It took some time, but despite the deluge of content constantly bombarding us and aspiring metal fans worldwide, we’ve been able to reach some level of consensus on 2015’s worthwhile metal music. Not to say that we’re in perfect harmony (If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that there’s some room for dissonance in our musical language), but the hope is, like what our recent reinspection of 2013 revealed, that some of this material remains interesting for more than the year it was released.
Album of the Year
A wrathful reminder of what war metal should have been: a melodically-structured, chromatic holocaust to the god of this world. Jan Kruitwagen’s leads awe listeners and are optimally placed to hold attention just as each rhythm riff runs its course. An impenetrable mix rewards repeated listening to an album that may surpass Kruitwagen’s work on Sammath’s Godless Arrogance. March to Kaeck’s martial heartbeat or revel in shit.
Bolt Thrower meets ritualistic black metal. Rather than cathartic bending into climactic oriental leads, Desecresy diffuse tension by methodically varying into bizarre melodies with carefully placed, otherworldly leads to a steady metronome.
Mid-paced riffing in the style of Bolt Thrower builds tension with melody and drifts off into space with variations and well placed leads. Where Bolt Thrower themselves shoot a rifle at the ballon using rhythmic change to introduce another riff or dramatically bending the riff into a climactic, oriental short solo, Desecresy insert ritualistic blackened leads for dramatic contrast with the rhythmic, power chord riffing.
Rob Miller returns from blacksmithing to his previous metallic occupation with an album of catchy post-punk in Motorhead and Metallica song formats. Thankfully free of the Godsmack and other MTV influences present on Amebix’s swansong.
An effective album of mid-paced death and heavy metal riffing. There is no psychedelic rock pretending to be Black Sabbath “doom” here. Highly structured; the opposite of the random tossed riff salads of most modern metal. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.
In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.
This vinyl 7” single features two new, well constructed death metal songs from one of from one of the few truly underrated bands in the genre. Those foresighted enough to purchase the identically-titled CD boxed set version received the band’s entire catalog in one of the rare remasters that sounds better than the original releases.
One last Motorhead album of mostly Motorhead songs. Nothing “new” is introduced for those in the non-metal audience who disdain metal and wish to feel intellectually superior to the common headbanger. The final work from a relentless machine of a band.
Crusty death metal of the better than braindead Benediction but worse than Cancer category.
Atom by Atom
I’ve possibly heard too much but Hanger 18. I know too much. Although not as degradingly vulgar as Surgical Steel, Atom by Atom results in a pretty tacky affair. Vocals are as emotional as in the first album, except that in here they seem even more disconnected from the music as the music veers into some sort of progressive speed metal akin to Helstar’s. (Editor’s note: I liked it, but David Rosales was critical)
Blessed Be My Brothers
The band shows promise with their Unique Leader-style rhythmic riffing and soaring heavy metal leads. While being above par for technical deaf metal, aping a different one of your heroes every few verses doesn’t make for particularly enjoyable repeated listening.
House of Atreus
The Spear and the Ichor that Follows
Fredrik Nordstrom’s Arghoslent.
Technical power metal carnival music.
The Book of Souls
Nobody is allowed to edit themselves or turn on their bullshit filters in Steve Harris’s band anymore (Read a full review here).
Kvist meets the randomness of metalcore. Indistinct riffing and songwriting mix with pointless shoutout verses to past greats that makes listeners wonder why they aren’t just playing Sodom and Mayhem in the first place.
Below the Hengiform
Where are the riffs?
Every Teutonic speed metal band gone Voltron.
The Unburiable Dead
The band has no need to repeat half the song just so the guitarist can get over his refractory period and play another solo. This is also an extremely distracted riff salad in which the individual riffs can be brought in from sources as different as galloping power metal to thrashy death metal to alternative nu and groove “metal”. This is headbang-core for beer metallers and other social metalheads. This recording received tworeviews in 2015.
Aria of Vernal Tombs
A collection of interesting renaissance faire riffs written into songs that quickly wear out their welcome as metal, becoming RPG background music.
A few strong songs on a demo do not warrant a two CD set of Swedish death with limpid keyboards anticipating the steps black metal took towards mainstream goth rock in the late nineties.
Exercises in Futility
This is the type of black metal as repetitive rock music that ignorant hipsters will praise as “ritualistic”. The album’s title sums the quality of its musical content: futile. (Editor’s note: I wanted to give this album a chance. It didn’t age well.)
