Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Tristwood - Blackcrowned Majesty (2020)

Country: Austria
Style: Industrial Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 May 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

Here's another submission, one for which I should apologise to Jegger from Tristwood about, because he sent this to me in May 2020, when this was new. I downloaded it but failed to get round to actually listening to it until now. Double shame on me because this is a fascinating feast of uncompromising underground extremity. It's absolutely not going to be for everyone but, if it speaks to you, it may be one of your favourite albums from last year.

Tristwood hail from Innsbruck, which is in Austria but has been historically part of Germany, Italy and France, making it a suitable location for a band who play an unholy mixture of black and death metal, industrial and grindcore. Whatever they are right now on this song, they'll be something else in five minutes on the next one. There's even a neat melodic part in one song but I'd better not mention that or it might get cut back out again, given the neat background to the album's musical direction that's detailed on its Bandcamp page.

Most of my favourite songs arrive late on, whether that's the proto-death of Acherontic Deathcult or the death-infused black metal onslaught of Bone Cathedral, but the title track may well be the key to what they do. It doesn't show up until three songs in, but before it pulls back the curtain and shows us the layers to Tristwood's sound, we're treated to the assault of a couple of others.

Re-Enthronement of the Damned is blisteringly fast, so much so that it's hard to actually listen to the guitars behind a wall of sound. What our ears catch instead are electronic noises that I imagined were aliens trying to communicate with me through the same equipment I'm using to listen to this album. It's black metal mixed with grindcore and it's uncompromising.

The vocals stood out too. I'm used to death growls, black shrieks and hardcore shouts, among others, but these are what I'll now think of as Tristwood barks. Luckily I'm not listening to this on my laptop, because those doglike vocals would send my cats to the high country. The ferret in my office is down, of course, as he'll say hi to anything, even if it'll eat him.

As we roll into He Who Traversed a Greater Oblivion, the wall of sound remains but with many bricks removed. I can hear the guitarwork now behind slower drums. Notably the vocals turn into grindcore gutturals, deep and desolate. It's different but still extreme, death rather than black, a new facet to a band about to kick A Blackcrowned Majesty off with techno beats and atmosphere, like we're in one of those European clubs we see in the movies that only cater to vampires about to be slain.

What this one does is echo both the earlier songs at once but in a mix that highlights the industrial aspects that we were merely glimpsing before. I can almost figure out what those aliens are trying to tell me, enough that I think they may be chatting with the barking dogs. It's well named, because it's a majestic song indeed, successful at combining at least four genres into one. Oh, and there's a flute, just in case we thought the surprises were over. They're not, though perhaps we're now expecting the unexpected and that's why we're not surprised by the further surprises.

Tristwood were formed as long ago as 2001 and they've put out four studio albums before this, plus a couple of EPs and singles. I haven't heard any of those, but the line-up seems to have remained pretty stable so this, as ruthlessly uncompromising as it is—their 2019 single, Crypt of Perennial Whispers, featured a single 22 minute song—is clearly working for them in the Tyrol, even if they're never going to be providing the new theme for Ski Sunday. Their Bandcamp page lists influences from black metal era Bathory and Hellhammer to Skinny Puppy and Killing Joke. They all make sense, even Oxiplegatz, a name I haven't seen in twenty years.

I like this. It's not something I'm going to virtually spin every week but it works well both as music on its own merits and as a reminder that the genre-hopping, avant-garde, uncompromising underground doesn't have to be unlistenable. Hyperspeed blastbeats, industrial drone riffs, electronic noises and a barrage of Tristwood barks remind me of that magic moment in 1987 when Sid put Napalm Death's Scum onto the Groové Records deck in Halifax and I realised I wasn't buying the Faster Pussycat debut that day after all. It's a good reminder that a lot of extreme music just isn't that extreme any more, but the edges still exist and they seem to be in Innsbruck.

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