Arcturus – Arcturian (2015)

Arcturus - Arcturian (2015)

Much of 2015 passed me by without commentary before I took up my position as the editor here at DMU. As the year draws ever closer to its end, I see the need to rectify that. How about some pseudo-prog? Arcturus began as a black metal band so underwhelming and half-hearted, to the point that their metamorphosis into a more obviously overwrought, melodramatic rock act on La Masquerade Infernale was actually an improvement. Their vaguely symphonic, electronic, and generally etcetera-based approach, along with a couple of other prominent bands (Borknagar, Solefald, etc) sold well around the turn of the millennium before, like most trends, people lost interest. Somewhere along the line, Arcturus decided to reform and write/sell more material.

Things haven’t changed much on Arcturian, but a few changes in the overall sound did catch my attention. There’s more synthesizers – I’d say “contemporary electronic music”, but metal musicians seem to lag a few years behind popular electronic music trends for better or worse. Furthermore, longtime collaborator Kristoffer Rygg is long gone. One thing I enjoyed about La Masquerade Infernale many years ago was his vocal performance – a powerful, assertive bass that was admittedly used primarily in this sort of post-black context. Simen Hestnæs (ICS Vortex) is similarly charismatic, but he performs in a much more heavily explored vein, so he doesn’t have novelty in his favor. Given that an album of this shape relies on aesthetic novelty to retain reader interest, that’s a strike against it. Otherwise, instrumentation here is reminiscent of Arcturus’s first two full lengths – modal, often mid-paced, sometimes drowned in symphonic instruments.

Arcturian does end up hitting some of my aesthetic buttons, but I’d be a pathological liar if I said I found it particularly interesting. The band relies primarily on varying its sound; the songwriting underneath is fairly standard. There’s a little bit of effort to vary up actual structures through use of dynamics, and techniques pulled from earlier eras of the band’s lifestyle, and there is a sinister sort of consistency here in that every track sounds different from the last. However, the emphasis on aesthetic changes over everything else basically relegates this to the level of soundtrack, presumably adequate for a high budget science fiction themed film or television series but not very interesting on its own. Nothing offensively bad or stupid here by my standards, but it’s essentially a rehash of a style that relies too heavily on its own novelty to be particularly valuable.

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Borknagar – Winter Thrice (2016)

borknagar winter thrice

Winter Thrice would’ve ensnared me for some time, had it come out in 2009. In my youth, I was more receptive to pomp and circumstance in my music, and if there’s one thing Borknagar’s latest recording does especially wrong, it’s that it never relents from its apparent desire to be epic, even to the point of having its share of contrived quiet sections for obvious dynamic contrast. Restraint is not part of these musician’s repertoire, and it makes for yet another flat (albeit psychically draining) album that I can’t imagine even its most rabid fans having much patience for once the initial blitz of sales wears off.

At its core, Borknagar is descended from the same sort of ‘atmospheric’ black metal that their fellow scenesters and countrymen in Arcturus once made a living doling out to the masses. It’s probably a coincidence (at best, historical understandable in the context of Norway in the early ’90s) that both of those bands have some roots in especially unusual death metal oriented recordings. What degraded these bands (and similar ones) over time was their ever increasing addiction to sonic novelty. While Borknagar was quicker to unify a few elements they liked and streamline everything else into their signature sound (I described the teaser as “melodramatic, pseudo-progressive heavy rock music”), they’ve ended up so dependent on their own aesthetic that it interferes with their ability to develop their songs.

Now, Borknagar is technically proficient, as you might expect from any metal band that sells and isn’t deliberately ultra-primitive. However, only the vocalists’ contributions manage to rise to any sort of prominence. If I strain my ears, I can catch a glimpse of what the instrumentalists are attempting, and I’m sure it’s pleasant enough as a result of all the time that went into writing and recording it, but there’s very little of substance there beyond the ‘epic’ orientation of Borknagar’s songwriting. On top of that are a series of sung parts from three vocalists all scrambling for your attention. These are again skilled singers (and shriekers) to the point that their performance takes center stage, but when the arrangements they perform are so forgettable, does it really matter?

Ultimately, I found Winter Thrice to be so aggressively unmemorable, to the point that remembering just what it sounds like beyond a vague impression of 3/4 time and minor key progressions is difficult. At its best, it sounds good, but this stylish album is ultimately free of substance.

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Borknagar sets release date for Winter Thrice

borknagar winter thrice
The bastard sons of Molested are back. Borknagar started their career as a melodic ‘viking’ themed black metal band, but gradually (under the influence of its revolving door of vocalists) evolved towards the sort of melodramatic, pseudo-progressive heavy rock music of their post-black companions like Arcturus and Solefald. Winter Thrice is allegedly going to hearken back to the band’s earlier days in some ways, but judging from the sample track released, this is going to be the same sort of musically proficient but sterile product so many other bands are releasing. It comes out on January 22nd, 2016, further adding to the barrage of upcoming releases in that month and on that day in particular.

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Heavy metal is not a blank slate

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People do not realize that our society is in the midst of a war. A memetic war, in which one ideology will win out over the other. As we see time and time again, the different worldviews are entirely incompatible, causing the type of internal conflict that destroys empires.

Heavy metal is caught in the middle of this. Those who want to push their ideology on you have discovered it, and try to use it as a “blank slate” on which to write their messages. We found out in the 1980s that Christians did this, in the 1990s that the far-right tried, and now in the 2010s, that an echo chamber of “social justice” agitators wants to use metal as its personal billboard. Mainstream metal media — staffed mostly by such people — agrees with them. The variety of hipster known as SJWs are hoping to take over metal and use it for their own ends.

As Old Disgruntled Bastard writes:

The modern state of metal writing, as is the case with much of modern metal, has to do with the wrong kind of people being attracted to the music. Those who don’t identify metal with a higher ideal will only think of this subject as so much faffing and will continue drowning themselves in anodyne cliches, self-referential and flippant by turn. Worse yet, in a show of incredible egotism, they will expect the music to fall in line with whatever personal agenda they might be touting at that moment. It speaks of a stunted, unadventurous, and dishonest bent of mind to outright dismiss ideas that may be pariah to our own and then to run down, ad hominem, those that dare think differently.

