In 1998, a few black metal musicians — many of whom faced legal troubles in their home countries — came together to make a recording. The result, Asgardsrei, captured black metal in transition: its epic past, its roots in punk merged with Oi, and its tackling of unpopular subject matter, in this case out-of-the-closet NSBM.
This form of music differed NSBMTM that was to follow which meant exclusively Drudkh-style droning sugar-substitute melodies and battle-related titles with neo-Romantic lyrics:
Alone I wander
Wastelands of the soul
Among the corpses and ash
A single flower rises
Kill the Jews with fire
Absurd back in the day combined a poetic style that might be called “immaturism,” a wide-ranging complaint with the modern world, and yes, some rather violent ideas. It defied categorization. Their debut album, Facta Loquuntur, sounded at times like ultra-simplistic punk with lyrics from a child’s point of view, pointing out not policy failures or physical breakdown in Western society, but its completely backward spirit and denial of all existential importance. Always on the edge of black metal, Absurd both increased the discernible Oi/RAC influence and put together more black metal style riffing, creating a hybrid that kept both voices without allowing the extremes of either to take over.
Fast-forward to 2012. Absurd — now with none of the 1999 members — re-issues Asgardsrei in a new form. As it is arguably the most musically interesting album from Absurd, combining the raw forest metal (this is the band that wrote “Green Heart” after all) with greater proficiency and alertness, it could be a big seller for this band. Unfortunately, they decided to under guise of a re-master actually alter this album. First they turned up the guitars and turned down keyboards, background sounds, etc. They replaced the subtle intro with patriotic bluster and industrial percussion. Then they either modified or added drums to give the album a constant kick-happy Oi beat. Finally, they modified vocals to sound more like the recent Oi/metal hybrid the band has been putting out. The result crushed all subtlety and made this album very much the exact thing this band in its original form would have recoiled at.
Thuringian plain, deep dark forest
Evil dwells on there in the woods
Snowcovered hills, cold winds blowing
Romantic place, is it understood ?!
Evil in the forest in Germany’s Green Heart !
Hateful savages, strong black minds
Out of the forest, kill the human kind
Burn the settlements and grow the woods
Until this romantic place is understood !
Absurd‘s Der fünfzehnjährige Krieg CD of old tracks rerecorded by the current line up is being reissued by Hammer of Damnation for everyone who wishes Absurd’s older material had a sterile metalcore production. Hopefully the reissue is better than the horrible Asgardsrei one.
It is no secret that we believe that the best of metal has come out mostly of what we now call ‘the underground’, a tradition that has been characterized by standing outside of the wheel of commercial production in the arts. The moment a band signs a contract, lands big deals and makes a break through while effectively becoming shackled to the money-making industry, it has sold out. This is because as a commercially-oriented product, its main purpose is to be able to sell, it has to pander to the preferences of a certain audience, however whimsical they are.
It is true that music must retain a natural connection to man and its true test is how different people receive it. But this is not the same as the populist idea that the best music is that which appeals to the largest number of people, which is nothing more than a dumbing down to the least common denominator. The authentic underground stands between independence from commercial pandering and the need to communicate naturally through organized sound itself (Editor’s note: At the best of times, it furthermore isn’t simply content to dwell on its alleged authenticity; cue the endless mockery of albums that are too “kvlt” to be any good).
The following are short underground metal works released throughout the nineties. These represent specific moments and sides of metal that were, at that particular moment, true to their roots and the spirit of metal. They stand out in each particular moment as either outstanding examples in a times of superficial distraction, decadence or a complete lack of direction across the underground metal movement.
1. At the Gates – Gardens of Grief (1991)
A favorite underground EP of many for the wrong reasons, this first official release by At the Gates stands squarely on the pillars of traditional old school death metal while innovating a unique approach to songwriting which built a whole platform on top of its basis, elevating the progressive art of death metal to a whole other level of refinement.
