Atmospheric Black Metal

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The most commonly played among the sub-genres of black metal, Atmospheric Black Metal artists typically draw the genre into a less aggressive direction. While much of the black metal genre as whole may be deemed as atmospheric (especially when compared to other extreme metal styles like thrash metal and death metal), atmospheric black metal acts take things a step further. Keyboard use is common in the style, though not mandatory, while the music's pace tends to be slow to mid. Well known performers include Burzum, Darkspace and Fen.

Different types of atmospheric black metal artists may incorporate elements of ambient music, folk music, post-rock or sludge metal, as well as drawing on aspects of other black metal styles, such as Summoning, whose music is both atmospheric black metal and symphonic black metal.

Alternative names for the genre include Ambient Black Metal and Post-Black Metal, the latter typically referring to those artists who draw influence from post-rock and/or sludge metal, but is sometimes also used interchangeably with atmospheric black metal.

Inclusive Atmospheric Black Metal Sub-Genres

Blackgaze is a sub-genre of atmospheric black metal so named for its resemblance to shoegaze music. It may include influences from the neoclassical darkwave and post-punk music genres.

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atmospheric black metal Music Reviews

ASCETICK Ascetick

EP · 2016 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Metal bands have really been on the increase in India in the last decade with various subgenera emerging from all over the country. One of the more unlikely places for a metal artist to come into existence is the extreme eastern region of the Indian state of Assam. ASCETICK is one of many one-man black metal bands that has popped up in the world and this project is the baby of AvsHKHzrA who plays all instruments.

So far the ASCETICK project has only yielded two EP releases. This first self-titled EP that came out in 2016 and “Hypnagogia” which was released the following year in 2017. This is a short little sucker with only three tracks that just misses the 16 minute mark. While unusual for the geography from whence it came, ASCETICK doesn’t really offer anything new under the sun as it as wholeheartedly adopted a wintery frigid style of Norwegian atmospheric black metal with chunky guitar riffs and stormy atmospheres. The bass provides a separate groove and is audible and the drums are mostly on lazy mode.

Basically the emphasis is on the atmospheric elements. The black metal consists of repetitive guitar riffs which start out slow and build up thrash metal intensity but the melodic flow is fairly simple. The most interesting aspect is the tortured vocals and guitar tones. The production is actually pretty good and the balance between the raw grittiness of kvlt black metal sounds with a polished mixing job is perfect however overall the musicianship is a bit on the mediocre side. This could probably be counted as a demo as it sounds like a rough draft of something bigger down the line. The best track is by far the eight and a half minute closing “Beyond Misty Mountains” which chugs along with murky gloom and doom in blackened bleakness.

Despite coming from India there is absolutely nothing here to indicate as such. If i were to guess i would totally peg this as a black metal release emerging from some Nordic nation or even Germany. While metal has grown in popularity in India, black metal is still a bit of a rarity however with bands like Tetragrammacide, Demonic Resurrection, Cry, Diabolus Arcanium and Toxoid emerging from the land of Ravi Shankar, it’s safe to predict that more bands will jump on the bandwagon as time goes by. As for ASCETICK, this is a decent black metal release but definitely not anything to get wildly excited about either.

SKAGOS Ást

Album · 2009 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The atmospheric black metal SKAGOS which formed in 2007 in Courtnenay, British Columbia on Canada’s Vancouver Island is actually the side project of Iskra bassist Ray Hawes which is another black metal band from neighboring Victoria. This band project has released a few splits but so far only two albums: this debut ÁST which was released in 2009 and a sophomore release “Anarchic” which came out in 2013. This band has had up to four members but on this debut it’s only Hawes on bass along with Isaac Symonds on vocals, guitars and drums. A guest appearance of Shandra Mason providing violin occurs on “With a Warm Recollection.”

