s or early 2000s.

Ungfell – Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz (2018)

This is the second full length from Ungfell, an excellent black metal project from Switzerland. The production is fantastic, reminding me of the warmer analogue sound on some of the later Darkthrone albums – but of course Ungfell are entirely their own beast. Comparisons could be made I suppose to early Peste Noire, but Ungfell’s own uniqueness shines brightly through the songwriting on this excellent full length album. I love how the bass pops beautifully through the mix, which is always a treat for a black metal record, and the vocal shrieks invoke chills to go with that otherwise warmer overall sound. Very happy to have picked this up on LP format.

Thor’s Hammer – Fidelity Shall Triumph (1997)

A bit rough around the edges with pacing and timing (of course it is, it’s got the dude on it from Graveland who can’t drum for shit), but otherwise quite endearing and entrancing black metal. I love the record sleeve. It’s one of those that I’ve seen knocking about for years now, and it really does add to the atmosphere. Production is serviceable, nothing majorly different or outlandish, and the songwriting is interesting. The truth of the matter is that I’ve heard far better black metal as well as far worse (including from the same band). All in all, an interesting debut.

Thor’s Hammer – May The Hammer Smash The Cross (2000)

Quite possibly, actually, in fact, definitely, without a doubt, Thor’s Hammer’s second album has one of the worst overall sounds that I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if it’s entirely up to production either, this seems like an artistic choice taken somewhere along the line, resulting in the perfect storm of a bad idea being poorly executed and with horrendous production. Truly, this is awful, with absolutely zero redeeming qualities. Not sure what happened here, the debut was pretty decent.

Graveland – Dawn Of Iron Blades (2004)

A drop off in quality from the previous run of several mostly excellent albums. Dawn Of Iron Blades is more of the same from the likes of Fire Of Awakening but with a lot of the soul missing. It’s still good, but it’s starting to feel like they are going through the motions, which despite the rocky quality of the band’s long discography, is the first time I’ve experienced such a thing from Graveland. There will never be a need to spin Dawn Of Iron Blades over any of the other albums in this era.

Goatmoon / Ride For Revenge – Split CD (2008)

Interesting mix of stuff here. You’ve got Goatmoon originals which are great, followed by a Ride For Revenge set of originals, which are dark, murky, bass-led mires of noise. You then get a TON of Goatmoon rehearsal recordings, which, honestly, have absolutely fucking zero value for me (not saying there aren’t others who would interested in hearing these) and then the whole thing is capped off with this huge 20 minute noise piece from R4R (lol). Honestly, the sequencing on this thing is wild, even if it was originally for a double LP or something. It just doesn’t flow at all.

1349 – 1349 (2001)

The first ever 1349 EP lacks the finesse and absolute complete sonic carnage that would be perfected on later records but it is still not an EP to be sniffed at. The drums are astoundingly fast, and the riffs fall into some interesting and complex-sounding patterns, which adds to the frantic energy. Vocally, things work better on the later offerings but to say the vocals here are bad would be an outright lie.

Satarial – …And The Flame Will Take The Temples Of Christ (1996)

Unusual but really fucking cool black metal from Russia – supposedly the first Russian black metal band, even. Not sure if that is true but this is awesome either way. Gives me Graveland vibes in places (hypnotic repetitive tracks with folky instruments and odd parts) but has more of a grounded 90s metal feel underneath the medieval / pagan pomp and ritual that accompanies it. Well worth a look in if you’re after something off the beaten track that doesn’t sound like it was recorded on a wax cylinder.

Horna / Behexen – Split LP (2004)

A storming split from two long-running bands of varying legendary status. I’ve not much been the biggest fan of Behexen, but they shine here too, in the strongest form I’ve encountered them in to date. Their four tracks are sweeping, glorious epics in the misty yet muddy black metal style. Horna have a slightly rougher production, only just, but offer slightly better songwriting, opening up the first half of this split with dare I say gorgeous compositions of hostility and darkness. The drumming is particularily of note, but the whole group is firing on all cylinders here. The vocals are rabid as fuck. This split is well worth hunting down.

