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TO Staff – Black Metal Highlights (Pt.1)

There is currently more black metal being released than one can possibly keep track of, and with the accessibility of social media and digital downloads it’s easier than ever to find quality material from around the world.  Sure, there are still plenty of laughably bad groups playing black metal, but now one can find more quality artists with ease that they might not have come across otherwise.  This article compiles some of the recent and upcoming highlights as chosen by our staff, and spans just about every branch of the genre one can think of.  There are even more albums we wanted to talk about but preview clips or album streams weren’t available yet, so we’ll be saving them for a second batch in the near future. –Chris Dahlberg

Alastor- Waldmark

Alastor- ‘Waldmark’ (Wrath of the Tyrant Records)

When one thinks of black metal from Austria, Summoning and Abigor are likely a few of the bands that come to mind. Alastor might not be one you’re familiar with though, but they’ve been around since 1996 and released two full lengths between 2006 and 2007. ‘Waldmark’ is their first in close to nine years, and as a result it’s likely to be an introduction to the band for quite a few people. What an introduction this is though, as the material is filled with jagged edges and higher shrieks that feel right at home alongside their European comrades. ‘Waldmark’ explores familiar territory but the writing continually jumps out at you, with epic riffing making you feel like you’re about to head off to battle. There are a lot of bands out there still trying to do this black metal style justice, but Alastor’s near the top. –Chris Dahlberg

Ashen Horde- Nine Plagues

Ashen Horde- ‘Nine Plagues’ (Independent)

Ashen Horde are a revelation. They’re playing black metal reminiscent of Immortal but laced with progressive and industrial touches. The songwriting is commendable as it’s not easy to write such hard-hitting music and structure the songs as well as they’ve been done over here. I daresay the music is technical – it’s definitely intricate and requires a few listens to fully grasp the madness. The imagery that shapes up in my head is of a post-apocalyptic, harsh and cold world, where the people have become embittered but yet possess the mental strength to come up with something ingenious. This album went below the radar but there are few bands sounding as vicious, driven and potent like Ashen Horde. A band to watch out for. –Kunal Choksi

Darvulia- Mysticisme Macabre

Darvulia- ‘Mysticisme Macabre’ (Nuclear War Now!)

Darvulia’s sophomore release ‘Mysticisme Macabre’ originally came out on CD back in 2010, but it’s getting a new opportunity to make a strong impression on listeners courtesy of a vinyl reissue from Nuclear War Now! This French black metal band goes for a style that is rooted in repeated song structures and riffs that stretch out in a hazy, trancelike manner. But unlike others that stretch out similar guitar leads and riffs for longer periods of time, Darvulia is able to utilize these elements to create haunting arrangements that make you feel as though you’re being pulled into the depths of a swamp. If you value devotion to a dark atmosphere, ‘Mysticisme Macabre’ will be exactly what you’re looking for. –Chris Dahlberg

Fuath- I

Fuath- ‘I’ (Neuropa Records)

Andy Marshall sure is a busy guy. In addition to the stunning folk oriented black metal he releases under the Saor name, this year he released the debut Fuath album ‘I’. Though there are common elements between the two projects, Fuath leans heavily towards the atmospheric side of the spectrum, with layers upon layers of blasting and soaring guitar leads that suck the listener in with a melancholic air. Reminiscent of bands like Vemod, there’s a similar commanding presence from both the intensity of the instrumentation and harsh vocals that will keep you coming back again and again. With climaxes that reach downright majestic levels and take you on a spiritual journey, Fuath already comes off feeling fully developed on its debut. –Chris Dahlberg

Grey Heaven Fall- Black Wisdom

Grey Heaven Fall- ‘Black Wisdom’ (Aesthetics of Devastation)

Another gem of an album that seemed to be overlooked by some when it came out last year, ‘Black Wisdom’ should put Grey Heaven Fall up there with some of the best black metal has to offer. These Russians come roaring out of the gate with dense riffing and sheer violence, but these harsher moments often give way to sweeping atmospherics and guitar leads that take on more of a progressive, adventurous element. But make no mistake, this is hardly “blackgaze” or anything of that nature, as even at their mellowest Grey Heaven Fall fully encapsulates the darkness and despair that defines what good black metal should be. –Chris Dahlberg

