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The word 'harrowing' gets thrown around a lot when discussing certain strains of black metal, to the point where, not unlike the word 'brutal' in discussions of death metal, it’s lost much of its meaning. To call something harrowing is to say that a certain atmospheric quality or tonality to the music puts it on the depressive end of the spectrum, but I can probably count on one hand the number of bands (mid-period Shining, a good chunk of Xasthur’s catalogue, almost anything from Bell Witch) who genuinely upset or unsettle me when I listen to them. Add to that list recent North Carolina transplants Maugrim, whose forthcoming EP Primordial Venom is truly harrowing, the aural equivalent of a long night of anxiety-induced insomnia or the empty feeling of the morning after a depression-induced drinking binge.

Recorded over a period of several years in Chicago, North Carolina, and Belgium, part of what makes Primordial Venom so effective is that it draws from a wider set of influences than what one might expect from a DSBM project. There’s still plenty of lo-fi, Burzum-esque buzz here, but the tempos stay slower than on previous releases, giving the proceedings a much more atmospheric feel that’s reminiscent of Leviathan’s ambient record A Silhouette in Splinters, or even the funeral doom of Bosque. What truly makes it stand out, though, are Alexander’s vocals; his screams and shrieks are startlingly expressive, imbued with a hopelessness that’s palpable and at times difficult to listen to. The first couple of minutes of first track “Pale in Horror” are a good example, where layers of ghostly clean voices moan so inconsolably that it’s almost a relief when the harsh vocals come in.

According to the band, “The album itself is meant to be painful to listen to at parts, noticeably being the vocals, acting as a venomous process to the individual listener.” They’ve definitely accomplished what they set out to do.

Maugrim will be self-releasing Primordial Venom on October 21 via Bandcamp. You can stream it below.

—Clayton Michaels

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This piece has been updated to contain the correct stream