My first exposure to the mysterious Indiana duo known as Charnel House came earlier this year in the form of Contagion, an older album from the band that was sent my way as part of a package containing various releases from the great Sygil Records. Contagion was an instant standout, which is really saying something considering the high level of quality that runs through Sygil’s catalog; the album is a maelstrom of black metal/ambient/noise/doom that sounds like nothing else out there in spite of incorporating these familiar influences. I had hoped to hear more from them in the future, not realizing that their new album would be showing up on my doorstep just a few months later in the form of the awesome Black Blood.
Indeed, Black Blood picks up right where Contagion left off, but feels even more minimalist; Charnel House have peeled back several layers of musical flesh here, yet the results are even more immersive. Charnel House are a band that can effortlessly draw you into their world, a place where female vocals that sound like they’re emanating from the hallways of the great beyond mix with squalls of filthy, nebulous distortion, while distant drums propel the whole thing ever forward into the abyss from whence it surely came.
Charnel House have allowed that approach to fully blossom here, finding the sublime amidst a corrosive, clattering soundscape that often feels like it could crumble into dust and ashes at any given moment. In fact, the image that keeps popping into my head as I listen to Black Blood is that of scattering someone’s ashes at sea and watching them sink into the vast, crushing blackness. When I reviewed Contagion I compared that album to a storm at sea, and Black Blood also embodies that feeling, but pushes it in an even eerier, more funereal direction. If Contagion was the black squall that left death in its wake, then Black Blood is undoubtedly its cruel, grim aftermath, the soundtrack to being embraced by a watery grave.
What I’ve come to appreciate most about Charnel House is that they don’t just juxtapose the beautiful with the ugly, rather they harness the ugly and transmogrify it into something beautiful to behold. When paired with Hellfire’s almost paranormal-sounding vocal incantations, the swirl of distorted noise and Adam’s sunken percussion becomes mesmerizing where it would normally be utterly abrasive; just imagine someone screaming their guts out over this music and it would take on an entirely different character. This is the key to what Charnel House are doing and what sets them so far ahead of the pack; their approach to composition is not the typical “here’s the heavy/harsh part, now here’s the pretty part” dichotomy that has come to characterize so much of the extreme music that leans toward the experimental. Within the confines of Black Blood, those parts are one in the same.
Last time around, I stated that Charnel House was a band with a frightening level of potential, and I could easily see them evolving and expanding upon the minimalist approach they had already perfected. That’s exactly what they’ve done with Black Blood; by working hard to further refine their approach and continuing to play to and reinforce their strengths, Charnel House has created an album that should help them to capture the attention of a much larger audience. Don’t sleep on this one, whatever you do.