After the first instalment‘s deep dive into the sunken depths of the funeral doom underground, Under The Radar is back, and this time we’re delving into the depraved realms of black metal. Here you’ll find everything from lo-fi bedroom projects to ambitious blackgaze and twisted psychedelia, but regardless which bizarre subset of black metal they belong to, all these projects have produced high-quality music worthy of greater attention than it’s currently getting.
Black metal doesn’t get much rawer or more aggressive than the infernal racket spewed forth by Ferus Din. A collaborative project featuring members of other New York projects, the band incorporate a touch of folky allure through the use of flute, but the music remains bombastic and antagonistic to the last. 2018 record The Great Dying is a staggering debut, and it’s about to receive an awesome tape release in June courtesy of the every fantastic Tridroid Records.
As a genre that often takes inspiration from its birthplace, black metal can only be made more interesting by having practitioners from all over the globe. Perhaps the tropical climate of its home country is an inspiration on the lush, textured atmospheric black metal produced by Brazilian project Kaatayra, or perhaps that’s merely how the music’s environmental themes happened to manifest. Regardless, this is unique and fascinating stuff well worthy of your ear.
With a majestic sound that overwhelms not through heads-down intensity but through glorious melodies and captivating post-rockisms, the first thing you notice about Olympia, Washington’s Awenden is just how oddly soothing their transcendent soundscapes are. But without the lows, the highs wouldn’t be nearly as impactful, and the band can certainly drag things into the depths when required, even tinkering with death-doom at moments on their latest record Golden Hour.
It feels wrong to include Shrieking on this list and thus pigeon-hole the project within the black metal genre, because the truth is there’s much more to it than that. The San Diego project’s sound is one of blackened extremity, sure, but also of proggy death metal, mind-melting sludge and imposing ambient textures. Whoever is making this music is clearly having a ton of fun, and the feeling’s certainly infectious – latest album Let The Galaxy Burn is a rollicking good time, if metal this vicious could ever be considered as such.
There’s a number of bands out there mixing medieval sounds with blackened extremity, but Switzerland’s Ungfell do it better than most. Save for some distant screams, the opener to latest release Tôtbringære (a reissue of a 2017 album) could give you the impression that you’d stumbled into a renaissance faire, but stick with it for bone-rattling blastbeats and depraved growls. Great stuff.
Texan newcomers Oil Spill have just one EP out so far but have already sold out all physical copies on Bandcamp – an indicator of just how good Ashlands is. Not a moment is wasted on the three-track release, with a dynamic style that leaps forward through meandering songs capable of lurching from heads-down intensity to harsh noise at the drop of a hat, all before slowing things down for a bout of sludgy riffs. The real revelation here is the deliciously thick bass, which leaves you wondering why more bands don’t decide on a similar approach.
Emerging just this month with debut release Communal Seclusion (no doubt a nod to the coronavirus lockdown), one-man project Unbeknownst is an exciting addition to the UK black metal scene. The music seems to be intent on injecting an unsettling psychedelic streak into lo-fi black metal, taking the raw format of so-called “bedroom black metal” into mind-warping territories. The project is name-your-price download on Bandcamp, but be sure to throw anything you can spare at it, because all proceeds are going to mental health charity Mind.
It’s easy to think of atmospheric black metal and melodic black metal as lighter, perhaps even more accessible, versions of the overarching genre they’re a part of, but when performed a certain way they can be just as (if not more) imposing and overwhelming than more traditional black metal. The handful of tracks released thus far by Eave certainly exemplify this, with a sound that’s ruthlessly heavy, boasting huge riffs and stifling production, but also emotionally taxing. New single ‘Phantoms Made Permanent’, the title-track from their upcoming debut full-length, is their best composition so far, with a dynamic sound that drifts from pained shrieks and sluggish riffs to soaring post-rock guitars and anguished melodies.
Dutch duo Doodswens supposedly have two releases currently in the pipeline. For now, though, only a demo and a single are available on Bandcamp, but these are more than enough to have us excited for more. The duo’s punky brand of lo-fi black metal festers in bleak atmospheres, with some of the most razor-sharp shrieks we’ve ever heard soaring over gloriously gritty guitars. Check them out now so you can gloat when they’re the next big thing.
