Rarely have I taken the time to pay homage to a label (though I have a share of favorites that I should perhaps create some articles about), but this one is quite special and one I appreciate extremely: Haeresis Noviomagi. I’m saying a label, but it is in fact more of a collective of musicians that loosely expands, encapsulating other bands and projects as it morphs and grows.
Header image from Facebook page Haeresis Noviomagi
Flag bearers of Dutch Black Metal
I have not been following black metal music in the Netherlands so long to know what have been pivotal collectives or points of interest where meetings of minds took place. You see throughout the history of the genre that interesting things happen where like-minded spirits meet. A few years ago now, there was much ado about the ‘new wave of dutch black metal’, particularly focused on the region of Utrecht and bands like Terzij De Horde, Laster, Verwoed and others (I would not understate the importance of a band like Dool). Bands like Grafjammer and Wrang are essential bands that feed the underground spewing forth these bands. But at the same time, the hermetic group of Haeresis Noviomagi may have played an essential part in crafting this new, quintessentially Dutch sound. By now, they’ve solidly merged with the Utrecht scene, bringing forth collaborations such as Nusquama and playing in the aforementioned Dool (O. from the group joined them in 2019). More significantly, the group was deeply involved in the thematic one-time work for a performance at Roadburn, which was titled Maalstroom. I was there and enjoyed the spectacle immensely (read the interview here).
Hence a look back at some of their noteworthy releases from the Haeresis Noviomagi front, that I feel embody the best that has come out of their stables.
Galg – Monochroom (2014)
You won’t find any references to Galg on the website of Haeresis Noviomagi and only scarce mention of the project in any interviews. The reason for that fact is that Galg proceeds Haeresis Noviomagi. It’s an entity that has existed outside of their realm, but to me has been pivotal in shaping the final form the collective took. Much of the typical sound and visual art of the group can already be seen in this early release. It also happens to be a record I came across and conducted an interview about. Instead of conjuring up new words, I’ll just quote what I wrote at the time:
‘Monochroom‘ is a 26 minute descent into despair. The opening is like a bell tolling for mass. A bleak buzzing evokes dark clouds and a grim day. Samples from speech add an atmosphere of unholy ritual to the sound while the buzzing sound of the amps continues like an abysmal depth for the listener. A slow chanting arises from that deep bass sound. The sound swells up and suddenly blast beats emerge and intense guitar work lays out a barrage of dark sound while the sound of wind is sweeping through.
Lubbert Das – Deluge (2015)
The watershed record for the collective is the debut EP from Lubbert Das, their most focused black metal outlet in my opinion. It’s dirty, decadent, and violent at times, but also illuminated by the unique approach of the band and ability to implement influences like Hieronymous Bosch in their work. In a way, Lubbert Das is always on par with Turia. These projects feel like two sides of the same coin to me. ‘Stone, God’s Blood’ is the first track on this EP, unleashing after a solid build-up. The track takes a slow pace and offers a lot of room for distant screams and generates a lot of atmosphere. It becomes a seductive feast of entrancing darkness.
The second half is ‘Forlorn Ages’, delivering atmospheric black metal with that ferocity in its foundation. Blast beats and furious screams, in a tapestry of sound. Descending slowly down into a pit of despair. The song flows in all majesty, as the train rattles on and on at a high pace. The movement of the sound slowly mutates over the 14-minute course of the song, but that tremolo guitar with the big echo makes everything sound so cavernous, so immense.
Iskandr – Euprosopon (2018)
Iskandr is a project by O., who also plays in Turia and previously was active in Lubbert Das. After the formative full-length ‘Heilig Land’ and the EP ‘Zon’, the second full length has become a record I return to frequently. The project’s name refers to Alexander the Great, who people called Iskandr in the eastern parts of his realm. The title refers to the impossibility of the perfect man and explores the concept of new ‘heroism. Steeped in the masters of pagan black metal and exploration, this is a record full of majesty and vigor.
Though black metal is the foundation of the sound, ‘Euprosopon’ floats with big arches and esoteric chanting, while the fundaments of the sound surge forward with blast beat drums and rigorous guitar riffs. There’s something specific about the melody lines that rhythmically speaks to you from realms beyond the Occident. Further from the rigid reaches of the west, maybe even from beyond lost in the mists of time the guitars resound. It’s as if the songs are the soundtrack to what is to come, with a mid-paced black metal subtlety and highly sophisticated effects. Iskandr embraces you and shows you magic on ‘Regnum’, unleashes a show of force on ‘Verban’, and takes you to a dreamy state on ‘Heriwalt’. It’s an album that is solid as a rock, but furtive in its mythical state. In other words, it’s great stuff.
