Ragana is one of the bands I keep coming back to. Their mixture of black metal aesthetics, screamo sentimentality and doomy vibes is a treat, but their message is equally powerful and one I gladly receive. This release is titled: ‘We Know That The Heavens Are Empty’ and it’s special.
The title comes from a poem, titled ‘The Toast of Despair’, by anarchist hero Valtairine De Cleyre. A poem from 1892, in fact, from this author. She played a significant role in shaping modern American feminism but was an activist in her lifetime against intermarriage violence and other issues that are still unresolved to this very day.
The opening is slow, atmospheric and rich in emotional charge. The build-up on the track ‘Waiting’ takes time to reach the point of silence, only to restart again. Ragana was less subtle on their previous work, so as a listener you’ll be intrigued and the wait for that release is a good one. A pained voice cuts through the quiet and pushes the build-up onwards to a dark, thick tapestry of guitars and pained screams that embodies Ragana. The song never fully gets to the point of letting go, of unabated fury, unleashed. We keep waiting.
‘The Tower’ feels much more powerful, full of threat and looming danger. Yet this doomy track also slowly creeps forward. It’s a slow and tormented track, where the vocals and flow of the song are often opposed, creating a sense of discomfort. It builds to a wail and scream: “Holding, Falling, Holding…” You feel the despair, as the tremolo guitar reaches a high note and stays there, teetering on the edge, almost falling down.
Dämmerfarben is Germen for the colors of twilight. It’s also a black metal project with a colorful group of participants. Founder Nostarion started the band as a solo project to explore the mixture of folk, acoustics, black metal, and atmospheric music. He has paved his way in the scene, playing in bands like Seelenfrost, Folkodia, and is currently active as a member of Folkearth, Ulfsdalir, Dystertid and Panopticon (live). And a ton more…
Later he was joined by Dystertid, Idhafels, and Throndt bandmember Fergen Grimnir on bass. Having had a steady rotation of other members, they added Panopticon mastermind Austin Lunn as the drummer in 2015. The result is a band with a remarkable amount of talent among its ranks, and the result is audible on Des Herbstes Trauerhymnen MMXX. As Panopticon is my most important reference point here, it comes at no surprise that Dämmerfarben has elements of that sound too.
Songs for Autumn
The soft acoustic intro is reminiscent of ‘Roads to the North’ on opener Herbstsonne. Still, the transition to the full-on metal is more subtle and smooth. The folk metal influences come up straight here, with some classic heavy metal riffing in the mix. We would remain within the autumn theme on this album if that were still news with titles like ‘Des Herbstes Trauerlied.’ A lot of acoustic guitar work really creates the space and atmosphere for the album’s vibe to set in. It helps bind the songs together, stretch them out, and enables you as a listener to immerse yourself even deeper into their sounds.
It’s interesting to note that the first four songs are, in fact, older songs reworked for this record. You wouldn’t call anything on this album dated, though there is a certain timelessness to the tunes. It helps that some of the tracks are so smoothly meandering, like a babbling brook or the wind through the autumn leaves. I particularly enjoy the song ‘Herbstpfad’, with chanting that creates a bit of that Mittelalter rock vibe the Germans were known for a couple of years ago. The field recordings help put the right frame around that sonic picture.
As we drift off, with the wonderful ‘Golden Atem Letzter Tagen’, one is likely to always dream of autumn, the golden leaves and light of the setting sun. Soon…
Quebecois black metal is of a distinct kind, full of Francophone fury, gritty sound, and evil. Csejthe is no different in any of that. The band has by now released 3 albums and did a split with Monarque and Forteresse, two bands with an equal undeniable force and power in their sound. Just like these guys, actually, who also are active in some other acts.
Named after the castle of the infamous Countess Bathory, who murdered according to myth hundreds of girls, the theme is clear. Remarkably, this is a steady feat in the work of Csejthe. On this album, they even go deeper into it with a title ‘L’ horreur de Čachtice’ referring directly to the horror and telling the tale.
