Category: On the Periphery

Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper – Review on the Periphery

Artist: Bell Witch
Album: Mirror Reaper
Release date: 20 October 2017
Label: Profound Lore Records

Tracklist:
01. Mirror Reaper

Seattle duo Bell Witch have generated considerable buzz with their engrossing take on funeral doom since releasing their demo in 2011. The unexpected death of founding drummer Adrien Guerra left the project’s future in doubt, but songwriter and bassist Dylan Desmond enlisted Jesse Shreibman (whose live work for Wrekmeister Harmonies speaks for itself) and the two began writing and debuting material while on tour. These live sessions would become a magnanimous 84-minute eulogy to the band’s fallen member wrapped in a gorgeously orchestrated ode to the mystifying dread experienced as life ebbs away.

Mirror Reaper is funeral doom at its deepest and most morose, but the massive song isn’t just impressive for its length. Patience, intuition, and musicality raise it to a league of its own. Using the dreary minimalism on which the band built their reputation, save the addition of a foot organ, Bell Witch’s attention to detail both in production and execution becomes even more apparent.

In spite of its daunting duration, Mirror Reaper functions surprisingly well as a song. Its two movements, (which together form the phrase “As Above, So Below”) remain connected through melodic motifs, yet profoundly distinct in their effect. Bell Witch likens the album’s structure to that of its namesake, as its second half is an altered reflection of the first — bringing Mirror Reaper to life in its fascination with death. It goes farther than inviting listeners to stare into the abyss, but embodies the tragic epiphanies one has on the brink of oblivion.

Though his growls don’t have the ghostly timbre Guerra had (the latter of which actually appears as a fitful farewell), Shreibman’s guttural rumbling sounds at home against Desmond’s singing. Desmond himself actually shows off more of his bass facility than on previous outings, bringing a virtuosity to the funeral doom template not often heard. His willingness to cut loose brings tremendous majesty to the arrival point in the middle of the track, but the most transcendent passage of this record begins during the intimate serenade in “So.”

Desmond’s harmonic instincts have always set Bell Witch apart from the funeral doom crowd (especially considering it all comes from his voice and six-string bass), but the way his voice commingles with his instrument on Mirror Reaper in the aforementioned passage is nothing short of spectacular.

Over open bass chords, Desmond’s soft yet steady singing completes the chord’s missing interval — creating beautifully flowing modulations. An evolving soundscape evoking gregorian chants as much as it does epic post-rock illuminates the plight of a soul in limbo between mortal life and what lies beyond. As vocal lines layer over each other, Shreibman’s suspended cymbal swells and foot organ drones eventually cadence the song back into distorted dirge while retaining the transcendent elements — cementing Mirror Reaper as a peak for the band.

Funeral doom stands apart from metal stereotypes in that its exploration of death goes beyond something to deal or be dealt, instead exploring the philosophy behind finality and the combination of fear and serenity it entails. Since Funeral’s first demo sparked the genre into existence, no band has embodied a metallic procession quite like Bell Witch. The duo have done to funeral doom what Sleep did to stoner metal with Dopesmoker — taking the genre to its limits while epitomizing its potential on a grand scale. Mirror Reaper will be remembered as a triumph for this movement, an encapsulation of its most moving attributes.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Nhor – Wildflowers: Autumn – Review on the Periphery

Artist: Nhor
Album: Wildflowers: Autumn
Release date: 10 October 2017
Label: Prophecy

Tracklist:
01. Where They Once Were
02. The Trees Knew Not of Me Then
03. Moonfall
04. We Set Their Bodies Free in the Cold River
05. What We Hid in the Night
06. Fire Promises Guidance
07. Fate



After establishing himself in atmospheric black metal and ambient folk circles, the UK-based multi-instrumentalist Nhor has most recently embraced a unique strand of stripped-down piano ambient music. Over the past six months, he has released two installments of Wildflowers, a quadrilogy of EPs themed after the seasons. Spring and Summer provided intimate explorations of the warmer seasons, a time of rebirth and one of plenty, but Autumn comes as a quiet overture to a period of gradual wilting and panicked preparation with retrospective undercurrents.

