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.
London-based Vetala Productions have been (not-so) quietly putting out some of the better records to be found in the underground in recent times, with releases from the like of Unyielding Love, Dark Mother, and Art Of Burning Water. The latest addition to their roster is two-piece powerviolence band BOYED, whose self-titled EP is a no-nonsense, ten minute slice of viciousness, with a few slowed-down, sludgey moments to add extra dimensions to the record. But the focus really is on playing loud, fast, and violently, and BOYED absolutely nail it.
Pope Richard seems like the kind of guy who’s never satisfied unless he’s creating something. As well as running Blackened Death Records, he’s also the creative force behind over a dozen different bands, the latest release from which is the self-titled album as Takhisis. The album serves up 40 minutes of crushing occult doom, full of catchy hooks and powerful riffs, but more than that, it’s possessed of a dark, subtly seductive atmosphere, full of clandestine sorcery and secret gatherings. It also feels like one of the most confident, assured records that Pope Richard has put his name to, and considering the consistent quality of his records, that’s quite something.
If any style can be said to capture the zeitgeist of black metal over the past few years – in the way that the Scandinavian second wave did in the mid-90’s, or symphonic did a few years after that – it would be atmospheric black metal. And as with any (relatively) popular style of music, there are a lot of dull, uninspired records being made that aim to be atmospheric and hypnotic, but simply end up feeling dull and boring. So, it makes the discovery of a record like the self-titled album from Kval all the more special. It may be easily recognisable as the nature-inspired atmospheric black metal we all know and (possibly) love, but Kval has a sense of character, strength, and aura that is all too rare.
Sometimes, the most disturbing aspects in art are the most human. Whilst extra-dimensional Lovecraftian creatures and blasphemous demons may have their own type of power and horror, they can be as nothing when compared with a well-placed spoken word sample. SWVMPS by rabitrup is proof of that were any ever needed. The music itself is powerful enough, mixing industrial, harsh noise, and even dubstep elements in to a challenging listen. But what really makes this three-track EP horrifying are the spoken word samples, which give the music extra context and power. If you’re feeling emotionally fragile or downcast, this is a record to avoid; but, if you want an experience of staring in to the void that is humanity, press ahead.
Following on from Part I, which can be read here, here is the second installment of my favourite releases from this year; still in alphabetical order, and still full of awesome, wonderfully diverse music. The top five will follow soon, along with a few other reflections on the past year. But in the meantime, enjoy!
There’s something that’s quite disarmingly charming about the self-titled EP from London indie/emo band Arkless. The clean, angular melodies and restless nature of the songs gives them an instant appeal, topped off with sung-spoken vocals that are all the more powerful for how understated they are. There’s nothing here that attempts to overwhelm the listener; it’s very much a record to get swept up in, carried along by the melodies and energy that Arkless put across in an almost effortless manner.