Muknal/The Haunting Presence- Split
The Black Twilight Circle are no doubt divisive, and I am not really going to get into all that with this review. Yes, the whole thing is on the pretentious side, but then again it's impossible to ignore the sheer quality of the bands and releases from this shadowy collective of musicians. The Black Twilight Circle, along with related record labels Rhinocervs and Crepusculo Negro, has become the center of the American Black Metal scene not through style and image, but by releasing some of the best Black Metal on Earth. Muknal and The Haunting Presence represent new territory for the BTC however. It may seem that Muknal's cavernous, suffocating miasma of New York-styled Death Metal and the reverb choked, balls out aggression of The Haunting Presence don't really fit in with the rest of the BTC and their atmospheric, genre challenging terrorists. But in fact they do: both bands create gloomy, rotten atmospheres of dust and insects, giving one the sensation of being forever sealed in an ancient tomb. This focused, effortless atmosphere is a trademark of the BTC, and the true strength of this transfixing little split from two of my favorite acts in modern Metal.
The first two tracks belong to Muknal: this was the side of the split I was most excited for, as Muknal have already released the best Death Metal album of this year a few months ago with their s/t demo. That demo has remained one of my favorite releases this year, and the chance to hear more material from the band was exciting. I am not disappointed: "Hecatombs" and "A Winged Emblem of Evil" are the definition of subterranean evil and cosmic devastation. Drawing heavily from New York gods Incantation and Immolation as well as the fiendish Imprecation and the demented Infester, Muknal are all about spawning suffocating atmosphere's of spiritual horror. Muknal are not merely happy being another "Incantation-clone" and like Dead Congregation and Grave Upheaval, seek something greater for themselves and their music: dissonance and effective use of sampled sounds and gloomy electronic noises gives the two tracks a very ritualistic intensity that most imitators couldn't evoke in a dozen releases worth of material. It's all so expertly crafted and effortless, and even more impressive when you consider that Muknal appear to be developing a more technical sound. "A Winged Emblem of Evil" in particular has a strong, atmospheric technicality to it with the complex guitar play and fantastic drum work. Both songs are certainly more complex then the material found on the s/t demo, and may signal a departure from the bands primitive roots.
The last two tracks are from The Haunting Presence, one of the first bands to really stand out from the BTC collective genre-wise. With a sound clearly influenced by Blasphemy, Demoncy and Archgoat, The Haunting Presence seems like the exact type of project that would be leading an anti-BTC charge. "Malignant Curse From Beyond" and "Hideous Faces of Unknown" are two reverb drenched abortions, viciously thrashing about in a muck of biowaste and sulfur. Alternating between destructive speed and oceanic trenches of darkness and doom, The Haunting Presence show a masterful control of the bestial barrage without sounding like a cheap imitation. This is also easily the best produced material the band have released, sounding both balanced and well mixed yet utterly caustic and raw. The low end rumbles and roars and the riffs spew grime and gore while the demonic grunts of Ghastly Apparition echo above the Hellish aftermath. And once again, the bands super-primitive veneer is challenged a bit on "Malignant Curse From Beyond" which adds a small layer of complexity with some dynamic rhythms and complex drums. I would not call The Haunting Presence anything less then primitive and dessicated however, so don't expect too much complexity.
As much as I love this split and the bands involved, I have no doubt that both projects will struggle for the notoriety they clearly deserve. On one side you have hardcore BTC haters who, even if they like the music, will refuse to support any project involved. On the other side we have the hardcore BTC fanboys who may look at Muknal and The Haunting Presence as the ugly ducklings on the collective, playing unrefined genre's that have long grown stale. I sincerely hope it doesn't come to this(Fact: if you are a Death Metal fan and not into Muknal, you are missing out), but it's hard not to feel like this is a possibility. For those of you who could care less about collectives or genre elitism, then this split will gladly devour your soul and you will be glad to offer it.