The early 2000s found a whole slew of black metal bands turning more atmospheric and progressive with lengthy sprawling tracks that meander and mostly clocking in with ten minute plus tracks. Weakling certainly upped the ante for lengthier labyrinthine black metal stampedes that indulged in lo-fi tremolo infused sonic terror-tests but many newer bands have added dark ambient atmospheres and even elements of progressive electronic to add more contrast to the frigid orotund nature of black metal bombast. SKAGOS resides in the camp that is closest to bands like Wolves In The Throne Room, Leech and even Agalloch however this band does have a distinct sound of its own despite finding many commonalities.

Like the aforementioned bands, SKAGOS starts tracks off with post-rock styled dreaminess with arpeggiated clean guitars that slowly build up intensity until the black metal kicks in with faster tempos, more aggressive traditional black metal guitar, bass and drum intensity as well as the angry screams that emerge from below the cacophonous din. ÁST unleashes six furious compositions that race past the 55 minute mark and in their wake leave the excesses of lo-fi black metal rampage along with lengthy droning sessions and atmospheric post-rock detachment. The musicianship is above average with nicely delivered tremolo guitar picking and blastbeat fueled drum workouts that add a bit of technicality. The music can change from black metal fury to placid mellowness in a second.

SKAGOS is one of those bands that has done its homework and excels is checking off all the boxes in order to make the perfect black metal album but where ÁST ultimately fails in the songwriting department as nothing on this album really stands out from the legion of similar sounding bands that preceded or came after. Add to that the lo-fi recording approach which works quite well with the second wave rawness of orthodox black metal doesn’t quite fit in with the more atmospheric varieties which rely on a cleaner production value to allow all those intricate synthesized sounds to swirl around like a pit of slithering vipers and even the newer remastered versions do not correct this. Overall this is a decent slice of atmospheric black metal but it just doesn’t elevate the listening experience to a high enough level to keep me thoroughly engaged throughout its rather monotonous callithump through the Western Canadian woods.

ZOMMM Reality Is An Illusion

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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siLLy puPPy
While Azerbaijan is not a nation that comes to mind when thinking about metal music monstrosities, just like everywhere else in the modern world, restless youth crave the energetic freneticism that comes along with the heavy guitar distortion and unrelenting ferocity of metal music especially in its most extreme forms. Coming from the capital city of Baku situated on the coast of the Caspian Sea is one of Azerbaijan’s scant examples of extreme metal - ZOMMM which is in reality the duo of Ramil Bayramov on vocals and Farid Mayilov on pretty much everything else which includes the usual suspects of guitar, bass, drums and a whole bunch of atmospheric keyboard contributions.

ZOMMM follows in the footsteps of the world of blackgaze that was initiated by the French band Alcest and carried on by popular acts such as Deafhaven, Woods of Desolation, Oathbreaker and White Ward. While some of these acts choose heavy cacophonous noise over the more atmospheric sounds, ZOMMM rather chooses the latter with a large share of the real estate being dedicated to thick atmospheric swirls of synth sound electronica that alternates with more anxiety ridden outbursts of black metal bombast that includes the orthodox sounds of tremolo guitar picking, raspy vocal angst and audible bass parts set against a backdrop of heavily fortified atmospheric turbulence.

So far this band has released a single album / EP (sources vary as to its status) titled REALITY IS AN ILLUSION which in all honesty is an existential quandary placed upon all of humanity since we gain awareness of the world around us and here it is presented in a rage-a-thon in the Azerbaijani language which matters not because who can understand black metal lyrics anyways?!! This album / EP provides five tracks that clock in near the 31 minute mark and pretty much covers all ground of what constitutes blackgaze as is defined as a subgenre of metal. ZOMMM has certainly pigeonholed itself into this style of black metal with an amazing ability to capture the darker aspects of black metal while existing in the more atmospheric section of the black metal supermarket with excellent production to match.

