A vaguely humanoid shape accretes from the shadowy darkness, brandishing a human skull in place of a face. An illegible logo like bleeding slashes, with suggestion of a pentagram and bookended by inverted crosses. There are no colours in sight. The record sleeve could have been created using a broken photocopier and a tattered horror paperback, and probably was. Give it a spin and the production is so raw it could give you salmonella.
Yes, Black Cilice’s Banished from Time (Ironbonehead 2017) is a black metal album. Grim? Yup. Kvlt? Oh yeah. But it’s not just any old grim kvlt black metal album – there are many gleaming jewels shining amidst the coal in this murky sinkhole, down which most of the underground seem to have excitedly ventured. There’s also the fact that, unusually, they’re from Portgual, which adds to the buzz. (Or at least I thought it was unusual, but Metal Archives lists 375 black metal bands from Portugal, so it’s perhaps merely unusual that they make it over here. Or I’m just out of touch.) Anyway, with 22 other releases under their bullet belts since 2009, Black Cilice are playing London for the first time and it’s going to be huge (in a highly niche, obscure, elitist kind of a way). We’re “strongly recommend” on behalf of the bands not to photograph the event in anyway – and it’s faintly miraculous that almost everyone obeys.
Dutch BM duo Folteraar had to cancel, which was a bummer, but Wode stepped in at short notice professionally delivering a short, tight set of “Mancunian Terrormetal”. The guitarist’s Dissection t-shirt clearly suggests the source for the tasteful melodic(ish) lead that underpins their sound, which is the main aspect of their set that sticks with me.
While Black Cilice certainly did not disappoint (we’ll get onto that in a minute) it’s Nornahetta that stole the evening for me, and possibly for others too if clapping is a reliable judge in these matters. I first got into them through The Psilocybin Tapes (2016) on the Icelandic cassette label Vanagadr, and, if you don’t know Vanagadr yet, then I give you full permission to leave Weird Metal Blog – whoah! – and check them out immediately. I first encountered this label at Roadburn 2016 where four of their biggest, and three of their least pronounceable, acts – Misþyrming, Grafir, Naðra and NYIÞ – performed Úlfsmessa, a kind of non-stop 2 ½ hour anonymous black metal relay, which was easily as good as it sounds. So the opportunity to see another act from their roster was pretty exciting. The Psilocybin Tapes lives up to the hallucinatory promise of its name. This compilation gathers Nornahetta’s EPs to date in a long and excellent string of unhinged, semi-improvised black metal, every bit as slippery and grotesque as the Lovecraftian tentacles which adorn its cover and slither into your ears on tracks such as ‘Succubus of a Thousand Young (Thus Spoke Babylon…)’.
Nornahetta manage to start their set subtly, taking me unawares whilst writing down some notes, despite frequent checks of the stage. There’s a sense of atmosphere initially, low moaning vocal drones and some shimmering cymbals, perhaps a warped chord. There’s a sense of everyone being drawn to the stage, like children disappearing into the Pied Piper’s rat cave, never to be seen again. When they kick in, it’s metal in various shades of black: variously tight and raw, expansive and post-, nasty and contemplative, dissonant and melodic – all delivered with conviction and taste. With guitarist and bass-player trading vocals (and instruments at one point), Nornahetta’s sound is dense, varied and utterly enthralling – I can’t recommend them any more highly.
House lights go down; three stars cast a sulphurous light on the crowd. Black candelabra just visible in the gloom, remaining unlit throughout the performance(— temporally jolting you from this introspective occult-bubble-space with a sharp reminder of the recent tragedy that inspired so much talk about health and safety regulations.) Three robed figures emerge, sweat already running rivulets through their corpse paint. A quick soundcheck threatens to descend into faffing around at points, and there’s any uneasy tension between the ritual and the ridiculous. You hear some chords – open-sounding and off-key. A robe-obscured hand taps a silent mic until it pops. Some dusty snare rolls. The parts come closer together but you’re unsure if they’ve started the first song yet. At some point all of this coalesces and you’re sucked into the swirling blackmetalhole, body tensed, head nodding at nowhere near a commensurate speed.
Somehow Black Cilice manage to sound just as raw live as they do on record. To ignore this altogether and go for a clear-ish balance would have been disappointing, because there’s a particular kind of Weird murkiness to Banished from Time that really makes the album, almost as much as what’s actually being played. So, helmets off to the sound guy tonight for achieving the perfect lo-fi murkiness – revoke my Kvlt privileges if you like, but I do want to actually hear some of the detail at points. Black Cilice sound quieter than the other bands tonight so you feel you’re straining at points, but that just compounds the overall effect. And, yes, it sounds frostbitten to buggery, with no bass in sight, and two guitarists unafraid to play dual dissonant tremolo parts, both high up the neck leaving an icy chasm where the low notes should be. The vocals sound like a gamer’s headset mic running through Windows PC speakers with some reverb bunged on as an afterthought – but he’s got that DSBM, wordless shriek thing going on anyway, so it’s perfect. While you’re mostly caught up in the darkness of the vortex, you recall clearly little fragments: some sickening clean chords, an almost trad heavy metal riff, an aggressive drum fill, and occasionally some rhythm guitar heaviness.
Looking back, it’s Nornahetta who seem to be writing the most original and deeply Weird material of the evening, but there’s nothing like Black Cilice to remind you of the fact that the uncompromising nature of black metal makes it easily the most inaccessible of metal’s sub-genres yet the one which yields the most satisfaction for those prepared to burrow beneath its darkness.