Aug 25, 2021

King Woman - Celestial Blues

Release: July 30th, 2021
Genre: Doom / Post-Metal / Shoegaze
Origin: California, US
Label: Relapse Records
Listen: Bandcamp

I have to admit I completely missed King Woman's debut album Created in the Image of Suffering four years ago, at least at the time it was released, since I got around to listen to it some time later, and the reason could have been how much I thought this name is close to King Dude, which made me almost already know what I will listen from this band. By listening to the debut, the case was well like that as one can point out musical similarities between the two, but King Woman surely is a separate entity that doesn't call for unnecessary overshadowing.

Introducing itself with a slightly unsettling front cover, Celestial Blues is not as innocent as the title would suggest but no fan of this project / style would be fooled like that about the content. With the new record, King Woman stretches more on spiritual religious aspects of the frontwoman's Kristina Esfandiari life, mulling over despair and mourning as a textually rather dark record that uses theistic figures and elements to describe much more personal experiences. Of course, the crawling, gloomy, slow-paced (for the most part) music goes along with the ongoing elegies, this time putting more emphasis to clearer doom metal passages, while the post-metal temperament always manages to stand out. At the same time, the absolute highlight in Celestial Blues and any King Woman work, is actually Kristina's thrilling voice.

The focus on more variety compared to the first album as well as the emphasis on some heavier guitar parts gives the band the boost it needed, especially in the first part of the record lie the best moments of Celestial Blues. The heavier, stoner / doom metal distorted guitar lines distantly bring Pallbearer to mind, while the common grounds with Chelsea Wolfe are quite strong throughout the release in its entirety. The self-title opening tracks efficiently demonstrates the above and starts Celestial Blues with a blast, which continues with the second track "Morning Star" (a reference to Satan), one of my favorites as a whole. However, the two most compelling tracks of the album for me were by far "Boghz" and "Golgotha", with intense heavier moments, slow paced, painful passages, and the latter featuring a stunning cello part by Jackie Perez Gratz (who you may know from Giant Squid or Grayceon).

For the second half of Celestial Blues, the album unfortunately doesn't maintain the same level of competence musically, as I found the compositions aching at various points. "Coil" and "Psychic Wound" are mere average songs (Imagine the same ones without such a unique voice), but more specifically the use of harsher vocals here didn't come out as that convincing to me. With the exception of "Entwined", which does have some worthy moments, and the sorrowful, emotive ending piece "Paradise Lost", Celestial Blues suffers from a few filler moments but thankfully not too many, and it's not what's left in the mind of the listener after it's done. The more potent works in the album stand out and contain possibly some of King Woman's best creations to date.

Recognizing a certain evolution in this project's music, this album is one I would return easier than Created in the Image of Suffering, however only for specific chunks of it. As much as I adored a few tracks, others left me almost indifferent but in total Celestial Blues is a work that deserves its appreciation. It's hurting, it's distressed, darkly poetic and probably fulfils the artist's vision as it was meant to be. If King Woman has evaded you so far, and you like the approach of other musicians like King Dude and Chelsea Wolfe, it's almost a crime not to listen to this as well.

Damage: 3/5 [Good]

Aug 19, 2021

Wolves in the Throne Room - Primordial Arcana


Release: August 20th, 2021
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
Origin: Washington, US
Label: Relapse Records
Listen: Bandcamp

Looking at the cover of Primordial Arcana, one can draw parallels to Watain's The Wild Hunt, considering this its "atmospheric black metal" equivalent, as that album was also one of the most daring and mature efforts of the Swedish band. In a similarly passionate manner, Wolves in the Throne Room have also put forth to create all equipment and tools for their aesthetics on their own by now, becoming totally independent when it comes to the development of their 7th album, Primordial Arcana. Their video clip of the first single from the album, "Mountain Magick", offers a very pleasing visual experience of all this as well.

