Predatory Light – Predatory Light
(Psychic Violence Records/ Invictus Productions)
Predatory Light are a band I’ve been watching since they first jumped onto the scene. With their first two demos, they established themselves as one of the best black metal bands in the American underground. With the two demos, Predatory Light showcase songs with frenzied, spiraling black metal riffs, ghoulish atmosphere, and doom inclinations. On their debut, Predatory Light retain what made their initial offerings so wicked, but with a more old school approach.
A haunting synthesizer lead starts the album, slowly fading in and creating an unsettling atmosphere. From feedback rise hellfire riffs, setting the tone for the rest of the album. This time around there is less of a focus on suffocating atmosphere, and more on crafting sinister riffs that will make you bang your head. Each riff on this album is evil, with the intention of corrupting your mind with each listen. I never thought I’d hear a black metal album with so many earworm riffs. It’s hard not to hum along with each repeated listen. In addition to the trilling riffs abundant on this record, the album sounds absolutely fantastic. The guitar tones are simple yet effective, dark when hammering on power chords and bright when playing leads. The bass tone is gnarly, with a heaping amount of fuzzy grit and some chorus to warm the sound. The drums sound fantastic, with crisp cymbals, bouncing kicks, and sharp snare. The vocals on this album range from deep growls, ghastly wretches, to blood curdling screams like the first scream on “Sacrum (Feral Devotion)”.
What I love so much about this album is it gives you the evil nature black metal 1st wave black metal, but doesn’t rely on common black metal tropes. There isn’t a single mention of anything satanic or occult on this album. Instead, the evil on this album comes from within, and the need to escape the torment of reality. For Predatory Light, liberation comes from ritual excarnation, shedding the flesh and bone that imprisons us. This is evident in the music. To me, each dissonant melody and every anxious scream sounds like an attempt to break out of the body, and return to the darkness from which all life originated. Whether or not you wish to delve into the nefarious energy this album possesses, one thing is certain. This album is chock-full of really fucking cool riffs.
Trautonist – Trautonist
While a lot of the albums on this list have been some form of raw or traditional black metal, I certainly didn’t start my exploration of black metal with raw and hateful black metal. At risk of spoiling any trve kvlt black metal street cred I have (hint: I don’t have any), I started listening to black metal after listening to bands like Alcest and Agalloch. While Agalloch introduced me to the world of nature worshipping atmospheric black metal, bands like Alcest and Lantlôs introduced me to post-black metal and blackgaze. Both bands pioneers of the sound, the albums each band released in 2010, Ecailles de Lune and .neon, set the standard for black metal that as somber as it is elegant, perfectly balancing depression and melancholy with a sense of nostalgia. Years have passed sense I’ve heard blackgaze that really grabbed, with so much of it being lazy dream pop with tremolo strummed guitars and blast beats. When I first heard Trautonist, I was instantly reminded of the sounds I loved so much Alcest and Lantlôs, and knew something special was to come.
Trautonist are a blackgaze duo from Koblenz, Germany. All the songs are written on performed by Dennis Blomberg with female vocals provided by Katharina. The band perfectly mixes the fury and pensiveness of post-black metal with the beauty and bliss of shoegaze. The album starts with thick, fuzzy chords and a delicately plucked arpeggios, before sweeping directly into blast beats and riffs that have a sense of urgency. They seamlessly flow from harsh sounds to sweeter and prettier sounds, with lush chords and crooning melodies. It is over these lighter parts of the songs that Katharina provides her soft and airy singing. Another thing that Trautonist incorporates into a lot of their songs is false endings. The the first track “Stay” has two. They never feel gimmicky, and every time I hear a false ending, the next “start” has me excited to hear more wonderful music. From the more energetic songs like “Downgaze” and “Escapist”, and to the warm and inviting sway of “Deep”, Trautonist crafted the perfect marriage of black metal and shoegaze.
Ghoulgotha – To Starve The Cross
(Dark Descent Records)
Maintaining a level of authenticity and integrity can be tricky when a band decides to step outside convention, especially when it comes to death metal. Most bands that decide to think outside the box of death metal do so by way of overzealous musicianship, incorporating sounds from non-metal genres, or abandoning form in favor of creating music that is suffocating and cacophonous. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, but it’d be great to see more bands advance the style from within, instead of always reaching out. Fortunately, we have bands like Ghoulgotha.
