Welcome to the first Only Death Is Real of 2021. Not much has changed since the last time although perhaps there is now some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel in terms of being able to get back to some kind of normality. Perhaps you’re able to meet friends again, maybe you're in the process of being vaccinated against Covid-19, mayhap your town or city is slowly opening up stores and other business. 2020 was a... year, which is probably the best thing that can be said about it.
Music, though, has played a large part in being able to stay anchored, to have something familiar to hold on to and to explore new dimensions. Bandcamp kept its promise of having regular days whereby artists would benefit from gaining all proceeds from their sales and many bands used this opportunity to create new music. Below are some releases that I have thoroughly enjoyed these last few months and you might, too.
dai-ichi/Lamp Of Murmuur - Virgin Womb of Eternal Black Terror (Bile Noire/Fólkvangr Records/Nebular Carcoma Records)
dai-ichi present three new tracks on this split with Lamp Of Murmuur, each more intense than the last and each with subtle melodies that drive the songs forward into the fire. dai-ichi, like many bands within the burgeoning underground raw black metal scene have chosen to remain anonymous -- they’ve not said where they are from despite the name and general aesthetics hinting at Japan (although this is not a catch-all rule as Saidan are based in America yet take a lot of influence from Japanese music and culture) and would prefer to allow their music to take precedence.
“Anata No Kubi Ni Bütsu O Nameru” is furious in its execution as the song bounds forward with a distorted vocal and overdriven guitar. Melodies are carefully hidden yet, once they are found, they become a central point of the song which allows you to gain a foothold on this world that dai-ichi have created. Their final offering is the doomy progression of “Fujöna Uragirimono No Shi” which carefully slows down the pace while keeping the dynamism of the band at the forefront. Those over affected vocal lines have moments where the lyrics become slightly clearer and a small glimpse of the inner workings of dai-ichi can found -- dust, ash and lightlessness colour their world and dai-ichi are the guides through the darkness.
Lamp Of Murmuur’s side is similarly toned in that the two songs are awash with rage and haunting energy. The eerie howls of the project’s sole member, M. are fuelled by ice winds and slick grooves as the bass pushes forward to create a sly melody in the dark. “Curse of Silent Thunder” is bombastic in its exploration of the genre and it takes in moments of solitude via simpler guitar strokes and slower tempos to evoke the creator descending further down the spiralling staircase that leads to the loneliness of pitch black dungeons. This aura of death has followed Lamp Of Murmuur throughout their progression as an artist and there is a sense of urgency in their music that seeps through the walls of sound that can often overwhelm. “A Pathway of Sigils for the Dead” gives rise to synthesised lines that create a curious harmony and once you find yourself fully entranced by this particular pattern it begins to verge into the disharmonic as every other instrument fades away and the keys are left to distort reality as though in a fever dream.
FFO: Saidan, Black Cilice
Mesarthim - Vacuum Solution (Independent/Self-released)
Mesarthim have merged electronics and black metal in a way that many others would not think of. While much cosmic-themed black metal uses synthesisers to create a darker energy -- think Darkspace and their claustrophobic beats -- Mesarthim use their electronic impulses to work in a wholly different way as their music reaches higher than the stars, spins out into the cosmos and brings about a sense of wonder rather than fear. The base elements of black metal are there in the screams and the otherworldly atmosphere but this Australian duo (otherwise unnamed and both using the pseudonym of the Morse Code character .- or A) lift their sound to the outer limits.
“Vacuum Solution” begins the EP on sublime programmed beats and, as the song climbs with cold screams that echo the inhabitable expanses of the known universe, it soon descends into something that you might hear in a club, albeit one that was more inclined towards the EBM movement than the mainstream. There’s a sense of deep respect for the EBM genre here as though a band like VNV Nation or Covenant was an influence as well as the more obvious black metal references in the vocals and structures. Mesarthim are unusual in their take on the genre yet it works so beautifully in their favour -- the frantic beats of “Heliocentric Orbit” are wrapped so concisely around the vocal lines that imagining this as a more analogue band (Mesarthim are moving more and more away from their initial sound with each release) becomes impossible and when those guitar solos during "A Manipulation of Numbers" hit they are so incredibly joyous that it radiates as a star.
FFO: Darkspace, Perturbator, VNV Nation
Saidan - Jigoku: Spiraling Chasms of the Blackest Hell (Obscurant Visions)
Another band on this list to incorporate a significant amount of Japanese influence and Asian folklore into their work is America’s Saidan who make no secret of how much J-Rock was a big part of their musical listening while growing up. As such, that style has melded with their own personal take on black metal. Once the solo project of Saidan, and now a duo, the band has been on the underground radar since 2020is demo of Onryō: Vengeful Spirits in the Eastern Night and Jigoku: Spiraling Chasms of the Blackest Hell steps up the formula even more.
Clear punk influences are found in the drum patterns, which again pays homage to a style of music the artist grew up listening to, and the lyrics are rooted firmly in Japanese horror stories and myths -- both together give Jigoku: Spiraling Chasms of the Blackest Hell an atmosphere of something unusual and unheard of and as “Noroi // Zotto suru” brandishes its cutting blade to start the record, “She’s Buried Under the Cherry Blossoms” continues its forward motion with riffs that are sublimely memorable and a tone that, while raw, is extremely focused.
Saidan’s lyrics are evocative as they talk of lost love and blood, pain and horror and while much of the record is rendered in shades of pure rage, final track “Shrine of the Black Sword” takes a divine detour into ballad territory. The song is slow, doomy almost, while Saidan push for heightened emotion with guitars that illuminate with melancholy and vocals that are, for the most part, clear in their pain and hopelessness. As the song progresses, soaring guitar lines are used to create a towering wall of sorrow that feels insurmountable as the loss felt keenly by the narrator becomes an even greater burden to bear. It shows a different, more vulnerable side to Saidan that is still rooted in agony yet is expressed in a gentler way, without screams and aggression, instead utilising the knowledge that death and destruction has followed us throughout history. Of course, serenity and acceptance is not long for this world and “Shrine of the Black Sword” occasionally veers into tense and powerful passages before bringing back the untold misery of the earlier stages of the track -- it is beautiful and it is enrapturing to the inevitable end.
FFO: Lamp Of Murmuur, Klanen, dai-ichi
Shadow Figure - On Display/Pleasure to Serve (Independent)
Shadow Figure is the work of New York’s Jeff Harrell and the music slides comfortably into the realm of post-punk that’s sprinkled with synth and a voice that immediately transports you to a different time and place. That time is the ‘80s and the place is a sweaty underground club, bodies moving in unison to a rhythm that’s infectious, holding on to the hope that the night will never end and that daylight is hours away. “On Display” and “Pleasure to Serve” are both deliciously dark coldwave tracks with synth lines that echo through rain-soaked city nights.
Harrell’s deep and quite beautiful voice carries a richness that belies the grief and regret that’s contained in the lyrics of “On Display” as it laments the realities of the world and longs to stay in the dream it has created. Using a quote from the film Black Sunday, it echoes the sadness that is felt the world over. “Pleasure to Serve” continues to pulse with dark beats and slick melodies as Shadow Figure drives home the idea that we have many secrets held inside, never to be brought out into the light and shared. This burden is ours.
FFO: Grave Pleasures, Joy Division, Drab Majesty