Sunday, December 30, 2018

Bandcamp Picks - From the Ashes of Fallen Empire

Fallen Empire Records, DoC's favourite label of the last few years, has announced their intention to cease operations - but not before releasing a bevy of sterling (and extremely black) releases. I covered a few of these in my most recent "Stocking Stuffer" Picks, but the label dropped one last batch of albums after I posted that. Here is a quick rundown of those, in addition to previous standouts that I missed out on. [All releases are listed as "name your price" downloads at the time of this writing.]

New Jersey's Death Fortress have quietly been making moves with a regular stream of albums that solidified them as one of the best death/black metal acts the East Coast has to offer. Reign of the Unending, their fourth album in as many years, marries a galloping swagger to unrelenting blast, and the resulting album will cause serious neck-wrecking - due in no small part to the flawless performance of drummer Brian Gawaski. But there are no weak spots in this fortress.

A globe-spanning collaboration bringing together members of Argentina's Downfall of Nur, Belgium's Slow, and Portland's Mare Cognitum, Acathexis employs many of the same elements as its parent bands to similar ends. The eponymous album is a soaring, strangely uplifting take on atmospheric black metal that's not lacking for blastbeats, and where each (roughly 10-minute) track feels like it's reaching for the stars. A unique gathering of reclusive solo artists that coalesces the best moments of their individual acts.

There isn't a lot of info to be found about Vængför, a project that seems Icelandic in its origins but allegedly has members of American bands Entheogen and Chaos Moon in its ranks. Whatever the truth may be, Guðveiki is an aural nightmare: Pushing dissonant black/death metal to its psychedelic and avant garde limits, there's nary a hook or melody to be cling to. Like sticking your head in a cement mixer and then maxing out the reverb - in a good way.

Dutch band Lubbert Das has in its ranks a member of Solar Temple, who released one of my favourite black metal albums of the year - so my interest was appropriately piqued and my expectations were fairly high. Though De Plagen doesn't reach the heights of that transcendental blackgaze masterpiece, it is a fun and accomplished take on second wave black metal never wavers in its reverence for early Darkthrone and Hellhammer. If you enjoy the occasional Tom Warrior death grunt, then this is the album for you(uurgh).

Somehow I managed to overlook Serpent Column's previous release - possibly due to Fallen Empire's habit of releasing too many great black metal albums in the same week.  A largely instrumental affair, Invicta  uses vocals sparingly and keeps the song structures unorthodox, fearlessly dropping long acoustic interludes mid-song. A suitably epic and convoluted release for a band inspired by Greek mythology.

Emerging from the Prava Kollective  that produced DoC faves Arkhtinn, Voidsphere is cut from the same black cloth. But where Arkhtinn is known for pairing an ambient track with a black metal one, each of the two tracks on To Await | To Expect engages in both at the same time, with pinging synths floating over the blackened onslaught that make the album an otherworldly experience.

HWWAUOCH also comes from the same mysterious collective, but go in a less ambient, more unsettling direction. Their eponymous album is a maelstrom of frenetic drumming, demented screaming and eerie guitar lines, anchored by a strangely measured bass performance. Like the similarly unorthodox work of labelmates Entheogen and Blattaria, this pushes the growing dissonant death/black metal niche into relatively uncharted psychedelic and experimental territories.

With its emphasis on one-man projects and esoteric black metal bands, Fallen Empire could have easily devolved into another bedroom label pressing every misanthrope who put a mic in front of a sixty watt amp onto cassette. Instead, the label managed to curate some of the most thoughtful, forward-thinking black metal bands from around the world - and even more amazingly, made it all available to the consumer for free. It's unlikely that another label like this will come along anytime soon. Farewell, Fallen Empire - you will be missed.