The triumphant return of Sognametal is here, with the new album by legendary Vreid. Following in the spirit of originator Windir, the band freely creates their own brand of black metal, quite distinct from the overall Norwegian sound but also very much a part of it. ‘Lifehunger’ is the eight full-length of Vreid.
We also have to mention Ulcus, since the Sogndál metal network is small and cohesive. Their music shaped through the years into something more melodic and accessible, with war-themes. In fact, I sometimes have to think of Loits in that context as much as of Kalmah, but hey. I’m thinking out of the box here.
The melancholic intro of ‘Flowers & Blood’ promises much as an acoustic guitar casts a moonlit setting for this album. As a prelude, it opens up for ‘One Hundred Years’, which combines the penchant for the epic and melancholic that Enslaved and Opeth have perfected. The sound is tight and polished, with the occasional marching beat as displayed on the title track keeping everything as tight and organized as possible. In that sense, Vreid follows the trajectory of bands like Satyricon to a more vitalistic and rigid sound.
The vocals are particularly captive, sounding like a vicious snarl that bites and snaps at the listener with fury. Yet, on ‘Hello Darkness’, we have the big outsider track. Clean vocals and maybe even a little nod to the true masters of darkness Simon & Garfunkel here? It’s mellow vibe and acoustic parts are truly dark though and capturing a different kind of melancholy. The rest of the album kinda picks up the pace again with steady quality, catchy riffs and a razorsharp bit of songwriting. I don’t know if anyone ever thought Vreid was gone, but then they’re back with a vengeance with killer tracks like ‘Sokrates Must Die’.
Label: Relapse Records Band: Trappist Origin: United States
Trappist is maybe one of the coolest bands to come out of the woodwork in recent times with their beer-inspired thrash-core-metal. The group has embraced the moniker (pun intended) of the famous brewing monks you mostly find in Belgium, and plays fast and loud on their debut album ‘Ancient Brewing Tactics’.
Having earned their name and fame in Spazz, Infest, Despise You, Crom, Killed in Action and probably tons more, its a group of musicians who work on auto-pilot and I guess also on beer. The guys also had a joined podcast, named ‘Hour of the Barbarian’, which sparked their collaboration for this project of beer-infused thrashing, which is actually pretty damn good when you check it out and get into it.
Much of the tunes are fast-paced, straight-ahead thrashy d-beaty metalpunk, with a lot of fun, tongue-in-cheek and energy. ‘No Soldier Left Behind’ is instant screaming mayhem, with a fast pace and some intense guitar torturing. Meaty riffs, chunky drums and a burly, brawling set of vocals combine for an excellent, fun-packed pile of beer-soaked songs. Titles like ‘This means Wort’ or ‘Giving the Boot To Rheinheitsgebot’ are simply hilarious. The last is actually a strangely mellow song, allowing you to just roar along while raising a pint.
There’s something profoundly visceral about the music, much like a night of intense beer drinking it leaves you wondering what’s what with the almost uncontrolled ramblings on ‘Frank The Tank’. Then it launches into some classic metal riffing, deliciously! Following is the new anthem for hardcore craft beer drinkers ‘No Corporate Beer’, a tune for the masses. Yet, lets not forget ’99 Problems (But a Beer Ain’t One)’, as the perennial classic or ‘Wolves in the Taproom’, an obvious reference to Wolves in the Throne Room.
Insect Ark is Dana Schechter (bass, lap steel guitar, synthesizers) and Ashley Spungin (drums, synthesizers). These two ladies have a knack for perfectly executed doom/drone with heavy atmospheric overtones. Their latest effort is called ‘Marrow Hymns’.
The duo has been working their musical magic since 2012 when they dropped their debut ‘Collapsar/Piledriver’. Dana Schechter has played with Gnaw, Arabrot, Locrian, BeeandFlower and also does film scores. Ashley Spungin worked with Taurus, NegativeQueen, and Normus. Together, that means a pile of experience in creating tunes that truly hit home… and hit hard.
