February is a weird one.
The names for our months all come from the Romans. They really went to town initially with the names; literally just named numerically. When the time came to add a few more months, Janus was an obvious name for the first month, being the two-faced god of beginnings and endings. February however…
Spring is on the wind, and Romans prepared for this through rituals of purification (februa). One such ritual was the festival of Lupercalia, where young men would run around Rome naked save for a goat-skin cape and playfully whip women with strips of goat-skin on the 15th of February. Not only was this to cleanse the city, but also to stir the loins of the young and fertile and encourage fornication. The Empire needs babies!
Cleansing has always been ritualised but not many people know the Romans named a month after the process of gathering materials to prepare for a spring clean. A great time then for a snowstorm to cover the country in white, before shrinking back and disappearing as fast as it came.
I was essentially stuck in my house for a week with nothing to do but listen to music and play Kingdom Come: Deliverance when I wasn’t busy being Dad. It was far too cold on the 15th for any goat-skin capers. At least there was some good music.
You can find the full Spotify playlist of everything I enjoyed from February here.
I genuinely had to double-check this one based on the album title alone. But thankfully it’s not poorly disguised racism. NGR, or New Golgotha Repvbliq, is the second album from previously-solo act Omination. This has the genre tag of funeral doom attached to it but passing on this because of that tag would be a big mistake.
If you are a funeral doom fan, then you will find the glacial pace, mournful, howling vocals and drawn-out organ notes to be to your liking. There are even a few 10+ minute tracks on NGR for you to get lost in.
As a new convert to all things slow and heavy, these are the characteristics that led me down the funeral doom path in the first place. On that journey, I went back to the genesis of the genre and listened to early Paradise Lost, early Cathedral, Winter, Evoken, Skepticism, Unholy and Thergothon.
I was surprised to discover that the acts I already knew of such as Bell Witch, Mournful Congregation, Ahab and Slow were, in effect, paying homage to a concentrated version of funeral doom. The progenitors were far more varied in their approaches to making the slowest, heaviest, saddest music they could.
On this second album, Omination is also paying homage. In this case, the layers making up each song give a brief but distinct flash of the influences behind the tracks. Sticking headphones on and listening to this, you’ll recognise flashes of Evoken, Esoteric and Skepticism across a single track.
There are more modern touches as well of course. The track Unto the Ages of Ages kicks in with some beautifully haunting lead guitar, and ups the tempo at spots bringing to mind both Un and the more recent Atramentus.
In summary, I would probably recommend this to anyone who was surprised (like me) that they enjoyed that Atramentus record and were looking for more in that vein. While not likely the soundtrack to a typical day, I really enjoyed NGR and have it tucked away to listen again and again when the time is right for slow, miserable, heavy af music.
I’ve no idea why this record starts exactly like How Soon Is Now by The Smiths – some of you will know this as the intro to the TV show Charmed – but I can no longer unhear it.
Of course, The Ruins of Beverast don’t follow this reverb-soaked intro with the dulcet tones of everyone’ favourite idiot Morrissey. Instead, it makes way for Alexander von Meilenwald’s barking, dreamy yet unsettling shoegaze style guitar and ambient industrial passages.
I know a lot of people hold this project in high regard, and I was excited to dive in blind and listen to this without any prior knowledge of what was coming. Initially, I was as confused as that description seems to be. None of this should really work. But there lies the genius of songwriter von Meilenwald.
What The Thule Grimoires does incredibly well is alternate between a thick, sludgy, suffocating brand of black metal and gothy reverb-fuelled expansive atmospheres: sometimes in the same track, but definitely across the album as a whole.
It does the album a disservice to call out individual songs – I feel this is really an album you have to listen to from start to finish to truly appreciate. At just over an hour this should really be within everyone’s ability. This album will undoubtedly appear on numerous year-end lists for good reason.
Talk about cleansing. Fuck me, this is the aural equivalent of colon hydrotherapy.
Humanity’s Last Breath could never be accused of making subtle music, and they continue with their unique approach to encouraging metalheads to remove their head from their neck on Välde.
The album cover features an enormous monolith that contains a number of what appear to be souls, or maybe Dementors. It’s an apt metaphor for the sound that they produce and how listening to this makes you feel. This is a thick slab, suffocating, growling and capturing your soul as you progress through.
It is not without nuance, however. One of my friends is a very good guitar player, specifically in this same style. He has been working on learning HLB songs for a while now and has come close to calling it quits a number of times simply because the playing is deceptively difficult.
This goes for the drumming too. I had to restart the third track, Earthless, a few times just to listen again to the drummer’s insanely clean double stroke roll interspersed with a spasmodic crash cymbal pulse, accented with the ride bell which morphs into a solid double-kick groove with the sane taking the turn to lull you into a false sense of “feeling the beat”. Or the opening 15 seconds of Tide, where lightning-fast double kick forms the beginning of a round-the-kit tom fill. I can almost feel the reverberation from every note – and given they are all played exceptionally fast is incredible.
