Zmyrna - Zmyrna (Self-released)

Zmyrna's self-titled demo is definitely metal—and black metal (BM), in particular—but it has that organic timelessness and sense of drama that so many so-called 'medieval BM' bands cannot seem to capture with consistency. (See Crisper’s spot-on entrée about a recently lackluster release in this vein.) For the black-metal time machine shtick to feel like more than a shtick, the music has to show reverence for a coherent concept, anywhere between how a committed dungeon master might run through the family tree of a paladin, to how an enthusiastic professor might give voice to a dirty French fabliau. The first fifteen seconds of "Pagus Maledictus" tell you all you need to know that Zmyrna get it: A piping transverse flute reverberates the contours of a primordial tabernacle; a bellow summons whatever chthonic, funereal force animates the demo's vocal attack. As I hear it, the Czechs are telling a kind of savage joke, wherein the priest doesn't just walk into the bar: He thrusts the door open, already drunk, to carouse and mourn the loss of a dead lover—pouring another (and another) out for his illicit romance, lost forever. The result is heavy on existential 'why me?' intensity, if a bit light on songwriting chops. But even if it feels like you could count the number of chord progressions on one hand, there's still plenty of movement to fill the short, ten-minute run time. Just behold that hard-to-pull-off medley of clean and harsh vox, their waxing and waning dynamics, and the deceptive variety of textures proffered therein

Briefly, it's worth noting for a few reasons that not one, but four labels picked this up for physical release, and that all those releases have since sold out. One of the labels, Those Opposed, is on my 'do not buy' list for carrying brazen fascists, so take that how you will. Me? I'm sitting here hoping Zmyrna took the positive feedback to heart, and are carefully listening to spiritual analogs who brought some compositional sophistication to their old-world vibes—from Ulver to Ungfell; or even wackier, Asmegin to Heltekvad. If Zmyrna can learn to pack more action into their tunes, they should be flush with labels to choose from for a full-length, and won't have to deal with chuds.