2016 – Top demos & EP’s

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12. Whoredom Rife – The Worship of Idols Instead of God; Idolatry [EP]

Norway has been less than stellar during the past years, as far as black metal is concerned, and 2016 was no exception. Thankfully there are a few dark twinkles in this sea of mediocrity, as is this EP from Trondheim, which mixes furious majesty with triumphant darkness. Here be hints of early Enslaved mixed with a more down-to-earth approach reminiscent of the turn of the millennium (Tsjuder for instance). 


11. True Love – To Pray For Perpetual Violence [demo]

The raw black metal demo of the year could well ride into this list on grace of its amazingly malicious cover alone. The fact that it is also well-versed in the black arts of insectoid-like articulated guitars riffs as well as in that of double-echo vocals and thrashy pauses is only adding points to it, as do both the group name and the release’s title. LunaticsaguinemSatanworship.


10. Draug – In Glorification Of Dark Legions [demo]

Ancient Record circles’ Sir N’s new project will not surprise those familiar with his other bands (which are not few). Maybe slightly more angular and warm, with an essence of interior spaces. As always, Sir N. knows how to build up traditional ’90s black metal atmosphere. One more worthy addition to Sweden’s amazing contemporary underground scene.


9. Kaffaljidhma – Ι & ΙΙ [demos]

The Dutch Kaffaljidhma’s first two demos (laconically named “I” & “I”) is an prime example of naturalistic image-crafting music. With hardly any riffs in the traditional sense of the word, they are ambiance floating upon the wanderer’s path, a path ravaged by snow and trees. They are a-temporal exercises in meditation, pure atmosphere distilled in two expressively named songs, one in each demo. Full review here.


8. Duch Czerni – Reality of Black Spirits [demo]

Subterranean, slithering ritualistic black metal from Poland, which crawls elegantly discharging spasms of incense on its chaotic path. Here lie parts of the spirit of Mortuary Drape and Necromantia (more like detached spectres gliding above the music, rather than being incorporated in the songwriting). An excellent specimen of how the Occult can be sculptured in a black metal release.


7. Light of the Morning Star – Cemetery Glow [EP]

One cannot go wrong with a De Mysteriis-esque black/purple cover depicting a cemetery. This one-man band from UK is dominated by ominous gothic riffing (with slightly black metal hues) which is highly effective in the creation of a gloomy menacing atmosphere. Throw in the mix a vocal performance which draws upon the -wave monotony, and you have an unexpected dark gem – with a guitar blink at The Cure’s “Pornography” just before ending.


6. Surtr – Nocturnal Mysticism [demo]

This US band appeared out of nowhere in late September, unleashing 3 demos in less than two weeks’ time, all three releases capturing excellently the forest-walking spirit of early Satyricon, and generally of the mid-’90s “traditional” Norwegian scene. All 3 demos are almost interchangeable as far as a place in this list is concerned, “Nocturnal Mysticism” just won me a bit more due to the unconventional beginning of its first track.


5. Unbegotten – Proem of the Unborn [demo]

The veil of Archaic majesty – manifested through a sound that worships Les Legions Noires – covers this tape masterpiece coming from the Iberian Peninsula. Steeped in occult atmosphere, with surprisingly interesting vocals and grainy guitars that wander through catacombs, with amazing cover art, and a name that revels in its extravagance, this entity seems to have a highly promising future.


4. Necromantic Worship – The Calling… [EP]

Despite its quality, the Dutch masters’ second demo proved unfortunately to be their last one. Continuing on the Necromantia worship path that they set upon with 2015’s monumental “Spirit Of The Entrance Unto Death,” Necromantic Worship created with “The Calling…” another stellar rendering of the dungeon-ish ritualistic Evil sound of early Necromantia. Of cracking tombs and floating spheres.


3. Cult of Fire – Life, Sex and Death [EP]

The Czech trio returned with another killer EP, following on the tradition of the amazing “Čtvrtá symfonie ohně.“ With a deep sense of folk melody integrated throughout the riff structure of the four tracks, this release showcases the ascending progress of the band since its 2013 breakthrough (not forgetting last year’s Death Karma as well). Melodic, without compromise in its furious moments, and with a level of songwriting that is to be envied, “Life, Sex and Death” is a species of uttermost interest.