Ghoulgotha completely flip death metal on its head while remaining completely in the scope of death metal. The band’s sound is firmly rooted in old school death metal and death/doom, with a combination of fast, aggressive guitar work and slow, lugubrious riffs. What separates Ghoulgotha’s sound from their contemporaries is their masterful use of rhythmic variation. The band is quick to change tempo, even if only for one measure, or from one riff to another. Switching from speedy furry to morose brutality only adds to the non-Euclidian structure of these songs. Meter is also at play, with time signatures switching from simple to compound at a moments notice. The band is very comfortable with odd time signatures, and on top of that time signatures are never stable, with phrases ending in a different time signature than it started in. Certain phrases are repeated in odd intervals as well, and sometimes songs that seemingly end with a funeral trudge are tagged with a fast lick at the end, further adding to the unconventional and mind-bending nature of Ghoulgotha’s music. You can’t tap your feet to this music.
Ghoulgotha’s taste for melody is interesting too. Like most death metal bands, Ghoulgotha’s riffs and melodies are often in a “minor” mode, but there are times the music is pushing more on pantonal and downright chromatic. These moments are some of the most chaotic and engaging this album has to offer. But don’t think the band is only writing weirdo riffs. Songs like “Visceral Seas” showcase the band at their most melodic, which showcases their ear for melodies that range from sorrowful to anthemic. Coupling rhythmic eccentricities with unpredictable melodic content, To Starve The Cross proves to be a very exciting and engaging album, leaving listeners on their toes.
The production on the record is stellar. The guitar tone is raw and visceral, adding an extra layer of gross to the vicious nature of these riffs. Another feature I love about this record is how warm and round the bass tone is, keeping the record from sounding too sharp. The record’s dark atmosphere is what cements this as a great death metal record to me. While many other bands try experimenting with death metal in ways similar to what Ghoulgotha do, many bands bastardize the sound by trying to add too many layers of “complexity” to the music and by polishing the sound, taking away from the grime and grit the style is known for. Instead of turning death metal into something it’s not, Ghoulgotha flip it on its head, creating something completely new and exciting but all too familiar in the process.
Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered
Shoegaze is a style of music rife with melancholy. Somber songs alluding to heartbreak, empty beds, and lonely nights are the norm, with songs featuring hazy guitars, saturated in rich effects. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with it, in can lead to music that’s more about aesthetic than substance. Fortunately, there are bands that think outside of convention, and just want to have fun. Hailing from the cold, northern landscapes of Saint Petersburg, Russia comes Pinkshinyultrablast, and the happiest shoegaze band on the planet. The band has been around since 2007, but didn’t release their debut album, Everything Else Matters, until 2015. To my surprise, their follow up, Grandfeathered, was released just a year later. In that short time, that band has been some noticeable changes in their sound.
From the start it’s immediately clear the band is experimenting with new sounds. The first track “Initial” is completely electronic, fusing the ethereal nature of synth pop with the choppy vocal samples of early cloud rap. This sonic exploration is then followed up by the rocking nature of “Glow Vastly”, combining the usual glimmering, airy textures one expects from Pinkshiny with riffs that aren’t unlike those of early NWOBHM bands. The rest of the album retains the same carefree energy, with songs full of bright, sunny guitar work, and prancing rhythms that make me want to run through a field of sunflowers. Each song is full of catchy hooks and undeniable grooves that will have smiling and bobbing your head along to the beat. In addition to the fun and playful melodies coming from guitar and bass, synthesizer is more present on this album, adding another layer of to the bliss. It should be also mentioned that the bass player carries the majority of the melodic content present on these songs, with guitars usually focusing and playing noisy chords. There’s plenty of riffs in odd time signatures, proving Pinkshinyultrablast are one of the most musically inclined bands in the shoegaze sphere. The vocals are breezy and atmospheric, splitting the clouds in the sky and showering down like an angel’s chorus.
Overall, Pinkshinyultrablast take everything good about shoegaze and inject an irresistible sense of wonderment and happy-go-lucky vibes with cheerful and engaging sense of melody and structure. While other bands conjure images of sunbathing on a warm summer day with their music, Pinkshinyultrablast conjure images of running around carefree with your closet friends on summer break, venturing to faraway lands and soaking in the sun.
