Ygg - Ygg
It’s not often that you hear a jaw harp (more commonly known as a Jews’ Harp) incorporated into a metal album (although there are exceptions, such as in Black Sabbath’s “Sleeping Village” and Bathory’s “One Road to Asa Bay”). It is even more exceptionally rare to find this instrument within a black metal album, and put to use remarkably well within and throughout the album. Combining the use of this simple instrument, well-done symphonic elements, and some absolutely relentless bass pedal drumming, Ukrainian band Ygg manages to release an exceptionally solid (and undeniably fun and energy-filled) debut album, Ygg. Downplaying the symphonic elements of their music (in comparison to bands such as Emperor and Dimmu Borgir), the album has choral-sounding effects that remain subtle yet nonetheless powerful in creating a much more robust atmosphere surrounding the entire album. After the introductory track of ambient noises and jaw harp plucking, the album kicks into gear with the first official track, “Ygg”, blasting its way forward with the continued subtle use of this mouth instrument, an engagingly catchy riff, hypnotically pounding double-bass pedals, and bleak, high-pitched wails of the lead vocalist. The drums within the album balance on the line between sounding overbearing and mixed distractingly loudly, while simultaneously managing to pump an unyielding sense of aggression and fury into an already passionate album. As the blast beats kick in just past the halfway point of the third track, “Урд, Верданди, Скульд”, one cannot help but be absolutely entranced and swept away as the drummer abuses and pushes his kit to the limit, adding a sense of aggression that combats and intertwines with the ethereally choral symphonic elements of the track. Attempting to look past the bands National Socialist affiliations and prejudicial ideology, YGG manages to produce a remarkably solid and thorough debut album, as catchy as it is unrelenting and masterful.
Pyramids - Pyramids
The eponymous debut album by band Pyramids is quite the auditory journey through the experiences of musical techniques and stylings. Part ethereal shoegaze, part ambient, part post-rock/post-metal, and part atmospheric black metal, Pyramids is quite masterful in its cohesive blending of genres to form complex layers of sound and a powerful wall of effects. Often throughout the album, the listener is bombarded with such a wild array of pure noise that one can get simply lost in the multifaceted layering of the album. While black metal is not always prominent on the album, it nonetheless constitutes the backbone of much of the overall sound, and serves to enhance particular tracks such as “Igloo”, providing a supplemental sense of aggression and pure bombastic chaoticism to the otherwise hauntingly distanced vocals and dreamy guitar effects intertwined throughout the track. However, the complexity on this album does not necessarily constitute an associated depth in the musical sound. At times the album suffers from sounding a bit shallow, as though it doesn’t accomplish much of grandiose proportions: the climaxing crescendos found in post-rock and post-metal are scarce on this album, and the raw, pained emotions that black metal evokes are lost under some of the albums heavy layering. Despite these minor drawbacks, the album manages to skillfully blend and mix each incorporated genre of music into the other, providing a powerful cloud of sound that at times overwhelms and consumes the listener. Cacophonous at times (“Hillary”), beautiful and otherworldly at others (“The Echo of Something Lovely”), and even quite pretentious feeling throughout, Pyramids manages to provide a truly unique and special listening experience, love it or hate it.
Incipit - Ida
An extremely enjoyable EP from Argentinian one-man band Incipit, Ida is short, earnest, to the point, and overall just a very honest effort at making some solid black metal. While nothing necessarily new or original is presented in the album, it is nonetheless a very captivating listen, as songs such as “Falso” storm quickly in and out, leaving the listener fully energized and hungry for more. Despite overall themes of pessimism and the negativity of life, the EP is undeniably fun to listen to, as traditional blast beats and blistering guitar work sweep the listener away into the netherworld of vigorous black metal sound. It’s also notable to mention that Incipit is extremely antifascist and strongly against National Socialism, decreeing this extreme aversion to the ideology in an album split with band Lure of Flames, on the song entitled “Fuck NSBM”. If Incipit were to release a full-length album as consistently respectable as the tracks on Ida, the combination of traditional black metal with a modernized sound to the overall genre would produce an exceedingly satisfactory and entertaining album, combining one part fun with one part grim despair for an overall simple yet cohesive listening experience.
Echtra - Paragate
Associates of the Cascadian Black Metal Scene, Echtra combines atmospheric black metal typical of the scene with simple, acoustic folk guitar pickings layered over a sort of ambient drone (not representative of typical drone metal, but nonetheless in place to add to the overall essence of the album). If one loves absolutely becoming lost in the atmosphere of an album, consumed by the album and the massive cloud of sound it is able to produce, then Echtra’s second full length album, Paragate, is ideal for such situations. The album consists of two tracks of equal length which blend together to essentially become one long track, consisting almost entirely of layered instrumentals with the occasional appearance of droning, resonant vocals or growling utterances typical of a more traditional black metal sound. While the former of the aforementioned vocal styles serves to make one feel as though they are witnessing the monastic chantings of some dark cult, this impressive effect is not enough to carry the rest of the album into musical superiority; the majority of the album is relatively lackluster and uninspiring. The acoustic guitar twiddling on the album is generically stale neofolk that serves to sound pretty but be thoroughly unimpressive, and tritely repetitive throughout. Switching between elements of drone and more classic black metal instrumentation, the album feels as though it goes nowhere, achieving an atmosphere that can be quite impressive or hauntingly eerie at parts, but overall failing to be anything magnificently special or grandiose. Many parts of the album seem to drag on without any particular direction, which can be fine for atmospheric black metal if the atmosphere itself is unique and overwhelming to the senses. Unfortunately, Paragate, while by no means terrible, fails to amount to anything particularly special or notable, serving as nothing more than a decent attempt at the Cascadian sound.
Wigrid - Hoffungstod
Depressive Suicidal Black Metal is wrought with emotions that evoke some of the most bleak and hopeless feelings that an individual can harbor, these emotions possibly rising from the sufferings of past experiences, present tortures and miseries, or perhaps just the pitiful human condition in itself; or perhaps, in the case of Wigrid, from agricultural conditions. Wigrid is a one-man project consisting of Ulfhednir, a farmer from Germany who specializes in producing some powerfully draining DSBM. Although Hoffungstod was released only 10 years ago (in 2002), it already has the feeling of a timeless classic of the genre, standing the test of time with its solid instrumentation, disparaging attitude, and bleak, misery-evoking vocals. Ulfhednir wails his vocals at the top of his lungs as the listener is swept away in a cloud of despair, as the slightly-fuzzed guitars seemingly soar all around one’s auditory landscape, preventing escape from the depressive world that Wigrid has created, as is mastered in “Schreie der Verzweiflung” (or “Cries of Despair”). Even without the vocals, the sole instrumental track on the album, “Das Sterben eines Traumes” (translated to “The Death of a Dream”) manages to create an unsettlingly morose atmosphere. While the album does not necessarily bring anything new to the genre of DSBM, it nonetheless is seemingly flawless in its overall intended style and emotional evocations, making it a definite highlight of this black metal sub-genre.
Embrace the changing seasons, and embrace the black metal sound.
- Richard Cory