Various Artists – Hammer Smashed Faith IV

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Label: Blackened Death Records

And so, all good things come to an end. Well, sort of. Hammer Smashed Faith IV is set to be the last in Blackened Death Records’ regular compilations of artists drawn from all corners of the metal, noise, and neofolk underground. Instead, the label is moving towards genre-specific compilations; a move that makes sense in a way, given how diverse these compilations are. Still, it will be a shame to see such eclectic releases come to an end, but Hammer Smashed Faith IV is a fine way for the series to bow out.

It begins with Moloch from Ukraine, and their excellent “Nur Der Tod Ist Wirklich”. Atmospheric black metal that is atypically concise, it maintains the band’s high standards and is a fine opening track. “Gates Of Beleth” from Skiddaw follows, taking a more Gorgoroth-inspired route that is every bit as punishing as you’d hope, with some very frost-bitten touches giving the track real viciousness. Serbian black metal act Paganus Diabolous offer up a more raw, depressive black metal journey with “Burnt Black Wings”. The raw production gives the song a real bleak, murky atmosphere, which perfectly suits the negativity it seeks to convey; it’s far from a pleasant track, but black metal like this doesn’t seek to be.

Following three tracks of black metal, Severe Lacerations‘ brand of death metal sounds all the more punishing on “Grim Harvest”. It’s a heads-down, no-nonsense piece of death/thrash metal devastation, sure to induce headbanging, as is “Odin Among Us” by Black Mountain Thunder, which finds the common ground between riff-heavy sludge and heavy metal with great results. Detention from Kazakhstan follow with “Ambivalence”, which recalls different periods of Katatonia in its mix of death/doom heaviness and melancholic goth-tinged rock songwriting, albeit with female vocals. It’s surprise finds like this which make me so fond of the Hammer Smashed Faith compilations, and the label deserve credit for finding and promoting such obscure acts.

Following track “The Eyes Will Be Sewn Shut At Dawn” from Lykankult goes in a totally different direction. This is raw black metal, full of malice and hate, that nonetheless shows progression and improved songwriting from the Children Of Wotan demo (reviewed here). Neofolk solo act Elk then offer “Wōđanaz”, which is almost trace-like thanks to its minimalist, repetitive nature. Surprisingly, the contrast does not harm either band, their differences serving to highlight both of their strengths.

It’s then that the only real disappointment comes for me, with Müllet and their “Balls Of Metal.” You can pretty much guess where it’s going to go before it starts; “comedy” 80’s metal that is catchy, sure, but it’s really not my thing. It’s really not fair of me to pass judgement on the band; comedy bands of any style have never been something I’ve liked. There’s worse things you could listen to if you wanted something designed to make you laugh, though.

Going back in a direction I’m in favour of are Scumblack with “Brainless”, taken from their Ceocracy record (reviewed here), which still sounds great. Formicarius have been getting a lot of underground buzz in the UK black metal scene, and it’s not hard to see why. Their track “Lake Of The Dead” is a strong example of how symphonic black metal still has something to offer in 2016; it may not do anything too new with the style, but what it does do, it does superbly. The demo production is a plus, too.

The following track, “Concrete Union” by Miyazaki Incident, is an endurance test, plain and simple. Eighteen and a half minutes of harsh noise is a lot for anyone to listen to, especially when it’s as relentless as this. There’s the odd hint of melody or rhythm that sometimes rises out of the static, but it’s soon warped and twisted in Dadaist ways. You won’t enjoy it, but then, you’re not meant to.

Much more palatable is the doom/proto-metal from Reclvse on their track “Evil Lurks”, which has such a retro sound and vibe that it could quite conceivably come from some lost slab of early 70’s vinyl found in the basement of a second hand record store. It’s got groove, dark vibes, and I absolutely love it.

So! A fitting end to an excellent series of compilations. Blackened Death Records set high standards with these eclectic mixes, and I hope that their genre-specific releases can maintain them. Given the quality of the label’s other releases though, I doubt that will be a problem.

Hammer Smashed Faith IV can be streamed and downloaded via Bandcamp.

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