He hits on a vital point: their goal is not to crusade against a specific evil, but to eliminate everyone who does not dedicate their life to advancing the same agenda the SJWs do. As many people have pointed out, SJWs are a bit hypocritical. They whine about injustices to women and minorities, but night after night they are in front of their computers, putting other people down instead of working in the ghettos or middle east where women are being raped and executed en masse.

This reveals the agenda of SJWs, while it surely overlaps with their left-wing political views and hipster lifestyles in which activism is ironic and fresh, is actually to make themselves appear to superior to others. SJWs are the new master race, in their own minds. By day, they are cubicle drudges with unimportant jobs who live in expensive city apartments and spend themselves into debt buying organic free-trade wine and artisanal wall hangings. By night, they are transformed into warriors, heroes, Anne Franks and Mother Theresas combined. They find their importance in “social justice” because it allows them to pretend they are better than other people, and to experience the delicious revengeful joy of forcing others to be silent and apologize. That is the thrill of SJW: subjugating others with words from the comfort of your computer, with a glass of Malaysian Anisette Merlot and a rare live Deerhoof set on the radio.

What obstructs them is the very fact that metal is not a blank slate. It has its own beliefs, which deal with the world and its problems from an entirely different angle than SJW solutions do. Its basic rule, non-conformity with society for the purpose of discovering the raw unfiltered power of nature and truth, opposes the very notion of collective action for some slogan or political issue. Metal is against politics itself. It sees politics as an outgrowth of social thinking, not an end in itself. In the metal world, politics is a distraction and SJWs are more nagging nannies who distract us from the real problems. As MetalReviews writes:

Let’s lay it down as law, if in the confines of this editorial only: Black Metal ist krieg, waging war on all, and Black Metal that isn’t krieg, that doesn’t wage war on man, god, musical boundaries and every living creature whatever colour or creed isn’t proper Black Metal – there’s more spiritual closeness between Transilvanian Hunger and La Masquerade Infernale, between De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and 666 International than there is with something like Panopticon’s Collapse or Eldrig’s Mysterion. They may all be great albums, but the spiritual difference is greater than that of the music itself – Arcturus and Dødheimsgard are no more trying to convert you to Anarchism or Ariosophy than Darkthrone and Mayhem are.

Metal has a culture of its own. SJWs are attempting to genocide that culture and replace it with the watered-down indie rock to which metal riffs have been added that the mainstream media media have been pimping for some time. They achieve this by coordinating among themselves. Someone once plotted the communications between two groups, GamerGate and its opposition. The opposition show a trend toward conformity, where GamerGate was more chaotic and open. The SJWs of today were the authoritarians and Nazis of yesterday. A short demonstration follows.

gamergate_plot

Krieg frontman Neil Jameson — who like Decibel editor Albert Mudrian unfriended our previous Editor on Facebook for what can only be assumed to be political reasons — recently wrote a piece in which he opines on the condition of women in metal. Like most SJW articles, it begins with a justification for its demands on your attention, and threatens you with guilt:

I recently realized that I’ve been having more and more discussions with people about how women are treated within the metal scene, and music in general. Turns out my knee-jerk reaction to throw jokes at the problem wasn’t the best way to address it. This goes a lot deeper, and regardless of how it may make people uncomfortable, it’s a discourse we need to have—and keep having—because the problem isn’t going away; in fact, it’s getting worse.

This is politician-speak like might be used for the wars on terror, drugs or drunk-driving. There’s this problem, see, and it requires immediate attention. Not only that, but it’s getting worse the more we just sit here. Leap into action right now and do whatever I tell you! He goes on from there to make his big point:

As a man, I’ve never gone to a show worried that someone was going to grab my dick or give me a drink with some bullshit drug in it. It’s not because I don’t think I’m pretty; it’s because this is shit that doesn’t happen to men (I understand someone in the comments section will have a story saying that it does, but for the sake of argument, please shut the fuck up). It’s just not something we have to worry about. Women have to shrug this behavior off because they’re afraid if they speak up that it’s going to be turned around on them due to what they’re wearing, or their sexual history, or the simple fucking reason they have a vagina and guys are taught from a young age through marketing and media that we’re entitled to that. Movies and other forms of storytelling glamorize women going to shows to fuck and nothing else. The idea that they’re there because they love the music seems as absurd as a cop telling the truth during a trial.

In addition to the type of terrible writing that thinks throwing in the word “fucking” for unnecessary emphasis somehow makes it edgy, this piece shows us a lot of guilt — and no facts. We all know that there are some badly behaved people at shows, and their bad behavior takes many forms. People throwing beers, pulling non-participants into the pit, fighting with bouncers, or just being general doofuses are common enough, but not accepted nor the norm. In my experience, metalheads have generally stood up for personal boundaries to anyone transgressing them, without checking to see if the victim was a white male first. But in the Jameson piece, the rambling story goes on with reasoning about how we should stop everything to fight a problem he supposes is somehow very serious, despite no assessment of how wide of a problem this is or even whether it is a problem with metal or simply dickheads being dickheads at rock shows.

But really, the plight of women in metal is not the point. The point is that Jameson has joined the SJWs and wants their approval so he can sell them the “new” version of Krieg, which takes pride in being “open-minded,” a term that means not metal if you analyze it. As he says himself:

“We were one of the first geographical groups to really tie in non–black metal inspiration, like my covers of the Velvet Underground/The Stooges, etc., Leviathan/Lurker of Chalice’s Joy Division and Black Flag influences and covers, Nachtmystium’s interest in psychedelics and more blues-based ideas, etc.”

In other words, innovation by devolution. These bands are much older than metal and fit more into the rock paradigm than metal has. This is like stepping backward a generation and claiming “progress” as a result. Why would he pick this approach? In the SJW world, metal is bad and anything that pretends to be metal but is not is good. Therefore, bands that claim to be innovators for re-hashing older genres — which most metalheads want to escape — are to be praised, and anyone who makes metal for metal’s sake is bad and should be avoided. They need this argument to advance the illusion that metal is a blank slate, instead of the vibrant culture that it is.

What else might Jameson be doing here? Others have defined this pathology before:

A gaming term used to describe a male gamer who, in a desperate attempt to get himself laid, will attempt to woo or impress any female gamer he comes across online by being overly defensive of her and giving her special attention, such as playing as a healing class and only healing her.

