For no particular reason other than a few serendipitous songs popping up when I was playing my music on random the other day, I thought I might do a little bit of a country profile here. Well, scratch that. I’m not particularly interested in surveying all of Italy, scouring its lacquered boot from thigh to heel for all the heavy metal fit to print. Instead, I present for your edification and/or casual annoyance a few of my favorite metal albums from the center of history’s most whined-about empire.
The land of Berlusconi is, if the records I’ve chosen to highlight here are any indication, far more than the libidinous Mediterranean caricature and reckless administrative policy would suggest. By no purposeful design, just about all of these albums tend toward the black-ish side of heavy metal’s family tree. Perhaps most notably, then, given the genre similarities, is that for the most part, these acts don’t seem to all be coming from one centralized black metal scene* (the way we imagine things do in France, Finland, Mozambique, or wherever). Chalk it up to the proximity of Vatican City, perhaps, or a lingering fondness for the somewhat corpulent severity of Il Duce. Who knows. Something is rotten in the state of Italy, a confused Hamlet might emote (well, not Hamlet himself, of course, but, just fuck along and let me have my wordplay, you ass).
Spite Extreme Wing, Vltra (2008)
This black metal band first intrigued me with their previous full-length, Non Dvcor, Dvco, but it’s on this, their most recent and, sadly, last album, that they really shine. A great dry production lends excellent clarity to the generally straight-ahead black metal within, which is given just enough touches of the avant-garde to keep the listener on her toes. The tracks are all untitled, though the band slips in both a Misfits and a Beatles cover, which blend in rather better than one might suppose. Special credit should also be given to that gorgeously evocative cover art. No need to be tethered to the ol’ black and gray tones forever, black metal chums.
Stormlord, Mare Nostrum (2008)
This album kicks so many tremendous servings of ass that it really ought to be illegal. I suppose the best way to describe Stormlord is ‘blackened power metal’, but lest that dreadful word-mash make one think of Children of Bodom or whatever fucking black metal Dragonforce churned out before they were Dragonforce, have no fear. This is purely epic, regal metal that deserves a far greater audience.
Void Of Silence, Human Antithesis (2004)
Void of Silence is a somewhat clean-sounding doom/death act from Italy, through which has rotated a number of excellent vocalists. 2004’s Human Antithesis has the distinction of featuring the unparalleled vocal talents of Alan Averill of Primordial fame. Just earlier this year, the band released a brand new album which is also quite tasty, featuring the vocals of Brooke from The Axis Of Perdition. His vocals on that new album are something of a revelation, given the bile-flecked delivery of pure caustic rage typical of TAOP; with Void Of Silence he sounds like someone who has just realized he can belt out true epic doom vocals, and wants to wring every last possible speck of emotion from each phrase. Human Antithesis is probably still the better record, with sounder songwriting and the more stridently confident vocals of Nemtheanga. Honestly, it’s worth the price of entry just for the title track along, a gargantuan 20 minute journey to the deep, dark recesses of doom, like the crumbling edifices of history so oft-represented in the band’s artwork.
Absentia Lunae, In Vmbrarvm Imperii Gloria (2006)
Absentia Lunae is probably my favorite band of the ATMF stable, which also includes Melencolia Estatica, Locus Mortis, Urna, Arcana Coelestia, and others. To be honest, most of those bands share a similar aesthetic and sound, so if you like one of them, chances are you’ll enjoy most (if not all) of the rest; still, Absentia Lunae’s first album ekes out a triumph in my book, for its rather stately take on this much-abused genre. It has that rather depressive air, without ever veering anywhere near to the abominable pit of mawkishness and repetition known as ‘depressive’ or ‘suicidal black metal’. Blech. Go listen to Dio, you fucking mopes.
Hiems, Worship Or Die (2009)
Side project of dude from Forgotten Tomb, which project, frankly, I couldn’t give two shits about. I really dug Hiems’ first record Cold Void Journey, but it was really just a perfection of a particular crisp, blasting version of black metal, whereas its follow-up adds a bit of black and roll spite and a touch more experimentalism, to quite headbangingly catchy effect.
Beatrik, Requiem Of December (2005)
I know, I know. I’ve just been yelling at you about this album recently. Thing is, Beatrik’s swansong of an album is so utterly gripping that I feel like it needs to be shared. Seriously, why aren’t you listening to this album RIGHT NOW?
HomSelvareg, HomSelvareg (2005)
This band is also broken up now, which is a shame, really. Their self-titled album (which, in its re-release – pictured above – also features bonus tracks from an earlier demo) is absolutely nothing new in the realm of black metal blasting, but it just feels so right. The 1990s had the paradigmatic Grieghallen production, with its lofty reverb and wispy clarity; HomSelvareg’s album – rather like Hiems’ Cold Void Journey – has an entirely different way of doing things, and it just touches me in all the right places. Gross.
Thee Maldoror Kollective, A Clockwork Highway (2004)
This lot are a bunch of fucking weirdos, that’s for sure. While the previous album from the Kollective, New Era Viral Order, will probably speak a bit more clearly to one’s blackened inclinations, I prefer A Clockwork Highway, on which the ambient, industrial, soundtrack elements become the actual building blocks of the songs, rather than superficial drapings atop fuzzily elastic-sounding ‘industrial metal’ riffing, as was too much the case on the previous album. Alongside the strangeness of latter Manes and (maybe) Ulver, this TMK album is a great mood piece, albeit one that will never quite let you fully relegate it to mere background.
Aborym, Fire Walk With Us! (2001)
Aborym have also just put out a new album – Psychogrotesque, out now on Season Of Mist – but for my money, this remains their best moment. Fire Walk With Us! is genuinely unsettling music that ripples with a current of untamed electricity. Yeah, it’s black/industrial, so if that’s not really your thing, I understand the hesitation to fully engage with this. But, c’mon, it’s got Attila Csihar (of Tormentor, Mayhem, etc., etc.) on vocals, and the album closes out with the great tandem shot of a woozy cover of Burzum’s “Det Som Engang Var” and a seriously disorienting ambient/noise track in “Theta Paranoia.” This record won’t just raise the hair on your arms; it will turn your arms into robot appendages, which will corrode and rust before your eyes while your gaze is transfixed by album cover’s red moon rising over a technological apocalypse. Give it a chance – let this album get under your skin.
This is, of course, ignoring your Bulldozers and your Ephel Duaths and your Abgotts and your, erm, Rhapsodies of Fire. Exhaustiveness is not the point. However, finding something new (note that every one of these releases comes from the past decade) from one of Europe’s less prominent extreme metal breeding grounds, well, it’s like picking out a choice figure out of the pandemonium (should that be panangelium?) of the Sistine Chapel. (This preceding sentence brought to you by the familiar trope in music criticism that Michelangelo’s paintings are an easy analogue to a few dozen angsty young musicians bashing out hymns to the devil.) Salute!
*Though such congregations do crop up here and there – see the grouping of artists around the ATMF label/ethos for a prime example of that in action, or, more loosely, the always-intriguing Code666 label. Always curious to know if a few bands develop, followed by a sympathetic label, or if it goes the other way around. Case studies abound, assuredly.