Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.
— Ch’ing-yüan Wei-hsin, Ch’uan Teng Lu
Those who thirst for knowledge and wisdom move in cycles of understanding delimited by internalization and externalization. These transitions are not tied to fixed degrees and their own depth as well as their distance from the next phase varies from one person to the next. The cycles of understanding can be exemplified by the process of finding out how an electronic or mechanical device works: we first pry it open and find ourselves faced with a multitude of components whose nature we usually do not even begin to understand. It is only after a while that we slowly start to identify the function pertaining each of these elements.
At first, and as we acquire basic information on the system, we are taken aback by the complexity of the relations between the different pieces working with each other in interlocked patterns. Even after understanding the purpose and function that each of the pieces has, one is not assured a proper grasp of the bigger picture. The reason for this is that this is not simply the result of the mechanical output of wheels and cogs, but something else arising from the total.
And so, after a first wave of study, analysis and pondering, a first picture is obtained. The student may think he now knows what’s going on, and that all undetermined parts are simply “subjective” or “random” and cannot be considered relevant. Some would call it a day and leave it at that. Others would continue from this higher ground, recharging batteries and pushing forth theories and testing them for incongruences until a newer picture emerges, one where what he considered parts of a whole are only parts of a partial system, embedded in either a greater mesh or having a completely different shape or balance of parts.
In dealing with the enigma of true learning, the conscious human mind is impaired with an understanding that remains clear only up to very straightforward deterministic causal relations and requires its most powerful tool to attain its full potential: the underestimated intuition. If anyone has doubts regarding the role of intuition and the subconscious (unconscious?) in learning (the attaining of understanding), one only has to think that cramming on a particular subject yields instant information on the most direct and obvious levels, but that it is only after one has “slept on it” that repercussions and otherwise unimagined dependencies are revealed to the mind.
Most valuable information, of course, can also come through experience and a scientific exploration of any subject, which provides the springboard of systematized analysis that scientific thought is. Unfortunately for humanity, “science” has slowly become a synonym for “materialist close-mindedness” ever since the so-called Enlightenment, and anything that is not “scientifically proven” (which is an interesting parallel to reducing any idea to the lowest common denominator in its requirement of the idea in question being universally reproducible in laboratory conditions) is held to be unreliable and irrelevant – unless the establishment likes the idea (for political or ego reasons, more often than not), making the profit-based scientific research advance at an unbearably slow speed towards the fabrication of commodities and pointless lifespan prolongation.
Applying this description of universal acquisition of human wisdom to music appreciation cannot only afford us with a clearer way of realizing the value of art but may as well arm us with the steel necessary to combat the nonsensical idea of complete subjectivity in the perception of music which cripples any discussion on its value in favor of modernist un-human experimentalism and post-modernist adoration for the recycled novelty. Modernist and post-modernist ideas about art arise from the same so-called-scientific materialist thinking that spawned infantile Marxist thought. All of these have in common that they use the word “science” and “objectivity” as a shield while they naively ignore human nature in favor of completely biased ideas on how civilization should proceed in their consideration of either arts, politics or economy. The haughty claim is made that there is no such thing as human nature or that nobody understands what this even means. As if its imperfect understanding were enough to discard it as irrelevant, all evidence to the contrary.
In the true spirit of the scientist, the learner, the explorer, the experimenter, the reader and avid metal fan is encouraged to never stop considering the reasons behind the effects of music, the role of structures and textures and how they can be perceived, how they relate to meaning and in what contexts, as well as any other ideas that lead to understanding rather than to an obfuscation into which unscientific thought has lead the establishment while at the same time they hijack the word “science” for their personal views! Just because a problem is hard to solve, just because the variables involved are complex, and just because the obtaining of a knowledge does not represent life or death it does not mean it need not be pursued. Humans thrive on the tackling of problems, and the supplying of baser needs such as food and clothing should only mean that human intellect is now more free than ever to delve into higher mysteries.
