The DLA/DMU has taken flak over the years for being unwilling to embrace new trends, but this criticism forgets that we also avoided endorsing older bad ideas. Our writers have generally avoided jumping on the bandwagon for the “trve kvlt” just as much as the new, millennial-friendly indie-rock version of metal. The reason we can do this is that we apply a simple quality standard instead of using the consensus of others to determine truth.
Despite having many editors, each of whom had somewhat varied opinions on the process, if viewed on the large scale the site has kept a generally consistent opinion. That is: some of the so-called classics are good, and few of the new school releases are good, but the determination is not made by category, but by analyzing each release on its own merits. This leads to sudden shock for some who expected us to be cheerleaders for anything that seems to “uphold the true spirit of the underground,” and dismay for those who like the newer material as release after release fails our test.
Metal is in a slump and has been since 1994, in quality. Correspondingly, it has been in a boom in terms of quantity of fans. We have more “metalheads” (cough) now than ever before. However, anyone who is not in denial — and most are — can tell you that quality has fallen off dramatically. The music has lost its energy, its nerve and its insight and been buried under a wave of bands that are either obedient and docile system products, or slaves to the underground record-collecting audience that does not care about quality so long as the aesthetics of previous generations are preserved. Both groups unfortunately are useful idiots for industry, which can keep producing low-cost clone bands and reaping the profits.
We discard bands for two reasons: not being metal, and not being good. The bands that are simply not good tend to have the most fans, ironically. Who among us can claim that, for example, Blazebirth Hall bands and Drudkh offered anything musical or artistic to metal? They cloned Graveland in a light and breezy melodic form that is essentially music for children. In the same way we refuse to celebrate underground “favorites” that consist of ranting and disorganized music like Sepulchral Aura, or avantgarde prog fanboy-bait like Fanisk and Deathspell Omega.
In addition, we discard that which does not uphold the artistic, intellectual and philosophical spirit of metal. There is quite a bit of overlap here with “not being good.” We would not endorse Cradle of Filth; nor would we endorse Opeth, back in the day, or Cannibal Corpse, on the basis that they were essentially rock bands trying to assimilate metal and thus produced a moronic mindset. Similarly Pantera and to a lesser degree, Anthrax. Back in the day we thought SOD was inferior to Cryptic Slaughter, DRI, and Corrosion of Conformity. We refused to endorse Wolves in the Throne Room, Animals as Leaders, Gojira, Mastodon and other indie-rock pretending to be metal. We ignore Pelican and all stoner doom bands because they are boring and terrible. This music is distraction from metal, not metal, but its fans make a big show of being “very metal,” which tells you exactly what they are hiding and deflecting your attention from.
This approach wins us zero friends in the short term, but trusted readers in the long term. People — especially those who lead purposeful lives and do not have lots of time, nor enjoy, combing through catalogs and blogs trying to figure out which 1% of the reviews are not lies — like getting the low-down on quality metal. They enjoy that moment of discovery when they find something really good, something they can listen to not just this week and six months or a year from now, but for future decades. That is ultimately the standard by which any music fan operates; they like music, so they veer toward the best, not just at a level of mechanics (technicality) but artistically, or its relevance to the ongoing philosophical and moral maturation of humankind. Most of humanity likes mediocrity or at least convinces itself that it likes those bands. After all, Third Eye Blind has sold more records than most segments of the metal genre. But popularity — whether among credulous hipsters or gormless mass media fans — has never determined quality. Consensus is not reality. Only reality is reality, and we make our best stab at it.
With that in mind, you may ask: why write negative reviews? The answer may surprise you. We seek to give music fans the intellectual tools they need to fight back the onslaught of Opeth, Pantera, Ulver, Cradle of Filth, Meshuggah, Vattnet Viskar, Cannibal Corpse and Deathspell Omega styled bands. We use both positive and negative examples to illustrate, to the best of our ability, what metal is and which approaches to it have produced the quality level necessary for prolonged listening. This puts us at odds with most metal journalists, for whom writing is a day job and as a result, is interpreted as endless enthusiasm for whatever is new and exciting because the consensus likes it. They are essentially advertisers because they are writing ad copy about these bands, not a look into what makes their music function. It is designed to make you buy music, because journalists who can sell music get famous and become editors. You will notice that major publications run almost no negative reviews. Why is that, you might ask? Because their job is to sell music, not review it, even if they call it “review.”
In all human endeavors our social impulses, which because we are selfish beings are actually self-interested impulses translated to altruism to flatter and manipulate others, override any sense of quality or purpose. The task ceases to become the task and becomes the process of creating the appearance of results instead of results; bands stop trying to be good, and focus on replicating what has worked before in new forms. The “best” (by consensus) bands “sound” different on the surface, but musically are extremely similar, because that formula has worked in the past. That is a social impulse: make what people like because it does not challenge them and makes them feel smart, profound or at least “with the crowd” to be listening to it. This social impulse has ruined metal since 1994.
Metal thrives — as it did during the mid-70s, early 80s and early 90s — under two factors: (1) it is ignored by most people, so it is free from the manipulations of those who want to sell rebellion-flavored rock to morons, and (2) it has some truly great artists to kickstart it and establish a standard. The former is self-evident, but the latter can be explained as follows. When early Norse black metal came out, it set a standard of quality and allowed fans, by simply choosing to spend their money on what was more rewarding, to exclude bands that did not meet that standard. Why would you buy Forgotten Wolves when you can get Darkthrone? Why would you pick up another speed metal clone when you can have top-quality death metal? Metal thrived when it was elitist, closed-minded and viciously competitive. Now that it has become a group hug, quality has suffered and no one seems to have noticed. Except us — and we are watching.
Phenomenal leaps have occurred in the skill level in the black metal genre. Where black metal drummers used to be a source of amusement for anyone past the first handful of percussion lessons, now it is easy to bump into a qualified candidate at any show. The guitar work is precise in ways the founders of the genre could not have imagined, and new degrees of technique in tremelo picking, sweeps and arpeggios dwarfs the old ways.
Even in the simplistic bands great advancements have occurred. The song structures are well-known in all of their variants, and bands now are so proficient in this area they can tell from a single glance what type of song must be built around a riff to complement it. Everything’s less awkward; we know the best tempos to carry the audience, and what paces from them we can leap without causing abrupt disconnects. There are ratios for melodic riffs to blasting atonality, codices for when the keyboards come in and percussion layers boil off, tables for the use of dual vocals… black metal is almost a science, now.
Aesthetically, there is much less confusion and far fewer missteps. No band today would put out that awkward video that the Immortal guys did, or screw up like Burzum did and make those very earthy and not very black metal flyers. No self-respecting 2006 black metal band would be caught with the mishmash of gear these guys attempted to use at first, the wrong string guages and pick widths, the wrong amplifiers and pedals, even drumsets all mis-arrayed for the task ahead… no, we’ve got a much better grip on the craft of black metal, these days.
We’ve got the whole thing so much farther advanced than the founders of this genre that it’s doubtful they’d get a second listen today. Just hearing those sloppy riffs, the un-slick arrangements of keyboard, seeing the awkward band photos and hearing their very-far-from-pro sound, well, they’d probably not make it. We’ve come so far that we probably don’t even need Immortal, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Mayhem, Emperor, Varathron or Bathory; we’ve got bands that are so much better at what they do.
There is one crucial difference, though — the recent Summoning CD pointed out beyond doubt that black metal which preserves the epic feeling of past grandeur, and the sense of lawless abandon in the night which frees our souls from the preemptive frustration of morality and profit ethics, could still be written. What was the difference? Summoning don’t appear to have varied equipment or technique since 1993 or so. The answer is simple: it’s in the composition.
After all, each work of music has two parts: inside and outside. The outside is how it sounds, including what speeds you play it at, what instruments you use, and how the vocals sound and the production works. The inside is the notes and the ratios which determine their timing, and the structure of the song, that is to say which musical phrase goes into the next and how they carry you from a beginning state to a different mindset at the end of the song or symphony. A truly articulate piece of music is recognizable when played at half-speed on a kazoo, double speed on a Casio keyboard, or when transposed on an acoustic guitar, even if it was originally created by a metal band.
The greatest bands in metal’s history created songs that were that distinctive, and what made these songs distinctive was not random and unpredictable permutations, but that all of their parts made sense according to a certain order designed to communicate something specific. The goal was to make the audience appreciate an experience, and music was the method; because the artists approached the problem from this angle, they ended up creating works that are not only recognizable out of thousands of others but capture our imagination to this day. “That song expresses what it’s like to –” we say, and then relate some part of life we had to undergo and might again. Sometimes it’s an emotion, sometimes a condition: frustration, loss, fatalism, exuberance.