Hordak- Padre

Hordak- ‘Padre’ (Casus Belli Musica)

Saddle up, this folk-tinged pagan black metal group from Spain is going to battle. Hordak is a folk-tinged pagan black metal band from Spain. ‘Padre’ serves in many ways as a tribute to folkier moments of early second wave BM fused with plenty neoclassical elements. Some might begin to consider works like Enslaved’s ‘Frost’ or Blodhemn albums, but several moments actually made me think of Immortal’s ‘At the Heart of Winter’. If you are a fan of groups like Manegarm, Exmortus, and perhaps even Ensiferum then get in here. -FlightOfIcarus

Imperial Triumphant- Inceste

Imperial Triumphant- ‘Inceste’ (Redefining Darkness Records)

The New York black metal group with French roots pulls off another…well “triumph” with their latest EP. I would argue this is their best material yet. Compositions are airtight while simultaneously exhibiting only the darkest voids of chaos. The only thing more disturbing than the listening experience of these avant-garde masters is the content, which is the band’s take on the works of hedonist, masochist, sadist, and libertine; Marquis de Sade. But hey, 120 Days of Sodom and black metal go together like peas and carrots when you consider the shock value. Regardless what you think of Mr. De Sade, the music hear is unmissable. -FlightOfIcarus

Krater- Urere

Krater- ‘Urere’ (Eisenwald Tonschmiede)

‘Urere’ has been out for about a month now, and it’s still likely to remain in contention for one of the best black metal albums you’ll hear in 2016 once that new release hype dies down. Germany’s Krater may not be reinventing the wheel with this album, but they’ve refined it with strong songwriting that captures the atmosphere and power one expects from today’s European black metal bands. Capable of offering all-out assaults and slower dirges that let thicker tonality spread across the room in a suffocating manner, there are no lulls or weak spots to be found. Fans of other German black metal groups like Ascension should take notice of Krater, as they deserve a similar level of notoriety. –Chris Dahlberg

Krigsgrave- Waves of Degradation

Krigsgrav- ‘Waves of Degradation’ (Bindrune Recordings)

The fourth album from these US black metallers is long and expansive with a keen melodic edge. Featuring lengthy songs, the music is vibrant and exploratory while still retaining a semblance of underground blackened aesthetics. This is an album built on a depressive core, filling the airwaves with so much despair and misery its hard to know what to do with it all. The only answer, of course, is to listen to the album again and again, truly absorbing the harrowing music and the singer’s ragged, pain-ridden screams. After all, isn’t that what everyone wants from their black metal? –Nigel Holloway

Onirik- Casket Dream Veneration

Onirik- ‘Casket Dream Veneration’ (Iron Bonehead Productions/Altare Productions)

You may have missed Onirik’s newest full length ‘Casket Dream Veneration’ when it came out towards the end of 2015, but it’s definitely worth spending time with. This solo project of Portuguese musician/vocalist Gonius Rex takes the colder melodies and sweeping atmospherics of second wave black metal and pushes them into unexpected directions. Filled with leads that have a hazier, almost psychedelic quality to them alongside screamed and clean vocals, each song feels like a journey into the unknown that gets murkier the deeper in you get. The attention to detail shines through on each track, and it’s exciting to find an artist that takes familiar elements of black metal and showcases there’s still room left to head them into completely different territory. –Chris Dahlberg

Panopticon & Waldgeflüster- Split

Panopticon & Waldgeflüster- ‘Split’ (Nordvis Produktion)

