As we lurch ever onward into yet another new month of fresh horrors, which this week included the nationwide reopening of schools, news of proposed border closures and spiking infection rates elsewhere across the globe, it’s fast become apparent just how frighteningly precarious our present circumstances truly are. Certainly, watching the teeming masses of London commuters piling onto packed Tube trains, masks pulled down around their chins as they guzzle overpriced iced coffee, pick at their teeth and stare blankly ahead into the middle distance, it’s clear every last one of us is clambering aboard a train bound for destinations unknown, blundering, quite blindly, ever deeper into the darkness that is the autumn of 2020. But where there is fear and foreboding, where anger ignites and suffering abides, we can rest assured that the present state of extreme metal has never been more thoroughly awash with inspiration, thanks, in no small part, to the seemingly endless supply of nightmare fuel 2020 has serviced us with of late. And what a deliciously macabre feast of blackly absorbing choice cuts we have in store for you this week as Team Dark Matter present their top picks for ‘Anthems From the Abyss #2'.
'Endarkenment' ('Endarkenment', 2020)
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a full two years since grimly apocalyptic masterpiece ‘A New Kind of Horror’ first left jaws agape with its electrifying blend of shrapnel-stricken brute force and ghoulishly absorbing atmospherics sourced from all corners of the extreme metal spectrum. Yet, far from losing its scaldingly incandescent lustre with the passing of time, it seems these darkly brutalising energies have only gathered greater, politically-charged weight and momentum as we accelerate ever closer to a global catastrophe of irreversibly ruinous proportions.
Drinking deep from the same nightmarish thematic territories as its 2018 predecessor, freshly unleashed single ‘Endarkenment’ sees crippling layer upon layer of churning contortions pulverise the senses into submission within literal seconds of its insanely paced opening. Peeling back the many putrefying, grave-scented layers of this fearsome juggernaut of an extreme metal anthem, it’s mere moments before icily visceral lines of tremolo infiltrate the mix alongside generous lashings of corrosive gargling and demented goblin shrieks.This is, rest assured, the Anaal Nathrakh we know, admire and frequently tremble with abject terror in the presence of, but with an audibly keener and freshly energised edge that amplifies each and every one of their already razor-sharp defining features. The pace of delivery yet more frantic and violently propulsive; the raggedly abrasive intensity of the riffs ramped up to synapse-scorching extremes of hostility. Spliced with colossal chorus sections that see airy crescendos of searing fretwork and sweepingly operatic vocals soar and entwine to dizzyingly euphoric effect, rarely does a band capture so vividly this vile, corrupt and rapidly disintegrating thing we call humanity.
'Celestial Tear' ('The Weight of Oceans, 2012)
It's no secret that our Editor-in-chief is an incurable sucker for all things doom-laden and Scandinavian, and with its intricate layerings of lush, elegantly unravelling fretwork, smouldering extreme trappings and exquisitely delicate melodies that audibly glimmer with otherworldly beauty, it's safe to say Swedish progressive metallers In Mourning more than satisfy the above criteria. Indeed, from fluidly cascading flourishes of Insomnium to Katatonia's melancholia-laden trademark riffage, this wistfully affecting standout is, in many respects, a shiningly quintessential specimen of the genre. And yet, despite its easily discernible reference points, theirs is a sound that abounds with a depth of feeling that’s unmistakably unique to its creators, far surpassing the sum of its respective elements and influences.
Like a complex map of endlessly meandering streams and rivulets making slow, steadily inexorable progress toward the mouth of some vast, blackly turbulent ocean, ‘Celestial Tear’ is an artfully slow-burning affair that thrives on quiet restraint and understated subtlety. But it’s frontman Tobias Netzell’s tenderly evocative vocal presence that lends to the mix a truly heartrending and unguarded purity of expression, his lofty, fluidly seamless verses audibly weighted with sorrow. ‘Celestial Tear’ may have been recorded almost a full decade ago now but, in the year 2020, its darkly cathartic blend of achingly beautiful orchestration and eloquently penned poetics feels only too welcome in this exceptionally bleak new era of isolation and uncertainty.
‘Stein Auf Stein’ (‘En Ergô Einai’, 2020)
Swiss black metal duo Aara quietly slipped their 2nd full length out in April of this year. Maybe it was down to COVID-19 but it really hasn’t gotten the fanfare it deserves and ‘Stein Auf Stein’ is a perfect example why the band should be heralded for such a superb and complete release. Whilst its crisp and warm production may have black metal purists running for the hills, it really does serve a purpose. The quality of the playing on this record is outstanding, undoubtedly you’d label this as atmospheric black metal but it's so much more than just hauntingly good chord progressions, it also has some great evil trem-picked parts and blasts of fury. The overall quality of musicianship displayed by multi-instrumentalist Berg is little short of stunning and Fluss offers a superb paint-stripping vocal performance that, whilst raw and savage, sits in perfect unison with the clinical and warm instrumentation. 'Stein Auf Stein' flows perfectly from start to finish and any fan of atmospheric black metal should find themselves thoroughly rewarded by this track, and indeed album.
DAMH THE BARD
'Spirit of Albion' ('Spirit of Albion', 2006)
Delving deep into Dunwich's 'Tail-Tied Hearts' has given me a new appreciation of folk music this week, and specifically that that has sprung from the British Isles. While our present is fractious and our future path uncertain, we can always rely on music to inspire and rouse us. This is a anthem for the ancient ages, and makes even this miserable cynic a bit misty-eyed about his native land.
'Pretty Polly' ('Taxidermy', 2000)
As was fashionable at the time, gothic noise rock foursome Queen Adreena included a cover of an old song on their debut. They too went for a song popular in the '80s. Just that it was the1880s (or quite possibly the 1780s) and an out and out murder ballad. Unlike some other bands who tried to shoehorn a song into their style, this one was a perfect fit.