Immortal are recording a new album next month. Demonaz will be the primary songwriting for the first time in almost twenty years. Will the KISS of All Shall Fall continue with Abbath kicked out of the band for refusing to kick drinking and drugs? Will Demonaz continue from March of the Norse or Blizzard Beasts? Let’s find out!
In this part of the article series “1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians”, I have chosen to take on the English group Yes‘ fourth album Fragile from 1971. While their fifth effort, Close to the Edge, is generally regarded as their creative peak and definite statement, Fragile was more important for the development of the nascent progressive rock genre, and perhaps a more suitable entry point for someone who is getting into prog rock from a metal background. There is definitely a sense of power in the works of Yes even if it takes on a different form than what we are used to in metal music. Where early metal bands like Black Sabbath expressed a gritty, doom-laden heaviness through guitar-centered power chord riffing, Yes opted to build momentum through a more instrumentally integrated approach. That is not to say that there are no heavy guitar parts on ‘Fragile’, but here the guitars assume a somewhat different role than in metal.
Kawir is a band that belongs to that side of metal whose discussion allows the true metal nihilist to distinguish between free minds who embrace the spirit of metal’s independence from political or religious doctrine. Metal has been characterized by its portrayals of power, courage and strength, while looking down on sheepish behavior, compliance with the system and general cowardice. When bands who openly express musical worship of Pagan ideals as a source for racial/national power, it gives one the opportunity to weed out the sheep in metal guise. The metal nihilist will find in the concept of the pagan theme in metal yet another expression of pride and power apt for the narrative of timeless natural struggle. He may dispassionately nod its head to the idea without necessarily embracing it as something that speaks to him, personally. He holds the burning flame of life in front of him, observing the destroying consumption that drives action in eternal co-dependence with passive materia. He stares at it directly without fear of having the miserable protective borders of human-society constructs burn away, nay, welcoming this removal of the illusory.
But the infiltrator will often reveal himself by expressing typical modern-urban discomfort in the face of the tribal roots of these ideas, deeming them not sophisticated enough and the product of ignorant naturalists and superstitious people– because they have obviously never even read Karl Marx, let alone Michel Foucault or Noam Chomsky. We also find the majority of undecided metal fans who can guiltily accept these “rash” ideas in the context of artistic expression, although not without signs of rubor on their cheeks and heavy perspiration on trembling hands, more characteristic of virtuous maidens than courageous warriors. Yes, metal is masculine, and no, it does not imply misogyny. These last at least exhibit the intellectual honesty towards which metal tends to gravitate, even if the shackles of their own societies and times can still be felt as they adopt a tongue-in-cheek disposition and keep their fingers crossed behind their backs in a sort of secular modern superstitious fear. One may still find them making quick apologies for the band or comical quips that prove their allegiance to their in-time, humanist ideals, putting their puny minds at rest that they have not incurred in heresy.
Isotheos (ίσο – θεος, ‘equal [to] god’ — Godlike) is the Apollonian in-time expression through metal and minimalist Hellenic elements of Dionysian timelessness, the underlying human genetic memory of survival that Nietzsche wisely derived and intuited and that Jung demonstrated empirically. This collective unconscious speaks to us in mental images, flashes of emotion and conceptual ephemeral . A sign that Kawir places utmost importance on the core and significance, rather than on the temporary expression of these, is that although there is a clear embracing of the products of Greek pre-classical antiquity as the heritage of its nation and people, references to both pre-Hellenic and Roman outward manifestations are admitted into the concept of the album. The album deals with the transcendental aspect of Greek symbology, not as temporary and superficial expressions of this or that period, but as evidence to the unique evolutionary path of Greek survival arising as fumes from boiling blood.