Curta’n Wall – Terr’ble Death (2021)

Tis most like that yon wulde indeede suff’r a e death in the tymes of olde. When thy lords send thee to batt’l and thon axe clea’v or thon sword strike true, then a terr’ble death wulde b’falle ye. There be no glory on the batt’l fielde, only terr’ble death. Curta’n Wall then, is here to provide the soundtrack to such an unfortunate fate. Terr’ble Death is one of the stronger earlier efforts from this excellent little project, which a coherency to proceedings that is not quite present elsewhere. There is less focus on the mad instrumentation here, instead the “metal” side of the Wall shines through better here. All in all, tis a welcome entry to the Curta’n Wall discography.

Curta’n Wall – Crocodile Moat!!!!!!! (2022)

Crocodile Moat is peak Curta’n Wall. Move over Siege Ubsessed, because the Moat is where it’s at. Crocodile Moat just flows better, and the songs that do repeat have superior versions here than on the full length. Not sure what it is exactly; but this one just hits different. It hits perfect, in fact. Like a flail to the back of the head. Tidy.

Burzum – Beyond The Gate (2024)

It’s hard to explain how strange it is to see a legendary act fall apart in real time like this. Especially, I suppose, after said act was supposedly retired, especially from guitar-based music / black metal. This 12 minute “epic” sees more GarageBand drums, more lacklustre mixing, and more overlong meandering songwriting that goes nowhere. I must give props where they are due, and that is for the excellent frosted tapestry of riffs that sit beneath this one, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Curta’n Wall – Siege Ubsessed (2023)

After a series of splits and EPs, the bizarre Curta’n Wall drops a full length album. I was a tad concerned that something so whacky would translate into a full length format, but for the most part it seems to fare quite well. Every time I feel like things are about to get a little stale, Curta’n Wall switches things up, or transitions into a new song / section / instrument that immediately renews my interest. Speaking of instruments, this thing is loaded to the gills with all sorts of crazy medieval sounds. If you too are Siege Ubsessed (lol), then this record will serve you well, my liege. Some things I will say however is that a few of the tracks contain what I can only describe as guest vocals from Elvya, whose dulcet tones I don’t quite think match the freak show that is Curta’n Wall. Also, I’m no scholar of this project but there’s a number of tracks here I notice as being rerecorded, some with what feels like new instrumentation, and in every single case I have preferred the originals. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if I just summarised by saying that this an interesting album but not something that is going to appeal to everyone.

Satyricon – The Shadowthrone (1994)

The importance of Shadowthrone for Satyricon cannot be understated. It is a record of progress, seemingly with the band taking massive strides since Dark Medieval Times, both in the complexity of their music and the delivery of said music via a cleaner production style. The production is of course still absolutely raw enough for fans of 90s black metal but expect a clear, balanced soundstage in which every instrument hangs in its own space, fully audible and enjoyable, which is a rarity for black metal, I can tell you that much. A highlight of any Satyricon record is always going to be Frost’s drumming. His fills and accents are one thing, but his precision and accuracy is another. Fantastic work. Sonically, the strings and the keyboards that augment them all go together perfectly, the guitar like several frosted layers of tapestry. Vocally, this is a strong album for Satyr, too. I feel like Shagrath from Dimmu may have taken a lot of inspiration here for Enthrone Darkness Triumphant onwards. Shadowthrone is an excellent record. I can only hope that the recent remaster brought some extra listeners back to this icy classic.

Xasthur – Portals Of Sorrow (2010)

Black metal Scooby Doo music for clinically depressed maniacs and / or Pitchfork readers from 2010. I’m joking of course, but Portal Of Sorrow barely feels like an album, with its neither here nor there semi-instrumental takes. Expect the usual Xasthur production, but a whole truckload of weirdness and different vibes that just ends up sounding pretty disjointed.

