Tis the season… for Black Metal! To celebrate, Ghost Cult runs the rule over several of this Winter’s coldest releases…
From the ever-expanding and increasingly essential Belgian Extreme Metal scene, and impressive and cerebral Consouling Sounds, roster comes new three-piece Kuar Nhial, whose self-titled effort is a prime example of the diversity in today’s Black Metal scene. With the Black Metal contrast between razor-sharp, ferocious riffs and delicate passages combined with a foreboding post-Metal atmosphere and sense of power, Kuar Nhial is an immersive and rich release that highlights new detail and intricacies with each listen, whilst journeying through a swell of emotions and colours. Let down somewhat by guttural vocals that don’t match up to the palette of its music, Kuar Nhial is still a strong and interesting introduction to a band who are ones to watch out for. 
On their third full-length Mineral Bearing Veins (Apocalyptic Witchcraft), From The Bogs Of Aughiska wear their Irish roots firmly on their sleeves with not only lyrical nods to such subjects as Irish superstitions and folklore, but with implementation of Folk instrumentation and song-craft within their twisted and branching Black Metal. Ever the esoteric bunch, even with the Extreme Metal side ramped up considerably from previous releases, Mineral…still offers so many stylistic aspects and plays out with a strong sense of theatre. With a few comparatively focused and simplistic but frenzied Black Metal onslaughts with the likes of ‘Crataegus’ and ‘The Devil Is An Irish Man’, there are also near rambling, spoken word entries, subtle ambient noise parts and eerie Folk like ditties, which all ties together for an album that is shrouded in mystery and storytelling and thus demands attention. 
Nature Enigma (Eternal Death) from Wald Krypta is a much more straightforward and stereotypical take on the genre, with a linear, frantic pace and (cliché alert) an icy, grim feel to it. Unfortunately, it also brings with it the trope of an overly raw production which at its worst makes this sound like angry wasps trapped in a tin then subsequently put in a shed. This wouldn’t be a deal breaker on its own, but without any discernible character of its own nor any songs with a lasting impact whatsoever, there is an entirely forgettable effort which has already been done to the death countless times. 
Crimson Throne, on the other hand, show that having a rawness to a production doesn’t mean it has to sound like pure shit, with debut full length Of Void And Solitude (Apocalyptic Witchcraft) melding an almost Crust-like tone to its uncontrollable ferocity, whilst its jarring marriage to subtle ambience brings out the album’s abyssal bleakness even further. Firmly rooted in the old school, this may not take any wild new directions, but it doesn’t feel predictable either, and it certainly stands up on its own merits. The sense of menacing evil that surrounds this album is both striking and convincing, and its strength in song-writing holds it up even further. For a debut full length, this is a monumentally mature output. 
Folk music and Black Metal have gone hand in hand since the latter’s inception, from the likes of Enslaved incorporating such elements, to full hybrids such as Arkona or even the likes of Wardruna, who are embraced into the Blackened arena, and wholly feel a part of the Metal scene despite sharing only a few aspects. Likewise, Greek Folk act Daemonia Nymphe offer a similar strain of music rooted in roots and tradition. This self-released re-issue of their seminal 2013 release Psychostasia is a prime example of the unique, Greek influenced Folk music and stories that they bring to our scene; portraying vivid images and a moody, almost sombre ambience. Three additional bonus tracks make this worth checking out once again, especially if you missed it before. It won’t be to the taste of everyone reading this for sure, but more curious heads will find a haunting majesty behind it. 
On four track EP Consevrationem (Prosthetic), Dutch duo Kenosis offer a short but enticing snapshot perhaps of what to expect with their debut full length due in 2019. With a purely instrumental and brooding opener and third track ‘Katharsis’ gradually building and ramping suspense, they have generated a degree of mystique about them, with a Black Metal sound that is very melodic and undaunting, but with sufficient left-field turns to make it interesting and unpredictable. With its short duration running out before you know it, its hard to really delve in to this EP, but on this evidence, Kenosis will be an underground highlight next year. 
St. Petersburg act Second To Sun have undergone significant sonic transformations in their time, and with their second album release this year (not to mention the instrumental version of this one as well) they show they are certainly not one-dimensional. The Walk (self-released) lulls you into thinking this will be all out fury with its opening track ‘We Are Not Alone’ flying out of the gates, before it pulls a sudden stop and starts again in a manner that makes you sit up and take notice, before finishing with a subtle Thrash Metal flourish. ‘Black Lines’ throws a few Technical Death Metal nods, whilst ‘Home’s predominant keys feel reminiscent of Aokigahara (Art Of Propaganda)-era Harakiri For The Sky.
There are various strokes going on here but it veers through these with a surprising amount of cohesion, and even with fairly one-dimensional vocals, even these seem to match up to the range on show here. Much like The Ocean there is a choice of an instrumental version if you so wish, but even with the vocals being fairly standard, they do add a depth and a degree of intentional discomfort to proceedings. A band that is unafraid to change and adapt, Second To Sun have pulled off a career high here. 
Another act on their second album of the year (impressive, if not quite Void Ritual level), post-Rock infused Black Metal act Unreqvited follow-up the criminally overlooked Stars Wept To The Sea (Avantgarde) with the more Shoegaze/Ambient leaning Mosaic I: l’amour et l’ardeur (Northern Silence). As album opener ‘Sunrise’ permeates through it generates a sense of grace and hopefulness, ever building into more layers and grandiosity. ‘Dreamscape’ aligns with the Alcest ball park of emotional, melodic Shoegaze ridden with a dark underbelly and sense of melancholy, with its echo like growls which blend into the music as opposed to over powering. Mosaic…is a gorgeous body of work which is perfectly suited for escaping in, for reflection and solitary immersion. Fans of the likes of Lantlos and the aforementioned Alcest will find so much love in this. Pick up Stars Wept To The Sea while you’re at it as well. 
In a similar vein to Unreqvited, but with a more aggressive and bleak strain of post-Rock infused Black Metal, Nature Morte veer from post-Rock melodrama and serenity to pure unbridled harshness, but with a greater emphasis and prominence on their Black Metal side. NM-1 (Argonauta) is a much colder and bitter beast, with even its more delicate moments proving more sombre affairs rather than uplifting.
This tragic vibe is encapsulated by the Doom ridden ‘Grief’ which barely picks up from a monolithic crawling pace, but does overwhelm with its unmistakeable dread. The closing track ‘Black Pram’ for the most part maintains this gloom, but then begins to cushion the blow with its surprisingly lifting closing bars which paint a more vivid canvas of emotions. A slow-burner of an album that reveals nuance after repeated listens, NM-1 is definitely worth a punt.