Baltic Week: Black Metal Gems

Baltic Week Day 3: Black Metal Gems: Sisyphean, ZIGOTA, Ziegenhorn, Dreadrealm, Langenu, Heresiarh

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To celebrate the music of the Baltic region James explores its flourishing black metal scene. He looks at rising atmospheric/technical black metal stars Sisyphean’s new single, dissonant black metal project ZIGOTA’s new album and the debut album of bestial war metal band Ziegenhorn. He also looks at atmospheric/ambient black metal project Dreadrealm’s new album, avant-garde/psychedelic/groove laden black metal band Langenu’s new EP and a symphonic black metal classic from 2000 by Heresiarh.

Sisyphean - Through Corrosion

Sisyphean – Through Corrosion

Artist: Sisyphean
Album: Through Corrosion
Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
Release Date: April 25, 2023
Location: Vilnius, Lithuania

Lithuania’s Sisyphean made international waves with their 2022 album Colours of Faith, receiving widespread critical acclaim, so I won’t be talking about that album today. Instead, I want to discuss the band’s more recent two track single through Corrosion.

If you don’t know Sisyphean, they take the Uada approach to black metal, marrying equal parts technicality, raw aggression, melodic undertones and a heavy helping of atmosphere. The result of this blend is a captivating track that takes the listener on sonic journey lasting over six minutes on the opening track Through Corrosion and the following live track Hearts of Mercury (Live), which in turn lasts runs for well over 5 minutes. Personally, I enjoy the contrast between the two tracks, it shows that the band’s music carries the same weight and power live as it does in a formally recorded format.

The guitar work on the album is intricate and complex, while still carrying a powerful emotional weight. It hits the listener with a discordant back and forth, weaving and winding throughout the track. The vocals are powerful and on the deeper side of raw black metal screeching, bordering almost on guttural. They have a real rasp to them that adds to the depressive and haunting atmosphere of the music. The drum work is complex but well mixed so that it adds to the atmosphere on the album rather than overpowering it.

Overall, this is an incredible single and leaves me extremely excited for what will undoubtedly be another EP or album in the near future. If you’re a fan of modern black metal, then you won’t want to miss this.

Listen to and order the album:

Bandcamp

ZIGOTA - EXALTATION

ZIGOTA – EXALTATION

Artist: ZIGOTA
Album: EXALTATION
Label: Independent
Location: Jonava, Lithuania
Released: June 24, 2023

Lithuanian atmospheric dissonant black metal project ZIGOTA is the creation of Mindaugas Vilkas, and what a hellish creation it is. The album feels like a panic attack in audio form due to how overstimulating and assaulting it is.

The listener is hit with an incessant barrage of flurried discordant guitar work and drums. These feel like they are swirling around you as you try to make sense of it all. Meanwhile, semi raw semi guttural vocals tower over the mix, adding even more stimulation. Then all of a sudden, the music will give way to a dramatically more atmosphere focused segment that adds a depressing energy and tone to the music, a segment that may feature the use of sound bites. There’s a constant back and forth between these highly oppressive segments of audio abuse and the short breathing gaps where things shift from assaulting to emotionally crushing.

The album opens with a 10-minute epic titled PERSISTENT SYMPTOM , a track that sets the tone for the entire album. This song feels like it goes on for double that duration (in a good way) and gives the listener a feeling of almost claustrophobia at times. The album ends with a track titled ARCHITECTURE OV SELF – DESTRUCTION that runs for the same duration, capping the release on both ends with monstrously long, highly assaulting tracks. If I’m being honest, the song between the two offers no respite either, hammer the listener into gradual submission as it wears down their will to live.

Overall, this I solid debut album from a project that I see appealing to many fans of the genre. Personally, the one thing I would like to see a little more of are those more atmosphere focused segments, as they give the album more balance and allow the chaotic elements to pop that much more. Aside from that though this is quality black metal and worth your time.

Listen to and order the album:

Bandcamp

Ziegenhorn - Blut&Kaos

Ziegenhorn – Blut&Kaos

Artist: Ziegenhorn
Album: Blut&Kaos
Label: Warhorn & Wolfsgrimm Records
Release Date: December 12, 2022
Location: Tartu, Estonia

Estonia’s Ziegenhorn hit us with an unrelenting offering of lo-fi black/death metal ferocity that could easily be described as war metal with its intensity and production. Yes, I’m going to use the term “bestial black metal” here, because there really is an unbridled aggression to the release that’s hard to describe any other way. You’ll even find the occasional “OUGHHH” sprinkled in here and there.

The guitar work on the album is played at breakneck speed, just shredding its way from the start to the finish of the album. The drums are a mix between intense hammering and rhythmic war like pounding, a favourite element of mine in all war metal. The vocals are what really does it for me though, coming across as faded, slightly echoed inhuman howls. These cascade over the top of the furious instrumental work, adding a whole other layer of aggression and bite.

The only complaint I can see from some is that the album all sounds somewhat similar, which for me is a non-issue, as I love this style of music and have no problem hearing plenty of it. I mean war metal was never known for its variety or range, it’s all about that intensity and this album has more than enough of that on offer.

I just have to give special praise to the track O.U.G.H. and thank the band for making this and naming it this. As a die-hard devotee of Tom G Warrior and anything he touches, I will always have a special place in my heart for a good “OUGHHHH.” The band have taken things one step further and centered a whole track around this, and what a track it is.

Overall, this album delivered everything I could possibly have expected it to and left me feeling satisfied and ready to set fire to something. If you want music to drive your inner primal rage and get your heart rate pumping then look no further than Blut&Kaos.

