Secret Steel – Black Metal 1: An Unholy Union

Welcome to Secret Steel, the fifth chapter, “Black Metal 1: An Unholy Union”

This month we descend into the darkest recesses of the Netherworld, taking a stab at the best unsigned black metal bands this planet has to offer. While some might expect a through and through nihilistic onslaught, some might be surprised to see an amazing amount of variety within the blackest of all metals!

Have fun discovering these awesome bands, for more information please look below!

The underground metal scene in North Carolina has really come alive in the last five years due in part to the efforts of local musicians and promoters. It may not be the most typical place for underground black metal but that does not matter because Rites to Sedition play excellent melodic black metal. Their debut, Ancestral Blood, came out in 2017 and grabbed the attention of a lot of fans with its terrific sense of melody and atmosphere. The riffs consist almost exclusively of lo-fi tremolo picking with an occasional heavy riff to keep things fresh. The riffs are pretty fast and furious but each one is packed with lovely, easily discernible melodies. Check out the melodies around the 5:40 mark of the title track for a great example. Not only are those melodies interesting, they are kind of catchy and they eventually lead into one of the many killer solos on this album. While you are at it, check out the awesome speedy riffs in “Sorcerers of Atlantis.” These guys bring thoughtful, top-notch guitar work to every song, which is sure to please fans of all different styles of black metal.

Rites to Sedition really knows how to use background keyboards to create atmosphere without going overboard, which is not an easy task in this style of black metal. You can hear it in most of their songs and it really accents the guitar work beautifully, like in the opener, “Waveform 66.” The drumming has more than enough variation to keep things fresh as Mitch goes back and forth between blast beats and medium-punch beats. All the while, he employs soft hands on the cymbals and fast feet on the double kick. The drumming sometimes sounds a little muddy compared to the guitars and though it sounds pretty good, the band would benefit from slightly clearer production. Gabriel’s vocals are really well done and the lyrics are fairly intelligible, which helps tremendously. His mainstay is a lower pitched black metal scream but he combines it with a higher pitched death growl, which makes for a more interesting and dynamic vocal performance. Rites to Sedition also have a unique ability to write longer, more complex songs that take a twist or a turn. “The Moon Titan Phylon” is the best example of this sporting plenty of great riffs packed with lovely melodies, solid atmosphere and more than enough variation to keep the listener on their toes.

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Hailing from the famed Isle of Wight, Ethereal Shroud play a fusion of the two most downtrodden, soul-crushing sub-genres known to metal, DSBM and funeral doom metal. They only have one demo and one full-length to their name so far but that should change in the coming years. The full-length only has three tracks but they are real doozies and combine for an hour of music. Multi-instrumentalist Joe Hawker definitely does not care about clarity with regards to production. Nor does he seem to care very much about great riffs. Ethereal Shroud is incredibly lo-fi and there is a serious distant echo to the guitar tone as these songs progress and ultimately transport you to the lovely forest of your choosing. “Look Upon the Light” is especially pleasant with a wonderful woodland atmosphere produced by stunning keyboards and the occasional tolling of a bell. There is a definite darkness to Ethereal Shroud but they are not nearly as bleak as you would expect given their chosen style. Joe’s vocals are definitely very bleak and sound like the distant screams of an endlessly tortured soul. You would think that would be in conflict with the pleasant atmosphere produced by the keyboards but the contrast actually makes Ethereal Shroud a more interesting listen.

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Shroud of Despondency is probably the most prolific USBM band you have not heard or do not even know about. Hailing from the Northern part of the Midwest (Michigan/Wisconsin), they have nine full-lengths to their name as well as a handful of splits and EPs. These guys are proud to be independent and as a result, their sound has gone through many changes/evolutions over the years. Their catalog contains dark acoustic albums, a death/doom album, a straight black metal album, and a whole bunch of interesting black metal albums with great riffs and melodies. The riffs are mostly tremolo picked but there is plenty of melody and the tempo varies enough to keep the listener interested. There are plenty of speedy blast beats along with relentless double kick in Shroud of Despondency’s sound on songs like “Until a New Instinct Evolves.” However, there are also plenty of interesting fills to be found. There is some variation in the vocals depending on the style of the album but they are generally tortured black metal screams and they fit the band’s sound very well. In many ways, “Adversarial Knowledge” is not a great representation of Shroud of Despondency’s sound as it is more closely resembles technical death metal than their usual brand of black metal. However, it is still a great song that is quite compelling and it shows the uniqueness and diversity of their ever-evolving sound. So in that respect, it is a perfect representation of who Shroud of Despondency are as a band.

