When executed properly, art can disturb us, creating some of the strongest emotional reactions possible. Køldbrynger achieves this effortlessly.
Genre: Raw Black Metal
Label: Journey to the End
Album Release Date: 1 January 2024
There is something to be said about our under appreciation of the feeling of being disturbed. Humans knowingly avoid this feeling to the point that even the English language appears to be unsure how to speak about it. You can call something disturbing, but the feeling of experiencing that something is not usually what we mean by getting disturbed, which can also mean the very mundane feeling of losing your focus on something due to an external “disturbance”. What I want to focus on here is that feeling that borders fear. It has something to do with the uncanny and humanity’s inability to look away from horror even when physically repulsed by it.
When executed properly, which is not an easy task, art can evoke this feeling in us, creating some of the strongest emotional reactions possible. There’s only so much joy or sadness one can feel before it becomes numbing, and our attention moves on to a new feeling. Disturbance only seems to deepen the longer you are exposed to it. Saturn Devouring His Son by Goya, The Lighthouse by Robert Eggers, and obviously plenty of metal, achieve this. Carcass, Mayhem, and Wagner Ödegård are some of the best examples to me.
Køldbrynger achieves this effortlessly.
This German project is headed by guitarist, vocalist, and bassist Køldbrynger, with producer Kalthavn providing drumming on all and vocals on a couple of tracks of this album. After being founded in 2021, Køldbrynger has released a selection of demos and an EP over the last two years. Totenblut is his first solo album.
The sound and style follow raw black metal tropes – Køldbrynger himself describes the music as “Hessian maniacal black metal”. The soundscape here is violent, barren, and visceral. Two to three riffs per song is enough when the riffs are actually good. It doesn’t need to be said, but you can make a black metal album without tons of guitar effects and background synthesizers. I don’t necessarily dislike those when they are utilized well to add to the substance of the compositions, but if they are only there to distract the listener from the lack of substance, you could do better without them.
The vocals are unhinged in just the right way. Singing might actually be the biggest strength of multi-instrumentalist Køldbrynger. One of the biggest highlights of the album is on III. Kugelsturm, where the song alternates between vocal lines from Køldbrynger and who, I assume, is Kalthavn. The low, beastial feature vocals create a great contrast.
The lyrics don’t aim for unnecessary poeticism. Instead, they are direct and blunt like an attacking weapon. Whether it’s in front of war, homicide, or your hand, the lyrics describe the worthlessness and expendability of human life. There’s no god to save the victims of this violence. Køldbrynger describes the ties to other humans not as a valuable thing that makes life worthy, but rather a binding prison that makes death unworthy:
“Nur die Nähe von Menschen hält mich noch in dieser furchtbaren Welt”
The final lyrics of the album, however, do say that a light has redeemed the main character upon death, so I have to wonder if there is something more nuanced beyond the nihilism.
Throughout the album, there are audio clips that sound like they are from a horror film, a common trope for metal albums ever since Sabbath. As usual, these add a lot to the disturbing atmosphere I talked about earlier and even the cohesiveness of the album. On my first listen after finishing the sixth song, I thought the album might end, as the piano outro felt like it mirrored the ending of the first song, only for track seven to kick in with the screams of a woman, sounds of stabbing and the cracking of a skull. The latter is accompanied by the beginning of the main guitar riff, which adds to the feeling that the guitars indeed are like weapons, crushing bone and flesh on their way. This all works like a musical assault on the listener, which is exactly how I want to feel when listening to this type of music.
After this Blutzorn (Blood rage) of a song, the outro, listed as a bonus track, opens with a clean guitar melody and more horror audio. The screams in the background are muted while the guitar melody feels unbothered and monotone, not particularly creepy by itself, on top of them, almost like it’s acknowledging that human life continues even in the presence of pain and horror. Similarly, in the first moments of the album, we hear a man whistling care freely while digging… something (we all know it’s a grave). Life has no value here. We are able to keep living and close our eyes and ears from the ones who are dying. Perhaps that’s the most disturbing idea brought up by about this album.
Overall, Køldbrynger doesn’t reinvent raw black metal, but executes it well to make for an experience, that is violent, and a hundred-percent black metal.
BMZ rating: 8 / 10
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