Overall this album is OK but nothing that stands out either. Blackgaze is not my favorite style of black metal as it more often than not seems like watered down milk with no substance and ZOMMM does nothing to dispel that standing. Although i do not favor this over the more ravenous bite of more extreme forms of black metal, this is not a horrible listening experience in any way, shape or form. The vocals are ugly and competent, the black metal albeit set back in the mix are decent when presented and the atmospheric dominance is adequate for what the band presents as well however there’s really nothing on REALITY IS AN ILLUSION that sets ZOMMM apart from the aforementioned blackgaze pioneers that have already taken this electronica based subsect of black metal into its own microcosm. This pretty much straddles the line between well performed and utterly forgettable. There is promise over there in the black sea but the oil rig still hasn’t struck black gold.

MARE COGNITUM Wanderers: Astrology Of The Nine

Split · 2020 · Atmospheric Black Metal
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adg211288
Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine (2020) is a part split and part collaboration album by US solo project Mare Cognitum and Greek solo act Spectral Lore. Both acts belong to the atmospheric black metal genre. Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is the second release that the two have got together for after Sol (2013), to which Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine can be considered a thematic sequel; with the former being about our Sun, and Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine taking a journey through the planets themselves, openly owing a nod to Gustav Holst's Planets Suite in conception. And yes, the planets do include Pluto, so take that International Astronomical Union. In fact, Pluto gets not one but two tracks to its name here, with both acts collaborating on them.

Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is a gargantuan release. The pair's prior offering Sol was already a substantial effort – a near seventy minute release spread across just three tracks, but Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore have really outdone themselves with this one. While no individual track comes close to the 29:10 and 25:53 long beasts that were their individual contributions to Sol respectively, there's a lot more tracks overall. Ten, to be exact. That's four each for each act on their own and the two Pluto tracks working together. It all comes together as a double album that is almost a full two hours long. Even without each other and their collaborations there is more than enough material here apiece for each to have released an individual studio album. Perhaps more than any other split that either has taken part in, including Sol, Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine, really does feel like it could serve as the fifth studio album of each act.

Our journey though the planets isn't told in sequence. We start with Mercury, but then skip to Mars, backtrack to Earth and Venus, before passing the asteroid belt and reaching Jupiter to complete the first disc of the album. Disc two picks up at Saturn, before going ahead to Neptune, back to Uranus and finally to the two part Pluto. Thematically it seems a little odd that they didn't follow the planets in order of distance from Sol, but then Holst didn't follow the traditional order either. I expect this was done for reasons of musical flow, because the order of tracks on the album does present something that feels very natural. I'll have to re-order the album sometime to see how it works by switching the tracks around. The ordering does also mean that the album does not follow a strict baton pass between the two acts, with Mare Cognitum getting two consecutive tracks on disc 1.

The burning question over the release, at least for those who don't make atmospheric black metal or even black metal in general one of their main listening interests, is whether almost two hours is too much for one release even with two artists performing and does it outstay its welcome? After all, it's well known that Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore are on very close pages with their takes on atmospheric black metal and that's been even more apparent since they first released Sol together. Well, if it was two lesser bands attempting this then the results might be very different. But Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore both happen to be acts that are among those are the very top of their game in the current scene. Both have released albums of the top tier like Phobos Monolith (2014) and III (2014) respectively. Working together they produce the kind of music that is a clear example of something being better than the sum of its parts. And when the parts were top notch to begin with you're dealing with something really special.

Are both artists evenly matched or does one get an edge over the other? Honestly that will come down to prior personal preferences I think. First impressions told me that Mare Cognitum had a split edge on Spectral Lore here, but the latter closed the gap after several listens to the album and the Spectral Lore tracks proved themselves to be growers. Of the Pluto tracks the first one, subtitled Exodus Through the Frozen Wastes, sees the duo instead performing space ambient music, as they did on Sol's collaborative track Red Giant. Ambient undertones can be found across the whole release, but this is the only time they fully embrace it. For the second part of Pluto, The Astral Bridge, the pair debut their music metal full collaboration together. Perhaps not unexpectedly it's one of the album's very best tracks.

Arguably Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is the most essential release of either Mare Cognitum or Spectral Lore to date. Quite possibly it is the first masterpiece that the black metal genre has produced in the 2020s, setting the bar that others will have to aim for from this point forward, the acts themselves included when they release new material without the other's support. It's very rare that could be said about something which is primarily a split, a format that for most artists I personally don't pay any attention to. But with Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine it feels like maybe more like-minded artists should get together for releases like this. For my money it may be the greatest split ever released.