Live production, repetitious playing, and modulative fluidity remain central to Nhor’s approach. Within this formula, “Where They Once Were” and “The Trees Knew Not of Me Then” start Autumn strong with two of the cycle’s most dense compositions so far. The former’s tasteful use of octaves skyrockets the dynamism of a trickling moving line, while the latter’s spiraling melody and rushing feel mirrors a blustery October afternoon — all the while maintaining intimate immediacy. Nhor sounds like he’s playing his piano right beside the listener, allowing the instrument’s resonance to overflow to the last echoing tone.

“When the first leaves begin to fall,” Nhor reminisces about autumn, “I am abruptly reminded of everything that I wished to achieve.” With the vibrant colors and spurt of ecological and meteorological activity comes the inevitable realization that the lull of summer is not only temporary, but never long enough. He explores this annual epiphany through his minimalist vein, through the polarized low-end arpeggiations and cutting chimes of “We Set Their Bodies Free in the Cold River.”

The waters and winds of time can suddenly feel like flash floods and gales as life hurtles towards finale, but Autumn still evokes moments of clarity as each note constructs a peaceful head-space in the midst of terrifying change. As the nebulous broken chords at the start of “What We Hid in the Night” take form, stoic understanding coincides with tragic realization.

Imparting the heavenly oracle’s third appearance in Wildflowers, “Moonfall” serves as a reminder that the world’s constant shifts never completely shroud the moon as an unmoving sounding board for both Nhor and the listener. The song’s use of silence and note decay make it the most atmospheric track on Autumn, while its basis in high register further separates it from other cuts — emphasizing Nhor’s ability to compose distinct auras by gradually dealing his hand from song to song.

Autumn confronts fall as an abrupt reminder of the transient nature of the good times summer provides, but Nhor’s thoughts are never hopeless. “As the warmth of our star retreats, I am drawn closer to the fire,” he says. The passionate “Fire Promises Guidance” encapsulates this enduring comfort, as its crestfallen melody imparts somber apprehension through several movements that encompass the entirety of his emotional and sonic palette. With Nhor’s tearful farewell to the jubilation summer brought comes a decision to preserve warmth as winter creeps over the horizon, in the knowledge that coming hardships will fade as surely as good times. The polyphonic concluding track “Fate” comes as a whimsical ode to the inevitability of these cyclical changes, a call to live in spite of them instead of wallowing when they come.

At 23 minutes, this is the longest and most dense Wildflowers EP so far. Using stark minimalism and extreme simplicity, Nhor has again created a cohesive narrative unique to the season in question. Autumn blows with crimson leaves towards a snowy blight, pacifying the maddening race to prepare for winter through its gentle chords.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun – On The Periphery – Review

Artist: Chelsea Wolfe
Album: Hiss Spun
Release date: 22 September 2017
Label: Sargent House

Tracklist:
01. Spun
02. 16 Psyche
03. Vex
04. Strain
05. The Culling
06. Particle Flux
07. Twin Fawn
08. Offering
09. Static Hum
10. Welt
11. Two Spirit
12. Scrape

It’s been two years since Chelsea Wolfe dropped Abyss — a career-defining amalgamation of her goth-folk roots and decimating doom metal. In fact, that feet of tortured sublimity is so good that the release of Hiss Spun actually serves as a reminder of how amazing its predecessor is. Whether or not Wolfe’s latest LP is her best is up for debate, but it will more than satisfy those who yearned for her to run with her doomy side.

The first three tracks on this album provide an unholy trinity of goth-doom bangers to set the tone. With Wolfe herself only contributing four guitar performances to the album, her session musicians bring a mean sound. Hiss’s sauntering stoner doom dirge drives home the point that Wolfe isn’t worried about subtlety this time around — relying instead on cathartic heaviness. This raw approach makes the sensual undertones of “16 Psyche” explode into sorrowful ecstasy as a dreary riff and intense dissonance ties it together, and also gives “Vex” the first guttural growls (via post-metal veteran Aaron Turner) in Wolfe’s discography contrasting with Type O Negative-esque grooves, gloomy dissonance and austere keyboards.

