Apollo’s TOP 5 Black Metal Albums of H1 2019

11 min read

The most outstanding aspect of Black Metal to me is how it can incorporate so many different sensations within the vast horizons of its’ countless sub-genres. Black Metal is not just about some harsh repetitive tremolos under a funeral moon in a northern winter forest. Black Metal is misanthropic, nihilist and depressive, but it can as equally be wrathful, hellish and destructive too. There are so many different stuff coming from all over the world every day that it’s impossible to get bored. There is no “bad year”, “bad era” to be a Black Metal fan. Every era is fucking special. The first half of 2019 was a mighty demonstration of that again. Blackened thrash? – GRAVE VIOLATOR, LUCIFERA are here to blow your sanity away. Blackened death? – HATE MANIFESTO, VLTIMAS will let you celebrate your barbaric wrath, rotten hatred. Blackened doom? – BETHLEHEM, MOLDE are here to make you roam through a mystifying domain of hollowness. And when we think about raw, cold, misanthropic, frosty pure fucking Black Metal, bands like NORDJEVEL, WINTAAR, KVELGEYST, SARASTUS, VANUM, FUNERAL PRESENCE, DEUS MORTEM, MISTHYRMING, DIM AURA, HANDFUL OF HATE, and countless others have been carrying the flag of hate and flaming visions. Atmospheric Black metal? I don’t know where to start to be honest…

The album I was looking forward to most was the new ELLENDE album as they are one the most special bands to me ever. But compared to “Todbringer”, the new album left me a bit cold and craving for something more. I think they shifted towards more melodic, atmospheric direction compared to their colder, darker, more progressive sound of before. However, still, it’s very good with the signature melancholic touch of ELLENDE still there. NUMENOREAN, CHERNAA  delivered some stunning atmospheric post BM too.

The dreamy, folksy atmospheric Black Metal landscape of UK delivered big time with another release from SAOR and a great debut from RUADH. DEAD TO A DYING WORLD  D’UN AUTRE TEMPLE, SCHATTENFALL, SÜHNOPFER, and other countless bands produced classic atmospheric BM works too. It was a strong time for symphonic, melodic BM too with strong releases from AEON WINDS, GARDSGHASTR, WINTER ETERNAL, BELZEBUBS and many others. There were also strong releases in DSBM field from bands like NONE, SADNESS. Bands like ESOCTRILIHUM, AORATOS, ANDAVALD, MEPHORASH, LAETITIA IN HOLOCAUST, YELLOW EYES, L’ACÉPHALE, AKASHA, took BM to a psychedelic dimension. Old guards ROTTING CHRIST and the new arrival by FUNERAL STORM proved that Hellenic BM is still well and truly alive. GAAHLS WYRD returned with another hypnotic, wrathful trip. And last but not least, the mighty DARKTHRONE made a return and showed that they are still beholding the throne of might.

Ok. After mentioning as many bands I could that could not make my top 5 list, here are the 5 albums which were most special to me from the first half of 2019.

ENISUM – “Moth’s Illusion”

I am a big worshipper of Italian  BM scene. Some of the most special Black Metal bands to me like ERGOT, EARTH AND PILLARS, FORGOTTEN TOMB, Solitvdo…and ENISUM hail from there. Combining the artistry of Cascadian Black metal and the frostiness of east European Black Metal, ENISUM has been always quite entrancing. The new release “Moth’s Illusion” didn’t disappoint too. Though I was disappointed with the absence of an epic opening track like their last 3 albums and the excessive use of the clean voice of Lys, it was still something special. ENISUM has everything. They can be fast and brutal AF but they can also be sedative and languorous at the same time. Lys has been always obsessed with the nature surrounding his native Arpitanian land. Even the name “Enisum” is a reverse anagram of the name of a mountain in Susa valley. Like nature, their music is very convertible and capricious. The little acoustic strummings and pluckings will make you think about the gentle breeze and serene grandiosity of nature while the hellish palm-muted riffing and apocalyptic blast beats will remind you of the wrathful, cataclysmic side of mother nature. The use of synth is very quintessential too. It just gives a dreamy landscape on which the swirl of wrath, jubilation and melancholy takes place. And the drumming…oh the drumming of Dead Soul. The way he shifts between quarter note beats and blast beats, plays with opened and closed hi-hat, uses odd-time bass kicks in slower time intervals makes the drumming a specially noteworthy feature of their music and gives another layer of suspense and edgy touch.