It is the inner part — the composition — of music that makes the difference between art and entertainment. Entertainment is catchy and easy to tap your foot to, maybe to sing along, and you might even remember it — but did it say something to your soul? Did it take you through an experience to the other side so that you can say you learned something from that song or symphony? Art goes deeper within than entertainment and explores the existential core of our survival, that is the delicate balance of choices by which we make the decisions that determine how we spend our lives.
Entertainment is the same base function by which we buy things, pay taxes, endure jobs, use prostitutes and clean our hindquarters. Art is heroism in battle, art is a love that lasts a lifetime, art is the joy of discovery, the force behind our personalities and wills — Art is all of that which makes life not just bearable but of a higher state of mind, a “transcendence” by which we gain a spiritual sense of meaning to life without relying on the crutches of imaginary gods in the sky, demons in hell, etc.
When I think of metal, I think of the best, because I don’t want to waste my time listening to anything but the best. This is less from some elitism, or perception of my own position as important enough to require the best, than it is from a sense of taking my time seriously. I don’t get as much time as I could fill. Unlike most people, I don’t need television because I don’t normally have hours on end when I have no idea what to do with myself. There’s more here that I want to do than I can in this lifetime. So why fill hours with less than the best art? It only makes sense if you don’t value your time, or have no idea how to amuse yourself, or no higher purpose in life than to consume (and to those people, I always ask: why bother with metal, when rock music is easier and there’s more variation?).
We should aim high in our listening, unless we’re so fascinated by the activity of being involved in music that the music itself doesn’t matter because any music will give us an excuse to be involved, but those who think that way tend to be hobbyists who “get involved” for a handful of years and then drop the whole thing just as quickly but more quietly so they can find another diversion. They aren’t serious about metal as art, so to compensate these people are “serious” about all sorts of accessories: clothing, symbols, behavior, social groups, intoxicants, porn, horror movies — it doesn’t matter what, so long as there’s enough of it to keep them busy.
Unlike entertainment or functional products (porn), art requires us to look inward and to realize what makes a composition great is its ability to communicate a journey: art isn’t like an essay, which communicates by showing us a series of logical thoughts, but it communicates nonetheless by taking us on a tour of the experience that represents the idea it wishes to convey. For example, in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald shows us the ambition of Americans and how it causes us to contort appearances to hide our souls, which we cannot confront without realizing too much about ourselves and losing our will to live.
Black metal brought us into a dark mood and showed us meaning within it, leading us from outsidership to being comfortable enough with that mood to understand it, and then showing us how it sustained our souls in ways that our society could not. There was a sense of magic, of letting the daylight existence fall away and having an invisible nocturanl world rise up among us, a world of meaning and not the external forms which show clearly in the sunlight so they may be judged as equal or given a dollar value… our daytime world is one of products and moral judgments based on headcounts, of bureaucracy and utilitarianism, of individual morality and ownership; the nighttime world has none of those rules and liberates us to act out the stuff of dreams, the visions of grandeur that come alongside anything important enough to touch our souls, our sense of why we are alive. — that is the art of black metal.
Those who make black metal now are (with a handful of exceptions) making an obsolete genre because while they have more than successfully imitated the appearance and sound of the original black metal bands, they cannot duplicate the inside — the composition, the actual songwriting that makes music sound just as good on an acoustic guitar as on a professionally-recorded CD — which was what made the original bands amazing and started off the whole genre. It’s worth noting that we remember the great bands, and are content to let also-rans like Forgotten Wolves and Ritual and Goatlord fall by the side; they were simply errata.
In the future, whatever metal inherits from black will need a more detailed exploration of the nocturnal world of inside emotions and lightless perceptions, because while the original obsession in black metal was portraying the difference between worlds of light (utilitarian, based on external forms) and dark (things invisible in daylight but unleashed at night, based on internal qualities like emotions and intellect) there now must be a greater depth in exploration. We know the other world exists; we need to see its details and its breadth, and to again find its inspiration in ways that we might bring back to the daylight world. Escapism is not enough, and merely dividing dark from light is not enough; the lushly descending forays of Emperor, or the dark cavernous wanderlust of Burzum, or the ancestral worship of Enslaved, can be brought again to full understanding, but our goal is not longer to show the world we want but to flesh it out.
It is a Romantic spirit, a Gothic spirit, a dark sense of what goes on when the eyes of control in the current world go to sleep; night is liberation from function, because most people are busily preparing for their next empty day of work, school or retirement. In the night one can discover the reasons one is alive, and inevitably, they are linked to the potential death and meaninglessness all around us; much as darkness shows us light in contrast, nothingness shows us what we value. If enemy tanks roll down your street, who or what will you try to save?
Black metal now is a slick product because those who could invent the world inside have mostly gone away, and no one has written new songs showing us the beauty and power of the mystical world black metal created; unlike propaganda, those songs existed first as sensual experience, an adventure, but for this journey to capture our imagination it must delve into the dark regions of our subscious which knows the natural world better than our daylight, socially-conditioned selves — but this mindset of black metal includes many things we hoped to deny, including the medievalism of black metal, its amoralism and nationalism and transcendental mysticism and violence.
For now, people still fear these dangerous grounds; they have, however, perfected the art of aping black metal. We can now make Britney Spears sound like Immortal from our computer desks! But it is an age of nothing for black metal, an inversion of its fundamental belief in the inner world and rejection of the outside world; today’s black metal is like a modern product or forms designed to be processed by machine, because it focuses on external form and permutations of known successful formulas of sounds invented over a decade ago. It is stagnant because it can only re-arrange the externals, and shies away from the spirit or meaning behind the music… the fans no longer need to buy Darkthrone, or Immortal, because these are no longer relevant. They understand the myth of black metal as it would appear on a movie scene, but do they understand how the ideas behind it would be lived, and could give meaning to life?
When this state of mind changes, quality metal will return, and whether it’s in a new form or old form is immaterial. It would not make sense to abandon the flexible lexicon developed through the death and black metal years, because it’s the best adaptation of artistic voice for metal music yet found, but what matters more is what it is used to say. Not just the melodies, but what they represent… the landscapes to which they take us, the nocturnal forays on which they impel us. Art is more than that which conveys it; art is the adventure on which it launches us, and when our spirits once again accept that sacred task of nurturing imagination, metal will once again have the strength it did 1990-1995.
More unworthy garbage keeps coming our way, the splatter pattern created after all the filth has hit the surface behind us is put into words in our Sadistic Metal Reviews.
Reverie – Bliss (2015)
With a band name like Reverie and a seemingly ironic album title like Bliss you might have expected postmodern post-indie shoegaze hipster black metal to roar and pounce at you like an enraged kitten, but luckily, we are met with something at the very least resembling a lion here; pity this one just so happens to not be the king of the jungle.
In homage to the oldest Bathory-tradition, we find Reverie struggling to bring hardcore punk and ominous metal harmonics into a vileful matrimony. Where Reverie, like most other modern exploits of this scheme fail, is in the insistence on very low-brow hooks and plodding “anti-cosmic” disharmonics which only further leads the listener astray from whatever good basic riff the song was initially edified around. Acoustic interludes and vapid diversity in riffs can’t overshadow the monotony that all songs eventually end up in – Imagine a less successful and inspired newer Autopsy, and you’d be close to what the songwriting sounds like for the most part.
There are shining, spirited moments, but if this band is to evolve beyond the hordes of Katharsis-clones, they still have years of sadistic refinement to come.
Arvas – Black Satanic Mysticism (2015)
If there’s something the modern black metal scene likes to fawn over, it’s music with empty calories -Excellent riffs, delectably prepared into a concoction without any lasting impressions. Black Metal has at this point made it into the realms of nostalgia, and genre-pandering releases such as this one clearly proves this. The music found here clearly harkens back to the glory days of the Norwegian early 90’s, but are so firmly entrenched in their own sentimentality that they miss the original explorative spirit of the genre.
Nothing on here is offensive, as background-music it is highly soothing and comforting for anyone already introduced into the genre, since it is so highly conscious not to disrupt its conventions. If you’re the kind of person that likes Choco Puffs for breakfast rather than a swordfight with your mortal enemy to the death, then this release might just be the one for you.
Dystopia Nå! – Dweller on the Threshold (2015)
What else does the modern underground cherish? High-functioning blenders. The ingredients aren’t all that important, as long as the blend is interesting and “unique”. Once we taste the results after the blend, we’ll go into denial over its real flavours, and instead gaze at the moon as it reflects our own ego shining bright ëíIím the only one who understands this! This is the new wave!íí
What is Dystopia Nå!? It’s Screamo and Nu-metal of the 2000’s with instrumentation and lacing from De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Ironic, depressive quotes rumble through the wall of sound and powerless anguished screams echo through chuggy deathcore breakdowns, but neither of these elements hold any gravitas whatsoever, even for the most unscrupulous of hipsters. Like all other depressive black metal/rock, this is professional duping of young indie girls into the new “edgy” trend. No soothing ëartfulí piano-interludes or post-rock guitars could save this abomination. Avoid.
