Vanum: Ageless Fire (Profound Lore)
There’s metal that makes you want to plow some bros in the pit, and then there’s metal that makes you want to command an entire army into glorious oblivion. Sante Fe/New York black metal group Vanum and their second record Ageless Fire are clearly the latter. Though it’s unknown who does what, it’s obvious that Mike Rekevics, also of New York black metal juggernauts Yellow Eyes, has a big hand here. Yellow Eyes’ introspective melodic touch gets twisted to charge into battle, every melody going berserk and only ascending, every passage a call to smite the land. USBM originators Weakling had a song called “This Entire Fucking Battlefield,” and Fire is Vanum replying “Oh yeah? That’s all?” There are never enough fucking battlefields for them. That might please Bathory’s fallen founder Quorthon, both an inventor of black metal and one to push it in grander directions, and “Under the Banner of Death” feels as though he’s giving divine guidance. They’re at their hugest in a record all about sweeping statements, with throat, strings and drums toppling over one another to test one another’s might. In a mad dash for pride, no one really wins; Ageless makes such a victory tempting.
Funereal Presence: Achatius (Ajna/Sepulchral Voice)
Who would you trust to conjure the most evil of lamentations: Bestial Devotion, or someone not named Bestial Devotion? Thought so. Mr. Devotion, drummer for New York’s mind-bending black metallers Negative Plane, also has a solo project Funeral Presence, which opts for blackening more conventional metal instead of twisting prog into frost. Achatius, Funereal Presence’s second record, is filled with mangled NWOBHM leads put through so many funhouse mirrors and razors that they sound blissed in agony. The intro riff to “Wherein a Messenger of the Devil Appears” sounds like it should have been on a Mercyful Fate record, but got stuck into a time vortex and ended up in Bestial Devotion’s demented grasp. Achatius is filled with moments like these, enthralling and utterly dizzying throughout. There is even cowbell in the midst of all the chaos; it’s a small detail that hits really hard when it comes from nowhere. Only the grimmest spend their nights entranced to Blue Oyster Cult, aspiring to the be the reaper on Some Enchanted Evening, wishing the guitar solo would go longer, burning to be buried by time and dust.
Find ‘Achatius’ on Bandcamp here.
Pensées Nocturnes: Grand Guignol Orchestra (Les Acteurs de l’Ombre)
They didn’t send your boy a screener for Lords of Chaos, presumably because they’re afraid of the Dean of American Metal Critics roasting it. I’ve still got some black metal clowns for this month, except it’s black metal… about clowns. French act Pensées Nocturnes take you to the carnival for their latest, Grand Guignol Orchestra, and while this has all the potential to go extremely wrong and gimmicky, it’s not playing around. This record is what would happen if you made Mr. Bungle or Secret Chiefs 3 into a black metal group, rollicking through early European jazz and grim French violence with aplomb. It’s fun, but not funny. They’re not on some “dark clown” stuff either, as the circus music that cuts in is what you’d expect. Therein lies the power of the contrast, as the peppy horns that bring in “L'Alpha mal” or the hazy organ of “Les valseuses” sound nightmarishly fun paired up with black metal. Orchestra is so ridiculous it’s endearing.
Yerûšelem: The Sublime (Debemur Morti)
Yerûšelem is the new project from Blut Aus Nord’s black metal genius Vindsval and his longtime cohort W.D. Feld, and their debut The Sublime take the industrial elements that colored albums like The Work Which Transforms God and the 777 trilogy and make them central, stripping most of the metal away. Godflesh was has long been a big influence on Blut Aus Nord, and The Sublime takes more from Justin Broadrick’s quest for the hardest beat, rather than just his icy cold riffs. If “Babel” was a Blut Aus Nord the crushing bassline would be upfront, but here it’s the beat, going for that uncompromising, unfeeling stomp. Likewise, “Eternal” also flips by placing skittering bass drums above a dreary black metal riff, which becomes airier when submerged. Taking a guitar-dominated format and shifting the core component to drums is daunting, and they more than pull it off. Vindsval is a noted fan of avant-rap group Dalek, who brought dense, noisy sounds to hip-hop long before the likes of Death Grips and Ho99o9, and The Sublime sounds like an instrumental for a theoretical collaboration. If we were to get MC Dalek spitting on some Yerûšelem, “black metal musician becomes hip-hop producer” would be the storyline we need.
Hate Force: Hate Force (Closed Casket Activities)
Do you wish Incantation was swole as fuck? Chicago’s Hate Force have the Swolest Man in Hardcore — Harms Way vocalist James Pligge — on vocals, and also have the incredibly swole riffage from Like Rats’ Todd Nief and ex-Weekend Nachos bassist Drew Brown on their self-titled debut album. Hate Force are thick and limber, delivering sludgy death that’s dirty yet not blurry. Even when a track like “Stolen Valor” gets stuck in a morass, they make it agile, adding definition to tremolo dirges and double bass rolls. Pligge is a deep, capable growler, taking his hardcore muscle and applying it to lower depths. Chicago is home to two of death metal’s earliest bands, Master and Cianide, both bands who were more intense than thrash and skirting into something new, yet uncomplicated, at the time. You hear some of that legacy here in how Hate Force get a lot of mileage out of no-frills death metal, and Cianide’s groovy Celtic Frost worship especially looms large. Also, you have to respect when an intro track is just the nasty part but slower but before the WHOLE ALBUM. It’s Obituary’s “Redneck Stop” made up of hardcore breakdowns, and like Obituary at their best, it’s so simple and ingenious you’re fuming you didn’t come up with it.