Interview: MkM (Antaeus)

Editor’s note: this originally appeared in issue #3 of the zine “voices wake us…” (“Voices Wake Us…” Zine. $1ppd. voiceswakeuszine@hotmail.com) but it can be disseminated freely so long as this notice remains intact.

Questions by “Voices Wake Us…” Zine.
Answers by MkM (vokillz).

First off, what is your name and what part do you play in the band (instrument or vocals, etc.)?

vokalist, disease holder of AntaeuS. Satanik stigmata & preacher of the Void. 27 years old up to this day, non dead to most humans. Frontman & main voice for AntaeuS, I do speak for Him.

Now to the real questions. Black Metal’s legendary “first wave” included so many legendary bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Immortal. Many conclude that the evolution of BM ceased after this period, so what do you think Antaeus’ relation is to the progression of the art? Is it justifiable to be merely more extreme? Can anything be added to the music at this point that has not been done already?

Black Metal does mix both ideology & musick, on this level, I would have to point out that most of nowadays bands have no linkz with the real meaning of this Art.Immortal never really took part of the bm kult, though their sound is very similar, their concept would be more based on northern landscapes, while bands like dark throne & mayhem had a more nihilitic death feels to the lyrikz & the aura was a bit more depressive in most cases.

We are payin hommage to those bands of the second wave, for their dedication in the early days & the message they did spread. We do evolve in the same vein, we hold the same message & our speech is based on hatred, denial of life & anything that would be related to “holyness” any religions wise, anything “human” related would be a target.

Black metal = SataN in its most strikt vision, we here speak of death, total death & the praise of the vortex that would swallow all. Though the utopia of such an ending is known of us, we do work in this way, spreading our disease & disgust of life and the concept related to it.

Sound wise, we are more extreme than the suscited bands, we couldn’t perform the same of art, for multiple reasons : we do breed violence more than depression (as individuals) & we do perform what we are & breath. The band is composed of 5 individuals more or less evolving on the Hate path. Me & Set being at the forefront of this, & since we are the main composer (him for the music & I being the sole responsible for any lyrikz & propaganda), we are the trademark of AntaeuS.

Also our approach is more destruktive than the “90s” gloomy approach of darkness, while they were opening gates of despair, we are opening gates of torment & pain.

Both are as effective, I truely find my inspiration in both, but violence is our key, our vektor.

Feel his pulse through us.

We are one stone of the edifice.

Black Metal is like a kathedral of Hate, it is not a question of evolution, the “evil”ution within takes place within the rankz of devotee evolving & praising the kult.

You have expressed dissatisfaction with the Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan album as being too rushed in the studio. To me, I can say I do not think it harms the record and adds to the urgency of the album. However, you have a new album coming out and will this be different and in what way a “representation” of the band that we have not already seen?

Somehow you are right, now that the album is older to my ears (two years or so) I get to listen to it in different perspectives, not rekalling all the shitty detailz about its conception & its spreading.CYFAWS was a gathering of mostly old trackz, like demos & reh tracks, all gathered on the same full lenght. Only one track never appeared anywhere before the cd release (though I am not even too sure about that now, I should check the live tape on chanteloup creations…) also the cd had three different rekording on it, which was a bit messy & made it sound more like a recollection than anything else.

Now, I think that baphomet did allow the band to put all together the most efficient earlier track of the band (inner war, devotee, nihil khaos…) but a rerecording of the whole album would have been best, now that would be the main complain about this lp.

Also this album did cost us a lot of money, but I do not fool myself, it is the same way for many bands around here, still having labels to cash on your work without being fair to the band is something I will never tolerate. That made me freak out, the band never got a fuckin cent out of the sale of the band, considering it did reach around 3000 copies (which is amazing to us, we never expected this much) one could easily guess that we got massively fucked on this one.

DE PRINCIPII EVANGELIKUM the newest release presents a more compact release, being composed on a two years basis, the whole has a more “united” strukture & lyrikz wise, that did allow me to have something fully solid. This time the lyrikz are included, I had the time to type all in time so people will finally get to understand what lies behind antaeus, though it will remain obscure to most or simply fucked up.

DPE is less easy to get into, it took me a few month to get into some trackz myself, having one hell of a hard time to lay vokalz on those & get the whole strukture in the reh’ room

The band does reh’ around 6/7 hours per week in the reh’ room & more when we get nearer to live exp or studio rekording. We get ridd off a lot of material, our work is very serious & we are making sure to have the most efficient offering to the black metal kult.

I think that one thing that would lack on DPE would be the intro sektion that are truely important to me, this time the drummer & I did lack time to meet & do something of my taste, that is my main “negative critic” to the new album. Next release shall see a return to those sonic landscapes & all the frustration that did hide behind those.

Many BM bands are one-person projects (Burzum, Bathory, Taake, Krieg, Ildjarn, eventually Emperor, and at times Darkthrone). What is the band construct of Antaeus? How does the song-writing process work and who does most of the “legwork” for the band, ie: setting up gigs and record-related business. Any comments on past members or development of the band over time?

You would mention there strongminded individuals that had one hard time finding the right members to perform their art with, or simply couldn’t deal with others, due to ego conflikts.I was just a session member in the early days, being too busy with my zine & my distribution (& my former band)

When AntaeuS turned into a virus in me, I felt like it had to evolve further than the limitations that the main man back then had for it. I think that all took shape when I got hold of all the strukture of AntaeuS, getting set as main guitarist was the best move ever, since we have known each other for years & we had the same musikal taste (for the early 90s sound, nowadays we tend to listen to different aktz yet our basis are the same).

Drum wise, we decided to get ridd off the drum machine & never changed since.

Bass & rythm guitar wise, we might have had more than 20 different members within the band, but in 98 we did finally find the right one, being also involved in Eternal Majesty with whom we did a split demo back then. I did know them since they were working a lot with SPIKEKULT (since their first demo, “dark empire”).

Since then, the line up is perfekt & all of us are united & work on the musikal struktures.