Harrow – Fallow Fields (2015)
Some bands don’t even know how to be subtle and mask their blatant source-material. Harrow is a pure rip-off of more successful atmospheric/post-rock black metal bands, and it becomes obvious from the very first seconds of the first track.
If you have heard Agalloch, Kroda and Drudkh, you have heard the instrumental ingredients of this release, but never before has someone managed to achieve this level of tedium in the faux-ambient genre. Pass this one up, and you’ll get some extra time to listen to Hvis Lyset Tar Oss instead.
Vardan – Between the Fog and Shadows (2015
Droning minor chords for minutes on end, replete with “catchy” piano and synth-“bloops” akin to a new-wave pop band. The dominant theory in our contemporary music scene is that this drivel was conjured up by the evocative gloom of Burzum, but there we must vehemently disagree. This is a spawn of the same old ego that spawned Grateful Dead, Opeth and Liturgy, this time merely slapped unto a production that they think would sell with the lower echelon of the black metal hordes; incapable of distinguishing a duck from an ostrich. It worked ten years ago, and we’re still seeing bands such as Vardan cashing in on the plastic underground credibility to this day.
Trials – This Ruined World (2015)
The instrumental performance of Pantera amalgamated with metalcore production and composition, sprinkled with the most basic uninspired Metallica-worship gallop and Sepultura breakdown. What do we get? Imagine a cake concocted by a skilled chemist lacking any taste buds. Technically, it’s proficient, but the emperor wears no clothes, and even the most passing glance at this record might confirm this. I’m sure these fellows think their murky, crusty chugs mixed with catchy melodic death metal riffs and pop choruses was a top notch idea to get all the chicks on the beach, but I assure them that for this atrocity they’ll receive only personal embarrassment in the future.
SoulLine – Welcome My Sun (2015)
At some point in the mid-to-late 90’s, the term melodic death metal, once the moniker used for bands using the death metal labyrinth-riff through leitmotifs of recognizable melodies more so than percussive grounding, became usurped by the most twee of electro-pop bands, grunge-rejects and the burgeoning modern screamo and post-hardcore genres.
The band might define itself as a melodic death metal band, but one would be hard-pressed to find any differences in this material from your typical screamo/crunkcore-band. A band like Attack Attack will have the same moronic, oversimplified Pantera-grooves, monotone, emotionless vocals, random disco drums and pop structures with a slaphappy yet indignant “mad-at-father” choruses. The only differing elements are the chunkier metal production and the fact that there are a few more listless harmonies in the breakdowns. Melodic death metal is a sham, it has nothing to do with death metal, and just about anything labelled this after 1995 is a marketing ploy to get both the listless Cannibal Corpse-fans who will gobble up anything death metal-related for the “br00tal” street cred and the emo kids who’ve had enough of the bullying at school into bands like this in this putrid, yawn-inducing horror of a genre.
Shrapnel Storm – Mother War (2015)
Looking at this record superficially we see the image of a forsaken mother clutching a decayed baby as though it was all that was left for her in her life. The Apocalypse is raging all around in an urban environment and the future is bleak. This imagery has a striking resemblance to what crust punk constantly portrayed.
This is no accident. One of the bases for the Swedish death metal sound which this Finnish band pursues was this Discharge/Amebix-influence. The Stockholm HM-2 Boss guitar sound was the natural evolution of the bass-driven, gritty rasp that could be heard on Amebix releases as early as 1983’s Winter. Shrapnel Storm’s idea on how to elaborate on this legacy is to strip back the evolution of Swedish Death Metal one step further into the lost realm of Crust-bleakness where monotony and desolation rules. This is a valid endeavour and the result does predictably come off similar to a modernized, groovier version of what Deviated Instinct and Bolt Thrower did in the late 80’s.
There’s only one vital flaw: The music isn’t very engaging and hearkens back to Wolverine Blues and Welcome to the Orgy more than it does Left Hand Path and Arise!. Rather than exploring the ambiance that could be found in both of these genres when played with expertise, in actual content, Shrapnel Storm for the most part makes this seem like just another mediocre death-n-roll record rather than the potential their sound actually might possess.
If they drop the simple bluesy riffs, focus on the monotone but engaging crusty riffs, play around with song structures more you might actually find a worthwhile record from these guys sometime in the future, but for now, it’s not salvageable and we’re left with dull and mediocre riffs that go nowhere but straight into the bin.
Nihilosaur – Icebreaker Hope (2014)
Reminiscent of the overtly artsy post-death metal bands in Finland after the countries initial boom of creativity died out, this band tries to take death metal in an interesting direction, but ends up sounding like a mediocre Sludge Metal band with no clear direction on how to escape the forest of their own design.
Loud, buzzing bass-distortion and peculiar, sometimes Godflesh-like guitar-notes screech in the distance. But no one will listen, except for their mothers who assure that they’re as special and unique as ever. The main differing factor between Godflesh or other quirky but successful bands like Carbonized and this is ultimately the fact that Nihilosaur merely know how to take you on an obscure journey through industrial film noir-visuals, but then leave they leave you with no satisfying conclusion. It starts and ends with a vortex of randomness where listlessness is king.
This is the Mulholland Drive of death metal, it wishes it was Voivod or other narrative bands, but for this fairytale, the narrator has long been asleep at the wheel, never to be found again. Good riddance.
Minority Sound – Drowner’s Dance (2015)
Did you ever want Marilyn Manson with a bit more EBM, injected with leftover riffs from Megadeth Risk album to then be spiced with movie soundtrack electronic orchestras, desperately trying to inject some novelty into the tween-metal? No? You elitist bigot!
The band is definitely more instrumentally competent than most in the industrial metal genre but like other novel bands like Babymetal the music is pop music on steroids, disguised as an ironic, competent “new” take on metal. If the fair is too expensive for you but you still want that roaring deluge of incomprehensible, meaningless sounds and images to barrage before your senses and this might be just right for you.
Lothlöryen – Principles of a Past Tomorrow (2015)
The trouble with the modern power metal genre is its overwhelming mediocrity, where the bulk of the music sounds like pop music on speed conjured up by the high from their own auto-effluvial sniffings. It is truly a rare gift to see anything even resembling what Iron Maiden could achieve with the beginnings of this sound in the mid-80ís. But that’s Is a story for another time.
This isn’t utterly horrific by modern power metal standards, it’s just so average that it could be any tired Blind Guardian-influenced attire shuffling through the fog for an original approach to songwriting that isn’t copy-pasted from an early Helloween album. The occasional EBM interlude and gimmicky parody of a Celtic major-driven song-and-dance isn’t doing this already stillborn record any favours – the only favour I can ask of the band members to do for themselves would be to stop wasting valuable plastic on this insipid tripe. That, or move to Finland, join a Polka-troupe and finally kill themselves.
Crown – Natron (2015)
Indie rock will always find new aesthetic means to plague us and infest any worthwhile medium of creative composition. They will perpetuate Shakespeare’s legacy as if it were Comic Sans in their vain vision of art.
What does this new incarnation bring us? Well, the black rider in the night wears the robes of sludge/doom metal of the lowest caliber, laced with post-rock and industrial clichès. If you’re a fan of pseudo-prog of the last decade but would like it artsier, “spiritually deeper”, more Agalloch-infused and Rammstein-attuned, then this might be for you. Mind you, you would have had to have lost your taste buds ages ago if you find that sounding remotely palatable, so I’m sure you’ll gobble it up like a any fine happy meal from the garbage bin.
Locrian – Infinite Dissolution (2015)
As the album initiates its sonic onslaught, we are at first greeted with something resembling early Godflesh, but with a more derivative, flaccid production. Where will this lead us? I’ll tell you where, to post-rock and Wolves In the Throne Room-tedium. The industrial aesthetic attempt to hide the fact that this is the same tired quasi-ambient formula where emotionless “emotional” sounds roll unto the listener until a barrage of harmonic, almost Liturgy-like random melodic throwaways strikes as if it is the only path for the music to take, until it dies a tragic death in reflection of its own hubris.
This pattern is repeated throughout the entire record. It’s clear that they want to be Drudkh 2.0 and some of the slower melodies hold some meagre musical merit, but the approach and composition is botched with no saving grace to be found. Avoid or fall into oblivion, as is the fate of this album.
Credit where credit is due: The album title perfectly describes how focused the composition is on the record.
Sonick Plague – Street Wars (2015)
An 80’s speed metal band, forgotten by time and space, decide to make a new record almost 30 years after being out of business. One can wonder if anyone ever found their output special to begin with, as what we find here is something akin to early Megadeth without any substantial riff variation and a latter-day groove metal influence, pedalling in these similar motifs that don’t go much further than tying themselves up in a nice enough fashion. This is the barcode for mediocre, it might get them some high fives from their friends at the pub that they haven’t met since the late 80’s, but to the general public this is as forgettable as they come.
