Remember that quickening of the pulse you felt when you first heard black metal? That feeling that the world had suddenly shifted on its axis and would never be the same? There was catharsis and comfort to be found amongst all that misanthropic veracity. It was the voice of everything you saw on the grey washed-out faces that passed you by every day.
Black metal wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that the world was embraced by chaos. And while it was ugly, and frequently inhuman, black metal always told the truth. Whether it drew strength from the esoteric, the cosmic, or from nature’s potency, black metal celebrated the perverse ecstasy to be found in the realization that the world is dying. New Zealand black metal outfit Winter Deluge speaks to that very same consciousness—they know the world is in its death throes, and they know the problem has always been you and I. Humanity.
The Auckland band’s debut, As the Earth Fades into Obscurity, is abhorrent, merciless, and utterly inhospitable, just as the best black metal should be. Indebted to the second wave of black metal, the album is laden with blistering-fast riffs, masses of dissonance, malevolent vocals and breakneck percussion. All of which has been captured in its rawest state. Winter Deluge hews close to the burgeoning spirit of primordial black metal, evoking a marked sense of unrestrained, fervent ferocity. The band’s maxim—that their sound “represents nature’s revenge on the ignorant and disgraceful…” is delivered in a devastatingly resonant fashion.
Formed in 2005 by brothers Autumus (Nathan Baylis) and Arzryth (Aaron Baylis), the band has seen members drift in and out, most notably the recent exit of vocalist Hildolfr (Alex Mayo-Smith) who recorded the vocals on As the Earth Fades into Obscurity, and the return of original vocalist Nekasarof (Dean Ramanauskas). The band released their Vehement Visions of Nihilism EP back in 2006, and while it’s taken them some time to record their full-length it’s been well worth the wait. As the Earth Fades into Obscurity is unrelenting spiteful, and is one of the finest black metal albums this country has ever produced.
Opening with the appropriately titled “Winter’s March”, the band starts off in blazing lo-fi fashion. Drummer Autumus sets a scorching blast-beaten pace with guitarist’s Arzyth and Exastheras delivering ringing tremolo riffs galore. It’s a trenchant kick to the guts, and with Hildolfr’s vocals layering the whole thing in a raspy smear of balefulness it’s a perfectly malicious beginning. Throughout the album the band hammer home the hostility and venom in a similarly unhinged fashion, giving the album plenty of velocity and a fantastically noxious tenor.
Winter Deluge could have easily satisfied black metal fans if they filled the album with songs reminiscent of the opening track. But they’re smarter than that, and you only need to wait until track two, “Last Hour of the Raven”, to see the band’s best attributes make their first appearance—and to discover what makes As the Earth Fades into Obscurity such a great album. The track begins with a glacial strum, offering the briefest glimpse of delicacy before the filthy riffs smother it. It’s a foretaste of the band’s great use of shifting dynamics. A key element in the album’s success, and something you can’t help be impressed by as the band deftly changes pace throughout the album without any drop in the icy temperature.
Many of the songs on the album pass the five-minute mark—with two heading past seven minutes. That’s not epic by today’s black metal standards, but as Winter Deluge wallow in a lo-fi scrappy quagmire the decision to stretch songs out means they need to have the songwriting skills to back that up. There’s no doubt they do. “Hail to the Wyrm of Time” and “Scathe Wrought by the Will of Nature” are both remorselessly savage, but pared-back sections, where the vocals are bought to the fore and the riffs become more spacious, enrich the album’s windswept desolation.
It seems almost impertinent to talk about the Winter Deluge’s virtuosity, as if it’s somehow an anathema to their instinctive visceral state. But for all the album’s ferocity, it’s been expertly paced and arranged. “Triumph of the Fallen Folk” benefits enormously from well-placed droning guitars counterpointed by a charging wall of speedy noise. “A Sphere to Cleanse the Earth” is just flat-out incredible, storming forth for the bulk of its length before dropping into an amazing scorched acoustic/vocal passage. And “The Fragments of Mankind” offers up a mournful piano lament, before “Celestial Renewal” arrives to end the album on a suitably powerful and whirlwind note.
Winter Deluge aren’t afraid to let things descend into a maelstrom of noise on occasion, which makes for plenty of intense vortex-like passages on the album. And all that disarray and atonal havoc is made even more palpable by the album’s wonderfully caustic and bone-chillingly vehement production. As the Earth Fades into Obscurity is a triumph for Winter Deluge, and for New Zealand black metal. The band have a vividly expressive ability to churn out captivating and grotesque truths, and like those seminal second wave bands of yore—Mayhem, Immortal and Darkthrone—they have all the belligerence and downright filthiness to capture the true spirit of entropy and degeneration.