“Moth’s illusion” truly starts for me from the third track “Where souls dissolve”. The intro instrumental track is pointless and the 2nd track is too straightforward atmospheric Black Metal. But from “Where souls dissolve” onwards, you’ll be transfixed by an uncertain, mysterious, unpredictable landscape of atmospheric Black Metal which will end with a fitting farewell track “The burned valley” which is my most favourite track of the album. That other-worldly synth transition between the mesmerizing clean voice of Ephellin (which I think was unfairly underused in this album) along with the acoustic strumming at the start and the indignant, unswerving blitz that takes place later is what makes ENISUM so unique and special to me. It is so dreary, so bleak, so forlorn…but yet it is so wrathful, so buoyant, so vigorous. It is Arpitanian Black Metal.

My review here

DOWNFALL OF GAIA – “Ethic Of Radical Finitude”

My brother in arms Count Vlad made me truly fall in love with DOWNFALL OF GAIA and I’ll be forever grateful to him for that. With members hailing from the cities of Hamburg, Berlin, Hannover, they are surely one of the most distinctive, most hypnotising forces of the 21st-century metal landscape. Though they stated that they would consider themselves a post-black metal band, their music is so deep, so vast, so absorbing that it’s hard to categorize them in a particular genre. They have sited AGALLOCH and NEUROSIS as two of their most favourite bands and their music surely is enriched essential ingredients of melancholic post-black metal and sludge metal. Their first two albums were more in the alley of sludge black metal with crust influences too. From the third album “Atrophy”, they shifted towards a more post-black metal direction and the result has been not bad at all, to say the least. Their fourth and latest full-length “Ethic of Radical Finitude” is a testament to that. It’s horrifying, harrowing and darkening. It’s the reincarnation of Altar of Plagues, but it’s more gloomy and more frowzy. It’s fast, jaw-dropping, skull-crushing fast. But it has its’ atmospheric, calm, slow passages too. The guitar layers are so thick that it requires multiples listens to appreciate the true beauty of this album. From the acoustic pluckings to clean, suffocating guitar melodies to melancholic leads to the dirty, infernal riffs…the atmosphere in this album will fuck up your brain cells and make you chase your own shadows in some of your wildest nightmares. Another factor which has contributed to the evolution of the sound of DOWNFALL OF GAIA is the inclusion of new drummer Michael Kadnar in 2014. The drumming is more brutal, more frenzied, more blistering now but Kadnar can also deliver sweet, tranquil fills whenever needed…just listen to the beautifully reverbing snare rolls in the gentle atmospheric passage in the middle of “We pursue the serpent of time”. The vocals are so torturing and deeply grief-stricken too. Nikita Kamprad of mighty special Der Weg Einer Freihet appears as guest vocalist too.

The atmosphere of this album is quite impossible to express in words. It’s chaotic, vicious poetry. And ironically the song titles resemble like some verses of a poem too:

Seduced by..
The grotesque illusion of being..
We pursue the serpent of time..
Guided through a starless night..
As our bones break to the dance..
Of withering violet leaves…

IMHA TARIKAT – “Kara Ihlas”

Germany based outfit IMHA TARIKAT with Turkish roots stormed on the black metal scene in 2017 with their EP “Kenoboros”. Now they have teamed up with Vendetta Records and have released their 1st full-length “Kara Ihlas” with more mature sound and more organic production. The appropriate word to describe the music of  IMHA TARIKAT would be “Chaos”. In fact,”Imha Tarikat” means “destruction”. You’ll surely find lots of destruction in their sound. The music is barbaric, apocalyptic and is surely influenced by the super-fast stuff from the second wave black metal. There seems to be a touch of punk influence too with the use of D-beats every now and then and some zestful guitar tones too in the mix. You’ll find nothing new or complex here in terms of musicality and technicality.But what connects me so much with their music is a layer of holiness, divinity behind all the chaotic atmosphere. Oh and the idiosyncratic voice of Ruhsuz Cellât. There are some bands like BÖLZER who become special to you just because of the uniqueness of the vocal deliveries alone. Same with IMHA TARIKAT too. The vocals here are full of ferocious, throaty bellows and primal roars. That suits so perfectly with the music and atmosphere too. Just listen to “Omninihai Cozmu” (Omni-final solution). That track is one of my most favourites because it has a progressive touch and a doomy, drowning feeling in the guitars (with a spellbinding, melancholic guitar solo too) compared to the bombastic riffs and super-fast tempo that surrounds the whole album. The songs in this album are segregated in two parts where the latter part is a perpetuation of the previous part. There are lots of waspish, querulous riffing and congenial, diverting melodies throughout this album, but I wish there would be more variations in tempo and more diverse song structures. Still, this album is a great delineation of old school nihilist, misanthropic Black Metal with a fetching atmosphere throughout. The Quran themed lyrics annexed a different dimension of spirituality too ehhhh.

