Netherbird – Into the Vast Uncharted (Melodic Black/Death Metal)

A band that I don’t think has truly got the appreciation it deserves is the Swedish melodic black/death metal band Netherbird. Sure a lot of people know about them but it seems to never been that much hype around their albums when they drop. I find that weird because not only are they a great band but they are in many ways the closest we can get to that sweet sweet Dissection sound in modern time (I would say Unanimated too but they are alive and kicking again). While the lyrical theme differs a lot from both Unanimated and Dissection that perfect passage between black and death metal is played here just as well. Into the Vast Uncharted is the bands 11th album (counting the EP’s, fifth full-length) and they’ve aged like a fine wine with their last album The Grander Voyage being the best they had done. Will Into the Vast Uncharted be just as good?

New since the last album is the addition of a full-time drummer in the Netherbird ranks. Fredrik Widigs (ex-Marduk, ex-Demonical and ex-Nordjevel to name a few) did a fine job as a session drummer on The Grander Voyage but now the line-up is complete as Fredrik Andersson (A Canorous Quintet, This Ending, ex-Amon Amarth) joined Netherbird in 2016 and has been able to be a part of this album since the very start due to it, and it shows. It’s not easy to stand out in a band that’s had drummers of such high caliber as Widigs, Erlandsson (At the Gates, ex-Paradise Lost) or Fjellström (Nordjevel, ex-Dark Funeral, ex-Aeon) but hell Andersson manages to really shine on Into the Vast Uncharted. He makes his presence known and stands out especially on tracks like “Saturnine Ancestry” and “Nexus of Unlight” where the intro’s literally is a kickstart into headbanging from the drums alone. That being said it’s obviously not a one-man show. Nephente on vocals is as good as ever, Jon Nödtveidt would be pleased, with the bass/guitar work from Nord, Jacobsson, André and Bizmark really hitting the sweet spots. No one could ever complain on the musicianship involved in a Netherbird album, that’s for sure.

There is honestly only one track I have a bit of a problem with on Into the Vast Uncharted and that’s “Eventide Evangel”. It starts of as a quite boring tune, even for a sort of ballad, but eventually it unleashes a flurry of wicked riffs and thundering drums that at least makes the song end on a high to eventually lead into one of the best tracks on the album “The Obsidian White”. They made it work a lot better on “Harvest the Stars” for this sort of slower tune, much due to the length of the two songs as “Harvest the Stars” is quite a lot shorter and never really loses focus as I think “Eventide Evangel” did. “Mercury Skies” clocking on almost nine minutes could be suffering from the same fate but here the melancholic tunes and atmosphere keeps it together well, showcasing how Netherbird has done these type of songs incredible well in the past on songs like “Hinterlands” and “Pillars of the Sky”. Also has to be said the production value is once again of the highest level, I might even go as far as saying it’s a step greater than it was on The Grander Voyage.

Into the Vast Uncharted is yet another excellent album from Netherbird, a band that I think never falters. With songs like “Mercury Skies” (which takes the mantle from “Pillars of the Sky” as a superb epic song with ease), “Saturnine Ancestry” and “The Obsidian White” keeping the flame burning of the brightest blue this bird once again soars high. Is it as good as The Grander Voyage? Honestly I think the two albums are quite different so hard to tell after only a few days with the album. Into the Vast Uncharted is more intense and maybe not as grand of a voyage (nor as symphonic) as it’s predecessor, but this is closer to Dissection than they’ve ever been, blurring out the boundaries between death and black metal. One thing I do know for certain right now though, The Grander Voyage was on my top albums of 2016 list and Into the Vast Uncharted will be just as well!

Written by J.B.

Artist: Netherbird
Label: Eisenwald
For fans of: Dissection and Unanimated
Release date: September 27th, 2019
Favorite song: Mercury Skies
Score: 4/5 Excellent

Grafvitnir – Venenum Scorpionis (Melodic Black Metal)

A band that took me by surprise with their 2017 release was Swedish melodic black metal act Grafvitnir. I’d never heard of them before their fifth album release but it was a superb offering to the Swedish black metal of old and with that release I now had the band on my radar. Fast forward to 2019 and the trio has now released their sixth album called Venenum Scorpionis via the ever so great Carnal Records. One thing worth noting on the line-up is Niantiel is in it, who has a past with Grá and is currently also in Cursed 13. Grá and Cursed 13 shares most of it’s members and are lead by the dark star Heljarmadr (Dark Funeral, Domgård, Grá, Cursed 13).

