Nine Circles ov…Black Metal in 2019


Peek behind the curtains, look in the crevices of dark corners unexamined by light and that’s where I’ve been finding some of the best music of 2019.  Last week we took a stroll through some of the best power metal to strike sword and shield this year, and the chance to do the same with black metal was too good to pass up.  So for this edition of Nine Circles ov… we’re going back into the dark to look at the some of the best the genre has proffered for our alien oblations, keeping away from the big hitters (but DAMN I dig that Abbath) as well as any we might have already mentioned on the site or the podcast. Don your cloak, grab your candelabra, and let’s journey into the dark night of black metal, 2019.

belzebubs - pantheon of the nightside gods

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  Cult cartoon lampoons metal but has really great songs, so major label releases an album that becomes massively popular.  The beauty of Metalocalypse and Dethklok was their ability to distill all the great tenants of death metal into small hilarious chunks that still manage to rip your head off.  I didn’t think we’d see the like again, but kudos to Belzebubs, because not only is it a great webcomic turned graphic novel that skewers black metal in adorable fashion, but in debut album Pantheon of the Nightside Gods the band has been given form, and it’s a wicked take on the kid of pristine melodic black metal bands like Cradle of Filth excel in. There’s no comedy here – this is a straight up metal attack, and the fury in songs like “Blackened Call” and the nine-minute “Dark Mother” echo Emperor like few bands have been able to.  You may be tempted to stay away because of the comic aspect and the major label pickup – Don’t.  Come for the comedy of the comics, stay for the wicked delight that is the album.  This has been on constant rotation in my house.

bull of apis bull of bronze - offerings of flesh and gold

I love it when a black metal cover doesn’t dwell in standard morose tones: black and blacker, with some white for the logo and corpsepaint.  Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze doesn’t dwell in the standard, either on the album art for their debut Offerings of Flesh and Gold or the maelstrom they bring to bare: sprawling, dank and ritualistic black metal that sits squarely on the side of the downtrodden and oppressed.  With three massive songs spanning over 45 minutes there’s a lot of room to maneuver, whether it’s in the nearly five-minute chant of opener “O! A Smile of Blood!” that prefaces a ripping attack or the majestic evil doom of the 22-minute “Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze.”  This is black metal to sink into, letting its waves of sound wash over you as you contemplate the richness of the music and lyrics.  Fascinating and not to be slept on.

epectase - astres

A few months ago the Nine Circles crew were chatting it up and we came to the consensus that our favorite black metal is “it’s, uhhhh black metal? Sometimes?” and that was the way our own Charles Randall got me to listen to Astres, the debut from French black metal outfit Epectase.  To say this album is a bit of an earful is an understatement: songs spiral in and out of themselves, taking jumps into noodling that touches shoegaze, jazz, and the usual gang of suspects.  The 16-plus minute extravaganza (and why don’t we use that word more when describing metal?) of “Entering the Domain of the Solar Sovereign” is just a ridiculous offering of riffs and songwriting ideas.  There’s never a moment when things feel disjointed, and though I wish maybe a minute or two would’ve be trimmed, I’m hard pressed to say where, exactly.  That’s a great problem to have, and I cannot wait to hear what Epectase does next.

gaahls word - gastir Ghosts Invited

After the whipping that was God Seed’s I Begin, I wasn’t sure when or if we’d see Gaahl jumping back into full throated black metal again.  And with his new outfit Gaahls Wyrd I’m not sure we have, but that’s a good thing.  Because GastiR – Ghosts Invited plays like a vortex of styles and emotions, tethered to black metal but with enough rope to expand into avenues the man hasn’t really explored before.  Look no further than the killing thrash attack of “From the Spear” to hear how invigorated he sounds, and how explosive the band can be.  There are echoes of goth post-punk in the way he croons at the beginning of “Ghosts Invited” as the music carries into progressive death metal as much as traditional moments of black.  In less than three minutes “Through and Past and Past” rips faster and bloodier than much of the death metal I’ve heard this year, and I’m crossing all my fingers this is more than a one-off project.