And we fall instantly into the darkness with ‘Terreur Nocturne’, a slow-paced, almost doomy track of drizzling black metal. The sound is hazy at the edges, creating this mesmerizing Burzum-like atmosphere. Slow and repetitive, that’s definitely what Csejthe is going for in their grinding tracks, though it picks up on ‘Lycanthropie misanthropie’ and the following title track. There are these wailing guitar melodies, this all-over barren feel to the songs, a certain grandeur… It’s what sets the scene apart and makes bands liket his so amazing.
The record doesn’t stick to a steady formula though and every following song has different nuances, strengths and expressions. But at times the band can actually surprise you. Not with their grim and dark stories, but when their music takes radical turns as it does on ‘Le Spectre de Soleil’. A moody, jazzy interlude breaks up the blast beats, like a sun ray through the clouds and its such a powerful thing. But when we hit the final track, ‘Sadique lunatique’ a vitalistic, suffocating intensity hits. The melody just creeps and writhes around the listener in an unnerving, illustrious speed. Hard to grasp, before the blade comes down.
I can’t tell you much about rāhha as of yet. Not that I don’t want to, but the German duo seems to come out of nowhere with this their destructive second EP ‘Descension Ceremony’. Their Facebook page made me none the wiser either so I’m just going to tell you how they sound instead.
So think Germany, think Nachtmysticum, think Mgła, think… well, listen. It combines the atmospheric, the raw and the haunting into one epic journey.
Fire and fury erupt when the EP kicks off with ‘Diocese of Endless Strife’. The sound is cavernous but full and immersive. The vocals are in your face, raw and passionate. They are in power, in control of the depths you’ve plummeted into as the thudding drum starts to hammer away. There is not even any noticeable shift when we move on to ‘Korpsgeist’. If you catch the wave, the sonic exaltation of their song, your in for a rapturous ride as the speed and rising cadence has a sweeping power. I just want to punch my fucking fist in the air and scream until I have the same rattling howl.
‘Empty Chalice of Life’ is another firebrand on the holy houses. Black metal in righteous opposition with all the anger and not a sense of compromise as we launch into the final tune. We delve into ‘A Waxen Image Ritual’, where the raspy voice barks and howls. An immersion into the purest darkness with rapid blast beats, tremolo guitars and and a remarkable portion of catchiness to it. Can’t wait for more from this duo!
Vanum is a cooperation between members of Ash Borer, YellowEyes, PredatoryLight, Vilkacis and FellVoices (and 3 of these names apply to one man). That puts them in a particular bracket of black metal, with pure, undiluted fury. This is their second full length, following two years after the ‘Burning Arrow’ EP and it promises nothing but power.
Vanum is all about the grand gesture, the simplified sweep, over the miserly details. That, in itself, is a testament of their power and maximum delivery and I’m glad to have witnessed this life. ‘Ageless Fire’ is the title of this album and for me its an instant elevation to the status of modern-day black metal deity.
‘War’ is like a marching song, into the flames. Slowly, majestic and strong it comes on and delivers us to a mellow tremolo riff at its ending, which fades gradually. It hardly primes you for ‘Jaws of Rapture’, which follows on the heels of a church bell. Like a cold rain, the song hits you with a wall of contentious guitars. The sky is grey, the air cold, but fire burns behind the war engine that is Vanum.
What follows after that is the 10-minute epic ‘Eternity’, which feels like a long baptizing of fire. While furious in its delivery and barked vocals claw at you with maddening fervor, the melody is leading the track. When it drops back to a slower pace, you can even feel a bit of a rock groove emerge. Yet never does it relent as soaring guitar melody enters and carious onwards. By the time you reach ‘Under the Banner of Death’, you’re battered and tired. Yet this track, with its melancholic opening salvo, digs even deeper as we go into the trenches once more.
The music of Vanum always carries both. There’s an overly epic aspect to it, a grandeur and unmistakable beauty, as we hear on the title track. But it always carries the fires of war and the eternal fog arising from it. ‘Erebus’ is then the finalizing track, the last notes, where suddenly a blissful calm has been reached. Has the fire burned everything, or are we in the fire?