2. Divine Eve – As The Angels Weep (1993)
This single nostalgic (inherently, not in retrospect only) release from back in the day by this Texan outfit brought together gestures from early Celtic Frost and Cathedral within a Scandinavian death metal frame, succeeding in climaxing in its own voice during certain moments in between.
3. Ancient – Trolltaar (1995)
A condensation and evolution of their soul-enchanting debut, this EP shows Ancient at its darkest and most minimalist state, while displaying its most potent emotional impact that reaches out as an invisible hand to clutch at the listener’s heart (Note: Infamous’ Of Solitude and Silence seems to echo the feeling of this ancient-souled EP).
4. Absurd – Asgardsrei (1999)
Crude and rhythmic, a simple and punk-like punch to the face in the time of metal emptiness, superficiality and posturing, Absurd’s roughness disguises the poetry of the tribesman’s spirit, the man following his instincts untouched by modernist presumptions of what reading of history and human nature better fits their interests.
Five years have elapsed since 2010, a year that seemed to mark a slight renewal in creative forces, a kind of premonition of a metal renaissance that came after 15 years of horrid decadence following the decease of black metal as a movement. By 2013 this force was still incipient but already showed potential for future development as acts with more refined views about composition grounded themselves in tradition, promising to build monuments to a past glory for future times. Musicians from the metal underground’s classical era also formed the bulk of this rebirth, either through perfection or purification of their own take on the art.
The last two years have seen a manner of steady output that is weakened in quantity of quality releases, little manifest presence to speak of, with a few exceptions. The same can be said of the years between 2010 and 2013. This seems to be in accordance with a 3-year pendulum swing as the small cycle of metal. The long one probably signaling stronger points of birth and decay – probably decades: 1970-birth, 1980-underground, 1990-golden era, 2000-dark ages, 2010-renaissance.
It was a different time, and when Slayer, Metallica and Iron Maiden were doing their thing at the beginning of the 1980s, metal was also at a mainstream high with many poopoo acts dominating the scene. When mainstream metal drowns in its filth at the end of the decade and the 90s leave them with unmetal metal like Pantera or Soundgarden is when the underground rears its head in greater numbers.This coincides a little with what is happening now, as nu-funderground and mainstream whoring like female-fronted so-called metal flourishes in numbers just as the shock rock and glam metal (hard rock) plague in the time of Slayer.
To make matters more complicated, we have the internet, along with other means of communication and technology that allow for pockets of both good and bad music to survive with less regard to overall trends. Metal is not yet at another apocalyptic end of an era like the one that saw the explosion of death metal, we may have to wait another decade for that, but there is rise not dissimilar to the rise of underground NWOBHM and soon after speed metal. The next ebbing of the tide is at hand, but not yet its climax. What changes is not the fact that there is or there isn’t more mainstream crap, but how much excellent underground music there is. The year 1990 was a very special time marker that signaled the advent of a climax low for the mainstream and climax high for the underground.
Now, that we posit the existence of such critical years does not mean that no excellent albums occur outside of them, but that there is a sort of genre-wide, or community-wide, perhaps, pulse that pushes general tendencies. Now, according to this idea, the next “big year” in the small cycle would be 2016. Below we give an overview of these so-called big years and some band releases we are looking forward to this year.
What are your expectations in metal releases in 2016?
A quick reference to distinguished metal works in the ‘pulse’ years. Not especially comprehensive.
Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
1974: (Not really metal, Black Sabbath is WAY ahead)
Deep Purple – Stormbringer
Rush – Rush
King Crimson – Red (Editor’s note: Probably closer in spirit to future metal than others)
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
Motörhead – Motörhead
Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Cirith Ungol – Cirith Ungol
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
Slayer – Show No Mercy
Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
Mercyful Fate – Melissa
Manilla Road – Crystal Logic
Manowar – Into Glory Ride
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Metallica – Master of Puppets
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
Sepultura – Morbid Visions
Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian
Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Sepultura – Beneath the Remains
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Bolt Thrower – Realm of Chaos
Voivod – Nothingface
Helstar – Nosferatu
Powermad – Absolute Power
Rigor Mortis – Freaks
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Burzum – Burzum
At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes
Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
Sinister – Cross the Styx
Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
Deicide – Legion
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
Atrocity – Longing for Death
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Cadaver – …In Pains
Asphyx – Last One on Earth
Cenotaph – The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows
Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky
Emperor – Wrath of the Tyrant
Graveland – In the Glare of Burning Churches
Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet
Suffocation – Pierced from Within
Vader – De Profundis
Gorgoroth – The Antichrist
Graveland – Thousand Swords
Summoning – Minas Morgul
Deicide – Once Upon the Cross
Sacramentum – Far Away from the Sun
Immortal – Battles in the North
Abigor – Nachthymmen (From the Twilight Kingdom)
Funeral – Tragedies
Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane
Iced Earth – Burnt Offerings
Gorguts – Obscura
Vader – Black to the Blind
Incantation – Diabolical Conquest
Dawn – Slaughtersun
Sorcier des Glaces – Snowland
Angelcorpse – Exterminate
Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle-Earth
Symphony X – Twilight of the Gods
Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands
Suffocation – Despise the Sun
Absurd – Asgardsrei
Soulburn – Feeding on Angels
Arghoslent – Galloping Through the Battle Ruins
Master – Faith is in Season
Skepticism – Lead and Aether
Gorguts – From Wisdom to Hate
Absu – Tara
Martyr – Extracting the Core
Lost Horizon – Awakening the World
Deeds of Flesh – Mark of the Legion
Averse Sefira – Battle’s Clarion
Graveland – Raise Your Sword!
Krieg – The Black Plague
Avzhia – The Key of Throne
Quo Vadis – Defiant Imagination
Blotted Science – The Machinations of Dementia
Avzhia – In My Domains
Krieg – The Isolationist
Burzum – Belus
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate
Atlantean Kodex – The Golden Bough
Graveland – Cold Winter Blades
Profanatica – Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
Autopsy – The Tomb Within
Overkill – Iron Bound
Decrepitaph – Beyond the Cursed Tombs
Black Sabbath – 13
Condor – Nadia
Graveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods
Satan – Life Sentence
Argus – Beyond the Martyrs
Autopsy – Headless Ritual
Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum
Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita
Deströyer 666? (Editor’s note: I have my doubts about this one’s possible… transcendence)
An experienced music listener who is new to black metal asked for a doorway into the genre. This raises the question of how to appreciate black metal, which like most things in life is mostly mental preparation. Without context, black metal seems like any other loud genre, and it becomes harder to distinguish the newer tryhard junk from the original.
The best way to gain context is to walk through the history of the genre from oldest to newest. This approach, common in art, literature and philosophy, allows people to see what developed from what and what the reasoning for that was and therefore, what the reasoning is behind what is here now.
The result of this query was a simple list to urge people to explore this genre further. This list originates in the history of black metal music, but also in influences that can be identified among the bands as immediately relevant. Toward the end it extends more into general conjecture based on what shows up later in highly different form among the black metal works of relevance listed above it.
I. Proto- Metal
Bathory – The Return
Slayer – Hell Awaits
Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
Sodom – Persecution Mania
Sarcofago – INRI
Merciless – The Awakening
Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
Von – Satanic Blood
III. Black metal
Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Burzum – Burzum/Aske
Emperor/Enslaved – Split
Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
Varathron – His Majesty in the Swamp
Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma
Samael – Worship Him
IV. Second Wave
Gorgoroth – Antichrist
Graveland – The Celtic Winter
Ancient – Svartalvheim
Sacramentum – Far Away From the Sun
Ildjarn – Forest Poetry
Summoning – Dol Guldur
Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
Gehenna – First Spell
Behemoth – From the Pagan Vastlands
V. Extended Contemporary
Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
Sammath – Godless Arrogance
Mutiilation – Remains of a Ruined, Cursed, Dead Soul
Absurd – Asgardsrei
For immediate death metal background to black metal:
At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
Carnage – Dark Recollections
Godflesh – Streetcleaner
For heavy metal background to black metal:
Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
Venom – Possessed
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Destruction/Tormentor – Demos
For hardcore punk background to all metal:
Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
Amebix – No Sanctuary
The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel
For electronic music background to underground metal:
What’s an oration of disorder? What most people think of as “order” consists in telling other people what they want to hear and then manipulating them. That’s how you sell them products. But the selling of products is the opposite of what art and listeners need, which is a harsh voice to tell us the truth.
