THE GRIM PRINCESS – IN ROTATION (JANUARY 2019)
There’s been plenty of whingeing afoot on social media about January being a disappointing month for new metal releases. I don’t agree. Four out of five of my choices below are from January, and I could have easily substituted these with others. As always, a bit of effort and you’ll find what you need – which, of course, you don’t need to be told, as you’re already reading our humble zine. Let’s begin.
After listening to very little on my commute other than symphonic death metal for the past week in prep for two forthcoming reviews, I thought I was going to start having nightmares about being sexually menaced by orchestras. But ‘Singularitäten’, the sophomore album from German classical black metallers FERNDAL, has been a quiet, intimate refuge. I am so glad I found this. Understated, elegant, and accomplished, it’s not symphonic (oh thank Christ), it’s not folk per se – it’s something dazzlingly unique. Though the first album drew comparisons with WINDIR, whom they cite as an inspiration, they have truly crafted something of their own here. The band is composed of founders Sorathiel (bass, vocals), Lestaya (cello) and Sethras (guitar), joined by Abarus (of EÏS, also on guitar), and Hatos (drums). What I find enchanting is that this is not black metal with added classical condiments: it’s black metal that is composed classically, and you can hear the difference. Lestaya, whose cello is an integral part of the arrangements – almost like a third guitar – studied at Münster’s Musikhochschule, and brings some of her colleagues onto the album for a metal-free intermezzo lasting over eight and a half minutes, but it doesn’t feel pointless, skippable or self-indulgent, because it isn’t a dramatic break from the harsher sounds, into which all of the gentler elements are already embedded. Confirming my suspicion that the cello is black metal as fuck, this one is a must-have.
Perhaps 2019 is the year I’ll get into post-black. It’s a bit of a voyage into the unknown for me: the black metal universe is populated with comfortingly familiar landmarks, flora and fauna, and friendly faces (or just.. faces), but anything post- just generally strikes me as reaching out into nothingness (or, ‘to the stars,’ if you will). It’s either frightening or refreshing, or possibly both (or neither, I don’t know you) to move beyond old motifs and think about what else the powerful key ingredients could be used to concoct. Two-man Swedish post/depressive black metal act TOGETHER TO THE STARS don’t bring any baggage with them. Their promo shot paints them as looking achingly young. It’s not immediately obvious what genre they belong to, which does not compute in my world, where all my favourite acts look like end-of-level-boss supergroups. They’d look at home on any council estate here in the UK. Bloody hell, though, they sound majestic. Blindingly bright, sky-high leads take you soaring above multiple dimensions of fucking pain; you don’t know whether you feel elated or godawful. ‘Apathy’ might as well be the anthem for a generation, and I don’t mean that disparagingly: while Franco Fuentes’ vocals are a one-man maelstrom of bloodshot-eyed, vein-necked, disaffected rage and disappointment, the guitar and drums of multi-instrumental talented bastard David Steinmarck seem to talk him down from the ledge by striking notes of determination and a new dawn. I don’t know what it is about razor-sharp shredding over blast beats that makes you feel like you’re literally shedding all of life’s millstones, but these guys do it to perfection, aptly, considering the name they’ve chosen for themselves. And it’s their debut. I can’t get enough of this.
And this is why I love black metal. I love that, empowered by technology, people are claiming it, taking it apart, and putting it back together in a way that is meaningful for them. Hell, you don’t even need any friends. The genre’s like a nature reserve for one-man-bands. I’ve been agreeing recently with likeminded friends on the fantastic potential for the techniques of BM to be repurposed as a vehicle for cultural expression – rather than rehashing the same tired tropes again and again – and this album is a perfect example of what I mean. The WINTER DYNASTY project was devised to honour the mastermind’s adoptive homeland of China through an exploration of its mythology and natural history. I discovered this only recently, enjoying September’s EP ‘Remembering the Gods of Nature’ this month (particularly the haunting piano of the opening track ‘句芒 God of Spring’) and then being taken by happy surprise by the prompt release of this debut full-length, ‘An Ode to Winter’. Combining the sounds of nature and traditional Chinese elements with raw-ish black metal, it is certainly inspiring me to dig deeper into the history of Chinese music and why its techniques might be compatible with those of black metal, because this sounds entirely organic, the rawness only adding to its authenticity; you can’t help but think an over-polished big budget production might actually spoil the effect and look culturally-appropriative rather than culturally-appreciative. Tender, respectful and poetic, I am enchanted by this release, and want to know more.
Only three things do I know about this album: 1) the band are from Chile, 2) they have somehow managed to get both ‘ov’ and ‘kvlt’ into their name and made it look exotic rather than silly, by BM standards, and 3) it is my album of the month. With song titles such as ‘Iconoclastic Nihilismus’ and ‘Hypnoskotomachia Oppositorum’, I don’t know exactly what they are talking about: whatever it is, I’m here for it, but maybe only because they’ve got me under a hex (send help). This is trve örthødo666 black metal, or else an elaborate hoax, with frankly bonkers lyrics (quite as it should be) incanted by Señor Xul, the band’s vocalist, bassist, and, apparently, satanic high priest stepping on a piece of Lego. You know, I don’t even know what a Xul is, whether it is pronounced like the 90s Amiga game Zool or some other way. I’m not sure what an entropic increase is, though presumably it’s some sort of mounting chaos – like this article – and the only reference I can find to an ‘omega aeon’ is on dodgy mobile phone websites that I cannot decipher. In the only review I’ve managed to find at the time of publishing – which I can’t help but read in the voice of Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (God I’m old) – the reviewer made me giggle when he put: ‘While the lyrics are primarily in English and Xul is more intelligible than most black metal singers, I couldn’t quite discern what he wants. On The Primordial Chaos Synthesis, he clearly wants us to give him something but I couldn’t tell what.‘ He reminds me a little of the singer from KHANUS, whose ‘Flammarion’ (2018) is on a fairly similar plane to this and which you must check out. Musically it’s everything my trve heart could ever desire; whilst not being anything new as such, what’s ‘new’ about it in 2019 is that it sounds to me like it could have been a remaster of something from 1994. Glorious, terrifying, frenzied, this one is unmissable.
SCUORN – Parthenope
Release: 25 Feb 2019
SCUORN is the solo project of Giuliano Latte – a perfect name for an Italian if ever I heard one – and despite being released on one of my favourite labels, Dusktone, I missed it the first time round in 2017. SCUORN is ‘Parthenopean epic black metal.’ What does this mean? Parthenope is one of the sirens in Greek mythology, who apparently committed suicide by throwing herself into the sea after her dulcet tones fell on deaf ears with her crush, Odysseus. Her body allegedly washed up on the island of Megaride, on the Gulf of Naples – Naples being where Latte originates from. ‘Parthenope’ is a bombastic blast of symphonic black metal which celebrates the Hellenic and Roman origins of the Neapolitan region, each track retelling tales from the time (such as the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius), exclusively in Italian. It’s impressively executed, incorporating folk elements as well as massive fuck-off orchestrations arranged by STORMLORD‘s Riccardo Studer. Latte formed a live band around the project, and is still touring the album around Europe, though I hope he stops shortly to get on with creating a follow-up album. Interestingly, SCUORN (meaning ‘shame’) has appeared in a recent scholarly publication in an essay about identities in Italian black metal. Having recently interviewed countrymates DEWFALL (stay tuned), I’d be interested in getting my hands on this. Anyway, I won’t stop listening to ‘Parthenope’ any time soon. If you have even a passing interest in the epic or symphonic, check this out. There’s a movie in your ears, and Russell Crowe is playing the lead.
The Grim Princess