Cuando decimos que el metal llegó a su cúspide en 1994, después de una breve época dorada, y que lo que siguió no fue sino un declive clarísimo, esto no significa que no hubo absolutamente nada bueno. Por definición, lo que le sigue a una cúspide es un declive – aunque la decadencia sólo sea aparente debido a la perspectiva. Aún más importante es aclarar que cuando hablamos de esta manera, nos estamos refiriendo a un promedio a través del género, y no señalando a nadie específicamente. Después de todo, tenemos un Summoning publicando su clásico de clásicos en 1996 y más música grandiosa a finales del siglo. En Centroamérica, siempre un paso (o más bien diez o treinta pasos) atrás del resto del mundo como resultado de procesos históricos que podemos identificar, lo poco que su reducida población, recursos y cultura permitieron desarrollar al metal local, floreció entre los últimos cinco años del siglo pasado.
When we say that metal’s golden era peaked in 1994 and that everything went downhill, it does not mean that there was nothing good after that. By definition, quality after a peak must go downhill in comparison. More importantly, when we say such things, we are referring to a genre-wide average, not to specifics. After all, we have Summoning releasing their classic of classics in 1996 and more great music before and around the turn of the century. The same is true of several black metal bands and a very few death metal ones. In Central America, ever one (or ten or twenty) steps behind in everything as a result of traceable historical processes, what little its reduced population, resources and culture allowed for metal to develop flourished between 1995 and 2000.
The ratios of complete rubbish to authentic music to outstanding music can, in my experience, be roughly and informally distributed in percentages 95%, 4.9% and 0.1%. An actual and precise statistic would be interesting, it’s just a matter of time before we have some empirical data for you here. It is no surprise, then, that you can count the number of enduring releases from Central America with your fingers. To the best of my knowledge, the two bands that are worth mentioning for posterity (rather than out of nostalgia, which would be more inclusive) are death metallers Horgkomostropus from Honduras and black metal project Abyssum, officially from Guatemala.
Formed by the Honduran Akherra on drums and the Guatemalan Rex Ebvleb on vox and the rest of the instruments, Abyssum released two demos in the span of 1995 and 1996, and finally a full-length in 1998 titled Thy Call (it should be clarified that the drummer in this album specifically was Diatharma Thoron). In here the band follows in the most advanced footsteps of mature black metal that is inclined towards ambient music yet does not yet abandon its black metal roots. No trace of rock whatsoever is in sight. In fact, a familiar vibe of dark and “dungeon”/medieval ambient is felt in its instrumentation and coloration. It is the coming-out of metal on the other side of the spectrum and into purity, but Abyssum stops itself short of departing from metal altogether.
As if walking into the forest domain of an ancient mountain god, one sees the vibrant symbiosis and inter-dependent life forms, so insignificant in themselves but meaningful and majestic when brought together. Simple acoustic guitar picked passages, arpeggios that complement synth chords and melodies in a loop followed by episodes born through them. Some of these originating passages serve as starting points in pathways into this wilderness, not complete in themselves, but without which the magic of the next distinct moments would be without significance as all manner of relative points of departure or reference would be missing.
The perfect balance of parallel worlds, one of the physical, the other of the energetic and spiritual, is portrayed vividly in Thy Call. The music is taken to the extreme of what respectable metal can indulge in ambient repetition, while keeping it relevant not only with respect to the rest of the music, but a healthy, though minimalist, movement in harmony guided by a leading melody is ever present. Life itself manifested in the inseparable music. Its nature is not rhythmic, neither is it based on the hanging-on of one harmony either, and it definitely is not the pop indulgence of a single melody line without any other merit. It is neither and yet it is all. Take away one, and it is utterly destroyed. It is a perfect balance of the three in which a holy, indivisible yet distinguishable trinity of elements which would be for naught without each other.