This split release brings together two of the best atmospheric black metal bands, Panopticon and Waldgeflüster. Each group offers two songs, with one providing the type of sprawling and atmospheric black metal that fans have come to expect along with a shorter acoustic piece. Waldgeflüster kicks things off with an absolutely stunning piece that utilizes clean singing and natural pauses to give more of an earthy, folk tone in between the black metal blasting, before offering up an acoustic piece that sounds like it could have been recorded around a blazing campfire. Panopticon goes for a similar effect, with a lengthy, sprawling piece filled with soaring instrumentation and aggressive vocals before going acoustic for a song that sounds like it’s completely in tune with the American heartland. Split releases don’t often find two bands so fully in sync like this, and that’s something both should be proud of. –Chris Dahlberg

Schammasch- Triangle

Schammasch- ‘Triangle’ (Prosthetic Records)

Holy crap! This album is absolutely breathtaking. That’s not a word I often use for black metal, especially BM grounded so deeply in the old ways. But nonetheless, ‘Triangle’ proves that even the darkest, ugliest of genres has more value than just shock. Though perhaps not as complex or impenetrable as Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, Schammasch maintains a similar ability to captivate its listener and create something that transcends metal into art. I’ll admit, I didn’t really think much of these guys back when everyone was drooling over 2014’s ‘Contradiction,’ but something about this 1.5 hour + album just does it for me. And talk about scope: the band sees this as 3 (thus “Triangle”) works all bound to a uniting concept. From the powerful swells of intensity that border on Behemoth’s ‘The Satanist’ to the extended periods of dark ambient in the latter half, ‘Triangle’ is just the thing black metal fans should be talking about in 2016. -FlightOfIcarus

SPEKTR- The Art to Disappear

SPEKTR- ‘The Art to Disappear’ (Agonia Records)

‘The Art to Disappear’ knows how to package some truly vile, mind-contorting stuff into an oddly listenable experience. This was probably my first “favorite” album of 2016, and certainly in my top 3 for BM album of the year so far. The best way to describe SPEKTR’s music is to take Dendritic Arbor, remove the vocals, and replace with sound samples from Twin Peaks and other dark sources. It’s Skinny Puppy with corpse paint. You’ve got to hear it to believe it. -FlightOfIcarus

Titaan- Kadingir

Titaan- ‘Kadingir’ (Aeternitas Tenebrarum Musicae Fundamentum)

‘Kadingir’ is the pendulum swinging between violent night terrors and eerie visions. The album is a pretty even 50/50 ratio of exquisite dark ambient tracks and 2nd wave black metal aggression. The end result is just marvelous to behold. You know when you go to buy a new TV and the salesperson pitches the idea that the new model has “blacker blacks?” Yeah, better get out your credit card. I have said time and again that presence is crucial when it comes to crafting a black metal release that stands out in the sea of pretenders. Titaan lives up to its name in this respect. -FlightOfIcarus

Uada- Devoid of Light

Uada- ‘Devoid of Light’ (Eisenwald Tonschmiede)

In addition to being blown away by this album, I was fortunate enough to catch them opening for Absu at Black Circle Fest on the release date. Let me tell you that this menacing hooded quartet sounds just as good live as in the studio. Chilling melodies race by in sharp lines of tremolo. Velocity is certainly a factor, with the drums blasting at sonic speed. This is just the thing for fans of Skeletonwitch and Taake. Side note, While I was taking a piss break at Ash Street, I commented to a nice chap in the next stall how great this band’s set was. Turns out it was the singer/ guitarist. Good times. -FlightOfIcarus

Urgehal- Aeons in Sodom

Urgehal- ‘Aeons in Sodom’ (Season of Mist)

Trondr Nefas’s death in 2012 marked the end of Urgehal, but his bandmates took the final material he wrote and put together ‘Aeons in Sodom’ with the help of a slew of well-known black metal musicians and vocalists. Nocturno Culto, Niklas Kvarforth, Hoest, and Nattefrost (to name a few) all make appearances on the record and deliver their trademark screams and shrieks, but unlike a lot of other albums built around guest spots ‘Aeons in Sodom’ feels a lot more fleshed out. I’m not sure how far into the writing process these songs were before Trondor Nefas passed away, but the final results are just as heavy hitting and in your face as one could want from Urgehal and the over the top vocal performances help to make it a fitting tribute. –Chris Dahlberg

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