Musically, Isotheos revolves completely around simple, modal themes, which in no moment cede to any other element. While there are vocals, rhythm guitars and often more than one melody line, the centrality of the theme is never, even for one moment, lost. Kawir simultaneously achieves the high-energy, dense locomotive character of metal that rides on thundering drums, as well as the melodious, inspiring horizon-gazing sounds of primeval Greece. These, we have now come to associate with the ancient temples and oracles through reconstructions of that ancient European music. Rhythm depends on power chord phrases closer to the approach of Witchfinder General than Iron Maiden, thus a stronger backbone and less distraction. Despite this adherence to simplicity (the beautiful simplicity, the ‘good simplicity’ of Plato’s Socrates), there is no lack of variety, and through smart use of economical and effective use of a close-style repertoire of techniques achieves a strong and fluent expression.
Particularly stamped on the capable listener’s mind will be the natural consistency with which themes are treated, the healthy growth of variations without even the slightest hint of pretension. In no moment does technique supersede communication and structure, a balanced sort of modest beauty that maintains its worth by carefully and sparingly choosing climaxes that never come beforehand. This is achieved through gradually evolving the theme, so that a structure of cyclic transformation is represented. Each song makes use of one theme only, usually, tying it poetically with the concept, and making absolutely revolve around it. This is not a theme on a melody dancing above moving harmony with an occasional quote and echo, but rather the whole of the music adds a grain to the theme itself, as it assumes no definite form and all forms. While the classical variation starts from a primordial seed that is represented in increasingly complex forms, the ancient spirit of Kawir’s music lends no particular importance to any of the manifold incarnations of Dionysian memory. To be more precise, what we find on Isotheos are not the strict romantic themes, but motific variations that are kept at relatively close Levenshtein distances, thereby guarding them from disfiguration.
In this music, every single aspect is important and none of them are. Their preservation in transfomations is immortal, but their temporary forms or manifestations are only suitable for that instant and hold no value in and of themselves. Each moment is distinctive but strongly related to future and past, as water raining on the tops of mountains, running through ravines, precipitating down waterfalls and reinvading the ocean uncountable times as no single drop of water survives but is reincarnated. If there ever was an album that explicitly collects the Nietzschean balance of the Apollonian and Dionysian, it is Isotheos. If there is any place in metal which takes one closer to the Platonic musical ideal through appropriate forms, it is Isotheos.
Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time. To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.
There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.
In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.
I. Technical Overview
Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.
Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.
The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.
Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.
I. Aural Impressions
Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.
In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.
Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.
III. Integral Critique
Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.
Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.
Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.
IV. Final Remarks
As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.
Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.
The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.
In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.
In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.
— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.
2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.
It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.
3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.
4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.
5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.
Black metal emerged as a reaction to the trend of death metal which had already established a musical vocabulary and through that achieved a higher degree of technicality as well as abstraction.
These bands took inspiration from the proto-black Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory and Sodom. The music of these early hybrid bands was quite unlike what became the second wave of black metal or death metal in that its motifs were simple yet concrete; overlaid onto a structure which juxtaposes seemingly unrelated motifs next to one another in an uncomplicated and often superficially nonsensical form. Yet, the result was surprisingly successful as a visceral and chaotic experience of raw, concrete, sensory imagery.
The black metal to follow refined this approach through retaining much of the simplicity and visceral nature of the earlier music while placing the motifs in a more logical format through phrasal composition, in which each riff has a shape created by its phrase and these form a language within each song. This and the trademark atmospheric riffs driven by waves of reverb and tremolo picking – largely invented by the Norwegian bands of note – came to define the public perception of black metal as a genre. Consequently, the Norwegian sound moved away from the rhythmic lineage of rock to music to something closer to the traditional western sensibility: harmony and melody over static, invariant rhythm as famously codified by the experimental gothic sensibilities of Transilvanian Hunger.
Profanatica, from what can be intuited from rare interviews, had strong reactions towards both the Norwegian sound and death metal itself. As such their music took on a different character which has not garnered the band near as much acclaim. The Norwegian sound is, after all, is the standard against which all black metal music is held. Given the fact that all genres are imposed by observation after the fact, it seems that the difference between Profanatica and the Norwegian giants is not one of quality, but of a band not fitting within the aesthetic boundaries of a genre that the audience expects. That and the mad rush for Norwegian black metal pushed Profanatica to the boundaries of the black metal movement where its influence on artists and hardcore fans tells a different story of its importance.