Neither flesh nor fleshless,
Neither from nor towards.
Spirit terror in the mortal abyss
Rise through the nexus as the wheel turns.
Label: Prophecy Productions Band: Laster Origin: Netherlands
Laster is an oddity in the black metal universe. Not just in the looks, but musically the band leans heavily on something completely different as their peers. Though 2 of the members are active in more rootsy black metal band Nusquama, their sounds are more like those of GreyAura than any of the more conservative projects. And their latest statement is another gem.
‘Het Wassen Oog’ is already the third full length by the Utrecht band, maintaining their sound and visual aesthetics. This time on Prophecy Productions, a label open to that which lacks categorizing. I’m not sure if it will appeal to the more conservative listener, but as a fan of the experiment and expressive, I enjoy very much the sound these guys produce on this album.
‘Vacuüm ≠ behoud’ maybe references clearly one of their influences, by addressing the theme of a different world and closing with the line ‘Ceci n’est pas un souvenir’. Is that a nod to Alcest (‘Souvenirs d’un autre monde’). It wouldn’t be surprising as the music is filled with the sweet sounds of postrocky/shoegazy passages. Dreamy, yet also containing harsh screams, the music offers a strange contrast, that is eerily beautiful. It allows you to sink into the obscure dance music.
Often there are these peculiar, repetitive parts that have something carnivalesque, that mesmerizing mystery of the circus. It is a different kind of dark, but equally alluring in their music. This can be heard on tracks like ‘Ondersteboven’, which also has a funky bass line, but also ‘Weerworm’. In between, ‘Haat & Bonhomie’ breaks the mold and surges into classic black metal in all its formal fury. Yet, there’s always a mystique. A movement, a dance between the instruments. It simply feels enjoyable, inviting, and fills you with excitement.
It’s hard to really put to words what Laster submits you to, but it’s a highly immersive experience. Catchy, surprising and still very much true to the essence of what this black metal record should sound like.
Metal touches hearts and minds in far-off places and Nelecc is a solitary act in Kenya. Seeker, the man behind the act, is intrigued by nature and solitude, but also the stars are significant in his work.
Recently, he also engaged with other East-African artists in the project Krummholz, which clearly shows his artistic vision of atmospheric black metal as well. It’s all about immersion, storytelling and a strange way of letting go. That is the beauty of his work and what I love about ‘The Stars’.
Nelecc is a star gazer and that is what his music brings forth with an almost shimmering quality as opener ‘The Stars’ unfolds. The melancholy in the initial sound is deep, profound and warming. The song merges into ‘A Thousand Suns’, which contains some storytelling passages, with spoken word, introducing the overall story. Though muddled slightly in the mix, the music is tight and captures the attention like a steady stream. All of it flows with a cosmic languidity.
The music is epic in its formulation, slowly building from a murmur to a warm blanket, draped over everything in sight and filling one as a listener with a pleasant sensation. But as we advance, up the slopes towards harsher grounds, the sound becomes more punishing, more battering. ‘Forest of Gloom’ thus is an onslaught of blast beats and heaviness, hitting you like cold rains. In that way Nelecc shows its diversity and potential, Wonderfully hazy, dreamy and yet resonating broadly. It’s a record to listen to, now.
Final song ‘Amidst the Mist’ is an eulogy, a farewell with longing to a place of magic. It’s one you wouldn’t want to leave with the lo-fi sound and pools of sonic magic.
雲雀/Hibari is a one-man black metal band from Kyoto, playing a sound not far removed from the current blackgaze trend, but with a leaning to the atmospheric and DSBM side of things. The intermezzos remind a bit of Opeth.
If you want to write the name slightly more accessible it’s Hirari. The man behind the band is Ryotapon. He’s been active in 5PM Promise and Arbus, two other projects. The interesting thing about his record is that the inspiration is taken quite liberal. No holds barred, which is quintessential black metal in my book. For this band, a full band is listed, but Ryotapon is the only creator.