Funebria – In Dominus Blasfemical Est… Ad Noctum Sathania (2015)
Some bands are only after the lipstick and aesthetics. Funebria is a Venezuelan black metal band that despite their best efforts, come off as a modern melodic death metal/metalcore act with dynamics borrowed from Marduk and Cradle of Filth. They try their best to disguise this under raw, simplistic war metal lyrics and scene pandering, but for the discerning ear this is as vapid as the latest Dimmu Borgir albums, unfortunately for this album however, they lack even the instrumental proficiency of the latter. Let this abortion sink into the depths that their doted Ea might give them a final mercy kill so we might never hear such belligerently tedious music ever again.
Note: Oddly, this sounds like “Fun”+ “ebria” (drunk in Spanish).
If you want something done right, do it yourself. That also applies to being yourself. Metal has a commodity that the markets and social groups want, which is that it is untamed. Rebellious. Disobedient.
That type of rebellion, if domesticated and made harmless, could mean a lot of money. Your hum-drum product could now be an “edgy lifestyle choice.” Your boring minivans could seem like party wagons. Your corporate brand could get some spiff back in its step and be dangerous again, with a little heavy metal(tm) brand rebellion.
And yet, metal resists. To be used by others for their own purposes is to be conquered, and to be conquered is to be assimilated. For metal that would mean being another flavor of rock, which is the music we turned to metal to escape. In other words, total failure.
Not everyone got the memo. There are a number of bands, both successful and obscure, trying to make a name for themselves by helping with the assimilation. It’s time to mock them sadistically and take vengeance upon their self-image.
Drudkh – Eternal Turn of the Wheel
A fantastic example of how modernity twists the heart of black metal beyond recognition, this album is fruity symphonic rock masquerading as metal through the vocals and guitar tone. Songs start with nothing and go nowhere, though still manage to take up an inordinate amount of time. Entirely derivative of what came before it, there is nothing on this disc to make it distinguishable from the other bands in this style; though at least the groove is catchy.
Zarach ‘Baal’ Tharagh – Eternal Darkness
With over a hundred releases, you would think this one man band would stumble upon a consistent formula or develop some song writing ability. Wrong. This uses the overblown “recorded through a trashcan on a boombox” aesthetic to fool the unwary into thinking it’s black metal, but it’s just ineptly performed 3 chord garage rock played with marginally faster tempos and over processed vocals that make Xasthur sound like The Three Tenors. Occasionally, early Satyricon/Ulver styled weepy riffs are played, but the inclusion of a Stooges cover confirms this guy should just quit poisoning the world of metal with his toxic, vapid nonsense and play in a pub band.
Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury
“Artistic” performance dancers music video and “moody” image aside, Altar of Plagues attempt legitimacy with metalcore fans/Facebook headbangers by playing the “we heard Deathspell Omega” card. Gone are the weepy and whiny one dimensional Slowdive songs for clinical depressives, and here is The Dillinger Escape Plan attempting to intonate their guitars during a meth binge. All the faux-intellectual interviews about Björk having more artististry than “that stupid death metal nonsense with the blastbeats” doesn’t change this simple fact of life: screaming over random dissonance while stop-start “hitting a trash can” noises are played over it is not “high art.”
The Meads of Asphodel – The Murder of Jesus the Jew
Another example of mashing rock together with black metal, this one goes for the carnival of progressive and “space” rock being the focus of songs, together with riffs somewhat reminiscent of black metal if it were made by hearing-impaired children with Down’s Syndrome. Combined with ANGRY MAN vocals and lyrics so profound even your local metalcore band would be in awe, this band truly has it all for the devoted hipster. Functional people need not apply.
Book of Sand – Destruction, Not Reformation
Stupid protest rock by indie slam poets who play black metal ironically to get people to donate to AIDS research and “spread awareness” about other “social concerns” while rebelling from the safety of their Minnesota suburb. This is not black metal in the same way bands like Liturgy and Deafheaven aren’t. It’s a bunch of weepy, bittersweet screamo chords strummed really fast in a constant cycle while a violin wanders about aimlessly over the whole dreck to drum up some claim towards being “avant-garde.” Mundane crowd-friendly themes are pushed to the forefront to create a “safe, friendly and social” version of “black metal” that soccer moms with bowlcuts can listen to while on their way to the Deepak Chopra book club meeting in their “food not bombs” sticker adorned SUVs.
Wan – Wolves of the North
Here we go again. What are they calling it these days anyway? Black n’ roll? This is no different than a poppy Oi punk band occasionally lapsing toward Venom-dom while flaunting Bathory and Hellhammer patches for “forum cred”. “EXTREMEE!!!!!” moments occur in a third rate NWN Blasphemy ripoff moment here or there, but it lapses into what sounds like happy 3-chord rock n roll all over again. This is the “black metal” version of Nirvana’s Bleach LP.
Veil of Maya – Eclipse
Is metalcore the final frontier for stupidity? Claiming to be a “progressive and technical death metal”, you can be assured from the band photo of college hipsters that this is not. “Djent” rhythm noodling, tough guy grunting, and a “beetle rattling around in a plastic bin” drum performance are just sideshow elements of what this band truly is: Spawn of Possession playing their favorite moments from Underoath and Thrice songs in double speed. This platter is so weepy and weak despite it’s speed and down tuning that this band might as well drop the whole “metal” act and just become Paramore already.
Cynic – Carbon Based Anatomy
After seeing how pop music in disguise can be construed as something “unique” after touring with Animals As Leaders and discovering Sumerian Records, Cynic further desecrate their name by hiring the same PR firm that Opeth and Ulver consult with when writing their testosterone sapping abominations. The end result: Coldplay with ADHD. The only element retained from their past are their Holdsworth-esque lead noodlings, but there is no metal to be found here. Even the vocoder was dropped for choir boy whining and multi-tracked prepubescent crying, taking the forefront in songs that emotionally peak in a way that give them the feel of one of those “deep” Adele songs that go viral on Facebook.
Fen – Dustwalker
Wolves in the Throne Room was pretentious and bad, but this… Most of the tracks flounder about lifelessly with no purpose in a manner similar to Slowdive or Spiritualized while an “agonized” vocal track whines in a manner similar to Anathema and then, wait for it, the innovation occurs! Remember when people heard black metal to hear black metal? BORING. Now we have been graced with Fen’s contribution to the world of underground music: throwing out the vocal track to later day Katatonia songs and replacing them with raspy vocals. Like the other shoegaze black metal infiltrators, this band’s extreme riffs sound as heavy as a Type O Negative single and they will stop at nothing into forcing you to give up on life and retire to a frivolous existence of buying Deepak Chopra books and talking about the latest Walking Dead episode while in line at a Starbucks.
…and Oceans – A.M.G.O.D.
Everyone knows underground metal from Finland is often “quirky”, but …and Oceans have no character or idea to express beyond radio rock song craft with In Flames video game muzak underpinnings. So how do they draw attention? Covering it up with a “strange” band image, stupid name, tons of samples, and electronica interludes. This album makes post-1994 Amorphis look consistent by comparison. All of the “avant-garde” gimmickry this band employed doesn’t change the fact that this is Rob Zombie with swede-AIDS.
Dødheimsgard – 666 International
If this isn’t a joke… Going from Dimmu Borgir “extreme” blast section to a mash up between Voivod and Marilyn Manson before culminating in Queen styled stadium rock in one song, this band is about as “black metal” as Cradle of Filth at this point in their career. Like other sham artists Aborym and Ved Buens Ende, Dødheimsgard seem to think making a melange of the goofiest and most obnoxious sounds in juxtaposition to “harsh” metal moments is an evolutionary step forward. The androgynous band image suggests this band is making an attempt to draw in the Dimmu mall-goth crowd. In a perfect world, these clowns would drop the guitars and rasps out of their music, delete the extraneous elements, and just become VNV Nation or Apoptygma Berserk.
Epicardiectomy – Abhorrent Stench of Posthumous Gastrorectal Desecration
Maybe people were right in criticizing Obituary for wearing jogging shorts and touring with Madball and Agnostic Front during their The End Complete era. What we have here is pure, unadulterated idiocy. Nothing about this is metal at all. Growled out rap verses over chugging rhythms that demonstrate all the redundant noise one can possibly churn out of the first 2 frets on a drop tuned 7-string does not change this from being anything other than being hip-hop on guitars. “Liege of Inveracity has a slam riff” they say… True, but Effigy of the Forgotten didn’t sound like the Wu-Tang Clan either.
Hacktivist – Hacktivist
Djent with rapping vocals. Let that settle in for a moment. A conspiracy theory website lyrics slant for an image of “social awareness” to flaunt “importance”. What does this all mean? The abomination known as Hacktivist. With bands like Periphery and Animals As Leaders infiltrating the metal underground with their “deep” nu-metal for the impressionable, it’s no surprise that someone would attempt to “legitimize” this genre by force feeding the masses what is effectively Limp Bizkit after some guitar lessons. For all the “dissing” aimed toward the New World Order, this album reeks of a product that only modernity and globalization can produce.