That is White Knighting. In other words, men who publicly proclaim themselves sensitive to women’s issues are doing it to get laid or be accepted by a new social group. You may remember this from high school or college. At the mid-point of freshmen year, guys figure out that they can attend feminist workshops, get misty-eyed about how oppressive they are, and go home with a new girl each night. This has little to do with ideology and everything to do with human behavior. People who want acceptance into a group will memorize and repeat the appropriate chants to get what they want.

Is this what the former Lord Imperial, now short-haired Neil Jameson of The Velvet Krieg is doing? Let’s look at some of his statements from the past.

Wikipedia recalls an interview by Jameson in which he expressed a different viewpoint. Although the Wikipedia article was edited mysteriously (moderator notes: “Unexplained removal of content”) on July 5, 2013 at about the time Jameson started writing for Decibel, it can be found at the Project Gutenberg wiki. Jameson — who had just gotten out of his band Weltmacht which had pro-Nazi themes, even getting signed to pro-far-right label No Colours — was heading in an entirely different direction just seven years ago:

Krieg were boycotted in Switzerland “because I freely use offensive words like ‘nigger’ in regards to the disgusting double standards and politically correct nonsense that has spread through the world black metal scene. This is a scene that encourages violence and hatred, but if you say something against anyone besides Christians it sends a lot of people into crying fits. There was one person who wrote me saying he didn’t approve of my life ‘affirmation’ on the Satanic Warmaster split in which I, I felt very blatantly, criticised both the life loving movements and the politically correct movements, but I guess these people are too fucking involved in down syndrome to notice IRONY. Well fuck them, I don’t want the support of people who cannot read the entire idea, but rather pick at ‘dangerous’ words. When the fuck did this stupid concern for hurting people’s feelings become an issue in black metal? […] ALL PEOPLE ARE SHIT […]. As for Switzerland, we got banned from the country for using ‘nigger’ on this 7 inch, which as I stated before, was anti political correctness, NOT PRO FACIST.” Imperial added that “[u]nderneath the abrasive offensiveness lies a much greater meaning that many would take the time to inspect and study. Beneath such a bitter shell lies enlightenment. IF you can fight through my venom, then you will find truly what I am spreading through the words of Krieg.”

This viewpoints sounds like those in GamerGate and MetalGate, except that we do not use racial slurs to denigrate other groups to make our points. We just speak up for what is true against the onslaught of SJWs. Jameson’s case is probably quite normal; he has simply joined the hive mind so that he can meet more people, be cool with the other SJWs at Decibel, and advance his own career, in defiance of the heavy metal genre he once found inspiration in. In other words, SJWs in metal are simply another form of selling out and assimilation into the mainstream herd.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-12-13

garbage_dump

What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Heavy metal is either art, or like the rest it’s a product to make sad people feel better about their empty and pointless lives. Brutal honesty is all that separates us from that abyss. Remember, tears are a sign that you’ve really reached people…

evereve-seasonsEvereve – Seasons

Nuclear Blast, this is NOT “music to mangle your mind.” This is the AIDS of the music world. Cheap, hokey synths ramble under tepid saccharine guitar melodies while effete whiny crooning that makes Morrissey sound like Tom Warrior radiates in the background. You can just about hear the teenage bedrooms of America, reeking of self-pity and masturbation, where the obese and inbred listen to this. It’s OK, kid, everyone gets turned down by a fleshlight at least once. If you can imagine heavy metal with all of its soul removed, candied like one of those disgusting little fruits in a fruitcake, this would be it. There is nothing here that is metal except under the flimsiest of pretenses. “Evereve” is more like “Summer’s Eve.” Seasons could be a forerunner for HIM. If you ever hear a note of this, you’re going to need hormone replacement therapy.

covenant-nexus_polarisCovenant – Nexus Polaris (also released as The Kovenant – Nexus Polaris)

The cheese of “black metal” circa 1998 is on full display here in this one album. Considering the Dimmu Borgir membership and the touting of a drum performance by Hellhammer circa his “help, I need money and even joined Arcturus” days, you know this will be bad. The vaudevillian sideshow vibe of later Ancient and Cradle of Filth is tricked out to sound like a joyous PG rated sci-fi soundtrack is playing over a rock opera, making this all sound more absurd. Imagine the music from a children’s variety TV show but with some drunk guitarist in the background hammering out heavy metal riffs with black metal stylings as he copulates with close family members while wearing a tutu. If you heard a “black metal” parody in recent times, chances are it sounded like this.

immolation-majesty_and_decayImmolation – Majesty and Decay

This album brings to mind Dogwin’s Law for metal: as a metal band ages, the probability of it reverting to its influences becomes one. Immolation started out as a speed metal band, then detoured into death metal for a few albums, and now is back to heavy metal but in a simplified form using death metal technique. When they did that cover of Mercyful Fate, it shook something loose, and Immolation thought, “Why spend hours fitting twisty riffs into intricate combinations?” Verse, chorus, break, solo — done! Collect check, buy motorcycle parts. This is the metal equivalent of baby food: over-cooked, pre-ground, sweetened and without any difficult parts. Gone are the wildly imaginative riffs and catcomb-like song structures. Instead it’s The Jets covering Bryan Adams put into power chord riffs. Embarrassed by their own non-output, Immolation tries to hide the emptiness by getting emo on the choruses but nothing can save this pile of paint-by-numbers metal. This is metal’s equivalent of Bangerz with some guy howling along in the background about stuff he read on Infowars.com.

morgoth-feel_sorry_for_the_fanaticMorgoth – Feel Sorry for the Fanatic

Another case of mid-90s “evolution,” Morgoth ditch the Death Leprosy worship for a sound more akin to Voivod at their most commercial playing Killing Joke at their poppiest. Vocals sound like a parody of Amebix, lots of mumbling and tuneless sung-shouts. Verse-chorus structures and an industrial rock production suggest this band was attempting to cash in on the industrial/cyber image trend of Ministry, Godflesh, and Fetish 69. With waves of label hype behind it, Feel Sorry for the Fanatic failed as only the falsest of marketing hype can. Creating a neutered album with fringe-accessibility to an audience that didn’t exist the year this album was released left the band to fall on its face in embarrassment and dishonorably disband.