The word cinematic has often been used in conjunction with this band, but there is a very good reason for it. The droning, meandering sound is never meant to just pummel you, but slithers around, enveloping you in the atmosphere that the duo desires to unleash. The whining guitar on ‘Arp 9’ instantly works as a brush on a canvas, painting the illuminated visions of Dana Schlechter on bass. The unity in the sound is so particular, it creates a harmony that unnoticed, submerges the listener.
Dreamy is indeed a captivating term for the music of the duo, but at times those drums hit you in the head with unrelenting force. On ‘Skin Walker’, walls of sound hit like a tidal wave with a massive force. It’s eerie, how they so easily switch from post-rocky soundscapes to pulverizing doom. You hardly notice the switch even. One of my favorites is the track ‘Sea Harps’, with embraces grandeur and that feeling of nautical doom metal. The scratchy strings and foreboding drumming evoke the surging tide of the waves, holding the tension up and then let it all flow out. Perfectly.
At times drones and distortion create peculiar sonic tapestries, warm sounds, and cold electronics. It all culminates in the harrowing outro ‘Daath’. A track that just eats you alive in all its industrial buzzing and droning. What an exceptional piece of music here, by these doomsters.
The Flanders band Theudho has been ravaging the shores and land with their pagan black metal for a good 15 years. Having left behind their original Scandinavian signs, the band is now using the proto-Germanic word for ‘people’ or ‘nation’ as a name. Maybe ‘folk’ captures it better. The band has actually been very prolific and part of a number of tribute compilations throughout the years.
In 2016, Theudho returned to being a one-man outfit under the creative guidance of Jurgen S., who also played in a number of different projects, amongst his recently established SlitheringDecay. ‘De Roep van het Woud’ is a record in the best pagan metal tradition, embracing the natural realm as inspiration and topic. Inspiration is also derived from Scandinavian stories, which is always a good thing.
Brisk black metal finds itself interchanging with soothing passages through the woods. At those moments, the vocals also turn to a speaking form, proclaiming the will of the woods. Some unexpected breaks hit the listener during ‘Waar Kraaien de Ondergang Bezingen’. The lyrics are sung in Belgian with an unearthly voice. Belgian, for those that are confused, here means the Flemish Dutch. The sound of Theudho is strong, firm and very well crafted. The repetitive nature harks back to the originators, such as Bathory and perhaps a harkening to the likes of current-day Darkthrone with that raw, direct sound.
Nowhere this sound comes out as clearly as on ‘De Boom van Hakiloheim’, with jagged, violent riffing and vocals barked in harmony with their onslaught. It’s a similar vibe that you get a little later on ‘Slangentongen’ and the vitalist ‘Saksenslacht’. Songs with a cold fury, impersonal but burning with force. Synths add the needed atmosphere here and there, enhancing the black metal that clasps on to you like the resin from the endless trees of the primordial forests that are sung about by Theudho.
We leave the realm of Theudho with the atmospheric outro track ‘Het gedrocht in de diepte’, which leaves you with the sense of foreboding doom and ever-present evil. It’s a great way to end on a high note I suppose.
Metal pops up in many places, but it appears that the remote and cold has a particular attraction to many artists. It creates a specific kind of man, living in those places and that means a particular type of music. Mistwalker and the affiliated projects on the collective ViridianRecords are such entities from the far north and distinct they are indeed.
Greg Sweetapple comes from the coast of Newfoundland originally but has since changed his native Glovertown for Montréal. The hard life and special nature of his home still affect his music though, and probably always will as the project shapes up and new creativity flows.
Greg was kind enough to answer some of my questions about his music and the place he comes from.
Hello! Could you tell me something more about yourself?
Well, my full name is Greg Sweetapple (yes, that’s actually my real surname). I’m originally from a small town on the east coast of Newfoundland called Glovertown, whose population is only about 2000 people. In the summer of 2017 I moved to Montreal, Quebec and I’m still here at the moment.
How did you get into music and what projects are you involved in?
