25 February 2021

Black Totem – II: Shapeshifting

Blackened Blues. This is the first term I heard in association with Black Totem. Intrigued, I knew I had to check out Black Totem further, a band who blend a multitude of genres together seamlessly. Doom, punk, blackened blues and death rock? Black Totem have got you covered.

II: Shapeshifting is the bands second album after two EP’S and their self-titled debut in 2015. Black Totem have been circling the Finnish underground scene for years, delivering their devilish cocktail of dark sounds to anyone willing to listen.

The album kicks off with the crucifix wielding Begone Vampire. No time is wasted in introducing themselves as Spit Poison howls like he’s been possessed by Danzig whilst the music erupts in a cacophony of noise. Good noise mind you. Beneath the speed the track has a distinguishable jive to it conjuring an overall vibe of a demonic ballroom.

That glorious blackened blues fully shines in the intro of The Devil before seamlessly sliding into a crushing doom rhythm. The Devil spoken of in this track is sure to don a black cowboy hat whilst cruising in a dark Cadillac amidst all consuming flames.  Rather like Crowley in Neil Gaimen’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens. I haven’t heard a song that’s so damn refreshing in such a long time and its exactly what I craved when deciding to listen to Black Totem.

The slow bluesy intro in 1990s is honestly liquid gold. Rather like its namesake, 1990s has a distinct grungier vibe with Spit Poison sharing vocals with bassist Wera Wolf, providing another soulful flavour to their arson of different melodies and styles. The utter vocal chaos that overlaps that fantastic fuzzy blues solo at the end is just sublime and the perfect climax.

Black Nekro Gloves screams of Misfit’s Hollywood Babylon instantly and I’m not mad at it. It has that classic rockabilly vibe, the particular kind that The Cramps crafted so well. Pure dark energy that suits Black Totem down to the ground.

Bloodstained Owl opens with ghostly wailing combined with subtle noises that can only be associated with the girl from The Grudge. The former gets so ridiculously high pitched and unsettling at one point that I felt my face contorting into a grimace. That’s a warning right there to not have your headphone volume on too high. Ghoul of Crow Swamp is not just another fantastic creative song title but also a brilliant track where the drama and theatrics are raised to another level. So much so that I can perfectly visual a translucent form hovering over a radioactive green swamp as the song progresses.

The intro riff of Dead Meat sounds like System of a Down’s Chic ‘N’ Stu before sliding into the perfect combination of a horror punk rhythm. Its clear that throughout the album the vocals are heavily Danzig inspired but this is no direct copy and paste. The music and vocal melodies are so interesting and diverse that its fully recognisable as Black Totem and not just some Danzig/Misfits rip off.

The second half of the album definitely indulges in darker, heavier and all-around moodier tones than before. Backyard Corpse Blues is gradual and all doom consuming whilst Welcome Lucifier is a worthy musical accompaniment to the Dark Lord himself. The guitars throughout this album are the main driving perpetrator behind Black Totem’s ominous and foreboding atmosphere and this feature fully flourishes in the final climax of Warlock.

Horror and superstition are out in full force with II: Shapeshifting. Black Totem celebrate all things retro horror and ghoulish, shifting between an intricate blend of genres and styles that successfully merge together in one recognisable form. That’s a pretty impressive feat. The songs are short yet memorable which is great for my progressively dwindling attention span. Unique can be thrown around a bit too liberally when describing bands but Black Totem are genuinely worthy of this label. Whether you’re a lover of punk, a doom metal fan, a blues connoisseur or a horror devotee, Black Totem are sure to delight appetites for the heavy and macabre.

Highlights: The Devil, Black Nekro Gloves, Dead Meat

Black Totem are a part of Svart Records.

You can find the band on Facebook and Instagram