December 2021 Release Roundup
So, this is a little late, but in all fairness, January has largely been spent trying to mentally scrub 2021 from our minds (after painstakingly reviewing it for our year-end content). Nonetheless, December is always an interesting month for this column, since a lot of these submissions came in too late in the year to really make an impact on year-end lists. Here's four of our picks from the final month of 2021.
December 14th, 2021
Not to be confused with the UK heavy metal outfit Amulet, Amulett conducts unabashed worship of the glorious border realm between hard rock and heavy metal. Their driving music makes huge use of twin-guitar harmonies and strongly recognizable lead lines that aren't made to fly by in an instant—the band's ability to ride out medium-to-fast grooves makes everything stick a little bit more.
While this is an EP release, it still packs eight fast-paced songs and more than enough bite to stand out as a release worth revisiting. There's a graceful simplicity to their energetic anthems and a clear lineage back to the classic proto-metal sound in how everything ties back to melody.
December 10th, 2021
Perfection takes time, at least that's how Ethereal Shroud mastermind Joseph Hawker operates. Following a lengthy wait after 2015's well-received They Became the Falling Ash, Ethereal Shroud's final album, Trisagion, finds atmospheric black metal's core, slows it down, and polishes it. Though funereal and lengthy, album opener "Chasmal Fires" lasting a staggering 27 minutes, Hawker's composing style lends itself to length. A deep, mournful listen, Trisagion finds the power in the delicate and emotive, often pitting more traditional ideas of power and softness against each other to craft something which is both and also neither. A powerful and fitting end for the Ethereal Shroud project, Trisagion rightfully ended up as a last-second addition on many year-end lists.
Reveal! - Doppelherz
December 10th, 2021
I became aware of Reveal!, and their earlier demo days incarnation as Waster, right around the time of their debut album, 2011’s Nocturne of Eyes and Teeth. A furious work of black-thrash-heavy sorcery that called to the past while having a wicked sense of individuality. They were part of the burgeoning scene in Sweden, particularly in Uppsala, exploding with creativity while not trying to pretentiously ignore the past. I was excited for what they’d do next, which arrived five years later flying initially under my radar with their sophomore release Flystrips. That album took some rather dramatic experimental changes that left me particularly cold and not in the good way I sometimes think for other Scandinavian bands (and I must say I still don’t quite care for it). So then 2019’s Scissorgod came without much notice from me, which is a shame as that album I now can see as a turning part in the band’s creativity towards a stronger future that’s now truly realized itself at the very tail end of 2021.
Here on their fourth album, Doppelherz, the songwriting has come to a perfect blend just as they landed on enough clear and warm production to properly illuminate their evolved songcraft. Such superb songwriting seemingly pours out from guitarist “Spine” despite what feels like some definite similarities to the excellent short career of fellow Uppsalan’s In Solitude, which (surprise, surprise!) their bassist Gottfrid Åhman has been in Reveal! since 2015. Despite where it might originate, the feeling of where In Solitude had tread and promised to forge ahead is well present in Reveal! now, only with the aforementioned band’s attributes remixed in noticeably different ways. In Solitude’s embrace of heavy metal with Samhain’s horror punk chops and The Cure’s most morose moments now serving below to the more dominant themes of near madness in late The Birthday Party and early Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, as perhaps best displayed on the album’s longest track “Stalactites (When Cast Down the Mountain).” I’ve really fallen in love with this album, which makes it mildly tragic for myself that it hadn’t been released earlier in the year for I surely would have slid this in my top 20 list. It’s just that “Clearly, God Damn” good!
Ustalost—Before the Glinting Spell Unvests
December 17th, 2021
Here’s a hot take; Before the Glinting Spell Unvests is black metal comfort food. Granted, it’s not a comforting album in a traditional sense. Yellow Eyes co-founder Will Skarstad’s latest solo album under the Usatlost title is a miasma of tortured screams, tinny production, and free-flowing songwriting, much like The Spoor of Vipers was five years ago. The basic premise is that this is a comforting listen for those who actively seek out tormenting yet refined black metal.
While Skarstad’s penchant for astute imagery and indulgent compositions are captivating in their own right, the underlying notion that this is a soundtrack for trying times pushes this album past “sonically interesting” and into life-affirming territory. Ustalost possess a transcendent quality that supersedes their craft. Perhaps it’s because Skarstad commits to every luxury, like the repetitive riffs that build upon themselves until they construct sonic landscapes. His dedication to seeing every idea through to its logical conclusion gives way to vast tracks. He’s a cartographer mapping out paths through evocative scenery.
More importantly - to me - is that Before the Glinting Spell Unvests is my black metal comfort food. It shines in every aspect I want black metal to shine in while continuing to surprise me on repeated listens. The songs are long and dense and adhere to emotional arcs more than they do standard structures. The vocals are full of pain but empathetic. They communicate that perseverance is the only option. There are just as many pensive ambient sections as there are lengthy, ever-ascending deluges of brutality. There are chanting choirs. There are synths both where there should and shouldn’t be synths. The album was recorded in the woods for God’s sake. I’m not saying that all of my favorite albums were recorded in the woods, but I am saying that more albums should sound like they were recorded somewhere.
I’m not even saying that more albums should be Before the Glinting Spell Unvests. All I’m saying is that Before the Glinting Spell Unvests, like its predecessor, is the poignant black metal I crave.