Believe it or not, my first musical love was ABBA, mostly because my dad used to listen to ABBA Gold in the cassette deck in our family car when I was a kid. But my first introduction to heavy music was “Iron Swan” by TheSword, which was a righteous kick in the ass if there ever was one for the pre-teen version of me. When I got older I started to mess around with drums, either in the music room at my school or at my friends’ houses, until eventually, I got my own. I played in a couple of bands during high school, but nothing too major. Then when I went to college I couldn’t bring my drums with me because I moved into a tiny apartment building and drums are way too loud for that sort of setting. So I brought my electric guitar with me and decided to learn to play that instead. After about a year I finally decided to try and record something with the serious intent behind it, thanks to my friend Aaron Powell (Fog Lake) who kept urging me to do it, and thus Mistwalker was born.
When it comes to other projects I have a two-person black metal project called Impaled Upon the Mountains with my friend Kristopher Crane (Nemophilist), though that one is kind of on hiatus right now since he recently moved to the UK. I’ve also got a neofolk project called WaveringRadiant (named after the Isis album), a hardcore punk project called Goddammit that satirizes Newfoundland politics and culture, an ambient project called Icefog, a drone project called InvertedCoffins and a stoner rock project called TrinidadGunfight. I’m also the official live drummer for the aforementioned FogLake.
What’s the idea behind Mistwalker and can you share something about the background, moods, stories, and ideas that shape up the music you make with this project?
There isn’t really a consistent feeling behind Mistwalker, because the whole idea is that because it’s my flagship project I can do whatever I want with it. I don’t stick to one particular style of metal with it. There’s elements of black metal, death metal, thrash metal, hard rock, stoner rock and ambient to it. I can really make it whatever I want. But when it comes to what things inspire the music itself that can be anything as goofy as video games like Skyrim to serious personal feelings. For example, the album Strix Pantheon consists of instrumentals dedicated to some of my favorite female characters from fiction, while the album AlexanderBay was basically a loose concept album about my hometown. The last song on that album, ‘Willower’ is about the feeling of knowing that one day your parents are going to die and you’ll have to come to terms with that when it happens. So really I just write about whatever I feel like writing about, and that changes as frequently as the weather.
What sort of size group is associated with Viridian Records? And how did the label get started, how did you get together and what sort of cooperation do you have?
The thing about Viridian Records is that it isn’t really a record label, per se. It’s more of a name that’s used for a collective of artists to release music under. Mostly it’s just myself and Kristopher, though occasionally my friends Walter, Aaron, and Kenney will release music under the name too. Most of us just record music at home in our apartments/bedrooms, so it’s not really a professional setup. We’re just people who like to make music and put it out there for our own satisfaction, more or less.
Tell me about Newfoundland, what sort of place is it in your words and why does it inspire such a distinct sound?
I’ve heard people say before that Newfoundland is the Iceland of Canada, and I think that’s true. A lot of the landscape consists of rugged coastline, boreal forest, and dense bogs and the livelihood of the people there is really dependent upon the ocean. There’s a lot of respect for nature to be found there, and I think that really inspires the music that my friends and I make, though of course, I can’t speak for all of them. But aside from that, it’s also a hard place to live because right now the economy is suffering, which is part of the reason why I moved away. Making music was partially an escape from that atmosphere of living paycheck to paycheck. I guess when it comes to making black metal, or at least music that is heavily inspired by black metal, turning to nature is a form of escapism.
How do you approach creating music for various projects? Like, how do you know a song is particularly suited for Mistwalker?
That’s something I find a bit hard to define. Usually, it’s just some form of intuition. Like, I’ll come up with a riff and I’ll think to myself “Yeah, that’s a Mistwalker riff” and then sometimes I’ll say “Yeah, that’s more like an Impaled Upon the Mountains song.” With Mistwalker I like to experiment more because it’s my main project and I have complete creative control over it, so a lot of my weirder ideas find their way into that project more so than others.
As interest, you’ve listed quite some pagan and mythic elements on your Facebook page, could you tell more about that?
While I’m not a pagan myself, I do have an intense interest in mythology, pre-Christian religions, and folklore, especially when it comes to the Norse and Celtic variety. A lot of this comes from my love of the fantasy genre in fiction, which is obviously inspired by mythology and folklore. I’m a big nerd so I love all that stuff about elves, dwarves, magic, etc. I’m especially a big fan of The Lord of the Rings and The Elder Scrolls series so that often finds its way into my lyrics too. I aspire to be a fantasy author myself someday so naturally, my music is affected by that too.