Contacts: FacebookBandcamp

Another two-man raw black metal project – this time from the wilds of Germany…and it shows! Any fans of fellow countrymen such as Thormesis or Nargaroth will be salivating upon hearing the first few seconds of Asarhaddon’s only release: an EP entitled “Furstere”. Conceptually elemental, its four tracks cover wind, sea, light and distance. An interesting premise which displays an intelligence often missing from this style. Musically, the German duo switch between a raw form of melodic pagan black metal and the quiet acoustic interludes reminiscent of Englishmen Fen. This characteristic produces a schizophrenic feel to most of their work, but seeing as ‘their work’ consists only of a four-track EP and two singles, it’s difficult to gauge a broader understanding. What IS on offer is some reliably solid blast-beats, harmonic minor tremolo picking, and chaotic blackened shrieks – all the good stuff!

Contacts: WebsiteBandcamp

Black metal has several stigmas and one of them is an often thin, muddy production. Order of Leviathan are pure black metal, but they combine it with a very clear and powerful production and it works wonders for their sound. Hailing from Louisville, best known for Panopticon and also Savage Master and Seidr, they have another factor that sets them apart, featuring a triple-guitar attack. Foregoing the nihilistic touch of the first wave, this quartet channels the second wave of black metal and while scoring high on the tremolo picking and blast beats, they manage to instill this sense of melody into most of their songs. Together with the strong production values, this results in a very dynamic and enjoyable listening experience, with “Divide” leading the way. Just to be able to hear the distinct details and finer points of their music propels Order of Leviathan far forward and as with so many other bands here, it raises the question why no quality-minded label has scooped this band up yet.

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South America has a long-standing tradition for black metal in its different incarnations and especially the rawer variations this continent has long produced some groundbreaking bands (Sarcofago anyone?). While Chile also boasts a quite wide variety of black metal influenced bands, it has yet to become a front runner within the genre, yet if one looks into a mangy bastard between black and thrash metal, then Santiago-based Letal Cross have all the pre-requisites to take the world by storm. Uniting the unbridled fury of black metal with the intensity of thrash metal, the duo of Carlos “Letal” Troncoso and Paulo Espinosa has crafted a tour de force with “Hijos de la Oscuridad” that has enough power to keep half their country going, but despite its merciless onslaught keeps just enough melody amidst the double-bass drums and sharp riffing to keep fans of both sides of Hades satisfied!

Contacts: FacebookBandcamp

As a band name, Isenblast inevitably conjures up images of a sort of black metal Tolkien. But you know what? I bet this is exactly the kind of music the orcs of Isengard would create. Hailing from Detroit, Michigan, their newest album “Screams In Cold Silence” is a perfect summation of their sound: terrifyingly harsh, with layers of reverb thick enough to drown in. Channelling their second-wave influences right to the forefront, Isenblast combine technical ability with an all-encapsulating grim atmosphere. Even though riffs are often buried by the engulfing cacophony, a common trait of theirs is to have the lead guitar carry the melody – which makes these horrific maelstroms weirdly accessible. Fuse this with the utterly cavernous vocals, and they’ll whet the appetite of anyone who declares themselves kvlt and trve.

Contacts: FacebookBandcamp

Vyrion’s brand of progressive black metal fuses the blasting fury of traditionalist black metal with the modern era’s penchant for heavier riffs and more interesting songwriting. They may only have two full-lengths to their name but the Australian quartet strikes an excellent balance between the simple and the complex. Vyrion brings plenty of high-velocity black metal to the table for the traditionalists while mixing in enough progression and variety to please the newer, more thoughtful fans. Their riffs are often quite fast but they are always fairly heavy and they are wonderfully accented by some ethereal guitar melodies. There is plenty of variation in Leo’s drumming, especially on songs like “Apex,” where he lays down hard-hitting beats, punchy fills, light cymbals, and a killer speed pattern that would make Des Kensel (High on Fire) proud. Dale’s high rasps are textbook traditionalist black metal and they really suit Vyrion’s ferocious nature. They even work for some of the more progressive parts and the lyrics are actually fairly intelligible most of the time. Dale’s black metal rasps are supplemented by excellent death grunts and smooth cleans that make Vyrion sound much more dynamic. “Squall” is a new tune, presumably from a forthcoming third album, that represents the band’s fusion of the old with the new very well. It is a high-velocity black metal tune with heavy riffs, clearer production, punchy fills and hard-hitting drum beats to go along with unrestrained blast beats played at blinding speed. It has no progression but the fusion of those elements is the essence of Vyrion’s sound and like most of their more straight-ahead tunes, it pummels you from start to finish and it rules.