Venenum Scorpionis picks of right where Keys to the Mysteries Beyond left off and offers us 37 minutes of pure, cold black metal. They make no secret that this is yet another homage to the early Swedish black metal scene, great as it is. If you liked their old albums, actually scratch that, if you even like old school black metal then this will be right up your dark alley. Be it Dissection, Naglfar, Valkyrja, Funeral Mist or the new blood Blood of Serpents that’s your poison then you should know of Grafvitnir, if you don’t it’s time to repent. One thing I praised Grafvitnir for before was their use of Swedish lyrics on “Vargavinter”, here they offer one more with the track “Ormeld” and I still wish they would write even more as their songwriting in Swedish gives me chills to be honest.

There aren’t really much differences from Keys to the Mysteries Beyond and Venenum Scorpionis, for the good and bad. As I stated before you know exactly what you get from Grafvitnir and if you’ve enjoyed their previous efforts then you will have a good time with this too. It’s a band that has found their sound and is sticking by it, I for one think this is one of the best underground black metal bands in Sweden right now so I say keep it up! The two main differences for me personally is that I enjoy the songwriting more on Venenum Scorpionis but I thought Keys to the Mysteries Beyond had more melodic and atmospheric sides to it which speaks to me more in the long run. Each to their own though and I advise you to give both a listen to compare. I do need to add the instrumental track “I nattens mantel svept” is beautiful, bringing that medieval acoustic flare and is a nice ice breaker that weirdly enough fits into the rest of the album. Will be interested to see which album I will get back to the most down the road but fact is they are both great and black metal fans have another sweet dark offering given to them early this year!

Written by J.B.

Label: Carnal Records
For fans of: Naglfar and Dissection
Release date: February 22nd, 2019
Favorite song: Ormeld
Score: 4/5 Incredible

Damnation Army – Death Macabre (Black/Death Metal)

It’s been ten years since the one-man band Damnation Army released an album. Thomas Nyholm (Hordes of the Apocalypse and Isgärde) started this project in 2002 and were really active the first seven years with one EP and four full-length albums to its name but since then it’s been quiet for ten years, until now.

Quite fast it hits me Damnation Army is an army to be reckoned with. This is the kind of music with its roots heavy in the Dissection sound, one I am sure we all love. The vocals though is more from the Norwegian black metal scene as it reminds me a lot of a mix between Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir) and Abbath (Immortal), rather sinister stuff.

The 30 minutes fly bye and it sure is a nice listen, it gives me a lot of great riffs and nods to the early era of black metal. While there isn’t much separating the songs it in all honesty doesn’t have to as you’re sure to headbang your way through it anyways. I also need to highlight the track Ancient Evil Rituals, now that’s how you make an Dissection homage! I simply can’t get the riffs out of my head! All in all sometimes you simply need an album like Death Macabre that offers a single lane approach, with no gimmicks and bullshit. It might not be memorable enough for you to remember in a year or two but for now it hits those sweet spots for this old Dissection lover just right.

Written by J.B.

Label: Independent
For fans of: Naglfar and Dissection
Release date: January 17th, 2019
Favorite song: Ancient Evil Rituals
Score: 3/5 Good

Valkyrja – Throne Ablaze (Black Metal)

Let me tell you some of my history with Valkyrja. First of they were one of the first black metal bands that got me into the whole scene together with bands like Naglfar, Dissection, Dimmu Borgir, Thyrfing and Satyricon. At first it was honestly the name itself that made me try them out (my love for vikings you know) but they quickly proved to me they are a band to be reckoned with. I’ve only really listened to black metal these past six years or so meaning that when I found out about Valkyrja they had recently released The Antagonist’s Fire and I got a lot of love for that album due to it. Looking back I now think Contamination is their best release but obviously knowing they had a new album coming in 2018 I wanted to hear how they sound now as I think their releases differs quite a bit. With Valkyrja having a new lineup with the release of Throne Ablaze it made me wonder how that would impact on both the quality and the way they went with the sound. I took my time to give this albums a few spins as I was afraid the end of Valkyrja would draw near due to those changes. Who would want the bubble to burst with a band you have had a long-term relationship with?

