Sunday, 20 November 2011

Raising Their Temple

Release: 'IHVH' (2011)

As an arena of expression, extreme music has always walked the fine line between genuine artistic merit and a ridiculed circus of often unaware self-abasement. In particular, black metal has regularly had to bear the brunt of merciless, though astute, parodies and more often, annoyingly ill-informed pop culture references that feed unashamedly off the genre's headline grabbing activities during its toddler stages.

Interestingly, contemporary (and mostly 'orthodox') black metal acts, in an expectedly confrontational manner, have tapped into these earliest, controversial rumblings and re-opened the credibility debate once more, while more established acts such as Dimmu Borgir and Satyricon are busy selling 'official' underwear and appealing to post-emo fanbases.

Today, 'real' black metal operates in a realm of almost primordial levels of seriousness: a return to "No Mosh, No Core, No Trends, No Fun", perhaps. Either way, it is most definitely encouraging some of the greatest material the genre has ever produced.

Following their 2005 demo, Rêx Mündi seemingly disappeared into the nether recesses of the underground, as the 77 limited copies of their first opus quickly became a hard-to-find gem of twisting melodies and informed occultism.

Sharing the demo's title, 'IHVH', this full-length is a veritable reward to all patient enough to have awaited another release from Rêx Mündi, and who were giddy from the instant dedicated French extreme sounds label, Debemur Morti Productions, revealed details concerning the record, along with tantalising samples.

'IHVH' is a thoroughly arresting concoction of dense atmosphere and accomplished song writing. Examining Qabalistic philosophy, the occult, metaphysics and laced with haunting chants, while often balancing on the cusp resting betwixt intricate melody and metal abrasiveness, it is an exercise in suitable variation and utimately presents an act well practiced in the black metal arts.

At points, Rêx Mündi demonstrate an approach and structure similar to their fellow countrymen, Merrimack, but their changing rhythmic patterns and willingness to inject some typically metal toe-tapping (and 'moshable') sections sets them aside from the majority of the contemporary black metal milieu. The impressively executed percussion possesses a satisfyingly punchy emittance that sits well over the main instrument mix without sounding disconnected in the process.

The record is also veined with several surprisingly thrashy, though refreshing, moments. The beginning of "The Flesh Begat" chugs forward into some excellently blasted black metal that then effortlessly merges into a slightly doomy section, sounding momentarily like a Hammer Horror film's soundtrack.

Debemur Morti Productions' fingerprints are all over this album. A label that clearly delights in perfecting layout and design (probably much to the joy of the bands it fosters), the accompanying booklet is rendered in the style of an ancient magical text, complete with embossed band logo and sigil, all presented in lustrous gold ink on a black background.

While it is a little more 'upbeat' and seemingly less shy of its headbanging heritage, 'IHVH' remains a serious, devoted release. Though more 'metal' than the most recent Blut Aus Nord output, for example, Rêx Mündi are essentially channelling the very same energies and posing the same questions to the heavens, mankind and the uncharted planes.

Rating: 80%

Also submitted to under the username 'torchia', 19 November, 2011.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Of Silence and Exsanguination

Release: 'Death and the Black Work' (2008)

Approaching a US black metal release is regulary and alarmingly different to the way releases from bands in other countries can be absorbed.

The 'underground metal media' have often painted USBM as either a palid clone of its European forbear or an entity in itself, with no tangible ties to the resurgent atavism that gave birth to black metal in late 20th century northern Europe.

It is this contentious diatribe, perhaps, that colours the view of USBM's likely (and deserved) audience. Yet, many acts, Nightbringer among them, have continuously challenged the "only European BM is real" camp with material of such strength that it leaves even some of the most established acts, a few involved in the genre's earliest activity, in the shade.

'Death and the Black Work' is a heavy record, not purely in musical terms, but in a fashion that allows it truly weigh down on the listener. It is an impenetrable mass of clammy, dusty atmosphere, a wall of blackened, dissonant sounds and a rumbling presence that is unavoidable and uniquely unnerving for the duration of its playtime.

Initially, Nightbringer appear to sound much like a less-polished Setherial, employing intriguingly varied blast-beat patterns and meandering, competing melodies that crawl in and out of a dense fume of foreboding energies and harsh static.

However, the release's earliest tracks unfortunately blend into one long exercise in distortion, drumkit pummeling and a mixture of croaked and shrieked vocals. It is listenable and musically proficient, but nothing new or in any way terribly interesting. Only later, in the album's middle and closing tracks, does Nightbringer's aptitude for creating some quite magical black metal show its face.

Offerings such as, "Of Silence and Exsanguination", with its tense, ambient intro and echoing percussion calls to mind those comparisons that have been drawn between Nightbringer and the mighty Deathspell Omega. Such declarations are possibly a little ambitious, but like Deathspell Omega, Nightbringer are adept at incorporating doom and sludge/doom elements into their otherwise 'heads down', claustrophobic black metal barrage.

As a debut full-length, 'Death and the Black Work' is confident, occultist black metal from a band now surrounded by a certain mysticism and zealous following. As is often the case, the hype that can be created around bands and projects needs to be pushed aside for a period of time in order to truly appreciate what the band was originally attempting.

This piece of black metal art is most notable for its masterfully crafted atmosphere, this being what truly grants the release (and the band) its own identity among a plethora of acts all essentially doing the same thing.

Rating: 60%

Also submitted to under the username 'torchia', 2 November, 2011.