Yesterday was the last day of Summer. For once, I'm glad to see it go. Los Angeles was rocked with high-profile murders and political sex scandals, choked with pollution from the raging Station Fire, and mired in the same budget crisis as the rest of California. The last couple weeks, temperatures skyrocketed almost as high as the unemployment level. If the American Summer was born in Southern California, 2009's was a partial abortion. To celebrate the demise of Summer, here are a few black metal records released this summer that helped remind me of the darkness of this dismal season.
Unholy Matrimony - Croire, Décroître (Deepsend, 2009)
Talk about an appropriate band name! Unholy Matrimony is one of five projects crafted and performed entirely by Swiss auteur Vladimir Cochet with the aid of a drum machine -- if the guy doesn't trust other band members to play any of his material, how is he going to trust a life partner to join him in marriage? Turns out Cochet does just fine by himself. In sharp contrast to the isolated vibe of many of black metal's solo misanthropes (see Leviathan, Striborg, Wrath of the Weak), Unholy Matrimony's third album Croire, Décroître announces itself boldly, with serrated riff discord and creepy arpeggios piled on top of each other, like later Emperor with less pomp.
Cochet's throaty gargle is one of the main attractions here -- the black metal rasp is tailor-made for destroying diphthongs, and there are plenty of them in his hostile French screeds. Blastbeats and double-kick rolls usually sound terrible on drum-machines, and Croire, Décroître is no exception; the more relentless portions of "D’Élégance et de Déréliction" and "La Lente Mort sans Panache" feel out of place surrounded by such human-sounding layers of guitar, vox (both harsh and sung) and acoustic instruments (is that a ukelele in "La Lente Mort sans Panache"?). Cochet seems aware of that, and litters his lengthy tunes with moments of comparative serenity, where the rhythms let up, the harmonies shine through, and we can hear why he still remains marriageable.
Black Anvil - Time Insults the Mind reissue (Relapse, 2009; originally 2008)
Relapse has never been known as a purveyor of high quality black metal (or ANY black metal). So why start with a reissue of the debut album by Brooklyn trio Black Anvil? In many ways Time Insults the Mind is a safe bet from a pure marketing perspective. It's far less extreme than your average blast furnace black metal and the crossover potential is huge -- Black Anvil rock out convincingly towards the end of "And You Thought You Knew Pain!" and make no effort to hide their punk pedigree (all three members were formerly in the New York hardcore group Kill Your Idols), stinking up gutter-dwellers like "Ten Talons Deep," "Release the Kraken" and "LTHLTK" with grimy punk beats.
"On This Day Death"
If Time Insults the Mind lacks the danger of traditional black metal, Black Anvil make up for it with the grumbly gravity of their sound. You can tell that it's three dudes playing this music, especially when drummer Raeph Glicken breaks into his sinewy, mid-tempo blasts (e.g. the swinging' "On This Day Death"). In a genre that makes a point of erasing traces of humanness, burying them behind rasps and robotic musicianship and makeup, it's refreshing to hear the work that goes into this shit. And for all those that accuse Black Anvil of falseness because they used to play punk, dudes, have you never listened to early Celtic Frost? Totally punk. And speaking of which, have you ever heard Celtic Frost covered so well as on Black Anvil's boss version of "Dethroned Emperor?" It's the best song on Time Insults the Mind, but not by much. And that's saying something.
Nihill - Krach reissue (Hydra Head, 2009; originally 2007)
If there's any band that gets the void, it's the mysterious Dutch troupe Nihill. They've only been eating heavy metal from the inside out since 2007, but they've already got an intimate understanding of nothingness. They know that sometimes it rushes over you in howling torrents of oblivion (check "Mundus Subterreanus," which brings Portal's smeary dissonance into sharper focus), sometimes it looms overhead like the Sword of Damocles (the doomed Esoteric-a of "Gnosis Pt. I"), and sometimes the abyss just is, without giving any choice in the matter (as in the closing 17-minute tone poem writ ambient, "Gnosis Pt. III").
"Dreams Upon the Scaffold"
One could wile away the hours, debating which of Nihill's many shades of black is the blackest in between sips of absinthe and recited passages of Nietzsche, without coming to a consensus. It's all pretty bleak, and it all bleeds at the edges. The two ambient tracks at album's end absorb the violence of the earlier black metal moments, and the whole thing spirals inwards and disappears down the drain. While Krach is never quite beautiful in the conventional sense, there's something almost poetic about Nihill's all-encompassing embrace of so many forms of void-seeking. Krach is supposedly the first of a planned trilogy of albums documenting the transfiguration of tormented, mortal life into an astral state of unconscious knowing, then back again through the cycle. If you think Krach is a headfuck, just wait 'til you hear the second installment, Grond, out on October 13th via Hydra Head. Ho. Lee. Shit.