As the genre emerged from the Norwegian fjords in the early ‘90s, what set it apart from the underground extreme metal that begat the second wave was how evocative it all was. Bands were heavy before Under a Funeral Moon, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and In the Nightside Eclipse, but a far more important development than sensationalized corpse paint and church burnings was that mere brutality was no longer good enough.
Black metal conjured up emotional responses in the listener, reactions that ranged from mournful sorrow to stoic contemplation to serenity. It may seem odd that loud metal music could invoke the latter, but then Kevin Shields can inspire the same trance-inducing feelings when My Bloody Valentine is playing loud enough to peel paint off the walls.
Niðafjöll definitely knows this quite well. He started off in 2013 forming Gnosis of the Witch, a duo with drummer Swartadauþaz. They released two EPs and a split with Sweden’s Grá of icy riffs and raw production before changing the name of the project to Veiled. After one demo, Niðafjöll recruited Dimman, a veteran drummer of many projects, most notably Grá, Cursed 13, and Wan.
From the moment Black Celestial Orbs (Iron Bonehead Productions) starts, it’s obvious why Niðafjöll decided to change the name. “Luminous” is foreboding and droning, pulsating with a kinetic energy; the drums pound out a tribal march through darkness, spiting the name of the song, while the vocals consist of a powerful scream that resides in the background.
The reverence for the old ways is obvious, but write off Veiled as nostalgia at your own peril. “Omnipotent” goes through several time-changes, and Dimman’s offbeat cymbal interplay about three quarters into the song is delicate and dynamic, something you’d have trouble seeing anyone pull off a quarter century ago (not many manage it today).
Before there was “symphonic black metal,” black metal was symphonic. The album closes with a title track split into two parts, the first of which is eight minutes of desolate, chilling soundscapes, rising and ebbing like a ship on icy waters. There’s no extra instrumentation—there’s not even vocals—but it still comes off as orchestral with the way the duo explores different intensity levels not unlike a piece of classical music. The closing “Black Celestial Orbs II” merges spoken word with mystical, spiritual clean guitar and a cleansing rainfall as the album fades to black.
With “Black Celestial Orbs,” Veiled perfectly updates and upgrades the ethos of classic black metal with an ethereal modernity. The contrasts between light and dark, cold and warm, good and evil captivate and transcend the cliches where such extremes seem to usually dwell. It’s a stunningly good debut even though it begs the question, where can they possibly go from here? Hopefully anywhere they want.