For a while now, France has been my go-to source for interesting black metal bands that push the limits and craft immersive, sometimes eclectic textures without straying from the cold bleakness that black metal is all about. You know the bands I mean. Well, economic collapse notwithstanding, it turns out that the seat of western civilization is emerging as another nerve centre for new and valid twists on the black metal aesthetic.
I probably skipped the previous albums by Greek black metal bands Aenaon and Hail Spirit Noir because both bands are described as ‘progressive’. Call me retarded, but when a metal band has the P word appended to its genre tag, I fear the worst. I should learn to be a little less gun-shy, because these bands are genuinely progressive, using imagination and technical skill to broaden their musical palette without missing out on the sort of thing you actually listen to metal, especially black metal for – you know, the wintry, misanthropic staring-into-the-abyss stuff.
Aenaon is relatively the more traditional of the two bands. Heavily distorted guitars, discordant riffs and the primary vocal style all firmly place us in black metal territory. But that’s not all that’s going on. For every satisfyingly forthright BM section, there are more expansive passage where the arrangements open out, allowing room for fresh, moody guitar and keyboard textures. The vocal style also shifts to something almost operatic and tuneful in places – and in a way that isn’t cheesy or upbeat.
With guest spots by a saxophonist, a cello player and a harmonica player, in addition to Hail Spirit Noir’s Themis on synth, Aenaon are able explore some pretty far-flung musical turf on ‘Extance’, but it never feels like they’re leaving the black metal ethos behind, just carving out new territory for it. Really, all I need to do to show what to expect is to note that Sigh’s mastermind Mirai Kawashima guests on one song, and it is easy to see why.
Hail Spirit Noir has a more kitchen-sink aesthetic than Aenaon, with an even larger percentage of imaginative, absorbing detours from the genre formula. Weird guitar layers, bizarre note choices, interludes that are from so far leftfield that they basically just teleported in from a different dimension – all of that and more. The vocals range from the howls and growls you’d expect to ritualistic and folksy styles and the additional instruments like flutes and sundry percussion – maybe a lot of this is synthesized? – add to the diversity.
If the typical traditional black metal album is like watching a grainy black and white horror film from the 1920s discovered in the attic of a defunct movie theatre, ‘Oi Magoi’ is like something from the heyday of groovy occult horror films like The Devil Rides Out, only under the decadence, ritual pomp and revelry there’s a grim undercurrent of real darkness. Maybe I’m jumping the gun, but I think it’s fair to declare this album a masterpiece. At the very least, it is a triumph of creativity and talent, all in the service of pure evil.
This is a great double-bill from a country that has seen better days, and an amazing start to the year for their label, Code666 records. Dark days await you when you discover these albums, and you’ll love every minute of them.