SPECTRAL LORE Wanderers: Astrology Of The Nine

Split · 2020 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine (2020) is a part split and part collaboration album by US solo project Mare Cognitum and Greek solo act Spectral Lore. Both acts belong to the atmospheric black metal genre. Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is the second release that the two have got together for after Sol (2013), to which Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine can be considered a thematic sequel; with the former being about our Sun, and Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine taking a journey through the planets themselves, openly owing a nod to Gustav Holst's Planets Suite in conception. And yes, the planets do include Pluto, so take that International Astronomical Union. In fact, Pluto gets not one but two tracks to its name here, with both acts collaborating on them.

Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is a gargantuan release. The pair's prior offering Sol was already a substantial effort – a near seventy minute release spread across just three tracks, but Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore have really outdone themselves with this one. While no individual track comes close to the 29:10 and 25:53 long beasts that were their individual contributions to Sol respectively, there's a lot more tracks overall. Ten, to be exact. That's four each for each act on their own and the two Pluto tracks working together. It all comes together as a double album that is almost a full two hours long. Even without each other and their collaborations there is more than enough material here apiece for each to have released an individual studio album. Perhaps more than any other split that either has taken part in, including Sol, Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine, really does feel like it could serve as the fifth studio album of each act.

Our journey though the planets isn't told in sequence. We start with Mercury, but then skip to Mars, backtrack to Earth and Venus, before passing the asteroid belt and reaching Jupiter to complete the first disc of the album. Disc two picks up at Saturn, before going ahead to Neptune, back to Uranus and finally to the two part Pluto. Thematically it seems a little odd that they didn't follow the planets in order of distance from Sol, but then Holst didn't follow the traditional order either. I expect this was done for reasons of musical flow, because the order of tracks on the album does present something that feels very natural. I'll have to re-order the album sometime to see how it works by switching the tracks around. The ordering does also mean that the album does not follow a strict baton pass between the two acts, with Mare Cognitum getting two consecutive tracks on disc 1.

The burning question over the release, at least for those who don't make atmospheric black metal or even black metal in general one of their main listening interests, is whether almost two hours is too much for one release even with two artists performing and does it outstay its welcome? After all, it's well known that Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore are on very close pages with their takes on atmospheric black metal and that's been even more apparent since they first released Sol together. Well, if it was two lesser bands attempting this then the results might be very different. But Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore both happen to be acts that are among those are the very top of their game in the current scene. Both have released albums of the top tier like Phobos Monolith (2014) and III (2014) respectively. Working together they produce the kind of music that is a clear example of something being better than the sum of its parts. And when the parts were top notch to begin with you're dealing with something really special.

Are both artists evenly matched or does one get an edge over the other? Honestly that will come down to prior personal preferences I think. First impressions told me that Mare Cognitum had a split edge on Spectral Lore here, but the latter closed the gap after several listens to the album and the Spectral Lore tracks proved themselves to be growers. Of the Pluto tracks the first one, subtitled Exodus Through the Frozen Wastes, sees the duo instead performing space ambient music, as they did on Sol's collaborative track Red Giant. Ambient undertones can be found across the whole release, but this is the only time they fully embrace it. For the second part of Pluto, The Astral Bridge, the pair debut their music metal full collaboration together. Perhaps not unexpectedly it's one of the album's very best tracks.

Arguably Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine is the most essential release of either Mare Cognitum or Spectral Lore to date. Quite possibly it is the first masterpiece that the black metal genre has produced in the 2020s, setting the bar that others will have to aim for from this point forward, the acts themselves included when they release new material without the other's support. It's very rare that could be said about something which is primarily a split, a format that for most artists I personally don't pay any attention to. But with Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine it feels like maybe more like-minded artists should get together for releases like this. For my money it may be the greatest split ever released.

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