Much like the Norwegians, Profanatica refined the approach of its influences by emphasizing an incoherent structure and seemingly random construction. The motifs themselves are anything but abstract; often sounding vaguely familiar if not recycled both literally and intuitively. The listener will detect a clear sense of familiarity with the image of a particular motif, yet its contextual placement is such that it reveals a new perspective on something familiar. To draw a metaphor, it is as if one obtains a view of the same landscape from the peak of different mountains. This freedom of association allows a particular feeling, idea or image to be used as appropriate, anywhere in a song without sounding out of place. That particular innovation is unique to this band alone.
Structurally, Profanatica develop the proto-black method by emphasizing its motif contrast and non-rational composition. The infamous “Weeping in Heaven” demonstrates this technique through a collection of riff ideas which bears little relationship to one another, nor are treated in such a way that might cause the music to blend seamlessly. The contrast is emphasized which leaves the listener in a position to experience the music on an intuitive level. The result speaks to the body and it speaks towards the id. Logical progression, causality and abstract musical language are rejected abjectly. Profanatica embraces the rhythmic tradition of non-Western forms; using it to give meaning to chaos and incoherence of raw experience. Where one might perceive conceptual weakness and compositional immaturity in the early black metal music, Profanatica matured their approach to the point of strength.
The greatest contrast between the Norwegian sound and their influences lay at the relationship between the subject and the perceiver. The musical component of the proto-black bands described the emotional reactions to a phenomenon portrayed, resulting in the internal discourse one expects when reacting to the representations given to them by their nervous system. The Norwegian sound attempts to paint the external world through its musical discourse. The valuations of the perceiver are never absent quite absent and serve to describe the relationship of the internal world to the external. It asks the question, “where do we fit in the image of the world as presented?”
In a sense it attempts to categorize a dark forest in nonverbal symbols. Profanatica, resting firmly in the proto-black tradition, presents the terror of a solitary human being in a forest without describing the forest itself through its musical symbols. The dialogue then, becomes a matter of internal sensation which is untamed and instinctual. In terms of artistry, that innovation ultimately expanded the initial range of expression without reasoning categorically about it.
The effectiveness of this particular approach may be observed on the medley from the Grand Masters Sessions release. The track consists of portions of the band’s demo material stitched together to form a single track. A listener familiar with Profanatica’s back catalog will no doubt sense the familiarity of the material yet what is most striking is the functionality of the piece as a whole. Despite being composed from entirely different songs, the song involves juxtaposition of each motif and its partial ordering, and as a result manages a level of unity as a stream of consciousness which reveals new perspectives on the material through context.
Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007) distills the familiar Incantation sound made famous on their debut record Onward to Golgotha – which Paul Ledney had a strong hand in developing – by stripping the material down to its most basic instincts. The result is a fierce and destructive force of will whose aim is deconstruction. The follow up Disgusting Blasphemies Against God saw the band barbarizing the famous emotional sensitivity of black metal’s melodic heritage and assembling those remains into hideous totems. The record’s defining characteristic is, after all, something of a crescendo implying the process of construction, perhaps out of the remains of that which its predecessor tore down. The latest record, Thy Kingdom Cum, lays siege to its two previous approaches by simplifying its rhythms to the point of idiocy while contorting its melodic forms to the point of mockery. The defining character of its predominant motifs is laughter which can be gleaned easily in the opening moments of the track “False Doctrina.” The aforementioned qualities are not something which need to be abstracted from the music; they are clear and obvious.
Profanatica’s approach is much like an uncivilized warband conducting raids on the civilized. Such groups are as much a tribal patchwork out of violent young men as they are a patchwork of the spoils of their activities: contradictory compositions of the basic human and technological components of a greater civilization whose assemblage is entirely pragmatic and allows for them to serve functions other than intended, but no less effective than their original purpose. Out of elements bound tenuously is something effective, something purposeful, something deadly. The world this music operates in is one which is defined almost entirely by nature rather than one defined by humans.
