Welcome (to Hell) to the first installment of Within The Abyss! Each month I present reviews of several black metal albums of various styles including symphonic black metal, black/speed, black/death, traditional black metal, post black metal, pagan black metal and whatever blackened forms come this way. This month we look at albums by Empyrean Fire, Grabunhold, Hulder, Malakhim, Rvbber Witch, Sagenland and Yoth Iria.
Empyrean Fire – Deliverance (Heavy Gloom)
Deliverance is the debut album by Portland, Oregon’s Empyrean Fire. The album is a concept record based on the epic poems Paradise Lost and Paradise Regain by John Milton. Frontwoman Tricia Myers spent years piecing together this concept in a symphonic black metal package similar to Emperor and Dimmu Borgir.
Although the album is the brainchild of Myers, her vocals are a secondary device. Her witchy voice combines with shrieks and growls to form a dark, diverse vocal trio. What listeners will take away most from this album is the mystical keys. There is a dark light that shines on the rise and fall of the keys. Although there are moments of tremolo picking, the guitar tones are quite warm for black metal. There is even a hint of groove on “Gathering Storm.” “Perdition” is a personal favorite. The keys and vocals harmonize well here to create a powerful hook.
Grabunhold – Heldentod (Iron Bonehead)
Heldentod is the debut full-length from Grabunhold. Having formed in 2016 and released the Unter dem Banner der Toten EP in 2019, the German group are new to the global black metal scene. Lyrically and atmospherically, Heldentod presents melancholic and Tolkien themes.
As often heard in black metal, the drums hit hard and fast while the guitars mostly work within mid-paces. The tremolo sound of the guitars is harmonious, and often bears resemblance to Finnish bands. Saturated in reverb, the guitars have a mesmerizing effect. “Flammen und Schatten” opens with a medieval riff. “Trommeln in der Tiefe” is an instrumental in the vein of Summoning. One of the catchiest riffs comes when the action kicks in on “Wolkenbruch über Amon Sul,” which is reminiscent of Emperor’s “Ye Entrancemperium.” There are several moments of clean guitars. A couple of clean vocal parts bring to mind early Enslaved. Heldentod is a powerful record in its forlorn and triumphant compositions.
Hulder – Godslastering Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry (Iron Bonehead)
Godslastering Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry is the debut full-length by the Cascadian black metal project (by way of Belgium), Hulder. The term “project” fits better than group since Hulder consists of just one person, Hulder.
Hulder’s voice is fierce and primal, but she shows versatility on “A Forlorn Peasant’s Hymn” with an alluring siren song of a willowy tongue. This is really just a melodic intro, though, as the song takes off into the sanguinary pastures that characterizes the album. Overall, the album has a woodsy, pagan vibe not unlike the first couple of Satyricon albums. While blasting and tremolo picking are abundant, there are many melodic passages complete with synth and acoustic guitar. The acoustic guitar and flute pairing on “Sown in Barren Soil” certainly bring to mind “dark medieval times.” Godslastering Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry is perfectly balanced between savagery and mystical melody.
Malakhim – Theion (Iron Bonehead)
Following two short releases, Sweden’s Malakhim present their first full-length album, Theion. Being from Sweden comes with certain expectations, which the group have met. Their sound is genuinely Sweden in the spirit of Dark Funeral. One would expect blasting drums and those appear with power, but not overpowering the mix. The mix allows each instrument to breathe and be heard.
Theion is a black metal album that gives more than one hail to Satan, but there are hints of death metal and thrash. “Hammer of Satan” does exactly what the title suggest with a deathly opening complete with a guitar solo that sounds like it came from the red hands of the devil himself. The album has riffs seemingly riding fiery maelstroms into a the center of oblivion. Theion isn’t really bringing anything new to the table; however, fans of Sweden’s evil traditions will bow to it faithfully.
Rvbber VVitch – Mastvrbations Malveillantes MMXVII (Werewolf)
Rvbber VVitch play industrial music, but not the kind you can dance to. Sole member Rubber Witch reps the BDSM lifestyle in sonic format. Her debut album Mastvrbations Malveillantes MMXVII, released two years ago via Bandcamp, finds its first CD release via Werewolf Records. The Montréal, Quebec native presents an eclectic and unique audio vision that combines black metal, dark ambient, industrial, and experimental.
Mastvrbations Malveillantes MMXVII requires an attentive listen to understand this noisy, harsh affair. A Midi drum machine provides the electronic pulse to layers of distorted guitar, bass and voice. The crackling sound of guitar and bass weaves dark, caustic textures. Pounding synthetic drums push the action, but the drums often stop as songs head into a tunnel of cold ambiance.
Sagenland – Oale groond (Heidens Hart)
Dutch pagan metal group Sagenland present their debut album Oale ground. While this is their first full offering, three of the songs appeared on the 2005 split with Vargulf. However, don’t expect a mere rehashing of those songs. The newer versions reveal a cleaner, louder production while still retaining the essence of the originals.
The album begins with the intro track “Weer thuss,” which is very minimal, consisting of a single mournful horn. “De jammerklachten van Singraven-eerste deel” follows with hammering drums, rich tremolo-picked guitars, barbarous harsh vocals and hollow bass sounds. The riffs are catchy on this track and throughout the album. The tremolo riffing instills cold harmony in their sound, as do the numerous acoustic guitar passages. There are also epic, clean-voiced choirs dispersed throughout the album. Fans of early Ulver and Garm-era Borknagar take notice. Triumphant and forlorn, the spirit of ‘90s black metal is alive and thriving on Oale groond.
Yoth Iria – As The Flame Withers (Pagan)
Yoth Iria’s debut full-length As The Flame Withers is the product of three former members of Rotting Christ. Rotting Christ founding member Jim Mutilator joins vocalist The Magus (also Necromantia) and session guitarist George Emanuel. Mutilator played on seminal Greek black metal albums: Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract and Varathron’s His Majesty at the Swamp. As The Flame Withers has a definite European metal sound with obvious nods to Rotting Christ.
“The Great Hunter” opens the album and provides a preview of what’s to come — melodic leads, raspy vocals and blasting drums. Instrumentally, the band become more diverse and epic. For instance, “The Mantis” makes grandiose use of brass, kettle drums, choirs and a victorious riff from the school of Manowar. These parts help visualize the mythology of antiquity depicted in the intelligible lyrics. As The Flame Withers is an early year-end top contender that not only references newer Rotting Christ, but also the never-ending flame of old school metal.