Treading through this dreamy world reached by walking through a portal created by Abyssum, we come by all these scenes of lush greenery among the autumn pigments of melancholy. Here and there animals rush to and fro — an electric guitar and drums disturb the calm, calling out in cries that rip through the whistling wind. Well into our journey, we finally come face to face with the lord of the realm, an old, powerful beast crowned with leaf, moss and flower. Screeches fly over among powerful but controlled black metal drumming made famous and effective in Emperor and Graveland and supported by tremolo-picked melodies rushing under echoing synths.
This is the atmosphere that envelops one in its presence, this is your shuddering under its gaze. If it were prone to violence, there would be no escape. But the old one is the guardian and center of life and its benevolence is abundant towards those who do not come with destruction. And so, quietly, gracefully, it departs and fades into the vegetation. Distorted guitars and drums vary in patterns that bring it closer to a calm. Acoustic guitars, voice and cello synths come in to see peace instaurated as passages continue in singular impermanence, forming a continuous and uninterrupted existence as they die and are born (and reborn). We walk away and out, with only a lingering note and the whistling of the wind in our ears.
After a little over a decade had elapsed since Abyssum’s debut, the only remaining and the leading voice of the project, Rex Ebvleb, released a full-length album titled Poizon of god. This 2008 offering was both a step forward with a nod to the old material in a conscious effort to be both consistent in the style of the project (this artist has several projects with very distinct voices and writing procedures and inspirations). This album also sees the enlisting of drummer Akherra to the project as a permanent member of the band. Following in the steps of the methodology of Thy Call, this new comeback album follows the general songwriting approach that does not focus on what we would consider the “metal sections”, and rather uses the distorted guitars and drums as one more color in a palette for black ambient music. Overall, the underlying methodology does not diverge greatly from the debut album but there is a greater variety of pigmentation and expression, a more careful attention to detail, stronger sense of movement and a comparatively darker intent in its character.
Synths are used by themselves in a similar manner to Ildjarn’s, and when together with the metal instrumentation in a way reminiscent of Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, though one can clearly see the difference in orientation that implies that the influence is specific and limited to a technique and does not detract from any claims of originality by Abyssum. Vocals are sparse and drowned in an already thin production whose space is filled out mostly by the keyboards. The exquisiteness of this album’s production lies in the clear-cut distribution in layers of the electric guitars and synths, which makes their subtle interplay all the more interesting. In addition to different synth effects that are used carefully and only where they are precisely required in a very conservative manner, an acoustic guitar graces some of the interludes and is almost invisible in the main songs but does make an appearance that fills out the texture to a delightful effect.
The extra-musical (or should I say ultra-musical, because it is beyond rather than with-out) goal is unmistakable in a humble but effective use of music as a vehicle to experience. These are explorations in sounds as pathways to portals, a trait shared with only the most profound black metal albums of a metaphysical nature. Admittedly a technically unrefined affair, this album will not do for a deep technical study but it does hold up. In addition, the balance between evocation and formal music construction preserves decorum while taken to its sensible limits in a very atmospheric-minded creation in which each single moment is virtually meaningless but the sequence of moments adds up to an idea, the sequence of such sections becomes a transformational process and the album as a whole constitutes footsteps to an epiphany. This hanging in the balance of the line between evocation and musical nonsense contributes strongly to its power, but this power is only manifested once the listener stops inspecting and looking for “interesting” musical arrangements or expressions and lets the stream of notes carry him.
The classic black metal methodology that uses repetition in clever ways to channel energies is present in its purest form. The experienced black metal listener knows how to feel the flow of the music and latch on to it as an organism and not worry about how this or that works. The only exception to this is if the music actually fails to do this by presenting disparaged or distracted elements in a disorganized way that tries to pass for “creative”. Abyssum’s use of repetition through changing sections as stanzas in a mantra. The secret of the mantra and the black metal way is that the power lies not in the repeated passage, but in the little variations and truncations that give life to it. The black metal method, its pulse and rhythm in word and phrase alternations, can be seen clearly in the ceremonial telling of a section of The Epic of Gilgamesh:
“(…)he followed the SUN’s road to his rising, through the mountain.
