Welcome to the February 2022 installment of Within The Abyss. Each month I shed a light, or darkness, on seven black metal albums, highlighting bands from around the world of various black metal sub-genres. This month’s reviews include Abhoria, Ceremonial Castings, Karmanjaka, Kluizenaer, Mystic Circle, Sivyj Yar and Ultra Silvam.
Abhoria – Abhoria (Prosthetic)
Abhoria’s self-titled effort features some aspects considered traditional and some modern. Lyrically, the group doesn’t adhere to satanic topics. Instead, they created dystopian black metal. This theme seems more in line with death metal, and the modern, polished production certainly conveys that. Also, the group includes members from extreme metal bands like Catheter (death/grindcore) and Vimana (technical death metal) and non-typical-sounding black metal, Ashen Horde.
Abhoria can be fairly straightforward. “Mountebank” and “Byzantine Promises” are fast, aggressive numbers replete with fast picking and kick drumming. Closer “Sunless” is the finest moment of the album. The longest track on the album, the tempo changes, melodic leads and use of clean vocals make this their most diverse song on the recording. A cursory listen of the album reveals somewhat a typical band, and it takes a couple of listens to hear all the changes.
Ceremonial Castings – Our Journey Through Forever (Eisenwald)
After being on hold for a few years, and Jake Superchi focusing on Uada, USBM veterans Ceremonial Castings returned from the abyss in 2020. Now, in celebration of the groups 25th anniversary they re-recorded tracks for Our Journey Forever, a two-album set containing 18 re-recorded tracks and two new songs.
The 20 tracks present a much cleaner, modern production. These re-recorded songs are presented in a way the band intended. This compilation showcases why Ceremonial Castings are one of the elite bands in the USBM scene. The new recordings fit much better with the symphonic style the group present. This symphonic style draws comparisons to Dimmu Borgir and Old Man’s Child, but they use death metal elements. These elements include death metal riffs and growling vocals. While there are plenty of great riffs, the atmosphere and mood of the keys make their “bewitching black metal” enchanting. Our Journey Through Forever is a good sign of what’s to come.
Karmanjaka – Gates Of Muspel (Grind To Death)
Karmanjaka’s music is rugged and harsh, yet at the same time majestic and melodic. Perhaps their homeland in the northernmost, coldest and most desolate parts of Sweden inspired their music. Without a doubt, the group was inspired by their Viking ancestors. Karmanjaka’s third album Gates Of Muspel is mostly based on actual stories from The Poetic Edda, the main source of Norse Mythology. The group animates these stories through a melody-driven, progressive style of black metal.
The title track kicks off the album, blazing forth with blast beats and windswept tremolo picking that gives way to something much more epic in scope. It has epic guitar melodies, clean singing and keyboards — qualities that captivated fans of early Rotting Christ, Borknagar and Enslaved. Pink Floyd fans should enjoy the bluesy solos. Grandiose, harmoniously lush and very memorable, Gates Of Muspel one of the best black metal albums of this early year.
Kluizenaer – Ein Abbild Der Leere (Wolves of Hades)
German atmospheric/ambient black metal act Kluizenar titled their second album Ein Abbild Der Leere, which translates to “A Depiction of Emptiness.” This is an apt title for the dreary, dark audio shroud the group creates. Keys are loud and the tortured vocals are set low in the mix. Often the guitar drones slowly while loud drums pound fast, making for an off-timed duality.
On paper, the album seems like an EP with only four songs. However, those four songs span the duration of nearly 39 minutes. It’s not head banging black metal like blackened thrash records. It is more of a meditative record, especially during bleak ambient sections including the opening black-hole breeze of “Verewigung” and the haunting instrumental track “Olgotze.” “Stylit” includes majestic keys a clean guitar passage and low-chiming bells make The ambient energy is not unlike Xasthur, but the tempo changes and pulverizing drums give Kluizenaer its own flavor.
Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle (Atomic Fire)
Some within the black metal community consider only satanic black metal to be true black metal. This being the case, Mystic Circle’s self-titled album exudes the essence of true black metal. Each of the nine original tracks invoke and praise Satan and his various incarnations and cohorts. Hell is imagined with its demons rising from the depths of the fiery pit. Its damned creations materialize in both male and female flesh.
Each of the songs, including Possessed’s “Death Metal” have catchy refrain. Keyboards and symphonic intros help realize atmosphere, but are a secondary implement for relating the album’s wickedness. Chants of “Satan” and “Lucifer” create memorable sections on “Darkness in Flames” and “Satanic Mistress.” “Letters to the Devil” includes a sinister narration at the end. Mystic Circle’s leaves an indelible cloven-hoof print in the blackened earth of the left-hand path.
Sivyj Yar – Golden Threads (Avantgarde)
Sivyj Yar are a one-man black metal band from St. Petersburg, Russia. Multi-instrumentalist Vladimir has released several black metal full-lengths and short form recordings. However, his new album Golden Threads shows him taking a different direction. This album is completely instrumental and acoustic.
Vladimir considers the album as “neo-medieval nocturnes.” I’m not sure what he means by the “nocturnes” part as the album doesn’t really convey night or darkness. Much of the album is quite beautiful and “sunny,” as reflected in song titles such as “Hear My Voice in the Spring Breeze” and “Footsteps Shimmer Silver in the Dew.” The instrumentation is very Eastern European in that the main instrument is a Novgorod gusli, a close relative of the Finnish kantele. Золотые нити/Golden Threads is not a black metal album, per se, but it does relate sounds one might hear on a pagan black metal album, possibly during an intro.
Ultra Silvam – The Sanctity Of Death (Shadow)
Ultra Silvam’s sophomore album The Sanctity Of Death reveals the band’s Swedish origins. Devo Andersson of Marduk fame recorded the album. Knowing that fact imprints a Marduk influence, particularly in the vocals. That influence is certainly there, especially in the band’s lust for violent speed. Swedish-style guitar harmonies play a major part in their sound. The album is bluntly straight forward in its attack, yet also nuanced and layered with unhinged guitar leads laid over top of raging rhythms.
A distorted, thrashy bass line jump starts the album on opener “Dies Irae.” Their focus on the bass make the album an enticing listen. Bass once again outlines coming chords on a section in “Of Molded Bread and Rotten Wine.” It’s well-worth your time to make it to this end track for its superbly-constructed, memorable rhythms. The Sanctity Of Death is an engaging listen with a manageable running time of just over a half-hour.