wolves_in_the_throne_room-bbc_session_2011_anno_dominiWolves in the Throne Room – BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini

This band of hippies in denial have improved in the songwriting department, but by so doing reveal the underlying emo to their music. It’s clearer than ever before that Wolves in the Throne Room were never black metal. This two-song release allows the “post-metal” to shine, but musically “post-metal” is identical to emo, a subset of late hardcore/indie rock hybrids of the late 1980s. Musically, nothing has changed since that time, so if you’ve been in a cave since 1984 you might enjoy this band. These two tracks are far less random than previous Wolves in the Throne Room output. While they try to ape black metal with heavy guitar distortion and howled vocals, in harmony and choice of scale this material would fit in on a Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring album more than any black metal album. In fact it’s a complete sham to ever list this band as black metal because it misses out on what they do well, which is a very slow version of emo. Droning emptiness portrayed with slighly dissonant tracks that sound like self-pity incarnate. It evokes a lot of different feelings that boil down to the same state of suspension, in which mixed-emotions and self-pity that brings self-doubt resolve all things to the same. I wouldn’t recommend this for any metal fan or anyone who remembers the late 1980s.

solar_deity-devil_worshipSolar Deity – Devil Worship

If you approached a black metal band as if it were a doom metal band, you might end up with something like Solar Deity. Very musically literate in a way that is reminiscent of Necrophobic, with understated melodic riffs and good rhythm, this band nonetheless suffers from a type of drone syndrome where just not enough changes to keep interest, although there’s nothing offensive. Clearly mostly inspired by the first two Gorgoroth albums, Solar Deity attempt to set up a number of songs to narrate and develop theme, and do a reasonable job of it, but their riffs are rather lukewarm and repetition-intensive as is their usage. The result would be great if designed for doom metal, but as black metal ends up being an abrasive drone and sense of confused purpose within otherwise well-composed music. It might be good background music for repetitive tasks. You know, really feel that tedium as you clean water heaters, file taxes or chase hipsters off your front lawn with a shotgun (aim for the knees).

tribulation-the_formulas_of_deathTribulation – The Formulas of Death

Death metal isn’t hard rock. If it wanted to be hard rock, its members being honest people, it would have elected to simply be that instead. However, there’s a huge market in dressing up regular boring corporate product rock music as something “edgy” like death metal, which still hasn’t been conquered by the civilizing forces of socialization. Like previous Tribulation releases, The Formulas of Death is ambiguously in the death metal realm and in fact treats its death metal elements with ironic scorn. The result is a pretty good hard rock band embedded in a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Get a real vocalist, throw out the token chromatic riffs and d-beats, and re-style this album as something along the lines of early Queensryche or Cinderella and it would be great. This will make just about every “Best of 2013” because people can’t tell the difference between turd and steak tartare but also because it’s catchy. Simple music for simple minds.

skeletonwitch-serpents_unleashedSkeleton Witch – Serpents Unleashed

If focus groups found a way to slam Sentenced Amok and At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul into a metalcore product that panders to Adult Swim viewers, then Skeleton Witch would be the abomination unleashed. Tired and generic riffs more bound to cliche than tradition power an interchangeable series of mellow-deaf parts stitched into galloping rhythms. Although it appears to be like metal from a distance, I suspect if MC Hammer knew how to play a guitar, he’d come up with something like this. Poppy and bouncy background noise for people who value video games and Comedy Central more than music, Serpents Unleashed might be the sonic equivalent of a middle schooler’s diary: covered in stickers and glitter, but the content within is more than predictable in essence even if not in particulars, and in ten years it will humiliate them if unleashed.

beyond-fatal_power_of_deathBeyond – Fatal Power of Death

The problem with retro works is context. What was once a whole context is broken down into techniques, “moments,” transitions, tempo changes, riff-archetypes and melodic frameworks, and then reconstituted. However, since there’s no motivation except to be retro, there’s no new context except appearance. Thus the bands doing this tend to default to the simplest elements possible, which are either age-independent but average stuff the original genre tried to escape or conventions of the present age. The result is that you get the same stuff, but someone has covered it in retro-feeling-stuff. The end result is like a bison spray-painted with corporate logos, a contextless mishmash that’s oblivious to its own true nature. Beyond make a credible effort but they are trying to fit riffs together, not use riffs like words or colors on a painting, and as a result, nothing is communicated by frenetic energy, doubt and disorganization. Moments of this release are stunning, but the whole does not add up to much because it’s not about anything.

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Black Metal

Black metal took the lawless extremity of death metal and added a greater use of melody, creating swelling surges of sound that sweep the listener away with raw emotion and then arrive in a wasteland devoid of inherent value. Songs fashioned from primitive elements end up telling complex tales, embarking on a journey where the greatest human fears — meaninglessness, predation and violence — end up being salvation from the frustrating world of entropy-bound stagnation. Thematically black metal represents an assault on the pillars of modernity, namely egalitarianism, consumerism and tolerance.

House recommendations: Burzum, Emperor, Ildjarn, Graveland, Summoning and Sacramentum.

BEST EVER

1. Burzum – Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
2. Immortal – Pure Holocaust
3. Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse
4. Darkthrone – Transylvanian Hunger
5. Graveland – The Celtic Winter
6. Bathory – Blood, Fire, Death
7. Ildjarn – Det Frysende Nordariket
8. Summoning – Dol Guldur
9. Gorgoroth – Antichrist
10. Beherit – Electric Doom Synthesis
11. Enslaved – Vikinglgr Veldi
12. Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
13. Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
14. Sacramentum – Far Away From the Sun
15. Mutiilation – Remains of a Dead, Ruined, Cursed Soul

COMPILATIONS

Under the Pagan Moon (Cyclonic Productions)
Nordic Metal Compilation (Necropolis)
Firestarter Compilation (Century Media)

Abruptum
Absu
Absurd
Abyss, the
Ancient
Angelcorpse
Antaeus
Arcturus
Auzhia
Avenger
Averse Sefira
Axis of Advance
Bathory
Behemoth
Beherit
Belial
Black Goat
Blasphemy
Blazemth
Blood
Burzum
Celtic Frost
Conqueror
Cultus Sanguine
Dark Funeral
DarkThrone
Dark Tranquility
Dawn
Deinonychius
Demonic
Demoncy
Dimmu Borgir
Dissection
Emperor