What sort of recording and writing process do you follow to create music?
I don’t really follow any set process. It really varies. Sometimes I’ll write lyrics first and write something based around that structure and try to evoke the feeling of what I’ve written into the melodies. Other times I’ll compose the music first and record all the instruments before I even get into writing lyrics for it. When it comes to the actual recording I always lay down the drum track first, and then follow that up with guitar and bass, and vocals come last.
I‘m curious about the scene from a more ‘availability’ side, as in there’s a group of people creating works under the Viridian banner. Is that all very DIY? Or does Newfoundland have all the facilities like record shops, rehearsal spaces, venues etc. available in proximity?
When it comes to Newfoundland the metal scene really only exists in St. John’s. Sure there might be a band or two in other towns like Corner Brook or Stephenville, but everything is more or less constrained to the provincial capital. With record shops, the only one that exists is Fred’s Records, which does cater pretty heavily to local artists. Venues are pretty limited too, the only ones I can say for certain that cater to this style of music include CBTG’s, Distortion, Valhalla Tavern, The Rock House, Bar None, The Rose & Thistle and Factory, so you’re always going to the same four to five places every weekend to play and/or see metal and punk shows. These venues also sometimes double as rehearsal spaces in the daytime, and if not a band might just have to make do in somebody’s garage or basement. When it comes to Viridian like I mentioned before, it’s mostly just my friends and me recording stuff on our own time, more often than not in our bedrooms, and then self-releasing it on Bandcamp, so it’s definitely very DIY. There are professional recording studios in St. John’s but none of us really have the money for that.
Is it love for where you are from or loathing, that you feel when writing for Mistwalker?
Admittedly I laughed when I read this because honestly, it’s a bit of both. I love my home and I do miss it to an extent, especially living up here in Montreal where you have travel so much further to be immersed in nature. Back home I could go out into my backyard and ten minutes later I’d be in the middle of the woods on the top of a mountain. But like I mentioned before, living there is pretty difficult. It’s the reason why so many people who are my age have left to go work in Alberta’s oil industry. It’s just a better opportunity for them. Writing about Newfoundland in my music is equal parts love and loathing and I channel that respect for the land into it, while also expressing the frustration of the economic difficulty that rises from living there.
What future plans do you have and does Viridian have?
Mistwalker is a name that I plan to record under for as long as I live. Of course, things always change but I hope to be playing heavy music even as an old decrepit grandpa. Eventually, I’d like to get a band together and start playing shows here in Montreal, even go on tour if my music gets enough traction, but these things do take time. I can’t really speak for the other artists on Viridian, but I know that Kris records music sporadically under both of his projects: Acorn to Great Oak and Nemophilist.
If you had to compare Mistwalker our the whole Viridian roster to a dish or various dishes, what would it be and why?
That’s a hard question. I wouldn’t really compare the music to a specific dish, but rather a smell. The scent of evergreen trees, especially fir and spruce, combined with the smell of the ocean, really encapsulates the atmosphere of the island and the music that I try to create. Again I can’t really speak to the creative process of the other artists.
Thanks for the interview! I always appreciate opportunities like this.
The colder days of January are always a time for contemplation. To dream, to wonder, to sleep and recuperate, as the icy cold takes hold of the land. It’s where you prepare and have time a plenty to fill your head with wistful memories of places never seen and myths never witnessed.
It’s also a time when the forest becomes more haunting, more dark in it’s slumbering days of winter. When leaves have fallen and the darkness descends earlier with a gibbous moon shining through the branches. It is at that time, when music can become ever so much more powerful. It can tell you of places untold and that is what these records do.