For all the rest, interviewz, ideals, propaganda, kontaktz, ALL is done by me & me only. Mostly due to the fact that I am the only one speakin & writtin in english.

That does take a lot of my time, due to this I did stop all others implications (my zine, other bands & even spikekult for some months/years).

We do not seek gigs really, since conditions are always fuckin ridiculous or awful, I try to avoid to the max getting to play live, though we had two or three great shows since 94; mostly over the two past years.

Getting gas money & some beers seems to be the VERY best we could get in europe, even if we perform in front of 300 people… the cost to rent a place is so high that none could ever pay the band.

A couple reviews I’ve read of CYFaWS, while positive, have accused the band of not bringing anything new to the table. Stylistically, I would say that Antaeus is a) faster (I’d say only Krieg is as fast), b) more “grind”, c) less atmospheric, d) more brutal and divided into penetrating structures of noise than in an “epic” sense of many bands. Agree? What is the aesthetic you are going for here, other than just “fast.” Because it is definitely a unique and not just a retro sound.

I do agree with those reviewz, still we never did claim to bring anything to new, so I sometimes wonder why we are accused of that, just like we were lyin about it.True, we are faster, though I would use “more brutal” instead, since speed for itself doesn’t mean much to us, tons of swedish bands are playin hyper fast, but both the drumz & riffs are without any effects on the listener.

Brutality & Hate are the main faktors in AntaeuS sound, we do hold this pulse & seek to create such aura within any rekording of ours.

Our epic approach might be linked to the tension we do put in the rekordin process.

The grind aspect cannot be denied as well, musik wise, some bands are truely unique to me, but the message, most of the time, would be simply ridiculous or be the opposite of my ideas.

Older grind bands had more of a dark or sick approach compared to today’s fun/gore/political bands.

Hate is a large concept of the band. Does this reach over into politics at all? Many BM are clearly fascist, a politics based on hate, while others are nihilistic (and in that sense, partially anarchistic). Views of politics in yourself and in the scene?

Hate is anywhere, but most politics would serve some instead of others, while we support the death of ALL; all those fascist bands are always a source of interrogation in my kamp. All those linked to black metal & openly using both the sigils of SataNism & those of Nazism are creating a nonsense to me.the nihilistic part is often dealing with one hope for a brighter future, built on the ashes of nowadays society & values.

I do not have any hope of this kind, the only hope I have is tattooed on my chest.

Let’s go back on the nonsense, I don’t care about NS bands as long as they are not linked with black metal. Politics would limit the initial meaning of black metal.

NSBM seems more serious to the young than the “inverted cross”, since it would represent something more “socially involved”, having to deal with values that would be more “linked” to todays world & having more impact due to the importance of sigils (ie : the use of swastika or SS sigils are full of meaning & related to happening that took place less than a century ago). Politics are giving black metal a more “humanistic” approach, which I don’t really understand. I would understand sadistik exekution using SS symbols or funeral mist for their vision of death in general, but as far as “human values” are involved, I simply don’t get it.

Any individuals mixin bm with ns should realize that there is already a scene for that, anything metal related is more or less viewed as “outcast” due to the code of life (destruktive, alcohol, aggression)…

anyway when I think of those teens doing “sieg heil” here & there with their beers & long hair, they would be among the first to enter the gas kamp that does make me laugh

Death is the main goal anyway.

In what sense is Antaeus a “do it yourself” band that controls the aspects of recording, promotion, management, and production itself? You are clearly dedicated to the underground, but many people are not familiar with the metal underground as much as the more-established and cohesive American punk underground. How does the underground work and how much is Antaeus a separate entity from outside control and influence of labels, promoters, etc?

A would be my band then, since I would be responsible for most of those aspects.Being honest, I am not too aware of the punk scene, though got to meet up with some labels from around here pressing punk vinylz & their scene seemed much more “supportive” & less “inner war” in between labels & so on. I might have a wrong of it though.

I would be totally dedicated to one aspect of the ug scene, which I could describe as the only real scene, with true sick freakz & not wannabes & morons of any kind that would pollute the bm kult.

those idiots are numerous & for the past years, I would have spent way too much time on those inbreed fags instead on workin on my code of life & supporting what had to be supported with the scene (bands & labels wise). Now we are viewed as traitors to most, since we did sign to Osmose.

Osmose allows us a studio rekording budget & having the whole distribution in their hand, I could never deal with that myself, my daily job takes around 50 hours per week now (compared to 70 h per week for last year) which makes it nearly impossible to cope with the mail & any correspondance in general. Even reh’ with the band got closed to impossible for me. All is getting better now, but as far as I am concerned, if A didn’t sign to Osmose, all would have stopped. I couldn’t go on paying 300 usd per month for the band, not having enough to cope for my own living cost.

Now we do loose less cash, but we still loose. So when I get to read that we did become fucking rockstars or sell out, I might ask to whom did we sell out???

A band selling 5000 copies (which even ain’t our case) could never live out of it, I am sure that you are aware of that, but many readers out there that did write us do think that we do earn enough money with the band to live with….

It was ok to reply to those questions the first years, but after a while, it killed me that most people wouldn’t get how it workz…

But hell, we are talking about fuckin labels detailz & how bands are getting fucked most of the time

Right now with Osmose, all is doing ok, we just did spend around 400 usd for this one, (lay out & mastering) since we did excess a bit the budget allowed for the studio rekording.

How is the French “scene?” Are there many bands, zines, or venues to play in? Are there a lot of posers?

Scene in france is not my fave subjekt, I did support many bands from around here in the past, being proud of my “local scene”, but all those bands did fuckin backstabb us for no reasons or so. “allies of today are the backstabbers of tomorrow”, thus I don’t mention too much about bands from around here.There is a fair deal of akts though, most of them are amateurish to the core & spending more time in front of camera or doing shirtz than working on the musikal parts.

All of them are envious little morons who are offended when they realize it is not that “easy” to have a cd out. They all think that demos are useless & that the underground is just a chat room on the net.

For the older ones, we had either conflikts with them or totally different views.

