Best Black-Metal Studio Project to Hit the Stage


Critics' Picks

Last summer, when I first heard Vukari's debut full-length, Matriarch, the "band" was a studio project led by front man, guitarist, and composer Marek Cimochowicz. Originally he had no intention of playing in public—a common choice in extreme metal, in part because it's difficult to find like-minded musicians with the chops to get through such demanding songs onstage, where they can't piece together a perfect take digitally. But during the nine months he spent recruiting studio players and recording, he changed his mind—and at an Arkona show in November, Vukari made their onstage debut, leaping into the world fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. (The lineup also included guitarist Johan Becker, bassist Spenser Morris, drummer Mike Destefano, and keyboardist Mike Brucato, who's no longer part of the live band.) Like any group playing proper atmospheric black metal, Vukari balance beauty and serenity against desolation and fury; their hair-raisingly melodic songs snake through sophisticated structures that combine melancholy riffs, majestic processionals, and punky stomps, colored by frenzies of icy tremolo picking and spiderweb lattices of clean guitar. If I have a complaint about the studio recording of this material, it's that it feels a little too carefully constructed, like a river that runs through a city in a concrete trench. Onstage, though, the music has its proper wildness, turbid with mud and carrying broken bridges and uprooted trees in its frothing current. Vukari's first full-band recording, titled En to Pan, should be online by the time you read this.