Gothenburg cheese and Meshuggah licks are less appetizing than a lead-laced Mexican lollipop.
Grave Miasma returns. This time with 1993’s atmosphere.
Out of the Garden
Candlemass meets Soundgarden.
Every Teutonic speed metal band gone Voltron.
Solid underground metal in the spirit of Sarcofago that is perfectly well-written but does not amount to more than the sum of its parts; does not conjure up any long-lasting message.
Kaeck has received quite the buzz from other contributors to this site, which was actually how I discovered it. It turns out that this is one of the best black metal releases I’ve heard since Sorcier des Glaces’ The Puressence of Primitive Forests in 2011. It’s not the most accurate comparison since this is a significantly more violent and melodramatic album (Puressence, for all its strengths, is candy-coated), but I digress.
Stormkult belongs to an especially claustrophobic school of black metal, with its bassy production and keyboard soundscapes. Of all the instruments, though, the vocal section was the first to particularly draw my attention. They are all over the place, and the constant variation of vocal technique is effective in distinguishing sections of songs and their corresponding moods. For some, these may take some acclimation; there are some particularly anguished screams and shouts that only avoid coming off as goofy or otherwise inappropriate through their scarcity and correspondence to climaxes in the rest of the songwriting. Since I can’t understand the Dutch these vocalists apparently perform, I have to pay special attention to how they use their voices as instruments, but I am thusly rewarded with the strength of their performances even if I can see some not enjoying the style.
Other parts of the recording are more conventional, although the dense soundscapes and keyboards tend to put me in mind of Emperor’s debut (In The Nightside Eclipse). Despite not being as overtly symphonic, the content here has a similar pacing of riff delivery – slower chord progressions over fast, if relatively unvariegated drumming; percussion is admittedly not the major emphasis here, although the drums are mixed prominently enough for this reality to reach my attention. There’s definitely room for more variety in the drumming without overemphasizing it and thusly creating awkward stylistic conflicts. Some more tempo shifts might’ve been helpful, too, as the album does seem to lean towards a theatrical, narrative style in other parts of its instrumentation, and a few well placed breaks can be very powerful. A more shrewdly degraded production might also help – Stormkult sounds almost crystal clear in spite of its overtures towards low fidelity, which suggests the latter may have been created by something as artificial as slicing out all the sounds above a certain frequency.
The positives here outweigh the negatives by a great margin, though; Kaeck’s approach on this album is fundamentally sound, although there is definitely room for refinement and greater sophistication if they choose to go forwards with future recordings. Those could potentially stand with the god-tier recordings we’ve enshrined here, but that Kaeck comes close to them makes me confident that they could reach that level with practice and effort. I write this knowing I have yet to finish penetrating Stormkult‘s depths, but an album that doesn’t surrender its secrets immediately is better than the alternative.
Author’s note: DMU has had access to this album for sometime, but in light of its official physical release, I feel writing about my own experience with it is appropriate.
Like a tapestry woven of coloured threads Kaeck Stormkult is music in which simple individual elements are brought together with a larger vision in mind. The overall expression is an affirmation of violence and chaos tempered by a sense of order and beauty. Individual ideas are violent sawing chromatic fragments which generate new material by subtle variation. This tendency to unify songs through variations on a single idea is contrasted by the occasional introduction of a more expansive melody, these melodic phrases will be familiar to Sammath listeners for their strangely chromatic and yet tonal quality. These elements combine to make Kaeck one of the more interesting recent acts in black metal. There is an understanding here that individual riffs cannot stand alone but require a conceptual framework which transcends them. Each song is unique in its composition and yet there is a sense that this work is a unified statement. Whilst there is still room for improvement in overall consistency Kaeck offers black metal with real vision and some hope for the future of the genre.
Playing a style of black metal that became more prominent and perhaps common after the turn of the century, S.V.E.S.T.’s “atmospheric” approach is of the sort that creates a fog out of different layers of intsruments playing different notes to form dissonant chords and having the drums by a vehicle for intensity. Although black metal per se has inclinations towards minimalism and ambience, this explicit brand of atmospheric black metal stretches song durations as long as it is necessary to induce the sense of evaporating time and alienating experience they are looking for. While many different bands can claim to be part of this, very few retained an anchor in reality and still building something meaningful. S.V.E.S.T. Urfaust is such an album.