Fact is it’s the lineup changes hasn’t really taken a toll on the band. The aggression from their previous albums is still there, granted a few songs (looking at you “Transcendental Death”) are a bit weak. The memorable catchy songs, riffs and speed is what made Valkyrja easy to get into which shows very well here. For some trve black metal fanatics the production will probably be too crisp, the songs too catchy etc but hate it all you like Valkyrja is a band that’s perfect to bring in new people to black metal even today. They have always had quite long songs which due to the great songwriting, riffs and aggression has worked. It does on Throne Ablaze too but at times I do feel they could have trimmed some fat to make the album have even more power.

There are a few tracks which stands out, a few that kinda disappears but it’s another solid release from Valkyrja. It isn’t as good as the, in my opinion, masterpiece Contamination but seeing the band has both a new drummer in Victor Parri (Desolator, Isole) and singer since Simon Wizén is now both on guitar and vocal duty I was expecting Throne Ablaze to take a major hit in quality. Rest assured it hasn’t though and their fans will have a great time with this album, if this lineup can become stable I think they can hit even higher levels too. If their next album has more aggression (this album was a bit too soft for my liking), is a bit more consistent, manage to captivate the listener better on their longer tracks then the overall experience will be a lot better. Valkyrja did also try to have more variety with those slower songs which I respect and while it didn’t do it for me this time around maybe they can use that way of thinking to create even more memorable albums in the future.

Throne Ablaze won’t change their standing in the hierarchy of black metal, it’s not even their own best offering. However here is definitely music for the black metal fans out there, with tracks like “Crowned Serpent”, “Opposer of Light” (here I think Parri shines) and “Throne Ablaze” being top tier songs. A pleasant surprise from a fan who was expecting the worst.

Written by J.B.

Label: World Terror Committee
For fans of: Watain and Dissection
Release date: November 26th, 2018
Favorite song: Crowned Serpent
Score: 3/5 Good

Lucifer’s Cold Embrace – Elegy of Lilith (Symphonic Black/Death Metal)

Like Naglfar, Dissection and Dimmu Borgir? Good then you’re in for a treat! Martin van Beek is back with his solo project Lucifer’s Cold Embrace which in case you missed it I did review the debut EP back in 2016 and praised it for being a top notch album. Well here we are with the full-length debut Elegy of Lilith and Martin offers more of the same melodic black worship that the likes previous mentioned Naglfar and Dissection has done for years.

Martin has taken the symphonic elements even further on Elegy on Lilith than it was on the Sovereign Heresy where some songs really tend to go closer to the Dimmu Borgir road than before. Still the music definitely lies the closest to Naglfar, which is of no fault as Naglfar is one of the best melodic black metal bands to ever walk this earth. Elegy of Lilith is more than double the playtime than the EP debut was and Martin now has a lot more room to explore the different sides of Lucifer’s Cold Embrace. There is more synths and juicy riffs where, even if this is music close to the influences, Lucifer’s Cold Embrace stands out and is no mere clone. The ten songs the album offers are simply solid and while I do still think “The Gift of Life” from Sovereign Heresy is currently the best song Martin has made this is a more consistent offering, although I do wish at times there would be a bit less symphonic black metal and more “trve black” sounds. The closing song “Legion” also does a fine job giving “The Gift of Life” a run for its money as I find the riffs there being extra icy!

When I last checked I noticed Lucifer’s Cold Embrace have started to get some followers and with this release I can only see that increasing as it’s great black metal on the symphonic/melodic side that is heavy influenced by some of the best bands out there, but with a modern production. Highly recommended!

Written by J.B.

