Can you believe that this is the tenth iteration of Only Death Is Real? Ten editions of a column featuring some of the best and most exciting extreme music of today and ten editions of a column that celebrates just how diverse the underground metal scene really is. The world is a lot different than it was ten columns ago but music has been a constant, for me, anyway and perhaps also for you.
Stay safe, friends.
Cryptae – Nightmare Traversal (Sentient Ruin Laboratories)
The Dutch underground scene is a small one and so it’s no surprise that when a band forms there, it is often made up of members from already fairly established acts. That rule is certainly true for Cryptae, who may not be entirely new (they formed four years ago and this is their first full-length), and are a duo who can be found in at least one band together as well as vocalist/drummer René Aquarius being a part of Dead Neanderthals and Plague Organ, also.
Nightmare Traversal is essentially a death metal record with vocals that drag the depths of what the human voice can achieve –- deep, guttural and filled with horror, the vocals are suffocating in their heaviness and combined with oppressively weird time signatures, the album makes for a difficult listen at first. Cryptae have designed their music with utter terror in mind and as Nightmare Traversal moves on its path of destruction it pulls fear, restlessness and anxiety into the fabric of the songs and allows for nary a moment of peace within its towering structures of sound.
Opening on “Nightmare Traversal,” the album sets out to immediately disorientate you as the bizarre drum patterns and unusual guitar sounds, while steeped in a reality you may think you know, constantly shift leaving a perplexing imprint of noise on your brain. The senses struggle to keep up with the strangeness of what is happening and “Cryptic Passage” offers even less promise of hope during several moments of total insanity. It’s uniquely frustrating and awe-inspiring in equal measure and the sense that that is exactly what Cryptae are aiming becomes the only clear thing about Nightmare Traversal the further down the rabbit hole you go.
FFO: Hissing, Portal, Corpsessed
Los Males Del Mundo - EP (Independent)
Los Males Del Mundo is an entirely new entity from Argentina, although this EP (somewhat of a demo as they search for a label) is the work of a duo who are hardly strangers to the musical world. Formed by Dany Tee (Acathexis, Seelenmord) and Cristian Yans (the EP and forthcoming record also feature Der Weg Einer Freiheit’s Nikita Kamprad on bass), the band are on the cusp of something special with Los Males Del Mundo as it melds modernity with old school approaches in order to create two tracks that shimmer with emotion.
“Ephemeral Masquerades” blooms with post-metal melancholy in its closing stages while Tee’s vocals range from deep rumbles to incredible shrieks that are distinctly reminiscent of those of Cradle Of Filth’s vocalist Dani Filth. It’s this combination that pushes Los Males Del Mundo into more intriguing territory than just being another atmospheric black metal band –- the progression of “Hatefire” from doomed beginning to glistening guitars to soaring screams is sublime and when the band step back into a peaceful, bittersweet passage, it is welcomed as a necessary respite from the burning black metal that came before. Soon, though, the song ignites again and Los Males Del Mundo push for an answer to the age-old question: “What is our purpose on this earth?”
FFO: Cradle of Filth, Acathexis, Mare Cognitum
Mäleficentt – Night Of Eternal Darkness (Night Of The Palemoon)
The rule for extremely underground raw black metal bands is to either release something almost every month or to release two full-lengths in fourteen years of existence and perhaps a handful of demo or split recordings to sate the hunger of those who buy anything and everything you do. The latter category is the one that Mäleficentt finds themselves in as this is their second full-length release since forming in 2006, albeit under a different name.
Night of Eternal Darkness is Mäleficentt’s second album in as many years and it feels as though the project has matured since 2019s Night of the Crimson Stars as much as it has since the early EPs and demo recordings. The sounds on Night of Eternal Darkness are set firmly within the raw side of the genre as the production seems pretty DIY (which is by no means a fault, rather it gives the record an individual sound), the album cover is a starkly contrasted black and white shot of person bedecked in black metal paraphernalia and the songs are woven with distinct character. There’s a movement in the underground currently that deals with the lived experiences of indigenous people and their history and Mäleficentt are certainly a name to add to that list, alongside their label Night of the Palemoon who also release several other indigenous artist's music.
