The Usurper

Noteworthy Metal – April 2018

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #102. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Selections of noteworthy metal.

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This month is heavy on the black metal, with one notable exception. There’s some second-wave crustiness, some grueling depressive stuff, and lots of folk interludes. I think when the weather here in Florida starts to get hot – hotter than it is year-round – and the air feels dense and soupy, there’s an obvious appeal to icy old black metal. I’ll let you continue to psychoanalyze me while we move on to the music.

Ungfell – Mythen, Mären, Pestilenz
Ripping one-man BM with an Ulver-esque love for acoustic instruments. It’s always a treat when a band bothers to compose interesting folk passages – here we have airy drones, gentle guitar arpeggios, accordion, and cello, often set against composer/guitarist/vocalist/etc Menetekel’s squall of riffs when they’re not occupying their own bucolic aural pocket. The vocals are truly vitriolic, and the production melds everything into a tight, warm mix. Good shit.

NONE – Life has gone on long enough
Portland’s NONE plays viscous, lumbering black metal that sounds resigned. Thick slow-motion bass work underpins rigid drumming, both of them supporting lacy constellations of guitar. This reminds me of Khrom’s 2004 masterpiece A World Through Dead Eyes, or Loss’s Despond; music that is not simply about depression but depressed itself, written with a genuinely weary sensibility. Music that evokes chill November wind across snow-dusted treetops, that somehow evokes the silence of being alone in the woods – the kind of silence that reflects a person’s emotions, whatever they may be.

Anguana – Anguana
This is doubly as wintry as the Ungfell record, opening with the sound of boots crunching through snow and the relentless howl of mountain wind before the riffing commences. Anguana has a quietly complex sound – whether it’s the cleverly stacked guitar harmonies or a bed of choral synthesizers behind some of these sections I can’t tell. The drums hit with a satisfying lo-fi smack, and the fizzy, crunching guitars approach the Platonic ideal of atavistic black metal tone. There’s also harmonica in here (!), which fits the defiantly provincial vibe – lyrics are written in a Northern Italian dialect, and an “anguana” is a water nymph in Alpine mythology.

Messa – Feast for Water
I don’t remember rating Messa’s debut Belfry, but Feast for Water is a whole other story. Smoldering and textured, with evident touches of Bohren and Angelo Badalamenti, this is the kind of doom your average “occult rock” band wishes they were making. Vocalist Sara is an unbelievable talent, twisting her phrasing and intensity like an expert jazz singer. The rest of the band take their cues from her timbre – the swaggering riff that opens “Leah” reprises with Sara’s clarion vocal line entwining with and replacing the guitar. The playing is loose-limbed, too, which infuses the dynamic arrangements with an improvisatory fire (“Tulsi” opens with blown-out chaos before ramming into a classic doom groove). I really can’t recommend this one enough, maybe especially if you’re tired of vaguely ‘70s-styled rock. It’s galvanizing, incantory, and exploratory doom.

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Astrid Budgor is a writer and editor living in Florida.

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