2. Mystik – Af Herrens Mystik… (Kapitel I) & Dunkla klangor… (Kapitel II) [demos]

If Bekëth Nexëhmü is a name with which most are well-acquainted, Mystik is an entity that sprouted this year seemingly out of nowhere with two amazing compilations of unreleased demo recordings spanning six years (2009-2014). Their style is as ’90s as the label’s aura invokes, reminiscent of a more tense and densely articulated Bekëth Nexëhmü. Drawing upon the Scandinavian atmospheric legacy of such names as Ulver, Isvind, Kampfar and Setherial, among many others, the two Kapitels are artifacts of an underground scene that seems to be without equal.


1. Bekëth Nexëhmü – De Dunklas Återkomst [demo]

The obscure Swede masters of ’90s-esque atmospheric black metal unleashed two full-length-duration demos this year, remaining one of the best things (if not the single best) to come out of the Ancient Records’ womb. Steeped in the lo-fi nighttime elegance of a spectre wandering in a haunted forest, “De Dunklas Återkomst‘s40 minutes are an oasis of nocturnal snowy atmosphere, graced with a sound that is as thin as a ghost’s density.

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Ψ.Χ. – Το Φως Το Αληθινό

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Download link: http://www69.zippyshare.com/v/1BPctKqf/file.html

Καλημέρα Απειλή, καλώς (επαν)ήλθες στο black metal με νυχτερινή φτερούγα για να σβήσεις τα κεριά, για να σαβανώσεις τα μωρά, για να βουτήξεις μέσα στην Παράδοση κάνοντας τα τζάκια να βήχουν σαν φυματικά.

Σε ένα φθινόπωρο που έχει βαλθεί να ρεφάρει για την ποιοτική ανυδρία του προηγούμενου διαστήματος της χρονιάς, το μεγαλύτερο ίσως σοκ ήταν η από το πουθενά εμφάνιση της πρώτης κυκλοφορίας των Ψ.Χ. (συγκεκριμένα το πήρα χαμπάρι μέσα από αυτό το εξαιρετικό κείμενο). Μια κυκλοφορία που παραδόθηκε σε κόπια μια (1) στα γραφεία του Metal Hammer, με προτροπή/προσταγή προς τον αρμόδιο συντάκτη, να τη διανείμει με όποιον τρόπο μπορεί (βλ. link στην αρχή του κειμένου). Αρχές λοιπόν του Νοέμβρη, υπήρξε μια μίνι Αποκάλυψη για όσους είχαμε σκελετιάσει παλιότερα με τους σποραδικά εμφανισμένους στο διαδίκτυο μονάχα ύμνους της μπάντας, γιατί:

-αφενός για πρώτη φορά μαζεύτηκαν τα γνωστά κομμάτια σε ένα δίσκο, με (χρονολογικό απ’ ότι φαίνεται) tracklisting, ένα (έστω υποτυπώδες) εξώφυλλο και τυπωμένους στίχους αλλά και μανιφέστο των οντοτήτων, έτσι ώστε να περάσει το στάτους του συγκροτήματος από αυτό της σκιώδους παρουσίας στα αραχνιασμένα σοκάκια του διαδικτύου σε αυτό της σκιώδους παρουσίας με τη σφραγίδα του οριακά χειροπιαστού.

αφετέρου, πέρα από τον εμπλουτισμό/αναδιάρθρωση των γνωστών κομματιών, υπάρχουν και τρία καινούρια τραγούδια, η ποιότητα των οποίων μας κάνει να προσευχόμαστε σε χθόνιους θεούς για την ύπαρξη επόμενου βήματος των Ψ.Χ.