“Strain” and “Welt,” the two interludes on Hiss Spun, provide two distinct flavors of industrial murk through the former’s grating sound wall and the latter’s ritualistic chant. These hints at amorphous sound keep Hiss Spun with one foot in the oddball, but the more straightforward aspects of this album do come as a double-edged sword — showing the true power of Wolfe’s doom metal sound, but losing a bit of her uniqueness in translation.

Wolfe’s doom-folk roots manifest on “The Culling,” while “Particle Flux” utilizes a propulsive crescendo akin to modern post-metal — juxtaposing her exploration styles she only flirted with before and ones she established long ago. Ironically, Hiss Spun ends up being less heavy than Abyss because of its emphasis on orthodoxical heavy music instead of strange percussion, warped synths and caustic ambience. It’s less mysterious and fearful, but more visceral and exhilarating. Even so, Wolfe’s gothic affectations and entrancing melodies keep her sound reminiscent of ‘70s occult films.

Though the song’s floatacious mourning and blood-chilling build doesn’t break new ground in Wolfe’s style, Kurt Ballou’s dissonant strains and the bombastic rhythmic accents bassist Ben Chisholm and drummer Jess Gowrie make “Twin Fawn” a perfect backdrop for Wolfe’s chilling siren’s song. The song’s abrupt dynamic changes keep make it as surprising as it is slow-burning, streamlining crushing dynamic changes into an emotional dagger as naturally as the strange electronics and goth-wave flavors of “Offering.”

The austere ponderings of “Static Hum” harken to Chelsea’s weirder side with stark ritualism, introspective lyrics centered around pain and self-destruction shrouded in monotonous drudgery culminating in a passionate arrival point, setting the stage for the staggering conclusion of Hiss Spun.

Wolfe’s gut-wrenching vocal performances climb to a pinnacle during these last eight minutes. Starting with wistful acoustic guitar strums and ghostly singing, the rising action of this two-track journey rises from the ground upward. “Two Spirit” strips back even farther with skeletal percussion and appreciated finger picking before noisy drones take the song to its abysmal peak.

“I want it back, I want it back. What was taken from me, I want it back,” Wolfe’s heartbreaking melody weaves through the most intimate and monumental passages, remaining in impenetrable misery. This allows “Scrape” to bring the final conclusion of the record through overwrought emoting. Ascending modulations, a lurching beat and gurgling synth textures quickly gain weight as Wolfe pole vaults into aural hysteria (“You, the dirty one, what you took from me. There was nothing left but hypocrisy”). Her musicality remains prevalent in this overwhelming environment, bringing the album to a magnificent close.

Wolfe’s unique delivery translates into goth metal confines incredibly well, packing an emotional punch others could only dream of mustering. That being said, her sound has never sounded this conventionally doom, a byproduct of the less nuanced approach she took. This record sees her wrestle with her identity in the midst of hardship, and ultimately transcends her indignations in steadfast resolve. While Abyss remains her darkest and heaviest record, Hiss Spun stands as Chelsea Wolfe’s spiritual manifesto by way of smoky riffs and pitch-black melodies.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Myrkur – Mareridt – Review

Artist: Myrkur
Album: Mareridt
Release date: 15 September 2017
Label: Relapse Records

Tracklist:
01. Mareridt
02. Måneblôt
03. The Serpent
04. Crown
05. Elleskudt
06. De Tre Piker
07. Funeral (ft. Chelsea Wolfe)
08. Ulvinde
09. Gladiatrix
10. Kætteren
11. Børnehjem
12. Death of Days (Bonus Track)
13. Kvindelil (Bonus Track ft. Chelsea Wolfe)
14. Løven (Bonus Track)
15. Himlen blev sort (Bonus Track)
16. Två Konungabarn (Bonus Track)

As much as many outlets have tried to push Myrkur as groundbreaking for having a female vocalist, Amalie Brunn’s approach is a natural progression of black metal as a movement. The genre’s aesthetic lends itself to much more than barrel-chested machismo, and its musical palette accommodates ghostly chorals as well as wraith-like shrieks.