Baroness – Yellow & Green
It’s no surprise this band got so big. Utilize the hipster rock slant Clutch uses for “street cred” with trucker hat sporting “stoners”, but then add the radio rock of The White Stripes into the mix, and you have even more inoffensive teen rock that sounds like Weezer. This band’s music is so painfully banal that it would be no surprise if one of their tracks has been licensed for use in a 16 and Pregnant episode.
Mastodon/Feist – Feistodon
Somewhere out there, someone in a Sonic Youth t-shirt smoking a cigarette wedged between his pinky and ring finger came in his pants. By teaming up with singer-songwriter Feist, Mastodon have released their most hipster pandering product yet. Covering each others songs reveals the true ethos behind these abominations – weepy garage rock. You can throw down-tuned instruments and “loud” drumming at this thing all you want, but this is just Weezer covering an Alanis Morrissette song from both sides. Similar to other flavor of the month sham peddlers Boris, Mastodon is all ironic posturing first, band second.
Lustre – They Awoke to the Sound of Spring
If you thought nobody would ever bother make an album consisting only of distorted guitar arpeggios and linear synth lines, you would be wrong. How this gets filed under black metal is a mystery, as this album is not even metal to begin with. This is hipster lullaby music, an album perfect for listening after consuming just a few too many frappuccinos. In fact, Starbucks should play this in their advertisements. They’d probably make a fortune.
After something happens, people have to talk it to death to figure out what it meant. What they’re really asking is: What caused this, and what was its goal or ideal in response?
What they are looking for at that time is a summary, a “main point” which can be used to explain the movement in a broader historical context (most artistic and political movements being, only a few decades past their eventiture, minor footnotes in a larger narrative).
They want to know its relevance, in other words.
Napoleon attacked Russia? Fine: a battle; what caused it? Napoleon wanted to conquer Russia… to establish hegemony of the new post-monarchic order… and to ensure French imperial supremacy… which had fallen into disrepair… and been exploited by the monarchs… — so we have multiple factors here, centering on a restoration of power after a failure. Right, a desperate move. The significance is more than what Napoleon “wanted”; it’s the historical context in which he exists.
In the same way, we’re looking at black metal and our society offers a number of failure-prone ways to look at it. First there’s the rock-n-roll industry way, which is predictably airheaded: these dudes just wanted to make the most intense music ever, man, and so they turned to Satan and extremism. OK, that’s useless — only a true retard would accept that as a complete answer. Then there’s the inarticulate musician answer, which is that they were inspired by Venom and so copied their heroes. On top of that, we have the useless academic answer, which is that they were altering the heuristic of their neuro-linguistic token integration in order to re-interpret the world as simulacra through new, opened eyes — that’s crap. Then you have interesting side observations, like the Until the Light Takes Us filmmakers wanting to make a movie about the decomposition of an idea — that definitely happened, and it’s true, but tells us nothing about how the phenomenon came about.
And what might a historian or a philosopher say?
The Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc fell in 1990-1991. That ended the post-WWII order, and the Communism-versus-Capitalism narrative which splintered off into many degrees of socialism, conservatism, greens and others duking it out. But even more, there was no longer a reason for society to strive. The war was over — what was left? The worst of the 1980s, except now we didn’t even have conservative politicians to reign us in. The McDonald’s, the Coca-Cola, the women turning themselves into plastic whores, the men living for novelty and not bravery, the large corporations controlling more of what we think, the democratic governments so easily purchased… that is the background to black metal.
And against all of these ideas, it offered a simple solution:
Modern society: Everyone is equal. Everyone is important. What is most valuable is not pushing yourself to new heights, but getting along with others. When everyone is included, there will be no war or suffering, and we can all live good lives thanks to these excessive rights and these plasticized corporate products.
Black metal: No peace can exist, and nothing is equal or pure. Morality is garbage invented by the weak. What matters is making yourself better, pushing yourself farther than ever before. War is our destiny, and this is good, because it cures stagnation and indecision. What matters most is the best rising, the supremacy of the conqueror and predator, so that we do not become weak.
In this rebellion, black metal was revolting against the beliefs of its parents, which were that once the evil Cold War was over, we would finally have reached the promised land.
This was a promised land, incidentally, that they started promising in 1914… or rather, in 1789, because it’s the same narrative. We beat back the privileged, make everything equal, all conflict ends, peace and justice reign, yay!
Except that every age has people that think this way, and they’re always wrong, in part because if you think about such a society, it would be miserable. Paralyzed, because avoiding conflict means not finding answers. Permissive, which both cheapens everything and makes sins not a pleasure but almost a mechanical duty, like our porn and its ever-expanding quest for new extremes (where do we go, really, after the A2M explosion, enema milkshake and 919 man gang bang followed by riot bukkake?).
It sounds like something out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: an artificial, pandering, whorelike world without a soul, but you have no reason to object, because materially, you are provided for.
That’s kind of how Baby Boomer parents treated their Generation X (and black metal was a Gen X thing entirely) kids — here’s some money, you live in a nice house and have the best options our society can offer. What are you upset about? Oh the minor fact that we inherited a first-world nation and left you a third-world one, sheerly by our Idiocracy-style tolerance and in fact encouraging of the reproduction of idiots, our fast food, our television nation, and so? That’s a minor fact. Minor. Don’t complain. Kids in the third world don’t have toilet paper.
Black metal was throwing off all of this: the vapidity, the obliviousness, the guilt and the manipulation.
It was saying we cannot all get along; in fact, most of us are shitheads. We need natural selection. What matters most is not peace, happiness, love, etc. but a warlike desire to get things done right according to a higher standard, and along the way, a Romantic contemplation of what it is to be an individual in the world, melancholy and isolated from the false cheer of society.
This fits right in with what Wordsworth, Blake, Emerson, Keats, Byron, Sterne, Shelley (Mary) and other Romantics wrote about only 200 years earlier, during the last great outbreak of culture in the West.
It also fit into the narrative developed by Plato and expanded on by Oswald Spengler, which says that societies go through life cycles, and when they get corrupted by “too much socialization,” they die in slow passage into third world status: low hygiene, corruption, disorganization, dysfunction and immoralism. Remember that other great mystery figure from the 1990s, the Unabomber? He said similar things.
None of this stuff was new. It was what the foremost intellectuals talked about in the 1960s and 1970s, before they wrote the books and recorded the music that influenced the PARENTS of the black metal generation; these were the artifacts they found, wrapped away carefully as if treasured but denied in a quest to pursue “adult” responsibilities, in attics and garages. And absorbed wide-eyed, as children do.
From that we got black metal.
Is it nationalistic? (Nationalism = one nation, one ethnic group, with a single culture, religion and philosophy to match. Don’t confuse it with patriotism, which is political loyalty to whatever State happens to control the land you’re on right now.)
Yes, it is, as the Romantics were. Not in a bigoted way like the neo-Nazis, but proud of their nations, and aware of the need for each nation to fix itself. We can’t kumbaya, glom together and fix each other. We have to go it alone.
From this view, NSBM is what black metal degenerated into, not its ultimate expression. Of course, not everyone agrees — Alex Kurtagic has a different take on things:
Black Metal artists also emphasize nature and landscape, but a morbid and mystical sensibility is evident even here. Whether inspired by völkisch thought or mere Satanic occultism, nature is always conceived in spiritual, mystical, and Romantic terms. The Black Metal aesthetic dictactes that night and winter are eternal. Coniferous forests are preferred to tilled fields and manicured gardens. Where the glorification of war merges with nature mysticism, the emphasis remains on the latter. Viking and Folk Metal bands, in contrast, adopt a more obviously völkisch approach to nature, allowing daylight in their landscapes and generally emphasizing the idyllic as opposed to counter-Enlightenment Sturm und Drang.
The Black Metal sensibility does not reject culture in favor of nature, but instead valorizes culture and nature, both conceived organically, over civilization, which is conceived in mechanistic and materialistic terms. In the Black Metal universe, cities were never built, the Industrial Revolution never occurred, and modernity never arrived. For all its belligerence, Black Metal is inherently nostalgic, a comprehensive negation of modernity. – Alex Kurtagic at Counter-Currents
I find his second paragraph interesting: the enemy is the senescence of civilization itself, which is conceived — well, here I split — from a desire to please the herd. The herd doesn’t create civilization; it destroys it. Rare individuals overcoming their own dysfunction and rising above the herd, that’s what creates and maintains civilization. But then civilization suicides: in an effort to make life better, it protects those incompetents, and soon creates a giant herd of Homer Simpsons, all subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect where they reject anything more complex than they can understand, and are confident in that rejection.
But that’s a study of methods, not of cause.