Where proto-black metal is defined by its visceral nature and deconstructive character, Profanatica embrace the ignorance in a brash display of unconcern for the perfume-soaked intellectuals which decry those outside their borders. Dwelling within the primitive backwater fringe has its advantages by bearing immunity to the abstract and desperate silliness of the rest of the genre. The similarly-goaled war metal attempts to reach back into black metal’s foundations but does so in a way which reduces the motif as an objectified emotion or image into pure texture reducing its communicative efficacy. The work of Ledney and company retains the concrete sensory experiences which drove metal in each of its original incarnations and were later given musical scrutiny before completely fossilizing, allowing their art to pick the last of the low-hanging fruit of metal as a form while others languish in petty revivalism, soulless displays of technical mastery, or vapid experimentation that desperately seeks revitalization by looking to external music genres; copying but not transforming its clichés.
On a small ship in the Sea of Sardinia, I watched my companion cautiously. I had just seen him kill two men, one with a silenced pistol hidden under his battered sweater, and the other with his bare hands. We had changed cars five times since I left the airport, walked through a dozen train stations and busy stores, always leaving through the back door with a whispered command: Hurry!.
Now our journey had taken its final stage, leaving the coast on a small boat and nipping through a series of coves, always watching land, water and air for any who might follow us. As I wondered this, a ripple on the horizon announced another small boat approaching. On it was a solitary figure, menace and fire in his cold eyes.
I gathered up my notebooks and prepared to meet the obscure and sinister personality behind Italian black metal cult band Infamous…
Is there any point to making black metal — or any music like it — in 2015?
Black Metal is a radical form of expression and, in my opinion, the most expressive form of musical art. It is an essential need to express myself!
It is my belief that this form of art can be conceived and understood only by “particular” souls. Surely, if you try to get rich or famous with this music genre, you have done everything wrong! Black metal is not for the masses and not for the bourgeois defeated by their lives. Black metal is a fire that burns inside of you! It is a weapon against weakness, a spiritual enlightenment, and the hammer that smashes this world of worms and disgusting merchants.
If you don’t feel this inside you, maybe you should change genre!
Your latest, Rovine e Disparazione, seems much closer to traditional black metal than previous works. What prompted this change?
I think that the reason of this “change” is linked to the departure of Alessandro. With his keyboards, he created a great amount of “mystic” atmosphere in the first releases, especially in Of Solitude and Silence. The guitar riffs and the other songs structures, instead, are born from the same inspiration and move in the same way of the previous works.
So far, there are three Infamous releases — Of Solitude and Silence, Abisso and Rovine e Disparazione — of which this reviewer is aware. Can you tell us what you intended to do with each one, and how it turned out? For example, did you hope to create a new style of black metal, refine your own style, or expand upon earlier ideas (of your own) or introduce new ideas?
Each song which makes part of the three different Infamous releases is born thanks to a precise inspiration aiming at translating my emotional state in music.
I have no ambition to start a new subgenre of the black metal style. What I really like is the most traditional way in this kind of music and I’m going to follow this traditional path, but with my personal sense of melody and “aesthetic.”
Many times, some reviewers have compared my project with other bands of this world. What is interesting is the fact that, at the end, they have recognized that Infamous sounds personal!
I mean, what is important is not to create a new style but a good and emotional song in a traditional way. In short, the creation of a perfect synthesis of traditional and personal music, which is not necessarily innovative!
This is sort of a silly question, but people will wonder, so I ask. There seem to be two versions of Of Solitude and Silence: a CD-R with an excellent cover, and a pro-CD with a more “regular” black metal cover that looks like a quicker job. How did these two editions come about? Is this album still in print? If not, will it be re-editioned?