Apart from a few dozen individual in the whole france, we don’t get along too much with individuals from around here.

I had my fair deal of war around here.

In the newer band ; dark opus & aosoth are among my faves

DEATHSPELL OMEGA must be the ultimate black metal band the traditionnal way. END ALL LIFE is without any doubt the best vinyl bm label, they must have by now the CYFAWS on lp out, & that is one Honour for us to be on that label.

Zines? well 666 is the best in the extreme bm/dm way, eternal fire was killer too but defunct (or simply no newz from them since long), stregoica was kult in its dayz, now they are doing ordealis rekords which is very promising (killer work from their part), deadfuckinchurch is a good zine but he said that his final issue will be the next…

Some distro are great too, like paleur mortelle & warchangel.

AntaeuS will have a split 10″ with AOSOTH on Paleur Mortelle (akhaeus@aol.com) in the comin month btw.

Gigs wise, the audience is way better than any us gigs that I got to visit (& I had my fair deal of us deals over the three or four stayz I did over there), we usually get from 150 to 400 nowadays, but places are not so numerous & each venues does cost around 2000 to 3000 usd to rent for a night, with such prices, no bands would get any payment, asking for gas payment is already a dream for bands.

Due to that, in 2001, antaeus only performed live Once.

We did perform a bit more over the past months, with bands like nargaroth, taake, enthroned, eternal majesty…

The last hellish gig we did do was in Paris with taake & enthroned, our best set ever since 2001

In nov 002 we will be among the opening bands for the DEICIDE european tour, we shall desecrate new countries & I do expekt that tour I must say.

It’s nothing you’d understand, but I do have something to say. In fact, I have a lot to say, but now is not the time or place. I don’t know why I’m wasting my time or breath. But what the hell? As for what is said of my life, there have been lies in the past and there will be lies in the future. I don’t believe in the hypocritical, moralistic dogma of this so-called civilized society. I need not look beyond this room to see all the liars, haters, the killers, the crooks, the paranoid cowards — truly trematodes of the Earth, each one in his own legal profession. You maggots make me sick — hypocrites one and all. And no one knows that better than those who kill for policy, clandestinely or openly, as do the governments of the world, which kill in the name of God and country or for whatever reason they deem appropriate. I don’t need to hear all of society’s rationalizations, I’ve heard them all before and the fact remains that what is, is. You don’t understand me. You are not expected to. You are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience. I am beyond good and evil, Legions of the night — night breed — repeat not the errors of the Night Prowler and show no mercy. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells within us all. That’s it.

– Richard Ramirez

Most BM has diverged into “symphonic,” commercial crap. I’m sure you have some ventings on bands like this (Dimmu Borgir, Anorexia Nervosa, Ancient), or on “retro” bands like Dark Funeral. To many, Black Metal must remain underground and elite, and yet within it are elements that are more palatable to the masses- a band like Immortal proving that BM can be commodified over time. Thoughts on this phenomenon in Black Metal?

Like anywhere, when you get an artistic style that would be perceived as elitist & underground, one will have the wish to “extand” it on a different level, for various reasons.Some considers that the message should not be limited to one handful of individuals

some seems to think that they would sell more rekords having an “evil” image Some just find it “cool” to use such imagery Others are living the black metal kult, on a daily basis.

Music wise, I am closed minded when it comes to black metal, not opening myself too much to new genres, though I did try to pay attention to all those bands poppin up & crossing goth, indus & so on with black metal.

I must admit that diabolicum & mysticum were the only one that did match my expektations when it comes to the aura created.

On the other level, I also pay attention to the “performers”, for example : Anorexia Nervosa is often quoted as fag band, mostly due to the COF sounding of the musick. But on a personal level, the frontman is really a sicko & is among those few individuals I consider. Yet he would be a bit too much “rock n roll” sometimes eh too much drugz & autodestruction for me (which does provide a smile, that does you an idea on how fucked the man can be) aktually I think that when you get to meet him, he would be more in his place belongin to sadistik exekution than anorexia (musick wise) Ancient & dimmu borgir never made it to me, not even one track from their early days (the ep of ancient was ok though).

You did qualify some elements of black metal as “palatable” for the masses, yet we have to redefine masses then, since those masses would be the “extreme metal scene” which is not that wide, only a few thousands people I would say.

Not something that could be play on the air of any local radio show & musical tv shows or whatever. We are not dealing with “pop” music. But I do agree, black metal did sadly evolve to a wider audience & that doesn’t mean that the real audience did grow bigger, just that it did expand to people that simply don’t get a clue of what real black metal is about.

Having some individuals to compare napalm death to dark throne amazes me… the only link between those bands is mostly in the instruments used & some beats. (& some would kill me for the “rythm” comparaison)

Anyway, on our level, like other bands, we remain an underground band, you will most likely always find “cyfaws” & “dpe” on cd format, but we will go on doing limited tapes & vinylz. Only for those few sick ones that are also the pulse of the band.

It does mean a lot to us to be supported by like minded individuals, band members or zine editors or just listeners.

I do not get much letters in that vein, but with those few with whom we share visions, getting to read some comments on AntaeuS work is always rewarding.

Our satanik audio violence would be a weapon & only some individuals know how to handle it & how to view it properly.

Carcass or Bolt Thrower? Pick one.

Fuck… Bolt Thrower

at least they didn’t change & “cenotaph” is an instant classic for me, such as the “in the battle there is no law” lp. carcass had amazing trackz but fuckin wimped out too much for my taste.

When can we expect the new album (on Osmose, right?) and will there ever be an American tour??

the new rekordin shall be out on sept 23rd in europe, so obviously a bit later in the usa, osmose doesn’t have a distributor over there I think, so most releases are available mostly through ug mailorders & so on. I doubt one will find it as easily as CYFAWS over there. I seriously doubt on the american tour thing, though I wish we could go over there & perform with bands like black witchery, thornspawn, krieg, demoncy, gbk & so on. Since we are doing a european tour for “DPE” in november, as opening band for Deicide, I am not nearly sure that no tour will happen until the next release (the third album that is).Having us on a european tour would mean getting the band on a bigger “bill”, having an headlining band that could make it possible. As of now, I have no big expectation about a us tour, since it seems nearly impossible, we are not “selling” enough to be pushed that way.