I would be remiss to not mention the sound. It would be very easy for musical ideas and technical skill on display to be completely lost with substandard production. The only reason I was driven to re-listen to specific sections of songs is that, amongst the maelstrom, I can make out every single note from every single instrument as clear as day.
Compared to a band like Beneath The Massacre who go to great lengths to sound exactly like machines, this album does a great job of instilling a feeling of a mechanistic dystopia, while allowing you to hear that it really is humans behind the music. For all the wild pitch-shifting guitar effects, inhumane deathcore-style vocals and genuinely insane drumming, my favourite thing about Välde is how organic it sounds. In an impending war against the machines, I always thought that Demanufacture would be the soundtrack. Maybe it’s actually Välde.
I can stick on something disgusting and heavy and feel relaxed, be able to focus and concentrate and even fall asleep. I’ve been listening to heavy music for more than half my life though. For me, this is normal. For a lot of people, extreme metal is unlistenable, chaotic and impenetrable. Listening to Imperative Imperceptible Impulse, I thought “this must be what it feels like to hear death metal for the first time”.
Each track is a dissonant maelstrom of jerky yet powerful drumming, bass so low you can hear the strings slap up and down, harsh vocals and point/counterpoint disharmonic dual guitar attacks. On the first few listens it is really hard to make sense out of what you are hearing. But after a while, it starts to come together.
Soon, you can understand the songwriting and have a feeling for the hooks. It becomes insanely catchy. A remarkable achievement from a band who built or customised their own instruments and developed their own harmonic tuning system in order to self-record a collection of songs with no recognisable structure and reliance on unsettling disharmony.
Unsettling but relatively serene interludes separate each track, lulling the listener into a false sense that things will even out and the chaos will subside at some point. It never does.
Our brains are exceptionally good at using past experiences to predict future outcomes. We are doing it all the time without realising it. This is where your “gut feeling” comes from. Stereotypes form as your brain uses past experiences of certain stimuli to predict future outcomes, whether that be groups of people, brand reputation or the harmonic or rhythmic patterns in music associated with a specific genre.
This is key to understanding how to write compelling or suspenseful music (or any other form of art). It’s called a violation of expectation. Initially used to study infant cognition, it’s a useful paradigm to further understand musical enjoyment. Tension then release. Dissonance then consonance. Suspense and resolve. Good music sets up your expectations with a specified, expected pattern or notes, harmonies or rhythms and then changes or brings in something new to violate these expectations.
Imperative Imperceptible Impulse genuinely sounds like nothing I have ever heard. But the more I listen, the more material I have to structure an understanding around. Here we have the strong associative properties of the brain to thank. As you listen to the album, you’ll maybe not understand or be able to follow what you are hearing. You will hear specific sections or rhythms and be able to pin it to vaguely-related media.
You might hear Gorguts in this, or maybe Phyrron. You might still be high on Alphaville and be able to understand some of the jazzy, conversational guitar composition by relating to your memory of Imperial Triumphant. I was reminded of my first few listens to Warforged. Their avant-garde approach to tech death was equally as impenetrable to me initially, and outside of the usual avant-garde black metal references you’ll see for Ad Nauseum, it’s Warforged I first thought of.
Sure, some people will hit play on this and be hit with a wall of noise and immediately be turned off. Even seasoned metal fans with a penchant for the extreme. But if you are willing to put time into training your brain to understand the intricacies on offer here, you will be deeply rewarded for years to come.
The best art transports the subject to another world for a brief moment in time. It is utterly magical to read a book and be sucked straight into a fictional land, or even just the mind and experiences of another. The best TV shows and movies build compelling and inviting worlds for you to get lost in. The same goes for music. Lying back with your eyes closed, headphones on and letting music transport you to another plane is a magical and uniquely human experience. The ultimate compliment I can give Obârșie is that it does exactly this.
As strong as Ad Nauseum’s Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is as a piece of art, I don’t get lost in another world. I am removed from my present surroundings and immersed in a twisting and turning cavalcade of sounds, but I am still here. From the opening notes of Cel din Urmă, Sur Austra whisks the listener away to Hoia Baciu, the creepy, “haunted” Romanian forest. Or maybe it’s not a real, physical place at all? I imagine a wayfaring druid returning to a forest he once knew like the back of his hand and lived his life in accordance with, and surveying the damage industrialisation has caused. And getting angry.
Maybe I’m taking that too far and letting my imagination run away because of the cover art? Maybe I’ve subconsciously stolen the plight of the Ents from Lord of the Rings and placed it over this atmospheric black folk metal? Listen to this and let me know if you think I’m wrong.
Obârșie is explicitly a concept album. However, it’s all in Romanian and I don’t have a press kit so I have no idea what the concept is – only that it exists. So unless you speak Romanian or have other info I don’t (share?) then you’ll also have to develop the concept from your own imagination as well. It shouldn’t be hard, this is dark, brooding yet enchanting music that you won’t be able to help to fall into.
If you missed it at the top, this month’s Spotify playlist is here.