A tradition of revolt within the Low Countries at the dawn of the fourteenth century inevitably aims our goedendag upon the Guldensporenslag or, the “Battle of the Golden Spurs” wherein the French war machine began to spread their armies, and their amassing wealth, thin among northwestern European territories. After countless years of cultural condescension from their invaders the Flemish could no longer bear the cruelty under the thumb of snide French nobles, after two years of official military occupation a series of peasant militia uprisings would begin to reshape medieval warfare away from the “pay to win” tactics of fine armor and well-trained professional knights of conquer. In any case, consider one thousand of your oppressors riding on purebred horses gallivanting onto the battlefield with feather-tufted and gaudily hued enameled armor only to be gored by a phalanx of pants-shitting plebs brandishing club-spears. The Belgium of the 19th century would haughtily view this event as a romantic cause for nationalism, a point of pride that the French were crushed under the weight of their fall as the people would realize killing one thousand of their enemies meant nearly one hundred of those deaths were nobles, cutting vital tendinous foothold upon the land with each similar (but smaller) uprising. Unfortunate enough is that history’s greater lessons learned from the cyclical reality of the “peasant uprising” are lost because of this silly point of pride, the wealthy elite only grew more intelligent in response to a community in predictive disarray as the country began to revolt and rescind into greater poverty with each weakening cycle for the next hundred years. Pride in one small victory cannot shift the balance of power in an unjust society, organized and well-meaning men through out history too often became too complacent (or, distracted) when told they could go back home and rest knowing they’d done well for the greater good. Perhaps more readily sustained French presence across the land would’ve suggested the far more effective guillotine rather than the makeshift weighted halberd as the proper solution. Nonetheless the Flemish commonality continues to export this mind for revolt within anyone seeking identity via the spirit of the land’s extensive history, just one important component of driven and quick-to-rise black metal artist Hulder, a solo act capitalizing upon the good faith of the internet-based underground in realization of their debut full-length ‘Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry‘. It is a noble enough creation, a nostalgic handiwork with great reverence for the polished phantasm of the early second wave and this cultivated notion of “dark medieval” black metal.
Though a playlist or two’s worth of influential artists’ve been published by the artist for context I’d doubt anyone who’d taken black metal halfway serious in the mid-to-late 90’s would’ve missed the mindset implied. That isn’t to say Hulder‘s influences were starkly obviate during her formative and sometimes exploratory demos but that ‘Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry’ expertly invokes a ’93-’96 reality within the sub-genre’s past when the riffs were menacing rather than dramatic, the keyboards/synth were a cult nerdfest rather than a pop-metal symphony, and a folk-infused pagan heart was bore rather than exploited. I will prattle on about influences and similarities to a few greats along the way but it is probably more important to suggest the cadence or, tarantella of Hulder‘s movements doesn’t at all bear the anxietous ferality of the 90’s, instead much of this debut moves with the confidence of a keyboard-heavy folk metal record, minus the mock Quorthon spirituality, at a very even and deliberate melodic black metal pace. This combined with an aggressive but not too heavily Norwegian style of guitar riffing should bring to mind Ancient‘s ‘Svartalvheim’, Trelldom‘s ‘Til Evighet’ and maybe a lighter hit of Ragnarok‘s ‘Nattferd’. The artist cites everything from early Immortal to Drudkh and even some deeper (but perhaps most fitting) cuts like Mythos‘ ‘Pain Amplifier’ as influences and no doubt these work as general equivalencies for certain aspects of Hulder‘s sound yet the experience ‘Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry’ represents is equally rooted in movements beyond black metal’s most important decade. On that same note, finding an appropriately large enough blanket to cover the range of key influences here so that they’d all relate neatly in chronological order just isn’t realistic. So, as reductive and VH1-level asinine as it might appear to just say “Yep, 90’s black metal influenced” about yet another new artist arisen in these last few years… that’d be the nearest point of precision.