The Deicide tour is already something really expensive.

In the future, who knowz? but I wouldn’t be surprised if the band never gets to perform over there.

Bands like marduk, satyricon & others took forever to go to the other continent & most of the time, itz like a money vortex more than anything else.

Time shall tell, we still have to perform over here first, that is our territory & we haven’t visited more than three countries as of now (which would be like performin in three different states for a us bands).

To you, what is most important in sustaining black Metal into the coming years, as it is increasingly an “endangered” form of music?

I see it that way : Evil will never dies, it might change shape, as long as some form of Art will be dedicated to its “grandeur”, I see no problem with itBlack Metal has somehow a more raw approach to it, a darker incarnation meant to appeal to more extreme masses, thus a minority of individuals are truely meant to understand fully the concept behind this genre.

Black metal is nowadays marketed as a musical genre only, with gimmicks to help the sales. Many bands did take the opportunity to rise using those “eye catching” ideas related to black metal.

Your top 5 BM records?

DarkThrone “a blaze in the northern sky”
Funeral Mist “devilry”
Katharsis “666” + “red eye of wrath” demo
Blasphemy “fallen angel of doom”
Beherit “D. down the moon” (& oath of the black blood)those are the ultimategettin near to that, I’d add sadistik exekution (all releases), profanatica, demoncy, krieg… I’d easily give 20 names that would represent the whole list of bands I really support…. Giving 30 names would be impossible though. not enough bands have individuals matchin the right ideology one should have within the bm scene.

Thanks for the interview! Good luck on your upcoming record and in the inevitable Satanic victory over the forces of light. Have a nice day

Forces of Light are forces of lies as well, they are their own failure & we shall be the witness & the temptation for them.Take a look in the abyss & the abyss will stare back at you

For we hold the ultimate void, we shall go on, we are Omega.

Sadistic CD Reviews, 10-30-08

Fester – Winter of Sin: As you venture through the underground, Sadhu, you will find that many of those described by others as the Ancients are in fact the regurgitated accumulation of techniques, ideas, and poses outworn long ago, and used by those who have not prospered to justify their position as Those Who Swallow What Society Spurts. Fester is one such offering. It’s a pungent mezcla of hard rock, heavy metal, proto-death metal and punk riffs, without direction or real organization. As a result it’s like stepping into a sauna: suddenly you’re warm, and at some point it ends, and you can’t really identify any particular points in the time you sat there, alone in the dark, probably bored and sweaty. Except for the sweaty part, unless you’re excited by tedium, this is that experience. Yet the black metal kiddees talk about how goddamn cult it is. Cult like Eddie Cochran but not as good by a million billion miles.

Lugubrum – Winterstones: During the halcyon years — in relative metal quality — of the mid-1990s, I picked up this CD and heard it and thought, “Aha, a Burzum clone.” At that point I wasn’t desperate for something to fill the void of quality metal. Now desperate, I groped for it again. What do I find? Mix Burzum technique with the simple-hearted and obvious songwriting of the average indie rock band. All of the familiar “Burzumy riffs” are there, from the trudge to the plod to the prismatic cycle, but they end in slight variations of the known pattern and then drop into song structures of minimal variation from a standard Motorhead or later black metal song. You will want to like this because you want Burzum. It will not deliver.

Steve von Till – A Grave is A Grim Horse: When you’ve reached the top of the innovation curve as a punk musician, your tendency is inevitably to ask: what’s more alienated, more extreme, and gives us a better explanation of where we are in history and how we got here? The inherent politics of punk is rejection of society; the emergent next step is going back to roots and making a folk album. Fusing the aggro-folk rock hybrid of Tom Waits or Roky Erickson with an almost Danzig-style verve, Steve von Till brings us an acoustic, gentle and dark album that is like the stories of a grandfather at the hearth. They aren’t all good stories, but in persistence through darkness, there’s a sexiness to morbidity and a delight in the struggle. The real superstar here is von Till’s voice, which like a Johnny Cash hummed mutter carries the dust and weight of trails both imagined and real. If you’ve got to go cowboy after your society smashing days in Neurosis, this is a good option, and my hope is that the folk-punk-country-necro indie volks don’t deny it.

Emancer – Twilight and Randomness: A lot like France’s S.U.P. except that Emancer choose the Pantera-style choppy riff arrangements amongst which they scatter odd phrase conclusions, dissonant chords and progressive metal melodic lead rhythm riffing. Influences from alternative metal, metalcore, progressive rock and indie abound, which makes this a stew more than a distinguishable, deliberate meal. Some good ideas get lost in the muddle, because these songs are so self-referential they forget about reality and the listener.

Strid – Strid: Some bloviation commends this band as inventor of the “depressive black metal” sub-sub-genre, but that’s where genre names get ridiculous. Instead, it’s appropriate to say that this band very carefully apes early Ancient while using the Paradise Lost technique of layering a melody on top of repetitive music, augmented with Burzum technique of strobing strum. Like so many other bands that followed the first wave, it has that melange tendency which suggests an imitation of end result and not the ideas that can launch a parallel result that’s as good. Some will compare to Ras Algethi or Gehenna, but where those had a spirit motivating their semi-random choices that turned out to work together, this lacks randomness and the same spark, so is lukewarm in reception and effect. Note the rip of Graveland’s “Gates the Kingdom of Darkness” on the third track. This CD is a compilation of demos in the above style, with the first being closest to Ancient, the second closest to early Bathory, and the third like a three-note version of Gorgoroth.