Enslaved
Eucharist
Frozen Shadows
Gehenna
Gorgoroth
Gotmoor
Graveland
Grotesque
Havohej
Hades
Hellhammer
Ildjarn
Immortal
Impaled Nazarene
Infernum
Inquisition
I Shalt Become
Katatonia
Krieg
Kvist
Lord Wind
Manes
Marduk
Mayhem
Merciless
Mortiis
Mütiilation
Mysticum
Necromantia
Niden Div 187
NME
Ophthalamia
Pentagram
Pervertum
Profanatica
Resuscitator
Rotting Christ
Sacramentum
Samael
Sammath
Sarcofago
Septic Flesh
Setherial
Sodom
Sorcier des Glaces
Sort Vokter
Summon
Summoning
Swordmaster
Tha-norr
Thorns
Tartaros
Throne of Ahaz
Ulver
Ungod
Urgrund
Usurper
Varathron
Vilkates
Von
Watain
Xibalba
Yamatu
Zyklon-B

Reviews have mp3 sound samples for each album, coverscan, tracklist and label contact information.

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Iconoclasm Sweeps Norvegia: Impressions of Norwegian Death Metal

1. Introduction
2. Pure Fucking Metal: The 80′s Underground
3. Vomit: Still Rotting CD
4. Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP
5. Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP
6. Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP
7. Mortem: Slow Death EP
8. Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD
9. Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD
10. Arcturus: My Angel EP
11. Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP
12. Generalization: A Statement Of The End

Written by Devamitra with Fenriz (Darkthrone), Anders (Cadaver) and Manheim (Mayhem)

Introduction

 

I have had this Vision
of a voyage in mind and soul
Through silent Somniferous scenes
within the enclosed chambers of my
untouched spiritual experiences
Soaring through damp air
Seeing faces, twisting, plunging through my colour

– Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

 

From the downbeat plays by Henrik Ibsen to the introverted nightmare paintings of Edvard Munch, the Expressionist era of Norwegian art had a hundred years ago remembered the voices of the dead and listened to the weeping of the living.

Art connoisseurs took note of the summoned ancestors and the frozen shades of the Norse era, that had been united into jagged juxtapositions of a modern life and an industrializing society – a world of pain. As Norway rose in material wealth throughout the 20th century and discovered the dubious ideals of social democracy, the nation was forced to hide their deep embedded pride, honour and dignity into the bottomless domains of subconscious and hidden symbolism. Ghosts of the Nazi occupation haunted and shame caused people to understand moral problems. If grandmothers and grandfathers still had remembered the rites of witchcraft, the oaths spoken to the wallowing mist of the fjords, they were now abandoned to a worldview committed to science, humanism and well-being.

Pure Fucking Metal: The 80’s Underground

Young minds were seething with fury, anxiety and barely contained stellar potency of creation. Norway around them was filled with McDonalds, idiotic TV programs and insipid pop by A-Ha. The generation between 16 and 19 years of age had integrated into their worldview the stylistic tenets of punk, thrash and heavy metal, whose nexuses in the beginning were the heavy capitalist societies of the USA and the UK. The resulting chemistry was to inspire the manifestation of the most evil and brutal sounds possible, in retaliation towards the satiated ideal of “peace” that reeked of old, dying people and blasphemed the Viking ideal of death through battle.

Sweden, always ahead in trends of Western Europe and America, had led the path towards the Scandinavian idea of death metal with the original black metal sorcery of Bathory and followed with a string of demo-level bands (Corpse, Hellfire, Obscurity, Morbid and Sorcery to name some) years before death metal mania exploded. Finland lagged behind with Norway until Xysma and Abhorrence opened the gates of Hell there and death metal bands formed by school pals and neighbours surged from even the quietest suburbs that barely knew about heavy metal, as in Sweden.

Fenriz: There was no scene in Norway. For instance the Swedish punk scene wasn’t only 10 times as strong as Norway in early 80′s… try thirty times bigger! Finland was just a bit better with metal, but much better with punk. So we were like a third world country, and it was Mayhem and the Slayer mag that put us on the map originally in ’84-’88 (more intensely ’85-’87). Then a bunch of us others joined the underground with our bands too.

One without the experience of death metal life without public attention can not dive into the extreme and alienated emotion of a morbid artist who is intent on creating noisy demos with batches of cruel artwork, releasing only tapes or meager 7″ EP’s on mostly rip-off labels and this has to be kept in mind when the eternal “rock star” accusations are levelled towards the same people now. The spiritual impact of what these misfits created in the 80′s was as extreme of a phenomenon, if not more, than to commit crimes known to everyone in the vicinity. They were practically admitting to being insane.

Fenriz: There weren’t any fans. Everyone had own bands and were because of this isolation of course total maniacs. We had to make our own fans here, ha ha. But punks liked us, and we played good show at Blitz, famous Oslo punk house in 1990. Norway was not important, it was only underground work with snail mail that was important to me. That was 90% of my work.

Anders: This was before the Internet and to get a hold of an album like “Reek of Putrefaction” by Carcass meant
you had something truly extreme in your hands. The whole idea of being true and anti-normal came mostly from Euronymous and his developing Black metal philosophy. He had a strong impact on all of us and it was hard to get away from his force so to speak.

Manheim: It felt good, I can tell you that much. People didn’t understand it much. A lot of musicians and friends around us told us that we wasted our talent, and it wasn’t music that the average listener liked. But we didn’t make the music for the masses, we did it for our selves and for the few around the world that liked extreme music. We tried to make something new, and I do think we succeeded on that one.

In musical respect, the kickstart of the scene was from the capital Oslo, a violent clash between the anti-social, minimalist riff of hardcore and the agility exercise of speed metal; these sounds can particularly be heard in the demos of Vomit. Mayhem, also from Oslo, initially represented a similar style of music and Vomit members sometimes filled positions in Mayhem and vice versa, but it was soon to be conjoined with the extreme attitudes belonging to black metal, far before any other band in the world adhered to them. Small town (Kolbotn) thrash kids Gylve Fenris, Ivar and Anders created Black Death, which combined the speed metal of Destruction or Dark Angel with humorous lyrics relating to their daily life and later developed into the extreme entity that is Darkthrone.