The way this balance is achieved in a style of black metal attempting to create a chaotic semblance is to always have one element that is static in proportion to how much other things vary or lash out wildly. For example, this band always keeps some sort of diffuse organlike notes playing in the background, either with some kind of synth or with tremolo-picked guitars, while the drums change slightly more freely, but always responding to changes in the music as a whole, and the lead guitars are allowed to roam around more freely creating the and blending the motifs that lend each piece its personality in a background that is a raging maelstrom.
Of course, the counterpoint between instruments needs to be maintained, it will not do to have an heavy riff underscored by drum patterns that take away the attention from a center in the music and rather give us two shows in one. Such an event spells out incoherence. The controlled way in which such chaotic force is wielded strongly calls to mind the prophetic work of Colombian pioneers Parabellum.
Urfaust is a gem of an offering whose music lends itself to an esoteric interpretation. Listened to from afar or in a distracted manner, the music may be perceived as a simple repetition of ideas throughout a long time. In part, this effect is intended as the listener is expected to lose himself in the music, instead of counting measures and the number of times this or that theme come and go. Furthermore, the density of the layers covering the details is such that to pierce the uniformity, the listener experiencing this must become acquainted with it in an almost meditative state in repeated visits.
In this, it is similar to the roads taken by Abyssum Cum Foeda Sanie Ex Ore, Kaeck Stormkult and Paysage D’Hiver’s eponymous album. All this leads to an effect in which content is blurred from an unattending audience but revealed to a foccused attention that can both let the music flow and attend to the relationships within it. Masterful music that achieves this must embed these details, progressions and variations behind a strong veil of consistency that also serves to preserve coherence in a rather forceful manner that is vindicated by the overall balance achieved.
This album has an art music work orientation with respect to its overall orientation in concept and publication. First of all, this is a three-song full-length album in which the songs are movements that belong together and not a collection of three songs. The relationship goes beyond a very clear and distinctive choice in voice and is made explicit in motifs throughout the album, with its most obvious gesture being that the opening section of the album in the first movement is the same as the closing one in the third. Another example worthy of attention and presenting an immersive experience is Fanisk Noontide.
The element of chaos is, of course, a metaphorical one, represented in disorienting rhythms that quickly come back to a stable state and are safely supported by anchors. It is their repetition, variation, combination and alternation between different motifs along with the unrelenting percussive attack that create the picture of crumbling sanity from compositions that are technically firm and delineated.
This is where a band like S.V.E.S.T. far surpasses the uncontrolled madness of later Deathspell Omega which incurred in a common mistake in nu-black metal: the attempt of becoming the atmosphere itself. The so-called experimental disorganization and hispterish disavowal of rules for the sake of breaking conventions displayed by Deathspell Omega leads them to the lazy decision to try to portray chaos by actually making a huge mess out of the music. Unfortunately, S.V.E.S.T. later took from this band the idea of uncontrolled freedom in fits of post-modern delirium.
The vulgar idea of attempting to imitate what is being portrayed in an overtly obvious and direct manner is not new, although in our era the clowns doing it come out to the unaware as being original thinkers of some kind. Great masters of music like Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach played in this line and warned themselves and others of the dangers of falling to either side of the narrow wall that music forms between evocation and aesthetics. S.V.E.S.T Urfaust stands proudly and firmly as a monument to this balance where both music is preserved in its formality yet evocation and idea envelop it as the non-destructive organization and manipulation of the aesthetics themselves become the door and medium to the experience.
“(…)a symphony of Beethoven presents to us the greatest confusion, which yet has the most perfect order at its foundation, the most vehement conflict, which is transformed the next moment into the most beautiful concord. It is rerum concordia discors, a true and perfect picture of the nature of the world which rolls on in the boundless maze of innumerable forms, and through constant destruction, supports itself. But in this symphony all human passions and emotions also find utterance; joy, sorrow, love, hatred, terror, hope, etc., in innumerable degrees, yet all, as it were, only in abstracto, and without any particularization; it is the mere form without the substance, like a spirit world without matter. Certainly we have a tendency to realize them while we listen, to clothe them in imagination with flesh and bones, and to see in them scenes of life and nature on every hand. Yet, taken generally, this is not required for their comprehension, or enjoyment, but rather imparts to them a foreign and arbitrary addition; therefore it is better to apprehend them in their immediacy and purity.”
