There’s so much good metal out there. What can we do, but write about it?
Fluisteraars – Bloem
Fluisteraars had their work cut out for them. We last heard from the Dutch duo on their 2018 instant-classic split with Turia De Oord. Fluisteraars’ contribution was the fourteen and a half minute black metal clinic “Oeverloos”. Prior to De Oord, Fluisteraars had dropped Dromers, Luwte, and Gelderland. As far as runs in atmospheric black metal go, that’s about as flawless as you can get. Yet, there’s an argument to be made that “Overloos” is the crown jewel. The track and the entire split were inspired by two rivers: the Waal and the Rhine. And much like river systems, Fluisteraars flow through “Overloos” with careening violence and moments of graceful precision. It’s not a moment that could’ve been replicated. Rather than strain for a lesser “Oeverloos”, Fluisteraars turned gentle and came back with what may be their finest album yet.
Thematically, Bloem focuses on the forests surrounding Gelderland, the area’s rich folklore, and memories from childhoods spent in the woods. The result is a hazy, exceedingly warm take on atmospheric black metal. Knotty riffs have been replaced with breezy, sepia-toned tremolo picked guitars drifting along with the breeze. Even the blast beats have a weightless sway to them. When the band isn’t finding joy and nostalgia in black metal, they’re water-coloring with psychedelic folk. “Nasleep”, the most adventurous track here, manages to incorporate harpsichord plunks shortly after choppy, glitched-out vocals. Fluisteraars even make room in the mix for brass instrumentation. The entire mid section of ““Maanruïne” sounds like Neutral Milk Hotel (seriously, stick those horns anywhere into “Oh, Comely”) before reaching pinnacle Fluisteraars ascendency. “Bloem” translates to “flower”. It’s fitting. This is black metal with no room for misanthropy. This is black metal fixated on life.
Drown – Subaqueous
Markov Soroka is the most ambitious mind in modern metal. In the past, I’ve compared the Missourian to Vindsval, but that comparison seems to make less sense with each Soroka release. Vindsval dug deep (and continues to dig deep) into black metal and churned out genre expanding classics. Soroka, on the other hand, has a different running project for whatever sub genre he feels like challenging on any given day. As the man behind Aureole, he’s explored the outer reaches of cosmic black metal. In 2017, he offered up dimension bending psychedelic death metal as the band leader of Tchornobog. Just last year, Krukh demonstrated that there’s still fresh and innovative takes to be found in raw second wave black metal. With Drown, Soroka looks to plum the depths of funeral doom and pull out something just as colorful and audacious as everything else he touches.
Subaqueous is the second Drown album and the first under the new moniker. Soroka released the the projects debut, Unsleep, as Slow in 2014. Unsleep is a concept album about drowning and Subaqueous picks back up where Unsleep left off. Two twenty minute tracks find our protagonist sinking deeper and deeper beneath the brine encountering all forms of horror and wonder along the way. “Drowned VI: Mother Cetacean” is all luminous guitars and flashes of Tchornobog hallucinations. “Drowned VII: Father Subaqueous” is anchored by slow, steady breaths inhaling in the background for nearly the entire runtime. Dramatic violin strings add delicate beauty to the pounding rhythm section. Climbing guitars fight against billions of tons of ocean water. Don’t let the flickers of light fool you. No one floats down here.
Kvelertak – Splid
If tie-dye black metal and salt water warped funeral doom aren’t exactly your thing, Kvelertak may have what you’re looking for. Norway’s #1 undisputed heshers have been finding new ways to merge death metal, black metal, thrash, and Thin Lizzy for over a decade. Like Motörhead, Metallica, and Judas Priest, Kvelertak are the rare metal band that will kick your teeth in without ruining the party. Splid is Kvelertak’s first record since 2016’s Nattesferd and their first with new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen. Former vocalist and co-founder Erlend Hjelvik left the band in 2017 leaving a pretty substantial owl head to fill. A big part of Kvelertak’s draw was that distinctive bark. Hjelvik had a way of sounding brutal while carrying sticky melodies that demanded to be shouted back. Lucky for all of us, no one is more equipped to fill that gap than Nikolaisen.
Our first taste of the new lineup came at the end of 2019 with Splid‘s lead single and Kvelertak’s most accomplished song to date “Bråtebrann”. There are a lot of moving parts “Bråtebrann”, but what sticks out the most is the soaring chorus that sounds like it was pulled out of the Queen discography and placed in the middle of Ride the Lightening. Splid‘s tracklist is full of absolute rippers that find the nexus between power pop, extreme metal, and hardcore. But the true unfuckwithable banger here is “Crack of Doom”. “Crack of Doom” is such a banger, I feel comfortable calling it Kvelertak’s “Search and Destroy”. “Crack of Doom” is such a banger, the band had no choice but to hand the chorus over to Mastodon’s Troy Sanders (and could someone just let Troy join the band?). To these Scandinavian road warriors, the party means life-or-death. Sabotage, vandalism, crucifixion, and whatever other forms of debauchery you can think of are absolute necessities. And isn’t that pretty fucking kvlt? If nothing else, you’ll never find another band that takes keg stands this seriously.
Turia – Degen van Licht
Big month for The Netherlands! The countries two preeminent black metal bands chose to follow up their 2018 split De Oord by releasing their new albums two weeks apart. Did I mention De Oord was an instant-classic? You can’t reach instant-classic status on “Overloos” alone. Turia’s cut “Aan den Golven der Arde Geoffered” (which, according to Google, translates to “Offered to the Waves of the Arde”) is even more sprawling clocking in at eighteen minutes. “Aan” is a different beast. On De Oord, Fluisteraars sound fiery, Turia sounds evil. Those eighteen minutes are bruising full of noisier riffs and harsher wailing. But on Degen van Licht (which translates to the kickass title “Sword of Light”), Turia may have taken cues from their fellow countrymen.
Degen isn’t nearly as welcoming as Bloem, but the playing feels lighter than past Turia efforts. The calmer compositions this time around give the band room to breath. Some of the most enthralling stretches on the album are when tremolo picked guitars are left to drone onward or on “Ossifrage” when everything drops out except for T’s screams. Part of the thrill is getting caught off guard when Turia decides to snap back into place. And when they do snap back into place, we’re offered atmospheric black metal played with the fury of second wave black metal. From there, Degen rings and echoes like wind chimes above the Alps.