Black Flame Gnosis
Smack dab in the middle of opener "A Glorious Elegy," Philadelphia black metal mystics Ashencult drop a grade-A, certified, gen-yoo-wine, bonafide Tom G. Warrior "ugh." More than a nod back to a stylistic progenitor, Ashencult turn it into a pivotal moment for the song. That guttural ejaculation serves as the song's clutch, gearing down from the frosty hell wind wrath of "A Glorious Elegy's" first half and its miserable, downtrodden ending.
Once you thaw out your soul and stitch up the opened veins, Ashencult drag you through another eight tracks of croaking misanthropy with the thermometer firmly set at the heart of winter. Black metal is my go-to punching bag for everything that's goofy and pretentious about metal, but Black Flame Gnosis managed to keep me entertained. Its spooky reverbed vocals, tremolo picking and occasional blasting took me back a decade to when I would put on the occasional Rotting Christ record to shake things up. Like a lot of black metal, the vocals are mixed too high for my taste, but when they cut out you can really appreciate the guitar's gnarled whorls, swept and curled by stinging nor'easter sleet. The quartet, known only by their initials, are able to nod back to everything traditional black metal fans will want in their shrieking hate fests without coming off as purely derivative. The shift between blastbeats and an MC5-style drum swagger brings a rocking element you wouldn't normally expect from a band that clearly worships at the altar of trve Scandinavian black metal.
Ashencult, like fellow Phillians Infernal Strongheld, kept this grindhead occupied for 41 full minutes for repeated listens. Consider that an endorsement.
[Full disclosure: the band sent me a download.]