The cause is a lack of spirit, and the solution is to reject “safety” and “peace,” and explore the edge of risk. Feel the terror, the pain, the glory and the joy, again. Right now, we’re a society on anti-depressants that barely feels a thing, glad for the comforting numbness but also missing out on lives that, if we were paying attention, offer a lot more than we partake. Instead we pursue the same mechanical pleasures.
We are scheming on modern society, cruising on the wealth of the industrial revolution, to make us all materially fat and happy by removing our fears; our Satans, our Hitlers, and even our fears that there is no moral God guiding us, or no Utopian moral Society guiding us, but only a space in which we must make what we desire. Because we have no idea what we desire. We are living in a plastic simulation of a real world, built from the memories of our media lords and writers of government pamphlets, based on a morality that is dysfunctional and a dream of an empty, sterile pointless existence that we desire because it is both safe and greedy, letting us indulge our fantasies. Yet all of this is part of a power structure that undermines us.
Black metal is a revolution in culture against economics, politics, popularity and other forms of deferring the ideal for the tangible:
Certain performers like Orkis and Bylsma are also preferred for their ability to interpret certain ideas that — like genres have ideas in common and as a result, sounds in common — composers explored as part of their collective membership in certain time periods or recurring ideas, like the Faustian, the Romantic and the reverent/sublime outlook, all of which are shared between metal and classical.
These similarities in composition explain why metal and classical have a lot in common — and this is why the correct interpretors are needed. Rock is harmonic-rhythmic, metal is phrasal-narrative. When making rock music, you pick a rhythm, and then use a standard song form or variation to fit it into a scale, which in turn determines harmony. Rock riffs are not as active or as shaped as metal riffs, because generally they are variations within a scale whose goal is to return to the chord being played; they are based around open chords and lead rhythm playing of the scale. Metal is phrasal, meaning that its riffs take the form of phrases made of power chords, and narrative, which means that metal song structure is determined by content of each song more than by a standard form — that’s the infamous “riff salad” rock musicians bemoan in metal.
Classical music also uses narrative composition. While imbeciles will focus on its fixed forms — sonata, fugue, aria — the more important idea here is that the song follows the poetic content being expressed. This mirrors the epic poetry of ancient European and Indian civilizations, where it was understood that each adventure had stages of ritual, much like we have stages in acceptance of death or change. As a result, there was a need for an overture, a reconsideration, some changes and a recapitulation and synthesis of themes, and these got formalized in the song structures that today imbeciles regard as iron laws. The narrative style however is the common thread in classical music from its beginning to the present.
In rock music, you write to fit the scale to the rhythm, and then melody is added to accentuate that. This is easier work because all of the real variables are defined by the form. Similarly, in jazz, the form is fixed and within it the player riffs off harmony and rhythm, and inserts fragments of melody to that end — this is why most jazz artists make thousands of recordings of a song, and only one or two are considered “the real deal” by collectors: without the artist making it happen, cerebrally, the pieces fit together by random convenience. Classical works by the opposite principle, which is creating or adapting a general form to the poetic needs of a piece — expressing the change in both listener and “actor” within the story or feeling being related — and then designing a combination of rhythm, melody, theme, motif and form to express it well.
Metal is similar, although less schooled in this regard, because it seeks to express a similar worldview — underlying philosophical assumptions about life — to that of classical. Metal is reverent for the sublime; it sees the power and the horror of nature as necessary for its perpetuation, and is like nature intolerant of the oblivious and unrealistic because they create a parasitic slowdown of the exciting experiences in life. It derives much of its thematic development from the pace of horror movies, in which a few “awakened” people realize that they face a supernatural — or invisible pattern underlying all reality — foe against which technology and their oblivious, unrealistic social partners are useless. Finally, metal like classical expresses the Faustian spirit, or a sense of struggling for the rare and inconvenient beauty life offers, and fighting back those who submit to static obedience or dogma; this sense of purity through struggle is called vir, or the virtuous warlike acts of ancient man. These themes repeat throughout classical music, like metal, and while there are exceptions, it’s more than a coincidence that the best among metal and classical use these themes repeatedly. – Classical Music for Metal Fans
It’s a philosophy of triumph through living not for safety, but for adventure:
Where modern society in a desire for safety imposes values designed for an average person onto all of us, and assumes that our material and humanist wellbeing constitutes meaning in life, Romanticism explodes from within. It is not a philosophy of cautions, but of desires for the intangible, and as so it worships risk and conquest and a lack of fear toward the karmic existence. It transcends the desire to either live karmically, or live akarmically, because it sees karmicism as a means to an end and concerns itself only with the end: the ideal.
In this, Romanticism constitutes a philosophy because it posits intangible ideals as a balance weight to the certainty of death. It seeks a sense of unfolding; the discovery of something new in a prismatic space hiding behind the mundane. In doing so, it renovates life itself by working from within and renewing the brain in its aspiration and heroic transcendence of the karmic drag, in the exact opposite principle to modernity, which is materialism/humanism as supported by technology and populist political systems. – Metal as Prismatic Motion
And although we can show how it is connected to Romanticism and classical music, its bigger connection is to an ideal of transcendentalism which has been discovered and forgotten innumerable times — when societies are healthy, they discover it; when they are not, they forget it. This is the Tradition that writers like Rene Guenon refer to:
As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.
We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:
Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.
These are expressed artistically by the following:
Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used movable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.
These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it. – Assimilation
Metal finds beauty in darkness.
Modern society tries to shut out darkness and, in doing so, removes beauty.
Coca-Cola or wandering in the woods, wondering if you’ll find fresh water or die of thirst.
One is safe, one is exciting.
Does black metal flirt with fascism? Black metal is conservative, and conservatism is a spectrum from libertarianism through national socialism, just like liberalism is a spectrum from anarchy through Communism.
Black metal implies that our modern time is as totalitarian as fascism or Communism, it’s just that the mechanisms are hidden from us. We are trapped in boring jobs, in ugly cities, in blight-ridden streets that are covered in commercial messages and obscene graffiti. We are not controlled directly; rather, we are sabotaged by society itself, which removes good options from us and replaces them with ever-lowering standards, so we both cannot rebel (hey, you can do ANYTHING, man) and cannot aspire. One way of doing things rules across the globe, and it controls our lives, even if it does so by making sure that the majority prefer dumb options and thus make those into law.
Modern society is a series of bad options because those are what the equal proles prefer; as the rot spreads, the controllers laugh from their ivory towers, watching civilization defeat itself because it cannot enact impulse control, and have preferences for long-term goods instead of short-term personal gain or recognition. We destroy ourselves. We do their work for them, and since most people are too dumb to figure this out, you can shout the truth on streetcorners and you will be ignored. It is a perfect system of control.
In the process we commit ecocide by growing like an obese cancer. Is black metal green? In a way that Garrett Hardin, Pentti Linkola and Arne Naess are green.
Is it fascist? In the way that Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were: when you are in a society of idiots, you might as well carve it up and do some conquering because these people will do nothing but pursue their hollow pleasures, live callow lives of pointless misery, and then blame whoever is in charge for their own failings.
Our world is stagnating; entropy is upon us. The old methods of 1968 will not work because they did not work, and never work. They sound good, but they, too, are hollow.
Black metal is many things. It is religious; in a pagan, transcendentalist sense that maybe the most profound Christian mystics (Eckhart, Emerson) would have understood. It is violent, and it is fascist, but not totalitarian. It is nationalist, but not racist, per se. It is an assertion of the inward spirit of humanity that wants to rise above its own fear and desire for safety, and carve from an empty wilderness of a world a new civilization, one that achieves love not by commanding it through law, but through creating it by making things worth loving.
Black metal is all that this world is not, and the order that will replace it. The next thousand years are ours.
Oh wait, I was supposed to write about NSBM. Well, it’s nothing, really. It’s what happens when the RAC people claim black metal for their own. The original bands — Burzum, Emperor, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Immortal — they all endorsed nationalism, like Bathory did. For them, the point was to rebuild culture; for others, the idea is to wage race war. You can see there’s a difference.
Looking back on another fallen year, we might be reminded that the prior chapter of 2009 represented a global uprising of Death and Black Metal bands opposed to the phenomenon of underground Metal as a commodity as perpetuated by an impulsive, media-consumed, mass internet cult who denounce the culture of values which necessitated the very form of the music itself. This served to strengthen already riotous scenes of desecration and barbarity in extreme territories such as Australia and Canada, and forces across the United States and Europe began to mobilise with a renewed sense of dedication, guided by a selection of ancient voices who have not compromised their integrity to capture a new but deluded fanbase like their peers. The golden ages of Death and Black Metal have long since past and any campaigns to revive the spirit of Hessianism in Metal are not only in their infancy but vastly overshadowed by the populist trends that define the landscape of the genre today. As such, with the burden of anticipation on it’s shoulders, 2010 was by and large seized by veteran armies determined to distill the essence of their unholy craft from the impurities of our age, guiding further generations of warriors to victory. And though our imperious choices of 2010 are dominated by the hands of experience, a few young hordes also rose to the yawning of this battlefield to make bold and vigourous statements as the continuing legacy of true Metal’s eternal spirit.
