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Album Review: Kostnatění – Hrůza zvítězí

“HRŮZA ZVÍTĚZÍ (“horror will prevail”) has been created as a monument to death. Not a fantastical death with promises something beyond this world, but the cessation of being which looms at the end of all lives. As I wrote the songs which became HRŮZA ZVÍTĚZÍ, I was obsessed by my own death, constantly fighting off panic attacks relating to dying, and living in a constant suffocating dread. Every section was written with the explicit goal of conveying this dread…”

Sometimes, being a reviewer feels pointless because the artist in question can so succinctly sum up their own work. D.L. here, sole member of the black metal act Kostnatění, is a prime example of such a thing. I wasn’t in his head while Kostnatění’s Hrůza zvítězí was being written, but he was. Therefore he can, better than anybody, just break the fourth wall like this and tell you that this album is a musical representation of his own anxious mind struggling to deal with a concept as universal and alien as death. We all die; everybody understands death as a physical reality, but nobody knows what it really is. He rejects fanciful notions of an afterlife as mere bedtime stories to soothe us in the face of the unchangeable end of our existence, and what he finds in place of such fairytales is apparently a bleak and unending horror.

Kostnatění made their first splash with the Konec je všude demo in 2018, (which is pretty funny to read about since at the time everybody had just assumed D.L. was from Czechia (it’s since come out that he’s American and just happens to speak Czech)) and I’m actually familiar with that one. It had some minor notoriety thanks to being released on Fallen Empire, and it was a nice 20 minutes of kaleidoscopic hellfire. But Hrůza zvítězí is an improvement in every conceivable way. For a long time I struggled to really explain what it was that made the project stand out as unique, since anything I could say could just as easily be applied to Deathspell Omega, a group who should have revolutionized black metal with their flagrant disregard for the conventions of the genre but instead just spawned thousands of clones. But it all came together when he had a short feature in Decibel a few weeks ago to debut the title track here. In that feature, he talks about his great love for the extremely niche band/label Rhinocervs and its offshoot groups Odz Manouk and Tukaaria. I briefly skimmed a few of those bands, and yeah, that’s definitely where the bulk of this madness is derived from.

This album is as chaotic and bizarre as any Deathspell album, but the difference seems to come from being somewhat death-adjacent. This is still 100% black metal, but the chaos stems from an almost Immolation-esque place outside the boundaries of the genre. The chaos isn’t as overtly techy as DsO; it accomplishes its goal not by being a dizzying array of off-the-wall dissonance. Instead, it feels like the man is trying to play every instrument he owns at the same time while tumbling down the stairs, and he does it with a stunning control. Like the famous Hard Day’s Night chord that took decades to transcribe because apparently, nobody was smart enough to figure out that it wasn’t just played on one guitar, Hrůza zvítězí utilizes chords so massive and so dissonant that it sounds like they’re being played on thirteen strings. Tracks like the title track and “Každé zranění předurčeno” sound larger than life and greater than death, as they utilize these gargantuan walls of sound that sound like waterfalls of riffs keeping you held under.

The only real complaint I have is pretty much a non-issue, in all honesty. The tracks are all pretty similar, all told, and the fact that they flow into each other so well (sometimes explicitly like the last three) makes it hard to distinguish them at a glance. So while that might make it difficult to insert them into a playlist on shuffle or something, it helps keep the album grounded as one whole experience, which I suspect was probably the point anyway. As a result, the opening title track and the closing “Donekonečna v přítomném čase” stand out the most simply by virtue of being the two longest songs with the most twists and turns within themselves, but even then I think “Jedna generace” is probably my favorite one thanks to how obscene and furious it is. It all depends on how you look at it.  If you view it as a full 40-minute exercise in confronting the inevitability of death, it’s a complete knockout. And if you view it as a collection of five different songs, it’s kinda samey, but you’re the one at fault here for missing the point.

The bands are very different, but I find a lot of similarity between this album and the best Strapping Young Lad albums conceptually. Devin Townsend found gold when he plumbed the darkest depths of his anxiety on City and Alien, and D.L. similarly leaned into a very dark place to extract this monument to fear and hopelessness with Hrůza zvítězí. All of the squealing dissonance and ugly notes coalesce into a dripping personification of that which we fear the most, and it solidifies into one of the best albums of the year from a project that many people probably had just assumed died with Fallen Empire. But no, Kostnatění came back stronger than ever, honing in on what made the demo stand out and helping to sow discord amongst the weak-willed.  Again, I could never say it as well as the artist himself.  Per the Decibel feature:

“There is no dictum to take from the album, only awareness of one’s individual consciousness and sense of self ceasing to exist at the end of life. However, I do hope that those who fear their own death find kinship in this album, my chronicle of wrestling with my own.”

Hrůza zvítězí was released independently on September 13th, 2019, and can (and should) be listened to and purchased on Bandcamp.

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