When he had gone one league the darkness was thick around him, for there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After two leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After three leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After four leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
At the end of five leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
At the end of six leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
When he had gone seven leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
When he had gone eight leagues Gilgamesh gave a great cry, for the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After nine leagues he felt the northwind on his face, but the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After ten leagues the end was near: After eleven leagues the dawn light appeared.
At the end of twelve leagues the SUN streamed out.”
The mantra’s text is nothing when it is not being vocalized through the inhaling and exhaling of a human medium, occasionally shuddering in the cold breeze of the mountain. In Poizon of god, the cyclic melody is the verse the stanza’s text that is not counted but is pronounced as long as it takes for a certain consciousness level to be reached. The guitars provide some of the meat and variation of this thought, sometimes concentrated, sometimes faltering, sometimes more emphatic. The drums are the lungs and heart and are the representation of organic life channeling the mantra. Spaces and silences, different percussion patterns, different emphases on the same melody, different intensities all describe the flow of living energy. In contrast to most modern black metal, though, Akherra’s drumwork adheres strictly to the purpose inherent to the music and limit themselves to complementing or counterpointing in strict manner. In so-called modern black metal, the introduction of grooves and polyrhythms in contrasting, novel and “catchy”arrangements only work as distractions. The latter are not the sacred meditations or black ceremonies of dark adepts but rather the hedonistic, drug-and-booze-induced forest orgies of New Age youngsters.
It shares with Cóndor Nadia the quality of being very private, presenting an outwardly naive presentation that hides worlds of relations and nuances that escape all those who would barely notice these works’ discreet — even secretive — entrances. In this aspect, these two stand in contrast with works conducive to explicit black magic libations such as Morbid Angel’s Blessed are the Sick or the previously mentioned In the Nightside Eclipse. For Nadia, this is merely a by-product of its concern with a romantic and melancholic topic which to a casual listener may appear as indistinguishable from the most cliched and unoriginal — it hides an invaluable treasure in plain sight, perhaps one too precious for vulgar minds to even recognize. In the case of Poizon of god, this retreating is intentional and is an attempt at creating distance between itself and the vain, empty and pretentiously misguided so-called black metal found in abundance nowadays.
A better picture of how the outside and the innards relate to each other can be had by picturing a decrepit wooden hut built into the side of the mountain. Now imagine entering this humble abode that probably served as cellar and storehouse but is now abandoned. Dust covers everything in a quaint and nostalgic picture of ages past. The visitor who is captured by this and would contemplate this place with different eyes finds that in the backroom under a worktable there is a stunted stone doorway leading into the mountain whose presence is only captured by afternoon sun coming in through the window in a very specific angle. Whether underground worlds with their own forest and fauna or catacombs from time immemorial are to be found depends on the nature of the music as a portal and guiding spirit which allows the cosmic traveler to behold them.
The brainchild of Rex Ebvleb, Abyssum started out as a black metal project in the mid-nineties, resulting in a few demos and finally its sum in Thy Call, 1998. After a little time, the band simply was no more, with Ebvleb carrying on the torch on his own and in a reserved way. Disgusted by the scene that formed in the name of black metal, Ebvleb took Abyssum away, neglecting even to be openly recognized by the tag. Tags being what they are and changing in meaning as history advances for all but the most stout scholars of any given discipline, are put aside by the independent thinkers and outstanding individuals that an inverted society can never recognize. This reborn Abyssum that distances itself from what the crowds of what is now called “black metal” maintains the truly black essence of the genre that goes beyond speech and pretending, and which, as Sammath’s Kruitwagen, Antaeus’ MkM and other underground artists have pointed out in the past, is a way of life and a mindset — not just a music style.
There are three clearly distinguishable components in the music apart from the foggy and sparse vocals and enunciations. These are the drums, keyboards and guitars, each of which have a very crucial role to play. This is minimalism at all levels, including instrumentation. Only the necessary, the indispensable is used. No gimmick, no posturing. The drums are locked in, not as a machine, but like a vital organ in a living creature, underscoring, emphasizing yet adding motions of its own. None of the instruments is a slave or subordinate, precisely to the others, rather, they represent partial reflections of an otherwise indivisible will. Evident proof is further found in the expert interplay between keyboards and guitars which seem to come to the fore, allowing the other to take the lead at each given moment, or focusing on one idea to drive a penetrating dagger through darkness.