Deafheaven – Roads To Judah (2011)

I found Roads To Judah, whilst engaging, to not be as fully realised as the vision of “blackgaze” the band perfected with Sunbather. The songs are sprawling epics much in the same vein, but if anything, having less screamo / shoegaze elements in the music and instead being more “nice” regular black metal (like Alcest, yknow?) actually does harm rather than good. Never thought I’d be calling for more of either of those two genres in my black metal I’ll be honest with you, but here we are. I understand of course, that Roads To Judah came first, and this was a more formative version of their sound, so I have taken that into account whilst rating this one.

Calderum – Mystical Fortress Of Iberian Lands (2022)

Calderum’s Mystical Fortress Of Iberian Lands really took me by surprise. This thing goes hard! Combining melodies and hooks with ferocious blastbeats (the latter often becomes the focus of more “brutal” black metal) and balancing a “kvlt” sound with a clear and warm production, Calderum literally ticks all of my fucking boxes. Seriously, the drumming on this is absolutely fantastic; “Fortress Of Doom” will give you a good example as to why, with tons of inspired fills and variations, switch ups and cymbal flourishes that don’t overcrowd the song but instead contribute massively. The “dungeon synth” interludes are brilliant in their own right too, proper Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall energy going on here. Fucking class stuff.

Satanic Warmaster – Fimbulwinter (2014)

Listening back to back with Nachzehrer, the difference between the two full lengths is staggering. It’s like night and day (or two different bands). Here, Satanic Warmaster’s sound is polished up, this time more so than at any other point in his discography (at least chronologically and to my memory). The drumming is the most notable improvement; fast and ferocious and most importantly beautifully recorded. It helps lay an enviable foundation of brutality and precision, making the gulf between the noisier, slightly sloppier recording on the previous album even wider. On top of that, Werwolf’s guitars sound that extra bit sharper and his vocals bite that extra bit harder, too. From its opening moments until the closing lulls of the dungeon synth style closing track (Mortiis’ lawyers may be in touch over that one as it’s a smidge familiar sounding lmao), Fimbulwinter is a nonstop attack on the senses.

Minenwerfer – Heimkehr (2017/2024)

Haven’t had the pleasure of hearing the full split, originally released with Kommandant, but the recent 2024 remaster of these tracks was a great way to come back to this session. It’s short, but it’s understandable considering it was from a split. This doesn’t necessarily mean it works all that well in EP format as a stand-alone, at least not for Minnenwerfer, where it is best to sit and immerse yourself in the sound and the growing atmosphere. Nevertheless, it’s a solid 20 minutes of excellent black metal, fast and with military precision, it does what Minnenwerfer does best.

Graveland – Ogień przebudzenia (The Fire Of Awakening) (2014)

Edit: when I first reviewed this, I believed I was listening to the original 2003 version of Fire Of Awakening. Little did I know I had actually listened to the 2014 re-recording, which is sometimes referred to by its Polish name of Ogień przebudzenia. My words below however, still stand. I will review the 2003 version separately. I didn’t get off to a very good start with Graveland. The classic albums, which are fawned over so much, hit me with a resounding “meh”. I have gone on to develop an appreciation for albums like Thousands Swords but some of those early records are still so laughably bad that I cannot to this day understand what all the fuss is about. Mid/latter period Graveland however, has u-turned my scepticism around the group and solidified me as a fan of Darken’s music. The hat trick of Creed Of Iron, Memory And Destiny and now Fire Of Awakening has sealed the deal (edit: this remains the case, re-recording or otherwise). Darken and his legions were on something of a roll in the early 2000s. Production is not hugely different here nor is the style of songwriting, but the tracks are just phenomenal, especially album closer “The Four Wings Of The Sun” (mmm I wonder what they could possibly be talking about there), which is probably my favourite Graveland track to date.

Satanic Warmaster – Nachzehrer (2010)

Stellar effort from Satanic Warmaster. I’m not sure what it is about this one that just hits so well compared to the others, but hit it does. As much as I appreciate Carelian Satanic Madness, I’ve not enjoyed a SW album as much as this since Strength & Honour. The production feels a little bit more lo-fi than usual, but this may just be how the drums have been recorded. The hat trick of “Warmaster Returns”, “One Shining Star” and “Bestial Darkness” is near unbeatable black metal.