Το Φως Το Αληθινό είναι η πιο black metal κυκλοφορία που έχει βγει από τη χώρα μας (πιθανώς και γενικότερα) εδώ και αρκετά χρόνια. Κλειστοφοβικό, τσιτωμένο, υπερβατικό, ένα καζάνι με αναβράζοντα riffs, που άλλοτε εξακοντίζονται κυκλικώς με ρυθμούς καρφώματος φέρετρου, άλλοτε με τη συχνότητα αναπνοής πτώματος, πάντοτε όμως με την αλλόκοσμη ψυχή του black metal κατά νου. Εδώ κατοικοεδρεύει πάνω από όλα η απειλή· ακούς το υλικό και σκιάζεσαι, φοβάσαι να κοιτάξεις πίσω σου, νιώθεις την ακατονόμαστη φιγούρα από το Selbstverstümmelung να σέρνεται στα όρια της όρασής σου. Αυτό είναι κάτι που λείπει από τη συντριπτική πλειοψηφία του Μαύρου Μετάλλου των τελευταίως δύο δεκαετιών, το να νιώθεις να αγχώνεσαι για κάτι που δεν είναι αυτού του κόσμου.

Riffs τα οποία απλώνονται σαν βαριές πένθιμες κουρτίνες πάνω από παράθυρα που αφήνουν σκιές ενός παγανιστικού παρελθόντος να φανούν. Οστέινη ψύχρα, αναρριχώμενες και καταρριχώμενες Παγωμένες, βίαιες κιθάρες, χωρίς εύκολα καταφύγια σε μελωδικές λύσεις, μονάχα αεικίνητο σκότος,. Εδώ ξαναθυμόμαστε γιατί κάποτε αναφερόμασταν στις κιθάρες του είδους ως Ξύστρες και σε κάποια riffs ως Κόκαλα. Σιδηροδρομικές γραμμές κατασκευασμένες από υψίσυχνη παράθεση κοφτών ξυραφωτών χτυπημάτων (σα να παίρνεις συστάδες riffs με το δικράνι και να τα πετάς στη φωτιά), ή απλά πλήρη κατανόηση του συνθετικού και εκτελεστικού πνεύματος της ελίτ της νορβηγικής σκηνής των ‘90s. Θα έβαζα άνετα το “Παιδομάζωμα” σε κάποιο άτομο που θα με ρώταγε τι θεωρώ ως ιδανικό black metal riffing, ή το μπάσιμο του κυρίως ειπείν τμήματος των Κουκουβαγιώνως δείγμα ιδανικής αβυσσαλέας έναρξης. Παρά τον ετεροχρονισμό της συγγραφής των κομματιών, το άλμπουμ λειτουργεί ως εγχειρίδιο έγχορδης (ακόμη και το μπάσο, όπου ακούγεται, είναι ουσιαστικό) Μαυρίλας.

Τα φωνητικά των Ψ.Χ. ήταν ανέκαθεν σημείο τριβής, λόγω της ακρότητάς τους, η οποία από πολλούς εκλαμβάνεται ως ιλαρότητα. Πρόκειται για φωνητικά που δεν έχουν καμία επαφή με τη λογική και την πραγματικότητα, ιαχές, κραυγές, σκουξίματα από τον τάφο, από τα σωθικά θυσιαστηρίου θύματος, από τα φτερουγίσματα των νεκρικών κουκουβαγιών, φωνές γριών που περιφέρουν το δόντι και το μάτι τους. Οι Ψ.Χ. δεν είναι για όσους ξεκαρδίζονται με τη φωνή αυτή, για όσους (όντας τόσο διαβρωμένοι από τον κυνισμό και από τη δήθεν αποστασιοποίησή τους από το παράλογο) την αντιλαμβάνονται ως αστεία. Η μουσική των Ψ.Χ. σχεδόν απαιτεί να μπορείς να νιώσεις θρησκευτικό φόβο, να είσαι από αυτά τα άτομα που αφήνουν καλού κακού ένα φως στο δωμάτιο το βράδυ και κλειδώνουν τις ντουλάπες για να μη συρθεί κάτι από μέσα τους. Πέρα από αυτά όμως, εδώ έχουμε και για πρώτη φορά τόσο καθαρά φωνητικά (όπως στο δωδεκάλεπτο αναπάντεχο έπος “Νεκρικά Φεγγάρια”), όσο και απόπειρες ψαλμωδίας στο καινούριο και καλύτερο κομμάτι του δίσκου, το Η Νύχτα Της Κρυστάλλινης Σιωπής(που ενδύεται το De Mysteriis-ικό μοτίβο του υποβλητικού παρανοϊκού/χυδαίου κηρύγματος πάνω από λυσσαλέο ερπετικό black metal).