Fenriz: 80′s metal scene was nothing in Norway, we made it ourselves, and broke away from all (lack of) standard here. Global underground was everything to us. Norway was not important, but became much better in ’89. Impostor was also a cool band, but had nothing to do with death metal.

Vomit: Still Rotting CD

The hyperactive Vomit was never to get a professional release for their material back in the day; this recent compilation hosts demos and rehearsals and the same line-up also reformed as Kvikksolvguttene in the 90′s to play some old and new songs. This CD contains several demo versions of the same tracks but it’s easy to listen all the way to such basic, catchy and hilarious manifests. Surprisingly sensitive, like a much simpler Slayer, this hyper-organic sequence of thrash aims its nuclear warheads towards society because of the realization that it is malfunctioning. It gives memories of early COC and Cryptic Slaughter, even Minor Threat in its high energy fueled rebellion – just check “Demonoid”‘s violence. The assaulting harsh vocals ranting about the legions from Hell remember Venom.

Musical cues from Kreator and Sodom in tracks such as “Rotting Flesh”, while rudimentary, suggest the evil power of proto death metal — confrontational punk metal in the spirit of Sepultura’s first album: non-produced and immature. When slowing down to groovy and grinding, the chaotic leads and chromatic chord progressions sound like a band from the old Earache catalogue. The primal energy in tracks such as “Armies of Hell” is simply infectious, inspiring to action for the sake of feeling, thrill and power, like this was a middle finger against the city, these kids were hanging out, overturning police cars and breaking windows. Overall it’s much better than today’s retro bands in a similar style.

FenrizVomit was the rawest well played band in mid-80′s, death thrash, completely awesome, as good as “Hell Awaits” or Dark Angel’s “Darkness Descends”.

AndersThe first Mayhem EP “Deathcrush” came out in 1987 and this is by far the most interesting release of the time.

Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP

Mayhem overturned the Norwegian underground with their maniacal proto-black metal, with an air reeking of chainsaw murders, snuff movies and glue sniffing. The barbaric simplicity of the songs defies even the logic of Hellhammer. We are witnessing the birth-gasps of the BM underground here as krautrock’s Conrad Schnitzler’s magniloquent, twisted avantgarde intro leads into an infernal journey through vistas of butchered early black metal. The recipe is mixing together the primal elements of speed metal and punk, then mangling them as unrecognizable traces of rock music that used to be “fun” but now torn to sarcastic pieces in the hands of bestial psychopaths. Any kind of elegance or progression was unknown to these guys. They make up for this bluntness by organizing with raw vitality and a clear purpose for doing it this way as the pieces of the image fit together. While Euronymous’ riffing is primitive-inventive and Manheim’s heavy drumming is perfect for the material, one can hear that the songs are still mostly in the level of demo versions for a band of Mayhem’s stature developing slowly towards their full potential. The impudently vicious lyrical side centered on gore and blasphemy would fare better through the mouth of the next vocalist Dead while on these recordings Messiah (not Marcolin!) stands out as the superior of Maniac of the two featured voices, as his Sodom-influenced pacing lends power to the old demo track “Pure Fucking Armageddon”.

ManheimThe band image and style was something that came quite early. But it wasn’t the reason for the formation of the band. We started the band because we shared the same ambition to make something different and extreme. I’ve tried to explain it on my blog post “Am I evil”. I recommend that you watch the documentaries “Pure Fucking Mayhem” and “Once Upon a Time in Norway”. The main musical influences were of course metal related, in combination with extreme musical genres. Lyrics were inspired by many sources, but were specifically designed to fit the musical soundscape and the aggressive image surrounding the Mayhem concept. The interest for avantgarde music was something Euro and I shared. We also formed a project we called L.E.G.O. where we explored ideas and concepts within noise and experimental music.

FenrizMayhem was unique, but not an inspiration for death metal. Euronymous only liked death metal up to “Scream Bloody Gore”. He was sceptical to Autopsy when I played him the demo in ’89. But we loved and still love Autopsy of course.

Cadaver was the next major band to heed the call to arms, from the small coastal town of Råde nearer to Sweden, playing a version of death metal not too far removed from the bass heavy, electric sound that was already becoming huge in Sweden and not surprisingly, Cadaver was to be the first Norwegian death metal band to release a full-length album on a label, racing past Darkthrone who still continued developing through a serious of demos in death, doom and black metal style incorporating a psychedelic tendency that was unique, Norwegian and unforgettable, actually sounding more like the Munch paintings come to life than loud rock rebels. By this time various other death metal bands were spawned by the soil which had absorbed the blood of the sacrifices to Odin. Like mushrooms bands such as Old Funeral from the pagan and occultist infested Bergen, Thou Shalt Suffer from the sports and music obsessed Telemark countryside and Mortem from “global” Oslo sprung up, all being practicing grounds for a legion of musicians destined to fame and glory in future projects.

Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP

The viral and persistent Cadaver took the death metal art in Norway to a new level: besides violating the listener with speed, the intricate composition aims to rip through artificial examinations of reality through morbid revelations. This controlled and logical death metal experience is not quite the absolute psychic expressionism of Darkthrone’s masterpiece but musically soars high above the previous releases and most of what was to follow. Quoting Celtic Frost and Morbid Angel for listenability, hardcore influenced beats underpin a consistently brutal and bludgeoning riffwork in Carcass’ minimalist vein, bringing to mind images of an industrial age wasteland. Vocals are harsh, grating commands in the rhythm of Brazilian bands, promising continuity of experience all the way into grim death. While hateful, arrogant and mid-paced, centered around gore and loss of hope, some of the most beautiful tendencies of Scandinavian death metal already arise on this release and are made all the better by incorporating the best of the deconstructivist tendencies from grindcore music. Twisted and narrative in arrangement, the barbarous and thundering old school death metal riffs of Cadaver proceed to explain the magic of reality in their series of devastating conclusions, proving the album a long lasting gem.

AndersWe had a variety of favorite bands that inspired us at the time. Apart from the bands mentioned we were all into Napalm Death, Kreator, Sodom, Slayer, Death, Autopsy, Paradise Lost, Mayhem, Equinox and not forget Voivod. We were a part of the scene and into all the stuff that came out on demos etc. too so it is not right to say we were influenced by just a few bands. We were into hardcore stuff like A.O.D., S.O.D., Carnivore etc. as well as black metal bands. It was a wild mix.

