Over the years, “black metal” has become an ever widening genre label, and these days much of what is given this tag is barely recognisable from the genre’s roots, not only in terms of music but also attitude. On this split Poland’s Black Altar and Norway’s Kirkebrann set the record straight with seven tracks of gnarly, aggressive irrefutable black metal of the highest order.

Black Altar provide the opening three tracks, adding to their extensive back catalogue, which stretches back to their first demo in 1998. The sound of an explosion leads into an increasingly agitated, demonic voice over the sound of distant drums, until the track finally bursts into life with intense, abrasive black metal riffing and abrasive howling vocals creating a raging cacophony of sound.

The band’s pedigree is immediately evident as they unleash a savage aural onslaught until the pace drops and the vocals change to a more chanting style, with a choir lower in the mix adding depth and texture. The track soon picks up pace once again building to a maelstrom of unholy exhortation. This is a vicious, aggressive wall of glorious noise, punctuated by guitar solos and subtle changes to pace keeping it from being impenetrable.

Resplendent guitar melodies herald the arrival of ‘Ancient Warlust’ (which autocorrect keeps changing to ‘Ancient Walrus’!) leading into the more familiar pummelling and confrontational growled harsh vocals which continue unrepentant. Once the track has gathered momentum it becomes all consuming, until it ends suddenly with fading reverberations.

‘Outro’, the final Black Altar track, is a short piece of industrial white noise which juxtaposes nicely with the battery that has gone before, and although it is claustrophobic it gives breathing space before Kirkebrann take over.

The Norwegians open with ‘Begrensa Bevissthet’ and immediately the contrast with Black Altar is apparent. Here there is a cleaner, more robust sound with the tracks built around galloping rhythms and hard-hitting rasping vocals which all come together to create a menacing, almost unsettling atmosphere

Without any delay, the drums intro to ‘Faux Pas’ follows before morphing into a black n roll style groove with ritualistic rhythms. Harsh vocals join the fray, tipping the overall effect back towards more traditional black metal. Melodic guitar solos further add to the depth of the track creating a more sinister air.

‘Et Nederlag’ opens with the sound of a creaking door which is then subsumed by battering riffs and howling vocals. Guitar melodies are cleverly interwoven with the menacing vocal savagery and the overall atmosphere becomes maniacal while also feeling a little forlorn. The track fades out to the sound of drums which morph into the familiar rhythm of a beating heart before the acoustic guitar outro of ‘Ufødte Klarhet’ builds, bringing a feeling of airiness and relief from the intensity of what has gone before.

Overall this split works really well with two bands at the top of their game, showcasing differing styles of intense black metal. These bands might not be household names within the metal community, but if you have even a passing interest in black metal, I urge you to pick up this album and rectify that omission!

(9/10 Andy Pountney)