The musical equivalent of hell.
Words by Ryan McCarthy:
I truly believe that black metal is uniquely suited to address the topics of death and terror in a more profound and experiential way than its various artistic counterparts. There’s something about it's trademark sonic qualities that evoke the darker feelings within us that visual art just can’t quite tap into. This column is about two albums that I feel are especially effective at tackling the mysteries of death, horror, and the dread of existence.
AORATOS - Gods Without Name
Considering that the intention of this column was to highlight albums that I felt weren’t getting the attention they deserved, this may seem like a strange inclusion given the (warranted) praise I’ve seen being heaped on this album. However, I’d like to argue that it hasn’t been hyped quite enough. I’ve honestly never heard anything quite like Gods Without Name, and my intention is to force everyone else on the planet to either agree with me or fuck off.
There is something legitimately sinister about Gods Without Name. All of the production choices on this record create an album that is a perfect balance of clarity and murkiness, a balance that feels liable to break at any second. The compositions are disorienting yet at the same time memorable - not in the sense that you’ll be humming the riffs over the course of the day but in the sense of foreboding they leave you grappling with. The vocals sound positively demented; they break, crack, croak, and creak, evoking the sound of some deranged acolyte trying desperately to summon the nameless deities lurking just behind the veil of reality. Cliché it may be, but this record is truly an experience (and one that pairs very well with reading Lovecraft, I might add).
Musically, AORATOS straddles the border between dark ambient and black metal. Essentially what you’re looking at here is NIGHTBRINGER without the extremely high leads and without as many slower passages. That’s not to say this album is a nonstop blast fest; it just utilizes dynamic changes in a more organic way. There are a fair number of ambient passages on this record, which seem to be a nod to the early days of AKHLYS, another project of black metal mastermind Naas Alcameth. However, these passages blend together perfectly with the black metal sections, giving this album the feel of being one 45 minute song rather than 9 separate tracks. I’m not sure if this record is explicitly inspired by Bloodborne, but the similarities are obvious for anyone familiar with the game, namely in the Lovecraftian song titles and the aesthetic sensibilities of the incredibly well done promo pictures that accompanied the announcement of this project.
Gods Without Name is an incredibly dense album. The riffs are razor sharp yet somehow off kilter and bewildering at the same time. You can tell that an element of intentionality was put into every single aspect of this record, and the results speak for themselves: it is truly nightmare fuel and an absolutely perfect representation of everything I adore about this genre.
Favorite Tracks: The whole record
AKROTHEISM - The Law of Seven Deaths
Somehow I missed this album when it came out earlier this year, but I’ve given it more than enough listens in the past few months to make up for that. The Law of Seven Deaths was my first experience with AKROTHEISM, and it absolutely blew me away from the first note. The atmosphere on this record is truly something else… This is more than just music, it’s a transportive, evocative encounter with the Dark.
I was especially intrigued by the name of the group, as "akrotheism" wasn’t a term I was familiar with or could parse the meaning of. According to an interview given by the band:
AKROTHEISM is based on two Greek root words. The first one, Akro defines the extreme, the last part of everything, the eschaton and the ultimate end as consequence of fulfilling a purpose. The term Theism derives from the belief that there is god or gods (sic) and can also describe the hope of someone to be redeemed through Theosis. The combination of these to two (sic), allow us to express our abhorrence for the destructive fanaticism of mankind about a god that will act in turpitude to serve its passions. Furthermore our name, inspire (sic) us to set our thoughts about death and spiritual transcendence.
Clearly AKROTHEISM doesn’t approach their conceptual and aesthetic elements lightly. Indeed, the idea of a sort of “theism of the end” really encapsulates what I believe black metal to be primarily about - a spirituality centered around death and the tragic essence of humanity.
The riffs on this record are top notch, to the point where after finishing my first listen through I immediately listened to the rest of AKROTHEISM's discography. These guys have really hit on a winning formula which they wield to great success. The use of a sound clip from the film Caligula really elevates the mood of the album, giving it an intellectual, philosophic tinge.
Right off the bat, you certainly have a much more dynamic listening experience than Gods Without Name. The Law of Seven Deaths has the same murky production quality, but it brings a bit more to the table in terms of song structure, atmosphere building, and risk taking. AKROTHEISM even goes so far as to incorporate clean vocals in order to give the entire album a ritualistic quality. Additionally, AKROTHEISM uses “ambient” tracks to help conjure a mood, much like AORATOS. The three and a half minute Oracle Mass is a frightening interlude track that features ritualistic vocals and dense walls of reverb and distortion drenched tremolo riffs. The outro track En is an almost animalistic, Heart of Darkness-esque ambient passage, evoking the jungle and the darker passions of mankind that AKROTHEISM seems so fascinated by. Favorite Tracks: Typhonian Serpents, Virtue of Satyr, Skeptomorphes (The Origin of I)
The strength of both of these records lies in their ability to somehow manifest concepts that can't be communicated verbally. Not only are they both fully engaging on musical and intellectual levels, but there's also an element of spirituality and transcendence pervading both of these albums.
As always, thank you for supporting good music and the great people behind it all.