Hermetic in essence and esoteric in its unveiling, Abyssum shares with the greateset like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss to the recent Stormkult, an obscurantist embedding of thought and intention that reveals nuances in the music, a music that is that is only deceptively and superficially simple, to the aware or those who are ready to receive it, which in itself implies not a precise knowledge but a state of mind to which one may come about through different paths. This is a trait that the masterpiece Stormcrowfleet also shared, which still flies over and past most metalheads without them even noticing. In other words, this is not music for everybody or anybody. Not because its “understanding”requires a particular taste (that is a different issue altogether) but because an aural and holistic absorption of the music that supercedes technique and the palpable must be achieved that is never objectively –scientifically verifiable and may only be taken in as a personal experience and inner unutterable comprehension.
AKHERRA .. drums and percussion, graphyx
P.E.R.O.D. EBVLEB .. all music and arregments, ideologies and instruments.
mix and recording by EbvleB
“Y para esos que desprecio por millones no creare jamás un segundo de música…”
The following is a short list of black metal releases (with a commentary on each) that would general fall off the edge of the usual stylistic lines that Death Metal Underground follows when looking at genre releases. These are all exceptional and form part of what could, in hindsight, be described as the lone wolves of an established and matured black metal genre — generally unnoticed or passed by without receiving substantial attention among the waves of excess of the 21st century; treasures hidden in plain sight for those with a developed sense beyond mere form.
Fenriz as the archetypal metal drummer is perhaps a puzzle to most, perhaps considering his status to be a mere by-produt of Darkthrone becoming an icon. The status of most worthy personalities of metal tends to be double sided in that way. There is the respect for what came before, usually a blind fanhood of what is not understood and is only explainable in terms of some kind of historical relevance and then there is the underground ackowledgement of the musical talents of the artist in question that stand the test of time. The difference in perception arises from the fact that these artists’ greatest merit lies in subtletly. The Subtlety of where to use a specific technique, however rudimentary, so that the music is better enhanced, completed or open to being built on (say the drums got written before everything else).
In drumming in particular, the lack of appreciation for proper arrangement has been greater than in the vocal or guitar departments, perhaps because the only antecedents in this type of percussion come from rock and jazz. In rock, the drums are merely a time keeper and groove-adder. In Jazz, it is typical that they serve that function plus, like all the other instruments, allow the musician to keep masturbating on the instrument with little thought to how this adds to the music as concept and not self-referential indulgence. But in all fairness, there is an old school of jazz in which the music is kept together more neatly and in which the drums play a much more constructive role.
In metal, the drums are not only a support instrument but should blend in into a whole. In fact, ideally, the guitars should be doing this too. The point is so subtle and hard to grasp that even the musicians that acknowledge it have a very hard time translating it into practice. As with all great things coming from a simple concept, it is easier said than done. The most prudent drummers and bands limit the percussion to a function (that in metal is more prominent and important than in rock) rather than the spotlight, and this is at least a first step.
It was the increasing distance between all rock-like perspective in music that made metal approach a more purified and important integration of drums into its frameworks. Works such as Hvis Lyst Tar Oss or Transilvanian Hunger are inconceivable without percussion. That is not to say that the rest of the elements are not good, but they are incomplete without percussion. And so are their corresponding drum patterns without them. Metal had to go back to an extreme minimalism, stripping down every layer to realize the importance of every little element. This Burzum album belongs to end of black metal as an era, but I will place it here even if it appears counter-chronological.
After an initial dive into this primitivism driven (Celtic Frost, Bathory) by gut instinct of the most authentic kind, death metal proper developed and quickly escalated in its use of technical arrangements that went overboard in the sense that they were unnecessary for the point of the music itself, though not necessarily bad. Technicality was set besides essence and communication in importance. The formal music tendencies that are so prominent in classical music started to surface in metal.
