The third iteration of Only Death Is Real is perhaps its darkest yet. Oppressive black metal, frozen winds and French melancholy all feature with the common thread being that the music here has all been released independently or by the artists themselves. Dive in but don't forget to come up for air.
Corridoré - Corridoré (Self-released)
Basing lyrics on already famous literary works is something that modern music has done many times over, and Wisconsion’s Corridoré are the next in line to take their inspiration from a source that is known beforehand. It’s a bold move, in any case, as there is always a danger that the material is not strong enough to carry the words the poet or writer intended, that justice won’t be done to the prose or that the band just don’t understand the themes presented in the original text.
There is no danger of that happening on Corridoré, for the band have crafted a narrative around D.H.Lawrence’s The Ship of Death that fits the rise and fall of the poem; swells are tempered with nervous calm, harsh vocals are played off sorrowful riffs and the record itself moves with a cathartic grace that is the central dynamic of much of the blackened post-hardcore scene (think Amenra or Cult of Luna). Corridoré’s debut is a record that speaks of tension and death and rebirth and it shines with the knowledge that beyond the finality of death and oblivion, there is something on the horizon that awaits us.
Grima - Will of the Primordial (Naturmacht Productions)
Forming in the cold landscapes of Siberia, Grima play black metal that is as atmospheric as it is harsh and beautiful. Comprising of two brothers (who also play in Ultar and Second to Sun), Grima is a project that composes litanies as to the wonder of nature, the ever expanding cycles of birth and death and the harshness of the winters that swathe the region in frost and snow. Those elements can be heard throughout Will of the Primordial, particularly in the raw vocals of Vilhelm, the glacial guitars and keyboards which add texture and depth to the proceedings.
Grima aim to show the beauty that can be found in even the most extreme places and Will of the Primordial brings many of those moments to the foreground; “Leshiy” is a breathtaking example and where the guitars build with sorrowful fills and a bittersweet memories the contrasting vocals are harsh and throaty, bringing the peril of such wonderful landscapes into view and the knowledge that not everything that is beautiful is safe or free from danger.
HWWAUOCH - Into the Labyrinth of Consciousness (Amor Fati Productions)
HWWAUOCH’s self-titled debut of 2018 was a masterclass in disturbing noise. It is black metal in its most oppressive realm and the record is a lesson in abject misery from beginning to end. Into the Labyrinth of Consciousness follows much the same path and the mysterious band (part of the even more clandestine Prava Kollectiv) are once again bringing disgust to the fore. Roiling guitars and uncomfortable drum patterns coalesce into a swirling maelstrom of noise while vocals are coloured with bile and spite.
HWWAUOCH’s manifesto is to drag nightmares from the darkness in which they belong and create shadows where there was once light. There is a distinct lack of space on this record and each moment is claustrophobic - “Cursed Trinity” uses discordant tones to spin the track on its axis and leave you completely disoriented before the monumental “Not Anything” destroys any semblance of hope you may have had that there was light at the end of this willfully obtuse tunnel.
Malenuit - Incandescente (Self-released/Antiq Label)
Anyone with a passing knowledge of the French black metal scene will be aware of Amesoeurs and the haunting vocals of Audrey Sylvain and that the band broke up after one acclaimed record before the members moved on to concentrate on other projects (Alcest being the most well-known of those). Sylvain still kept in touch with music and while some questionable decisions were made for involvement in other musical projects, she has been steadily creating her own music and Malenuit is a loving extension to the post-punk/gothic vibrations that Amesoeurs occasionally featured.
There are metallic elements woven throughout Incandescente that give it a post-black metal sheen and the music itself is wonderfully crafted around harmonious moments and Sylvain’s beautifully sung vocals. Hers is a voice that evokes emotion, romance and longing and it’s no surprise that the album is an affecting journey into the night. “Gerbe de Nuit” is a soaring ode to the darkness while album closer “Guerilla” is a gorgeous, processional that moves in shades of neo-folk, crescendoing guitars and grandiose synths.
The Holy Circle - Sick With Love (Deathbomb Arc)
The Holy Circle’s synth-based pop is one that is simple on the outside but full of emotion and deliberateness underneath. Where Erica Burgner-Hannum’s voice is a dreamy delight, the words carry much more weight that initially thought and so repeated listens of Sick With Love are definitely required. The synthesised sounds underneath are glossy yet they reflect the slick, shining darkness that humanity has forged for itself, where we have found ourselves cursed with needs and desires not initially programmed into our primeval brains but ones that the modern world has taken and ran with.
The weight of Sick With Love rests in its building of layers; “Lovely One” begins on lighter tones than it ends and it’s something that follows the record throughout - textures are split and built on top of one another giving songs moments where new sounds are inserted and woven through the fabric as though they were there from the beginning while Burgner-Hannum’s voice brings a hazy, dreamlike quality to the shoegaze-like aspects of the gorgeous “Fever Break.”