Look who’s back for the last time!
As a farewell to this column, where I have prattled about my various love affairs with various genres, I have decided to save the genre I have grown to love for last. After all, I still need to continue to expand my musical education before I talk about more genres, so maybe, one day, I will resurrect this column once I have more stories to tell.
Who knows? Maybe down the line, my tastes will have changed enough so I can revisit some of these genres with a new perspective – and maybe talk about some of others that I have still haven’t warmed up in my years as a metal listener (looking at you, thrash).
Now, at the most current point of my story, I think it’s time to bring up a genre that I have noticed has gotten more traction over the years and has moved on from its rather humble beginnings. After all, this genre seems to have gotten under my skin and I want to talk about it at length.
It’s time we talk about Post-Metal.
The Event Horizon Has Landed
Have you ever heard music that made you question just how nihilistic you can be? That made you want to scream until you were hoarse? That made you want to sing at the lowest register of your (untrained) voice?
This was the start of my deep relationship with post-metal: the Cult of Luna-Julie Christmas collaboration album, Mariner.
In 2017, I was writing about a piece about Indie Recordings for Metal Bandcamp, where I showcased three albums on their roster. One of them was Mariner, an album that had made a lot of buzz the previous year and made me curious enough to explore. However, because I was heavily invested into other bands and genres at the time, I figured that Mariner would be a one-time listen. The plan was simple: I would listen to it, write about it, read what other people had said about it for the moments where my brain couldn’t come up with a funny quip, and then move on.
Boy, was I wrong to think this was going to be a one-time listening experience.
Not only did I go back and listen to Mariner several times after finishing up that piece – hell, I even bought the album – but its inherent nihilistic vibe and claustrophobic sonic atmosphere sunk its claws into me. I found myself scream-singing along to Julie Christmas’s vocals whenever they came up. While her clean vocals held this rather whimsical nature that seemed to contrast with the band’s music, she shined best when her voice changed and became a powerhouse of haunted screams and unhinged calamity. This became incredibly evident with what I consider to be the album’s main highlight (and my favorite song), “The Wreck of S.S. Needle.” On the song, Christmas, taking the role of the main survivor who survived the shipwreck, is someone who, at first, seems to be completely normal, only to find that there is something completely wrong with her. Whether she caused the wreck herself or something possessed her to do it remains unknown, but the outro – the constant repetition of “Put me down where I can see you run” followed by background screams and intense music – solidified that Mariner would become an album that I would revisit at least once a year, especially when I wanted to feel something intense and completely feral.
It also became a vocal obsession for months, where I would sing along to “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” to perfect the shifts in vocal tones whenever there was clean singing, since I can’t growl or scream to save my life. However, the outro ended up becoming a fun vocal exercise, where I would start in a high register I was comfortable with and then slowly take my voice down until I was singing in a lower register to mimic Christmas’s vocal inflections. It became something fun to do whenever I wanted to test the limits of my vocal range and it also planted the seed to see what else I had been missing this entire time.
The fact that I became heavily invested in this album – to the point where I had it on loop throughout my train rides to work – says something about me as a person: while I enjoy metal for fun’s sake, the fact that I can instantly click with music that makes even the more experienced take a step back made me realize that I had finally reached a level of strange that made my rather queer nature acceptable.
After all, being inherently fucking weird was a trait I could live with, and one that made use of all the useful knowledge I had accumulated over the years.
After my relationship with Mariner had somewhat cooled, I decided to step into the marshes of post-metal and see what else was out there for me. After all, if the music was as intense as what Mariner had shown me, then there was a chance that I would continue my search to find the heaviest matter in the universe. As it would turn out, post-metal comes in various flavors, and as I stumbled through various albums that seemed to fall within the instrumental plane of post-metal, my wires crossed. During this time, I also began to explore the weirdest things metal had to offer, which led me to find quite the gem that also had that feral intensity that Mariner has, albeit in a different manner.
Into the marsh we go!
Post-Metal Gateway Albums
Kontinuum – No Need to Reason (2018)
If you thought I was never going to talk about this album ever again, let me tell you that I haven’t stopped talking about No Need to Reason since 2018. Anyone who is interested in both the darkness of being romantic and what a great film score this would be needs to listen to this album immediately.
Now, I originally found Kontinuum when I first discovered Bandcamp in late 2015. Although I was somewhat broke, I was able to have a Spotify subscription and I became obsessed with the song “Breathe,” from Kyrr. I had also acquired a smartphone for the first time in my life that year, and so I was able to download my budding playlist and listen to the song all the time. I was also working my first official job in healthcare, and I had a particular shitty boss who refused to work with me because I wasn’t learning how to do things quick enough, even though she had promised me that she would act as my mentor while I was hired. Eventually, it got so bad that she told me – to my face – that she could have hired anyone who was better than me but chose me because I was well-known in that hospital, and I had already done some work for her as a volunteer before being hired. Every day until her departure, I would come home, defeated, and I would just listen to “Breathe” on repeat until I felt better. Then, she left for another job, leaving me alone, and “Breathe” became a song of elation. Throughout that winter, the song kept me company and I felt enormously relieved until I moved on from that job to my current job. And then I stopped listening to the song altogether.
Cue one day in 2018, when I was both working and writing for one of three review sites at the time, and I learned that Kontinuum was releasing a new album. I asked to review the album, got the promo, listened to the album in its entirety, and the rest is history.