The first edition was published by a small underground Italian label (Novecento Produzioni) and limited to 200 copies. No one wants to print a Pro-CD in Europe in this small quantity. However, this first edition is definitely sold out. The second edition was published by the excellent German label Obscure Abhorrence in Pro-CD, limited to 500 copies. It is true that the artwork looks different from the first one, but the reason is that they were created by two different persons… I prefer the first artwork but also the second is not bad!
The second edition is still available from the Internet site of the label or directly from me!
What I really like is the most traditional way in this kind of music and I’m going to follow this traditional path, but with my personal sense of melody and “aesthetic.”
In addition, recently, the Italian label Bylec-Tum has published, on limited tape format, the third version of this album with a series of exclusives bonus tracks.
Can you tell us where Infamous was founded, by whom, and who is in the band? Do you perform live or is this a studio band only? Do you choose anonymity for any reason other than longstanding black metal tradition (musicians calling themselves Quorthon, Warrior and Angelripper)?
Infamous was born in the Sardinian hills in the torrid summer of 2009, with the recording of the first demo “Torrid Summer Misanthropy.” Infamous is a one man band, obviously it is impossible to play live…
I choose semi-anonymity; S.A. is the acronym of my name and surname.
I thought that it would have been more serious to avoid the grotesque nicknames typical of the Satanic B.M. scene.
What are the influences on your style, both metal and non-metal, and both musical and non-musical? Are there influences from any punk genres in your work? Since the question will inevitably be asked anyway, is there an influence from Ildjarn on your work?
I’m surely influenced by “modern” Finnish Black metal. For me, this is the most important scene and I’m heavily influenced by the sense of sinister melody which is typical of their style.
But this is not my unique influence. When I was more young I listened to tons of Oi!, R.A.C., and other metal sub-genres. I think that Oi! and R.A.C., in particular, have forged my compositional style and my sense of “melody.”
Now, I turn my attention to your question, concerning Ildjarn. I was really shaped by his previous works, especially by his first demos and the first full-length. I listened to his art hundreds of times… Together with other Norwegian 90s bands, Ildjarn is one of my preferred bands!
In line with the non-musical influences, I think I am influenced by all my open-air activities like mountains or woods trekking, fishing and sports in general. I consider myself as hunter of natural landscapes. Obviously, this aspect has a huge impact on my music!
Do you listen to Ottorino Respighi, an Italian composer from the last century? The style of Of Solitude and Silence reminds me of his most popular work, “The Pines of Rome.”
Um… no! This is the first time I have heard the name of this composer.
Maybe, at the time of Of Solitude and Silence Alessandro took his inspiration from this composer, but I don’t know…
Why did you switch to title(s) in Italian? Abisso and Rovine e Disparazione are in Italian in contrast to Of Solitude and Silence which is in English. Do you write lyrics in Italian as well?
Of Solitude and Silence, outside of the title, has songs half in Italian (“Rex Verminorum” is in Sardinian language, a local variant of the ancient Latin) and half in English.
Abisso has only the title in Italian language. Each song, in fact, is written (from the session musician WLKN, not by me) in English.
Starting with Rovine e Disperazione, I have begun to use only Italian language because it is more easy and spontaneous for me; while, English language is more “melodic” and easy to insert in the music but, obviously, is not my language.
What influences your sense of melody? It seems unique, like a mixture of black metal, folk, Oi and sentimental 1980s Goth-pop, but also with its own inspiration that’s nowhere on the map.
As I have mentioned above, I’m influenced by Oi!-R.A.C. and Black Metal, but not by “1980s Goth-pop.” I think the Northern European Oi! scene of the 90s is my second main influence, obviously after Black Metal. Maybe, a little bit by Neo-folk but in my music, at the same time, there are not large spaces where I could insert neo-folk. It is possible that in the future this component will be increased.
What do you attempt to capture, express or communicate through your music? Or… is this even the goal of music? Is music communication or decoration? What is the goal of your art?