Ares Kingdom – Incendiary
There is a certain door that any contemporary thrash band seeking quality must go through, a certain threshold that requires imagination and the indispensable talents of assimilation to really cross; in metal today, we see countless fragile trends that depend upon a rigid nostalgia and a lifeless worship of what has already happened, fully ignorant of the fact that what has true staying power is never something that was an idle imitation of something that was actually born of genius. In contrast to these bands, specifically the ones which belong to the so-called ‘retro-thrash’ trend, Ares Kingdom is of the opposite mindset; Ares Kingdom does not want to merely copy its primary influences, but to implement and authentically incorporate these influences into a relatively bold and forward-looking composition. The basic idea of Incendiary is quite simple: destroy the phoenix so that she may be reborn, an idea which is not so far from the opening narration of the Destroyer 666 track, Rise of the Predator. The execution, on the other hand, is what brings the band closer to actually demonstrating this vision than any other insignificant band that elects to portray death and apocalypse for aesthetic reasons alone; from the dismal album artwork to the indifference in Alex’s vocals, from the sad, painful melodies to the caustic and fiery riffs and solos that Chuck Keller (Order From Chaos) delivers, the listener can derive a sure sense of impending, even immediate doom. In conclusion, Ares Kingdom is not your average headbangin’, beer-swillin’, hell-worshipping thrash metal; ‘Incendiary’ offers us all the pace and vigour of the classic eighties bands, only it is properly assimilated and raised to a higher level through the cold visage of death metal and the individual imagination of the album’s creators. While sacrificing a bit of the rampant speed of the earlier recordings, ‘Incendiary’ compensates with a thoughtful development that is essential in allowing the band to convey its dark, apocalyptic vision; in other words, through the utility of a confident and dynamic mindset, Ares Kingdom has defiantly revealed a genuine idea independent of its forebears, and in so doing has crossed the threshold that has left so many inferior bands begging at the door.
Autopsy – The Tomb Within
Of the artists who remain from times past, under whose names were unleashed the most disturbing and poignant sounds that defined Death Metal, Autopsy belong to a radical minority in rejecting the expectations of the contemporary audience and find their way back to the essence of their own sound on pure instinct alone. While the last couple of years has seen a rising of undead hordes practicing the ancient forms in a global campaign to transcend the pollutant mainstreamification of Death Metal, very few of these bands have really unlocked the primal secrets which were channelled into every classic of the old school – the dynamics of energy and the implementation within a brutal-violent, hysteric-emotional or transcendental-contemplative narrative, which the veteran likes of Asphyx, Autopsy and Goreaphobia have all recently demonstrated. The simple, largely hysteric level that The Tomb Within operates on makes it a powerful exercise of a seamless compositional style that is completely shaped by a savage state of consciousness, unintelligent yet impulsively aware of it’s own imminent death. Like an onrush of blood pumped through contracting arteries, guitars portray the frantic inner drama of one of Dr. Herbert West’s re-animations, diametrically opposed to his precise formulations regarding post-mortem. Atonal layering in the manner of Slayer’s more pathological works increases tension during these surging passages, punctuated by lead guitars that put to rest any hope of sanity returning. The trademark sludginess of Autopsy’s sound comes from instruments that are seemingly encased in adipocere, retaining within them all the character of their most memorable titles; not aspiring for a modern, clinical definition to their riffs but instead emphasising the rhythmic flow of energy in order to convey the sensations and suffocating experience of mortal dread. The band finds the balance once again of deathly force and doomy realisations as slower riffs offset the hysteria with tollings of morbid heaviness and an inescapable fate. Though Autopsy have stripped Death Metal to an essential skeletal frame, with the added simplicity of a horror movie-like thematic approach, this EP brings a much needed dimension of fear and madness to a world obsessed with ‘zombie horror’ as a populist, retro-hipster, marketing aesthetic.
Avzhia – In My Domains
Another excellent tonal poem by this Mexican symphonic horde sees a sense of orchestration and riff balance that has all the consistency of ‘The Key Of Throne‘ from 2004, though takes a deeper foray into the realm of cinematic, ambient orchestration that recalls what Summoning have been getting at for the last 15 years, mixed with the battle hardened epics of Lord Wind. This new turn in a more heavily instrumental form recalls what fellow countrymen The Chasm brought about in the form of last year’s Farseeing The Paranormal Abysm with a little less emphasis on the central role of vocals. Though rather than the syncretic, melodic death metal of their peers, Avzhia’s black metal assault owes it’s periphery to the best works of Emperor, Graveland, Ancient, Summoning and Xibalba, throwing them into a cohesive and bombastic mould. I would not say that this tops their previous full length, but this follow up is very worthy indeed and consolidates their status as one of the great torch bearers of what black metal stood to express, the embodiment of restoring mystical imagination in the listener.
The unstoppable Rob Darken took again some time from swordfights and armour forging to take a look at the barbaric-modernist thematic system devised by composers such as Richard Wagner and Basil Poledouris, with a metallic energetic pulse rarely witnessed since Following the Voice of Blood; the last of the fast Graveland albums. The lack of Capricornus hardly matters because the authentic or perfectly synthesized drumkit recalls the same Celtic tribal warmarches and the raw, unsymmetric heartbeat of a primal man hunted by wolves, perfectly countered by the dark druid’s usual cold and hardened vocal delivery. A deeply neo-classical realization how to build heaviness through doomy speeds and chordal supplements still elevates the Polish seeker-initiator into a force far beyond today’s puny black and heathen metal “royalty”, looming beyond as a frightening presence of unrealized wisdom; nothing less than the Manowar of black metal, with no hint of irony or self-loathing. There exist two directions of expansion since the ethereal melodic chime of alfar nature in “From the Beginning of Time” is Summoning-esque (“Spear of Wotan” even features a variation of the “Marching Homewards” melody) while the harmonic perception takes a sudden dive into folkloric origins in the proto-rock riffing of “White Winged Hussary”, reminiscent of the most “redneckish” moments of the early albums. No essential component has been changed in a decade of work, but slight improvements of formula keep the mystically oriented listener spinning towards the distantly heard croaking ravens that herald the upcoming axe age, one that shall bless our corrupted world with a merciful blow from Wotan’s spear of un-death.
Inquisition – Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm
Recent history has borne witness to developments in Black Metal that sets the music more at war against itself than with it’s traditional enemies and time has accumulated vast quantities of debris resulting from this internal crisis of identity and credibility. The shape of all the rubble is appropriately rocky, resembling the multitude of “fairy land” daydreams based on genres of alternative popular music incorporated to gain the approval of outsiders who possess no more understanding of the wolfish, warlike and mystic poetry of Black Metal’s spiritual essence, but want to claim this ‘niche market’ as their own. Even the cloak of demonic symbology, long-since regarded as a joke to even the casual listener – little more than a generic garb for posturing and associating with the genre’s ancestors – has been accordingly stripped of all occultic luminance, which shined too fiercely over the eyes of the humanist infiltrator, such that the tears of depressive-suicidal ideologies would instantly evaporate. None of these signs of the times, however, have influenced the veteran duo of Dagon and Incubus, who, in an ultimate statement of Satanic zealotry and inhuman purity, tunnel back to the hypnotic primitivism of Black Metal’s first waves, re-formulating and refining the style of early Bathory to produce an album that reveals the inherent mystical wisdom which inspires Black Metal’s sinister imagery, with no recourse to obvious cliches nor over-intellectualisations in order to clutch at some idea of artistic credibility and potency. Based on the technique of Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust‘, Inquisition craft expansive yet blasting soundscapes from swirling portals of riffing immediately reminiscent of ‘The Return……‘ by Bathory in it’s Punkish brevity. These are inflected by dissonant open-chords and all manner of string-bending and sliding chaos to create a legitimate sense of increasing cosmic awareness and trans-dimensional ascension, as they circulate around each song’s central melody in a bizzarely motivic fashion. This is a component that bands such as Blut Aus Nord, who aspire to embellish their songs in such an experimental way, simply do not possess. Even the most meandering of arpeggiated open-chords don’t feel derivative as they sound out powerful and song-defining melodies rather than merely filling out time and space. Similarly to fellow Latin Americans Avzhia, Inquisition create a total sense of grandeur by bringing songs to an apex of expression through essentially simple but epic power-chord riffs. The masterful percussive transitions of Incubus guide the album fluidly between the various evolutionary elements of Inquisition’s sound, from the majestically crashing and pounding cadences of Burzum to the rolling avalanche of Immortal. Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm is in many ways the album that the Blashyrkh horde should have recorded instead of ‘All Shall Fall’, as even Dagon’s toneless chanting style is somehow more expressive than past vocalisations in its similarity to Abbath. But all comparisons aside, there is no doubt as to which band reigns the Black Metal underground almost alone these days as Inquisition have created another uncompromising and profound work that no other so-called Satanists have the power to match.