FenrizCadaver was absolutely great in ’88 and ’89, we played with them and saw them live many, many times! Cadaver was the first Norwegian death metal release, we came right after with the 2nd.

Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP

An album released 20 years ahead of its time, it’s one of those timeless classics that defy description and comparison. Even today it’s impossible to find death metal that sounds quite like it. It somewhat escaped people’s attention back in the day and has existed on the verge of rediscovery with the sporadic bootleg and official releases of the Darkthrone demos but is still not very widely known among the Darkthrone fanbase. Resembling Celtic Frost taken by the hand of a witch doctor through a series of cosmogonic explanations while on an LSD trip, what starts as gnarly and crawling doomdeath becomes an experience from the beyond. The album has very little in the way of the overbearing brutality of Florida death metal or the catchy Slayer-punk riffing of the Swedes, but it is full of parts that stick to mind and make you come back to its sequences of mystical, foreboding and inconclusive themes and landscapes. Some of the resolutions of its parts are almost disgusting in their divergence from habitual speed metal, death and thrash and they wrack the mind. The evil and brooding melodies crawl over your neck like alien insectoids. Nocturno Culto’s vocals already show their depth and power and so do Fenriz’ inimitable lyrics. On this release Fenriz’ unique drumming skills are the most apparent; pure cult in the making. The eerie use of synths heard on this album would undoubtedly have spiced up some of the later Darkthrone material too. This is the birth of “death metal for the intellectual”.

FenrizThere’s only one Celtic Frost riff on “Soulside Journey”! We were inspired by Possessed, Autopsy, Death, Nihilist, Sepultura (“Schizophrenia” album only), Nocturnus (2nd demo), Devastation (Chicago) and such, Black Sabbath too… but most importantly we had a mission statement: all the riffs should be able to slow down and play on a synth as horror movie effects. So we played technical horror death metal with doom elements and also our eternal inspiration, visions of the universe: even our first demo in early ’88 had an outer space painting as cover.

AndersThe Darkthrone debut album has some great songs in it and it blew me away at the time. It sounds very Swedish and if it had the grim sound of lets say Autopsy it could have showed a different path for Norwegian death metal along with us for young bands at the time. Who knows?

Mortem: Slow Death EP

Mortem’s seldom heard EP boasted some of the most catchy riffs of Norway’s early death metal and one of drum legend Hellhammer’s earliest performances on record. Mortem joins the company of Vomit in aiming to produce the death metal experience with hardcore-like simplicity. Tracks such as “Milena” and “Slow Death” are pure headbanging mania, not much else, though the latter also has an interesting modal type of guitar solo. Considering the general sound quality, drums are surprisingly clear and powerful and show Hellhammer’s early skill in arranging rhythm. Such elements and the beautiful intro to “Nightmare” leave one wondering a bit how it would have been if this band had recorded an album. The heavily distorted vocal performance is of a dubious benefit, like an overblown imitation of Maniac’s already annoying screams on “Deathcrush”. However, they lend a chaotic, absurd and insane element to the proceedings of what is rather usual demo level death metal from a young band.

Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD

At times nearly reminiscent of “Soulside Journey” in enwrapping the listener with pure twisted melody riffs, its surprising that this compilation of material from some of the most interesting line-ups (future Immortal, Burzum and Hades members) of death metal is not too much celebrated. It’s easy to already hear traces of the epic ambient guitar that would characterize the members’ later bands – the Wagnerian “My Tyrant Grace” could easily be an early Immortal recording. Old Funeral’s recordings do often fall short of brilliance, songs having good parts but being incomplete. Old Funeral had potential to be a magnificent band but sadly never got a stable enough line-up or enough work and attention to make it happen. At worst (“Lyktemenn”) the material is unorganized and thrashy, emotionally anguished in a selfish way and using half written heavy metal influenced melodies in a despicable way, inconclusively jumping from one phrase to the next – obscure but not visionary or evolving, just a collection of moods. “Into Hades” approximates early doomdeath. “Abduction of Limbs” is inspired by technical US death metal and succeeds in building an evil ambience. “Devoured Carcass” is more obviously Scandinavian in manufacture, akin to the barbarous blasphemies of Treblinka or Beherit as microbic riffs intone trances of darkness in a nightmare of lost souls. Slower funereal passages on the compilation echo traces of ancient Cemetary and Therion. The black thrashing of “Skin and Bone” reminds of Bathory or early Voivod while throwing some sparkling, clever leads into the mix, creating a surprisingly war metal-like high energy plutonium explosion. This ripping and rocking track manages to approximate brilliance. The core simplicity of most of Old Funeral’s material will hinder the pleasure of the elitist metal listener, but much of it remains highly listenable as even the live recordings work surprisingly well.

Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD

Thou Shalt Suffer was the product of an already long development from band formations such as Dark Device, Xerasia and Embryonic, composed of future music-magicians who would form Emperor, Ildjarn and the Akkerhaugen sound studio. Mostly early 90′s Swedish satanic death metal in style, Thou Shalt Suffer assaulted the listener with disorganized yet compelling demo level death metal noise with submerged, intense and evil soundscape. Seriously brutal in nature, interlocking chromatic riffs in the vein of Incantation or early Amorphis race on, sporadically bursting into uncontrolled grind. Vocals are super-dramatic in Ihsahn’s craziest early style, ranging from humorously weird to total evil and synths repeat a few doomy patterns, foreshadowing Ihsahn’s later neo-symphonic obsessions. The songs are expectedly not quite there and everything sounds unplanned and spontaneous but for pure spirit it can be quite exhilarating to listen to it today. The discordant, fractured and genius stream of melody of the main riffing recalls ideas later developed further in beautiful way while the expert rhythm guitar is able to create the texture of an infernal landscape. Fragmented but compelling, it should go without saying that it has already done more than most of today’s death metal releases. A special award should be presented for the long experimental outro track “Obscurity Supreme”, seething with a truly avantgarde ambition beyond the later “art metal” habits, worthy of its title.

