Cruel Master – Repeat Offender [US, Black / Punk] (2021)

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Self Released | 1-22-21

Black / Punk hybrids often fall into a trap. The inherit rawness of the fusion’s forebears in Ildjarn plus the contemporary sounds of Bone Awl (et al.) have inspired lots of bands to record the harshest sound they can make with sticks-and-stones instrumentation. Which is fine, there’s absolutely a base for that – in addition to the axiom that artists should make the music they want to make. And (not “but”), I hugely enjoy hearing a black / punk artist who pushes a little out of that murk. As the album and track titles demonstrate, “Repeat Offender” is a bit scarier, a bit more disturbing – bringing in abuse, harsh sex, and stalking. I don’t mean to imply voyeurism. If anything, Cruel Master sounds like a band that actually can pull off the “this stuff is pretty horrible, and it’s actually disturbing” aesthetic. If you’re not on board with that, then I can absolutely understand.

Sxuperion – Auscultating Astral Monuments [US, Black / Death / Ambient] (2021)

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Sxuperion landed on my digital doorstep with last year’s “Omniscient Pulse”. I reductively described it to friends as “Darkspace but death metal”. In retrospect, that’s unfair; Matthew Schott certainly has some of Tobias Möckl’s proclivity for dark ambient and sci-fi samples, but there’s far more to the Sxuperion project. The project began as something akin to war metal with dark ambient, but upon the release of “Cosmic Void”, Matthew Schott began a multi-pronged series of releases based around the harshness and emptiness of space. Yeah, you know how so much space sci-fi is about the adventure of space? Sxuperion is more like experiencing the long period of utter, incomprehensible, nigh-complete emptiness that is most of the universe. Imagine floating in the Boötes Void – the Great Nothing – with the curious effects of relativity changing your perception of space-time, having you become your own Godhead by being the only form within the formless. With, of course, some of the strongest and coolest black and death metal echoing in your afterburners, be it the laser-effect on “Eyes of Gankhar” or the dissolving threads of “Philotic Astrogation”. Sxuperion’s newest LP is one of my favorites of the year so far, and hopefully it’ll be yours too.

Kerasfóra – Denn Die Todten Reiten Schnell [Chile, Black] (2021)

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Self Released | 7-7-21

As of this moment when typing this, there is no information for this band. I am sure things will change in the future but at this moment in time, Kerasfóra has one streaming track and the blackness of space around it. Even purchasing the album as of this moment only allows access to the preview track. Things are a mystery. This is a perfect place for this Chilean act to thrive as its music lends itself to intrigue. By the closing acoustic guitar of the track, “Night’s Symbol” one is left with more questions like what is the rest of the release going to sound like. Pulling tougher noisy black metal, ethereal soundscapes, and the hints of dungeon synth, this band managed to pulls in the ghosts of many sounds under the banner of a title which comes from Stokers novel Dracula. “For the dead travel fast” is a perfect place to start with as a vague overture to a sound which has yet to be defined yet is still enticing.

Ancient Tome – Final Tome [US, Black / Doom] (2021)

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Transylvanian Recordings | 7-27-21(?)

I sure hope that the 2027 release date is not a typo and stays up on the Bandcamp forever. I can safely say this is the best black / doom release of the late 2020’s. the combination of black and doom metal has come with a sense of wild abandonment when it comes to expectation of sound. Unlike black/death or death/thrash, there is no agreed upon meeting point and the combination can be any mixture of the elements. Final tome, the second Ep from US based Ancient Tome further complicates this with a 23 minute exploration into a landscape of slowed black metal with punctuations of violent outburst. Final Tome comes with the endorsement of Transylvanian Recordings which has ceased to be a reliable storyteller of horrid tales and a dealer for rotten sounding music. Whether or not this is coming out next month or in 6 years is little consequence since the clouds are gathering on the horizon and things are about to get fucking dismal.

Trhä – lhum jolhduc [?, Raw Black / Dark Folk / Dungeon Synth] (2021)

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Self Released | 4-26-21

Another release where I know next to nothing about anything. Trhä is an enigma. Searching the name of course only gives me Bandcamp and Metal Archives. But what’s more, searching the informational blurbs also gives me nothing. Whether that means it’s a conlang or a more obscure, less-spoken language is something up to debate. It certainly gives Trhä a deservingly mysterious aura, one bolstered by the vague band information that simply lists “Thét Älëf” as playing everything (occasionally written as “jaa”). I fear that the answer is obvious and I’m just ignorant. The music is 30 minutes of raw black metal with distinct melodic harmonies and almost constant shrieks, some of which curiously follow the leads’ notes. I appreciate the craterous snare, sounding like pieces of wood smashed together on “ëpfêrhäth”. Each of the tracks flow through different movements, some of which start or end on a dark folk meandering with distortion. Ever heard of Flying Saucer Attack? Think of the “Further” album, except raw black metal instead of shoegaze-avant-folk. This is a fascinating release, and I’m happy to recommend it.