FÖRGJORD – “Ilmystykset”

Finland is having an explosive year in terms of great BM releases one after another – MALUM, SARASTUS, VARGRAV, AIHOS, WARMOON LORD to name a few. The land of metal is having another explosive year both in terms of quality and quantity and it surely delivered  the most special BM release of the year to me. FÖRGJORD has been a mighty presence in the depths of Finnish BM underground for 2 decades and in “Ilmystykset”, they surely added another masterpiece in their short but sweet catalogue. The Finnish coldness is there but there are also great touches of Swedish melancholy, Polish misanthropy and Hellenic heftiness too. Songs like “Kaksitoista Kuolemma”, “Pohjolan soturi” are a great blending of Finnish primal, wintry Black Metal and thick, brawny riffing of Heavy Metal. “Maailma Palaa” is a terrorizing black n roll assault which will magnetize you, scatter you, spellbind you. There is no filler in this album, each track plays its’ own role to create a jaw-dropping atmosphere as a whole. The little instrumental track “Surmanluodit” provides some of the most depressingly beautiful vehemence to me. The bewitching cover art which represents a cabin where 3 people were stabbed to death in 1932 adds to the petrifying aura that flows throughout the album. The lyrics explore some dark, murky, mysterious tales of the past too as the album focuses on the story of Maria Åkerblom, person who was the leader of the Finnish Åkerblom movement which took place in the late 1910s and early 1920s. So this album is tenebrous, it’s cold and it’s musically very oofy too. The use of spoken Finnish words also adds prepends a sense of inexplicable trepidation to the whole experience while the organ sound gives a primitive layer. So this album is wrathful, melancholic, depressive and atmospheric at the same time. This album is a demonstration that Black Metal can be raw, dark, filthy yet melodic, eloquent, atmospheric. This is the old Finnish coldness of SATANIC WARMASTER, SARGEIST etc. but with an added layer of suspense and atmosphere. This is truthful, this is freezing, this is bewitching, this is Black Metal.

My review here

CÂN BARDD – “The Last Rain”

Atmospheric Black Metal is quite special. But when I think about any act of this field, they always seem designated to serve any one particular purpose. Some are dreamy, ambient, peaceful which will be focused on exerting synth-heavy, euphonious atmosphere like ELDERWIND or ELDAMAR. Others create an aura of camouflage of wrath, melancholy with more emphasis on creating the atmosphere with six strings like WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM or ADDAURA. The best form of exultation I get is when I find something which combines all these different environs. Malo Civelli endowed me with such a splendid creation when the track “between hope and reality” was premiered from the second album “The Last Rain” by his solo project Cân Bardd and I knew instantly that this album would be one of my most favourites of 2019 for that song alone. This song has everything. A 14-minutes journey of illusion, melancholy, nostalgia, haze, aggravation and titillation. From the dejected acoustic guitars to the little captivating piano notes to the hypnotizing murmur of grim tremolos-this song covers so many laminae of emotions. Especially that dual acoustic part in the middle after the first verses…it makes me so tipsy, so numb…I feel like I have so much to say but there is no point saying anything. The lyrics of this song are so unambiguously, depressingly beautiful too.

Unfortunately, the album shifts towards a more folksy, ambient, less “metal” approach after this song. The other 4 tracks are not bad and have their raving moments (like that riff after the first verses of “Clouds & feuds”), but they are also not special like the opening track. But still it’s quite a magnificent album and a great evolution from their first album “the nature stays silent” which even though was greatly enriched with some hypnotizing melodies throughout, was too inadequately produced to complement the atmosphere and  the playtime was also too long where the same passages in songs were replicated for too long. In “The last Rain”, Malo Cavelli focused more on quality rather than quantity and I think it paid off big times. Though CÂN BARDD has been compared with SOJOURNER (Mike Lamb even did the mastering of “When nature stays silent”), I think Civelli has created something unique with his own signature. Sojourner reminds me more about Russian melancholic coldness and British folksy atmosphere whereas CÂN BARDD is more epic Caladan Brood-esque BM. The song structures in Sojourner are more progressive and sophisticated too while CÂN BARDD takes a more post-metal approach. In short, both of these two bands are quite special in their own way. Mario Civelli is an unbelievably gifted 21-year-old Swiss magician deeply influenced by Celtic and folk music and I am sure he will adore us with many more “Bard’s song”.


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