Contacts: WebsiteFacebookBandcamp

Far away, at the other end of the black metal spectrum, where things get very shoegazey – more specifically, Minnesota – the two-man project Oak Pantheon have created a very different creature to the majority of this list. Their approach to black metal is of the introspective variety, with plenty of neofolk and post-metal influences. Their debut full-length “From A Whisper” is a weirdly beautiful journey through different realms of the sub-genre, akin to meandering slowly through a haunted forest, experiencing every season at once. Traditional black metal fans are encouraged to delve into that release as a taster. Presently, Oak Pantheon are exploring their more tranquil and reflective side with the release of new EP “Sol,” an eerie but moving work that will attract the more open-minded and patient of us. If you still want to stoke the fire of blackened chaos, “From A Whisper” and “In Pieces” will hold your attention, but I would highly recommend sticking on “Sol” the next time you find yourself on an isolated cliff edge, lying down and letting Oak Pantheon envelope your brain in atmosphere.

Contacts: FacebookBandcamp

Greece has a thriving underground black metal scene, and Volos quartet Isolert are set to beef it up with their grim, frostbitten din. These guys lean on the more extreme side, and their external imagery makes this very clear. Misanthropic to the max, titles such as “Hate For Mankind” and “No Hope, No Light…Only Death” let you know exactly what you’re in for. Beautifully produced, Isolert’s only full-length album is a barbaric, yet oddly accessible, set of nihilistic anthems. The occasional clean vocals that rear their heads elevate the band slightly, but there’s nothing wrong with Panagiotis’ abrasive and upfront screams. Plenty of varying tempos and a creative supply of riffs make their sole full-length album an experience that never bores. Since then, they’ve released a self-titled EP and taken part in some collaborations which hopefully will push their name forward in the black metal underground. At least, for now, we have the splendidly hateful “No Hope, No Light…Only Death” to keep us grimming.

Contacts: FacebookBandcamp

Poland has grown into a true powerhouse in most metal styles and black metal is no exception. Behemoth (up to a point), Mgla, Batushka, Furia, Blaze of Perdition, the list could go on, and Warsaw’s Yliaster have the potential to add their notch to the black sword. They definitely are not your usual traditional stuff. No, they bring in some doom here and some progressive touches there and you have a sound that will probably repel the nihilistic traditionalists. However, it also shows what is possible within a genre that often is viewed as extremely narrow-minded.

“Soliloquy” is the title track of their 2016 debut and takes the listener on an intense ride through some paths less travelled that shows the variability of black metal, if one can detach oneself from the paradigms of the first and second wave.

Contacts: BandcampFacebook

Malta is not exactly known for its thriving metal scene, even though especially in doom they seem to have a pretty good standing with bands such as Forsaken or Nomad Son. Black metal is not as prolific yet, but the one-man army of Sahhar definitely has the chops to change that. At home on the symphonic side of the spectrum Antikrist has been roaming the dark realms since 2006 already and Kliem it-Tmiem is already his fourth full-length album. They avoid many of the usual pitfalls of symphonic black metal, such as vast keyboard swathes, but cleverly utilizes them to create atmosphere that goes very well with the cold black metal sound, creating a harsh yet melodic variant of the darkest of all metals. “Ghatihom il-Mistrieh li ma Haqqhomx” is a cut off the latest album and proves that it is possible to bring in symphonic keyboards, some operatic vocalizations and plenty of rhythmic variety without losing flow or character. Showcasing many different facets of the genre, it is a great way to kick off “Secret Steel: Black Metal 1!”

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We also just have to give credit where credit is due: Our awesome logo has been created by ModBlackmoon, all hand-drawn awesomeness and for great prices as well! And the amazing cover artwork has nonce more been donated by GoatArt of Deviant Art fame!

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If you have any comments, questions or recommendations for bands to feature here, you can send us an email at secretsteel [at] metal-observer [dot] com (sorry for the code, but spambots are everywhere!)

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