Welcome to another installment of Within The Abyss. Each month I dissect albums from the global black metal scene with regard to the various sub-genres. This month’s reviews are Baxaxaxa, Dødsferd, Moon Oracle, Netherbird, Thyrfing, Viserion and Wormwood.
Baxaxaxa – Catacomb Cult (The Sinister Flame)
Don’t let an inability to spell or pronounce the name Baxaxaxa deter you from listening to the group. Their debut full-length Catacomb Cult, an album nearly 30 years in the making, is a solid long-form recording. Those familiar with their demos, EP and split understand the venomous potency of their music, and the wait was well worth it as Catacomb Cult delivers in the tradition of past efforts.
The album is steeped in the second wave of black metal from which the group emerged, but it’s hardly a carbon copy. Eerie, coherent vocals, mid-tempos, atmosphere and doom metal movements make this a signature album. Gothic ringing bells, diabolic string play, sinister doom and ethereal keys denote the direction of the album on the title track opener. Pagan tribalism pervades throughout “Walpurgis Dancers.” While I think their 2019 demo The Old Evil was a slightly better effort, Catacomb Cult is a stellar album any occult-obsessed black metal fan should hear.
Dødsferd – Suicide And The Rest Of Your Kind Will Follow Part II (FYC)
Part II of Suicide And The Rest Of Your Kind Will Follow marks the Greek band’s 20th anniversary. Dødsferd mastermind Wrath wrote the music and lyrics in total solitude. Sticking with misanthropic themes of past efforts, he penned an album of stark melancholy and melody. While the black metal sections recall past DSBM-inspired compositions, this is no mere depressive suicidal black metal album.
The two-track album looks like an EP on the surface, but with a total running time around 35 minutes it’s definitely a long-play recording. Each track is progressive and moody. Both songs are slow and moody, but speed builds as do the dynamics. Instrumentally, the album is diverse with emotive use of cello, flute, acoustic guitar and saxophone. Wrath’s vocals vary too from tortured shrieks to growls and clean narratives. Suicide And The Rest Of Your Kind Will Follow is the most expansive, emotion-driven album of Wrath’s career—his magnum opus in all its glory.
Moon Oracle – Muse Of The Nightside (Signal Rex)
Moon Oracle possess a sound uncommon for black metal—black/doom metal. The Finnish entity’s first full-length Muse Of The Nightside contains a crunchy bass at the top of the mix combined with their take on doom for a sound that falls somewhere between Necromantia and early Autopsy. They keep the tempo diverse with slow-paced ring outs, churning mid-tempos and blasting fast tempos. The production values are grimy and ancient.
While certain bands come to mind like those listed above, Moon Oracle’s sound does stand out. The band’s description excited me, but there are some aspects of the album that keep it from being a masterpiece. The drum sound is quite bad, and the album is too short. Three of the six songs clock in at under 3 minutes, which left me thinking “that’s it?” With a running time near twenty-five minutes, it’s easy to get to the best track, the last track, “The 10th Hour.”
Netherbird – Arete (Eisenwald)
Netherbird exemplify the type of extreme metal derived from their homeland, Sweden. One would expect that having boasted members of such vaunted bands as At The Gates, Dark Funeral and Amon Amarth (current drummer Fredrik Andersson). Arete, their sixth full-length album, is mired in Sweden’s melodic sounds, straddling the fence between death and black metal. There are sections recalling all of those bands and Dissection.
Intro “Âme damnée” details impending darkness through various sounds such as thunder, keys, whispers and clean guitar tones. Tremolo-picked guitars create an emotional journey on tracks such as “Infernal Vistas” and “The Silence of Providence.” “Atrium of the Storm” has an epic scope with various tempo changes, soaring leads and rich acoustic guitar. Solos are one of the album’s premium qualities. With Arete, Netherbird complete a brilliant album trilogy.
Thyrfing – Vanagandr (Despotz)
Swedish pagan/Viking metal veterans Thyrfing return with Vanagandr, their first album in eight years. Former Naglfar singer Jens Rydén has been at the helm since their 2008 Hels vite album. He provides a good combo of black metal rasp and clean, awe inspiring choir voices. His cleans sound as if they were sent directly from Valhalla’s golden halls. Medieval rhythms, lyrics sung in Swedish and use of folk instrumentation (violin) by way of keys further add to the pagan/Viking theme of Vanagandr.
“Rötter” has one of the album’s best medieval/folk guitar chords guaranteed to get mead horns swinging. Joakim Kristensson’s keys combined with the melodic guitar play of Patrik Lindgren and Fredrik Hermborg give a grandiose spin with songs like closer “Jordafärd.” They swing a mighty axe on “Undergångens länkar” and “Träldomsord,” while injecting heaps of melodies. With Vanagandr being their eight album, Thyrfing continue their streak of consistent, victorious hymns to the Northlands.
New York’s Viserion offer their first full-length album, Natural Selection. The title presents a fitting concept for a black metal album — only the strong survive and nature can be cruel and unforgiving. The cover art of a lion carrying a skull stripped of flesh attached to its spinal chord is gruesome yet natural. It sets the tone for their ‘90s-influenced black metal owing to bands such as Mayhem, Darkthrone and Behemoth.
Viserion switch between black and death chords. The vocals also show this duality with black shrieks as the main course and death growls as a side dish. “The Wraith” features death metal groove and guest growls by Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder. Melodic chords gently add a nightmarish effect to the gravelly tones on “Tortured Soul.” Natural Selection is bound to keep listeners’ attention with its incendiary guitar tones and abundance of catchy, tremolo picking.
Wormwood – Arkivet (Black Lodge)
Wormwood’s third full-length album Arkivet continues the tradition of melodic black metal laid down in Sweden. Cold tremolo picking results in a desolation that supports their bleak theme of humanity destroying the earth. Blast beats imbue the album with speed and the vocals are harsh; however, guitar harmonies push over the top to characterize the album’s melodic nature.
“The Archive” opens the album with blast beats and harmonized guitars, thus defining what’s to come. The middle section of the song takes a bluesy, Pink Floydish turn before returning to an emotional black metal setting. This part really stands out and shows the band’s diversity. The album also reveals diverse instrumentation. “My Northern Heart” and “Ensamheten” include violin and other folk instruments. The vocals are also diverse with some shouted parts and a smidge of cleans. Emotional, diverse, fierce yet melodic; Arkivet is another must-have album for fans of melodic Swedish black metal.