2017 – Top demos & EPs

The order is alphabetic.

Blooming Carrions – Sparkling Rotten Dreams (Demo)

Finnish death metal from beyond the grave, thick and sepulchral, with almost subsonic growling vocals and a hazy atmosphere. The subterranean guitar sound is an absolute win. Grotesque, pulsating music for Lovecraftian rituals, with a very matching cover art.

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Chevalier – A Call to Arms (EP)

Epic speed metal holocaust steeped in the ‘80s. The guitars are just unable to stop their quicksilvery cascades, the choruses are akin to frenetic marches, and some Mercyful Fate occult vibes cross wands with pure Maiden galloping. One of the best classic metal releases of the year.

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Cult Of Fire – Untitled (EP)

Apparently these Czechs are not in a hurry of releasing another full-length – they seem to have found their momentum in short EP releases. “Untitled” is their third one in 4 years and it continues an amazing streak of quality. Tightly packed black metal with beautiful leads and atmosphere that would not seem amiss in a mid ‘90s Norwegian album. Ten minutes of pure black satisfaction. Download for free from the band’s site here.

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Daeva – Pulsing Dark Absorptions (EP)

For all those craving Aura Noir-ish black/thrash with a hint of debut-era Impaled Nazarene. The exceptional frontman follows up the Masters’ commands (even down to emphatic rasping and incessant repeating of syllables), the drumming is pure tight chaos, and the guitars snake through with coiled poison. The envy of losers they piss on.

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Expulsion – Nightmare Future (EP)

All-star project done right. This gathering of death metal/grind exemplars manage to showcase in seven tracks spanning something less than 14 minutes how Repulsion-style extreme metal is done right. Special attention to the leads and the maniacal song structures.

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False – Hunger (EP)

2015’s “Untitled” debut was a stellar release of dark and cryptic US black metal. Two years later False return with a short (8 minutes long) EP of stormy BM on the same wavelength. Early Dimmu Borgir with a higher density comes into mind, as well as a more serpentine version of debut-era Borknagar.

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Gnipahålan – I Blodets Kamp (EP)

Ancient Records could not be absent from this list. Gnipahålan’s EP is (unsurprisingly) a homage to the snow-covered mystical forests of the ‘90s. 12 minutes of nostalgic, atmospheric black metal excellently executed. In here lies and burns bright the core of what drew me to black metal many years ago – nature worship, mythology and the not-human.

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Katakomb – Chained To A Wolf (Demo)

That was probably the biggest surprise of this list. Weird, drape-covered black metal from Sweden, with an almost collage articulation logic, combining noise and atmospheric passages, as well as traditional riffs and folk moments. The highly intriguing growling vocals are oscillating beneath the surface, while the guitars build up ritual madness. The cover art (a painting by the Belgian symbolist Auguste Levêque) is amazing and fits nicely with the tape concept of the lay-out. My personal list favourite.

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Skaphe – Untitled (EP)

The follow up to the excellent “Skáphe²” is a 22-minute EP which keeps treading on the desolate path opened by its predecessor. More cavernous wanderings from the American-come-Iceland group, which seems to be one of the few dissonant artists worth following nowadays. The cover-art is just the crown on top of this very delicious release.

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Ungesehen – Unaussprechliches Entsetzen (Demo)

Instrumental records is not something usually associated with black metal. Yet these Germans’ first demo is a 45-minute vocal-less exploration of atmosphere. A rather courageous decision, which ends up emphasizing the natural aspect of the hauntingly beautiful soundscapes. Silent wanderings in cold inexpressible horror.

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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.