Listen to and order the album:

Bandcamp

Dreadrealm - Live From The Fall

Dreadrealm – Live From The Fall

Artist: Dreadrealm
Album: Live From The Fall
Label: Independent
Release Date: January 31, 2023
Location: Võhma, Estonia

Estonia’s Dreadrealm take a different approach to black metal, with a smoother, more ambient and atmospheric sound and energy. Their music almost feels ethereal and haunting, with a depressive beauty to it, an essence captured perfectly by the album’s stunning artwork.

Underneath all of this haunting yet depressive beauty is an almost epic undertone, that adds a sort of mystical aspect to the music. Lyrically the album almost feels gothic in nature, as the project’s sole member Metren Angerjärv tells fantastical and tragic tales with each track. I would say that the main element that helps the album to stand out is his writing ability, both musically and lyrically. He’s able to construct complex and moving arrangements that run on average between 5 and 10 minutes in total.

The album as a whole is almost like listening to a collection of stories and poems, with added emotional depth and immersive instrumentals. The balance struck between raw aggression and ambient, captivating atmosphere is essentially perfect and it shocks me that the project doesn’t have more of a following than it already does.

The guitar tone employed is stunning, in its more biting moments but especially in its more atmospheric segments. It’s both emotional and harsh at the same time, but a perfect medium between the two. The vocals shift between faded semi raw, semi barked vocals, sung whispers, and hushed clean vocals. All these styles alternate seamlessly and work in tandem with the guitars, strings and key based elements to create something truly special.

Overall this is a hell of a release and I regret taking until the artist’s second album to discover them. If you appreciate stunning atmospheric black metal with a bite to it and epic longer form tracks, then this is a must listen.

Listen to and order the album:

Bandcamp

Langenu - Setooniq

Langenu – Setooniq

Artist: Langenu
Album: Setooniq
Label: Warhorn
Release Date:
Location: Tartu, Estonia

I hope you like quirky, groovy yet powerful black metal, because Estonia’s Langenu are bringing it with their latest EP Setooniq. I honestly don’t even know how to describe the album, it definitely has a black metal base, but onto that base is layered everything from unusual folk, psychedelic rock and groove elements. The band call themselves pagan black metal, which I agree with, but the word “progressive” or “avant-garde” needs to be thrown in front of that.

Once you give the album a listen you’ll know what I mean, you’ll be listening and think, “wow this is solid black metal” then suddenly things will get folky and somewhat symphonic before transitioning into groovy psychedelic riffage with a truly catchy element to it. Next thing you know epic pagan clean sung vocals will make an appearance before trailing off to some kind of unusual folk instrument you don’t even know the name of.

I need to clarify that all these elements work together too, this isn’t some jumbled mess. Somehow the band are that talented that they are able to weave together a vast array of VERY different styles of music. I think one thing that helps tie it all together is the vocal consistency that the band employs. They give us a powerful and commanding barked style with both a raw and guttural edge to it. These vocals tower over the music uniting all of the elements as they unfold, as smart move from the band. Consistency among experimentation is sometimes just the balance that an album needs.

Overall, this is a truly solid release and one that will catch most people (including myself) off-guard. I did not expect to hear this from this band after seeing their album cover and the label that they are signed to. This was an extremely pleasant surprise and gave my day some much needed diversity and excitement. So, if you’re a fan of unusual and experimental black metal then this is the album for you.

Listen to and order the album:

Bandcamp

Heresiarh - Mythical Beasts and Mediaeval Warfare

Heresiarh – Mythical Beasts and Mediaeval Warfare

Artist: Heresiarh
Album: Mythical Beasts and Mediaeval Warfare
Label: Independent
Release Date: May 21, 2000
Location: Riga, Latvia

Let’s get old school and nerdy with Heresiarh’s classic album Mythical Beasts and Mediaeval Warfare, released way back in 2000, but still just as powerful today. The album covers everything from Latvian folklore and dragons to Tolkien and spans everything from raw and melodic to symphonic black metal.

The band were definitely on the larger side for a black metal act, consisting of six members and giving us everything from dual guitars and keyboards to melodic clean female vocals. The production quality is definitely on the raw side for a symphonic black metal release, which personally I feel is one of its biggest draw cards. It maintains a dirty, biting black metal edge despite having melodic and symphonic elements and keeps things interesting throughout with its diverse range of influences.

The guitars have a bite to them but deliver a pleasant melodic offering that works perfectly with the album’s overall sound and in unison with the keys. Speaking of keys, the band for the for most part buried them in the mix in a way that has them sharing space with the guitars and it somehow works. It just gives the music a subtle epic quality and a unique overall sound. At times they burst through the mix and deliver some epic and inspiring melodies, this is done tastefully and sparingly though. The drum work on the album does its job just fine, but it definitely isn’t a focus point of the music.

As far as the vocals go the harsh vocals are fantastic, perfectly suiting the tone of the music and giving it far more of a biting edge. They’re halfway between shrieked and gurgled but never overpower the music itself. We also get some fantastic powerful shouted clean vocals that add dramatic effect whenever they make an appearance. On the whole though, the harsher vocals take the lead with vocal presence but do give the female vocals plenty of time to shine. This is a choice I could personally do without, as I’m really not a fan of clean vocals in black metal unless its epic operatic in symphonic black metal like with Dimmu Borgir or epic pagan style Viking metal cleans. At the same time though, the album wouldn’t be quite the same without them, so it’s a tough call to make.

Overall the album is a truly fun and enjoyable listen and a throwback to the direction that black metal was taking for a while at the turn of the century. It’s not something I would come back to regularly, but every now and then I’ll probably bust out a couple of tracks. If you’re a symphonic black metal fan then you will most likely enjoy this, especially if you appreciate female vocals in extreme metal.

Listen to and order the album:

Bandcamp




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