Castle Ov Yester
If you’re a black metal aficionado, you’ve probably exposed your ears to enough second-wave worship to last a lifetime. By now you’re probably interested in something a little different, and you’ll certainly get it with Castle Ov Yester. These madcap NY practitioners define themselves as “avant-garde fantasy black metal”, an apt descriptor for their synth-heavy strain of post-industrial blackened witch house.
With a new record out this month, Minneapolis group Changeling deserve your attention for taking a slightly new approach to atmospheric black metal, one that they told Invisible Oranges’ is in part inspired by horror movie soundtracks, classical music and hip-hop. Those influences may be largely indecipherable, but they have resulted in a sound that surprises in its eccentricities despite still being firmly set in the black metal genre. Their sound is noticeably reserved, always solemn and bleak, with a mystical aura permeating even the fastest blastbeats.
Another group to emerge from Minneapolis, atmospheric black metal quartet Tvær are perhaps that scene’s best kept secret. Despite starting to garner attention, they should arguably be much bigger, now with several dynamic releases under their belt – each one packed with an equal measure of raw riffs and melancholy melodies. Listen to their even more atmospherically-inclined live rituals for a real treat.
Hailing from the frostbitten planes of, ahem, California, Heavenfield is a one-man project serving up generous helpings of blackened brilliance. Like an age-old, forgotten god slumbering below the earth’s core, there’s an understated sense of scope to Heavenfield’s music, lying latently under the fuzzy riffs and throaty bellows. The music’s ritualistic atmosphere is perfectly suited to the lyrics too, which sole member Thunraz says are sung in dead languages and deal with ancient folklore.
The music conjured by Minnesota one-person project Morke (pronounced “mor-keh”) should damn-near be considered a revelation to the black metal genre. Seeing a project use atmospherically rich black metal to deal with struggles so vividly and without pretence is refreshing, and sole member Eric Wing’s openness on social media about each release’s themes helps give the music a tangible vulnerability, whether they’re addressing mental health recovery (…Of Oak And Snow) or “the hardships of begging those you’ve hurt for reconciliation” (Redemption).
Seas Of Winter
Incorporating everything from the crusty vibes of post-2005 Darkthrone through to more experimental and hypnotic extremity, Seas Of Winter’s take on black metal is refined and ruthlessly effective. Instead of cartoonish Satanism, the band’s debut record tackles the real issues plaguing today’s society – the rise of fascism, the growing divide between rich and poor and, of course, the destruction of the natural world around us.
Dubbing themselves “Eastern folk black metal swordsmen”, Chinese melodic black metallers Vengeful Spectre incorporate traditional Chinese folk instruments into their scathing sound, which boasts stellar production and some of the most shockingly venomous shrieks we’ve ever encountered. Their sound is refreshingly to-the-point, with their latest record filling just 36 minutes despite being a concept album dealing with war, betrayal and revenge.
Tackling themes of heritage and community in an altruistic and investigative manner, rather than the hateful and cynical renditions of such topics that are so prevalent in metal, Wretched Empires’ sound is dark and antagonistic. Featuring Allfather vocalist Tom B. and Redbait alumni Will J. (guitar) and Cody A. (drums), the band incorporate touches of potent punk and roaring classic metal in a manner that will be familiar to fans of early Cradle Of Filth, but the presence of melodic and folky aspects in the vein of Panopticon (or indeed the aforementioned Twilight Fauna) also gives these tracks a mournful quality.
Appalachian project Twilight Fauna have been captivating listeners with their unique strain of atmospheric black metal for some time now, but just this month they released Foundations, their most poignant and powerful work to date. These intensely personal songs, masterminded by Paul Ravenwood (joined by Josh Thieler on drums), are ambitious in scope yet feel intimate and revealing. As capable of soothing ambience as he is fearsome growls, Ravenwood’s music just gets better and better.
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Words: George Parr