‘Antidote’ sets us on the path with a reluctant beginning. The tunes are like the first fall of snow. Gentle, drifting down to earth with a slow, reverberating sound attached. But once the flood gates are open the sound streams in and a moment later fully unleashes. Everything is smooth and soft, but the vocals, which are raw and harrowing, disrupting the peace. Hibari likes to interject a little Opeth acoustic, before jumping through the eyes in a warbly tremolo passage with oddly clanky drums.
It’s not much different on the eerily melodic ‘The Wheel of Sins’ and ‘Lunaj Meduzoj’, including that odd singing in the intro, making it feel a bit more like a pop ballad for a moment. But hey, that’s part of the deal and it works out pretty well as the song builds up, not unlike a Solstafir work. Cold, melancholic and gloomy is what describes Hibari best, which is just the way we like it.
Africa is the final frontier when it comes to metal, but something is definitely brewing with bands like Nelecc from Kenya, creating their very own brand of atmospheric black metal. But the local scene is small and mostly unknown, yet this gives it a unique flavor.
Kenya has been a country with a moving history but has also offered a relatively stable breeding ground for musicians. Unsurprisingly, this also has created bonds across boundaries and the one-man band Nelecc has seen new ties, as the artist, Nelecc himself has joined forces with Victor Rosewrath from Vale of Amonition (Uganda) and Noktal from Djibouti in the band Krummholz.
Also, he was kind enough to tell us some more about his music and vision.
Nelecc: Nature, Stars, and Inspiration
Hello, how is Nelecc doing?
Nelecc is doing great, thank you. 2018 was quite the year and I am happy with how it went in terms of music.
How did you get started with Nelecc and what does the name mean?
The idea of Nelecc was started while I was in high school. I had a strong will to make music, and get lost in it. Since Nelecc is part nature, part personal life experiences, and part fantastical themes, I decided to mix the real with the ethereal. Hence, the Nel(son)ecc(lesiastes).
Which music inspired you to pursue the path of black metal with your own project and did you have any previous projects or bands you were active in?
There is a lot of different music (even different genres) that inspired me to do black metal. I initially wanted to form a black metal band, but was not able to due to the fact that I grew up in a very remote town with barely four metalheads, and a really bad music scene. Since I was so far away from Nairobi, and couldn’t get in contact with the big city metalheads because of my high school, teen years shyness, I decided to just do it by myself. I hadn’t wrapped my head around the concept of having a solo project, but it grew on me faster than I expected. In Africa, the two bands that have influenced me to do black metal are: Absence of Light, and Wildernessking.
Can you share with us what sort of theme, message or idea you try to convey with Nelecc?
The themes are: Nature, personal life experiences, and fantasy. It is a blend of the three really. Like some sort of tale, but not really one, haha.
You’ve recently released the record ‘The Stars’ with Nelecc. A concept album it seems with a story to tell. Can you share what the story is on the record?
Opening: The Stars – This is practically an intro to the album, and the journey of a guy who seeks another world far from, yet in within this one. The other remaining tracks take you through a fantasy world, my world, and the natural world.
What was the process like of writing and recording the record?
Writing and recording the album was tedious considering how much I had to learn (and what I’m yet to learn) about mixing and mastering. But, as it didn’t seem to be sounding too good, Mike L. of Sojourner continually gave me incredibly important tips on how to get a much better mix. It was incredibly helpful for that process, and definitely boosted the release.
On the cover of your record ‘The Star’ you show, what I believe to be, a Kenyan landscape. The content of the lyrics is also referring to places and is partly in the native language. How important is your origin for your music?
The cover art is a picture of lower Rift Valley. Going to places like these as a child always took my breath away. I was always in awe of the enormity of it all. The peace, the cool breeze, the chirping birds, flowing streams, falling water… It is a place to become. And that is why nature is my greatest influence. Growing up in a small town surrounded by the wilderness definitely helped it. So, it is important how or where the ideas generate for one to come up with a project.
Would you say your music could be created anywhere else than in Kenya?
I believe music can be created anywhere (even Antarctica). It’s universal. Where you draw your inspirations from is what is really important.