As far as I follow them, I don't remember any of their works being praised as their previous album, Thrice Woven. As it has been noted by fans, the musical enrichment following the post-Celestial Lineage era has been overly beneficial for the band and it's not an exaggeration to say that they are on their best form now, rather than in their first most influential albums. As the overlords of Cascadian black metal, we are witnessing their evolution into a band that becomes one chapter of this music on its own, and its members as artists with such authentic substance that a certain level of respect is almost deserved by default from all the fans of the scene. How they have handled all aspects of Primordial Arcana, and by how well crafted the outcome is, makes me believe that Wolves in the Throne Room now unleash their truest self, in the most unfiltered way possible.

Primordial Arcana is a unique beast on many aspects. First of all, the production is not as cleanly worked as it was in Thrice Woven, yet it's quite organic and gives massive space to the instruments. Usage of percussions has grown a lot, adding more layers of intensity to the tracks with their immense echoing sounds. Melodies dance around and come and go, so naturally handled by a band that is possibly one of the few real masters of this craft. It's usually profoundly atmospheric and very close to its essence, nature, and only chooses to get more violent at specific moments, e.g. in the introduction track or "Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)". Slightly shorter compositions than usual are featured in Primordial Arcana, with the longest track "Monsters of Rain and Storm" being a sensational piece that offers an ideal listening experience if you want to know what Wolves in the Throne Room is all about.

A fair amount of ambiance is also explored by employing an even wider variety of sounds, like in the beginning of "Spirit of Lightning" or "Underworld Aurora". The certain underlying ritualistic vibe of these parts, along with the slower melodic passages that follow enhance the capacity of the record, which is hard to miss or hard to skip once it gets under the skin. Primordial Arcana has a lot of elements that would make a masterpiece, and Wolves in the Throne Room have no one to compare to, as they didn't just set the bar, but they also placed it there in the first place. The last couple of compositions "Eostre" and "Skyclad Passage" present two different sides of the band through dark ambient only, the first being a nostalgic tune with slight dungeon synth elements, and the latter being a darker, more ceremonial piece to end the record. 

What's more essential is the state of Wolves in the Throne Room at the moment, who are at their best form and will be under discussion for their later discography, as much as their earlier one. Primordial Arcana gets points because of how complete it is as a whole, the most mature offering of the band and one that characterizes them more than anything they have done in the past. As a person who was never a die hard follower, it's impossible not to recognize how well being independent has turned out for them, and now only the sky is the limit.

Damage: 4.5/5 [Brilliant]

Aug 14, 2021

Múspellsheimr - Ave Mund​-​Spilli


Release: August 12th, 2021
Genre: Black Metal
Origin: Sweden
Label: Self-released
Listen: Bandcamp

A couple of months ago, I listened to the first demo by a new Swedish project named Forbidden Worship, a fairly promising forty minute work full of strong and well-recorded black metal that as a whole, could stand very well as a full length album as well. Now, the mastermind behind them comes around with another personal project, Múspellsheimr, and its debut full length release Ave Mund​-​Spilli, which is actually shorter in duration than the Forbidden Worship demo, and also slightly different musically. 

Things are much rawer  than what we were briefly used to from this musician, yet the Scandinavian vein is quite strong in Ave Mund​-​Spilli, which maintains an ice-cold, masterfully made lo-fi sound that will not drown out the plethora of memorable riffs of the record. The tracks are unnamed, but I found myself hooked from the first two the last and each was more surprising than the last, since the intensity doesn't wear out as long as it progresses. I have often thought that it's too easy for a band to be pretentiously raw sounding with today's available home software, but Múspellsheimr don't fake it, there is a lot of energy and unique potential in Ave Mund​-​Spilli that makes it stand out.

It would be more difficult to keep your attention to the music if more moments were like the introduction of "III", a very typical kind of build up filler found in many bands, but you can be rewarded by the thunderous chaos that takes place after that particular song unfolds, which is also a highlight of Ave Mund​-​Spilli. That's how Múspellsheimr manages to save the day when it comes to a few instances of the music almost getting into filler territory, as the main parts of it are all of quite high quality black metal. I also loved the first and the fourth track, both having the type of guitar playing that reigns the Scandinavian territories and characterizes the genre, here executed neatly by Múspellsheimr.

