The Usurper

Noteworthy Metal – January 2018

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #99. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Selections of noteworthy metal.


I don’t often write about music because I don’t have much to say about it. A former professor once called music writing an “exercise in adjectives” and I can’t disagree with her. My relationship to music is so affective that verbalizing it seems like missing the point. I try to listen to as much music as I can because I love finding new sounds, new points of catharsis in a song. “New” can be small: textures, tones, vocal approaches.

When I was younger, I had my lines in the sand: straight death metal was way too ignorant. Bands with nothing but harsh vocals were for meatheads. I was refined! I had taste.

I guess my taste is now instinctive, like a nerve-ending response. Either I click with something or I don’t. Let’s talk about some stuff that clicked with me from the past month, and see if you like it too.

LOTH – Apocryphe

This is the second record from French black metal duo LOTH and it’s the kind of melodic, rough black metal I find myself gravitating toward these days. There is such potential for overwhelming beauty in the raw components of BM – rhythms played at such speed that they smear or blur into rushes of sound, pealing off into the edges of the mix. LOTH get this. Opener “Douce Dame Jolie” is a piece by 14th-century composer Guillaume de Machaut arranged in traditional acoustic style. I didn’t know the song’s provenance when I first played this album, but its pure, lilting melody struck me as unusual, even for a sentimental, neopagan black metal act. LOTH’s original compositions are enveloping swarms of tremolo guitar and clattering drums, with distinctive chord progressions – the half-time section a few minutes into “Mourir å Metz” displays effortless, melodious POWER!

Shining – X – Varg Utan Flock

“Depressive black metal” pioneers Shining’s tenth full-length begins with a feint: don’t be fooled by the Devin Townsend Band-esque chugging that opens “Svart Ostoppbar Eld.” X – Varg Utan Flock is a glossy, expensive-sounding black metal record that nonetheless has the songs to justify all that money (I’m looking at you, Watain). While Shining’s schtick has worn thin in the past – 2005’s IV – The Eerie Cold opens with a minutes-long screed aimed at the insufficiently kvlt-suicidal listener – front man/songwriter Niklas Kvarforth is an engaging, multifaceted presence, half Peter Steele and half Rainer Landfermann. Fluid, inventive guitar leads spiral out over the granite-hard rhythm section, breaking here and there for bass-led breaks or acoustic interludes. I wasn’t expecting to dig this as much as I did.

Abigor – Höllenzwang (Chronicles of Perdition)

This one sounds like a swarm of bees ploughing up your flesh with a thousand needles. With songs named “The Cold Breath of Satan” and “Christ’s Descent Into Hell” you probably already know if you’re on board. It really starts ripping with track two, “Sword of Silence,” in my opinion – the off-kilter, squelchy dual guitars and strained shrieks are like a riffier Deathspell Omega. Approach with caution.

Úir – Tein-Éigin

Lo-fi black metal from Edinburgh, all runes and nature worship. A sleeper for sure – the bass leads the music in surprising ways, and the lead guitars chime out like passing clouds on a moonlit night. Typically atavistic BM, played with conviction.

TONGUES – Hreilia

Are you really a metal band if your name isn’t stylized in all-caps? Tough to say. Danish death metal act TONGUES’s Hreilia is probably my favorite record from this batch – dissonant without becoming nonsensical, and mathy without sounding like a spreadsheet. The Riff rules TONGUES and they pay it devoted worship. Clanky bass, thudding drums, fizzing spiny guitars. The breakdown halfway through “Theophagus Wounds Of Earth” is the kind of resolutely goofy musician’s gag that Rush pulled all the time in songs like “Cygnus X-1” and “By-Tor & the Snow Dog” … and yet it also shreds. This is a furious, hooky record played effortlessly.


Astrid Budgor is a writer and editor living in Florida.

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