It’s a testament to the amount of great metal released last year that I’m still playing catch-up three months deep into the new year. One of the “ones that got away” in 2013 is Hercyn, a quartet hailing from Jersey City, New Jersey who are off to a most impressive start with Magda, their self-released debut demo. Consisting of a single track that clocks in just shy of twenty-four minutes, Magda is proof positive that even at this early stage in the game, Hercyn are already aspiring to be much more than your run-of-the-mill black metal outfit.
Try as I might to seek out and cover as much worthy US black metal as humanly possible at THKD (and Backlit), it’s inevitable that some bands slip though the cracks. I’m just one man and as such it’s physically impossible for me to listen to everything that gets released over the course of a year. Fortunately, a few bands have the stones to be proactive and put their music in front of my face rather than wait around for me to stumble upon them. One such band is Nihilistinen Barbaarisuus, who put out two stellar releases last year in the form of Synkkä Tuuli and Väinämöinen.
Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Ritual Decay are a power trio plying a particularly nasty-ass brand of blackened death metal. On The Conquering Darkness, their debut demo from the seemingly unstoppable Caligari Records, the band aren’t likely to be accused of being innovators anytime soon, but their patently ugly, primitive assault more than makes up for their staunch traditionalism. It’s a ripping opening salvo from a trio of musicians who are obviously dedicated to their craft.
Hellébore’s Anouof thwo is the second of two cassettes recently unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses by the great Sol y Nieve. Whereas the other release, Nemorensis’ The Lady in the Lake is an exploration of black metal’s earthy, elemental qualities, Hellébore’s take on the genre reaches for the deepest, darkest corners of the universe. Indeed, the giant telescope gracing Anouof thwo‘s cover art is telling, as this solitary project delivers just over forty minutes of raw yet infinitely astral black metal.
Nemorensis is about as obscure an entity as it gets these days; the band isn’t on Metal Archives and their Bandcamp page offers no biographical information whatsoever, with only a “USA” tag betraying their country of origin. As far as I can tell, said page is their only internet presence, making them truly inscrutable in an era where every band no matter how big or small seems to be waging full-on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc war in order to gain listeners. Their music is an equally enigmatic brew of baleful ambience and lo-fi black metal, making The Lady in the Lake, their debut for up-and-coming cassette label Sol y Nieve that much more intriguing.
Kult of Taurus are a Greek five-piece who released their debut full-length, Divination Labyrinths, late last year via the always-reliable Forever Plagued Records. While their home country has an incredibly rich black metal tradition, the band largely eschews the tried ‘n’ true genre tropes in favor of a more dynamic, somewhat experimental approach that’s much closer to latter-day Deathspell Omega than to say, Rotting Christ. Indeed, the quintet’s debut album is a breath of fresh air, but it seems to have flown under most listeners’ metal radars.
I first made mention of the one-man experimental metal madness that is The Sun Through a Telescope as a band to look out for back in 2011, when Bandcamp was just beginning to worm its way into the hearts and minds of metalheads. While those early TSTAT releases skewed toward corrosive, feedback-drenched drone, the project took a drastic step forward later on that year with the release of the Summer Darkyard EP, which saw mainman Lee Neutron beginning to incorporate elements of black metal and electronic/industrial music into its apocalyptic framework. But even that massive evolutionary leap couldn’t prepare me for the all-out insanity of I Die Smiling, which is not only TSTAT’s first full length release but also Herr Neutron’s most compelling and cohesive work to date.
Geryon is a duo consisting of bassist/vocalist Nicholas McMaster and drummer Lev Weinstein, whom you may recognize as the rhythm section behind USBM heavyweights Krallice. But while their main gig sees them creating the backbone for guitarists Colin Marston and Mick Barr’s crystalline caverns of black metal riffage, Geryon is crushing death metal of a most mind-bending variety with nary a guitar in sight. With only a bare-bones setup of bass, drums and vocals, McMaster and Weinstein craft oldschool DM so compelling that you won’t miss the ol’ six-string in the slightest.
Black metal is getting weirder. From Aluk Todolo’s blackened krautrock to Oranssi Pazuzu’s astral psych attack and beyond, the genre has decidedly taken a turn towards the freaky and far-out, and even though it’s only January, it’s hard to imagine another BM band in 2014 getting freakier or more far-out than Murmur have with their self-titled second album. The Chicago band’s debut for the resurgent Season of Mist label appears poised to kick black metal into interstellar overdrive with a singularly intricate yet highly atmospheric sound that must be heard to be believed.
In recent months, I have come to know Los Angeles, California’s Lord Time as one of the most challenging and idiosyncratic artists in American black metal. Sole member Andorkappen has crafted a distinctive, enthralling vision that’s thoroughly black, yet at times is only tethered to black metal by the thinnest of threads, incorporating elements of drone, ambient and noise to create dense musical tapestries that are nightmarish, surreal and at times abstract to the point where music transforms into pure, free-form sound exploration. Lord Time’s second album, Black Hole at the End of the Tunnel (henceforth referred to as BHATEOTT) was originally issued on cassette back in 2011, but now sees a vinyl re-release via Andorkappen’s own Universal Consciousness label.