Thirsty Thursday: Black Metal for Bright Darkness, Feat. Kalmankantaja, Hermóðr, Midnight Odyssey, & White Ward
Man, I really struggle this time of year, but up until now, I’ve never really admitted it to anyone. Although our basic bitch palettes have become refined enough to develop a taste for death, decay, and pumpkin spice, we still tend to cling to the idea that sun and warmth are synonymous with happiness. Whenever I try to theorize why, I just get flashbacks to high school when the first day of the new year above 70 degrees meant the en masse resurrection of beloved mall store thot wear. But, that was a trend that I, shockingly, missed the boat on.
I’m a recovering scene kid, meaning I once sweltered in skinny jeans and hoodies 365 a year. But, given my state of the union at the time, I was probably miserably ignorant of the fact that I was slowly shriveling into tier-haired jerky. Crippling generalized anxiety awoke in my mind for the first time when I was 16, and having its birthday coincide with daylight savings time proved itself to be an annual curse. Every spring as things grow brighter, my thoughts grow darker as lingering memories of pacing and passing panic attacks in my girlhood bedroom resurface — unease that only seems to grow with the season.
It fucking sucks, but the paradox deserves to be unpacked, especially when it comes to how it impacts our seasonal soundtracks. For instance, I’ve heard some profess that it doesn’t seem appropriate to listen to black metal in an environment that isn’t overtly bleak. It’s a shame, but the dissonance is understandable. It’s not easy to admit to ourselves when our heart isn’t catching up with what’s around us. It’s easier to distract and suppress. But sometimes even the strongest of us begin to bend, and when that happens, we need some coping mechanisms that retain the death and decay, but more thoroughly explore the way sorrow reveals itself. So, I’d like to offer a few fast favorites for when the darkness is just as real, but a little more brightly lit (along with ten trill points if you know what that line is referencing).
Kalmankantaja (FI) – Demonwoods (2017)
While 2016’s Tyhjyys travels downwards, Demonwoods moves more like a feather at war with gravity as recurring periods of build give way to an inevitable sink. These layers play at odds during “Sorrow,” which can be best described as a post-metal re-envision of the intro on Mortuary Drape’s All the Witches Dance (1994). If that concept alone isn’t enough to win you over, keep in my mind that this is just one example of how Kalmankantaja, in a world of either/or goggles, masterfully blends classic and modern black elements. Sharp guitar tone, folk-infused synth, and heavily echoed vocals give way to clean singing in the title track until intensity is rebuilt. The outro makes a callback to “Sorrow,” which gradually slows until we’re finally left with a quiet release. Overall, Demonwoods personifies the unpredictable ebb and flow of anxiety by presenting an a-linear journey, like a monitor on an arrhythmic heartbeat. The fast and slow tug-and-pull reveals the often unspoken agony of knowing that major life shifts are waiting around the corner, but are impossible to adequately prepare for. Many depressive bands tell a much more one-dimensional story, but Kalmankantaja offers depth, leaving us with another memorable addition to his extensive and consistent body of work.
Hermóðr (SE) – Hädanfärd (2017)
Rolling right along with Wolfspell colleague Hermóðr, Hädanfärd begins with a song that could operate as an album with itself, running the concept from a to z like a game of telephone until it’s been fully interpreted. From there, “Nord” fills the shoes of the pivotal position as track number two — the sound wall to channel all of the excitement garnered during the intro. I might even start using this instance as my gold standard example instead of “The House of Wolves” on Bring Me the Horizon’s Sempiternal (2013), but then again probably not because the jimmy rustle is too much fun. With “Urskogen,” the situation grows dire. We are posed the question of whether or not we plan on dwelling on the departed magic of transience in the atmosphere, or accepting our new position in the doomy heat box in the hopes of a cool reward. If you are brave enough to make the second selection, you’ll be getting bright riffs that spill into major just when you need your hope renewed the most. The final moments of Hädanfärd do the same work as an impulsive second carousel ride, which leads to collapse into a fulfilling slumber. Having to perform a one-woman show of seeming functional in the face of others’ happiness tends to incorporate a similar finale. Never underestimate the merits of an escape nap.
Midnight Odyssey (AU) – Silhouettes of Stars (2017)
Perhaps another answer to appreciating black metal in the absence of frozen tundra is looking up. While a core of blackened, celestial-themed bands exist, they are often overlooked and overshadowed, and it’s really too damn bad. At the risk of sounding any more trite, we’re all under one sky, and memories of star-gazing are experiences we can all relate to in one way or another. Ironically, during the warmer weather, we’re actually further from the sun, which leaves us with a longer exploratory journey. Also ironic is how Midnight Odyssey manages to offer hours of content that feel as fleetingly beautiful as a sunrise. For you traditionalists, Silhouettes of Stars also includes a cover of Emperor’s “Cosmic Keys to my Creations and Times.” While I would classify it as more of a true-to-form cover than a re-envision, one-manner Dis Pater manages to put his ethereal mark on classic crunch, furthering cosmic black’s potential for accessibility. That being said, I tend to used Midnight Odyssey more sparingly than Kalmankantaja, who I’m more inclined to beat to death. Save Silhouettes for the darkest nights so that you don’t spoil the memory of the brightest.
White Ward (UKR) – Futility Report (2017)
On the other side of the coin, Futility Report isn’t for everybody, but for the people that it is is for, it’s bound to be an experience that won’t soon be forgotten. Like Demonwoods, this album follows a non-linear pattern, but one that can’t even be loosely generalized. Just when you think you have it figured out, another mask is removed and another revealed. Like many stories, we start strong with a thought-provoking sample, but instead of instantly lifting its spell by delivering 50 minutes of blast beats like so many other seemingly promising finds, we get fast, we get slow, we get industrial beats, we get a fucking saxophone…the list goes on. It’s like being lost in a mansion where every room is a different exercise in being put through the emotional wringer. In other words, if stagnation has an antonym, it’s White Ward. As the final door is abruptly shut, we aren’t left with anything to hold on to because that’s the face of depression and unease in a context that makes room for neither. There’s no space for romanticization and no time to brood. Instead, we must continue on as if we’re okay, just like everyone else.