Well, here we are — almost seven months after I wrote the first edition of Metal in the Time of Quarantine. On some days, it seems like the last seven months have lasted a full decade. While reflecting back on my personal and professional life in the last six months, I feel like I’ve been able to do my best in spite of these strange times. But I also feel like the world is being consumed by fire as the pandemic continues unabetted into the winter on top of a looming economic crisis, enduring racial injustice, and the all-encompassing specter of climate change. We live in an anxious, desperate, and uncertain age.
And yet, here I am often relegating myself to my Hobbit hole of house while living my own personal Groundhog Day. I sometimes feel like an observer slowly watching the outside world destroy itself while encased in my warm abode, privileged lifestyle, and relatively safe town — it’s a strange feeling. Despite my comfort, there have been definitely been some mental and emotional ups and downs. That’s where listening to music almost continuously has been a saving grace — music that has given me solace, strength, and stability.
With that, here are a few releases that I’ve been steeping myself into as of late.
Dikter om döden, Höstblod
Höstblod‘s newest release has been serving me well as a soundtrack to the current autumn season — up there with various past releases by Agalloch, Panopticon, or Neige’s various projects (Alcest, Ameseours, or as vocalist for Lantlôs). Höstblod’s sound can broadly be categorized under the folk/black metal tag, but this one-man project’s take on the subgenre is decidedly different from the average folk/black metal band’s approach. First of all, there is an emphasis and reliance on a cleaner guitar sound. The 10-minute opener “Allt vi bär på” features a repetitive clean guitar riff reminiscent of Agalloch’s more pensive passages throughout the majority of the song. Even when the distortion kicks in on tracks like “Tusen ögen”, the guitars emit a “natural” distortion as if they were created by diming out an amp’s clean guitar channel. This gives the guitars a warmer, less affected sound in which all of the pic hits are distinguishable instead of disappearing into a wall of distortion. This has the affect of producing a more intimate sound than a lot of one-man black metal out there. Nonetheless, these parts are juxtaposed with others that are full of blasting discordance, seemingly rejecting that intimacy out of spite. Overall, a great album to embrace the autumn while slowly coming to terms with the oncoming winter isolation.
Uinuos syömein sota, Havukruunu
If you’re familiar with my tastes and are surprised by my inclusion of Hostblöd in this edition of Metal in the Time of Quarantine, then you may also be surprised by my inclusion of Havukruunu’s most recent release. Mark of the Beast makes fun of me because I loathe Moonsorrow, but he claims that Havukruunu rips off Moonspell (SOOOO not true). In any case, I was a huge fan of Havukruunu’s 2017 release, Kelle surut soi, so I was really looking forward to this one. Being a notorious skeptic of new releases from bands I admire, I wasn’t immediately stricken by this release, claiming it was overproduced compared to their rawer 2017 release. However, Uinuos syömein sota has become one of my favorite albums to listen to during morning jogs while running on sidewalks and paths covered with the stunningly autumn-colored leaves that adorn the trees. In those moments, I feel like pagan Vikings running through forests toward the next battle.
There’s honestly not much I know about this band, but this is probably my favorite grindcore album of 2020 so far — and in a year that includes a new Napalm Death release, that’s saying a lot. But for a year fraught with the plague of proto-fascism and with far-right nationalism continuing to entrench itself around the world, we could use a little bit more radical left-wing grindcore. Grid adopts a melodic d-beat-influenced approach to grindcore similar to that of their Swedish brethren in Nasum and Gadget. This is especially noticeable on “Disinformation = Facts”, which prominently features some forlorn guitarmonies. The album centerpiece is the instrumental title track that builds up from static noise to a ruminating melodic riff. Some of my favorite grindcore albums have at least a subtle sense of melody beneath the aural assault, and Livsleda is no different, though I would argue that they accentuate their melodicism more than many others that play the style. And like ANY high-quality grindcore album, Livsleda clocks in at right around the 20-minute mark (17:57, to be exact). Why have a longer album when the songs are this good?
Empty Body, Spook The Horses
I randomly stumbled onto this band through a recommendation on a random music nerd Facebook page I’m a member of called NoGenreBias. Spook The Horses sound as if Cult of Luna embraced brevity and noise rock. While these songs pummel in a similarly percussive way to that Cult of Luna, the more angular nature of their guitar work and their shifting yet organic dynamics leave surprises around every corner in songs like “Cell Death” and “Counting Days on Bones”. The bass and drums grind and pummel on songs like “The Maw” and “Inheritance”. As a whole, the album is visceral while also smart and heady, leaving the listener enthralled with unease. These anxious times call for anxious music, and this album fits that prescription perfectly.
Alphaville, Imperial Triumphant
Speaking of anxious: Imperial Triumphant brings the noise. I think I’m just as guilty as others as using the phrase “most realized” when describing a band’s newest release. But I sincerely think that Imperial Triumphant’s Alphaville is the logical culmination of the direction their previous releases have been pointing toward. The same sickening guitar squelches that are an intrinsic part of guitarist Ilya’s guitar work are found here, but there is an integration of many more sounds here: jazz piano, orchestral and choral arrangements, and tribal drumming among others. Furthermore, there seems to be more of an emphasis on repetition and a lurching, off-kilter sense of rhythm in the drums and bass that is often at odds with what the guitar is doing. The bass also plays this role toward the beginning of “Transmission to Mercury” wherein Ilya and drummer Kenny Grohowski are tremolo picking and grinding away, respectively, while bassist Steve Blanco seems more inclined to play a loping, slightly jazzy bass line. It is in these moments that Imperial Triumphant achieves a sense of unease for the listener in the year of unease.