Θα μπορούσα να πω πολλά ακόμη για το Φως Το Αληθινό: για τους beherit κουκουβαγισμούς, την παράξενη γείωση στην καθημερινότητα που δημιουργούν οι περισσότεροι εκ των στίχων, για τη χρήση του “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (εμβληματικό κομμάτι του 2001, A Space Odyssey) στην εισαγωγή του δίσκου, για την πιθανή σύνδεση των μελωδικών ’70s με το Σκοτάδι το Αληθινό δια της νοσταλγικής εκ της οικογένειας αντιμετώπισης τους. Δε νομίζω όμως ότι έχει ιδιαίτερο νόημα κάτι τέτοιο. Αυτό που κρατάω πάνω από όλα είναι πως το πρώτο πρωί που έβαλα να ακούσω τον δίσκο, περπατώντας με ακουστικά, κατά τη μισή τουλάχιστον διαδρομή έκανα αόρατα πορτοκάλια δεξιά κι αριστερά, και ήθελα να συρθώ στους τοίχους: αυτό είναι, για μένα τουλάχιστον, απόδειξη του πόσο καιρό είχε να εμφανιστεί δίσκος με πραγματικά Μαύρη Ψυχή, ικανός να μου δημιουργήσει τέτοιες ορμές. Αριστούργημα.

Funestus – In Perpetual Silence (Self-Released)

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Gazing upon the lovely, primitively impressionist-like cover of Chile’s Funestus first demo, Descent with capital D comes into mind. A wintry barren wood, the crescent moon just above the center, like an eye distorted looking down, where an overflow of light seems to imply an abyss ready to receive the invisible wanderer treading upon the landscape’s path; even the clouds themselves seem to ripple downwards. A descent which, sound-wise, is materialised via an amalgamation of Judas Iscariot-esque majestic ferocity and Xasthur’s dungeon wanderings, all wrapped in a raw, somehow thin production that is however far from being bothersome or unlistenable.

The idea is quite simple, true to the teachings of Darkthrone: repetition of long-winded yet simple (structurally) riffs, crispy guitar sound which sometimes verges on the mechanical due to a weird distortion, drums that are especially fond of their metal components. Harsh screams are sporadically flickering, sometimes approaching Akhenaten’s lordly hue and articulation (like in “Nightside Of The Storm”), yet never quite grasping it – there is obviously the issue of Hiem Egregor’s (the band’s one and only member) not being a native English speaker. Of tempo variances there are fluctuations between slow and hyperblasting moments, contrasting otherworldly wanderings with wintry charges. Biting frost and relentless battle are the main ingredients of this release’s atmosphere; a sense of subterranean melancholy is embedded in most of the riffs, more prominent during the slower parts, as well as in the acoustic interludes. There are some executional mistakes, especially on drums and tempo changes, but as far as first demo releases go, this one is surprisingly elaborate.

All in all, the thing that Funestus succeed in almost flawlessly with their first demo is that the release grasps and retains this ravishing grimness that is the core essence of golden-era Darkthrone, as well as the raw splendour that was the trademark of Akhenaten’s discography. A demo that creates high expectations about this project, highly recommended for fans of traditional, grim yet atmospheric 90s black metal.

Haxen – Haxen (Eternal Death records)

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Haxen have apparently been around since 2000, releasing a steady (if a bit sparse) stream of demo releases, yet it took some 16 years in order for their eponymous debut full-length to be finalised. Though hailing from the west coast of the Atlantic, the band seems to be wholeheartedly devoted to European scenes of yore, especially the Norwegian and the French (Les Legions Noires era) one, creating an album which revels in its rawness under the night skies.

Things are quite straightforward, as far as composition is concerned, yet not in a simpleton way. While many bands try to up the complexity of their musical structures, striving to establish their extremity that way, Haxen embrace rawness both sound- and composition-wise. Songs are rather short (most of them under the five minute marker), each permeated by a small number of tight-wrapped riffs, not much caring for progression, but rather holocaust-winding their way through the soundscapes of the release. Crispy guitars, a bass that is not as inaudible as one would expect, and a host of scratchy, harsh vocals make up the material building blocks of this release, while there is a hint (to say the least) of live recording in several tracks, distinct in the sound directness which mortars the whole. Yet melody is never far – listen to the mid-tempo decadent majesty of “Abismo” for instance.