Darkthrone – It Beckons Us All……. (2024)

It’s always a good day when Darkthrone release a new album. it’s something that can be consistently relied upon as something to look forward to, even if the result of each offering may vary slightly. Or in this case, perhaps not so much at all. It Beckons Us All is great, but it is very similar in production and approach to both Eternal Hails and Astral Fortress – whilst also reminding me of some of the doomier moments on Old Star a few years back. Mix all of this with a healthy does of Celtic Frost worship and you’ve got It Beckons Us All. Some may perhaps wish that Darkthrone would move on from this style, and whilst I do have some of my favourite Darkthrone tracks on Astral Fortress (“Impeccable Caverns Of Satan”, “Stalagmite Neckalce”), I feel like the band have truly taken this particular style to its apex here on this record. “Eon 3”, “The Bird People of Nordland” and opening number “Howling Primitive Colonies” are all world class examples of blackened doomery.

Burzum – The Hidden Name (2024)

As bad as – if not worse than – the first single. The programmed drums are stepped up a notch but the production seems infinitely shittier, probably due to the guitar taking up so much of the track. Somehow the guitar manages to be hollow and lifeless yet also drowns out the drums and vocals too. Once again, the saving grace is that this is – hopefully – some sort of demo that will be polished up in time for the album. Failing that, if this is the finished product, things are not looking too clever.

Burzum – Aske (1993)

I was checking out the latest Burzum tracks (sideshow.bob.steps.on.rake.sound.effect.mp3) when I realised I hadn’t ever written a little spot about the Aske EP. This was easily missed, I guess, what with Aske being bundled together as part of the self-titled releases on CD etc. since the early 90s. I think there was a stand-alone Aske recently, on cassette, as part of a bigger box set, but if you want an original stand-alone Aske, you’d best be prepared to spend the bigger bucks. Aske has an unfinished feel, to me at least. This may be because of the raw production coupled with the generally short length of the record as well as the fact that one of the songs, “Stemmen Fra Tarnet” (the best song, I might add), just cuts off unceremoniously at the end. Aske has a noticably warmer production than the frostbitten debut album, and has the notable inclusion of Samoth from Emperor on bass guitar, in what is I think the only time another musician has ever played on a Burzum release. It would be remiss of me to not mention the cover art for this EP, which is as legendary as the music itself – if not more so, to be honest. The church in question a site of arson from the creators of this music, boldly placed on the sleeve of the EP in an almost mocking tone. This is an essential black metal recording, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that.

Burzum – The Magic Of The Grave (2024)

When I heard there would be (NEW) Burzum music I was cautiously optimistic. Varg can be, after all, something of a music genius. He is responsible for some of the greatest albums of all time. This however, is bullshit. Man is just strumming a cheap guitar over a fucking GarageBand loop. It sounds like someone fed Umskiptar into one of those crappy AI music apps and instructed it to: “make this again, but as shit as possible”. I feel safe in my assumption that this was knocked together in two days because Varg documented it on fucking Twitter. This is the state of black metal in 2024, folks. If there’s going to be an album’s worth of this shit, then it needs a lot of work. Hopefully this is just a demo or something.

Gehenna – Black Seared Heart (1993)

Rougher than what would come on the much more well-formed First Spell, but surprisingly more clarified than Ancestors… which soon followed. It is likely that most modern listeners will have heard these songs tacked onto the end of rereleases of First Spell, rather than have hunted down the demo itself, but these are still worth your time. There are some bizarre choices, such as the synth that opens “Angelwings and Ravenclaws” or the guitar that opens “Black Seared Heart”, but these are small niggles in the grand scheme of things.

Gehenna – Ancestor Of The Darkly Sky (1993)

This one easily falls between the cracks of the other early Gehenna releases. The production here is chunkier but we lose a lot of fidelity in the blunt trauma attack of the sound. Add to the fact that these are the same songs that appear on the debut and First Spell and that makes revisiting Ancestor a fairly pointless activity, unless for those who prefer these studio sessions to the other early recordings.

