Welcome to another installment of Within The Abyss. Each month I review black metal albums, looking at a variety of styles and spotlight bands from around the globe. This month’s albums are by Altarage, Bewitcher, Lucifuge, Nordgeist, Old Forest, Spectral Lore and Wode.
Altarage – Succumb (Season of Mist Underground Activists)
Altarage blur genre lines on their fourth album, Succumb. While the bulk of the album mostly stands on death metal’s hulking shoulders, there are moments of black metal, ambient, drone, and sludge. The death metal we’re talking here is an angular sort reminiscent of Portal, but also brings to mind Morbid Angel. Whether trudging slowly or vehemently blasting, the Spanish group moves through a dirt-caked façade.
Succumb also features a dissonant framework with buzzing lead guitars as heard at the end of “Maneuver.” “Foregone” is a prime example of how they deftly maneuver through all these soundscapes. The vocals are utterly undecipherable due to the effects they use and mix. As mentioned before, death metal reigns but there are a lot of subtleties, especially the black metal, in their style. Succumbis mostly a good listen, but the vocals seem arbitrary and closer “Devorador De Mundos” drones on repetitively for twenty-one minutes.
Bewitcher – Cursed Be Thy Kingdom (Century Media)
Blackened speed metal mongers Bewitcher return with their first album on Century Media Records, Cursed Be Thy Kingdom. The Portland, Oregon act present songs that will summon the devil and the spirit of classic heavy metal. Musically, the band lean hard towards the early 1980s with elements of speed and NWOBHM. Satanic/occult lyrical themes and gruff vocals that would make Cronos proud lend this an early black metal feel with modern production values.
There are plenty of catchy guitar chords, as evidenced by the track “Death Returns.” “Satanic Magick Attack” leads off with a Mercyful Fate “Curse of the Pharaohs” type of riff. Bluesy guitar leads coupled with bass solos add dynamics. “Valley of the Ravens” and “The Widow’s Blade” are two of the best songs, while “Metal Burner” is a tad cliché and cheesy. Cursed Be Thy Kingdom has a nostalgic feeling that is fun and memorable, although sometimes cheesy.
Lucifuge – Infernal Power (Dying Victims)
Germany’s Lucifuge return with Infernal Power, their fourth album in just five years of existence. Lucifuge shares the name of Danzig’s second album, but don’t expect another evil Elvis. Hailing from Germany, the group continues the tradition of early thrash metal from Sodom and Destruction, along with Desaster.
Infernal Power has a mix of thrash, speed, black and heavy metal with punk attitude. The title track kicks off the album in true neck-breaking fashion replete with locomotive, chugging speed picking and vocal hooks. This picking style and pace follows throughout the album, but there are moments where the beat really picks up such “Leviathan Arise,” enforcing the Desaster comparison. “Black Battalions” is another speedy number where heavy metal gallops ride into blasts. “Beneath the Eyes of the Black Flame” and “Midnight Sun” are more characteristic of ‘90s black metal. Infernal Power delivers exactly what its title suggest—bang your head and worship the devil!
Nordgeist – Frostwinter (Kunsthall)
Nordgeist have a name, lyrical outlook and music that may cause one to think the act is from Norway. However, they were conceived in Bratsk, a city in Siberia. The nomadic, Mongol-related Buryat people once held this territory. They have a close relationship with nature. Bratsk has long, cold, dark winters due to its subarctic climate zone.
Nordgeist consists of one mysterious woman known as T. She was certainly inspired by the cold nature of her surroundings when she created Frostwinter. The album is mired in frigid atmosphere created by icy guitar tones. Each of the four songs have a wind-swept quality due to the guitar tones, tremolo picking, and background shrieking. This atmosphere is mesmerizing at first, but the length of each track — four songs clocking in at nearly fifty-two minutes — and repetitiveness result in an album that’s hard to get into.
Old Forest – Mournfall (Death To Music)
Old Forest includes two members of In The Woods, so it’s no surprise their sixth album Mournfall garners comparisons to said band. The medium pace set forth by drummer Kobro has been a key trademark for In The Woods since their early days. Kobold’s eclectic mix of clean and harsh vocals certainly stands out, too, as do his ethereal keys. His voice is colossal and at the same time cold.
The late ‘90s black metal is apparent on Mournfall. Their utilization of keys and guitar harmonies bring to mind Arcturus and Emperor. Classic mournful doom bands such as Paradise Lost and Candlemass also come into play, replete with melancholy lyrics. This direction is very noticeable on “My Haunting Vision” and “Solitude Apocalypse.” The group also include their Sussex Hell Hound 2001 demo. This demo showcases their early, grimmer sound and Sussex folklore-based lyrics. Mournfall is a compelling and unique marriage of early ‘90s doom and black metal.
Spectral Lore – Ετερόφωτος (I, Voidhanger)
Ayloss plays all instruments for the Greek entity Spectral Lore. Following several short-form recordings since 2005, Ετερόφωτος is his fifth full-length album. Ayloss plays an atmospheric style of black metal that is noisy, fast and chaotic but at times progressive with melodic and ambient sections. Each song is lengthy with the longest having a running time of over 19 minutes.
Judging by the opening sections of the first two tracks “Ατραπός” and “The Golden Armor,” one may think this album consists of chaotic speed, but each song undergoes progressive changes in tempo and harmony. Greek-style harmonies are subtle. “The Sorcerer Above The Clouds” is one of the more melodic tracks with a Grecian-style section. “Terean” throws a curveball with over 19 minutes of ambiance. This track could have been shortened. My attention drifted after a few minutes. Overall, this album is quite unique in the Greek scene with layers of guitars and course, howling vocals resulting in swirling atmospheres.
Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors (20 Buck Spin)
Wode’s third album Burn In Many Mirrors is a witches cauldron of black, death and classic heavy metal. The English group doesn’t fixate on just a couple of riffs. Their songs are progressive, melodic and they aren’t afraid to cross genre lines including traditional heavy metal in its anthemic glory.
“Lunar Madness” opens on an epic note with galloping guitars and a Maiden-esque riff. Once the screams cut in, though, one can tell this is something more extreme. Melodic leads pair with tremolo rhythms on “Serpent’s Coil.” While “Sulphuric Glow” contains these aspects, this track is more direct in its black/death attack. Wode place their masterpiece last. The near-ten-minute track “Streams of Rapture (I,II,II)” trades pieces of death with black metal, a dungeon synth opening and trademark melodic guitar leads in the end. Burn In Many Mirrors has all the dark trimmings of a black metal album, but offers greatness in its diversity and grandiosity.