Shroud of the Heretic – Revelations in Alchemy
From the latest attempt of the Incantation clone camp comes Shroud of the Heretic with an album that combines a subtle melodic sensibility and the roaring chordstream bassy tremolo riffs that define that style. What is great about this is that it brings out the doom metal aspects of doom-death and is willing to allow the thunder to build and create the sense of sonic tunnel vision that makes this style so crushing. Shroud of the Heretic specialize in letting the music breathe through two riffs in combat from which a third rises, allowing the majority of the song to be taken in the interplay between those two riffs and then connecting them to other possibilities before returning for the descent. Revelations in Alchemy aims more for a doom metal aesthetic than a death metal one, and so benefits from the kind of repetition and churn that would not have worked on an Incantation album. It does not offer the same intensity as the older albums its worships, but it provides an alternative to the modern metal of this time that is well-composed even if not outright thrilling and terrifying. Given that its goal is, like that of most doom metal, to slowly press you into earth with inescapable repetition, Shroud of the Heretic seems to be on a path toward that end.
James Labrie – I Will Not Break
Coming to us from Dream Theater, James Labrie knows his audience likes jazzy heavy metal with a focus on positive themes. It makes sense that Dream Theater’s heritage is half Iron Maiden and half Rush, because they adopt the rhythms and harmonies of the former while using the quasi-prog stylings and outlook of the latter. Labrie continues in this vein but with more of an alternative rock sense of melody, creating something that sounds like a hybrid between Queensryche, Foo Fighters, and the kind of inspirational alt-rock-folk music that makes it into Lifetime Movie Network films at the end, when the girl hooks up with the right boy and apologizes to her mother and maybe even, finds Church (or God if she’s lucky). The result is probably a perfect commercial product in that it makes you feel good, with a “positive message found in the unlikeliest of places” (NPR) just like Rush, but has a basically good rhythm and is melodically compelling enough to hum along. But, like fellow Canadian artist Bryan Adams, Labrie has also indulged in a cheese fest that takes him firmly out of metal and plants him into the category of adult-oriented radio rock for people who want something a little cheerful and a little “edgy.” Thus he has left the hall and entered the suburban living room, while a vacuum runs or taxes are done, and the kids are upstairs listening to Dead Infection.
Asgardsrei – Dark Fears Behind the Door
The distinctive ambient intro that opens this album remains one of the high points. While all of the elements are correct, like many post-genre bands, this is essential a mishmash of styles put into the framework of faster abrupt death metal. Many of the tropes here are familiar from black metal and death metal of the past two decades, but are put into a uniform flow of high-speed tremolo picking. There are some bizarre riffs here, and the band specialize in horror movie-sounding lengthy power chord phrases, but these often seem to lead nowhere. There’s a good aesthetic idea there, but for it to become musical, it must arise from the other riffs. Instead, it’s more like a tour of compartments on a train where each one offers something different but in roughly the same style and so it seems to add up, but ultimately it’s a search for the compartment with the interesting riff and that’s fairly random. As far as style, these guys have a distinctive one that’s all their own, despite being very retro to the point of outright allusion, but because of the way riffs are contexted as part of the overall rhythmic composition nothing stands out as out of place.