When I started, I was interested to vomit my hate and my need of destruction for this rotten world.
Infamous was born to give voice to this emotional war, misanthropic destructive hatred and the contemplation of nature, especially its beauty-purity.
Now, everything is evolved into an anti-modern propaganda and into a search of values for resist to this decaying world!
Do you think there is a sound in black metal that is specific to Southern Europe? And to the countries individually such as Greece, Italy and Spain?
In my opinion, each population has its land and each land has its traditions, sensibility and so on… According to this view, it is perfectly normal that every nation or geographic area has a common way of expression. Generally, everyone can distinguish a Norwegian disc from a French release, and a Swedish album from a Greek one!
I consider myself as hunter of natural landscapes. Obviously, this aspect has a huge impact on my music!
I think that Italy has developed its own personal style which is not very similar to the other Southern European scenes. However, it is undeniable to admit cultural and stylistic convergences with the rest of Southern Europe.
Personally, I love old and contemporary Greek Black Metal!
Do you have a long-term plan of what you want to achieve from album to album and as a body of work?
Ahaha, absolutely not! Inspiration to create music comes suddenly and, for me, it is impossible to have a long-term plan!
Rovine e Disperazione consists of five tracks named after either “Rovine” (ruins) or “Disperazione” (despair). Why did you decide to do a sequence like this? Are these numbered tracks part of the same song, or impressions of the same thing?
Rovine e Disperazione is comprised of different songs about a single concept!
The concept of this album concerns the disgust for the modern world, its spiritual decadence and the ideology of materialism (“Disperazione” I, II). It is the rebellion that has the aim of embracing a superior and heroic way of life, based not in the cult of the decadence, but in the traditional (pre-Christian era) values of Honor, Strength and Spiritual rectitude (“Rovine” I, II, III)!
This is my manifesto for the maximal resistance against the modern decaying world!
In the booklet, there are two important phrases (written in Italian) to understand this concept:
“Lascia agli altri le vie dell’infamia” = Let the others go through the ways of infamy
“Vi siete inchinati abbastanza davanti ai mercanti, ora ergetevi! Sfidate i ratti e i vermi che stanno ai vostri piedi!” = You have bowed enough to the merchants, now it’s time to stand up! You have to defy rats and worms that are at your feet!
Do these have any influence in your musical world? Ancient, Varathron, Burzum, Sentenced, Sacramentum, Landser, Summoning, Kvist, Eucharist.
Each band that you have mentioned has had an influence on my music. However, the most important influence comes from Finnish bands like Sargeist, Horna, Satanic Warmaster, Hammer, Nekrokrist SS or non-Finnish bands like Drowning the Light, Mutiilation, Xasthur and many others…
How do you compose a song? Do you start with a melody and develop structure/arrangement from that, or do you start with riffs and add melodies to them? Or is there an idea, lyrical or visual, before you start even making the music?
First of all, I compose music, starting from a simple riff and then slowly, or sometimes very fast, the rest emerges spontaneously. When a musical composition is definitely ended, I start writing texts; generally, each text follows a concept!
This is the path that allows me to recognize immediately if a riff has the emotional power to be part of a song…
For people new to your music, how should they get to know Infamous and how should they stay on top of band news, contact, and music?
You’ve just recorded a new album, Tempesta. What is the theme of this album? How does it differ from the past? Where did you record it, how long did it take, and did you have other musicians involved?
About the concept for Tempesta, in the booklet you can read this:
Tempesta (Storm) is a radical hate declaration against all the subhumans defeated from the disvalues of this decaying modern society. I hope, therefore, a “Storm” that will destroy everything that continues to infect our blood and our minds.
The main enemies in this concept are the economicist view, the bourgeois way of life and modern human weakness in general!
Tempesta follows a natural and spontaneous “evolution” of the classic Infamous style!
On this album you can hear a more powerful sound, an atmosphere of struggle and victory that extols to the revolt! The recordings lasted half a year at various sessions, and I used the voice of Filippo Magri in “Tempesta II”, who is a friend and someone I respect!