Grey Daturas – Return to Disruption: Did we ever leave disruption behind? Powerviolence mates with emo while smoking crack; the fetus is occasionally much more brilliant than either, but without a direction in life, relapses into playing Wii on the couch with Papa John’s on fast dial. Noise interludes mar driving emo-chorded passages, and long silences let us know when we’re supposed to be assimilating, but it’s unclear what the message is. Disruption? You want disruption? My advice to you is to make like an L.A. gangbanger during the riots and set fifteen fires across the city, then take potshots at cops, emergency personnel and news reporters. The chaos will far surpass this, which sounds a lot like guitar practice and not much like anything with shape. They’re trying for Pelican-style drone and they succeed at it, but transitions into that drone and between different riffs are tortured, and the howling wheezing creeling background noise doesn’t do much to change that. There is promise here, but only if they pony up and start writing real songs.

Black Altar – Death Fanaticism: This is the album Metallica wish they wrote instead of Death Magnetic: it’s bounding, bombastic, cheesy and hides its heavy elements well behind a whole Return To What’s True aesthetic. Even more, there is no continuity between riff changes, so it’s like a bundle of abrupt leaps to nowhere. Vocals fit the exact rhythm of guitar chords, which makes it sounds like kids music. Halfway through the third track — a pile of cliches, dated death metal riffs, and Cradle of Filthisms played more aggressively so not to reveal their deeply lisping side — Windows Explorer crashed, and for a few minutes I thought I would be unable to get this off my speakers. Suicide was considered. Not bad, not good.

Satanic Warmaster – Black Metal Kommando / Gas Chamber: This compilation does nothing to disguise the surly disgust the underground feels for Satanic Warmaster, otherwise known as “the Nargaroth of Finland.” Like other black metal vultures, they feature all the external aspects of controversy without the amazing music that made people other than the desperate metalheads notice: chiaroscuro Neo-Nazi overtones, adherence to trueness, novelty, catchy hooky songs that go nowhere, lots of talk about keeping it real, yo. When you boil it down, just about anyone can make a thrashing riff from a known archetype and then drop to kick-beat, shrilly screaming until the collapse, without having songs that go anywhere. In their favor, these are pleasant Motorhead-y songs that bounce along well if you don’t want any conclusion to ambiguous elements raised. If this band could heed any advice, it would be to ditch the black metal stylings and the pretense by implication, and just make Motorhead style rock-metal. They’re due to retire soon anyway, so we’ll need a successor, and that seems more the headspace in which this band composes.

Guapo – Elixirs: This is what could legitimately be called dub jazz, being light jazz played in layers with the intention of creating a drone or ambient effect. Keyboards and clean guitars interplay with percussion reminiscent of the third Atheist album, combining found sounds and unusual implementations of familiar ones in a style like that of Vas Deferens or other collage atmosphere projects. The second track quotes from a Fripp/Eno piece and despite bad hippie vocals later on the disc, it maintains a heritage of prog and jazz that provides interesting playing that seeks to find a mood, immerse in it, and then depart unnoticed. Sometimes I hear overtones of Thule in this. Like anything venturing in this style, it provides excellent music but not exciting music because it cannot take a direction; it’s like the Rothko chapel in that it intends to suspend you in a place like the space between dream and reality, but goes nowhere from that state.

Old Wainds – Death Nord Kult: You can tell the corpse of black metal is warming in the sun, eructating and oozing adipocere, when something like this counts as a major release among those who seem to know their stuff. It’s half speed-metal/death metal mixed in with droning black metal in the Eurasian style, with over-the-top vocals ranting counter-rhythms in a style like early Impaled Nazarene. Chord progressions are obvious, song structures undeveloped, and the rest is a riff salad of the past 25 years of metal with an emphasis on crowd pleasers. They love to try to keep that Mayhem feel alive but end up sounding more like Niden Div 187 merged with Drudkh and Nifelheim.

Testament – The Formation of Damnation: A 1980s speed metal band keeps updating itself, and ends up with a cumulative style not unlike what is in vogue among current metalcore-influenced bands: riding rhythms and harmonizing pre-choruses like a faster Iron Maiden, big heavy metal choruses with broad slow chords, the melodic leads of metalcore, and solos that imitate Kirk Hammet during his most excessive noodling on pentatonic leads. Vio-lence style hardcore influenced volley choruses and churning, chanting death metal verses add some power but don’t give it direction. You could almost sleep to it except for the constant pounding and “quirky” changes that sound like a messenger ran into the studio with a note saying, “Add that thing Deeds of Flesh do when they get bored, except slower” or “Maybe you really need to rehash that Overkill riff from The Years of Decay here.” Vocalist sounds like he worships recent Metallica.

Abdicate – Relinquish the Throne: Cut from the Cannibal Corpse mold, this CD of old-school inspired death metal sounds like a hybrid between the heavy muffled chording with blasts of Blood and the racing power chord streams of later Malevolent Creation, rendering a demonic-sounding and fast-attacking music that stands head and shoulders above others. Like all good death metal, its specialty is dynamism, or radical change between phrase form, tempo, texture, you name it, that later makes sense when the piece is considered as a whole. Songwriting here is simpler than classic death metal and less tonally-conventional but more interesting than Cannibal Corpse. As this band gets more confident, they may weave more complexity into their songs and it should end up making this a very compelling listen. For those who do not like the alternatingly bouncy and cadenced old school death metal sound, this may give you a headache, but from among the recent variations of the genre this is a good choice.

Xantotol – Liber Diabolus: Despite the alleged dates in the title, I find myself keeping this one at arm’s length. It is like a hybrid of Varathron and Ungod, in that it has the luciphagous rhythms of Varathron and the same steady progression of songs into descent, and the awkward riffing of Ungod that has two endings and then an ungainly turnaround. However, what it does not have is compositional form: songs are about the same general idea because they are composed outward from the aesthetic, and never generated a poetry (narrative) which met that aesthetic halfway toward full conception. I keep listening but so far am not knocked out of my chair by anything but distraction.