Subreality – Endless Horizons
Imagine Blind Illusion, kicked forward a half-generation and thus using deathy vocals over melodic but buoyantly regular speed metal. These six songs were recorded in 1996 and finally released in 2004 but they sound like they’re straight out of the days of later Kreator or any of the death-influenced speed metal of the late 1980s. If you live for 1980s speed metal and like the somewhat shaky instrumentals of the underground, as well as the hangovers from 1970s metal which infest this like a Dave Murray impersonators’ conference, this divergence into metal history might appeal. Rhythmically consistent, Subreality has found a few grooves it likes and stays within them, using the mid-paced beat to hang riffs from like tentpegs holding canvas. Many of these riffs anticipate patterns that Pantera would later use to make its own music, previously a glam hair band with extensive heavy metal stylings, seem more “tough” on its way to discovering bro-core. Like most speed metal that does not take the riff salad approach, this quickly heads toward repetition as a familiar comfort and sing-song choruses outlining the rhythms of the song title. Not only that, but in the worst of the European approaches to speed metal, this is strictly verse-chorus (w/occasional riff detours) music based on the pace of the vocals, so it develops slowly if at all and features heavy repetition. Some have said this is an underground classic. “Classic of what?” I might ask.
Grace Disgraced – Enthrallment Traced
If you combined later Carcass’ Necroticism with later Suffocation, and decided that from modern metal you’d take the twisted riffs that converge on themselves through intricate lead rhythm patterns and discard the true randomness, you might be on a path to Grace Disgraced. Despite its fondness for internally rhyming names, this band makes a noodly type of death metal hybrid that emphasizes a contrast between spidery lead riffs and djent style percussive single-string riff texture. These songs do well once they get started and maintain a solid internal correspondence and tension; the real challenge this band is going to face in the future is figuring out how to make these songs distinctive. Much gets lost in the wash of riffs, blast beats and interludes; without shaping these songs around some distinctive trope, as Suffocation did (but Carcass ultimately did not) they’re going to find themselves getting lost in the background noise. In addition, many of the riff types are highly similar between songs which leads to a further loss of distinctiveness. All instruments are well-played and songs hold together without becoming random although often it’s difficult to discern what they’re trying to say.
Adamus Exul – Arsenic Idols
The black metal that doesn’t sound like “post-metal” (emo, indie, shoegaze, metalcore) fully is generally built on the same model that later Gehenna and Gorgoroth built on, which is the churning sweep riff followed by a fast metal tremolo riff and over the top vocals. Adamus Exul makes a competent bid for this style and generally does it well but adorn it in so many other decorations that it becomes hard to tell where each song is going. In that there’s a revelation; these songs introduce themselves well, and deepen the experience with internal richness, but never manage to pick a place to go. Thus the band uses a lot of radical percussion and decoration to transition out of each song. By the last two tracks on the album, Adamus Exul have almost totally lost concentration and/or their hoard of ideas, and the release trails off into gibberish and leftover speed metal tropes. The first four tracks however show some potential as a musical experience but fall short of exposing themselves to the raw nihilism of black metal, in which they can no longer hide in the world of what is socially valued, but most confront the emptiness of life itself and the need to give it meaning through finding purpose which is not necessarily inherent. That is lost here and so what has promise ends up being an entertaining and aesthetically distracting experience but never leads to any profundity which might give this album staying power, even if it is better in technique and composition than most of what crosses my desk.
Malevolent Supremacy – Malevolent Supremacy
Looking at this title, you might think: middle of the road death metal with deathgrind influences. That indeed describes Malevolent Supremacy, who write songs around the blast-beat buildup and breakaway much as the Skinless-style bands did, but instead of aiming for slouchy brocore grooves, Malevolent Supremacy like high-speed riffs and clattering drums racing to a conclusion. These riffs rip along at the high speeds you might expect from the second Vader album and do fall into grooves, just not the simplistic bouncecore ones favored in fraternity houses and meth dens worldwide. Songs are well staged and unravel with some subtlety. However, this band relies too much on vocals to lead the guitars, which is backwards, and have a tendency to build up perfectly good songs only to extrude them into repetition as a way of preserving whatever mood was created. Too many flourishes on guitar also interrupt what would be, if stripped down and allowed to breathe as themselves, some powerful death metal songs. The frenetic approach rarely works because it smooshes all of that nice death metal textural complexity into a single background drone, which then requires the vocals get dramatic to compensate, but that doesn’t work so perfectly workable song structures get interrupted with “contrast” that amounts to fast breaks and quick turns to evade the attention of the listener. This band has potential but should probably try another tack.
