Credit: Mike DeStefano

Last summer, when I first heard Vukari‘s debut full-length, Matriarch, the “band” was a studio project led by front man, guitarist, and composer Marek Cimochowicz. Originally he had no intention of playing in public—a common choice in extreme metal, in part because it’s difficult to find like-minded musicians with the chops to get through such demanding songs onstage, where they can’t piece together a perfect take digitally. But during the nine months he spent recruiting studio players and recording, he changed his mind—and at an Arkona show in November, Vukari made their onstage debut, leaping into the world fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. (The lineup also included guitarist Johan Becker, bassist Spenser Morris, drummer Mike Destefano, and keyboardist Mike Brucato, who’s no longer part of the live band.) Like any group playing proper atmospheric black metal, Vukari balance beauty and serenity against desolation and fury; their hair-raisingly melodic songs snake through sophisticated structures that combine melancholy riffs, majestic processionals, and punky stomps, colored by frenzies of icy tremolo picking and spiderweb lattices of clean guitar. If I have a complaint about the studio recording of this material, it’s that it feels a little too carefully constructed, like a river that runs through a city in a concrete trench. Onstage, though, the music has its proper wildness, turbid with mud and carrying broken bridges and uprooted trees in its frothing current. Vukari’s first full-band recording, titled En to Pan, should be online by the time you read this.

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.