Enslaved – Vertebrae: The former gods of Nordic folk black metal have reincarnated in their new form as a rock band. Was there a word missing in that sentence? Oh, you expected me to say “progressive,” but there’s nothing progressive about this. Song structures are very straightforward. Riffs use more than power chords, but are based around writing melodic hooks and repeated them with a few breaks for ambience. There are jam parts… really… and over what chord progressions? Fairly easy ones. Songs loop and go nowhere. This isn’t progressive rock, it’s a flavor that “sounds like” progressive rock but really is the same old ear-easy singalong stuff. Barf.

Black Metal History

The genre that came seemingly last of all the metal genres was the one that considered its ideals the most seriously and consequently, produced a radically distinctive form of music. While black metal was somewhat of the cousin of speed and death metal during its early days, during the 1990s it bloomed into full musical form after developing a philosophy more coherent with its dark aesthetic than the hedonism and liberalism of the past. In a consequent blaze of controversy, the black metal genre streaked across the public perspective briefly before proliferating into a variety of styles and mainstream versions of its sound, forcing older variants out as a flood of similar bands absorbed the genre.

The Early Years

Black metal existed first as a singular concept in aesthetics, and later began to proliferate musically, only differentiating itself from death metal in the theoretical arena when its philosophical divergence became clear to the Norwegians in the early 1990s. A comparison from history can be found in the invention of the telephone; while Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone itself, the complex switching systems necessary to connect multiple parties within a city awaited later inventors. Similarly, the aesthetics [appearance and stylistic refinements of music] of black metal were created long before it really existed as a genre, influencing a period of long lull in the 1980s.

There is confusion as to who “invented” black metal, but it is clear that like death metal, its origins came from the same general area and were spread across creators worldwide contributing to the process. While Venom were the first band to grab headlines with their sensationally stripped down riffing and overtly occultist yet ludicrous image, it was Bathory, Sodom and Celtic Frost who gave the genre its enduring form. Where Venom was limited musically to deconstructed heavy metal, these bands took the neoclassical phrasing and minor key melodies of NWOBHM bands like Angel Witch, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and matched them up with the droning three-note roar of early crustcore as exemplified by Discharge. As both bands depended on diminished melodies in power chord riffing it was a seamless match.

During this formative era of black metal, several general styles emerged. First was Bathory with a smoothly flowing, fast-tremolo picked flow of sound over consistent throbbing drums; next was Sodom, making three-chord primitivism which moved at high speed with unsteady and abrupt changes of riff, tempo and texture; also included were Hellhammer, who specialized in droning minimalist music that often resembled hardcore punk played in minor keys, and Celtic Frost, the continuation of that band into grandiloquent constructions resembling the musical staging of operatic scenes; finally, there was Venom, who continued to produce their heavy metal/punk hybrid which delighted in using the simplest possible musical devices to convey the broadest changes available.

From this time onward, the genre slept while innovations were made in the death metal camp, with a few notable exceptions soon to be covered. The same year that Bathory unleashed its first opus brought about a small but intense wave of hardcore/metal hybrids front by Slayer but including within the next two years formative works from Sepultura, Possessed and Morbid Angel. While the basic approach of death metal was to create intricate arrangements using extended phrasing in an architectural style, its essential approach involved rhythm and chromatic progressions which did not admit much obvious melody. The tightly-woven, complex and interlocked riffing used by early death metal bands produced a sense of deconstruction and immersion but gave little new direction. As the genre wound up for its grand entrace, black metal again split from the pack in the 1987-1988 era with Sarcofago and Mayhem, and was then silent for another four years while death metal raged.

Sarcofago presented something offensive, abrupt and even ludicrous to people of the time who were schooled in the riff salad style of death metal, with stilted and broken sounding rhythm changes matching akward, nearly imbecilic riffs which fit together into songs with an uncanny, barely discernible continuity. While the majority of the formative work of Sarcofago, “I.N.R.I.,” was abrasively disassociative rhythm riffing, the album held itself together with some admirably sonorous yet barely logical melodies, seemingly as if formulated on a whim by demons of a distracted but perversely insightful mentality. Ignored at the time by most, Sarcofago in part generated the impetus toward the bizarre and primitive that spurred the next generation of black metal into action.

Simultaneous to the release of “I.N.R.I.” was the fourth release from Sweden’s Bathory, “Blood, Fire, Death,” in which the rippingly fast and simple works of earlier albums had been turned into theatrical yet emotive quasi-operatic pieces in which rasping vocals and singing coincided and song structures staged dramatic encounters of their parts more than repeating cyclic patterns. Across the water in Norway, Mayhem were putting the finishing touches on a massively incompetent but enigmatic work known as “Deathcrush,” in which tortuous guitar patterns arced over drumming with the grace of an exhausted pack animal, and horrific howling vocals textured the mix. The following year, Merciless assembled “The Awakening,” a fast speed metal album with touches of death but an undeniably morbid melodic sensation. Together these releases defined what would go into the mix of the genre coming next: the aggression and grandeur of Bathory, the abrupt and convoluted structures of Sarcofago, the rough aesthetic of Mayhem and the dramatic staging of Celtic Frost, who had just unleashed their discontiguous but impressive masterpiece “Into the Pandemonium.”

The Modern Era

Again some years went by in which death metal was the primary focus of the community and fans. Where mainstream metal had vanished under the dual onslaught of grunge and the progressive selling out of speed and heavy metal bands like Metallica and Testament, the underground shot to the forefront of the minds of those who expected metal, and consequently, became the area where development in metal occurred while the more popular bands did their best to reiterate their essential sound and presence as a means of not losing ground. As death metal became more accepted, however, it became slowly infested with the same mentality that clogged mainstream metal: an underconfident, socially dependent, accepting and undiscriminating mentality which placed excellent bands next to derivative, unimaginative acts without thinking twice.

Born of the desire to surpass this mess, the modern era of black metal began in Norway with the first releases from Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, Burzum and Mayhem. Each differed from the death metal before it in an emphasis on melodic composition and intricate, classically-inspired song structures which functioned as motifs, returning to not verses or choruses but clusters of riffs and musical ideas which framed their concepts in a setting, not unlike the work of an opera or ancient Greek tragedy. This new form of metal was more vivid and emotionally evocative than the thunderous assault of death metal, and also less concerned with the immediate social values around it; it embraced independent thinking, a dislike for all social dogmas and humanism, a Romanticist love of nature and predation, and a penchant for fantasy and thoughts of ancient times.