If one is to name bands that seem to have influenced this creation, three groups stand out: Mutiilation (which can be held responsible for the romantic, archaic darkness evident in several tracks – for instance “Sleepwalking”), Carpathian Forest (to which is owed much on the aggressiveness and riff departments, as well as on the origins of thin layer of grooveness that appears sometimes) and Høstmørke-era Isengard (responsible for the slight thrashy edge, as well as the mosquito-buzz-like riffs – remember “Total Death”). One could deduce a triptych: dark and archaic grim melody, furious (sometimes bordering on death metal) riffing that strays on the chaotic, and a pinch of creative insectoid black thrash. In essence, this is distilled European blackness coming from the far side of the Atlantic. Nothing spectacularly original, but an album that is very well-written, and thrives like a parasite on the listener’s cravings for well-executed (mostly) 90s black metal.

Sun Worship – Pale Dawn (Golden Antenna Records)

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The lone and wandering riff is perhaps the quintessential black metal music-component figure. Dismal yet passionate, adventurous, trying to break the shackles of time and history, a candlelight gliding through perennial corridors. It is ideally without beginning and end, just fading in and out of our perception, yet eternally there. And if the riff is the microcosm of the genre itself, then one can perceive black metal as a being against time, striving to be out-of-time itself, to haunt and wander eternally, like a pure force of nature, free of human concepts. Germany’s Sun Worship, with their sophomore album, “Pale Dawn,” embody this aspect of black metal, creating a monolithic album that resembles a massive monument to eternity. One could say that it captures the image of a frigid, pale dawn, and then it fossilizes it upon a wall that is outside the cosmos.

Elder Giants,” the band’s debut, was an excellent take upon the Scandinavian sound, and how one could distill its iciness and barren glory. It was quite doubtful whether the band could surpass this masterpiece, and their participation in the 4-way split “Into The Vortex” with an ambient track, made me anxious of a musical direction change. Thankfully, from the first notes of “Pale Dawn” it becomes apparent that Sun Worship have retained their trademark sound.

The core materials are well known: Norwegian riffing, of the “Transilvanian Hunger” and “De Mysteriis..” school, filtered through a less dark, more icy prism. Each song is built around a riff (lone and wandering as aforementioned), long-winded, ecstatic as the figure of Zephyrous on the “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” cover. They keep unwinding, like from a never-ending ball of yarn, with laconic fluctuation, imprinting upon the listener the granite of timelessness; due to this backbone each track resembles an icebreaker. Beyond each of the basic riffs however one can discover a few melodic guitar mannerisms, some almost-thrashy moments, mid-tempo deep breaths. Vocals are desperate, coming from beyond, flickering like fog for a while, then returning to uncreation, or just beyond creation. But there is also beauty in here, harsh or otherwise (like in the amazing hymnal vocals of the last track (“Perihelion”) which evoke the ritual majesty and sombreness of the namesake track of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”). What ultimately dominates here is a single-minded passion, a mania one could say; but due to the inhuman quality of this artifact it is not so easy for one to get away with such terms, mostly associated with human feelings and states of mind. Better use descriptive imagescapes:

Giant plateaus of pure majestic inhumanity, now and forever reclaimed by the elements; stone figures standing unmoving; the moment of arctic dawn after months of darkness, forever frozen in time. That’s the spirit of “Pale Dawn.” I cannot yet say whether it surpasses its predecessor, but it is definitely close to achieving it. Still, this is not really something that matters. What matters is that this band from Germany has managed to capture the essence of northern black metal, much better than most of recent band hailing from the far North in question. A study in pale frost – and how it immobilizes time.

 

Isolert – No Hope, No Light…Only Death (Ogmios Underground)

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Besides the genre’s name, there are albums of the black metal variety, that are not prone to being transmitters of utter-darkness soundscapes. Even some of the 90s masters’ albums are testimonies of this; for in albums such as “Battles In The North” or “Frost” darkness is a distant second entity being evoked, majestic frigidness being by far more dominant. The cold, unforgiving yet filled with unparalleled majesty side of Nature is an essential part of the black metal multifaceted entity. That is where lie the banners of Greece’s Isolert, a band that firstly appeared roughly a year before, with the “Isolated Soul” demo. Reviewing that short release  I had concluded that “it is a somewhat rushed release, that nevertheless creates promises about the future.” Luckily, it seems that these promises are more or less fulfilled with the band’s debut album, “No Hope, No Light…Only Death,” released earlier in 2016.

