Early last year, I discovered Psalm 88, an offshoot of Berkeley, CA-based cassette label Acephale Winter Productions. While all of the sub-label’s initial batch of wares were impressive in their own right, the one that impressed me the most was Behold Darkness’ I, a gripping nineteen minutes of frozen-soul black metal that was easily the most complete sounding of the four releases reviewed. Indeed, it was a recording I found myself continuing to revisit on the regular, which is really saying something when one considers how often I burn out on the music I choose to review due to the sheer number of repeat listens involved.
Fast-forward to the beginning of 2016, and mastermind Xaltotun Necromancer has unleashed Behold Darkness’ latest offering, the aptly titled Unholy Filth. The EP finds the project continuing down the dark and depressive path laid out by the likes of Xasthur and Leviathan, yet Behold Darkness exudes an unhinged madness that’s all its own, instantly bringing the listener back to the days when black metal still sounded genuinely ugly and evil as hell.
Behold Darkness’ attack throughout the EP is surprisingly dynamic. “Fucked and Tortured” and “The Burning of One’s Soul” seethe with barely-controlled malevolence, all swarming guitar distortion and vocals that sound like a lunatic screaming in a wind-tunnel, while frantic opener “Unholy Salvation” is all bludgeoning, blasting violence. The programmed drums give “Internal Destruction” a driving, quasi-industrial feel during its opening minutes and “Within the Pentagram’s Protection” features a twisted tremolo riff that slowly, deliberately seeps into your brain and lodges itself there for days on end.
Production-wise, Unholy Filth is gloriously lo-fi, and listening to the EP on cassette only adds to the down and dirty vibe of the recording. That said, each instrument is audible and the production never detracts from the quality of the music itself. Many one man black metal practitioners could learn a thing or two from studying Necromancer’s recording and composition techniques.
Case in point, Unholy Filth isn’t the only new(ish) music from Behold Darkness. In October of last year Necromancer contributed a pair of tracks to a split with Canadian one man project IT, also released via Psalm 88. Not to be harsh, but I’ve always looked at split releases as a sort of competition or battle between the bands featured; quite frankly Behold Darkness blows the competition out of the water here and it isn’t even close.
“Rituals of Blood” and “Whispers from the Void” are exemplary Behold Darkness tracks as strong as anything featured on I or Unholy Filth, the former a driving track that once again captures some of that quasi-industrial vibe thanks to the pounding, repetitious nature of the electronic drums, while the latter is a delightfully mesmerizing slog through the pits of lo-fi black metal Hell. Taken together the two songs show that Necromancer is committed to quality in all that he does rather than tossing off a couple of throwaways, as more bands than I care to count typically do when contributing to a split or one-off release.
Behold Darkness has shown an aptitude for creating compelling short-form releases; based on the strength of these tracks I’d be very interested to see what Necromancer could do with a full length. While this style of black metal isn’t as popular as it once was (remember when Xasthur was putting out albums on Hydra Head?), I can’t help but feel it’s only a matter of time before Behold Darkness gets noticed by a larger label and reminds the metal masses of just how bewitching this sort of blackened filth can be when played with conviction.