A great overlooked exception to this rule was the work of Adrian Erlandsson within the framework of arrangements and indications of Alf Svensson for At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours. The fact that these integral arrangements are unmatched in death metal to this very day is a testament to how little understood they are. The fact that the drumming here twists, bends, propulses, stops, counterpoints in a great variety of different drum patterns that while theoretically rudimentary are often technically demanding, especially when performed as a whole, indicate that a sense of continuity in expression must be kept by the drummer through changes of tempo, time signature and character. What makes this superior to other progressive-oriented albums is that for all this variety, the style of expression is tightly restricted. The reduced repertoire of guitar and drum techniques to the minimal from which it builds its complexity in a language of its own endows it with this distinct personality. Without the guidance of the architect Svensson, though, this band completely floundered in mediocrity soon after his departure.
Today, few bands grasp the importance of the integrated drums let alone being actually capable of translating the concept to a concrete plan and then puting it into practice. As far as I have seen, with very particular exceptions, the most sober drumming comes from the modern tradition that has branched from (old, the only real) black metal. First of all, it may come to those learning it by virtue of studying the past, this makes the grasping of a concept much easier. This does not include the nu-black or post-black camps which represent a departure, regression and deconstruction of metal, a reflection of decadence.
It is rather in the work of Abyssum’s Akherra that we see the role of drums as an essential part of the music. For this, the rest of the instruments must accomodate the drums, not only run on top of it. The naive layering of instruments most bands are used to is precisely what makes them amateurs in this. In proper metal, the drums are inside, not under the music. This is part of what the metaphor “drumming in counterpoint” reflects. Drum patterns that are relatively independent in the sense that they aren’t just there as a support, but come into contact at every moment with the music, bending, yielding and transforming along with the rest of the music.
Such attention to detail goes far beyond just playing slower or faster, stronger or softer when the rest of the music does so. It is not only a matter of intensity or speed in correspondence. The drums must live in symbiosis with the guitars, and not like a running pair of athletes besides each other. Silences and types of drum patterns specifically tailored to different sections are exemplified in Abyssum’s “The Illusion of Pan” in which we see important decisions taken about the smallest details such as ride strikes in the rhythm of a particular keyboard melody speed, the variations between soft blast beats and other less forward-moving patterns as great inflections and indicators of the song’s pictorial journey that are not as clearly reflected in the rest of the music alone.
This entry is not about judging this or that band over another. The point is the study of drums for the future of metal. The recognition of the evolution in the use of drums throughout the genre. Surprisingly, Black Sabbath Master of Reality shows the kind of thinking that would go into Celtic Frost To Mega Therion in terms of the reduction and powerful use of elements into highly-personalized expressions. In this Black Sabbath showed how far ahead of their times they were. It took metal more than a decade to catch up to them. These musical transpirations in their music were refined through the black metal tradition going through death metal. The best we can hope for is bands today piecing out elements in this way, and being able to identifying what great drumming consists of in metal. But this must start out from the vision of metal as a proper music, as highly-integrated elements which conspire within an indissolubly dependent complex set of relations.
Playing a style of black metal that became more prominent and perhaps common after the turn of the century, S.V.E.S.T.’s “atmospheric” approach is of the sort that creates a fog out of different layers of intsruments playing different notes to form dissonant chords and having the drums by a vehicle for intensity. Although black metal per se has inclinations towards minimalism and ambience, this explicit brand of atmospheric black metal stretches song durations as long as it is necessary to induce the sense of evaporating time and alienating experience they are looking for. While many different bands can claim to be part of this, very few retained an anchor in reality and still building something meaningful. S.V.E.S.T. Urfaust is such an album.
The way this balance is achieved in a style of black metal attempting to create a chaotic semblance is to always have one element that is static in proportion to how much other things vary or lash out wildly. For example, this band always keeps some sort of diffuse organlike notes playing in the background, either with some kind of synth or with tremolo-picked guitars, while the drums change slightly more freely, but always responding to changes in the music as a whole, and the lead guitars are allowed to roam around more freely creating the and blending the motifs that lend each piece its personality in a background that is a raging maelstrom.