Gehenna – First Spell (1994)

Glorious early second wave black metal with a fantastic, dark atmosphere. The keyboard usage is pretty heavy, but not so much in the orchestral, bombastic way. More so that it just adds another layer to the sound. The production is organic and balanced and the whole thing breathes, which is rare for black metal, and is also a refreshing change from some of the other earlier Gehenna stuff (none of which is super badly produced but First Spell is a clear improvement).

Kaevum – Kultur (2023)

Wherever you stand on the political spectrum, there is absolutely no denying that Kaevum are one of the strongest black metal outfits around at the moment. Kultur takes place 12 years after Natur, but expands on the excellent sonic groundwork already laid in place on the debut. Don’t take my word for it, I implore you to give this a go instead of reading my shitty review.

Graveland – Memory And Destiny (2002)

Beautiful piece of work from Graveland. Memory and Destiny is not an album I see recommended all that much, but it’s a great example of the band’s shambling yet majestic sound. I’m pretty sure the guys had switched up drummers by this point but the percussion is still pretty shambolic. In this big, clear production it has nowhere to hide. Thankfully, the songwriting is outstanding on this record, and a bit of shakey drumming can be easily forgiven. A great album.

Prehistoric War Cult – Cold Wind Howls Over The Burial Site (2021)

Don’t fuck with the Prehistoric War Cult. True derivative war metal served right up for your fuckin’ ears! Bashed about the head with clubs! Like a fuckin’ axe through your skull, lodged in your brain like dropping a knife in a stick of butter. Production where you can FEEL every hit of the drum, the rumble of the bass, the ear-shredding mess of the guitar. Truly uncompromising extreme metal, strongly fucking recommended.

Urgehal – Through Thick Fog Til Death (2003)

Uncompromising, unforgiving… uninspiring? I’ll be honest with you, it was the cover art that drew me in here, and whilst I stayed for the nearly 1hr runtime, I couldn’t help but think this album would have been much more effective if it was just a little shorter. I suppose you could draw parallels to Chimera-era(-era!) Mayhem or earlier 1349, but Through Thick Fog Til Death is nowhere near as good as either of those.

Proclamation – Advent Of The Black Omen (2006)

Proclamation often get it in the neck for being “derivative” – but is it possible (at all) to not be derivative in the microgenre that is war metal? Either way, I don’t give too much of a shit personally, because Advent Of The Black Omen is fucking class. Expect muddy, downtuned guitars, endless spastic drumming and vokills to invoke the horn-ed one. Y’know, it sounds like war metal. Don’t forgot to break out your bullet belt(s) for this one.

Revenge – Behold.Total.Rejection (2015)

Behold.Total.Rejection. completes my descend into the murky world of Revenge full-lengths. Sometimes I can struggled to think of what to say for certain releases, and Revenge are a band that I’ve noticed this happening for multiple times. I guess once you know what Revenge are about, and you start coming back for more and more, you know exactly what you want and you know exactly what to expect. In that regard, BTR is another variation on a narrow template, however it is a template that the band execute with extreme savagery. This is very little that rivals the greatness of Revenge (Conqueror comes close), even in the world of war metal.

Cradle Of Filth – Trouble And Their Double Lives (2023)

“She Is A Fire” sounds great, to be fair. Dani sounds amazing, the current / new version of the band is on the ball, and Martin is a machine on the drums. Regarding the live session, I’ll be honest, when I heard about this release of yet another Cradle live album I rolled my eyes, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that the band are tight as fuck right now. Like, the performance here is seriously good from both the new blood as well as Dani. Cradle has always sounded like something of a car crash live, I’ve seen them many times over the years with different members and earlier live albums such as Live Bait For The Dead attest to this, but I was blown away by how good Dani’s voice sounds and how on-point the band is. The sound is fantastic, too. I don’t know how much massaging this has had in post-production but it sounds absolutely fantastic.

