Welcome to the latest edition of “Freeloader,” in which we review albums that you don’t have to feel like a douche for downloading for free. Today Satan Rosenbloom checks out four free records by bands that probably have several Emperor albums in their collection.

Autolatry – The Hill (self-released)

Tired of viking lore? Bored of Satanic paeans and anti-Christian odes? Had all the rehashed Lovecraft you can take? Then get thee to the Bandcamp page of Autolatry, a Connecticut black metal band that write about the stirring history of…New England. While the region may not have the mythological attraction of Scandinavia, it’s rich with wars and witches and beheadings, all of which get aired in Autolatry’s debut The Hill. The music is totally pro, a mix of early Satyricon’s ever-shifting harmonies and some sinewy, Keep of Kalessin-esque muscle, clearly recorded by guitarist/bassist Dave Kaminsky without losing any of its crackling energy. In fact, The Hill is good enough that you’ll be tempted to overlook the band’s silly spoken word segments and unfortunate name (“Did he say ‘Aaah, toiletry’?”).

(3.5 horns up outta 5)

Name your price for The Hill here.

Yellow Eyes – Silence Threads the Evening’s Cloth (self-released/Sol y Nieve)

You might recognize the frictive, intertwining guitar lines and buried deep howls of black metal trio Yellow Eyes if you’ve heard their New York City brethren Krallice and Liturgy. While they’re working with a familiar sound on debut album Silence Threads the Evening’s Cloth, Yellow Eyes frame their music very differently than their peers do. By adding the quiet hum of crickets and acoustic guitar plucking in between the electric tracks, Yellow Eyes turn the ebb and flow of their sheets of guitars into just another natural process, seemingly worlds away from the stained concrete and dank subways of Krallice’s New York. For any new sound to thrive, there must be both pioneers and those influenced by them. Though Yellow Eyes may be in the latter camp, it’s exciting to hear this relatively new black metal aesthetic – dry, gauzy, dynamic and harmonically rich – elaborating before our ears. Also worth checking out is Yellow Eyes mainman Will Skarstad’s solo project, Diminishing Light.

(4 horns up outta 5)

Download Silence Threads the Evening’s Cloth here.

Agartha – V (self-released)

Man, does Adam Phillips know how to string a guy along. Back in September of 2011, Phillips posted an impassioned explanation/defense of the supposedly controversial lyrics to this debut album from his Nashville-based melodic black metal outlet Agartha. Phillips apparently used stories from the ancient texts of various religions and occult groups to document a protracted battle between two rival factions of high priests, beginning with the destruction of Atlantis and ending with the rise of the Nazi regime. It’s meant as an extended meditation on the consequences of nationalism and religious totalitarianism – not an unfamiliar topic within metal circles, but Phillips’s take sounds way more compelling than your average bible-bashing black metal band’s. Worthy of researching those lyrics, right? Too bad Phillips didn’t print them anywhere.

That lil’ bummer aside, there’s plenty to appreciate about V. Agartha offers a pleasingly toned-down take on the gothic black metal dreck that Cradle of Filth have peddled in recent years. There are high-speed thrills to be had in the industrialized blasting of “Destruction of the Gateway” and “MCCCVII.” But the heart of V lies in its mid-tempo songs, wherein Phillips (also in the blackened power metal band Destroy Destroy Destroy) gets to show off his well-oiled arrangements. Layers of keyboards and guitars cover “The Cry of Aggni” and “The Creation of Parsifal” in a thick mist while allowing plenty of room for Agartha’s tuneful chord progressions to ring through. Phillips’s approach is poles apart from the density and dissonance preferred by arrangement savants like Ihsahn, Jef Whitehead and Deathspell Omega – Agartha’s sound is full yet spacious, designed to house Agartha’s more ferocious aspects within an extremely controlled environment. There’s not much of the fire and chaos on V that you can hear in the most expressive black metal. But the album burns a steady blue flame, and you can sense Phillips’s conviction throughout – whether or not you’ve got the lyric sheet handy.

(3 out of 5 horns up)

Download V here.

Uvikra – Bi (self-released)

There are shitty-sounding black metal records, and then there are intentionally shitty-sounding black metal records. Lithuanian band Uvikra falls decidedly in the former camp – the band’s precocious single member Loikav freely admits that the muffled acoustics on his three releases (all available for free on his Bandcamp page) don’t represent how we wants his music to sound. And it’s a shame, because the terrible production is the only thing keeping Uvikra’s curious sophomore long-player Bi from being something really special. Muddled as its is, you can hear a unique sound taking shape on Bi, a wobbly, shape-shifting black metal full of dripping “tall” harmonies and hypnotic repetition, chromatic death metal guitars and bizarre free-form breaks. At times, Bi’s circular riff patterns remind me of Demilich; at others, his odd harmonies and unhinged vocals recall Bergraven. That’s some mighty fine company to keep. But somebody needs to get this guy a Pro Tools rig for his birthday. And then get him a lawyer in case Feist sues him for lifting Bi’s cover concept from her Let It Die album. And then ask him what the fuck he was thinking with those moaning “blues” vox midway through “Sentimental Victory.” Strangled cats are not metal.

(3.5 horns up outta 5)

Download Bi here.


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