N.K.V.D. – Hakmarjja
Label: Avantgarde Music
Black metal bands have been incorporating industrial into their sound since the 1990s, starting with bands like Mysticum, DHG, and Samael. The two genres have a lot of common ground, actually; both genres are known for their abrasive and purposefully anti-commercial sound, dark lyrical content, and a strong visual aesthetic. The two genres seem almost tailor-made for each other, though it’s doubtful the pioneers in either genre ever anticipated the crossover; still, there have been some pretty interesting acts that have mixed the two sounds over the years.
One such band is France’s N.K.V.D., who have produced one of the most terrifying records this year, Hakmarjja. The sound on Hakmarjja is cold, mechanical, and abrasive, with layers of electronics washing over chaotic, heavily overdriven guitars, militant-sounding electronic drums, and droning vocals that alternate between chants and growls. The third track, “Wolfschanze,” is absolutely nightmarish, with reverb-drenched audio clips, heavy guitars, washes of electronic noise, and demonic vocals. N.K.V.D. are not a band that are for the faint of heart; the visual side of the band is extremely militaristic, which reflects their lyrical obsession with totalitarian governments, particularly the Soviet Union. Even the name N.K.V.D. is the name for the law-enforcement agency that predates the KGB in the Soviet Union during the Stalin-era; there are numerous sound clips that sound like Soviet-era songs, which adds to the tone of the record.
The production is pretty decent, though the electronics can be a little overbearing at times; on the title track, “Hakmarjja,” the washes of feedback really bury the guitars in bass in the mix, and just come across as a little too muddy. Sometimes the sound comes off as a bit too distorted due to the layers upon layers of sound, but more often than not, this works in N.K.V.D.’s favor, and makes for a pretty unsettling listening experience. The words “grim” and “cold” have been thrown around a lot over the years when describing black metal, but Hakmarjja is an album that can truly be described as both of those things. Listen at your own risk.
Obtruncation – Abode Of The Departed Souls
Label: Vic Records
It’s not often that I find a band that makes me go “where the hell have these guys been hiding, and why haven’t I heard of them,” but that’s exactly what happened when I pushed play on Abode Of The Departed Souls by Holland’s Obtruncation. Formed in 1989 as Malfeidor, the band changed their name to Obtruncation, released a couple of demos, a full length album entitled The Callous Concept, then pretty much just gigged locally for the next 15 years. I have to say, Abode Of The Departed Souls is quite a pleasant surprise, a so-called “diamond in the rough.”
Musically, Obtruncation are firmly rooted in the 90s death metal scene, occupying a similar sonic space to that of early Suffocation, Deicide, and early Nile. The songs on Abode Of The Departed Souls are fast, brutal, and will have fans of technical musicianship drooling; “Slitting 16” sounds like it could have been on Black Seeds Of Vengeance-era Nile, marrying technical lead guitar work with brutal death metal. “The Presence” is another excellent track, with some truly jaw-dropping musicianship, and guttural vocals that will appeal to Suffocation fans. There really aren’t any standout tracks, but that has more to do with the fact that the album, as a whole, is a satisfying listening experience; you won’t be pressing the skip button since there’s plenty of changes in tempo and direction jammed into each and every song.
The production on Abode Of The Departed Souls is on-par with most of the major-label releases, with each instrument given equal ground in the mix; the vocals, however, have a slight distortion, giving them a faintly mechanical sound. That’s just a minor annoyance, though, as the album over all is a death metal masterpiece. Obtruncation can hang with all the rest of the death metal heavyweights, and despite their relative obscurity, they’re now firmly on my radar.