Gigrøma - Человек создатель смерти (Addicted)

I trust that Gigrøma will forgive me using this review to mull over the seasonal muses, so long as I do them the justice of waxing poetic first and foremost about their wonderful full-length debut, Человек создатель смерти ("Man has created death"). Catchy black metal (BM) will always have a place in my heart, but this past year it felt like there was less experimentation in lively hooks and galloping compositions than there was in cute diversionary gambits—from Spider God's foray into turn-of-the-millennium pop "renditions"; to Old Nick's spindly synthetics; to the recent rerelease of Grim Christmas's holiday jingles (more on that momentarily). Simply put, black-metal hipsters seem more and more to be mistaking predictable applications of this 'raw' BM fad for innovation. Yes, a simple tune can be put through rock-polisher production and sound more metal, but that doesn't make it worthwhile, the way a few bands (e.g. Gudsforladt) did actually manage to hone distinct melodic commitments within that subgeneric context. Even more concerning, though, what happened to the non-'raw' meloblack? Where was this year's Tales of Othertime, Solar Paroxysm, or As the Flame Withers, even? Человек создатель смерти is music of that caliber, and like those 2021 successes, relies on genuine earworms more than it does any voguish bit.

Indeed, Gigrøma make an almost quaint move, digging as deep as they do into the treasure trove of droney and almost doomy BM popular from the turn of the last decade, in wins from Wolves in the Throne Room and other known ambassadors of so-called 'Cascadian Black Metal.' These Russians come from St. Petersburg, though, on the other side of the globe. What's more, their effort shines most in their understanding that all black metal—and not just the more 'atmospheric' flavors—takes something from that legendary lineage in EmperorImmortal, and most recently Havukruunu, whose best releases live and die by that simple second-wave formula: Give the people a frigid soundscape; give them spine-tingling guitar leads; and they will follow you into the starless night. Bops like "Вилы" ("Pitchfork") and "Смерть" ("Death") have hooks that are catchy enough to whistle—with the added bonus that drummer Vladimir Ogoltelov turns in the year's most memorable BM performance behind a kit. His cymbal work rivals that of Lev Weinstein on Crystalline Exhaustion, which is a bona-fide arrival onto the scene, if I ever heard one.

Now for my aforementioned musings, which arise out of my unabashed self-identification as a great appreciator—if not necessarily a connoisseur—of holiday music. I listen to everything: pre-modern sacred music; 'the 'classics,' from Nat "King" Cole to Mariah Carey; and even those cheesy original numbers that celebrity vocalists sneak almost shamefully onto seasonal records and holiday-movie soundtracks. (Some of them, sometimes, happen to be good!) Though totally inoffensive in its own right, and not worth the time I'll dedicate to it here, Grim Christmas's self-titled outing from 2018 had me gobsmacked at its rather sordid lack of originality, and the way that the project seemed to concede in its very own Bandcamp comments that all BM has to offer the silly, money-grubbing tradition of holiday music is to record Christmas carols "converted to minor keys." Black metal, notwithstanding its frequent anti-Christian rhetoric, is wintery music at its very core. Like every holiday jingle to one degree or another, it is tailor-made to ameliorate the toll taken by the solstice's short days and long nights, and to find a roaring fire (be it cozy or totally berzerk) in an unexpected place. Человек создатель смерти does exactly that, and has found a deserving place this year in my November-to-December rotation—right between Relient K's hilariously emo Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Heart and the Joël Cohen-led Boston Camerata's medieval Christmas masses. I can see how a band as serious and thoughtful as Gigrøma might take offense to my documenting this fact, but it's a sincere compliment, and I should also note that Wolves in the Throne Room did the very same thing, when ten or so years ago at university, I was bearing down for winter finals—anxious, cold, and thrilled to return to the hearth of home. In holiday fashion or otherwise, they've made a year-end push for a spot on my year-end list, which I certainly didn't see coming.