In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
Black metal continues, as it has from the first time I got my ears around it, to be my favorite genre of metal. For all the trappings and headaches it can offer, there is truly nothing like black metal when it is at its best, so I’m always happy to talk it up when I find stuff that speaks to me, and today we’re having yet another two-for-one sale on this here website. Nechochwen‘s Kanawha Black and Predatory Light‘s Death and the Twilight Hours are very unlike each other in style and ethos, but bound together under the sign of the black mark.
Nechochwen – Kanawha Black
Nechochwen have quietly been building a vastly respectable discography among their peers in the North American black metal scene, yet they are a name I rarely hear mentioned in the same breath. 2015’s Heart of Akamon hooked me immediately, and their split with the mighty Panopticon in 2020 sealed my admiration, but their latest release Kanawha Black is the thing that makes me want to shout about this band from the rooftops. Kanawha Black takes the band’s unique blend of black metal, Appalachian folk music, and pre-colonial North American musical traditions and expands them in all directions. Songs like the album-opening title track and “Visions, Dreams, and Signs” explode out of the gate in a burst of thrashy, heartfelt black metal, deeply melodic without succumbing to the trappings of what gets labeled ‘melodic black metal,’ and bolstered by strong, confident clean singing that feels fresh in the band’s repertoire. On the flip side, you have folk tracks like “I Can Die But Once” and “The Murky Deep,” which opens with a Candyrat Records-esque tapped harmonic guitar line that genuinely got a gasp of surprise out of me. There’s even a miniature funeral doom song on here in the form of “A Cure for the Winter Plagues” to keep things even more exciting. Kanawha Black feels like the album where Nechochwen are putting in all they have and are capable of on display; it feels far flashier than previous releases, with its emphasis on new techniques, ripping solos, and more complex arrangements. Normally I’m not a person that likes a whole lot of flash in my music, but here everything is in service to the deep sense of melodicism and songcraft of the album as a whole, and far from being self-indulgent. If you are not familiar with this band yet, I cannot recommend a better place to start than Kanawha Black, and I sincerely hope it leads you to more of this band’s stellar work.
Predatory Light – Death and the Twilight Hours
I had the honor of reviewing that last self-titled Predatory Light album for this site all the way back in 2016, so it’s a real treat to be able to continue that streak with the band’s triumphant return some six years later. Re-tooled with new members and a sharpened attack, Death and the Twilight Hours is a much different beast than on previous releases. The same kind of lilting, oblique guitar theatrics define the flow of these songs, bearing much resemblance to labelmates Superstition, all members of whom now comprise Predatory Light as well. Where Superstition focuses on death metal, however, Predatory Light is the black metal side of the coin, drawing influence from the “South Eurpean and South American style” as the press copy states. The result is much less doom-heavy than previous releases, with a much more aggressive and driving rhythm section barreling the songs along as the band enrapture listeners with stories inspired by medieval plague times in Athens and Florence. The result is chilling and engrossing, a style of black metal that can be compared to few other bands going right now, and something certain to leave a distinct impression on the listener long after the last haunting note lingers out. Hail horrors, indeed.
Until next time,