Label: Independent
For fans of: Naglfar and Dissection
Release date: November 30th, 2018
Favorite song: Legion
Score: 3.5/5 Very good

Night Crowned – Humanity Will Echo Out (Blackened Death Metal)

Meet the new kids on the block, a Swedish blackened death machine that’s here to take no prisoners. When a band features current and ex members from The Crown, Cipher System, Dark Funeral and Nightrage then you know they are worth looking into. I will tell you right now that they crush it and live up to the hype! Humanity Will Echo Out might just be a 15 minute EP but damn do you want to spin this over and over again. The vocals are definitely the highlight for me on this album. The new blood in Swedish metal Ken Romlin (you may know him from Disrated or 2 The Gallows) does a fantastic work behind the mic, he has a good mix of styles where you hear black, death and even deathcore ranges.

The synphonic opening on No Room for Hope makes me draw parallels to another good entry to the Swedish metal scene, Zornheym. Which is a good thing as their debut was one of the best to spawn from last year, just like Night Crowned’s Humanity Will Echo Out is this year. Nocturnal Pulse follows it up with an even more memorable track and when All Life Ends close it out I can only think that the one real downside is that it’s “only” an 15 minute EP, I want more. A lot more. At least now I know Night Crowned is the real deal, this is a band that I am sure will draw many followers into their unforgiving blackened death metal style. Apart from Zornheym I hear a lot of parts that reminds me of the usual suspects in this genre Dissection and Unanimated, but also Naglfar, Belphegor, Dark Funeral and even Carach Angren influences can be heard here. Crystal clear production, agressive thundering drumming, catchy riffs and as stated before an increadible vocal performance. What more can you ask for really?

Written by J.B.

Label: Black Lion Records
For fans of: Belphegor and Unanimated
Release date: November 30th, 2018
Favorite song: Nocturnal Pulse
Score: 4/5 Incredible

Imperialist – Cipher (Melodic Black Metal)

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As a Swede I am for obvious reasons a bit biased when it comes to music having the Swedish sound, be it sweblack, swedeath or whatever it’s something I grew up with and got close to heart. Enter the new kid on the block who are heavily influenced by the early Swedish black sound Imperialist. Formed in 2013 they released their first EP in 2015 which I think most, me included, missed. Now in 2018 they’ve honed their skills, got signed to the ever so great Transcending Obscurity Records and are ready to take the world by storm with their full-length release Cipher.

What starts with a beautiful two minute intro on “Continuum”, setting the stage well with it’s acoustic guitars and violins gets you into the mindset that this will become an epic ride you might not even be ready for. “The Singularity” follows and ah this gives me a lot of Dissection vibes, which is of course the best vibes. The sounds of Dissection, Thulcandra, Necrophobic and Sacramentum mixed together fuels this beast throughout and does so well. It’s quite refreshing that the lyrical theme is about the future and space, not something I often hear in black metal (especially not when it’s influenced by Dissection) and the only band that really comes to mind that does this well is Vektor. An black album can sound utterly dark and evil yet not being about Satan. Also as the metal gamer I am it’s extra fun to hear that one of my favorite online games Destiny and its lore is what Cipher takes their songwriting from. Hearing tracks like “The Dark Bellow (Crota’s End)” takes me back to the first Destiny game and one of the darkest, meanest areas from it. To me that’s the perfect stage to have when you write a sci-fi oriented black metal album. Even the cover art does a great job portraying Destiny looking like the Orbit.

It’s been some time since I had a black metal album I could spin time and time again while not getting bored. It tingles me all the right ways just not with how it sounds, which in itself would give this album a good score, but it’s songwriting and unique ways to tackle classic black metal speaks to me in ways most music doesn’t. If you like black metal even just a tiny bit I am sure you will come to have a good time with Cipher, even more so if you’re into gaming and sci-fi. Here is a lot of greatness to be heard, riffs to devour you and vocals to take your soul. What a impressive, fantastic full-length debut!

Written by J.B.

Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
For fans of: Dissection and Thulcandra
Release date: October 20th, 2018
Favorite song: Umbra Tempest
Score: 4/5 Incredible

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Cursus Bellum – Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit (Blackened Death Metal)

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Cursus Bellum is a new force in the Swedish metal scene that consist of the duo Joakim Unger and Anders Nyander who have a long past together since Sgt. Carnage. Also a bit fun to me personally that Joakim Unger was on drums for Immersed in Blood between 1998-2003, a brutal death metal band from Sweden I listen to every now and then. With Cursus Bellum the duo does something that is actually a step away from the other bands they’ve been in but at the same time it gathers a lot of elements from the different genres. This time it’s blackened death metal that’s on the table where the duo seem to gain a lot of influences from a certain Polish band.

“Vem är du? Jag är döden!” (translation “Who are you? I am death!”). When a blackened death metal album opens like that then I hope I am in for a great deadly ride. Safe to say Cursus Bellum does hit hard straight from the start. This is old school death metal with a lot of fury and hatred, blackened stuff that you’re used to hear from the likes of Behemoth and their Demigod sound. Add some Swedish touch a la Necrophobic and you got yourself a brutal, technical and pure evil to the bone album that’s sweet music to the ears.

It’s really hard not to draw a lot of parallels to Behemoth when taking Ex Nihilo Nihil Fit for a spin. For a Swedish band there is certainly more common grounds with the Polish or American black/death scenes than for example Unanimated, Dissection or previously mentioned Necrophobic. The whole atmosphere on the album reeks of aggression and evil intent with the religious themes, drawing the line to an almost black metal album at times (just like Behemoth tends to do). Hell I even get a lot of Nergal vibes from the vocalist Joakim Unger voice. Seeing as I am a big fan of Behemoth where you will see their latest album in my top 40 list (spoiler) I am not one to complain mind you. It’s definitely not all a copy and past job for Cursus Bellum though, tracks like “The Vortex” stands out on being more unique and at times I even get a atmospheric black metal feel in the veins of Auðn or Uada with the riffing.

The album is solid throughout but I feel it lacks a couple more standout tracks to make it reach even higher scores. “Soil Companion” did start the album on a high note, “The Vortex” adds some needed variation and with “Life Eater” being the best track on Ex Nihilio Nihil Fit here are some really great pillars here. I would want more of that though! The two intermission tracks “Av Jord Är Du Kommen” and “Till Jord Skall Du Åter Varda” are beautiful acoustic parts that binds the concept of the album together nicely too it has to be said.

This might be nothing new to a lot of metalheads out there who have been down the blackened death metal road before but it is well executed and will especially please fans of Behemoth. As a debut it’s a very good start that Cursus Bellum can build on.

Written by J.B.

Label: Downfall Records
For fans of: Behemoth and Necrophobic
Release date: October 12th, 2018
Favorite song: Life Eater
Score: 3.5/5 Very good

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Blood of Serpents – Sulphur Sovereign (Black Metal)

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Blood of Serpents have been a rather unknown Swedish force but have slowly gained a following after some great live performances following their debut album Black Dawn. However to reach the next stage something needed to change for the sophomore album. In comes one of my favorite vocalists Thomas Clifford (Throne of Heresy, Abscession) ready to take them there and what a match it is. While I thought Black Dawn was a good debut it wasn’t that memorable, it missed some of that hard hitting edge I look for in this type of music. Now with Sulphur Sovereign I get a massive dose of onslaught coming my way. Where Black Dawn was a mid-paced black metal effort with some atmospheric parts to it Sulphur Sovereign is straight up Belphegor, Marduk and Dark Funeral style with it’s fast, powerful and relentless sound. While I personally love this style there is a thin line on creating an album that doesn’t become monotone due to it. The singles have been great for example but does 46 minutes of blast beats do the trick or become boring? That’s where the songwriting and having variation to it all is very important, so that the songs don’t feel like one big mass. In some ways this is where I think Blood of Serpents have not really found their way yet, there are a few songs that are simply too similar to eachother, which lovers the overall enjoyment somewhat.

