Black metal has long been one of the most useful and evocative musical vehicles for conveying the deepest suffering; while it’s certainly true that not all artists work from that specific emotional basis, I don’t think it can be argued that the conventions of the genre are not uniquely complementary to the conveyance of dread, isolation, misery, depression, agony, etc. Now, however, a new trend emerges within this realm of darkness, one I’ve began calling “void worship”: an intense and punishing yet sweepingly atmospheric approach to instrumentals; howling unintelligible vocals that relay the fear, panic, and defeat of a human consciousness exposed to true endlessness; an overall sense of impenetrable density and unimaginable terror. Several incredible examples of this style—Decoherence’s LPs Epkyrosis and Unitarity, Vessel of Iniquity’s Void of Infinite Horror, Entropy Created Consciousness’s Impressions of the Morning Star, Hexal’s Epistemology, etc.—have been brought to the world by various labels across the globe, but I can’t point to a single imprint who has become more a defining outlet for it than the Germany-based Amor Fati Productions. Many of the label’s recent releases have come from the enigmatic and elusive Prava Kollektiv, whose membership and location is (to my knowledge) entirely unknown, a shrouding anonymity that only makes their prolific output more powerfully mysterious. Last Wednesday, Amor Fati dropped four full-length albums and one 12″ split release, each by one of the five Kollektiv bands. I couldn’t settle for reviewing just one, so I elected to write about all of them.
Arkhtinn / Starless Domain – Astrophobia
Arkhtinn and its members are said to be the founders of the Kollektiv, but their sound is anything but archetypal. The sprawling “Astrofobi,” their contribution to this split LP with U.S. project Starless Domain, is a pitch-black yet startlingly infectious descent into cosmic annihilation, building a propulsive rhythm with shuffling drum machine and a winding melodic synth loop that gives way to the cathartic blasting doom we all came for about three minutes in. The droning guitars are deliciously augmented by near-buried keyboard chords whose tentative harmonies introduce a fragile hope amidst the opaque gloom. Starless Domain’s “MUSE” is a (relatively) more traditional slab of ambience-tinged blackness, holding its own alongside the formidable A side with superb anguished wraith-shrieks and virtuosic drumming.
HWWAUOCH – Protest Against Sanity
I listen to a good amount of extreme metal, but few bands speak to me the way HWWAUOCH does. I couldn’t quote a single lyric, mind, but it’s not really about that. Their exquisite approach, almost painterly, allows vicious dissonance and textures to unfold organically like ink ballooning in a glass of water; the murky soup of mangled riffs and delirious screams articulates the true nature of pained nothingness in a way I never could with lowly words and sentences. Both their 2018 self-titled debut and last year’s Into the Labyrinth of Consciousness are among the most disturbing and hair-raising examples of this time-honored tradition, so Protest Against Sanity has big shoes to fill, but I believe it handily succeeds in doing so with dizzying angularity and what are probably the band’s most unhinged vocals yet, which vary from the squalls of a demon-infant and cries of an individual in unimaginable pain to the low growls of an ancient beast.
Mahr – Maelstrom
You’re not ready for this record. I’ve listened to it like five times now and I am still not ready. Maelstrom somehow surpasses the enrapturing doom-black depths of 2018’s Antelux, already a superb work in its own right, and reaches entirely new heights of horror and devastation. This is a tormented transmission from the not-so-Great Beyond: the swirling spiral of eternity into which all deceased souls are helplessly swept, a neverending onslaught of merciless spiritual torture. Depressing, yes, but there’s no other explanation for what could have created these impossibly nightmarish soundscapes other than profound existential despair. Despite its undeniable bleakness, there’s an inexplicable magnetism to Mahr’s cacophonous “musical” vortices, as if the earsplitting silence of the void is calling out to you, embracing you with its infinite invisible limbs and never letting go.
Pharmakeia – Ternary Curse
Pharmakeia is probably the most “traditional” band in the Kollektiv, but that descriptor clearly doesn’t say much. This new release is definitely the most aesthetically cryptic of the five, though, which IS saying something. Ternary Curse comes bellowing up from the depths of subterranean caverns bathed in a sinister green glow, all thundering double-bass onslaught and obliterating doom riffs and animalistic utterances. The unusual track titles could be the results of some mathematical-phonetic operation or simply representations of verbal incoherence—or both, or neither. The only certainty is the music itself, which howls into existence full of palpable hatred and evil.
Voidsphere – To Sense | To Perceive
Both in name and in explicit conceptual approach (“Voidsphere is worship of the void. It is that, and only that”), Voidsphere perhaps come closest to representing the true meaning of my aforementioned artificial subgenre. The production on To Sense | To Perceive is spectacularly muddy and overblown, swathing the lightning-speed blast beats and eviscerating tremolo tendrils in a cloak of fuzzy distortion. Any vocal elements that are present melt and bleed into this homogeneous mass, the end result being a single thick tornado of sound that is somehow simultaneously meditative and violent.