deathandserenity. – Endless [US, Post Black] (2021)

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Self Released | 6-11-21

The tags for deathandserentiy.’s third release includes an umbrella of styles including DSBM, skramz, and raw black metal. This all sounds wonderful and is something I have been waiting for. The history of screamo is separate from black metal and aside from a few crossovers, the overlap between the two remains on opposite ends of impassable divide. Endless is not the crossover that is going to bring the two styles together rather the new demo from deathandserenity. allows raw black to have emotive tones and offers a chance for depressive black to be played without the need for morbid clichés. Endless is a powerful 7 minute release which not only offers an interesting path forward for wayward genres but also a chance for the band to make a bold statement for 2021.

Natürgeist – Reinvigorated Terror [US, Raw Black] (2021)

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Self Released | 5-21-21

Morris Kolontyrsky is a busy man. The member of Blood Incantation/Black Curse/Spectral Voice/etc./et seq./ad inf. now has a raw black metal project to add to this repertoire in the way of Natürgeist. The “Reinvigorated Terror” EP is a new two-track demo of the layered extreme metal that characterized 2020’s Black Curse LP (which was one of my top five albums of its year). Starting off with a powerful, Weakling-inspired style of US riffing, this demo slowly incorporates more studio tricks than raw black metal usually hits, with layering and slight psychedelia hitting at the end of both tracks. Low-tempo clean guitar leads contrast with that fast-paced black metal tremolo to cool effect. Those deep in the raw black sauce might hear this as another cash-in and dislike how obviously careful the production really is, but I find it immensely successful for that same reason that Black Curse release did the same for me. Plus, it’s obviously a bit crazier than the other Denver bands – penis metal notwithstanding. Give this a hit of mystical, cold, black hell.

Æumbra – Æumbra [US, Black] (2021)

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Self Released | 5-26-21

A search for “Æumbra metal” reveals exactly nine results, none of which tell me much about this band. From what I can tell, they’re a fresh US black metal act with at least one member. I don’t believe we’re at the point of deep fakes for raw black metal. This demo features 21 minutes of strongly melodic raw black metal more so than the punk- and/or noise-inspired strain. Vocals are a constant high-pitched screech but not annoyingly so; more like Silenius from the early Abigor releases in that raspy affect. There’s a ton of wonderfully written tremolo leads that hearken back to the early second-wave Norwegian black metal aesthetic, but in no way does it sound tired. In fact, the paunchy bass lines give this a slight “oomph” where the rawer-than-your-average-bear production really bolsters the melodic sound. While most of them follow root notes, they bolster the leads ever so slightly to make the demo stand as a sonically impressing work. If you can’t tell, I really like this – and the higher-pitched vocals round out the sound to make everything sound dynamic in a way I can’t describe without sounding like a goober or a pedant. Basically (hah!), there’s serious promise for an LP, and I hope they keep that semi-raw sound for the future. It does well.

Arna – Dragged to a Lunar Grave [Spain, Black] (2021)

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Self Released | 4-23-2021

2020 and 2021 have been the dual years of wampyric black metal. There’s been a significant uptick in bands releasing short LPs or demos themed around erotic death, moonlit nights, and star-crossed romance (and often, all three at the same time). They’re evocative themes and ones that have rightly been a constant presence in the sturm und drang of the popular consciousness. Who doesn’t love a good story about fated love, especially when so many have experienced or nearly experienced it themselves? Well, back to the music: “Dragged to a Lunar Grave” is four tracks of black metal in 28 minutes. Though from Spain, it kinda reminds me of Nachtmystium’s “Demise” and some other mid-2000s US black metal. Fast, riffy, and layered – not at all as raw as the cover art may impress.

Fōr – The Life Feeding Flame [?, Black / Death / Doom] (2021)

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Nihilstic Noise Propaganda | 5-11-21

Ah, another entry in the “dissolving” extreme metal tag. What does that mean anyway? I use “dissolving” to describe that kind of caustic black, death, or doom with hollow vocals, percussion that’s stilted or curiously laborious, and guitars with a precipitated limestone crust. Allegorically, it’s the “I’m being dipped in the acid pools at Yellowstone” kind of metal. (Not that I know what that’s like.) And here’s one of those: the anonymous Fōr from who-knows-where and their 23-minute, 3-track release “The Life Feeding Flame”. This combines black, death, and doom metal in a way that recalls a cavernous Icelandic black metal album – and it’s nearly as scary. Dissonant and, yes, dissolving. The shorter runtime does it a ton of favors in hookability with its tempestuous yet mid-paced drums. Everything about this adds to a slow, creeping dread that is accurately demonstrated through the smouldering lake on the album art. The bass is a steady rumble under every percussive pummel; and the lyrics echo, overlay, and roll off each other in a conflagration. Give me more fire!