Sacred Son – Sacred Son (Self-titled)

Sacred Son - Sacred Son

Label: Self-released

I’m sure every blogger and writer approaches their reviews differently, but here’s the case for me: about half the time, I won’t even look at an album’s artwork until a few spins have gone by. We all know that presentation influences our perceptions of a record, and so getting the opportunity to listen to something without seeing the artwork can be a boon, helping ensure that judgments made on the music are based on the music itself, not the packaging.

Yet, there’s no denying the importance of artwork to a record, and it’s because of this that Second Son have been gathering some unwelcome attention recently in the underground metal press. Rather than some monochrome Transilvanian Hunger knock-off, or lurid depiction of Satan or the horrors of humanity, Sacred Son is presented with a photo of sole member Dane Cross on his holidays, looking pretty happy with life. Frankly, if people are taking issue with Sacred Son simply because of that, then it’s further proof of how concerned with image (rather than music) parts of the black metal underground are; and it’s their loss, because the music contained within is uncompromising, forceful, and in large parts, every bit as grim as the cover isn’t.

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One Master / Ninhursag – Split

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Label: Eternal DeathRed River Family Records

Regular readers will know that I hold Eternal Death Records in high regard, considering them to be one of the most consistent and discerning bastions of underground extreme metal in the US. You’ll also know that I consider Eternal Death regulars One Master to be one of the most under-rated bands in modern USBM, with their ferocious brand of black metal being consistently devastating. Following hot on the heels of their excellent full-length, Lycanthropic Burrowing, comes a new split release with Ninhursag, a co-release with Red River Family Records, that sees One Master unleash some of their most ferocious music yet; whilst Ninhursag’s take on black metal is more other-worldly and cold, yet no less effective for it.

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In Twilight’s Embrace – Vanitas

In Twilights Embrace - Vanitas artwork

Label: Arachnophobia Records

The best black metal isn’t always the most immediate. It’s a genre where there is much to be explored in the shadows, with subtle changes, repetition, and a general disregard for convention often holding the most potential. Yet there’s also a good number of bands playing black metal who can take you by the throat, and it only takes a single play of their album for you to understand just how good they are. The new album from Poland’s In Twilight’s Embrace, Vanitas, is one such example. This is black metal with all superfluous elements removed, streamlined in to its most deadly form, unleashing an all-out assault right from the start with great results.

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Syn Ze Sase Tri – Zaul Mos

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Label: Code666

First off: that artwork. It continues the themes presented on previous covers but taken to an even higher degree, and it sure is striking, what with it’s crusader style central figure and its heavenly wolves and its general OTT power metal-ness. Yet press play on the album, and the music is just as striking, in a far more impressive manner. Combining symphonic metal with that sense of Transylvanian darkness and mystery that Negura Bunget laid down the template for, as well as a progressive edge that recalls Arcturus, Zaul Mos – the fourth album by Syn Ze Sase Tri – is a grandiose, dramatic album of progressive, pagan black metal that is far more serious and striking than initial reactions to its artwork may suggest.

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Death Vanish / Misanthropos – Split

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Label: Eternal Death

There’s a lot of black metal out there. It’s a statement so obvious it barely needs saying, but the amount of music being released under what was originally the most inward-looking and hostile of extreme metal sub-genres is, frankly, absurd. And a lot of it is absolute, utter shit, too. It can be depressing, going through hordes of new releases and demos in the hopes of finding something worth your time. But sometimes, you’ll strike gold, and come upon something that makes it all worthwhile. The new split between Death Vanish and Misanthropos is one such example. Put bluntly, this is incredible, and should be mandatory listening for anyone interested in black metal in 2017.

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Abandoned By Light – Melancholia

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Label: Self-released

DSBM is a considerably broad church now, to the extent that, as a descriptive on its own, it’s almost meaningless. Encompassing everything from the most melodic moments of introspection, to drawn-out odes of nihilism, the genre has grown considerably, especially in the last ten years. Solo act Abandoned By Light‘s fifth album, Melancholia, situates itself firmly in the darkest end of the sub-genre, with guitars that move between jarring dissonance and frostbitten melodies competing with hate-filled vocals and merciless drums. Much like the artwork, the only shades to be found here are different hues of black, and that is both the strength and weakness of Melancholia.

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Hellgoat – Blasphemy From Serpent Tongues

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Label: Boris Records

It says something about the nature of underground black metal that Blasphemy From Serpent Tongues sounds as if it could have been released at any point between last month and twenty-five years ago. Originally released on CD in 2005, the debut full-length from Hellgoat is now being re-released on vinyl by Boris Records. It’s easy to hear why they’ve chosen to reissue it; aside from timing with a run of US shows, the album is a darkly powerful piece of raw black metal from a time before such a style was as fashionable or over-populated as it is now. It may not be all that original, but when the music is full of such force and Satanic fervor, it’s hard to argue against it.

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