Absurd – Asgardsrei (1999)

(Review of the 2012 expanded version)  A tidy little record from Absurd, perhaps a little rough around the edges and not as catchy as the 00s period led by Wolf but still lots of great work here. Production is a little raw but complaining about that on a black metal release is just incredibly stupid. Lots of atmospheric intermissions and bombastic interludes cut the metal segments up nicely.

Mjölnir – Walpurgisfeuer (1997)

Very atmospheric and evocative black metal, with the riffs wandering through the haze of the mist, and bathing you in their ancient glory. Beautiful undercurrent of synthesizers / keyboards present too, giving these tracks a unique dimension, despite fulfilling many of the tropes of black metal. Good shit.

Sturmfolk – Klänge des Nordens (2019)

Entertaining but incredibly messy black metal from Germany. The synths and atmospheric elements are fantastic but when the core of the band come in, well shit is almost as shambolic as early Graveland. In fact, I’m pretty sure the guitarist and the drummer are in different bands and they’ve just stapled the unrelated recording sessions together to form songs. I’m joking of course, but the tightness is uhhh, not great. Verdict: A for atmosphere (and vocals!, Z for everything else, so a score right down the middle.

Curta’n Wall / Fugitive Wizard – Split Tape (2021)

Armed To The Teeth is a fairly uninspired split release from the usually excellent Curta’n Wall and the grimm and grimy Fugitive Wizard. Curta’n Wall’s tracks here are pretty catchy, especially “Castle Spire”, but the quality does not come near that what can be found on the self-titled EP or the Siege Obsessed full length. Fugitive Wizard falls off the deep end into a bottomless murky pit of horrendous production. We’re talking almost as bad as Revenant fucking Marquis here. Granted, once I’ve adjusted, “Spellforge” has chance to grow on me. Personally however, I’d go elsewhere in the discography of both of these bands rather than return to this.

Lamp Of Murmuur – Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism (2020)

Incredibly solid black metal that at first feels quite impenetrable, but gives way to some dense yet mesmerizing songwriting. Equal parts unforgiving and atmospheric, Lamp Of Murmuur’s full length debut ticks all of the right boxes when it comes to modern black metal. This project seems to get a lot of hate, I guess for attracting hipsters or some shit, but who gives a fuck about that when the record is this good?

Minenwerfer – Alpenpässe (2019)

One of the most magnificent pieces of music I’ve heard in some time. I’ve seen this artwork bandied about online / on people’s RYM lists for years (also I’m pretty sure YouTube has recommended me this album about 700 times). The art is very striking to me; a soldier wielding a gun above the clouds has a strange otherworldly feel to it. Musically, I get the same feeling from this as I did from Peste Noire’s debut record. There is far more of a post-(genre) (lol) feel here, especially in the guitar work, which results in a far more trance-like atmospheric state, but with that unpinning level of violence and ferocity that makes things seem just a little bit scary – the way good black metal should be, might I add. The production is fantastic and even at an hour or so in length the album does not outstay its welcome. My favourite tracks would have to be the opening 17-minute epic “Der Blutharsch” or the savage “Withered Tombs” that sees the drumming speeding up to the superhuman levels of say, Frost in 1349, and the rest of the band follows in intensity. Brilliant stuff.

Ragnarok – Arising Realm (1997)

Came for the album art (I mean, just look at it), stayed for the cold yet precise black metal. Arising Realm sounds so brittle it feels like the entire thing could collapse into thousands of icy shards at any given moment. Despite this, a rock solid backbone of tight drumming and deep bass allow hypnotic guitar riffs to weave through frozen tapestries, accompanied by occasional smatterings of frosted keys and evil roars of vocal outpouring. With this group / project being from Norway, I feel like I should have heard of this before, but alas I have not. Perhaps it is the generic nature of the band name? I feel like there’s probably a hundred bands called Ragnarok. Either way, this record seems like a gem that can be found for those who traverse the less travelled path, and off the strength of this album I’m very curious as to the rest of Ragnarok’s catalogue.

