Black metal in the internet age is different than in earlier days. Labels still exist which produce exclusively on cassette tape, and there are bands who make great efforts to remain “trve” and “kvlt,” but a large number of artists have embraced Soundcloud and Bandcamp as means to spread their music and find new fans. This is true for all genres; some artists have made the transition to digital distribution with ease, while others embrace the methods of the past and care little for current systems.
As with many questions regarding the aesthetics and presentation of music, I find it can be misleading to view a work through the prism of its trappings, whether that be calling tapes “outdated” or digital music “impure.” The music should speak for itself, whether from a groove through a needle or by a broadband connection through a series of tubes.
With that in mind, I have here assembled my favorite black metal debuts of 2014, with no priority placed on arbitrary measurements of how “true” a release is. Instead I’ve selected those albums, EPs and demos which resonated within me and made me happy, presented in no specific order. These are bands I will be watching in the coming years, and hoping that they match and surpass these initial offerings.
Ifing – Against This Weald
On the internet, you can’t tell that I’m probably not pronouncing the band name Ifing correctly. Instead, let me make this pronouncement: Against This Weald is excellent. The band combines traditional instruments and folk metal values with black metal imagery and pacing. This album never gets boring, with each of the three songs containing fresh riffs and solid playing. It’s an imaginative and enjoyable debut and can be downloaded for free here.
Mist – The Silence of Dead Souls…
Depressive black metal works best when a band doesn’t let the aesthetic qualities of their music get in the way of the songs. Forcing music to sound a certain way can strain it, and ideals for recordings can be achieved without sacrifice. Swedish band Mist understand with this dynamic well, creating a natural style on their The Silence of Dead Souls… EP that works for them. The tone on this release is sensibly muddy and gloomy, oppressive and noisy, recorded in a manner that doesn’t overdo it. Dark and restrained, it’s a promising showing and can be downloaded for free here or from Bandcamp.
Earth and Pillars – Earth I
This late entry from Earth and Pillars has been a stunning success, earning praise from Stereogum and Servile Insurrection for its great atmosphere and musicianship. Earth I is bold and assertive, a clever piece of handiwork that shows attention to detail and an ear precision. There is nothing unremarkable about this album. Stream it here and purchase it here.
Bränd Jord – Ledan & Eländet
Ledan & Eländet is the first album from Swedish black metal band Bränd Jord. It is a bass-heavy progressive black metal album, one in which complex song structures, meticulous playing and a wide range of influences come together and form a cohesive, entertaining listening experience. Featuring former members of Obligatorisk Tortyr and Brutaliator, Bränd Jord are aggressive and familiar with their techniques, producing a furious and competent record with high potential for repeat listening. Stream and purchase it here.
Verberis – Vastitas
Blackened death metal (or deathened black metal, depending on degree of influence) can come across as either kitschy or inspired. The intentions of a band are not always apparent from their music, but Verberis make it clear that they intend only to make sonically intense music. On debut demo Vastitas, the mysterious New Zealand group manage to incorporate technical playing with raw production for an evil sounding selection that is a true demonstration of talent. There have been few other demos from this year that capture the same intensity, and Vastitas is unrivalled for vision and effectiveness. Stream and purchase it here.
Calvary – Calvary
Calvary may have a metal-archives page, but that sheds little light on who this group is and what they’re about. Supposedly they’re from the United States, and while this demo tape was released on December 31st, 2013 (the same date that Carved Cross released their spectacular Futile Reflections of a Failed Existence full-length), I’m counting it as a 2014 release as it never stood a chance for receiving recognition last year. Elements of post-punk can be heard in their raw, lo-fi sound, and the depth of sadness and understanding here is impressive . While this tape’s initial run has sold out, Manic Compression has a download link here.
Аркуда – Под покровом веков
Russia has spawned some great black metal bands, from veterans like Forest and Темнозорь to growing powers like Ancient Oak and Ithdabquth Qliphoth. Аркуда hails from Irkutsk which, according to Wikipedia, is a Siberian city not too far from the Mongolian border. The music created by this band has melodies when they’re required, pagan tendencies where they’re desired and black metal cadences that generate a strong impression. Debut album Под покровом веков hasn’t made much of a mark on the English-speaking audiences of America, but it ranks high on my list of 2014’s best all the same. Download it from some sketchy foreign outpost of the internet, or buy it here.
Spectral Tower – Spectral Tower
Spectral Tower emerged from the Santa Barbara scene with a psychedelic sound heavy with doom metal and death metal influences. Spectral Tower even has a bit of shoegaze and post-black metal in it, manifesting as the churning album pushes along. It’s a heavy, invasive release that pulls no punches. Stream and purchase it here.