Heáfodbán - Heáfodbán (Northern Doom)

After releasing my favorite EP so far this year, Northern Doom upped the ante with what could be the most conceptually engaging war metal since Antediluvian’s The Divine Punishment. Originally, Heáfodbán’s Pacific Northwest druids called themselves a “six-piece pagan black metal band,” but with an Old English name meaning “skull” (literally “headbone”), it should come as no surprise that they are tapping into more primordial aggression than black metal alone could afford, now as a new-look three piece. The debut demo warrants a listen, but this eponymous monster will have you cradling your own heáfodbán like Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard at the end of Apocalypse Now!—with the bleeding Brando's hushed utterance ("the horror... the horror") still echoing between his ears.

Like the reciprocal duality between enlightenment and so-called ‘savagery’ in that classic film, Heáfodbán’s degeneration into war metal’s mess of blast beats, distortion, and blood-curdling shrieks ends up actually elevating their musicianship and expanding their perspective. Between the tortured regurgitations on the opening drop and the Gatling-gun kick drum on “Scalp Altar,” the band manage to salute elite subgenre commanders like Black Curse’s Eli Wendler and Sxuperion’s Matt Schott, respectively. Those comparisons carry a lot of weight ’round these parts, but Heáfodbán’s war-metal cosplay is all the more menacing for how it complements the folksy, rough-and-tumble interludes that garnished the first demo. If anything, they’ve taken their piping and plucking up a notch, conjuring a dark, chaotic, and beautiful prehistory somewhat undersold by the Bandcamp page's professed fascination with the “old west.” Maybe they mean the American plains some five or six millennia ago, because more than Wayfarer’s hazy cowboy swagger, I hear the neolithic shamanism of Neptunian Maximalism, Kallomäki, or even Pays Du Mat—with banjos. That's a higher achievement in my opinion, but no matter what, there’s syncretic magic in Heáfodbán's torment, a gesture to something indecipherably old and primal.