Holy Fawn – Death Spells
Origin: United States Label: Whelmed Records
Nothing hits you quite as hard as some solid wall of sound delivered by Holy Fawn. The band may work with sounds that are both ethereal and translucent at times, the full wave of the shoegazy sound just slams into you on opener ‘Dark Stone’. Their tagline says ‘Loud heavy Pretty Noises’, and this is surprisingly apt. Perhaps you can compare the organic sound of the band with Icelanders Sigur Ros, who have that same mythical side to their sound. At times the shifts are very tangible, adding a little jolt to your experience in songs that feel oddly complex.
Holy Fawn is an immersion, a fall into the full sound of the Arizona group on a record that is enthralling to the listener from start to finish.
Dwalin – The Red Book
Origin: France Label: High Cathedral Records
If you learned about Lord of the Rings in the post-movie age, you might not know what The Red Book is, but for those who do it is an instant gateway to adventure. No, thank you very much, good morning! Dwalin produces traditional dungeon synth of the more open and wavery kind, based on the works of Tolkien. With sonorous passages and samples from the classical animated ‘The Hobbit’ film, it forms the narrative of this beloved work of literature. The long, meandering tracks offer a great backdrop for re-reading it actually, but also for your own exploration. It’s a narrative record, with one very notable and peculiar exception and that is the ‘bonus’ song ‘Dreams of Eschaton’, which is a ManillaRoad cover. It only lasts 1,5 minute, but it completely takes you off guard with the dreamy vocals and acoustics.
Hiemal – The Wanderer
Origin: France Label: self-released
Ever taken a walk on a stormy day in nature? This is the sound of wandering in the darkness when the trees become ominous and looming and every shadow lives life on its own. It is the music French dark ambient act Hiemal produces on ‘The Wanderer’ (and their extended work). The drones and eerie synths emulate the rain and the wind, as they slowly envelop you, unfolding and rolling out over the plains. At times the music just drifts away from you, only to return a moment later with force. Only rarely does the feeling arise of a sudden twist in the sound, rarely does it feel as if this record is man-made, that is what makes ‘The Wanderer’ so elusive, yet fascinating to listen to. In this, Hiemal is hugely successful in this single, over 25-minute long track.
Secrets of the Forest – The Amorphous Concept of Nature’s Essence
Origin: Norway Label: self-released
The dungeon synth of Secrets of the Forest is another trek through the woods with eerie melodies in a haze of distortion. Is it the sound of the outdoors or is it actually the screaming of entities that dwell just outside the corners of your eyes? ‘Father Sun’ is a slightly warmer track, opening up the record with rays of light peeping through the hazy sky. ‘Mother Moon’ offers a similar warmth, but more cool and distant, which is the common emotional association with the two. The sound of the synthesizers feels almost brittle, so sensitive and peaceful, yet also steadfast in the middle of the bitter haze and stormy darkness. That’s what makes it so captivating to listen to this record, as it simply takes you to a different place, where the singular beauty is your only hold.
Label: self-released Artist: lcbrt Origin: the Netherlands
Dutch black metal has started exploring the more recent cultural realms for inspiration and this is not without its benefits. lcbrt is the most recent of these acts, combining experimental black metal with the work and concepts of Dutch poet Lucebert.
Sole member Evio is also active in Morvigor from the city of Alkmaar in the Netherlands. With this act, he creates death-black metal. Also appearing on this record is the voice of the poet himself, who did a lot of recordings during his lifetime of his complex and bewildering works.
Raw black metal hammers on, much in the lo-fi veins of early Burzum, intermixed with samples of poetry. The dulled, flat spoken words resonate with the static riffing and metallic twang delivered by lcbrt. He simply picks up a riff and goes with it. Sometimes fast and bashful, at other times soothing and layered. As these parts continue, there are some tempo changes, but not too much. It just works, it delivers a straight-up piece of art with dissonant and confusing black metal.
As the main track ‘i t/mv’ lasts almost 15 minutes, the second song on this record only takes a little chunk of your time. ‘Incarnatie’ continues in the peculiar vibe and sound, that is lcbrt. It’s harrowing, cold and unpleasant, yet offering a warm bath to sink into at the same time with its haggard sound and feisty riffing. The ploinky outro is particularly enjoyable. Yet, at the same time, the guitars are sharp and almost cut your hearing. That is part of the delivery and particular concept behind the act. Curious to see where this moves from here.