Queen V – The Decade of Queen V
Flopping into the metal pile because guitars are used, Queen V should be filed instead under 1968 style music: brassy female vocalist, ironic songs, lots of hook and some boom. This is music designed for movies in that I can’t imagine anyone sitting down to something this unsubtle and finding meaning in it, but it would be something that a brain-dead leech like a movie producer might use to symbolize a character having a rebellious moment in between blowing her boss and getting mugged by hipsters. The music itself is crass and obvious. It whallops you over the head and howls at you. Nothing in it is poorly-executed, but as a judgment call, it seems to be designed for either people who have trouble digesting five-note runs or who like to play loud music to assert their personalities while they shower, mow lawns, mope over breakups or other drama. That erects a barrier for metal fans who would probably find it unsubtle and repetitive, but this might appeal to people who like Tracy Chapman and Liz Phair and other strong female vocalists with very simplified points to make.
Grave – Endless Procession of Souls
On the surface, this album is like later Fleshcrawl or Dismember works, a big warm hug of fuzzy Swedish distortion and adorably principled misanthropy. It stays within the traditional death metal style, but imports a lot of its song structure and riff from speed metal, which means there’s more chugging and bounce on this one. There’s also too much reliance on vocals leading the rhythm guitar and, while contrast is generally a good thing, too much contrast that is wholly unrelated to what went before and therefore seems more like an unmarked subway stop than a discovery of something sublime and previously obscure. For many who remember the speed metal of the late 1980s, a lot of this will seem paint by number: riff etches out a chord progression, counter-balances it with some unique feature like a melodic hook, and chorus re-hashes what is implied by the riff. Songs rip along and might warm you up on a chilly day for their uptempo but not pointless faster consistency. Like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul, most songs focus around a family of similar rhythms which gives this album a very consistent feel. Many of the patterns on here show a strong Celtic Frost influence, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As an album, it is not detestable and definitely is better than the majority of stuff out there, but it may lack the clarity and unique articulation that makes people want to throw it on the player in the first place, which is much how I feel toward later Fleshcrawl and Dismember.
Nebiros / Nekromanteion – In Command Tenebrae split 7″
The new black metal underground has mixed the 1980s style of black metal with some of the more punk-influenced elements of death metal, creating a new style that is equal parts Angelcorpse and Venom, Bathory and GBH. Nebiros leads in with a track of fast storming proto-black metal in the Sarcofago style, complete with emulation of the “catch-up” drum fills which filled in the space between uneven length guitar tracks and the drums which were recorded later. This song rips through several quick riffs, then slides into a groove like one that early Samael might have used, before trailing out in a blaze of reprise of earlier riffs. Nekromanteion begins with a more melodic ripping death metal approach, using a grand riff to instill a sense of rhythm that explodes outward in a combination of two riffs, an open percussive riff more like something on a hardcore album, and a Norwegian-style minor key melodic riff. The result cycles after this point before ending in a processional riff that contrasts its initial theme. This goes for a softer approach with more atmosphere than the Nebiros track, which is why the two complement each other well. It’s hard to tell from this limited sample whether these bands are able to develop more material that maintains this level of interest, but for a starting gambit this 7″ shows a lot of what is missing in contemporary metal and two styles that can render it.
The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.