No Need to Reason is the soundtrack to a modern noir film, where the intensity lies between two characters and the romantic tension that colors their dialogue. There is also a sensuality to it, and it continues to build from first track “Shivers” to its logical conclusion, ending with the rather bleak “Black Feather.” Even within its rather restrained and mystical atmosphere, there is something about it that makes me want to come back and have this album on loop forever. In fact, my sentiments from ranking this album as my AOTY in 2018 haven’t changed:
What I also love about No Need to Reason is how soothing it was at first, like setting the scene for something else to happen. However, the more you listen to it, the more sensuous it becomes, as if slowly weaving you closer and closer towards your final destination. It’s a beautiful, comfortable album that straddles the fine line between surrealism and sensuality, and I am a sucker for a well-composed album that clearly makes its presence known based on the music they have to offer. (context)
Based on my listening experience, post-metal isn’t supposed to be a sensuous ordeal, filled to the brim with a somewhat playful yet dark vibe that makes me think about seeking company on dark nights. However, it’s easy to overlook that, underneath its restraints, No Need to Reason’s sensuality hides a feral intensity that beckons a certain darkness to come through. It might be nihilistic to say this album toys with you, but then, again, in order to enjoy the experience the album gives you, you have to listen to it with the intention that you want to be seduced.
And holy hell, it does.
Sólstafir – Svartir Sandar (2011)
When I was first planning to talk about post-metal, I was trying to rack my brains and remember what was one of the first post-metal bands I had ever heard and then I remembered Sólstafir, which made me want to kick myself. How could I forget about Sólstafir, one of the best examples of what post-metal sounds like to newcomers to the genre?
I found Sólstafir and Kontinuum around the same time, but while I played one Kontinuum song on loop after my workday at a hospital was over, I have quite the story for Sólstafir.
I can tell you exactly when I first found Sólstafir: back in late 2016, when I first started writing about music as a reviewer, I had started to expand my horizons. I had also started to hear a lot about Sólstafir from a friend I met in late 2015 who was very much into the band, explaining that they had been into their music since very early on. As much as Internet friendships will allow, I became very close to this person and their other two friends, who were also into the band. I knew them as the Sólstafir trio, and I found myself becoming more interested in the band as time went on. Hell, two members of the trio even went to see the band live when they came to tour the States and documented the whole event, from when they first got tickets to when they ended up crying as the band ended the concert. As someone who was broke at the time, seeing them be excited to see the band allowed me to live vicariously through them, and I got to enjoy the experience as much as they did. However, as all of these types of friendships come to pass, they eventually left the Internet altogether or left to other social media, and I stuck around, continuing to experiment and write about music.
As it would turn out, having friends who were interested in a band you were curious about will always be the best method to get into said band. When I first had questions about where to start, they all agreed to listen to the most recent album in their discography and work my way backwards. At the moment in time, Ótta had been the most recent album, and while it had grabbed me and made me think about peace for the duration of its runtime, it wasn’t what I was seeking. That’s where Svartir Sandar came into play.
Svartir Sandar is the post-metal archetype, an album that showcases what post-metal is to someone who knows nothing about the genre. It combines the hard rock sound most people want to hear in their metal and an atmosphere that reminds me of tranquil days at sea. It’s both pleasing to the ear, and it allows the listener to momentarily forget about their current life. It also allows you to take a moment to just sit and bask in its inherent melody and what sounds like summoning cries. I may not understand any of the Icelandic being spoken, but it certainly won’t stop me from singing along to it. I have so many memories and associations tied to this album, which makes me fond. This album has remained one of my secret favorites, and one that I tend to come back to when I need some serotonin in my brain. After all, who makes music like Sólstafir?
LLNN – Unmaker (2021)
A brief note before I start: if you are thinking about listening to this album as your first post-metal experience, don’t do it. Unmaker has a barrier to entry, given its unsettling atmosphere and sludgy reverb; you are better off listening to the other two albums on this list as a starting point.
I consider 2021 to be the year of Pelagic Records, whose showcase at Roadburn Redux has remained imprinted in my mind and I haven’t stopped talking about it since I got to experience it. After all, the showcase is one of two reasons as to why my tastes in metal have recently shifted, and why my wires got crossed as I became instantly immersed in the world of avant-garde post-metal.
After Roadburn Redux, I became heavily invested in the label, especially given my love for The Ocean’s last two records. I jumped at the chance to cover some of the more difficult-to-listen albums from Pelagic Records (or those I thought to be difficult) and came to love three albums released this year: Hippotraktor’s Meridian, Year of No Light’s Consolamentum, and, of course, Unmaker. Consolamentum and Unmaker proved to be two of the most difficult albums to write about, given how similar and strange they were. While Consolamentum was about the process to console, using both weight and tension to play out the process of an actual “consolamentum,” Unmaker was about deconstructing post-metal to its barest essential, effective using its own atmosphere to elicit a sense of fear and despair. Unmaker is not a nice record that you can put on for your friends in the background – this is a record that you listen to when you need to fight the shadow in the corner of your room. In fact,
What you get is an intense and hard-hitting record that makes your heart vibrate, feeling as if you are right next to the speakers at a noise show without earplugs. However, once you have finally become accustomed to the noise, you will slowly start to understand the groove underneath the surface layer of noise and dissonance. Although something hard to get into without knowing what is going on, Unmaker is one of the more accessible records I have heard of this caliber; its intensity and dense sonic atmosphere can be off-putting, but it weeds out the weak (context).
Unmaker is an album that rewards patience and listening to it again as I write this still makes my skin crawl. This is an album that asks for your bewilderment, for you to leave your expectations at the door. Abandon all hope if you dare venture into this specific world of post-metal, because everything is industrial, noisy, and filled with apprehension.
And with this final segment, I can now determine this column closed.
As I stated previously, perhaps I will revive this when I have more stories to tell, but, in the meantime, I will continue to explore new genres and maybe I will share something that I find to be interesting and compelling.
Hasta la proxima!