Behexen – The Poisonous Path (2016)

Biiig, biiiig production for black metal. The drums sound fantastic but the guitars almost have a HM2 fuzz to them which is an interesting choice. I don’t wish to disparage the riff writing or excellent vocals but I find this entire record a touch uninspired. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it’s just not grabbing me. The Poisonous Path is not equalling the sum of its parts.

Old Nick – The Truest Spell (2023)

Projects like Old Nick should always be taken with a pinch of salt but it is astounding how good this record actually is. The songwriting is fantastic, and some of the ways these songs turn out is just incredible, with these fantastic riffs or synth passages just coming out of nowhere and blindsiding you. Honestly, there’s a lot of talent here, and a real knack for writing catchy and engaging music, its just that its buried (intentionally it seems) beneath a wall of grime and bad production. As always with this kind of thing, that’s part of the charm rather than a defect or a strike against it. But yeah, this is excellent.

Gorgoroth – Promo ’94 (1994)

The perfect balance between Sorcery… and the debut full-length, Pentagram. I love the denser “treble” sound to the production here, which is admittedly much more atypical of the style at the time (brb, tying an onion to my belt). Both tracks sound absolutely massive on this promo, despite the limiting production, but the riff leading us up to the conclusion of “Måneskyggens Slave” is just absolutely spellbinding (but better before the flanger effect hits, I’ll be honest). Another early Gorgoroth release that I can only wish was longer.

Gorgoroth – A Sorcery Written In Blood (1993)

Hat’s vocals on this are absolutely insane. I also really like the production, its not that much rawer really than the debut, but still has a good balance. It begs the question, is (slightly) rawer better? Also, whatever “Sexual Bloodgargling” is about, you guys can count me out. The song rules, though. A great demo, all in all. I really wish it was a little bit longer.

Division Triad / War 88 – Split CD (2015)

Division Triad have some really good riffs, and some excellent production values too, at least from what I’ve heard on this split. The drums sound fantastic and there’s a really good balance between all the instruments, which is always nice. All in all, nothing super groudbreaking, but a good set of songs. The imaginatively named War 88 (no dogwhistles there, eh) have dare I say more of a traditional black metal sound, with wasp-like guitars, thinner drums and thrumming bass underpinning proceedings. Things get nasty and frenetic very quickly, with the songs often descending into fucking amazing blastbeat sections. The vocalist “Black Cross Commando” has a super cool rasp to his voice. Have to check out more War 88, really great shit.

Gorgoroth – Pentagram (1994)

Solid debut from the legendary and influential Gorgoroth. I love the “dank” production and the organic sound, might sound a bit silly but it feels a bit rare to hear this kind of thing in black metal. The riffs are just fantastic. Hat’s vocals are a bit strange (kind of weird effect on them sometimes) but otherwise this a great album. Short and to the point at less than 30 minutes.

Absurd – Schwarze Bande (2022)

Absurd’s fairly recent reincarnation has been something of a return to form. What we have here is seemingly a completely different line-up from the “Wolf”-led era, and it shows. The core of the band’s sound remains true, but the execution is different. The band have always had a punk edge to their music, and I always just assumed that this was due to the closeness of their / their audience’s proximity to RAC music. Whether this is true or not, Schwarze Bande has a rawer, looser approach to the punk influence in Absurd’s music. This is coupled with melodic and buzzsaw black metal riffs and rabid vocals to excellent effect, resulting in one of the strongest – if not the strongest – releases in Absurd’s long and inconsistent catalog. Well worth checking out.

Windir – 1184 (2001)

1184 was the first Windir record I ever heard, and I have to say it was a very beautiful experience. It’s black metal, but it’s the kind that seems to draw you in via its cover painting; majestic, sprawling tracks with a far more positive vibe than you’d initially expect. Highlights for me include the opening track “Todeswalzer”, “The Spiritlord” and closer “Journey To The End” which really blew my wig off when the metal fell away and the track descended into cosmic electronic synths. Amazing.