No summary of the demos, then? In this case there is no real justification for taking a closer look at Hulder‘s prior output. Despite some notable popularity among raw black metal vibe collectors and opportunistic Discogs resellers, the previous material is almost entirely inconsequential as primitive statements that were either scuffed to sound lo-fi or, comparatively bland highlights of the learning process. These do not appear to be vital relics after drinking deeply of this incredibly well-formed and cleanly produced debut album… and yes, that is meant as a high compliment despite the lack of context. The instant pulse-and-grind of opener “Upon Frigid Winds” had invalidated all of the contextual listening I’d done prior, expecting the choppy rhythms and dull synth of ‘Embraced by Darkness Mysts’ (2019) to stumble in the same halfway-there meter that’d made that EP so charming. Instead Hulder seems to have bucked any directive notions of mussed fidelity or feigned naivete, crashing in with some notable professionalism and quite sophisticated arrangement of layers where the keyboard and guitar work fold neatly in harmony when needed. The gloomy Tulus-esque grooves of “Creature of Demonic Majesty” glow nauseating colors as the hypnotic alien landing of a keyboard progression informs the main riff. It isn’t necessarily Gehenna levels of Tolkien nerd keyboard jaunt n’ roll, which I do enjoy, but I do think these first few pieces justify the simpler reap-and-tweet of aforementioned records by Ancient and Mythos. With each step deeper into this forest we are greeted with increasing revelations of Hulder‘s notable talent for melodic development. Yes, these are aggregated prime moments from decades of pointed taste in black metal’s most interesting melodic niches but credit is due for their quilting into dream-like celestial harass. My point will make itself as the Ulver-esque “De Dijle” prepares us for the main event: Side B.
The swinging, circular dance of “Purgations of Bodily Corruptions” speaks to the folk metallic spirit I’d not heard this distinctly on prior Hulder releases, instead sending me reeling with nostalgia for music most folks’d insisted they hated back in the late 90’s, equating this sort of jigging sinister melody with “circus music”. I only bother reminiscing to celebrate this creative exploration of long-buried melodic black metal artistry, and I’ve nothing but increasing praise for the album as we progress beyond the threshold of aggression towards these mystifying realms Hulder is substantially capable of weaving. The main riff and vocal hiss on “Lowland Famine” does initially read a certain shade of ‘Dark Medieval Times’-era Satyricon yet the main keyboard run that shapes it allows the mind to wander away from the fairly straightforward brutality of the piece. It isn’t the most impressive song on the record but it is well placed, else Side B would simply serve as a float toward Valinor. We have heard Hulder‘s clean-sung moments on past recordings yet “A Forlorn Peasant’s Hymn” is an especially grand revelation as she sets the broader melody of the piece before its battle ensues. To balance this moment her rasps are at their absolute most poisonous rasp for the initial verses, this is impossible to ignore as a major highlight of the full listen as we hear Hulder fully unveiling some truly grand and ambitious ideas as if an auld pro. At this point we’re in the territory of certain Kawir records or the debut from Nergal (Greece) where some of that 90’s Norwegian anxietous brutality meets stoic Greek heavy metal riffing and folk melodies which all accumulate to the grand peak of “From Whence an Ancient Evil Once Reigned”; What a trip it is to see the complete window of the artists taste realized in such an impressive scene. As I said, the album ramps and my gushing would become more profuse as the greater layering of sounds and melodic devices becomes more ambitious.
It is undoubtedly refreshing to be impressed when entering an experience with middling expectations or, none at all. Truth be told I’d not gotten what potential others had reckoned in this project, it’d seem like a bit of fashion applied to unimpressive forms in the not so distant past. I leave ‘Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry’ believing in its blasphemy, and with these eerie melodies tightly wringing some potent drops of wonder out of my tired brains. Perhaps the downside to seeing the full potential of this project as enormous from this point of leap into full-length territory is that I’m left deeply invested in what’d come next, and the hope is that this level of tasteful ancient forms is shattered and exceeded in the future. Sticking with the present and appreciating the viable repeatable melodic nature of this album, Hulder‘s debut unquestionably deserves a high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlorn Peasantry|
|LABEL(S):||Iron Bonehead Productions|
|RELEASE DATE:||January 22nd, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
Melodic Black Metal
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