The Best Metal (and related) of 2012
Abhorrence – Completely VulgarThis legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
Angel Witch – As Above, So BelowAfter a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
Beherit – Celebrate the DeadIf death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
Dead Can Dance – AnastasisFor their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
Demoncy – Enthroned is the NightAlong with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
Derkéta – In Death We MeetArising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
Desecresy – The Doom SkeptronDesecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s FurnaceImagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral BellsThis release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
Imprecation – Jehovah DeniedThis four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
Incantation – Vanquish in VengeanceWith new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
Legion of Doom – The Summoning of ShadowsThis oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
Lord Wind – Ales StenarIf you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
Master – The New EliteOver the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters SessionsSometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
Terrorizer – Hordes of ZombiesPeople love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
Thevetat – Disease to DivideOne of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
Timeghoul – 1992-1994Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
War Master – Pyramid of the NecropolisThis modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.
Disappointments of 2012
Abigor – Quintessence
Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.
Absurd – Asgardsrei
This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.
Acephalix – Deathless Master
A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.
Aura Noir – Out to Die
Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.
Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual
The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.
Graf Spee – Reincarnation
Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.
Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty
2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.
Impiety – Ravage and Conquer
It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.
Inverloch – Dusk | Subside
These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.
Mantas – Death by Metal
Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.
Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite
This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.
Purtenance – Sacrifice the King
This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.
Absurd, Der Stürmer, Satanic Warmaster and Goatmoon in Tampere, Finland
February 1, 2008
Soon after the new year, Finnish newspapers Aamulehti and Turun Sanomat and the tabloids Ilta-Sanomat and Iltalehti published news items both online and in print which claimed that Finnish neo-nazis Furore Finnum were organizing a tour of neo-nazi bands. Despite a massive email campaign against the show, and other brilliant strategies like publication of the gig organizers’ home contact information on the Finnish anarchist site takku.net, the show was to go on.
A public venue was arranged for Tampere in a well-known metal bar and another, more private, gig was arranged for Turku, with the location spread carefully. The gig in Tampere was sold out, but not to neo-nazis: on the contrary, our reporter found that no more than 10 percent of the people who were interested in the gig, either in the negative or in the positive sense, had made any research towards the philosophy, interviews, lyrics and imagery of the particular bands. This is not to condemn the metalheads, who sensibly were interested in these bands and what they would be communicating musically, visually and spiritually and not at all interested in becoming caught in some political discussion dating to the 1930’s whose one of the sides in some countries it is criminalized to take.
The night at Tampere was a phenomenal success. Despite some late attempts by the mass media to stir up trouble by warning the immigrants of Tampere not to go out during the night because there are nazis about, there were absolutely no problems in or near the gig taking place. The police scouted the area a bit, a couple of reporters came to ask irrelevant questions and so on, but that was it. People at the door were also checked with metal detectors. Some people came in rather drunk because for bureaucratic reasons this night the place was not allowed to sell except the mildest drinks, but I guess no-one was refused entrance which is lucky considering the hostile reputation of that bar’s doormen. Hundreds of fans, musicians, artists, distributors and casual listeners with differing political, spiritual, musical and social outlooks were present. This is exactly what had caused so much fear and rejection: the normal person interested in metal, underground rock, etc. does not buy anymore the moralistic condemnation of ideologies that for various reasons utilize the symbolism of fascism and/or National Socialism. Many of them may be ideologically opposed to those ideas, but they do not support censorship of them, which is a perfectly self-consistent view.
Because there was only 3 and a half hours of time for 4 bands to perform, the pace was rather hectic. I would have liked to chat more with the wonderful people present but did not have the occasion because soon after we arrived Goatmoon started blasting away on stage and even later between bands there was only 10 or so minutes of interval. Goatmoon, which is essentially a solo band of BlackGoat, consisted of 4 members in this performance, including Harald Mentor and a rock guy who fell on his face near the start of the gig. The drunken and hysterical energy and an “amateurness” that some people despised were actually the traits characteristic to Goatmoon this night which made the performance feel very personal. They went through a short set of hit songs from their two albums and closed with a cover of Finnish RAC/Oi band Mistreat. The cover song was possibly the most memorable piece of their set and really got the audience going.
