Gnipahålan – Vånnalösa Urskepnader
Gnipahålan stormed out of the gates in 2018 with two new cassette releases, and this is the one worth spending the extra money on if you don’t already have it. It’s a very long affair of symphonic black metal and ambient passages with that signature Ancient Records sound. The drumming on this album, done by one Taaken, is sensational and adds a rare human element to Swartadauþuz’s guitar and vocals, which are usually only backed with a drum machine. This cassette is bursting at the seams with majestic atmospheres and glorification of darkness. Fans of the Vargrav album should find everything to their liking here. Highly recommended.
Gnipahålan – I Stridens Era
This tape is a much shorter affair, and the ambience is at the forefront. Despite the lack of material, I Stridens Era serves as a great example for this band’s powerful use of synths to create an otherworldly atmosphere within its music. The peaceful elements are swiftly combated with excellent black metal passages, and with once again all instruments taken up by real musicians, this has become one of the highlights in the Ancient Records canon.
Blood Red Fog – Thanatotic Supremacy
Blood Red Fog have triumphantly returned with another outpouring of vicious, extensive hymns of death worship. This album easily achieves its goal of drawing the listener into a vortex of hypnotism through repetitive, churning riffs combined with soaring leads and an overall triumphant atmosphere. The album’s fifty minutes absolutely fly by, and the listener is given reprieve every now and then with some ambient interludes, just enough time to return back to earth before being transported once more. This album gets better with each listen, and exceeded expectations. It’s no accident that this band is on some split material with the almighty Cosmic Church. Blood Red Fog make compelling music, and this is their finest contribution yet.
Paara – Riitti
Paara has unleashed a monumental album consisting of very long songs, a wide range of vocals, and timeless modern production that highlights the best qualities of the musicianship, including abundant riffs and inspired drumming. The members of Paara are no doubt inspired musicians, and they really came out of nowhere to cement this fresh slab of epic black metal. Their music is not epic in the slow sense, but epic in the scope of the songwriting. There’s plenty of blasting and ferocious riffs, but moments also turn towards clean singing and acoustic guitars in order to build up the atmosphere of a complete ritual, and thankfully the softer moments are few and tastefully executed. There’s not a dull moment to be found on this album, which is an impressive feat, and if you can find this CD to purchase, you will not be disappointed.
Nahtrunar – Mysterium Tremendum
Nahtrunar brings a nonstop, aggressive energy to his new album, which is filled to the brim with melodic riffs, more of them contained in one song than some bands have in entire albums. This album harkens back to the glory days of sinister, no-frills black metal, yet there is a modernity in the production and in the strange folky ambient bits that distinguishes it from the past. It can seem monotonous on first listen, but you must allow yourself to sink in to the atmosphere in order to really grasp this record. You might ask yourself what is inside this man that possesses him to write an album such as this, especially considering the wealth of creativity in the songwriting and the guitar playing. He is an absolute wizard on the guitar. Usually with one-man bands, you can tell what their primary instrument is, and Nahtrunar is no exception. His is a name not muttered enough in the black metal underground, and he has my respect for unveiling this album with zero pre-release hype or fanfare.
Dependentium – Narttu
Dependentium unleash a classic Finnish black metal affair, bringing continuous brutality for the duration of Narttu. The vocalist has pretty impressive range, from the death metal growls on the first track, to the powerful black metal style vocals, and the crazed vocals on the fourth track “Peili”, which is sort of a pseudo whisper yell. It must be heard to be fully understood. The songs have just enough variation to prevent a repetitive blastfest, with some slower, doomy riffs thrown in every now and then, and even a trippy violin intro in “Kasvot Alas”, and the drummer shows great restraint with these parts to allow the band to shine as a whole. Speaking of the drums, the production on this album is fantastic, allowing the riffs to shine while the vocals and drums play their desired role only slightly in the back, allowing all the sounds to mesh together perfectly. An enjoyable ride through the rich trove of Finnish black metal.
Esoctrilihum – Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas To Awaken the Blind Sovereigns of Nothingness)
Perhaps saving the best for last, this is definitely the most titanic, monumental release so far this year. Esoctrilihum is a man possessed, serving up complex yet catchy hymns of utter brutality and evil, embodying the unpredictable state of imminent violent death. A lot of bands of this ilk are hefty on the experimentalism without having the songwriting chops to back it up, but Esoctrilihum has it all. With riffs that are constantly changing but somehow still holding to the theme of the track while being catchy, songs reach their absolute maximum potential even at lengths of seven to eight minutes without ever feeling stale. Second track “Rotting Way of Damnation” is the perfect embodiment of all the great characteristics of this album, from the pained whispered vocals to the insane guitar tones and creative, driving drum fills, there is really nothing else that sounds like this. One of the most unique creations to be conjured forth in some time. The only thing wrong with this album is that us mortals only have one brain to melt, and this monstrosity is capable of bringing down villages. The pause button is the easy way out.