Maleficence embodied through turbulent fretwork.
Words by Ryan McCarthy:
The relationship between black metal and black magic is a long and obviously close one. Over time, the genre has evolved from being an outlet for rebellious teenage impulses to being a deadly and serious vehicle for black magic practitioners to espouse their personal philosophies and systems of belief. Today, I bring attention to two albums that I feel truly encapsulate the infernal essence of the dark arts.
ARS MAGNA UMBRAE - Lunar Ascension
ARS MAGNA UMBRAE is a Polish black metal project whose first full length, Lunar Ascension, sounds like the soundtrack to a ritual. It’s an invocation of unearthly deities waiting just beyond the threshold of reality, which is a bit serendipitous considering I’ve been doing a lot of reading about left hand path magic lately. The album art by Babar Moghal is eye catching and definitely feels like a visual manifestation of the dark aural qualities on this album.
Opener Through Thorns and Bones kicks things off and leaves no confusion about the sort of atmosphere you can expect to find on the rest of the album. The subsequent track, Daughter of the Endless Light, begins with a mellower passage before transitioning seamlessly back into lightning fast blasts and swirling tremolo riffs that sound like that of an out of body experience. The entirety of this album is an unrelenting study in atmosphere and dynamics.
ARS MAGNA UMBRAE is creating some seriously transportive music. This album is absolutely packed with trance-inducing drum work and evocative riffing. All the disparate layers blend together into one cohesive presentation - the leads aren’t too loud, the drums aren’t too quiet, the vocals, which fit the mood perfectly, aren’t too overpowering. The band is able to blend melody and dissonance in one seamless package. Everything feels intentionally placed and wrought with care.
The kicker is that this is a solo project. Like most fans of the genre, I have a particular affinity for one man outfits. I think it’s really rewarding and inspiring to see an untainted presentation of a musician’s vision, but the level of care and detail on this album is truly astounding considering it’s all coming from one person. My second and third listen-through of this album only revealed more and more intricacies and nuances. It’s truly wonderful to be able to give this level of attention to an album and feel that my efforts are being rewarded by the musician involved.
Favorite Tracks: Daughter of Endless Light, Lunar Ascension, The Feast of Shades
NIGHTBRINGER - Ego Dominus Tuus
Well, it only took me three columns to start fawning over one of my favorite bands of all time. Formed in 1999, NIGHTBRINGER is a Colorado-based black metal band with an prolific repertoire, including five full lengths and seven split EPs. Ego Dominus Tuus stands out as one of their most impressive and monolithic works to date.
The lyrics on this album read like a grimoire. It’s quite clear that the musicians involved are completely earnest students of the left hand path, and I think that authenticity lends a lot to the music itself. You don’t get the impression that any of the members of this band are merely performers. Rather, it’s clear that this is a passion project with real and sincere meaning to the practitioners, something that I think really elevates the art form.
Musically, I'm almost at a loss to describe this album. It’s everything I think black metal should be: frightening, fast, and furious. That said, it also makes amazing use of dynamics, and NIGHTBRINGER uses slower sections to punctuate the more aggressive passages. The drumming on their records, courtesy of Menthor, truly blows me away and is some of my favorite in black metal, period. I won’t even bother trying to describe it in words; it has to be heard to be believed.
It helps that a lot of the riffs on this album are downright rapturous and make me want to pick up a guitar and start writing music immediately. Case in point: the first riff on Lantern of Eden’s Night sounds like it’s straight from an EMPEROR record which is, of course, the highest possible praise. This album is positively riddled with transcendent riffs that represent the purest essence of the emotional alchemy that is black metal.
Favorite Tracks: Et Nox Illuminatio mea in Deliciis Meis, Lantern of Eden’s Night, The Otherness of Being
Evoking a mystic and dark atmosphere, both of these records seem to channel inspiration from some intangible and supernal realm. Both handle the topic of Death as something to be wrestled with, studied, explored, and even revered. But it’s the differences that truly bear mentioning. Where ARS MAGNAE UMBRA tends towards a more sublime and even-keeled manifestation of their death worshipping tendencies, NIGHTBRINGER instead chooses to utilize aggression, speed, and dynamics to convey their approbation of the Nightside.
As always, thank you for supporting good music and the great people behind it all.