Following up on Brett Steven’s review of Kaeck’s Stormkult, the present review starts off where he left off: the fusion of styles in Stormkult that are brought together under one unifying banner. The truth is that trying to split this album into its influences is almost pointless as it broke them down to such atomic and almost indivisible parts to build something that is completely their own. We may hear a trace of what Sammath or Kjeld sounds like almost only because we were told that members from these bands participate here. Otherwise, we would be hard pressed to find concrete influences.The previously mentioned review does a very good job at describing the album both in an evocative way, as in describing a picture and by summoning the presence of other bands as to give the reader some idea of how Kaeck goes about building their music, but in no moment does this imply that Kaeck actually sounds like any of them (except, of course, for the fact that they are all black metal).
Kaeck’s “sound” can be broken down into the layered functions that the instruments fill. First we have the drums at the bottom. These are used more like a heartbeat rather than a metronome. A typical background black metal drum pattern will keep the beat with standard beats, but here the drum patterns are reduced in such an intentional manner to something that can only be described as primitive battle drums whose sole function is to drive deep and resounding vibrations in the martial host’s body. Guitars distorted to the poing of disfugurement provide the thickness of the sound, notes and chords themselves being barely recognizable through the fuzz and chaos of frequencies bent to the whims of an unfathomable will. Riding the maelstrom of riffs comes a coarse voice which simultaneously commands us out of lethargic inaction and commends us to embrace the defying and righteous — though heretical — mission of the Angel of Light. A luminescence that, contrary to what the waylayer Paul would have us believe, is in all truth the true essence of that entity shrouded in damned robes of exhile. A garb worn as camouflage to avoid the tyrannical embrace that paralyzes thought from within in exchange for blissful mental atrophy. Echoing across the catacombs that serve as an imaginable setting for Stormkult we can hear a keyboard that outlines short melodic motifs counterpointing and delineating the whole in a loop, only changing with the tempestuous guitar and arising from within its bowels only to go back to them as a lost, desperate soul attempting to escape imminent destiny only be pulled back by a reality that admits no denial.
What we have now, is a static picture of Kaeck. But the enduring power of Stormkult resides in the living movement through temporal dimension that music is. Affirming dominance over the elements of music, bending them in an abuse characteristic of a necromancer trespassing the bounds set by divine order, we hear the violent plight of Godless Arrogance coming to fruition in the reining in of a beast of unnatural origin. The experience through which Kaeck hauls our terrified soul appears at first as an indistinguishable blur. It is only after our eyes have time to adjust in the dim light pushed into corners by an overpowering darkness that we see a pattern emerge in the frescoes on the walls splattered by blood old and new. And from the synchronized layers of sound we hear subtle transformations that a moment ago seemed to comprise only one motif in repetition. Once we latch on to the combat-inciting beats, and the voice guides us over the patterns of the riffs as the melodies produced in the keyboard and a soloing guitar move in and out of our field of view, we start to envisage this humble temple in all the dimensions conceived by its creator: the evolving motifs on the timeline as well as the entities represented in the melodies existing as reflections of the riff itself on parallel worlds.
While any music can rightfully pronounce themselves as comprising all necessary dimensions, seldom do creators actually think fully in all of them. It is usually the case that the whole is forgone to give prominence to one of the elements, no matter what is claimed. When the goal is the whole, all the parts are cared for in an obsessive manner in attention to how they affect the whole and not according to how they stand on their own which often leads to an imbalance in the relation of the parts that obstructs communication, for what is intended by the whole is either distorted or fades into the background to give way to the prominence of egos. These considerations must include the temporal relations of things, it is not just how the instruments in the present riff interact, but how they interact with different parts throughout the song. Balance, then, does not imply a static situation where everything is still as a result of equating forces pulling in different directions, rather, a stable condition is attained without which a clear direction would be very difficult to follow. And although one should also keep in mind that there is no one singular formula to approach composition, each tradition has its guidelines based on conventions without which music would only be what modern popular music wants it to be: personalized pleasure fountains.
Kaeck approach this ideal of balance in all dimensions from the particular filter of minimalist and raging black metal. In Stormkult the tempered voices of the outward chaos of late Sammath and the adventurous impulse of Kjeld are not just channeled but fused and distilled to the point where only the most basic of essentials remains. This is why although we cannot actually hear Sammath or Kjeld in the music (apart from predictable superficial observations like “the vocalist is the same” or “it’s also aggressive black metal”), their approaches to music construction — from the naturalistic violence of Sammath that defines consistent yet distinct riff-writing to the refined delicacy of movement of Kjeld provided by a melding of sections through simple yet perspicacious rhythmic and melodic devices that makes such changes almost imperceptible, Stormkult is the titan born of a god and a primordial monster.
