In 2020, the heavy atmosphere hasn’t just been in the news. Below, check out five standout records from the first part of the year that feature immersively fierce presentations. Often in line with what might be called post-black metal, there’s a whole lot of heavy atmosphere and a whole lot of gripping intensity. Dig in…
Azoth – Magnitude of Extinction
The Portland, Oregon-based group Azoth deliver a spectacular cacophony on their release Magnitude of Extinction, which is newly available this year via the label Vigor Deconstruct and features frequently instrumental-focused creations. The songs feel like the extended instrumental-focused segments have given the artists behind the creation a chance to give a ghoulishly personalized face to some of the most meaty ingredients of raw black metal and related styles, which they send through a blender of whipping dynamics.
Track one, the terse “Worlds Upon Worlds,” features searing streaks of blast beats, but even amidst that haze, the band feature an alluringly fist-pumping rhythmic edge in their music. The guitar textures and skipping along drums give a real space for listeners to sink in their teeth, a sense that gets expanded quite emotionally stirringly on the lengthy second track, with its extended segments of contemplative, soft strumming and a gently moving percussion rhythm.
The band have described their style as cosmic black metal, and their gripping usage of dynamic swings amidst the strong, crisp-toned black metal onslaught makes the term feel fitting. When they launch into faster crescendos of riffing and drum blasts after simmering in the softer realms for awhile, they might as well be launching listeners towards the heavens themselves. It’s an elevating experience as the dynamically swinging, razor edge riffs repeatedly crescendo throughout the maelstrom of honestly staggeringly intense overall performances.
Check out the music below! The band features members of other Pacific Northwest groups including Sól and Vitriol.
Déception – Ressources Humaines
Listening to the mournful shrieks of the French black metal band Déception’s new album Ressources Humaines feels like falling into gripping psychological horror.
The entire slab of music feels like it’s encapsulating a soul-chilling, gut-punching wail, as if the music is the sonic form of a moment of desperate howls of catharsis that have been frozen in place to repeat for all eternity. There’s a steady, feedback-wracked guitar line snaking through the mix, and the drums hit with a thundering force as the searingly intense wails of the vocals and main musical onslaught echo throughout the piece. The music feels ferociously raw, but at the same time, the songs seem very straightforward. The miserable stagnation leading into drowning in the musically expressed muck is on full display.
Track two expands a bit; the soundscape gets larger as the melodies slow down and lengthen, but there’s no respite from the somber, mournful weight. Listening to the song feels like trekking through a dangerously frigid blizzard; the piercing guitar riffs whipping through the feedback haze feel on par with streaks of chilling wind whose magnanimity suggests an almost insurmountable scope to the frigid expanse.
Throughout the piece, the direct and frequently quite poignant melodies that Déception stick to even amidst the fiercest onslaught of the frigid, shrieking maelstroms make the music’s experience feel especially personable and immersive. The album is a true wonder to step into — it doesn’t just talk about the howling despair at hand, it encapsulates it powerfully, beyond the point where it even needs to be overly delineated. Amidst the swirling haze and hoarse riffing, it’s simply inescapably felt.
Check out the music below!
Meaning of Life – “Signs (alternative version)”
The Honduras-based project Meaning of Life delivers a stirring, entirely instrumental journey through gently weighty melody on their new track “Signs (alternative version).” (The original song appeared on a 2018 release from the project.)
Meaning of Life have focused upon some of the most emotionally weighty, pensive elements of the ambitious melodies that frequently get such bombastic treatment in post-black metal-adjacent styles. Here, the intricate experience feels carefully pared down. The new song features gentle, shimmering melodies that feel like a sonic encapsulation of the sun rising over a frost-covered field as they gradually intensify throughout the piece. There’s not necessarily an overly upbeat component to the track, but there’s a definitive, emotionally stirring progression off through the soundscape that the artist has enacted.
In the early parts, Meaning of Life stick to soft, piano-centric melodies, but later on, the sound gets fuller and includes more of the traditional band elements like drums and gently swaying riffing. All of these elements maintain the fundamentally somberly contemplative spirit of the piano melodies that open the track, which themselves feature subtle yet powerfully repeated crescendos throughout the song.
Check it out!
Ruairi O’Baoighill – Parish Law
On their new album Parish Law, the Ireland-based drone artist Ruairi O’Baoighill has captured a stunning portrait of psychological unease.
Track one features a gradually more gut-clenching haze of droning tones pockmarked by infrequent but unmissable hits that sound reminiscent of a ship’s foghorn ringing out on some ominously overcast evening. If you’ve seen the 2019 movie The Lighthouse from director Robert Eggers, you’re likely to have a hang of the feel of at least the opening segments of this album. The droning tones feel frigid, like an uneasily steady pace of wind whipping up a steady stream of bone-chilling ocean water, and the addendums atop that foundation, including the thickly resonating hits and swirls of ominous cacophony that gradually emerge as the track proceeds, establish the feeling of palpable danger lurking right behind the sonic fog of the anxiety-riddled, droning atmosphere.
Track two kicks the intensity of the droning haze up a notch, as the sounds get thicker and the feeling of the sounds swirling into and out of themselves intensifies. Carrying on with the feeling of Parish Law encapsulating some kind of unkempt seaside experience, track two might encapsulate the approach of yet another foreboding thunderstorm.
Wherever you happen to be, the music really allows for those seaside demons to emerge that might make someone question their very conception of themselves in the face of the sheer weight of the looming expanse. That expanse, whether in the form of the drowning depths of the ocean or the endless procession of the atmosphere, gets a sonic encapsulation here as the variably textured but always piercing drone marches on.
The last track features big percussive hits that round out the unease with inescapable directness. Check out the music below, as available via Cursed Monk Records:
Zorya – “Tree Of Life”
The new track “Tree Of Life” from the Slovenian black metal project Zorya feels like a fiery hailstorm absolutely scorching the earth. The thickness of the riffs provides a sort of grandeur to the song’s whole experience, while the relentlessly forward push, even amidst the harsh sonic oppression of the song’s tones, establishes the feel of some kind of inevitable destructive force making its mark. There’s not so much a despair marking these riffs as there’s simply an immersive acknowledgment of and confrontation with a primal force of nature that — within the context of this ferocious yet melodically soaring song — feels like it’s ready to upend every previously established sense of security. It’s upendingly blunt yet beautifully expansive.
Check out “Tree Of Life” below, and stay tuned, because the artist behind this one-man project indicates that more new music should be coming in 2020.