Split EPs have long been the ideal way to check out new underground bands in one convenient package, and this little gem is no exception. Arriving courtesy of Diptera records and featuring two acts – Ebonillumini and Worms of Sabnock – this ten track EP gives fans of atmospheric and daring black metal a chance to check out two of the UK’s most enigmatic acts and it is fair to say that listeners will not be disappointed by this eclectic and invigorating pairing.
Up first, and providing four tracks, are ebonillumini who appear out of a haze of furious metal and psychedelic soundscapes with the ‘Estuarine’ EP. The band features J.D. Tait (Meads of Asphodel, The higher Craft and Worms of Sabnock) on guitars and keyboards, Andre Thung (higher craft) on drums and the remarkable vocal talents of Christina Poupotsi (The higher craft) and Ebonillumini together craft a layered, exotic set of songs that capture the dark majesty of a bygone era coupled with hints of Madder Mortem’s progressive metal and black metal’s full-on ferocity. ‘Danger’, the opening track expresses this dichotomy perfectly with the intro a potent psychedelic brew that suddenly leaps from its drug-induced reverie to claw at you and spit in your face. It is an eye-opening attack that marks Ebonillumini out as ones to watch carefully. At nearly nine minutes it is no easy ride, but then it is not meant to be and what is most remarkable is the band’s ability to draw you into the very centre of their songs, ensnaring you with a gentle web before battering you unconscious with a riff of unspeakable evil (neatly backed up by a percussive barrage courtesy of Andre) and then soothing you back to sleep once more. ‘Water’ is a perfect example of this schizophrenic approach – the opening bars a lush, glorious soundscape that mixes up ethereal keyboard passages and vocal harmonies to beautiful effect. It’s a stunning track, notable for the warmth of the synth passages and the beauty of the unconventional vocals before the guitars bubble up and boil across the surface like an ancient volcano erupting beneath a peaceful village. The effect is like being trapped in a hurricane, the oncoming storm simply erupting out of nowhere and then subsiding just as quickly leaving only gently echoing guitars and synth in its place. It ends on an apocalyptic note – all chanting choral vocals and rampaging guitars and then you’re into the unnerving ‘land’ which opens amidst a maze of echoing vocals and cut up jazz – rather like being trapped inside a Twin Peaks rerun, one can imagine this hellish collage of noise playing on a loop in the red room. The final track is the more metallic ‘air’ although for all its red hot guitars, the overwhelming power resides with the mind-altering synth parts which add depth and complexity to the track and leave you wondering at the sanity of the participants. A suitably heavy experience when the track finally coalesces, the effect is not dissimilar to what you imagine would have been the result if Chrome Hoof had formed from remnants of Emperor rather than Cathedral.
That Ebonillumini are unique is unquestionable, that they are remarkable is also beyond argument. Whilst fans of straightforward metal may initially struggle with the eclecticism displayed here, fans of black metal’s more extreme experimentation will find this to be one of the most rewarding releases they tackle all year and there is so much here, both in terms of musicianship and song-writing nous, to admire that Ebonillumini have just gone to the top of the list for bands to watch in the near future.
Worms of Sabnock are not to be outdone and their EP, originally recorded between ’07-09’, is an amazing artistic achievement. Sure Ebonillumini are a gloriously unhinged mix, but the 40 second intro to ‘Grand Religious Finale’ takes no prisoners with its swirling miasma of disembodied voices before piling straight into the hyper-fast fury of ‘nature’s whore’ which combines the very rawest, blackest metal outside of a Burzum album with the melancholic strains of a violin. More straightforward than Ebonillumini, worms of Sabnock are still a thrilling, dynamic and engaging prospect with the folk aspects conjuring up visions of a pastoral, very British counterpart to Chthonic’s far-eastern influenced black metal. The vocals are part Darkthrone, part Dimmu Borgir (particularly as creepy effects are added to the vocal lines) whilst the neo-classical elements are truly fascinating whilst augmenting rather than moderating the core music’s ferocity. The title track is up next and it is a brief, furious rampage introduced by a thunderous drum roll and with insane keyboard lines shot across the top like Dream Theater on steroids and a pace that is utterly exhausting. The heaviest track here, it is an adrenalin-soaked charge through black metal’s undergrowth and it is quite bracing.
Another lengthy track, ‘our meadows burn in the blackness’ is a mid-tempo crawl over the blood and shattered bodies of a battlefield, filth and grime coating the guitars and a remarkable vocal performance at the songs blackened heart. It is, arguably, the highlight of the entire EP thanks to an atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife and a sense of decay pervading the very fabric of the song. Moreover the song’s numerous digressions over the course of its six minute run time make for fascinating listening and it is hard not to emerge via the other side thoroughly hooked. ‘Demonic of womankind’ has a tough act to follow, but does so by going on the attack with searing guitars and what sounds like the cod-operatic soundtrack of vintage Star Trek laid over the top. If it sounds insane, then you’d be right, but then that’s exactly what makes this split EP so special and worms of Sabnock such a fascinating act to delve into, which makes it all the more tragic that Quintus (the one remaining member of the band) has announced that they will be going on an indefinite hiatus. The final track is the short, scarifying ‘a fear of the lord’ which sounds as if it was recorded completely separately from the other tracks here, but which has a wonderful gravitas all its own that makes you yearn for more.
So there you have it, some forty-odd minutes, ten tracks, and not a single weak moment. Both bands give their very finest performances and the production is spot on for the genre. Unique, intriguing and with a multitude of influences shot through the traditional black metal sound, Ebonillumini and worms of Sabnock both prove to be remarkable acts indeed. This is an amazing record and one that is essential for fans of the black metal genre.