Black metal seems to, borrowing an excellent phrase from Erving Goffman, have been “permanently Wittgensteined” into meaning anything with screeching vocals, tremolo melodies, and blast beats that sounds a little chilly. The indie-black-gaze of Deafheaven, whatever Liturgy is, the poppy trappings of Alcest-core, and a lot of other nonsense seem to land under the umbrella that some of the best releases of the 90s and arguably metal in general built. It’s a common complaint among reviewers that black metal has become stagnant, but I’d argue almost the opposite: it’s moved and changed in too many ill-advised directions, abandoning what made it great in the first place whilst still keeping the name attached. Think of it like musical veggie burgers. Italy’s Kaiserreich seem intent on replacing delicious red meat with something lesser on their third full-length Cuore Nero, and you’re going to need a whole lot of toppings to make this palatable.
Cuore Nero sounds like somewhat beefier post-black metal, relying entirely on those weepy nostalgic riffs the genre traffics in. Early Ulver is the best touchstone overall, but Kaiserreich‘s sound isn’t as atmospheric as Bergtatt or as fast as Nattens Madrigal, acting as a bland bridge between those records’ surface-level qualities. Some parts remind of a softer, blackened Neurosis, others of latter-day Watain‘s melodious side, and others yet of that Vargnatt album I’d like to forget. If you’ve heard a few post-black records, you’ll be quite familiar with what’s on offer here.
The strangest part about Cuore Nero is that while I disliked it no matter how many times I listened, the odd part would grab me and make me think, if only for a second, that I was missing something and should go back and listen again to catch it. “High Hopes” contained the most potent of these moments, ending on a high note with a rare bout of monotony-ending blast beats and a legitimately good Ulver-esque lead that stood out. The vocals in “Unico Sole” carry the forgettable riffs with agile and slightly atypical phrasing, which was slightly interesting to hear. It’s these two parts in particular that made me come back more than I probably should have, and each time I did they were dutifully there to greet me in their full, pretty decent glory.
The rest of Cuore Nero doesn’t fare so well. It sticks religiously to mid-paced tempos for the majority of an hour, and the first time I sat back and listened it took me three songs to notice that I was hearing a different track. There are occasional blast beats, but the riffs underneath don’t get aggressive and just plod along under faster drums. Everything just meanders along in bog-standard post-black fashion, and it’s boring to the point of being suffocating. It’s not offensively bad, but it’s actually worse because it’s uniformly forgettable.
The vocals never deviate from an irritating yelp that sounds like the WRVTH GVY trying his best to strain his chihuahua vocal chords and imitate Mariuzo Iacono from Kataklysm, failing horribly and subsequently being denied his Snausages. Look at it this way: remember why Watain‘s “Waters of Ain” worked? It bludgeoned with solid Celtic Frost inspired black metal, varied up the speeds, and climaxed in a hyper-melodic series of emotional leads, becoming more than the sum of its fourteen minutes of parts. It embraced a push and pull dynamic, while Kaiserreich knows only how to pull; specifically, to pull you down into a shallow lake of salty melodramatic tears. Like A Swarm of the Sun, there’s no light in the darkness. Unlike A Swarm of the Sun, this is a terribly unmoving darkness where any smidgen of gravitas is obliterated by monotony and uninteresting songs.
Kaiserreich have made a record that is played perfectly but goes nowhere and does nothing. It sounds good too; the production makes certain that everything is audible at all times, but this further drives home the point that nothing of interest is happening. Chances are some of you will hear the preview and think it’s not so bad, and in a sense you’d be right; it’s not terrible, but it’s just there, gone almost as soon as you ingest it as if it were Taco Bell for your ears. All told, the most damning thing about Cuore Nero came not in the music itself but in the silence that followed: I felt relieved to be freed from its listless impuissant grasp, and promptly forgot the entire thing.