H.P. Lovecraft once said, “Pleasure to me is wonder–the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” Well, Mr. Lovecraft lifetimes gone and unknown, welcome to the wondrous, hostile between-space universe of cosmic-themed black metal, for many of our top-listers hail from known places but partake in rituals — musical and frightful — purposefully obscured by the aftermath of manifold death. Their constellations are multifarious and maximal, but the tritium-laced thread that connects each of them is the Great Beyond, where darkness beckons and consumes all.
Decibel compiled five of the most compelling, earthshiners to expose this oft-underlooked under-genre to our enthralled faithful. We scoured the gibbous moon of Oberon, the vastness outside Ultima Thule, and the doorsteps of Messier 31 for celestial contenders. While many fought battles uneven and changeless, we picked out England-based Kaon, Brazil’s Lumnos, Aussies Mesarthim, Argentina-originated Offenbarung, and Switzerland’s cosmic black metal kingpins Darkspace to comprise our fearfully faraway collection. Across five albums — one from each, naturally — we travel superluminously to the Outer Vaults. There, we witness a concert of occultation, timeless in its passing but meaningful in its occurrence. This when the nightmarish wink perniciously out of the never-ending black to once more wage discord among the galaxies.
The endless maw of the cosmos widens…
5. Kaon – Thrones of Rust
Kaon are (or is) currently on hold somewhere in the galaxy NGC 1052-DF2. Formed out of two white dwarfs smashed by the extramundane influence of proprietor The Watcher (aka Frank Allain; yes, he of Fen and Fellwarden fame), Kaon’s nasty nebullar gait is superluminal and barely gelid. This pairing of extremities can be heard on Kaon’s sole effort, Thrones of Rust. Whereas most cosmic black metal employ tufted keyboards and other cosmic devices to “sound” smooth, Kaon’s geometry isn’t so heedful. Super-angular riffs destroy the conventions of Deathspell Omegaisms with regular ease, resulting in problematical songs that are extra-elliptical the longer they endure. Clearly, if Kaon had a terrestrial ground it’d be the weirder, serrated works of inner/outer-nauts Voivod. But that’s just a plot on a very wide and deeper plane. Experience the cosmic horror of Thrones of Rust or float away into eternity where there’s an infinitesimal chance you’ll be brutally obliterated by a mega-comet on its way to lay waste to an unfortunate planet. Key moment: 27:00 and onward.
4. Lumnos – Ancient Shadows of Saturn
Flowing Downward (2018)
Brazilian/Russian explorers of interstices more distant than ever conceivable — greater than 6 billion AU, perhaps — have been on a solar storm since their (star-sailors Putrefactus and B.M., respectively) split with coma-nauts Auztaroth in 2015. Now, Lumnos have jettisoned from their interstellar vehicle seven full-lengths, two in 2015, two in 2016, and three in 2018, the most recent of which is the aptly titled The Heliosphere Singularity. But our focus is Ancient Shadows of Saturn (2018), where Lumnos shed an almost Lycia-like light on the darkest recesses of our black metal galaxy. Disks of gas churn endlessly and dark matter engulfs them with equal eternal fervor on songs like “I am Born from a Star,” “No Soul Is Near,” and the title track. This is death (or life reborn) in measures of planetary lifetimes. Indeed, says Putrefactus: “Ancient Shadows of Saturn tells a story about an ancient life who lived in Saturn and they took the energy to live in darkness (it’s the opposite of what plants do). It needs to have darkness in order to show light and that is the main message of this album duality. Life is an spotlight in the vast sea of darkness.” There are times on Ancient Shadows of Saturn when it feels not black metal at all but some electronic shoegaze-Vangelis hybrid — think Atoma, really — out to score the inevitable, stately transit of heavenly bodies across the universe.
3. Mesarthim – The Degenerate Era
Aussie mysteriosos Mesarthim hit the outer rim of our galaxy long ago—some posit on 2016’s .- -… … . -. -.-. . (Morse code for Absence). The Delphic duo have since entered Andromeda with new album, The Degenerate Era, where Mr. Dot and Mr. Dot swirl keyboards, violent shrieks for vocals, electronic beats/bass drops, crazy guitar solos, and spacey rhythms into the most compelling, flocculent spiral arms this side of Arcturus. The airy production, distant everything, and cosmic cover art combine to form a journey that’s both misanthropic (in space no one hears your scream-type of stuff) yet somehow fitting to the underbelly of the Higher Octave Music label. The opening track, “Laniakea,” is trifurcated into ventures deadly and menacing yet oddly soothing and conciliating in their shooting stargaze. But it’s the ponderous, coruscating title track, “The Degenerate Era,” that seals Mesarthim’s fate as the most captivating of cosmic black metal “newcomers.” If The Degenerate Era, or the four albums before it, doesn’t slake thirsts for dust rings, trace gases, and intrastellar gravitational forces, then Mesarthim have a new EP, Planet Nine, that’s been recently ejected from Groombridge 34.
2. Offenbarung – Manifestus
Argentinean cosmic warrior hRazsvhh (aka Marc Huszar) spent a large portion of his Buenos Aires-based childhood staring into the night sky. Or, at least that’s what we figure when we play Offenbarung’s Manifestus at 3 a.m. Divided into two movements — one 29:44, the other 21:56 — Offenbarung’s debut album casts empyrean webs of the most starstruck black metal to call the dark side of Ganymede “home.” While most of hRazsvhh’s musical forays hint at orbital resonance, there are times when Offenbarung’s celestial mechanics lineup perfectly, creating a heavenly mood that’s unique amongst the Top 5. This is particularly true near the middle of “Manifestus (Movements I & II : Portals Toward Obsidian Dreams – Astral Meditation in the Subterranean Mountain),” where hRazsvhh’s extraterrestrial riffs, march-like rhythms, and Keplerisms shape into elongated ambient space expertly. The second of Manifestus‘ songs, “Manifestus (Movements III & IV : Oniric Deambulations Through the Path of the Dead – Rebirth Through Immersion in the Eternal Fanged Cascade),” is equally compelling in its varied vectors and dying stars laugh. The libration of “Oniric Deambulations Through the Path of the Dead” is actually wondrous. Offenbarung may’ve emerged from coordinates afar in 2017, but Manifestus shows that even in the most southern of hemispheres, space is the place.
1. Darkspace – Dark Space III
Avantgarde Music (2008)
Swiss luminous thieves Darkspace, featuring Wintherr from boreal masters Paysage d’Hiver and Zorgh from the evanescent Apokryphon, have — unlike the rest of our list — had a highly regarded black metal yore. Their four full-lengths, of which 2014’s Dark Space III I is the most recent, tell pinwheels of terror and beta decay. Indeed, Darkspace’s cosmic flurry is influential and its Uncertainty Principle landed Dark Space I at 77 on our Top 100 Black Metal Albums of All Time (HERE), but that’s not why we’re here. Dark Space III is a void-gazing effort, adorned in Copernican malice and hostile entropy, yet somehow alluring in its quantum resonance. Darkspace layer on top ionized chords wrought from long-dead Pulsars and scatter beneath an endless barrage of behind-space cyclopean horrors that have no match under our firmament. This is extra-worldly black metal exposed by time-dilated, electromagnetic individuals bent on the kingly journey to captivate and then rend to particles beyond feasible apertures. What God hath created, so too are Darkspace vanquishing with similar spiteful intent.