I’m beginning to see a trend as 2019 draws to a close: I like me some weird-ass black metal. And, boy howdy, has 2019 has been a weird-ass year for it. Prolifically, having released a new album from each of its equally weird-ass projects by means of several record labels, the Prava Kollektiv1 has released quality atmospheric black metal en masse: the frostbitten cosmic stylings of stalwart Arkhtinn, the dark ambient maws of the appropriately named Voidsphere, the eerie and empty musings of Mahr, and the hellish and malevolent tones of newcomer Pharmakeia. But the subject of today’s tragically overlooked album is the latest thing your cat typed walking across the keyboard: Hwwauoch.
Hwwauoch differs from the rest of the collective in that, yes, while technically it is atmospheric black metal, it doesn’t utilize moody synths as the stereotype suggests. Rather, sophomore effort Into the Labyrinth of Consciousness relies on extreme dissonance, complex riffs, and thick production that would make death metallers like Artificial Brain and Antediluvian jealous, channeling the scorched soundscapes of Icelandic black greats like Misþyrming and Sinmara. All this while abusing various demented vocal techniques of Blut Aus Nord and Hate Forest. Refreshingly, these enigmas merely use ambiance and drone as flourishes. Ultimately, feeling much like a purely blackened version of Portal‘s ION, Hwwauoch feeds off the obscurity and creates some of the most twisted aural worlds in recent memory, quietly distinguishing itself as one of the most perplexing releases of 2019.
Building off a template of ominous, dissonant plucking that grimly cuts through the gloom of warped tar-thick riffs and demented shrieks and roars galore, Hwwauoch maps uncharted territory into the dark corridors of the subconscious. Whether it be the dissonant Gorguts worship of opener “The Perversion of Time and Space,” the grimy bass spotlights beneath morose doom plods of the title track and “Spiritual Agony,” or the dense suffocating riffs of “Cursed Trinity,” Into the Labyrinth of Consciousness never lets off the gas of perpetual menace. 11-minute epic closer “Not Anything” is an excellent example of restraint, as it features the album’s first uses of ambient prominence. While its sudden appearance could seem jarring, the transition from prior track adequately prepares. The track’s first uses of “traditional” atmoblack tricks paired with the band’s devastatingly enigmatic style close the album perfectly with a sense of style and grandeur.
Hwwauoch‘s style is as difficult to comprehend as its name suggests. While I certainly understand this kind of suffocating black metal leaves very little room to breathe, I felt whisked away to forgotten caverns of strange shapes and inhuman forms. While Into the Labyrinth of Consciousness is a fantastic addition to the Prava Kollektiv’s canon, it separates itself from its peers thanks to its distinctively impenetrable style: spiraling and dissonant instrumentation, crazed vocals, and evasive atmosphere. It looks relatively unassuming for its 37-minute runtime, digestible 5- to 11-minute tracks, and abstract artwork, but within is one of the most challenging and profound black metal listens of the year.
Tracks to Check Out: “Spiritual Agony,” “Cursed Trinity,” “Not Anything”