It’s been a while since I’ve discovered anything particularly worthy of coverage via Bandcamp, but just when I was about to give up hope, I stumbled upon Psalm 88, a sub-label of Berkeley’s Acephale Winter Productions that’s dedicated to producing limited edition C20 cassettes featuring black metal’s rawest of the raw. The fledgling venture has already cranked out four releases in just a year of existence, all available on tape or for pay-what-you-want download. All four releases are well worth your time, and you guys know I’m not a fan of lengthy intros, so let’s dive right in.
Dunnock – Promo 2014
Berkeley’s Dunnock impressed me with their 2013 debut A Forest of Shattered Promise, but I must admit I haven’t done a very good job of keeping up with them since. It turns out they’ve released an EP, a split and this killer promo of odds ‘n’ sods. For a short collection of alternate/demo versions it’s a surprisingly cohesive listen.
The tape kicks off with a drum machine demo version of “Rainy Season II,” a great track which represents Dunnock at their most conventional-sounding; filthy and fuzzy black metal that’s surprisingly dynamic. Up next is “Kudryavka (Blacknoise Demo)” which is easily the best song here, all sludgy, blown-to-smithereens distortion that makes Velvet Cacoon’s Genevieve sound clear as a bell by comparison. The tape closes out with “Rainy Season VIII (Dungeon Synth Version)” which is exactly what you’d imagine; creepy-crawly synths with distorted vocals clawing their way through the mix. Each of the three tracks has its own distinct character, and it’s certainly a pleasant surprise to experience so much variation in just under ten minutes of music.
Dunnock is one of the more interesting black metal entities I’ve come across in the last few years and it’s exciting to see that they’ve continued to release a steady stream of material beyond their debut. A Forest of Shattered Promise is probably the best place to start, but I nonetheless highly recommend Promo 2014 to anyone with interest in black metal’s fringes. The tape offers a great sampling of all the things the band does well in an easily digestible package. To sweeten the pot, each tape has a unique ambient composition on the B side, so everyone that buys a physical copy gets something totally unique.
Xarkrinur – Dark Rituals
Xarkrinur’s Dark Rituals is the work of a fifteen year old Bangladeshi gentleman who answers to the name Xyklen and just might be my favorite of Psalm 88’s wares so far. The demo alternates between Xasthur-esque depression and ramshackle, monochromatic violence, and is dominated by a weird-ass guitar tone that sounds more like a synthesizer impersonating a guitar than an actual guitar on the faster songs (I mean that in the best way possible) and seethes with ghostly feedback on the slower ones.
Dark Rituals possesses many of the same lovably amateurish qualities that made me fall in love with bands like Striborg and Nuit Noire, but at the same time sounds nothing like either of those bands; Xarkrinur is its own oddball beast. Sure, the songwriting could stand to be a bit more varied, but Xyklen has created such a singular sound for himself that I’m more than willing to cut the kid some slack. Besides, he’s crafting original bizarro black metal compositions at fifteen years old; I didn’t even know what the hell black metal was at that age.
The demo will no doubt appeal to fans of any of the aforementioned bands or anyone with an appreciation for outsider black metal in general, and I look forward to seeing what this corpsepainted prodigy does for an encore. Hop on the Xarkrinur train now before he gets an entry on Metal Archives and becomes like, totally un-kvlt.
Behold Darkness – I
Mainman Xaltotun Necromancer (try saying that five time fast) may hail from sunny California, but Behold Darkness is a project that lives up to its name and then some. Right off the bat, the EP grips you with its grim and frigid atmosphere and refuses to let go. It has that same wonderfully sad yet malevolent vibe that genre greats like Burzum and Leviathan cultivated back in the day, which pretty much makes it an automatic win in my book.
From a purely musical standpoint, I is the best of Psalm 88’s four releases, an exercise in well-crafted traditional black metal with strong composition and dynamics. The guitar tone is a gnarly buzz that often threatens to degenerate into pure white noise, while what I’m assuming are canned drums pound away underneath. Necromancer’s vocals are your standard half-whisper half-rasp, but they suit the music perfectly and are performed with skill and passion. The production isn’t as raw as that of the Xarkrinur or Dunnock tapes, but it’s still plenty nasty and fans of DSBM will feel right at home within its grimy confines.
Of everything Psalm 88 has released so far, I feels the most complete and accomplished. Behold Darkness isn’t going to win any originality contests, but what Necromancer lacks in originality he makes up for with unwavering dedication to the black arts. More bands like this, please.
Die Entweihung – The Last Shelter
Israel’s Die Entweihung is the longest-running of the four bands featured here, yet The Last Shelter comes up a bit short in comparison to the other three. That isn’t to say it’s bad, but Die Entweihung simply isn’t as weird as Dunnock or Xarkrinur, nor as thoughtfully crafted as Behold Darkness, which means that in spite of being a fine collection of songs on its own, it just doesn’t stand out. Granted, according to the Psalm 88 Bandcamp page these are among the project’s earliest recordings, so it’s totally possible that The Last Shelter represents the foundations of a project that developed into something great and I’m just not aware of it as yet.
It might sound like I’m dogging Die Entwiehung, but that’s not my intention. There’s some great lo-fi punky black metal to be found here, although the best track is “Honey For My Wounds,” a totally bizarro cover of Ukrainian doomsters Mournful Gust, which is another band I’m embarrassed to admit to not being at all familiar with. My favorite part of this compilation is the off-kilter guitar solos, and I wish more under-produced, ultra-grim black metal bands would incorporate this kind of stuff.
Hell, forget everything I said in the first paragraph; Die Entwiehung’s mix of fucked up leads, a burly guitar tone and trashcan computer drums is actually pretty darn awesome, and it’s evident that I need to check out their back catalog for a better frame of reference re: this tape.
Psalm 88 is definitely one of the cooler labels I’ve come across lately, which should really come as no surprise considering Acephale Winter’s penchant for unearthing some seriously strange stuff. It appears all four releases are still available on cassette for ridiculously cheap in spite of being quite limited, so get on it now or cry later. I really look forward to seeing what they’ve got up their sleeves for 2015.