Next was Satanic Warmaster who provided the most mystical and melancholic black metal experience of the night. The band is known from sweeping, rocking, emotional black metal anthems that refer to older black metal in a tribute-like patchwork of intense feelings. Satanic Tyrant Werwolf, who acted like he personally knows each member of the audience, and for all we know he does, gave some sharp and clear statements on stage about the importance of the event and recommended the audience to behave themselves. They hammered the audience with a set of tracks such as “Vampiric Tyrant”, “Raging Winter”, “Carelian Satanist Madness”, “Wolves of Retaliation”, “The Burning Eyes of the Werewolf”, “A New Black Order”, impeccably executed by a lineup of session musicians. The feeling of dark might especially towards the end of Satanic Warmaster’s performance got me thinking that this is how Emperor should have been when I last year saw them in Helsinki. The art of Satanic Warmaster is so dramatic and personal that it actually works as an esoteric trick on behalf of Satanic Tyrant Werewolf in reducing his ego from the picture and becoming a medium for the whole audience, and black metal in general. For a spontaneous listener it will seem like a bag of cliches, or a masterwork, or actually both. This goes for others of his projects too.
Der Stürmer managed to up the level of intensity even further by marching on stage, imposing figures illuminated from behind, raising arms in salute while music from Wagner’s Siegfried was playing as intro music. One could not help but visualizing the mighty shape of a victorious eagle, rising from the shades of long gone battlefields. The dreams and hopes and sorrows and battles of the won and the lost wars of Europe manifested there for one instant. Then the pounding started. Der Stürmer’s violent, almost nihilistic battle metal filled the air. The most dominating in the atmosphere were the big skinhead -style vocalist brutally shouting the manifestoes and slogans of W.A.R. with equal intensity in songs and in between songs and the skilled drummer who managed to interrupt blastbeats with militant marching fills and invoke something resembling a more technical version of Capricornus’ drumming madness on early Graveland. While the performance continued without flaw, the hour or more of Der Stürmer’s vengeful attack was maybe a bit too long for their minimalistic and monotonous style.
Seeing the infamous Absurd performing live was of course the thing most of us had been eagerly waiting for since the gig was first announced. Despite the original philosopher of the band being present behind the scenes, understandably the line-up was the new Absurd, with no common members with that which performed the classic albums “Facta Loquuntur” and “Asgardsrei”. Nevertheless, when Herr Wolf captured the stage after the “Leben ist Krieg…” intro and launched into the title track from “Asgardsrei”, there was little doubt that this new incarnation of the band is capable of evoking unique radicalness and danger as only Absurd could, from its inception. Ask the members of the audience who were at the receving end of the flying mic stand! Wolf’s close-cropped haircut and chest armor brought to mind a medieval warrior, Oi! provocator and Judas Priest at the same time. His absurd (how else?) stage mannerisms included bouncing to the beat, grinning at the audience, picking fights and talking in German. The songs they played included “Werwolf”, “Gates of Heaven”, “Pesttanz”, “Eternal Winter” and “Der Sieg ist Unser” from “Facta Loquuntur”, “Als die Alten jung noch waren” and “Für Germanien” in addition to the title track from “Asgardsrei” and an assortment of tracks from the later albums which I do not know well enough to name, but they all worked very well to these ears. It’s doubtful that the old lineup could have played the songs with this technical precision, but of course I do admit to a slight mourning in my soul at that the earlier, most cult, lineup disbanded.
After the gig ended, everyone had to leave as soon as possible because the band had already stretched the limits of the reservation of the place. It was wet outside and lousy weather so we returned to our hotel without further adventures, to rest from this very positive experience and to prepare for forthcoming battles. Overall the gig was very memorable and positive and one of the best in a very long time. People who attended the next night’s gig in Turku said it was a full success too. My deepest appreciation goes to Furore Finnum & the bands for bearing with all the trouble and mess caused by ignorance and cowardice of some people. It will be remembered as a triumph of idealism and spirit over moralism and repression. It’s a gift to live in a country where this was possible and where exist people with the right spirit to make it possible.