A Fragile King was one of the best death metal records out there in 2011; magnificently good riffs and terrifying vocals, I just couldn't fault that record and I span it obsessively for months on end. Still return to it at a moment's notice. So yet another disappointment from a death metal band this year with Splinters, which is Vallenfyre's sophomore slump. This is a great-sounding album by some veteran talents who, for whatever reason, have lost the ability to write songs.
One of the things I like about Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse (the name of which I always have to double check... possibly as it was one I got into at a time of regularly getting baked and my memory has never recovered itself on the topic?) is the truly vast atmosphere it has. It is such a visual album. You can see ice-bearing conifers, but through them you can see concatenations of cosmic entities, arrayed just beyond those leaves as if far closer to the earth than they usually are. Sorcery and stars. Mare Cognitum are more into the extraterrestrial atmosphere, but their core sound is rooted in Emperor, as well as Dawn's Slaughtersun. And they do achieve some of that Emperial evocation.
The Grotesquery are a band I've ended up following pretty loyally, owning both their full-lengths and having listened to them both a lot, especially the first. For my money this is Rogga' most interesting project by a mile; he actually seems to be writing riffs for The Grotesquery, instead of just playing old Dismember and Grave ones that he's tweaked a bit. The guy really has a concept for this band - beyond the frequent samples, constant Lovecraft and Poe references and overall horror movie thing. Musically speaking, the riffs from these guys are at their best a superb blend of brutal and catchy stuff with an old school Swedish spirit undead in there somewhere.
The second album by Lie In Ruins is something I was anticipating, as the previous one left quite an impression on me. Not that it had very memorable riffs. It was and is just a well done coagulation of doom drenched old school Finnish death metal. Lie In Ruins definitely have the pedigree to stand out as legit among the million young bands plying this exact sound via Demigod and Abhorrence, and they wore it well on Swallowed by the Void. Not so here. I was pretty disappointed to find, after quite a wait, that this classily entitled sophomore record, resplendent with superbly minimal and striking artwork, from a label that has released choice album after choice album, is unbelievably boring. All seventy odd minutes of it.
People often comment - even complain - about Nunslaughter's insanely big and sprawling discography, with full-lengths few and far between among countless splits, rehearsals, EPs, compilations and live albums. I don't have a problem with it considering EPs like Black and Cerebus are among some of the band's finest recordings, if you can find them. Not to mention there is actually a live EP out there recorded from a tour I attended, which will make a superb souvenir when I get around to tracking it down.
Though they don't share the relative renown of Rotting Christ or Septicflesh, Varathron are another long-running member of Greece's '90s black metal scene, an unholy congregation second only to the Norwegian and Swedish scenes in my eyes. Along with those bands and Necromantia, Varathron laid the groundwork for the brooding, traditionally influenced but menacingly occult style that Hellenic black metal is now associated with. Varathron's debut and split with Necromantia are in fact an apex of that sound. A couple of decades later their latest record takes that focus on engaging and dynamic guitar work, and progresses it almost to the levels of epic and grandiose. This record does pay its dues to that early, morbid sound with its doomed pace inflected by thrashing riffs, but it is far more steeped in nefarious atmosphere and truly wizard-like instrumentation.
The corporeal themes of this album are more general yet less predictable than many forest or city obsessed bands, with Thaw more fixated on the vast scale and minutiae of the elements that comprise the world around us and the passing of time. The atmosphere they create is less of the ancient settlements, traditions and breathtaking mountain vistas that preoccupy hundreds of black metal bands from Slavic countries, and more of the dull, square Soviet-era buildings and litter-strewn alleyways that make up industrial areas in such places. Unfortunately, much as I'd rather breathe in the sights of Orava or Zakopane than trudge through the drab city limits of Krakow, this isn't a Polish black metal band you can count among the country's best.
Horncrowned are from Bogota and play black metal in the vein of early Enthroned, Cirith Gorgor, Setherial (they briefly had a connection with them when Atum drummed for one of Horncrowned's EPs - he records for Divine Codex with two Setherial conspirators) and Legion-period Marduk. The lazy call it Norsecore. However one (attentive) listen to this reveals absolutely nothing Nordic about it or its sound, and that isn't just because of the line-up. This is hot, heavy and brutal black metal, very much a product of tropical heat, smog, chaos and violence rather than icy winds and Scandinavian intensity.
Ascension's album Consolamentum opened my eyes to a whole new way of listening to black metal. Some of the latter era DsO, Marduk and Mayhem suddenly made sense, where previously I had listened almost exclusively to their earlier stuff. So did entire swathes of French and Swedish orthodox blackness. I started to get a lot more out of Ofermod and Ondskapt. I was obsessed with this band - still am, in fact With Burning Tongues is the only demo I've actually bothered to get in full-price digipack format (even the damn shirt as well). Consolamentum influenced the way I perceive black metal and was a gateway to much of what I listen to at the moment. So even two new songs from this band, in anticipation of their "second coming" is cause for excitement.
Wederganger have a great band name. The one who walks again! The band have created quite a stir in the so-called underground with their two-song demo Gelderse Drek, with an entry in the great Daemon Worship Productions' roster already. It found its way to me via Heidens Hart Records, who also put out Mondvolland's amazing final album this year, and who are calling this a single (also, I reckon I saw the owner Arjan playing keyboards for Countess when I saw them live in Germany this year, this guy is busy it seems).