Black metal, and indeed heavy music in general, is in an interesting state at present. We find bands either pushing the furious, blasting and jagged edges, lifting off into atmospheric but wafer-thin ambience or straddling a thin experimental line between the two. Sometimes though, you don’t need to be impressed by either. You just crave satiety. Just bludgeon me, please.

Personally, I came very late to black metal in my journey as a metalhead, and I entered through the supposedly hipster route, via post-black metal stuff. You know the bands, you either love them, hate them or are indifferent. Sure, the lovely flourishes and pomp were nice touches, but more of a tantalizing entrée than a meal. Oftentimes I found myself craving a bit of that hearty steak – that meaty blast, that fury.

I found myself listening to bands that were at the face-ripping core of the genre. In between these dichotomous ends, I completely overlooked the truly base and horrific midsection of black metal itself. The slow, tortuous insidious elements that give as much credence to Khanate and Sunn 0))) as they do Mayhem and the like. The one bands like Vhorthax comfortably occupy, devoid of pretense.

Vhorthax is comprised of band members Morkh (voices & psalms), Nicholas-N.A.-I.I. (drums) and M.P. (guitars & bass).

Stripping back all hint of that post-black grandiosity or traditionally relentless blasting, paring it down a notch in speed but not depth, these Russian death-black metal doomsters remind us that black metal was born from a simplistic and organic chasm, one of abject terror.

Sure, they’ve paid heed to the genre’s tropes with the almost by-the-numbers intro of Altars I, complete with the bells, faint chanting, shrill synths and snarls. However, as hinted in the title, opener The Levitating Tomb refuses to take the option of clawing you to shreds in the open. As the doom-laden riff interplays with some very low guttural growls, the drums thud in at a measured but steady pace. They’re not here to attack you in plain sight. They’re here to lure you down into the shadows. The tempo never quite reaches the boiling point, preferring instead to cook you alive slowly like the pretentious little lobster in a pot you are, as a heavy music fan in the 21st Century.

Stabat Mater sees us descending further down the abyssal spiral staircase. Slow chugs and rasps echo around, giving a very death-doom vibe. Whereas before our oppressor gave off a guttural bellow, it instead decides to be more confrontational, a throatier almost Enslaved-esque rasp aside faint chants and doomy riffage that deliberately don’t quite meld together. That consistent, predictable sense of darkness is gone, and now the madness sets in.

Before you can come to terms with your surroundings, Thy Foul Graal comes charging at you full pelt, winding you with a barrage of blast-laden thrash riffs, before stepping back a second to gather momentum again. The EP’s mid-ground between doom and blast is actually quite fun – blackened-thrash romp that harkens as much to punk and grindcore as traditional BM. The brief reposes on latter tracks lull you into a sense of being able to escape, before the blasts kick back in. Eschewing the usual reliance on tremolo, Vhorthax prefer instead to continue pummeling you with an endless palm-muted and chordal barrage.

Crushing the Vessels of Trinity rounds off the attack quite nicely. Whatever beast that lurked into the shadows earlier in the piece has now made itself present. It’s huge, it’s ugly and snarling. High pitched rasps, blastbeats and tremolos – there’s the traditional stuff! Oh, hang on, wait – it’s changing. As fast as the latter half is, the vocals keep at a subdued pace, roaring behind the thick and fast riffage, kind of like the pack leader calmly approaching as his minions fly at you. Short chugging turnarounds give that feel of stomping and headbanging fun-times, before winding off in a sea of snarls, chants and synth noise that bleeds into Altar II – Descent of the Martyr.

I just got done reading Chuck Bukowski yesterday and listened to this EP today. Neither felt like the most innovative things in the world but, ironically, their pared-back simplicity and humility gave them an edge, a sense of stark but honest bleakness. Both reminded me that the core of creative arts often reveals the biggest and most uncomfortable truths about existence.

One thing I was left wanting for by this EP is the shrill horror in the intro and outro tracks mixed in a bit more, too. I think the band could do well to employ those elements within future songs, as by themselves these tracks felt kind of tacked on. That said, this is an album and band willing to decimate you through sheer bleak terror, pulling no punches and wasting no time with idle chatter.

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