“Veiled In Gloom” is a cheekily catchy song with excellent rhythm at its heart, the groove coming through via the drums and the repetitive riffs that twist around subtle synth lines and vocals that, while slightly held back in the mix, are deliciously harsh and cold. The contrast, then, between the warmer, post-punk vibrations of “Severed By Your Own” are myriad although the raging melodies are still blissfully apparent as the song progresses towards the towering inferno of “Bones of Compatriots” to close out the record.
FFO: Ifernach, Black Cilice, Këkht Aräkh
Old Nick – No Solace In Sunlight (Grime Stone Records)
On the flipside of the raw black metal rule for how many releases a band should have is California’s Old Nick, who burst onto the scene at the beginning of 2020 and haven’t slowed down at all. They are incredibly prolific and where some could begin to see a decline in quality, everything up to and an including their recent full-length T.N.O.T.A.A.T.P.B.T.Q.A.S.F.A.B.O.O.T.D.O.S.S.T.T.E.V.H.S. or (The Night of the Ambush and the Pillage by the Queen Ann Styl'd Furniture, Animated by One of the Dozen or So Spells That Thee Eastern Vampyre Has Studied) is wonderfully fun and well-executed. It’s hardly a surprise to get an email from Bandcamp informing you that they have something new but hitting play is the best present and No Solace In Sunlight is a slick little EP that only goes to prove just how unique this band is. Really, finding even one appropriate recommendation for fans of was a tough call.
Old Nick’s vibe is noisy, raw black metal with a heady dose of synths to complete a sound that is entirely theirs and theirs alone. The songs are indescribably charming; they use a tongue-in-cheek naming style, exceptionally catchy riffs (both guitars and synth) and vocals that are barely understandable shrieks to create fun-as-heck melodies and riffs that you have on repeat in your head every time you wake up at 2am for a week. “Ornate, Vampyric Math Equations” is an excellent start to No Solace In Sunlight with clashing sounds, pummeling drums and sweeps across the keyboards that make for a dynamic beginning. The pace and energy doesn’t let up for the sixteen minutes of music that Old Nick present here.
What is interesting is that Old Nick also includes a re-recording of “Shepard of the Rats,” a song that was originally released on Flying Ointment earlier in the year, something that they did with “Vampyric Candle” on T.N.O.T.A.A.T.P.B.T.Q.A.S.F.A.B.O.O.T.D.O.S.S.T.T.E.V.H.S. which was also on the same EP. The change in production value is the most obvious difference in that Old Nick have clearly invested time and energy to present their music as clearly and cleanly as possible and while it’s true that the new version of “Shepard of the Rats” does sound better, it hasn’t lost any of its mischievous charm -- rather those aspects are boosted in the new clarity of the synth lines and Abysmal Specter’s shrieks. In short, Old Nick are your new favourite band.
FFO: Ebony Pendant, Lamp Of Murmuur, Malfet
Phantom Hymn – Catatonic Bliss (Independent)
Phantom Hymn have featured on this column before, with sophomore record The Future as Nightmare, an album that was very much a product of disillusion and melded hardcore, post-metal and black metal into fury-filled songs that spoke of a world falling down around us. Catatonic Bliss does much of the same except now Phantom Hymn have changed tack; whereas before short and punchy songs allowed the rage to spill out of every guitar riff or spite-laden scream, this record gives space for more emotional range. Songs are longer and time is given to deal with the horrors that this year has brought upon us. Opening track “Industrial Sonnet for the Wartime Malaise” moves us through anger and hopelessness via heady , bellowed shouts and bittersweet, cascading guitars.
Catatonic Bliss seems somewhat more introspective than its predecessor with songs such as “The Desolate Sound of Extinction” that breaches the threshold of pain through guitars that echo with sorrow and lyrics that read like odes to old lands and traditions that have since been lost. It’s aggressive in a different way to The Future as Nightmare. It feels extremely personal this time and that Makau is using Phantom Hymn to channel feelings of overwhelming horror and what humankind can do to the earth that provides for them. This is something which becomes all the more powerful on closing track “Oak Lives in the Acorn,” a song that is a mournful movement inspired by the destruction of vast forests through raging infernos. The gorgeous and utterly heart-breaking string elements that filter into the song and take prominence are underpinned by those same strings being played in a much more negative and discordant manner showing that with great beauty, comes great pain. The forests will rise again but at what cost?
FFO: Hexis, Black Monolith, Throwing Bricks[/quote]