lichmagick - lichmagick

I do have a bit of a sweet spot for lo-fi crusty black metal with a punk edge: see Oppression down below as well as my well-documented love for all things Darkthrone.  The self-titled debut from Lichmagick hits all the right spots: riffs that roar by at 100mph, barbaric vocals just on the side of interpretable, and drums that lay down a crusty punk foundation capable of knocking the drink right out of your hand.  What more do you need to know?  Six songs that blast by in 16 minutes, with only one song going over three minutes.  From the crush of opener “I Am the Reaper” to the closing cacophony of “Eternal Return” you’ll snap your neck and bloody your fists, then do it all over again.

mesarthim - ghost condensate

Australia’s one-man black metal machine Mesarthim has eased up a bit with the relentless releases, but this year saw a brilliant return to epic melodic black metal with Ghost Condensate.  Composed of two 20-minute pieces, the album shows a more integrated approach to the man’s interests, with moments of electronic pop woven into the fabric of the black metal.  Rather than being disjointed, it provides some much needed breath and space before the music picks back up at the speed of light with blasts beats and pounding tremolo chords.

oppression - Le coeur plein de rage

There’s something so visceral about the lo-fi blackened crust attack of Montreal, Québec’s Oppression.  It could be a simple bludgeoning attack, but woven in the abrasive production and cavernous drum blasts is a dedication to song construction.  There are moments in Le coeur plein de rage (translated as “the heart full of rage”) that bring to mind a band like Joy Division as much as anything in the black metal family, and it works like gangbusters on the opening title track and follow-up “Contre la vague.”  For something so purposefully low fidelity, there’s no hiding the talent on display, particularly in the bass playing of Sovannak Ké who also takes on vocal duties.  Oppression is angry and ugly, but underneath the layers of filth there’s a real beauty and dedication to just how ugly things are.

Skáphe + Wormlust - Kosmískur hryllingur

The combination of desolate black metal bands Skáphe and Wormlust have joined forces to create, well…even more dismaying desolation in the off-kilter and sludge psychedelia that is Kosmískur hryllingur.  At just two tracks and a 35-minute runtime, there’s nothing here that is easily digestible, but lack of hummable riffage is countered by a serious sense of reach and exploration in both “Þeógónía” and “Vaxvængir vonar.”  There are some parallels to what Oranssi Pazuzu and even Sunn O))) are doing, but the intent and scope are different, as the dense atmosphere carry the serpentine lines into your skull and beyond.

stellar master elite - hologram temple

Finding a cross somewhere in the realm of black metal, industrial, and the crushing death metal riffs of line stepping bands like Vader is Hologram Temple, the latest from Germany’s Stellar Master Elite. In action the industrial elements recall Thorns, but there’s an interstellar expression across tracks like the descending sprawl of “Apocalypsis” and the mammoth closer “Tetragon” that adds cinematic synths and noise in a way that complements rather than butt against the black metal stew the band serves up.  There are nuances and ideas that only open up with repeated listens, so grab a pair of headphones and check this out, post-haste.

Nine selections doesn’t feel adequate for the amount of quality coming up from the graven rituals this year.  Not even counting the three-run homer Gilead hit this summer with Yellow Eyes, False, and Falls of Rauros I could have gone on with the latest slabs of black from the likes of Saor, Misþyrming, Murg, or some of my favorites I’ve been touting like Numenorean, An Isolated Mind, and Barshasketh.  The list keeps growing, and every month I find myself dragged out of the light and into the dark.

Until next time, keep it heavy.

– Chris


3 thoughts on “Nine Circles ov…Black Metal in 2019

  1. Dudegy_Jones August 28, 2019 / 2:32 pm

    The Yellow Eyes and Falls records are amazing.

    Absolutely LOVE that Stellar Master Elite. It gives me chills from the first notes.

    Have you heard Pharmakeia yet? Thats another ridiculous eviscerator of all things nice.

    • Chris August 28, 2019 / 2:34 pm

      With you 100% on both. Gilead is firing on all cylinders, and Falls is actually our July Album of the Month.

      And nope, haven’t caught Pharmakeia yet but I’ll change that ASAP.

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