Arcturus: My Angel EP

The Mortem line-up returned with this piece of madness before plunging into black metal sounds using this band name. Arcturus started its career reminiscent of Swedish second tier satanic death metal bands in the vein of Tiamat, cutting through the intricacies of the narrative death metal of Cadaver and Darkthrone to hammer out Wagnerian power chord doom, with not much appreciation for subtle nuances. The first track “My Angel” starts out psychedelic and impressive, foreshadowing the deep symbolic exploration of the internal cosmos done later by bands such as Tartaros. However, in Arcturus it remains as just another eclectic act, as the dramatic development proceeds in an expected way. While the impressive parts are there it doesn’t reach the magnanimous stature it’s trying to achieve, with the keyboard melodies from film soundtracks and the evil vocals reminiscent of early Samael. “Morax” is a track with gothic, Cathedral-inspired doomdeath wrapped in a synth layer of Nocturnus. Arcturus attempted to obtain a complex, insane atmosphere of invocation but it was not to be their forte; the careening splendour of “Aspera Hiems Symfonia” would be better music.

Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP

Thyabhorrent, led by Occultus (another figure from the early black metal history around Mayhem and Helvete), specialized in simple death metal which used some speed metal riffs and emotive lead guitar interludes. Occasionally similar to Dissection, it seems to carry an eerie foreshadow of Gothenburg and today’s mainstream death metal style while still proudly enwrapped in the mystique of the Norwegian underground. The catchy metal riffing and try-hard vocals in “Condemnation” are halfway to serious power, falling short of the atmosphere obtained by almost all other works of the era. The good riffs are wasted by the very simplistic construction of songs and the unfortunate tendency to rip a wrong context: heavy metal. “Occultus Brujeria” displays an elegantly romantic tendency which could have been something with more development: doomy clean vocals herald simple black metal of expressive, gothic, über-dramatic character. Some of the interludes suggest ideas that could have turned this into an elaborate progressive black metal band but as it stands, it’s a much weaker and tamer version of the kind of material released by Necromantia, Burzum or Isengard early on.

Generalization: A Statement Of The End

The original death metal underground of Norway was alienated, silent and private and thus gave a chance to develop all these ideas towards their full fruition. When the scene burst into the attention of a million of trendy fans, it dealt a blow to the atmosphere that could not be recovered from it. The sanity of the fragile artistic mindset required that the adherents move away towards new areas of quietude and purity (“away from the noise of the marketplace” in the words of Nietzsche) to continue the serious contemplation of darkness. What follows is the history of the early 90′s black metal phenomenon; Cadaver remains the sole band of the ancient underground that is still around cranking out evil death metal.

Anders: We split up in 2004 – so no, we are not around. To call Death Metal trendy is a sidetracking of the whole thing. I don’t share the idea that we ever played something trendy. To play death metal in 1999 was as un-trendy as it could be. I call what I play death metal still because it is my playing style. Death metal can mean much more that most people think. I am a death metal man by hand and a black metal man by soul.

Fenriz: I can with my hand on my heart say that I only bought like 5-6 death metal releases in 1990, and maybe 2 in 1991… or none. The studios like Morrisound and Sunlight were fresh in the very beginning, but organic sound is the best and I quickly learnt to hate these click click bass drum sounds that started to ruin metal in ’89 and have completely ruined generations of metalheads later on. In ’89 death metal compilation tapes were overflowing the underground, I had already been through hard rock and heavy metal and power and thrash and everything possible, then I saw that thrash metal got boring and too copied and the same thing happened with death metal, it was too many bands, but the sound was good in ’89. But to me, I heard Hungarian Tormentor on one of those tapes, and got back into more “evil” sound again, like Destruction “Infernal Overkill” and such, as I hadn’t listened to them for a while. I saw it as just thrash, but after getting an evil revelation with Tormentor, I saw a lot of the thrash I had from before in a new black light, and I got more and more into Bathory. And in 1990 I mostly listened to the more primitive stuff, but our craft was technical death metal and we needed to complete our album. Even after our album we had lots of material pouring out of us (became “Goatlord” album) but it had to stop with this technical style, we were all agreeing on this except Dag. We took a U-turn unto the primitive lane in 1991.

Even a cursory investigation to the workings of the early Norwegian metal underground should dissolve one of the most persistent illusions about Norwegian black metal bands such as Burzum and Immortal: that they did not know how to handle their instruments, or did not have an extensive background in musical expression. Do you think they simply wanted to pose evil with corpsepaint? They were talented musicians who had years of experience playing technical styles of death metal before the black metal explosion. The simplified sound of black metal was due to the ethics of black metal and the spirit of black metal. The black metal resurgence intended to develop metal music to a new level of intensity and create a purer atmosphere, unpolluted by the social agreements of the new death metal people.

For most metal fans Norwegian death metal means either black metal or the new digitally produced bands in the vein of Zyklon and Blood Red Throne. The intent of this excursion has been to show how pure death metal was the fundamental force in establishing the original Norwegian underground metal scene and how it ultimately grew into the most vital and archaic musical movement of the 90′s, Norwegian black metal.

Anders: The bands such as Darkthrone, Mayhem and Immortal were in fact very inspired by death metal. If you listen to the latest Emperor, Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir albums they all have strong elements of death metal in them. The scene that was to become the Norwegian black metal scene was never a “one-way-street”. The issues with Swedish bands in ’91-’93 was mainly about the fact that death metal became conformed, predictable and non-dangerous. The strong standing of the black metal scene overshadowed any death metal band for many many years and this is still the case.

Manheim: I of course felt and feel proud of being responsible for giving people inspiration. That so many people in Norway and around the globe have taken this further is of the good. Of course there’s a lot of bands that appeared that didn’t do anything else than copying those before them, but the development of genres like Norwegian BM and others shows that there’s a lot of creativity and wonderful musical contribution that has been done after Mayhem released its first demos and “Deathcrush”. My personal favorite releases are Darkthrone’s early works – and if I have to choose, “Under a Funeral Moon”.

Fenriz still works on Darkthrone, promotes his favorite underground bands and speaks against forest industry. Anders has been playing live guitar and bass for major bands such as Celtic Frost and Satyricon. Manheim composes and performs experimental music and writes a good blog on culture and music. Deathmetal.org thanks them all for their kind contribution.

Cosmic Fear arrives, I hold a dead one,
Surrounded by my many candles
(I burn to cleanse the air)
Rotten Unclean Sacrifice Nightmares
Unreal Psychedelic Journey
Ride The Darkside
Search The Soulside

– Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

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