Your previous album, Rovine e Disperazione, seemed to take a more Ildjarn-influenced direction as opposed to earlier works, which had longer melodies and remind me of Varathron Walpurgisnacht if it were expressed with a stronger, more naturalistic mentality. Does Tempesta continue this pattern?
In this album I think that the Ildjarn influences are implemented, especially in “Tempesta II” where percussion is heavily influenced by the Norwegian artist. Also for the harsh sound and radical extremism of disgust against the modern man, Ildjarn represents a landmark!
From the progression from early works through Tempesta the general atmosphere of mysticism, which refers to the idea of a primordial nature in its purest form, is partially changed. I have radicalized certain sounds and the general attitude and probably now everything sounds more agressive. This is a natural and spontaneous evolution.
As I understand it, this release is limited to 100 CD-Rs. Why did you choose to go this route, as opposed to a larger label? Will you ever seek a label to do bigger re-issues of your discography?
Yes, only 100 copies!
This is a radical anti-commercial choice!
I’m not interested in big productions!
This is the path that allows me to recognize immediately if a riff has the emotional power to be part of a song.
I consider that nowadays those who want to listen a CD, generally, can download it from internet…
Then I took a radical decision and I chose to produce everything by me; every step is taken personally and the choice of the number of copies to be printed is now proportionate to the copies that I can sell. Simply, if I had printed 1000 copies, 900 would remain collecting dust in my basement.
Few are willing to buy original CDs, especially for bands not yet known. This happens a bit “everywhere” but in Italy the situation is even worse.
Why do you think black metal is in such a slump these days? Vattnet Viskar and Myrkur get a ton of publicity, and good underground bands get ignored; is this related?
Everything is for sale in this world and if you try to be famous you have to spend some money! This is the only key to a successful career! You have to consider your band as a company and your music-art as a business. I’m about to throw up as I write this… But this is the truth!
Obviously I am not interested to take a part in this circus, I never dreamed the fame and do not want to look like a rock star. All this is so pathetic! I would destroy all this! I use my music to sing my hate against those that spoil the Black Metal and trying to making it a cute, harmless and fashionable music genre.
Since the early 1970s, the music industry and the social scene behind it — comprised of those who use external appearance to signal social success — has been trying to find some way to counter the authenticity of metal. While rock and blues stars appeared to be rebels, the truth emerged over time that most were very conventional in their outlook except for hedonism.
Heavy metal on the other hand rejected the founding myths of our society since the intellectual shift so-called “The Enlightenment,” in which people decided that social pressure to enable the individual to be “equal” whether right or wrong, good or bad, was more important than social standards. Heavy metal pointed out that our perceived enemies are scapegoats, and the real problem is that the enemy is us, and that people are delusional and happy hippie flower power is another variety of the bourgeois deliberate ignorance of reality that promotes social decay.
In recent years, the same people who were hippies back in the 1960s — the conformity of appearance non-conformist and then going to work at a bank and retiring as a fat Baby Boomer — have returned as “social justice workers,” or SJWs. These people, together with an industry that realizes it can sell more re-branded indie rock than it can discover compelling metal bands, have created a new style that culturally appropriates the appearance of black metal while injecting it with the same messages of self-indulgence, self-pity, victimhood and pacifism that the hippies bleated about back in the day.
Enter “blackgaze”, the buzz term for a new school of bands taking black metal out of the shadows and melding its blast beats, dungeon wailing and razorwire guitars with the more reflective melodies of post-rock, shoegaze and post-hardcore. It’s a geographically loose scene and its bands have been embraced by the indie media, which means you’re now as likely to hear black metal at ATP as in the Carpathian mountains.
Alert readers may note the “post-rock, shoegaze and post-hardcore” attribution, which Death Metal Underground has long identified as being the origins of this material. In other words, it is not black metal, but indie rock playing “dress up” as black metal. The quest of the industry for a safe rebellion goes on.