Ustalost – The Spoor Of Vipers
Ustalost are a one-man black metal band based out of New York City. That man is one, Will Skarstad, who plays in Yellow Eyes, as well as Sanguine Eagle and Imperial Trumpet. Ustalost is the Russian word for “fatigue”, which seems to reflect how Will must have felt during the creative and recording process for this monumental effort. Spread across six tracks, The Spoor Of Vipers, sounds like sleepless nights in solitary confinement. The album begins with an eerie synthesizer drone, which slowly fades in before a furry of blast beats, jagged guitars, and chanted vocals bombard you.
Despite the albums low fidelity, every instrument can be heard clearly, which is important because there’s a lot going on. While the album mostly has a mid-pace feeling, each song is incredibly dynamic, with fluctuating tempos and rhythms. Each riff is sinister, with overlapping guitars creating whirling chord progressions that are dissonant and disorienting. The bass playing on this record is of the highest caliber. The bass is always present and clearly audible, and the bass lines do a great job of being both highly melodic and holding down the harmonic foundation of each song. The vocals on the album are incredibly intense, blood-curdling screams that are almost too painful to listen to.
Each song either starts or ends with the same haunting drone, if not bookended. These drones are accompanied by echoed screams that sound like desperate cries, begging for the madness to end. It makes the album feel like one long fever dream, each episode interrupted by brief moments sleep paralysis and paranoia before being dragged back in. While this album feels deeply personal, I believe we can all relate to the feeling of fatigue presented here. We’re always tired. The world is an exhausting place to live in at times. But this music isn’t just the sounds of nightmares, but the sounds of our struggles. It is the soundtrack to somebody trying to break out of this world that torments us, and free themselves from the anguish of existence. This is possible, but will certainly result in fatigue.
Tardigrada – Emotionale Ödnis
(Fallen Empire / Eisenwald)
Black metal is known for being hateful and/or satanic music, but what initially ignited my interest in the genre so many years ago was bands that make black metal that is evocative and deeply emotional. While it may seem oxymoronic, it’s usually the black metal that is depressive and bleak that I find to be the most invigorating. The ability to make powerful and defiant music in the face of depression and all other negative emotions is a sign of triumph and true strength. No other band illustrated that better than Tardigrada on their debut album, Emotionale Ödnis.
The Swiss troop craft powerful black metal, rife with melancholy and gloom. The band’s songs usually range between nine and twelve minutes in length, and they pack a lot into each composition. Each riff is a balance of melody and ferocity, mixing second wave black metal riffing with the atmospheric textures of DSBM. The vocals on the album really stick out, as they sound incredibly pained and intense, like the vocalist’s life depends on you hearing his passionate screams. Each song is preceded by a short, delicate instrumental interlude, showing a glimmer of hope before the cavalry of riffs descends. Each song sounds like the band is fortifying a system of defense, building a wall to shut themselves away from the outside world. The name of the album translates to “Emotional Desolation” so it makes sense that music that illustrates a feeling of emptiness and loneliness to also illustrate feelings of isolation, reflected by the album art. Tardigrada have proved to be a powerful force, proving a band can showcase feelings of depression and desolation while simultaneously creating empowering music.
Shataan – Weigh of the Wolf
Escape is necessary. The entrapments of our modern world seem endless. Even on “vacation” most people are still stuck in the matrix, keeping on eye on the e-mails and business calls as they flood our inbox. If someone wishes to truly leave behind the stress of modern world, they most go into the natural world. While the natural world is a source of inspiration for many great black metal bands, there is a noticeable focus on forests and mountain landscapes. On their debut full-length, Shataan set themselves apart by embodying the sound and spirit of the desert. In this vast, arid environment, Shataan craft raw, psychedelic black metal that is unlike anything else.
The first thing most are eager to discuss is the band’s use of flute. Shataan utilize flute as an integral part of their sound, not merely there to reinforce melodic content that already exists in the song. In addition, the song “Stand Apart” also features eerie and unsettling whistling, something I haven’t heard on a black metal album before. The use of wind instruments conjures images of open desert and hot winds. The guitar playing is sharp and bright like the sun, and the bass playing is highly melodic, slithering around the guitar like a snake. While this music sounds like a trip into the desert, it is also a trip into oneself. Introspection is a key aspect of this music, and from it comes the need to shed this skin, and become new. As I mentioned earlier, escape is necessary. Not just from society, but from oneself. Viewing ourselves from the outside, we are able to “Release” ourselves from whatever chains hold us to despair, and “Leaven Behind” the poisons of our past. Overall, Shataan prove to be one of the strongest of the Black Twilight Circle bands, combining the aggression and catharsis of black metal with desert psychedelia. Worship Black Twilight.