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Choice Cuts

UNDEATH's ALEXANDER JONES Discusses The Perfect Fall Black Metal Album Of 2022

Time to get the longsleeves out.

Choice Cuts 2022

Fall is fast approaching and the weather is getting colder by the day up here in the Western New York hinterlands, which means a few things are about to become absolute certainties in my life: I'm going to be exclusively rocking four-sided longsleeves for the next 4-5 months, I'm going to eat my weight in apple cider doughnuts on a semi-regular basis, and I'm going to start listening to a lot more black metal. 'Tis the season, right? When each new day greets me with bone-cracking cold, curbside mountains of grey snow and the suffocating existential malaise that only a true Rochester fall/winter season can bring, it's only natural that I start steering my listening habits toward bands a bit more frigid sounding.

However, this year has been a very fruitful one for me by and large, so I'm not exactly entering this Fall with the sense of grim finality that I've become accustomed to. I feel (and trust me that this feels entirely unnatural to say) optimistic. Optimistic and hopeful, even though human civilization seems to be hurdling down a highway to certain oblivion and we passed the last exit so long ago that it feels like a distant memory.

I know that most of this optimism is stemming from the fact that my band has had a very exciting year and the year to come is poised to be full of even more great and fulfilling experiences, but you have to hold these kinds of feelings tight whenever you're fortunate enough to feel them, right? For that reason, while I'm still in the mood for some face-peeling black metal, I've been looking for some that's a little less nihilistic than I'm used to. Enter Gudsforladt, and its phenomenal new record Friendship, Love and War.

Gudsforladt (which Metal Archives tells me is a Danish word that translates to "Godforsaken"!) has been kicking since 2016, but this magnificent USBM solo project is brand new to me. It feels romantic, not in the washed-out Alcest-y way, but in the more classical sense. The tales told on this album are of myth and legend with the highest possible stakes, and every decision made is one of nothing less than life and death.

While black metal can often feel claustrophobic and isolated, Friendship, Love and War is an album brimming with scope and impossible scale. For reference, the photograph that serves as the album's cover: in the foreground, we see a cloaked figure wielding a sword, which is a sight far from uncommon to anyone with even a passing interest in metal. But this figure is standing within a field of bright yellow flowers on a cliff-face overlooking calm waters and a cloudless blue sky. The image seems incongruous at first, but once you start listening to the music contained here, things begin to fall into place naturally.

While black metal with any sort of more traditional heavy metal riffing is often clumsily labeled "triumphant", the guitarwork on Friendship, Love and War is so glorious in its melody and bombast that it's hard to find a more fitting adjective. Yes, the album is about as lo-fi as one might typically expect from a solo black metal project, but the sheer power and intensity of the riffing here makes the understated production feel like we're receiving signals from hazy portal into a distant world.

The songs frequently stretch beyond the five- and six-minute mark but move with a sense of propulsion that makes pausing the album at any point feel like being pulled away from a great book; regardless of whatever other needs and responsibilities require your attention, all you want to do is get back to this great story that's being told to you. Songs like "Lands Eternal Taken" and "Beyond Where They May Follow" effortlessly weave acoustic passages and trad-metal solos into raw USBM shredding, most of which is frequently underscored by a bedrock of synths and woodwinds. Listening to this album is a thrilling experience not unlike taking in an enormous painting – at first you're content to admire it from a distance, but eventually you find yourself unconsciously drifting closer to admire the details.

On Gudsforladt's Bandcamp, the central thesis of this record is laid out succinctly: "For better or worse, whether he wishes it or not, no man on this earth rides alone. We are all of us bound together, heart to heart and soul to soul — all of us bit players in stories bigger than we know – stories we have no hand in writing."

Return to the album's cover: a cloaked warrior in black stands alone amongst the natural beauty of their world. But are they truly alone? Is anyone, ever? Although we may arm ourselves by whatever means necessary against the inevitable sufferings that await us in this life, the potential for all things simple and beautiful persists through all experience. It's up to us to fight, with and for one another, to make sure that beauty survives.

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