Kaeck — a collaboration between members of Sammath, Kjeld and Noordelingen — introduces itself to black metal at a time when the genre has lost the momentum of two decades ago and replaced it with primitive but mostly uninspired, very similar music. Of that music, the clear forerunner is war metal, which takes the extremity of black metal to new heights but simultaneously reduces it to sawing high-speed chromatic riffs like later hardcore punk. Gone are the epic melodies and entrancing adaptive song structures. Through this, the techniques of black metal outlive the genre.
Combining the raw intensity of black metal, the odd vocals of pagan metal, and the melodic understructure of early 1990s black metal, Kaeck produces a high-intensity blast that resembles a more technical version of Blasphemy fused with early Immortal and Isengard. Where Zyklon-B created high-intensity black metal around simple melodies, and Dawn used constant melody over raging war-drums, or even Impaled Nazarene shaped songs from simple riffs rounding out into melodies over high-powered percussion, Kaeck keeps the melodic center to songs and uses it as a flavoring to otherwise savage riffs, but lets songs structure themselves to fit the melody. On top of this, vocalist Oovenmeester layers epic vocals that resemble those of Isengard, Storm or Mayhem “Life Eternal,” using these to produce both texture and melody to complement the raging guitars and resonant melody.
With that as the basis of its style, Kaeck varies the formula across the album, with each song being its own chapter with a different approach, but crafted admirably within the same consistent style to give the band a unified voice. Fast mid-range power chord melodies over blasting drums, in the Immortal Pure Holocaust style, give Stormkult an otherworldly feel that quickly descends into untamed rushing chaos and then emerges on the other side as a complementary melody. Keeping energy high, and using bass and guitars as a lead phrasal instrument over drums which frame them with less chaos than Immortal but a more flexible structure than most black metal bands short of Sarcófago can handle, Kaeck slashes out anthems of the abyss with a silver lining which suggests a divinity of thought in animalistic, irrational and feral assertion of the nature within. The result takes the best from war metal and fuses it with the best of classic black metal, creating the album we might have wished for when desiring Zyklon-B to be more complex or Dawn to be less drenched in melody as a technique.
Coming from a merger of the New Wave of Dutch Black Metal bands such as Kjeld, whose Skym roared up the black metal charts but features less internal variation in the style of Dawn with more varied riffing, and Sammath whose Godless Arrogance paid tribute to both Immortal and the most savage members of the black and death metal pantheon, this approach develops a consistent sound for these bands: old world melody, new world violence, and a fusion of the two that delivers both emotional and visceral satisfaction. Stormkult creates a world of its own and then soars above it like an avenging spirit crossing through the clouds before the sun, then allows its inner being to expand without indulging in any extraneous material. With this approach, and songwriting that taps into the melancholic rage and alienation coupled with a warlike desire to set the world right that defined early black metal, Kaeck stands poised to conquer much of the black metal world.
Dutch black metal band Kaeck have blessed us with a preview of the album in full song uploaded to Youtube and a treated us with a look at the album artwork. Consistent with the symbolic anti-religious blasphemy with an occult atmosphere that longs for deeper knowledge and understanding of the world that goes beyond dogma and into the heretical, the artwork displays perhaps somewhat cliche yet nonetheless symbolic objects of mystic research that become the tools for the pushing of boundaries of permitted knowledge. It is both rebellious and underground, subversive and hidden — a quiet revolution of plane-wanderers, mystics and malcontent visionaries that realize that the world at hand cannot contain the ideals they are looking for, launching them in a quest for the truth that is a desperate and hopeful reaching-out for the future and simultaneously nostalgic of an illusory grand past .
In “Afgod”, Kaeck present us with a condensed and focused incarnation of these sentiments. A heavy use of repetition with slight variation in a minimalist piece that can only be crafted by the most expert of black metal composers — not musicians or artists. Every single part is significant and important, ingrained indispensably in the framework of the music in a way that its function is not only amplified locally, but that makes the piece as a whole enhanced so that when all these elements are together (the understated drums, the melody-carrying enveloping keyboards, the saturating guitars and the maddened vocals) a surprisingly layered result whose individual elements are engaging but have nowhere near the power and reach of the created entity born when the sounds are brought together. And on the timeline, no single riff, no single repetition can account for the effect of the total song.This is the hallmark of superior and successful minimalist black metal. Greatness in any music, such as this, lies in the unified journey and the coalescing elements: a vision encompassing the whole vertically and horizontally.
Edit: “Alfgod” was taken down, but a link for another song in the album was uploaded and linked below.