While the demo of his other project was also notable, only now I am convinced that it was not a coincidence but the person behind these projects has a good grip on how to compose this music. Ave Mund​-​Spilli is an example of a fine album on the opposite side of clear productions, and it has something to say musically, which is in the end the most important aspect we are looking for. In a desert of bedroom sounding raw black metal bands with saturated black and white imagery, sitting under tons of dust, here is an oasis.

Damage: 4/5 [Excellent]

Aug 8, 2021

Prygla - Prygla


Release: July 30th, 2021
Genre: Black Metal
Origin: Sweden
Label: Self-released
Listen: Bandcamp

There's no information about this Swedish band apart of the fact that they suddenly dropped a bombastic, half-hour long album without any previous promotion or revealing anything else but the music. Listening to Prygla evokes a feeling as mysterious as the project itself, as it ultimately doesn't reflect the country's sound, when at the same time it has something that modern black metal bands often forget: substantial darkness. 

It doesn't have to be lo-fi bedroom cacophonies, extreme imagery or heavily mixed, just through a basic set of instruments Prygla succeed in capturing the essence of the genre. That's what makes it fairly powerful, along with the thick, filthy production and the never ending stream of great guitar lines that often slightly change moods from melodic parts (think of "Ögat"), to borrowing riffing patterns from their Norwegian brothers (Urgehal vibes in "Rit"), to heavier, more particular compositions like "Serafernas Sorg" or "Utanmärle". 

An instrumental piece with echoing clean guitars paves the way for the epic ending of "Absurd", proving that Prygla has more sides than you would think and is one of the more intriguing efforts from Sweden I've heard this year, regarding newcomer bands. There were still little things to discover after several listens in the album, and it doesn't lose touch even after series of repetitions, something that is made even easier simply by the fact that Prygla don't overdo their stay. 28 minutes of intensely dim and slightly diverse music are all that it takes. 

Damage: 3.5/5 [Great]

Aug 5, 2021

Ushangvagush - Mntu


Release: August 1st, 2021
Genre: Black Metal
Origin: Massachusetts, US
Label: Self-released
Listen: Bandcamp

Having relished the band's first demo Inanition in 2019, I got around to listen to Ushangvagush's debut a bit later than the rest of the world and after the fair amount of praise it got from the internet. Since the last listening session, I didn't remember what to expect from this but the wonderful cover served well as a hinting reminder of what might possibly be a great release for this year, or at least that's what I hoped. And it is partially the case, as the project's highly emotive playing style with just the right melodic tactics is here to be appreciated by many non-regular black metal listeners: prepare for comments like "I don't usually... (...) ... but this ...

First things first, points given for Mntu not being a one more faceless record in the crowd. It's powerful at several moments, written in the band's own way and it has a fairly raw production, that's quite listenable (not cavernous raw BM from the depths) but still not polished. The vocals sound beautifully distressed, while it's unclear what the lyrics are about and in general, before you think that Ushangvagush have invented their own language, the strange words of band name / album title / track titles comes from Miꞌkmaq, which traces back to the indigenous tribes of Northeastern Canada. Mntu opens with a banger, and possibly a highlight track "I", which features some of the heavier moments of the record and a great introduction, it's as intense as it gets and will have the listened hooked on the spot. 

As it is sometimes dangerous with albums like these, more often than we would like, it's a dominant track opening up a record and then things blow out later on. I personally was on the verge of getting into this mindset with Mntu, even though the quality of all of the album's content is evident. Ushangvagush's prominence lies in the expression of emotion and talks more on that particular side of black metal musically, so it's not aggressive in the sense of traditional hatred or misanthropy that is met otherwise. It is not one of the failing cases of such execution, on the contrary the band rocks. For me personally though, some tracks in Mntu just didn't click, specifically parts in "Amasia's Letter" and "VII", or the whole of "Npuaqan Ms't Wen Sama'i'j", I found repetitive and at times, mundane. 

On the other hand, the first two tracks are favorable and the outro instrumental offers adequate guitar lines (even if it seems simplistic at first), and the overall impression Ushangvagush leaves to me leans on the positive end of the spectrum. Mntu will move a lot of people and it has what it takes to be considered a fine, legit black metal album in the underground. Even if I didn't absolutely fancy all of its tracks, the first recognizable step of this project is making its own mark. 

Damage: 3/5 [Good]