That being said, Brunn’s past work left a lot to be desired in terms of fully fleshed out ideas. The components of solid folk-inspired black metal were there, but it translates more as the result of her musing about how neat it would be to try on black metal for size rather than taking it by the reigns. While Mareridt still falls shy of Brunn’s full potential, the album capitalizes on her strengths in a new and exciting way.

Five of these 11 songs aren’t metal at all (Kveldssanger style, baby!). Brunn had the right idea by hyping the record around its ethereal and delicate leanings, considering the five non-metal tracks stand out the most on Mareridt. From the title track’s opening “yop” onward, she emphasizes her resonance with traditional Celtic instrumentals and vocals throughout this record. This is what makes “Måneblôt” so energizing. Harmonious tremolo picking and rushing blast beats certainly maintain their presence, but the track reaches its summit when danceable string arrangements and percussion contrast and commingle with black metal elements.

“The Serpent” is arguably the weirdest track on the record. Its plodding guitar chugs and drum thuds starkly depart from Myrkur’s past sound, and it emphasizes Randal Dunn’s oddball production. While songs like “Crown” have a vast, yet earthy sound, the harsher elements of this record have a distant, mystical sound that may even throw off seasoned atmospheric black metal fans. For “The Serpent,” this leads to moments that would ordinarily blast listener’s eardrums if played by other bands, but instead levitate listeners into another headspace. This approach provides a freshness previously absent from her sound.

“Ulvide” best exemplifies Dunn’s production steering these songs away from expectations. Warm, sinister modulations suddenly drop into a brittle guitar riff and half-time beat, completely changing the song’s dynamic in an instant. The contrast between realistic Celtic traditionalism and otherworldly black metal becomes more jarring here. Pleasant orchestration suddenly becomes so elusive that one might not even hear certain parts at all without a solid speaker system, but his lack of accessibility allows Mareridt to transcend past confines and bring unique qualities to the table.

Although they’ve certainly improved this time around, Myrkur’s black metal could still use more inventive structure. “Funeral” realizes the most potential in this aspect of her style, as Chelsea Wolfe’s sensual elegance entangles with Brunn’s elfish inflections to a gorgeous effect over an evocative collage of tumbling drums and dreary guitar chords, but “Elleskudt” is memorable more for its ornamentation rather than the solidity of its essentials. Still, Myrkur’s amalgamated tracks like “Gladiatrix” fully come off much more dynamic than ever before.

While her vocal performances and ambient additions remain transfixing, this album’s structure essentially apes the style Ulver perfected 12 years ago with Bergtatt. She might be well advised to look towards Ved Buens Ende’s Written In Waters to see how forward-thinking playing could make her atmospheric prowess timeless.

As mentioned earlier, the true sublimity of Mareridt manifests in Brunn’s traditional songs. Whether it be the echoing percussion and monolithic drones of “De Tre Piker” or the strange rhythmic backdrop of “Kaetten,” Brunn’s skill as a multi-instrumentalist provides a way to keep these songs believably archaic yet profoundly fantastical. The only real complaint I have about these songs is the awkward way “Børnehjem” fits into the mix. It’s droning vocal reprises and witchy spoken word, though compelling, would have translated better if it melted directly into another track rather than standing as a separate idea.

Mareridt sees Myrkur improve sonically, but the room the project has to grow remains. Its distinct atmosphere and instrumentation are a beautiful testament to Brunn’s upward tangent, and upping her songwriting will make her an inexorable force in black metal.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

Anima Nostra – Atraments – On the Periphery – Review

Artist: Anima Nostra
Album: Atraments
Release date: 16 June 2017
Label: Malignant Records

Tracklist:
01. Composition for the Shadow Self
02. Naamah
03. Blameless
04. Tabula Smaragdina
05. Solemn Majesty
06. Anima Nostra
07. Intermezzo for the Double-Wanded One
08. Doxologia Yaldabaoth
09. The Seal

Henrik Nordvargr Björkk is one of the most active and relevant members of the post-industrial scene. His project Mz.412 put him on that map as far back as the late 1980s. Since then he has taken part in a staggering number of projects. His albums have been released by such labels as Cold Meat Industry, Cold Spring, Cyclic Law and Malignant Records to name just a few. In recent years, we’ve seen a some great output by a few of his “side-projects” if they can be called that, as most of his work these days, in one way or another, consists of a side-project to some other previous greatness, be it Mz.412, Pouppée Fabrikk, Nordvargr, etc.

