Kassad – London Orbital (Hypnotic Dirge Records, 10 January 2020)
Hello there, readers. Was it just my imagination or did the first month of this year just totally fly by? Anyway, here we are a few days into February and finally this is the first time I’m getting around to writing about a 2020 release. I don’t feel great that it’s taken so long, but here we are. And, notwithstanding any change in the status of the creek, with regard to it rising or not, this should be the first of many.
This is also the first 2020 release from one of our favorite Canadian labels, Hypnotic Dirge. Those familiar with the record company will recall that many of their releases originate in or around the same frozen northern tundra of their homeland, and often (fittingly) fall within the umbrella of frostbitten atmospheric blackness — but today we’ll be focusing on something that strays ever-so-slightly outside of those stereotypes…
The abode of Kassad, as name-checked in their sophomore album’s title, is the capital of England (rather than the somewhat smaller city located on the Thames River in the province of Ontario); and while the record does still operate within the black metal milieu, the band has described its style as “urban” black metal.
Now first, it might make sense to point out that this descriptor is entirely unrelated to other forms of “urban” music — in this context, the adjective is strictly used in its literal sense of “pertaining to a city.”
One of the more common identifiers of “atmospheric” black metal is a heavy use of reverberation, which tends to impart a sense of vastness and openness. But actual reverb is an artifact of sound waves bouncing off surfaces and reflecting back to the listener; so ironically, the more enclosed and claustrophobic a space is, the greater the amount of reberb (and hence, “atmosphere”) will be produced. So while the sound of London Orbital does have much in common with “atmospheric” and “post-” styles of metal, that same sound makes more logical sense within the setting of a dense concrete jungle, filled with monolithic structures and stark grey surfaces.
And likewise, while the churning frenzy we know as “black metal” may principally have been conceptualized in frigid Scandinavia, those early pioneers weren’t creating the music out in the snow-drifted landscapes that often adorn their artwork; but rather, crammed into the dusky basement of a Norwegian music shop, right? So really, the images that spring to most listeners’ minds really ought to be more aligned with Kassad‘s professed aesthetic, shouldn’t they?
Anyway. London Orbital consists of a quintet of tracks, which first portray a broad view of the sprawling metropolis itself: the black metal foundation of “The Boundary” and “The Concrete” represents the scope of the giant city, while threading a single piercing post-metal lead guitar throughout, seeming like a visitor or newly transplanted resident who can’t help but be overwhelmed by the vastness.
From there, the tracks follow what is surely a common tale: first “The Hope” and then “The Hopeless” as all individuality is lost and assimilation takes over. The constant flow of people and traffic — nameless and expressionless faces — come through in the underlying pulsating of the mechanical-sounding drums.
And when everything is lost, the logical conclusion is “The Hollow”: by now much of the firey black metal spirit has faded away, along with any remaining hint of anything organic, as the closing track builds upon mainly synthetic sounds — buzzing and droning, and utterly desolate and dead inside. Bringing us back to the original point: nevermind black and white face paint, and forget about posing for photos out in the wilderness; this vibe and this aesthetic truly (or should I say “trvly”?) encapsulate the heart and essence of what black metal represents.
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