The reaction of the death metal boy’s club was unanimous: “fags!” However, the new style rapidly gained ground and soon a second generation of the modern era, including bands like Ancient, Gorgoroth, Graveland, Behemoth, Abigor and Gehenna among others landed in the crowd. Many of these bands were inspired as were original black metal pioneers Darkthrone by the melodic tremolo picking of Swedish death metal bands from the previous generation, which caused the pace to be picked up as the aggression, but the fundamental differences remained. From the reaction to the first wave of black metal, and a desire to get “purer” and farther away from the possible infestation of death metal bands, black metal bands starting with Darkthrone on “Ablaze in the Northern Sky” began to use a fuzzed-out, lo-fi sound and primal song structures similar to those of Hellhammer, early Bathory, and Venom.

While this initially drove away the more sycophantic fans, it was a failing strategy for the same reasons it failed in the production of hardcore music: it made the genre extremely easy to emulate. As demonstrated by bands such as Dark Funeral, it was easy to transition from death metal and make primitive and fast melodic black metal songs which sold in the underground, and soon there were more ex-death metal, ex-crustcore and ex-rock personnel surging into the scene. By the time of the middle 1990s, bands such as The Abyss and Marduk had joined the party, creating in their process templates which any bands could use to emulate the style – and did.

In a few short years the genre had gone from a handful of bands making distinctive music to a horde of bands making indistinguishable music identified only by novelty factors of instrumentation, voice and concept. Nothing was any longer being achieved in the central group of black metal bands, so most of the “old guard” of Norwegian bands backed out and allowed their music to dissipate, as indicated by Darkthrone claiming their “Total Death” album would be final one from the band. As the hordes of scenesters and clone rock artists gathered, bands such as Graveland, Summoning and Ildjarn began experimenting in ambient forms of the original style, writing longer melodies and integrating semi-symphonic instrumentation in digital form in some cases and making rawer, less rock-like music in the case of Ildjarn.

The Drama

Much has been said about the dramatic entry of the Norwegian scene in the early 1990s. Articles ranting about the terror the “Inner Circle” and “Black Circle” would bring to Christian society overstated the case, and so by the year 2000 most fans were tired of hearing the same stories of the genesis of the scene. These will be mentioned here only for the purpose of conveying the ideology of black metal, and its effect upon society at large that in turn reflected the response of civilization to black metal and some of the factors that contributed to its demise.

In the beginning, there were a handful of black metal bands in Norway loosely unified around some ideals and a few meeting places, including the shop Euronymous from Mayhem ran called Helvete [Hell]. There is some debate over whether or not there was a formal “Black Circle” as initially was claimed by American and British publications, but clearly the members of these bands communicated and met within the 4.5 million person country. Strange things began happening in Norway: churches burned, a homosexual man was slit open, miscellaneous assaults and grave desecrations occurred, and then to cap it off, Euronymous was stabbed one night in his apartment. Furthermore, implications of fascism and/or Nazi beliefs were pointed at many members of the underground, most of whom quickly denied them.

First, the vocalist Dead of Mayhem committed suicide with a large knife and shotgun, leaving a note “Excuse all the blood.” Some time later, Varg Vikernes of Burzum was arrested for burning churches and murdering Euronymous; at the time of this writing, he is still serving his term [when arrested, Vikernes was near famished from lack of money to buy food, yet had 150kg of explosive in his basement for use in destruction of churches]. Over 20 other black metal musicians and fans were arrested for burning churches; a total of 77 burned in Scandinavia during that time, although not all have been definitively linked to “Satanists.” Several other musicians did time for killings, assaults, desecrations or unrelated arsons, including Jon Notveidt in Sweden who served 8 years for being accessory to a killing, and Hendrik Moebus in Germany, who served several years as accessory to a murder before being arrested for making a Roman salute while on parole. While the carnage was not widespread, the effect was; Europe saw a wakeup call to some Pagan values and anti-Judeo-Christian sentiment, and America saw a chance at rebellion and consequently, marketing.

Further, the community of black metal had a chance to demonstrate its values. While most members of the scene when pressed denied they had been involved in fascist or Nazi politics, they were indifferent to the roles of others in such things. Equally noncommittal were many around Euronymous after his murder; Hellhammer, the drummer of Euronymous’ band Mayhem, shrugged and said, “One of them had to die,” when queried about the feud between Vikernes and Euronymous. Most bands interviewed spoke positively of nature, negatively of Christianity, and displayed disdain for social behavior that placed the lives of individuals above that of a collective movement. This made many uneasy, especially in tolerant, peaceful and normally quite uneventful Scandinavia.

The Aftermath

When the mainstream bands such as Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth and Marduk that attracted hundreds of thousands to black metal are confronted with the ideology of the founders of modern black metal, they quickly shake their heads and walk away. “Not for us, thanks.” In addition, their music is fundamentally different from that of the underground bands; where the originators of this style used diatonic and chromatic riffs and melodic modes, most of the “aboveground” black metal uses pentatonic scaling and much of the same riffs and rhythms of metal bands from the 1970s. Thus is exemplified a split in the genre: the bands who are doing what metal bands always have, and the bands who are moving away from traditional metal toward a more neoclassical, less rock-n-roll, more intricate musical form.

This split extends to every area of the black metal scene at the time of this writing. On one side, let’s call it the “left,” there are bands who embrace the current era and its variant aesthetics, including the mainstream genres outside of metal; a good example here would be Ulver or Sigh, both of who create postmodern metal from fragments and samples of other genres arranged into pieces delineated by key or rhythm. On the right would be the classicists, the old-schoolers who either only support black metal in the established tradition or who embrace a “purity” of both musical rawness and ideological allusion to the Greco-Roman, Viking or fascist values. For all intents and purposes this split is permanent, with the sides diverging into assimilation on the left and obscurity on the right, yet somehow they keep attracting audience, albeit a degraded one.