The New York City borough of Brooklyn might be better known to the universal consciousness as “The Hipster Capital of the World”, “A Fantastic Place to Collect STDs”, or “Where Culture Goes to be Sodomized”, amongst other colorful and imaginative epithets. Naturally, any self-touting Metal bands originating from this region ought to be approached with utmost scrutiny, as these are all almost invariably revealed to be alternative rock acts hiding beneath a masquerade of long hair and Dionysian discord. Breaking decisively away from this brand of perfidious whoredom are nouveau death metallers Mutant Supremacy, who occupy a peculiar nexus in between Monstrosity, Dismember, and Infester — thus setting them apart from the archetypal NYDM style as well. Seemingly fueled by an intense hatred for the free-loving cosmopolitanism that surrounds them, this band constructs theatrically explosive war-anthems conceptualized around a post-nuclear-apocalyptic Hell on Earth, rife with Thrasymachan rhetoric, biological abominations, and grisly accounts of human extermination. Songwriting on this debut mostly shows a clean-cut and sharp sense of narration clearly indicative of a studied discipline in the arts of classic Slayer, although there are a few odd weak moments where stylistic confusion vomits forth a spate of old school clichés and uncompelling Flori-death/Swe-death/British Grindcore aggregates. Overall, however, there is certainly something refreshingly violent in development here, and it’s a victory to hear such a proud death knell coming from what is otherwise an utterly syphilis-addled portion of the planet.
Profanatica – Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
True to form, Profanatica release a focused, energetic and iconoclastic opus that shatters and mocks any infantile and moralistic conception of reality. Both compositionally and aesthetically powerful, the production on Disgusting Blasphemies against God is both clear and full, lending itself nicely to an analysis of its subtleties and providing the clarity necessary to gain a chuckle at the expense of nearby spectators privy to the album’s intrusive vitriol. Ledney’s vocals are hilariously clear yet retain a threateningly violent quality that is becoming of this style of Black Metal. As Ledney vomits forth his blasphemic ritual, listeners are treated to a notably ominous musical atmosphere that is uncomfortably somber, deranged and challenging. Utilizing single note tremolo picking, reminiscent of a cross between a more consonant Havohej and the effective and simple melodies of VON, Ledney in is his genius, develops motifs, that while perhaps more obvious and accessible, remain potent and successfully create an intriguing state of anxiety. These motifs both seamlessly emerge from, and return to sinister Incantation style riffs which work together to develop a unity and structural coherence that while primal and simple is undoubtedly effective. The interplay between these musical variable creates an overall experience that portends the celebration of the powerful, living and animated chthonic mysteries and perhaps more pressingly the apotheosis of their necessary destructive capacities.
Slaughter Strike – At Life’s End
Toronto’s death dealers unearth the forgotten formulas of 80s-90s extreme metal in their second offering, a follow-up to the debut cassette “A Litany of Vileness”. This punk-driven death metal statement delivered by veterans of Canadian scene (former members of The Endless Blockade and Rammer) shows no mercy: it is short, volatile and dirty. Yet, at the same time the material is well weighed and balanced, blessed with the genuine feel of old-school art. The production helps conveying old metal nostalgia whereas Spartan songwriting confronts useless acrobatic tendencies of the modern scene. The band’s uncompromising music is perfectly collaborated with artwork by Moscow artist Denis Kostromitin. Standing on the shoulders of giants like Autopsy, Carnage, Pestilence, Repulsion and Discharge these reapers managed to find a voice of their own. We can only hope that this beautifully presented vinyl-only release is a “carnal promise” of Slaughter Strike’s prospects.
Averse Sefira, 1349, Goatwhore and Ascension
April 13, 2007
7021 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90028
Confusion marked our entrance into the Knitting Factory, where it was being decided that bands would not play in the order originally listed. Making it more chaotic, they all played on the same stage, ensuring that hasty transfers of band would scatter personnel and equipment across the stage and inevitably result in some “who has the voice mike” satire. Despite this tower of live performance Babel, the bands involved bravely sallied forth with loins girded in guitar straps and gumption alone.
The first band, Ascension, played to a mixed reception. Their style would be hard to describe except that it is that fusion of death metal and black metal that underneath the skin sounds like it was assembled from old B-list speed metal bands, and so is very chorusy and bangy but not very clear. It would be hard to tell much about this band from their presentation at the event, but this did not appear to jar them as they bashed out a comprehensive set.
We were excited to see Averse Sefira play as the third band after several other local acts which presented music in varying degrees of conceptual completion. Most of these bands are good at what they do; they can play their instruments, know enough of the genre to make a competent stab at it, but the question is “what do they communicate?” It is a hurdle every new band, no matter how old or seasoned its members, must overcome, and seeing these new acts struggle to define themselves by what they would give to their audience in the form of transferred experience drove our pulses to fury in preparation for the main act.
The crowd gathered, expectantly; you could tell this mix caught the curious and the diehards alike. I have often wondered what impels the choices people make in attending shows, and why they would pick one metal band out of thousands, as if it alone differentiated itself enough to be meaningful or relevant while others became slag in the battle for mining threads of coherent mentation. Most metal bands, like most people, are working in an archetype or combination of archetypes, assembling a product which fits into their known scope of experience and little more. They qualify as metal but other than the clueless and the fans who attend a weekly show in hopes of bolstering lives of boredom, attract few hearts or minds, and not for long.
It is in this arena of meaning that Averse Sefira reign supreme as occult art… Where metal bands can narrate tales of war, AVRS the have the *soul* of a man *engaged* in an apocalyptic war. You feel the same hellish strife that perhaps the hobbits Frodo and Sam struggled with at Mordor in Tolkien’s *Return of the King*, or the epic conflict a lone hunter finds when crossing the frozen north to reach a new land. Whether or not metal “has” soul, these tales of soul-conflict are what sustain its listeners during a time when every other pressure exerted on them is an exhortation to give up and make the kind of compromise that makes products not leaders.
When Wrath and Sanguine were testing their microphones, they were demonic beasts barking as wolves do when threatening their prey. The sound guy was having trouble getting everything right, then a projection screen rolled down on Wrath’s head which infuriated him and the apprreciative listeners of AVRS. They were in the middle of their first song, but he continued to play well. This show in Hollywood may have had problems, but the occult war music of AVRS transcended this and remained powerful on those beings that understand it.
I brought my friend and battle-comrade Mateo, and he called for a song, Argument Obscura. Wrath heard, so the band played. The Carcass like an animal seized sonic space with aggression toward dominion, and Sanguine’s fingers were claw-like tentacles across the mangled fretboard of his guitar. Wrath continued his defiant performance, bass weaving with the military aerobics of his stage presence, ignoring all obstructions (see passage above about chaos onstage) while returning to the surging rhythm of the music like a descent into hand-to-hand combat. The band held a posture and backed it up with quality, complex music and a performative impact that was both metaphorical and literal: this is war for art.
The crowd, as always, hovered in uncertainty without an echoing voice of overlord to tell them what to think. Many would have been happier with an updated version of Motorhead like Goatwhore, or the mishmash of metal successes over the past thirty years that most bands try to mix into a whole with few real standouts. The Averse Sefira assault caught them by surprise because it was not just aesthetics, not just music, and not just presentation: it was a whole, a moment where art spoke a worldview through the methods of its creation and the mentation required to get there. Open mouths and a buzz of generic dialogue flickered to life after the band left the stage.
Much of the metallic occult, with Yamatu — contra (“pvre”) stereotypical Black (“fucking”) metal — brings one into an ancient world long forgotten, like Atlantis or Lemuria. Averse Sefira’s performance was no exception, although given a “so-so” when they really deserve the highest praise, but this seemed to go to 1349 who managed a tight, dynamic set but did not achieve that vector of ideas that separates the great from the competent. Their performance was reminiscent of Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis dom Sathanas” and matched it in intensity, but did not leave that otherwordly sense one has when confronted with ideas that change the way future ideation will form. It was not the trance-like cessation of reality, except in metaphor, that Averse Sefira brought to the stage.
Murmurs of a mind in pure suspension of disbelief, a state like that before birth, the steadfast concentration without effort from the conscious mind of the warrior, concealed in vigil of death, on the edge of the forest… We are falling beneath the Earth (degrading to the regions of Malkuth)… We must return to an evolutionary path. By choice, or after the hymn of death has rung (renewal by fire): pulling ourselves into a black vortex, the yawning void of war. This is what their message conveys to me. Not many else today merit praise as warriors. The concept albums of Averse Sefira are Evolan retellings of Kali Yugas past and future, and the cycle has returned to the time for that era.