Of course, the counterpoint between instruments needs to be maintained, it will not do to have an heavy riff underscored by drum patterns that take away the attention from a center in the music and rather give us two shows in one. Such an event spells out incoherence. The controlled way in which such chaotic force is wielded strongly calls to mind the prophetic work of Colombian pioneers Parabellum.
Urfaust is a gem of an offering whose music lends itself to an esoteric interpretation. Listened to from afar or in a distracted manner, the music may be perceived as a simple repetition of ideas throughout a long time. In part, this effect is intended as the listener is expected to lose himself in the music, instead of counting measures and the number of times this or that theme come and go. Furthermore, the density of the layers covering the details is such that to pierce the uniformity, the listener experiencing this must become acquainted with it in an almost meditative state in repeated visits.
In this, it is similar to the roads taken by Abyssum Cum Foeda Sanie Ex Ore, Kaeck Stormkult and Paysage D’Hiver’s eponymous album. All this leads to an effect in which content is blurred from an unattending audience but revealed to a foccused attention that can both let the music flow and attend to the relationships within it. Masterful music that achieves this must embed these details, progressions and variations behind a strong veil of consistency that also serves to preserve coherence in a rather forceful manner that is vindicated by the overall balance achieved.
This album has an art music work orientation with respect to its overall orientation in concept and publication. First of all, this is a three-song full-length album in which the songs are movements that belong together and not a collection of three songs. The relationship goes beyond a very clear and distinctive choice in voice and is made explicit in motifs throughout the album, with its most obvious gesture being that the opening section of the album in the first movement is the same as the closing one in the third. Another example worthy of attention and presenting an immersive experience is Fanisk Noontide.
The element of chaos is, of course, a metaphorical one, represented in disorienting rhythms that quickly come back to a stable state and are safely supported by anchors. It is their repetition, variation, combination and alternation between different motifs along with the unrelenting percussive attack that create the picture of crumbling sanity from compositions that are technically firm and delineated.
This is where a band like S.V.E.S.T. far surpasses the uncontrolled madness of later Deathspell Omega which incurred in a common mistake in nu-black metal: the attempt of becoming the atmosphere itself. The so-called experimental disorganization and hispterish disavowal of rules for the sake of breaking conventions displayed by Deathspell Omega leads them to the lazy decision to try to portray chaos by actually making a huge mess out of the music. Unfortunately, S.V.E.S.T. later took from this band the idea of uncontrolled freedom in fits of post-modern delirium.
The vulgar idea of attempting to imitate what is being portrayed in an overtly obvious and direct manner is not new, although in our era the clowns doing it come out to the unaware as being original thinkers of some kind. Great masters of music like Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach played in this line and warned themselves and others of the dangers of falling to either side of the narrow wall that music forms between evocation and aesthetics. S.V.E.S.T Urfaust stands proudly and firmly as a monument to this balance where both music is preserved in its formality yet evocation and idea envelop it as the non-destructive organization and manipulation of the aesthetics themselves become the door and medium to the experience.
“(…)a symphony of Beethoven presents to us the greatest confusion, which yet has the most perfect order at its foundation, the most vehement conflict, which is transformed the next moment into the most beautiful concord. It is rerum concordia discors, a true and perfect picture of the nature of the world which rolls on in the boundless maze of innumerable forms, and through constant destruction, supports itself. But in this symphony all human passions and emotions also find utterance; joy, sorrow, love, hatred, terror, hope, etc., in innumerable degrees, yet all, as it were, only in abstracto, and without any particularization; it is the mere form without the substance, like a spirit world without matter. Certainly we have a tendency to realize them while we listen, to clothe them in imagination with flesh and bones, and to see in them scenes of life and nature on every hand. Yet, taken generally, this is not required for their comprehension, or enjoyment, but rather imparts to them a foreign and arbitrary addition; therefore it is better to apprehend them in their immediacy and purity.”