The first few songs for example do tend to sound like one long track due to this. Whereas “As the Temple Burns” make a great job adding the variation I crave for in a full album of this sort if I want replay value. It’s bit funny really, track by track this album is close to perfect from what I look for in Swedish black metal but when listening to the album back to back then there is too much of the same candy so to say. Which to some will be just perfect though, and it is to me in some ways too mind you. If you like your black metal relentless and well produced like me then this is a must have, make no mistake. Just understand it can give you a feeling of having too much of the good things and it might have been good for the album to be a bit shorter, or have some more variation to it.

Blood of Serpents are better than ever though! This is exactly the path they should continue walking and I am certain they will gain more fans as they’ve taken a giant leap as a band (has to be said they had some line-up changes but hopefully found a stable one now). There are things they can do better but this is the type of core sound I want them to build on. I believe this is a new start for the band that will take them further than ever before. Fans of fast aggressive black metal that the likes of Marduk and Belphegor offers will enjoy this release a lot.

Label: Non Serviam Records
For fans of: Marduk and Dark Funeral
Release date: September 25th, 2018
Favorite song: As the Temple Burns
Score: 3.5/5

Mordant Rapture – The Abnegation (Technical Death Metal)

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Ah The Artisan Era, a label that just keeps giving good tech-death to the world and they’re always improving by adding more and more great bands to their roster. Now enter Mordant Rapture and their debut EP “The Abnegation”. Is it yet another great release from the label or have they, for once, taken a misstep?

Reading the history of the band and how their debut got created is one that tells the tale of years of hard work, gallons of coffee, sleep deprivation, and doubts. The competition in this day and age is fierce so I can really relate with many bands having the same process before releasing something. The band started in 2013, which gives you an idea how long it’s taken the band to finally feel ready to release their first EP featuring five songs into the world. Was it worth the wait?

Yes, yes it was. One thing I really like with Mordant Rapture’s style is how they try to captivate a cinematic musical experience, somewhat in the veins of Fleshgod Apocalypse or Carach Angren. The sound is very different from those bands though as this is straight up technical death metal with a lot of symphonic elements to it, think Inferi (this is much better in my opinion though), Enfold Darkness or Spawn of Possession as examples. Already on the first track “Unsightly Beast” you get a flurry of great riffs, solos and get an instant feel on what Mordant Rapture are all about, delivering class symphonic tech-death heavy influenced by the grandiose nature of film scores. Meaning in other words this is epic stuff, who doesn’t like well written film scores? Having that as an influence in the technical realm of metal works great, it’s not something new but it’s not something I hear too often either. “Withered” is a shorter song than the opener, this is way more of a heads on approach and on this track their blackened death and black elements shine as you hear influences from both Emperor and Dissection. Great stuff right?

What cinematic album wouldn’t be complete without an intermission track with piano and violin, adding to the atmosphere for the follow-up track? That’s exactly what “A Plea Above Ashes” is there for and while I would want it to smoothly transition into the next track, it doesn’t which makes it feel a bit out of place to me. That also leaves the only negative part on the album for me. “Quell the Voiceless” brings up the pace, where the drums especially gets me going and are really dominant. This is also the track that I feel showcase all Mordant Rapture tricks on their debut. The symphonic elements, blackened tech-death, crushing drums and thundering riffs are all there at once to make it a go to song for me when I go back to “The Abnegation”. The finisher “Natal Trophies” is the longest and most symphonic track on the album, which just like the last scenes in a movie ends in an epic way. Here the vocals are better than ever where a wider range of growls and techniques are used. A great way to end this 22 minute journey into the world of Mordant Rapture which makes me want more of this.

Hell I love this music. It’s not something that breaks the boundaries of tech-death but this is insanely well produced symphonic tech-death that has very few flaws in it. Mordant Rapture displays great musicianship and a great range of aspects to their music. This is the kind of music that will make you miss Spawn of Possession and Necrophagist less or you Inferi fans out there forget they even existed. That’s something very few does on their debut album and I can only hope an upcoming full-length won’t take five years. The Artisan Era has done it again, adding a new band to their ranks that shows how hard work pays off. “The Abnegation” is not only one of the best debut albums of the year but one of the best releases overall.

Label: The Artisan Era
For fans of: Enfold Darkness and Spawn of Possession
Release date: July 13th, 2018
Favorite song: Quell the Voiceless
Score: 4.5/5