Label: Haeresis Noviomagi Band: Iskandr Origin: The Netherlands
Iskandr is one of the odd ones out in the Dutch black metal scene and on ‘Euprosopon’ they’ve made the next step in complexity, atmosphere, and mystique. The album deals with the topic of the impossibility of an ideal man and the value of strife and heroism in an age of loss. They aim for medieval symbolism on this record, that stands as a timeless piece of art.
Iskandr is a project by Omar K., who is also active in Galg, LubbertDas, SolarTemple, and Turia. With this project, he explores more strange themes. The name itself is an eastern variation on that of Alexander the Great, which might explain some of that. This is the second album under this moniker.
The record opens much as a ritual, with slow, eerie passages and gentle prayer bells. Chanting emerges from the sides. Are we moving towards Clannad here? The guitars slowly turn dissonant, so I may be wrong as ‘Vlakte’ suddenly lunges into full speed with a remarkably melodic bit of riffing. There’s a subtlety to the sound, to the wavery riffing and the oft barely audible chants, woven into the texture of the songs Sure, there’s a working towards the summit of the song with violent turmoil and energy, but it is ever done with brute force, but smooth technical play. Much the same applies to ‘Regnum’, which contains some more mystique aspects and warm, upbeat sections. The vocals are commanding, but never full of venom, which is remarkably pleasant. I have to point out the Spanish guitar in the end as absolutely exquisite.
‘Verban’ is truly regal in its delivery. A slow-flowing tune, with grand movements and scapes, that lures you in effortlessly. The rattling drums emerge but sound as if covered by a blanket of atmospheric guitar play, dulling their crunch and submerging it into the overall shape of the song. Yet it is ‘Herlwalt’ that takes up that mysterious ending of ‘Regnum’ and weaves an oriental tune around it for close to 15 minutes, with an air of utter mystery and bewilderment for the listener. It is as if the band is taking you to a completely different place, with some truly abyssal black metal as an intermezzo of an obscure, religious meet. As if all fades, bewilderment remains.
Iskandr solidly establishes their name as a surprising obscure black metal band, paving their own way in the field with rich and atmospheric sounds, well worth checking out. ‘Eurposopon’ is a masterpiece in my book.
Label: Prophecy Productions Band: A Forest of Stars Origin: United Kingdom
A Forest of Stars has been wielding their very own style of black metal for years. Inspired by a mixture of the Victorian age, steampunk-ish aesthetics and the gloom of old spooky tales, they’ve been paving a singular path through the scene. What bands would be on par with them soundwise? Maybe concept-wise Arcturus? Anyways, they have a new record titled ‘Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes’.
The group, which I’ve seen play the Little Devil in Tilburg with their large numbers, is a grand ensemble of musicians, all working to create a little bit of magic. They’ve been around since 2017 and this record is their fifth. The album tells a story, that is as bleak as the cover would make you expect. It’s mesmerizing, messy and different, but also captivating and creative. So let’s sink our teeth in that one now.
This album takes a moment to get into because it doesn’t really offer you the typical ‘handholds’. The soaring violin and keys are the overly present ‘Precipice Pirouette’, which is the first track of the record. The vocalist shouts and rants like a disgruntled noble, with stature yet fearful poignancy. Perhaps it is interesting to note that members also collaborate in other set-ups, like The Water Witch and Hryre, which probably explains how all comes together so well in the well composed and recorded music.
Yet the record is filled with notable songs that sound more folky, mysterious or even slightly industrial. ‘Premature Invocation’ is one of those, that I can hardly place, except when I compare it to HailSpiritNoir with that woozy sound. My favorite track though is ‘Taken by the Sea’. The ethereal vocals opening the song are ones that cause a shiver to go down your spine. The weariness, the longing, it simply could not get better than this.
As the record comes to a close with ‘Decomposed Deity Dance Hall’, a macabre type of humor and wordplay, it is clear how exceptional A Forest of Stars actually is. Not just in their direction, but also in their wonderful sound as thudding blast beats and gentle whistles wave us away.