Keys To The Astral Gates And Mystic Doors – II (2024)

Keys To The Astral Gates are one of my favourite black metal discoveries as of late. Quickly following up on their excellent debut release, this second EP gives us another short blast of stale, dead air; another crypt is opened and the stench of old bones and death escapes for the first time in centuries. Keys… play obscured black metal caked in layers of dust and analogue cassette noise, something which silly fucking idiots like me enjoy very much. Highly recommended.

Covenant – From The Storm Of Shadows (1994)

Covenant – From The Storm Of Shadows (1994)

Great little early demo from Covenant and really interesting to look back on now, knowing the direction that the band went in. Things are a bit rawer here than on the 1997 debut full-length, but not to the point where things become unlistenable. In isolation, it’s a fun 15 minute demo well worth checking out for those who are fans of 90s black metal, and it would no doubt be considered a forgotten classic had Covenant stopped here.

Covenant – Nexus Polaris (1998)

Covenant – Nexus Polaris (1998)

There’s a lot going on here, including a lot of electronic synthesizer elements to go alongside the more traditional madman-plays-a-piano-wickedly kind of instrumentation that would accompany black metal of this era. In that regard also, Covenant do excel with their sophamore record. Hearing Sarah Jezebel Deva here is a welcome “easter egg” for fans of early CoF. Between her main band, this and Mortiis’ Stargate she was doing very well for herself at this period in time. The problem I have is that none of songs on Nexus Polaris stand out to me. They are all very much impressive and technically brilliant, and whilst the album is a pleasure to listen to as a whole I do not find myself drawn to any individual songs like I do on the debut or even on Animatronic, which is a guilty pleasure I’ll be honest with you. This is still a great symphonic black metal record however, and well worth your time if you are interested in that scene (but you probably don’t need me to tell you this!).

Immortal – Immortal (1991)

Immortal – Immortal (1991)

A cold, dark and grimm early EP from the legendary Immortal, showcasing a transitional phase for the group as they, like basically everyone else in Norway at the time (yay, go hive mind!) moved from playing death metal to this new fangled “black metal” style. Production-wise, this obviously leaves a lot to be desired, but if you like to be nuts deep in reverb-drenched drums, then look no further, this is the release for you.

Immortal – War Against All (2023)

Immortal – War Against All (2023)

War Against All is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but it does come across as a little uninspired. At this point it does feel like an Immortal album for the sake of being an Immortal album, which is a huge contrast to Northern Chaos Gods, which burst back onto the scene with a vital and renewed life force. Personally, I think War Against All would have worked better as a Demonaz solo album, but we’re really splitting hairs at this point, I guess. Production-wise, everything is on-point, with a clear and well-balanced sound. Newcomers Ice Dale and Kvale do incredibly well, and whilst Demonaz’ songwriting and guitar playing is still borderline magnificant, the vocal efforts seem a little more strained than previously. I cannot expect the man to not change over time, but it was one of the first things that I noticed when the record started playing. Despite this however, War Against All should please most fans of cold, blasting black metal. PS – is it just me, or does “Wargod” sound an awful lot like “Tyrants”?

Cystoblastosis – Post-Mortem Examination of Putrid Corpse (2017)

Cystoblastosis – Post-Mortem Examination of Putrid Corpse (2017)

Blasting goregrind with a fat and chunky sound. Really great guitar work and vocals, which are – of course – of the disgusting pitchshifted variety. Reading the song titles makes me feel a little bit ill, if I’m honest, but I don’t really know what I expected there. The one down side is that the blastbeats are a little uninspired, its the same beat mostly every track, slightly off with a… uhhhh how can I explain it best, if a blastbeat is in 16th notes then there’s only a cymbal hit every 8th, which is a bit off-putting. It kinda fits the sloppy nature of the vibe but when you want it to REALLY kick in and blast your fucking head off, it doesn’t, because you’re counting that slower hi-hat or whatever in your head, which really drags the pace down quite a bit. A minor gripe, but one worth noting. Otherwise, good stuff all round!