What becomes apparent from almost the beginning is that Isolert have a thing for melody, mainly of the icy quality, not unlike that of the mid-/late-90s Swedish scene. But, as it was also the case in “Isolated Soul” the Scandinavian influence is filtered through a Greek prism; what comes to mind is Naer Mataron’s first period – a fine tutor, to say the least. Guitars make long-winded appearances, zealously emphasizing the atmospheric parts of most riffs – passion is a thing to be reckoned in here. A passion, traces of which can also be found in the definitely improved (in comparison to the demo) vocals, which traverse the spectrum demarcated by the growling core hues and the clean, almost epic clamours and narration. Yet, despite all the melody talk, the band also knows how to incorporate some thrashy and hyperblasting inferno in their music. Structure-wise things are not overly complex, yet this simplicity is quite effective from an atmospheric point of view. Speed varies, from mid-tempo clarity to blastbeat exaltation. The production is typical for this kind of sound, grim and clear – nothing spectacular.

Isolert kicks off its formal discography with a very good album, steeped in the genre’s tradition. It may have a few shortcomings – namely lack of innovation (if such things are of concern in black metal) and some variance in the composition quality department – yet it is a much too enjoyable (and even nostalgic) an album to be shadowed by them. The band sports a much more polished and well-structured facade in comparison to their last year demo, bringing into fruition the past promises.

Præternatura – Symmetry Of The Void

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There is, inside the black metal edifice, a certain niche, down there, at the basement or dungeon level, which borders on the space of two particular sub-genres: namely the catacombs of depressive black metal and the etheric thunderbolts of the kind of black/death that was showcased by Bölzer. It is this marginal space that hosts such acts as UK’s Swarþ and the band in question, Præternatura (solo project of Matron Thorn – see Ævangelist, Death Fetishist, etc). Moving beyond such base human feelings as discomfort and despair which are usually associated with depressive/suicidal black metal, yet remaining in the realm of shadows, not reaching up to the Olympian majesty of the Bölzer school, this particular sub-genre retains the ritual side of the dungeon space, as well as the sheer mass of black/death. At the intersection of these two schools lies a ghost wandering through endless corridors, which has long shed its last drops of human nature. A dark, cavernous specimen, with a suffocating density.

Consisting of four long-winded tracks, “Symmetry Of The Void” revels in its own complexity, sporting a multi-layered structure. The guitar work shines, both in technicality and in elegance, spewing forth torturous walls of dissonance (on which the claustrophobic, eerie atmosphere is based) along with threads of eerie, finespun guitar riffs that emerge from the rather more voluptuous aforementioned walls. In other words, the tortuous and thick body of orthodox-like black metal, layered with death metal frosting, is grafted with a slithering and technical riff mobility, precise and evocative as the chime of midnight bells, with subtle hints of melody too. In many points throughout the record, one feels like being circled by swarms of spirits and shrapnel (there are a few hints of almost mechanized – industrialized if you prefer – repetition). Lastly, I could not ignore the allure of a Necromantia- or Cultes Des Ghoules-esque, bass-dominant moment on the last, namesake track.

Tempo-wise, the album twists around both mid-tempo, almost doom-ish speed, and blastbeat moments that reach towards the depths of subterranean lakes. Vocals are guttural, death metal-like growls from the deep, quite thick in the articulation of (the sadly unavailable) lyrics. Graced with a precise yet not clinical production, the compositions shine – if one devotes time in order to penetrate the apparent complexity of them. Be warned, the four tracks are quite diverse throughout their length, and things shift with mercurial frequency. The album, like a grand ritual, demands attention, yet its rewards are ample. “Symmetry Of The Void” could be considered as an aesthetic aspect of the poetics of otherworldliness, massive and eerie at the same time. Præternatura seem to make an excellent discographic debut with this release.