In early 2016 Nordvargr teamed up with Margaux Renaudin to release an album entitled Anima Nostra on Cold Spring. The album consisted of music that was hard to accurately label. There were elements of death industrial, doom metal, neo-classical and dark ambient. The duo were so happy with the final product that they quickly began to work on a follow-up album, this time they named their project/band Anima Nostra. He recently released several well received albums on Malignant Records including The Secret Barbarous Names as Nordvargr and Avatars of Rape and Rage as Körperwelten, a collaboration with Lee Bartow of Theologian/Navicon Torture Technologies. So it followed that Anima Nostra would return to Malignant Records with their newest creation, Atraments.

As was the case with their debut the year before, Anima Nostra bring together an amalgamation of styles/genres that seem like they would clash, but for Anima Nostra the combination works perfectly. Atrament, a word many may not be familiar with, is defined as black fluid. A look over the beautifully crafted digi-pak gives us a literal example of this word in use. Much of the album art consists of a matte black background with a glossy black lettering. The characters are unfamiliar to me, but seem to have similarities to Urdu, ancient Sumerian and ancient Akkadian alphabets. The digi-pak comes with an 8-page booklet containing even more of these beautifully antiquated scripts.

Atraments glides between the territory of multiple genres effortlessly. The opening track, “Composition for the Shadow Self” has an ambient start, which evolves into some glacially paced doom metal style music. The guitar is distorted and only uses several chords repeatedly over industrial metallic drums which give the track an almost religious, tribal feel. Nordvargr’s vocals are deep and guttural screams. “Naamah”, the following track, consists of a screeching guitar feedback which drones over a plethora of drums, whispers and screams, which all provide a backdrop to Nordvargr’s spoken words which are highly ritualistic. Then there are tracks like “Tabula Smaragdina” and “Solemn Majesty” which incorporate Gregorian style chants and other beautiful religious stylized sounds, such as a cathedralic organ section, which provide the perfect opposition to the other more gritty and chaotic tracks.

Atraments is far from my usual musical interests. In general, I’m not always a fan of the many varied works of Nordvargr. but I greatly enjoyed the aforementioned Körperwelten and obviously some of the works of Mz.412, so I gave this latest release an honest chance. My first impressions were a bit negative, again I’m not a huge fan of doom metal in particular. But, after the second and third playthroughs I started to really understand the project and slowly but surely fell in love with each track and the nuances and progressions that take place throughout the album. This is why I would never review an album without giving it numerous listens, first impressions can be misleading, some things, especially those that fall outside the usual genre boundaries, need time to make sense to the listener. At this point, I could say that I highly recommend Atraments to any fans of the varied output of Malignant Records. It seems that the variety of releases from the Malignant label all find their way of making sense within the frame-work of this one single album. There is the dark, the brooding, the beautiful, and the ugly, all making appearances on Atraments.

Written by: Michael Barnett

On the Periphery – Summon – Anumals – Review

Artist: Summon
Album: Anumals
Release date: 21 October 2016
Label: Self-released

Tracklist:
01. FR13NDS (feat. Aleister Crowley)
02. ON3WAY (feat. Sapience Christ)
03. OP3NBO0K
04. M3MO(R3)BO0T
05. SNAKE~FOOD (feat. Goldmonki)
06. SNAKE~V3NOM 666
07. SK.INK (feat. Neila)
08. VO1C35
09. A1M
10. thaMONSTA
11. COLD & FA1R (feat. Omen20012)
12. DEADUN
13. DANCE of DEAD (feat. Aleister Crowley)

Editor’s Note: As the first review in the “On the Periphery” section. I should first explain a bit about this section. Dark ambient is one of my many loves in the world. The purpose of This Is Darkness is for it to be a hub. A place where dark ambient fans from around the world can find news, interviews, reviews, mixes, etc. all pertaining to things that they, as dark ambient fans, would find interesting. The second goal is to bring in new dark ambient listeners. This second goal will be possible through devoting some attention to things outside the dark ambient genre, but still very relevant to, hopefully, the majority of its fans.