Nusquama – Horizon Ontheemt (2019)
With the apparition of Nusquama, the Haeresis Noviomagi group joins forces with musicians from Laster, Vuur & Zijde, Fluisteraars, and more. This musical endeavor has a wholly different vibe, yet also feels like a good fit within the overall opus of the group. Sun-touched black metal, with all the harrowing aspects as well as the soothing nature of warm riffs and melodies. The name comes from Latin and Thomas More used it to refer to the necessity and impossibility of a hopeful alternative. Those are the words the band shared, not my own, as they tell it best in my humble opinion. The record was written in a period of over 2 years, and recorded in 2018 in an old coach house. An affable nod to their nostalgic inspirations of poetry and naturalism.
The contrast is clearly audible on opener ‘De Aarde Dorst’. The guitars soar, while the drums and bass weave intricate patterns on the ground. The voice spits venom, particularly audible on ‘Wrevel’ where it is vitriolic in its vehement assault. The melodies don’t balance it out much in this track, though there are soothing passages and ominous chanting to boot. But there’s also a sense of majesty and pride in the music like you can hear in the big movements on ‘Vuurslag’. It’s as if the waves of the music imagine the rising of the sun, which I feel the lyrics refer to.
I can go on because a track like ‘Eufrozyne’ employs the furious blast beats and rising guitar riffs as a herald’s call, where ‘Ontheemd’ offers another thick slab of atmospheric black metal. ‘Met Gif Doordrenkt’ is then the final track and a worthy closer of the album. Intensive drums, soul-crushing riffs and so much feeling in that sound, it’s imposing. Clocking over 7-minutes, it feels like the song takes you on an upwards trajectory, ever higher and warmer.
Turia – Degen van Licht
For me, ‘Degen van Licht’ has been a ray of light in 2020. I feel that I can say this unironically (the title translates as ‘rapier of light’) because this is one of the best albums this year for me. I don’t need to point out how shit this year was. Turia has released multiple great records, and I would recommend all of them. Yet, this is something else by the mysterious threesome from the east of the Netherlands. It’s their third release and was preceded by split records with Vilkacis and Fluisteraars. Ok, so I’m a huge fan of this album and the reason is its remarkable clarity and cohesiveness. It feels like one, big slab of music, meant to quiet the turmoil in your head and focus your energies. it obviously has a dark edge. It is black metal, but also a radian beauty that I admire.
The album has a brief intro, but how good is it to hear those clear notes break the murmuring thunder. Similarly, the main riff on ‘Merode’ is an absolute beauty, calm and soothing, while also speaking of dreams of another world. Waxing and waning over the aggression brought on by the scratchy bass lines and screechy vocals, it’s a contrast again, like in much of their work. ‘Met Sterven Beboet’ is a bit more crunchy in its sound, also packing a bit more of a punch along the way. The guitar that weaves those clean notes, however, is what I find most spectacular and warm.
I keep hoping for another glimpse when listening to this song. More majestic, but sticking with the theme, is the title track. The sound feels fuller, grander, more stiffly in its expression. In a good way, much like the playful sound of ‘Storm’ doesn’t diminish the bleakness that is inherent to this album. After a brief interlude, we get to ‘Ossifrage’. That’s an old name for a vulture that likes to drop bones to break them, so that’s a good black metal title. It’s a richer song, showing the full diversity of the band and craftsmanship behind their songs. It’s all good, isn’t it?
Empyrean Grace -Bestowment of the Seraphic Key
I guess this is the birthday release for the five-year anniversary Certainly, there was a Lubbert Das/Turia split, a Iskandr EP, and re-releases, but this one took the cake. A one-track wonder of almost 30 minutes of ephemeral black metal of the highest order. This is truly majestic stuff. It’s not clear who is involved in this project and if it will see further releases or any form of continuation (much like other side-projects of the Haeresis Noviomagi family, it is all shrouded in mists). But it is fantastic and I wish I could get my hands on the tape, for the collection you see…
The shimmering guitars in the intro unfold into a black metal sound that has a certain ‘kosmische’ feel to it. Yes, I’m referring to the kraut rock-like dreamy state the first few minutes of the song bring you into, not least due to the ethereal vocals that resound through the wall….nay, flow of music. The song changes, and fierce blast beats and a threatening sound follow a bit later. Yet, the music retains an almost ritualistic atmosphere, though I won’t mention the band that springs to mind when I say that. Kaleidoscopic, is how they describe it, layered, hallucinatory and all those words make perfect sense to me with this album. It’s like fata morgana, a mirage, a dream state, this record brings you into. That’s what makes it so wonderful and moreover, so promising for more.