Can you tell me if there is a black metal scene or metal scene in your country and how it started, which bands are important and where it is happening?
The main metal scene is in the capital city, Nairobi. There is a blackened death metal band that I mentioned earlier, who also influenced me to carry forth with black metal; Absence of Light. They have a full-length record out from 2013 (Vyom Chakra) and it’s absolutely magnificent.
Are there any bands you’d like to recommend from Kenya or neighboring countries?
I’d recommend my friend, and bandmate’s band, Vale of Amonition (doom metal, Uganda). Some other good bands from Kenya would be The Seeds of Datura (doom), Last Year’s Tragedy (melodic metalcore), In Oath (deathcore), and Mortal Soul (metalcore).
You’ve recently released a joint record with Krummholze, an international East-African project with Victor Rosewrath from Vale of Amonition from Uganda and drummer Noktal. How did this come into being?
It was pretty simple really, and a more than a pleasant surprise. Victor Rosewrath messaged me and proposed to start a band together with Noktal, since they had been acquainted before. As soon as I saw the vision that Noktal had for the soon-to-be band, I was immediately interested. So we joined forces and formed Krummholz.
Can you give me some background on Noktal, I can’t find anything as for where he is from, in which band he played etc.?
Noktal is from Djibouti, but he’s currently in the US. He’s been in multiple bands before, but he can provide more insight on that than I can.
Krummholz seems to have rapidly become your main focus. How does it relate to your Nelecc project and how did you get in touch with Naturmacht Productions, a fantastic label in my opinion?
Well, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that I have a main focus quite honestly. This is because you never know when inspiration is going to strike. So most times, I’ll find myself writing for Krummholz and Nelecc back and forth. Victor was able to get in touch in me because of my work in Nelecc, so there will always be a little bit of Nelecc in Krummholz: not in the sound, not in the lyrics, not in the themes, but in spirit.
Robert, of Naturmacht reached out to us and said that he really liked our sound and offered us a deal. It’s a great label, and we were thrilled to sign with him. The roster is incredible, and the commitment to his artists is real.
What future plans do you have for Nelecc and for Krummholz?
Writing and recording for the new Nelecc album that I’m hoping to release this year is more than halfway done, and the writing process for the debut Krummholz FL album is currently underway. We can’t wait to show everyone what we are brewing when it’s done.
If you had to compare Nelecc to a dish, a type of food, what would it be and why?
Rice and beans without a doubt, haha. This is because I AM rice and beans.
Some more bubblings from the Dutch black metal sewers here with the new release by Meslamtaea. Out on HeidensHart records, this is the second release by the band, who have gone through a mild transformation in between their two releases. ‘Niets en Niemandal’ seems to hint at the destruction humankind is wreaking upon this world. Perhaps as urgent as ever for a band that is drawn towards the past.
The duo both play in Asgrauw and have done a split with that band, but also two with legendary Dutch black metallers Cultus. All in all, that makes it easy to place them in the right corner between forward-thinking and essentialist black metal under this banner. And that’s pretty much what you get on this record.
Spoken-word, thunderous preaching opens up ‘Neonschemering’, which ads that post-apocalyptic vibe to some traditional themes. The firebrand vocals are as doomy and gloomy as well, summoning the dark. Yet a little more mellow is also an option on ‘Weer een dag’. Overall there’s a nostalgia, a yearning, that is captured in the sound of Meslamtaea. The tremolo riffing just stick to that minor note and even though it’s played fast, it creates a languid feeling.
At times the riffing really takes a slow, clingy vibe, like on ‘Leegte’. The reverberation feels like a thick summer air, where you can almost feel like you move through mud. Loss, confusion, it’s all there. ‘Verlaten Stad’ is another notable tune, thanks to its thick, layered riffing. But it also has some simple music, almost melancholic Americana going as an intermission. For some strange reason, that works extremely well for me. It then fills, swells and becomes again the song that it was. It’s beautiful.
The strange ‘Vervreemdingszone’ is then the outro, taking us out of the song with strange, dissonant sounds. It leaves you a bit confused. But I think, in a good way.