Some would say that there was a mystique about black metal that took a long time to die; it didn’t break in 1996, when The Abyss made an album so textbook Norwegian black metal that it provided a template for other bands to follow, and it didn’t even break in 1998 when all but a handful of the original bands had moved on to making more contented music. The year after however appears to have brought the death of black metal in a form emerging from within, similar to the story of Baldr’s death that conceptualizes a later Burzum album: betrayal from within. When the first of the more mainstream bands emerged, the underground took a clue from Darkthrone and it became de rigeur for the non-commercial bands to slap out albums with monochrome art and blindingly distorted, low-technicality music. As before however, this made it easy for further emulation to occur, diluting a genre with exactly what it opposed, and turning it from a movement where concept, music and action were joined into another form of entertainment for couchbound teenagers.

Black Metal Belief Systems

Conventional wisdom in the Judeo-Christian west holds that nature is lawless, dangerous and pointless; to give life meaning, there must be a moral goal, such as civilization itself: the conquering of natural frontiers and environments, taming of natural impulses in humans, and reduction of the law of the fittest – an equalization, as F.W. Nietzsche and later others pointed out. Nietzsche saw this equalization as a form of “revenge” on nature by depriving nature of what makes it threatening to the individual human, namely the potential imminent death – a form of judgment – for being less than capable in a situation calling for endurance and survival.

Sixty years after Nietzsche’s most influential period of work, explosions on the Polish border awakened the globe to the second world war. In this war, a conflict between the most fundamental division of ideology was established: collectivism versus individualism, with the latter favoring the kind of product-oriented, technologically-based, container-logical lifestyles currently seen in the first world nations. It was those insular and self-pleasing ways of living that first irked black metallers, and demonstrated to them a social devolution: there was no longer any competence needed, only obliviousness. Many black metallers, like Nietzsche, found greater inspiration in nature than in post-Judeo-Christian western society, and identified what Christians find horrible – the bloody, competitive, anti-individualist character of nature – to be an example of the most sublime beauty.

The ideological inclination of black metal remains disturbing to most and illegal in many countries. Yet it is not unique to black metal; as history shifted in the 1960s from a predominantly conservative society to a liberal society, thanks to the counterculture, and its effects were only felt with the children growing up in the 1980s, their response mirrors that of some who rejected the flower powery view of the politics and society. Among the thinkers and dissidents now coming back into favor are ecological fascists like Pentti Linkola and Theodore Kaczynski, as well as various stripes of nationalist and racial separatist leaders. [The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish self-defense organization, claims that National Socialist and Neo-Nazi movements are increasing “worldwide.”] It’s hard to see what the future holds but this controversy remains in the forefront of not only black metal, but international politics, as shown by the amount of air time it is given by the entertainment industry, news media and American/U.N. politicians.

Interestingly, black metal joins not only the far right, but the far left, in many of its sentiments. As the world anti-globalist and anti-capitalist movement picks up speed, it echoes many of the ideals of black metal: natural ecosystems; ethnic uniqueness; population control; an end to technology-driven, product-oriented, convenience-based lifestyles. Protestors across the world in anti-war and anti-globalism protests would be shocked to know they have something in common with a group of bloodthirsty church-burning fascists who idealize the occult, but perhaps would be glad at least for a sympathetic ear. Interestingly also, the “modern primitives” movement as seen in events like the Burning Man festival and the survivalist trend around the time of Y2K align themselves in the same general direction these ideals seem to be taking, but the final synthesis has not yet been heard.

Subdivisions

After the initiation of modern black metal in the Scandinavian style, a fragmentation occurred along the general lines of techniques used to unify song composition, creating a number of subdivisions in the black metal subgenre [genre = metal, subgenre = black]. The following are general descriptions of these substyles and what they implied for changes in black metal as a whole.

Rock

The heavy metal style of black metal, descended directly from Venom and NWOBHM bands like Angel Witch who inspired them, is essentially rock music with some neoclassical influences in the loosest sense. Pentatonic, verse chorus music that stays within basic harmony, heavy metal/rock-styled black metal is recognizable for its radio friendly ways, redundant harmonic constructions and verse/chorus arrangements. Good examples include Venom of course, Dimmu Borgir albums after Stormblast, Cradle of Filth and Dissection.

Raw

Descended from Hellhammer and some early Bathory, this is mostly rhythm music which like hardcore punk is fashioned from the harmonic space of a basic interval between two anchoring notes, often a fifth. While this style is easy to do, it is difficult to do well, as the number of bands emulating Hellhammer and falling far short of what Hellhammer produced have found.

Epic

Symphonic styles and epic song structures often seem to go together, as seen in bands like Summoning, Graveland, Heidenreich and early Emperor. Where most bands indulge some complexity, these bands aspire to a demi-operatic state of unifying concept with staging, projecting a theatrical view of the action described in a song through the pure sound and arrangement of riffs. These bands are often the closest to classical music in types of melody and depth of layering, but it is important to note that epic is mainly a description of the complexity and arrangement of a band, not its techniques, so there is complete overlap with other styles mentioned here.

Trance

Music designed to utilize the undulating nature of the sweep picking of a guitar as suspended between unchanging percussion of a basic nature, this style is inspired by generations of metal with ambient experimentation, including Slayer, Von, Massacra, and Bathory. The most notorious band working in this group is Burzum, but other bands such as Nargaroth, I Shalt Become, Ildjarn and Darkthrone have created great works in this area.

Melodic

The oldest style of modern black metal, the melodic compositional approach was first utilized by Norwegian bands looking for a way to make simple power chord music more than thudding rhythm and chromatic patterns. Immortal’s “Pure Holocaust” is the best example of this, with highspeed tremolo picking whipping distorted noise into a flood of searing yet beautiful sound, but there are also examples to be found in Behemoth, Darkthrone, Mayhem and Sacramentum.