This release is not dark ambient. It is not ambient at all. It is in fact a rap/hip-hop album. However, aside from the actual genre of the music, there are a lot of glaring similarities to be made. While this may not always be the case in the style and execution of the music, it is fair to say that these similarities are constant in the subject matter.

I first stumbled across the sounds of Summon probably two years ago. At this point, I honestly have no clue of exactly when and where I made the discovery. But the music sounded really unique and had that edge of darkness for which I’m always looking. As is usually my habit, I immediately began to follow the man behind the music. It became quickly apparent how many things we had in common. From musical interests like Sigur Rós, Chelsea Wolfe, CocoRosie, etc. to film directors, David Lynch in particular.

When Summon released this album last fall, I was not in a position to review it. My old stomping grounds of Terra Relicta, was not exactly the place to cover occult-themed hip-hop music. Upon founding This Is Darkness, it became possible for me to branch out in any direction which I saw fit and relevant, so here we are!

Since around 2011, Summon has been creating his form of “dark hip-hop”. I’m not talking about sounds like the trap-kings Three 6 Mafia, nor is this like the artists Bones of more recent fame. It is especially unlike the clowns in ICP! Summon immediately struck me as having a sincerity and depth that went well beyond a love for horror films or some gimmick to separate him from the flock. The music flows from the soul, and it’s immediately recognizable as such. While this does a lot for an artist’s integrity, it often doesn’t do much for their fame.

A guy in Albuquerque, New Mexico rapping about subjects such as Aleister Crowley or H.P. Lovecraft is not exactly in a position to take the hip-hop industry by storm. Yet, what Summon has done is to slowly solidify himself as the backbone of the Albuquerque music scene. Summon always features plenty of local talent in his albums and never forgets to give due credit to his fans and supporters. Along the way, he’s poured his heart and soul into the running of music promotion for his local clubs.

Now, I should get specifically into the sounds of this Anumals album. As afore mentioned, Summon has a great deal of interest in the occult. The album opens with an audio clip of Aleister Crowley speaking. If there were ever a moment of question about what the kind of subject matter we would find in this album, it is immediately answered.

As we move into the following track, “ON3WAY” (feat. Sapience Christ), we get into some of the actual music. Sapience Christ sings in a very unusual and quite interesting manner throughout the track. Summon contributes the verses, which on this track show some of the similarities between his style and those of some other underground rappers such as Sole and Doseone. His lyrical flow is fast paced, yet constrained and always intelligible.

The next two tracks “OP3NBO0K” and “M3MO(R3)BO0T” are easily comparable for me to hip-hop greats Wu-Tang Clan. The production has that 70s cinematic feel to it, similar to the sounds that brought RZA to fame.

If comparisons to other artists must be made, which in the case of writing reviews I see it as necessary more often than not, Summon stays relatively consistent in his similarities between early Anticon Records artists and those of the Wu-Tang Clan. But these comparisons don’t reflect an artist who is taking the style of others and attributing it to himself. He often moves from rapping to singing and back again. He is similar to some sounds of other artists at one moment, then his next verse will take on a style, totally unique to himself.

Anumals is a truly unique experience. If you hate hip-hop, I doubt you are going to be swayed. But if you do enjoy this genre or at least the occasional song within it, you should find a good bit to love about the dark/horror/occult themes on Anumals. While the sounds themselves are often far from those of dark ambient, the themes, samples, and lyrics of the music should be welcome content for dark ambient fans with an open mind.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Editor’s note: With this being the first “On the Periphery” review, I would be very pleased to hear as much feedback as possible. What do you think of the concept of “On the Periphery”? Do the sounds of Summon resonate with you in any way as a dark ambient fan? Does this development make you happy or are you reading this thinking WTF?

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: