Album covers: Transilvanian Hunger

[AllCDCovers]_darkthrone_transilvanian_hunger_1994_retail_cd-front

With the arrival of A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Darkthrone presented a new musical evil with the help of a new visual evil. The first four of Darkthrone’s black metal albums depicted a sole band member in a state of aggression, triumph and/or despair, in black-and-white photos stripped of all decoration, reflecting the intentionally unaesthetic music of the band.

live_in_leipzigThis minimalist approach culminated both visually and musically with Transilvanian Hunger, showing a photocopied, grainy picture of Fenriz dehumanized beyond recognition, holding a candelabrum and presumably screaming his lungs out in the night. Some of its appeal lies in its ambiguity; feelings of futility, anger and power are intermixed, widening its significance.

Although Darkthrone’s visual idea was immediately inspired by Mayhem’s Live in Leipzig, its monochromatic, Xeroxed quality also has an eerie resemblance to Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4 from twenty years earlier and its anguished enigmatic quality to Edvard Munch’s The Scream even further back in history. The parallel is not entirely farfetched: it echoes the troubled mind of Fenriz himself, who reportedly loves art that comes from “the exhaustion of easy life”. To black metal fans the Transilvanian Hunger cover is presumably the one archetypical image of what “necro” signifies, much like The Scream is still very much considered the face of existential anguish.

Various_Artists_-_Peaceville_Vol._4The “necro” imagery, however, may have been unintentional: In Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, Fenriz asserts that mere photocopies from the TH photo session were the only thing he could find at the time to send to Peaceville Records, implying that the same picture could have been reproduced in a more polished fashion. But it doesn’t seem entirely unlikely that the use of a photocopy was inspired by Peaceville’s 1992 compilation album, Peaceville Volume 4, spoofing both cover art and title of the famous Black Sabbath album mentioned above and containing one of Darkthrone’s pre-TH songs, implying that the use was deliberate after all. (Rabid speculation is any fan’s right, right?)

In any case, the cover of Transilvanian Hunger effectively summarized its music by a single iconic image and was later emulated by hordes of lesser bands and is to this day worn on t-shirts by serious music lovers and the occasional hipster alike.

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The relationship between black metal, ambient and neoclassical music

nordic_dark_ambient_neoclassical_black_metalIn the mainstream press, black metal has a reputation for being solely misanthropic, heavily distorted anthems of aggression and despair that are defined by their primitive minimalism.

While this may hold true for the majority of contemporary bands, this view overlooks the foundational bands of the genre, who possessed a deft sense of melody and the focus to create longer compositions that allowed for more introspection.

Just as black metal musicians created a more minimalistic form of death metal, some were able to apply the same approach to the ambient and neoclassical genres, crafting tracks that through the use of repetition, stirring melodies, and tonal variation reveal the genre’s primal elegance without need of layers of distortion.

Given the news that Neptune Towers is being released on vinyl and Burzum is releasing an album comprised entirely of electronic music, now seems a fitting time to investigate this interesting subgenre and how it arose from black metal in several instances.

Burzum

Favoring simple but expansive compositions, contemplative melodies soar over mild arpeggios; in addition to a few tracks of industrial nihilistic deconstruction. Through the utilization of modern technology, Burzum makes narrative and meditative music that like its inspiration Tolkien, takes the participant on an internal journey to another realm.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BajdtSD0eWk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30lt14WQ1w0

Neptune Towers

A side project of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, in Neptune Towers haunting melodies glide over dark drones while otherworldly noises color the backdrop. Evocative tracks signal the coming to Earth of a yet-unknown alien species or perhaps the future evolution of humanity, the soundtrack to the future.


Beherit

This band fuses its earlier black metal style with the industrial, pop, and ambient genres, featuring melodies that would not be out of place on a metal album, but pairs them with repetitive trance-like drums, synths, and found sounds that coalesce into epic moments before fading away like the rays of a burned out sun. Fans of multiple genres should appreciate this one.


Ildjarn

Elegant and skillfully composed tracks celebrating the beauty of nature in their simplicity reveal a greater depth of expression than would be possible with over-produced tracks. Just as he did with black metal, Ildjarn with compatriot Nidhogg reduces neoclassical music to its most basic form and builds from it an enchanting structure.


Lord Wind

A side project of Graveland, with Lord Wind martial drumming and heroic melodies bring to mind the battles of old, while synths and choruses expand the project’s horizons, providing reach to contrast with the grounded and earthy rhythms. Well-crafted neoclassic folk music, this is the further continuation of Graveland‘s second stage.


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Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance (reconsidered)

darkthrone-the_underground_resistanceA few days ago, we published a controversial review of the new Darkthrone album, The Underground Resistance. Wherever this has been mentioned, it has generated quite a backlash from people who want to assure us that they indeed do not find it so devoid of benefit, and want to remind us that we’re simply dour sourpusses who hate anything except the avantgarde.

I am aware that human beings specialize in denial, and that our method of handling denial is transference and projection, by which we invert accountability and place it on those who do not conform to social expectations, which is a vast tolerance of everything and anything that some living breathing human has put out. As a result, I don’t expect much from the first wave of reviews anywhere, but I’m also not the kind of jerkoff editor who will cut his writers off at the knees.

This left only one solution: listen to The Underground Resistance myself.

This is more difficult than it seems. I do not believe youth is the sweetest time of life; in fact, I hate nostalgia. But when I was developing (or clarifying) the most important ideas and truths I have found in this life, it was a reasonable guess that Darkthrone might have been on the stereo (back then, we used big hulking stereo amplifiers with CD players to reproduce sound from a primitive form of MP3 file stored on a physical medium with reflective bits). In fact, I can remember a number of important discoveries in which Darkthrone featured prominently by being the soundtrack to some dark and some light realizations, and at least one Darkthrone tape (ah yes, youngsters; unless you were rich, you had a “cassette tape player” in your car, to which you dubbed CDs using your big hulking stereo, and then played primitive analogues of MP3 files using magnetic flipped bits on chromium dioxide-covered plastic tape) that lived in my car during a dark era when I drove many miles at night under the threat of an uncertain future.

When I had triumphs, I threw on Transilvanian Hunger, which was a cry to war for a generation. When I studied late at night, Soulside Journey was often on the stereo (low volume, using an anachronistic physical volume knob — crazy shit, man). I remember first “getting” the black metal ideal when listening to Under a Funeral Moon, and realizing this was the revenge of the naturalists. It wasn’t bad production; it was organic sound, a blaze of it, in which the message hid like a signal/noise ratio refinement experiment. It was deliberately obscured, esoteric music in which one could hide the truths that a dying society could no longer face. I loved it, and still do, but I really hate nostalgia. Nostalgia says the best days were past; that’s nonsense, since we learn every day and constantly get better at being who we are. That last sentence contained the main point of this article.

The context in which Darkthrone exists for its longtime listeners is hard to express, however. It’s somewhere aligned with worship and built on trust. We entrusted our hopes, fears, terrors and anger to Darkthrone back in the day, and in exchange vested in them a belief in them as musicians and people. They were no longer just a bunch of guys bashing on guitars, but sages, deliverers of wisdom. Maybe this is wrong, but black metal is a somewhat messianic genre to which children run when they start to realize that the modern world is not a train to Utopia, but a train wreck of false illusions and trends which the majority of people are too zombie-drugged on consumerism and ideology to notice. We the children of this dead world were seeking some reason to keep going and to thrive, and Darkthrone gave us those reasons among other black metal sages.

As a result, it’s impossible (think of Heisenberg) to simply listen to a Darkthrone album. Too much comes with it: history, context, emotion. For many artists, this is good. For example, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno are still making ambient music and their faithful buy up each one and revel in the new space discovered. Some bands find niches and are able to keep improving. Others flatten out, having lost the point of what they were doing, and instead try to become inclusive and patch together all their influences and all the stuff they know makes people happy to listen to their songs. The result is like a hotel room, in that it fits everyone’s specifications but no one’s needs.

When I first listened to The Underground Resistance, I was tempted to consider Jon Wild’s piece inaccurate. Darkthrone have made an album of pleasant music that is equal parts Iron Maiden, Celtic Frost and random death metal and speed metal era influences. I caught Slayer references, something that sounded like a Destruction cadence, and many riff types from the last four decades of metal. I doubt any of this is wholly and completely lifted, but I could be wrong. The fact is that they’re of the same archetypes. However, that has no bearing on whether the album is good or not. If someone were to assemble songs of classic riffs, and give those riffs new life by putting them together in a song which was evocative of some emotion or concept, then that would be a victory. Originality doesn’t matter, because no matter what you’re doing, Haydn did it four centuries ago, or Mozart slightly later. That’s the great farce of music. It’s not about discovering some new theory about making music, but about making music, and much as you’d write a story or sculpt a figurine, using those skills to shape raw material into something which reminds us of something truthful in life. The best art becomes “classic” because it did that better than anyone else.

However, as time went on, I realized Jon is both far off — and dead on. The problem with this album is not the recycled riffs, or the style, or the goofy vocals. It’s that it has nothing to express except that a metal band made an album out of things they knew would work. We know Fenriz and Nocturno Culto can put together a great catchy album in their sleep, and have it humming it all year if they want. Here, they seem exhausted, a couple of old buddies who got together on the weekend to jam and when it was done, cut the tape and mailed it off. This tendency is most clear in the fills that connect riffs to one another. They are obvious in the sense of being very basically musically, not adapted to the song, not possessed of grace. They just tie together some riffs and do an adequate job, and that’s apparently all that’s required.

Remember above how I said the main point of the article was encoded in a sentence about nostalgia? We should always be growing in knowledge and power, and moving toward being better at what we do. Darkthrone still have this in them; for some reason, they’re tired of exercising it. In doing so, they’ve become a cult of their own entropy. There’s nothing wrong with this album except that it has nothing to recommend it. It is competent; it’s fun to listen to; I never want to hear it again. It is people who gave up on their own future and now are doing what the world expects of them, just like going to a job. Our world is broken and failed indeed if it has condemned such talented people to such a fate, but I hope they pull out of this tailspin because they as people and Darkthrone as a concept are worth doing better than this.

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Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

Production: Static-free, slightly muddy guitar tone. Drums are clear and unremarkable.

darkthrone-the_underground_resistanceReview: Continuing Darkthrone‘s recent series of forcing anachronistic albums, all traces of black metal have been stripped from this album. Fenriz’ tracks consist of the same relentlessly bouncy riffs over which unbearably clean vocals are belted. Nocturno Culto’s are differentiated only by slightly heavier vocals.

Nothing on this album is unique; if you’ve listened to 70s and 80s metal to any extent, you will know these riffs. Devoid of originality, this album could have been recorded by any nameless metal band.

Whatever motivated these musicians to release such toweringly monumental works in their earlier careers has clearly been lost. At a certain point, the creative spark burns out and all that’s left is talent but no sense of urgency or spirit, which is how albums like this are created. Like junk food, at first glance it appears edible but afterwards leaves you feeling slightly nauseous and unfulfilled.

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Is metal “too nihilistic”?

fenrizA non-Hessian friend once pointed out to me that metal music is essentially avoidance. With its nihilistic outlook it seemed to him to be just shuffling meaning around, never really reaching a conclusion or be able to produce a complete artwork.

Faustian? Pah! It may enjoy details of the world’s harsh realities, the death and gore and decay, but only because the transient nature of death allows for constant change, consequently avoiding all meaning. Which means we may contently pull back in some basement, still fearing reality as a whole. That’s what you get with bands obsessed with death.

Classical? Pfft! How could it be? Metal is too sensuous, delving in creepy subjects and gritty riffs without any sense of spirit or abstract idea.

Unsurprisingly, I think this is writing it off too quickly.

Metal is certainly content with the world, but does that make it materialistic? It does not like society perhaps; metal loathes its stale “bourgeois” mentality, yelling “Fake! Fake!”, and it loves the hedonistic.

But metal nevertheless hungers for the epic, a “heavy” greatness and seems to enjoy the game that nature is playing. Metal found that society was materially flourishing, but also found decay in the souls of the bored everyday man, echoing the troubled mind of Fenriz of Darkthrone who loves art that comes from “the exhaustion of easy life”.

To awaken us, metal explored natural decay. But not as a materialist act: needless to say, with their obscure imagery, dark riffs and haunting vocals, metal bands created a mysterious world that seemed more honest, more real than the life in any Western metropolis. Lauren Wise writes:

Heavy metal seemed just like classical music to me: It was ritualistic, accepting of death and change, questioned authority and normalcy, and satisfied that need for an overture or reconsideration. It was as if classical and metal both quenched my need to understand the positive strength and ultimately horrific nature of the world. Metal may be less refined, but it still seeks to express that philosophical assumption about life.

Metal found life in death – initially as a warning, later as full-on Romanticist nature worship – and that beautiful paradox sums up my answer to my friend: Metal seeks essence, it does not avoid it – but it takes no prisoners.

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Neptune Towers – Caravans to Empire Algol re-issue

Neptune Towers’ rare 1994 debut of Ambient Soundscapes available on Peaceville for the first time.

Bleak and evocatively atmospheric, Neptune Towers was the brainchild of Darkthrone’s Fenriz.

The music takes its inspiration from the likes of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Kraftwerk.

This edition of Caravans To Empire Algol contains liner notes by Fenriz.

Pre-order now for 11th June 2012 release date.

1. Caravans To Empire Algol (24:32)
2. The Arrival At Empire Algol (12:37)

Glad to see this classic ride again. It’s like a darkwave version of Tangerine Dream, deep cosmic music that came out at a time when all black metal bands were experimenting with ambient. This is better than most however.

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There was hope then

The DVD release of “Until the Light Takes Us” showed up in the mail, so I went over to a friend’s place and popped it in the DVD tray. It was an intense couple hours of watching.

Key plot points:

  • Trend versus meaning that is always true
  • “You are bombarded by thousands of lies, every day”
  • People like to play dress up
  • The montage of modern society: TGIF, Coca-Cola, McDonalds

Black metal is right-wing, surely, but it doesn’t just boil down to that. The right wing is so corrupted now (not corrupt, necessarily, but probably that too). This is universal: do we want a society ruled by corporations and a nanny state government, or a society based around culture? When we do what we are told is morally right, we create a chaotic society that wrecks itself; when we favor the competent above others, and let them rule, we build a society that is organically self-sustaining.

This film shows us how the black metal kids of yesteryear (the ones who created the music at least) are lost in a modern world, but how this modern world is at a loss to even comprehend what they’re saying. What they’re saying is in brief thus: we think backward. We think about what other people want to hear, see or do, and make that our reality. We don’t think about the consequences, only the “false consequences” of how many people like it.

Black metal was designed to rape the ears and repulse most people. It became a trend because people like to dress up and pretend they’re something more, but they really just want to “get ahead” by being popular or sounding cool on the schoolyard. This is why modernity is a cancerous force: it eats out the soul of all things, turns them into a Halloween costume, and passes them along as a product.

Both communism/socialism and capitalism do this. What does it mean? To my mind, that we need a return to the age of kings. We need leaders who can be semi-arbitrary, but can think ahead of what’s convenient/profitable and say, “No, no McDonald’s in my woods” or “we have enough people.”

We’re about to commit fucking ecocide as a species. I feel like Fenriz and Varg know what a tragedy this is; most (99%) humans cannot conceptualize it, don’t care, have no idea, and are too distracted by karmic delights like what they’re eating, Twittering, fucking, shitting, buying, shooting, rubbing, consuming. We need people who do have the sensitivity to get beyond the karmic in charge. These people care about meaning, not discovering it in what the trend is, but creating it. Finding reasons to revere an ancient forest or the melancholic and scary side of life.

All of metal has been a quest to find meaning in madness, death, destruction and horror. The point is that life is short and precious and we should take it seriously, meaning stop screwing up as a species. We waste so much time every day pandering to what the moron public wants, and destroying things of true value, that we no longer have time for our own lives. And so we’ve gotten afraid of anything deep, cannot face our own mortality or even the joyful meaning in actions beyond the individual in life. We quest for nothing but comfort and convenience.

This movie is cursed because every idiot out there will assume it’s for black metal fans. No, you don’t get it — if you’re a black metal fan now, and weren’t in 1992, this movie isn’t for you unless you’re one of the few (like 4/10 of a percent) who actually get it as spirit, idea and moods. The black metal fans now are all about black metal as entertainment and a shopping list. Back then for us, it was a momentary hope that we could express the dread we’d felt our whole lives, and indulge in designing an alternate world we’d prefer — a more realistic world, but also, one built on imagination joined with logic, a creative exploration of reality instead of a retreat in fear and denial of death.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 1-31-10

So much of what we do in life is politics. Telling people things they want to hear and making warring parties proffer the olive branch. But metal should not be about politics. Metal should be about pure spirit, both inside of us and in the world at large, meaning that we know ourselves and we know reality. With that kind of background, we don’t need politics. We don’t need drama. We don’t need to be flattered. We want adventure — musical adventure, preferably with tragedy and triumph, violence and vengeance, sodomy and satisfaction! Meet this week’s Sadistic Metal Reviews, where sacred cows get sodomized and we find satisfaction in the diamonds among the cluttering turds.

Fenriz’ Red Planet/Nattefrost – Engangsgrill

We’re going to talk about the first band here, Fenriz’ Red Planet, because Nattefrost is forgettable 1970s punk rock dressed up as early 1980s black metal. This band is a hybrid between doom metal, 1970s heavy guitar jam, and what they call stoner doom now but was recognizable in St. Vitus, Pentagram and Sleep for many years. The production approach and song style is closest to 1970s heavy guitar rock, like Cream or even Led Zeppelin, in that songs are verse/chorus works with a big fat diversion stuck in the middle that may run through a couple of riffs but comes back into key and rhythm so the cycle can spin again. But over half of the riffs are straight out of old school 1980s doom metal, and that would be St. Vitus and Pentagram but also late-blooming NWOBHM with a doom edge like Witchfinder General and Budgie. It’s not exciting; if anything, it sounds like a demo where the band hasn’t yet finalized direction and aesthetic. However, it is good; these songs have character and a spirit to them which you cannot get anywhere else. You can hear a few lifts from Fenriz’ folk/metal project Storm and one or two similar themes to Darkthrone, but this CD doesn’t need to namedrop to stand on its own. They named it “Engangsgrill,” which apparently is a type of disposable barbecue, which fits exactly the kind of sloppy rock/metal hybrid you have here: pickup trucks headed to the country with a keg, a bong and some friends, followed by a weekend of the best neighborhood bands jamming, society gets forgotten until on Monday morning you drive back with a mouth full of ash and the kind of diluted hangover that comes from cheap beer in constant consumption.

Baroness – The Blue Record

Oh neat, an emo/stoner metal hybrid with lots of indie and punk rock touches. If you can imagine Neurosis and Jawbreaker making sweet love with newer Sleep, and throwing in tons of stuff from the heavy metal and indie rock canons, you’ll have a good image of what this cheeseball release has to offer. From the way the labels and the big industry reviewers — who have about five minutes to hear each CD, and put them on in the background while socializing for two weeks, then forget about them — went on about this CD, you’d think it was the second coming of innovation itself. Instead, it’s stale and completely loses what’s good about metal and punk, converging on a mean that’s closer to your run-of-the-mill hipster band. This is awful.

Despised Icon – The Ills of Modern Man

Metalcore is rock songwriting with technical death metal technique, and a desire like punk music to string together radically “different” riffs as if it can surprise us, and since it’s random in structure, built around what’s left: vocal phrases that end on the expectation of the offbeat like a sales pitch. Despised Icon is as a result about 80% the fratboy-pleasing, gurgling, blasting, very simple riffs played in difficult time of technical death metal, like Immolation, and the rest is bouncy moronic rock music that I got into metal to escape. Consequently, it has no attention span and cycles like carnival music between different styles and tempos, then crams it all into a barely-disguised verse/chorus structure. What is the point of typing this all out? To point out how to fail at metal. This is the abyss of music and is every bit as stupid as your parents claim your music is. If you want to fail at life, try listening to this random accumulation of parts — each part is in itself OK, not great, but together they add up to a conversation made by borrowing a phrase from 30 works of literature — and as a result project a scatterbrained, neurotic, pointless and non-constructive view of the world. No wonder people hate metalcore; it’s the nadir of underground music.

Cryptopsy – The Unspoken King

This is what’s left of the band that made None So Vile? The neatly structured, compact death metal has been replaced with blasting metalcore. Metalcore, as you may know, is kind of a garbage plate for underground metal and punk. Based around the interpretation of technical metal into punk structures that Human Remains showed us, metalcore loves randomness in circular song structures, so you get ten minimally-related riffs linked by a breakdown and a few slow chants, and then the whole thing repeats, and then the song ends. It’s music for a fragmented mind and as a result, has the IQ of a headless chicken watching daytime TV. Cryptopsy utterly fails to make coherent music out of this style as their countrymen Neuraxis eventually did, and instead defecate this collection of random riffs based around an egodramatic vocal track. It’s total garbage for morons.

These Are They – “Who Linger”

Imagine Iron Maiden doing a simplified version of 1990s Demigod or Amorphis. This CD is unique in that it successfully applies both (a) the old school death metal style and (b) a heavy metal, harmonized-guitar, bouncy riff style — and does it by coming up with a melodic phrase and answer, and using these to make layers of verse and chorus. Play riff; play notes of riff in variation of rhythm; harmonize guitars and repeat, then cycle. The choruses do the same. Nothing sounds out of place, and the deep guttural voice guides it along, but it seems entirely out of place when the heavy metal riffs and trills come into play. In addition, the riff salad of death metal isn’t here; like rock or indie, this rides one pattern for verse and one for chorus, and much variation is not to be found, which probably places this out of the range of old school death metal fans. Still, these are quality riffs and excellent use of basic harmony, which makes this easy listening and because it is not random, a great improvement on the metalcore-heavy stuff we hear daily. For albums like later Bolt Thrower, which tried to make a heavy metal/death metal hybrid, this is probably the best so far.

Vreid – Milorg

Black metal was about writing unique melodies and building song structures to fit them. Vreid is about mimicking the past with more intensity in each riff, but relying on predictable melodic strips and linear song structures in circular repetition, resulting in songs that are binary like nu-metal: a softer part, then a harder part, then a response to that which softens the hardness, then a restatement at full blast, fade out and win. Most of these riffs come from the 1970s and 1980s generations of metal and get a “black metal” treatment, so end up sounding like rock music in its Sunday black metal evil clothes. The music is driving by a chanting vocal which rides the beat like the shouts of the drummer commanding the slaves to row. Every now and then they launch into an extended melody like a pentatonic version of early ancient, and they have the raw rhythmic power of an early Marduk or Zyklon, but it doesn’t add up to more than most rock music, and considerably less than the formative works of Nordic black metal.

Black Funeral – Az-i-Dahak

Throbbing notes rhythm a rhythm that then reverses, examines a portion of itself in detail, and then picks up in a new direction which dovetails with the old; the throb remains, like symbols etched in the air with a torch caught on the slower memory of film. In this way, Black Funeral achieves an odd ambience similar to that of Impetigo, where a higher note is strummed repetitively at an offset rhythm where most bands would hammer a lower note on the beat, but by the nature of the larger melodic structure of the riff, this throb does not bounce jauntily like a rock rhythm; it hangs, like a reminder of mortality. Vocals are chant-ish black metal rasps and the mechanistic pedaling of the drum machine fits this sound like a glove, getting further inhuman as it distances us from musical expectation and clean aesthetics. Like the humming beeps of an alien machine exploring the night, this album rediscovers humanity by removing it from the picture and showing us the empty space in which we must construct as inevitable death closes in. While most experts agree “Vampyr” is the height of this band — and who am I to disagree? — this perhaps less proficient album is more haunting and bizarre, yet fits it into a pattern similar to our reminiscences of isolated nights when the future angled away from us like the shadow of an unknown doorway.

Decrepit Birth – Diminishing Between Worlds

If the recombinant album name and band name didn’t clue you in, here’s the skinny: this band is totally postmodern, meaning that they fit together all sorts of random influences and then link them together with the basics of rhythm and harmony. As a result, it’s like a fast ride at Disneyland: constant changing stimulus of radical difference so much that after a while you lose any idea of where you are, and end up thinking you’ve come very far, when at the very end as the buggy slows you realize you’ve been circling around the same relatively small space. Unlike most bands of this type, which I’m going to call crypto-metalcore because it’s (a) without death metal’s style of organization, preferring instead the hardcore method of having riffs have as little in common as possible and no narrative (b) of mixed riff styles and (c) depends on rhythmic buildup/breakdown for tension because you’re not going to get it in contrast between riffs, Decrepit Birth is good — it’s like an Iron Maiden album hidden in Deeds of Flesh with Blotted Science and Negativa offering critique. However, I can’t listen to this carnival music; it breaks down concentration and replaces it with elaborate versions of territory trod long ago.

Funebrarum – The Sleep of Morbid Dreams

What happened here? Eight years ago — before old-school “revival” was even a blip on the radar — this band had the apparent potential to give proper life to archaic death metal form. Their first album/demo was a brooding, infectious and grimly cohesive piece of work, enough so to make this sound almost brazenly cheap by comparison. Toss in every imaginable death metal riff style coined between 1989 and 1993, lay them out on a rhythmic smorgasbord and put them through enough mood changes to make a pregnant teenager blush and you’ve come damn close to this; add enough embarassing Bloodbath-sounding material (listen to the opener) to something otherwise “authentic” and you’ll never want to hear “old school” again. – kontinual

Star Fucking Hipsters – Never Rest in Peace

There are some of us who believe that rock and roll music, instead of being a thing deliberately created, is an aggregate of what was left over when we tested everything else against a captive audience. Star Fucking Hipsters prove this by carefully absorbing everything they can into the great sponge of melancholy indie pop. These songs usually start off with fast punk or speed metal (Slayer) riffs, and then pass through a few exciting transitions borrowed from anything industrial, black and reggage or between, but then we get to the core: darkish, self-pitying, somewhat helpless indie pop. True, it’s in pop punk format like The Descendents meets Blink 182 with Jane’s Addiction advising on behalf of the emo CIA, but basically, it’s pop. And when we get to that point we see this album is like a confused and lonely person in the city, covering themselves with newspapers or whatever fashions they can yank out of the wind, hoping no one will ever get a glimpse inside. If that’s its goal, this is supreme art, but more likely it is the emoting of such people hoping we’ll justify their existence for them. As pop, it’s not bad, a little toward the “poignant” side of minor key melodies sliding into major key to give you a sense of hope. But it’s really the same old thing, or the latest incarnation of it in whatever styles have stuck over the past twelve years, and so I can’t imagine why you’d listen to this instead of any of the 100,000 other albums this “good” in the rock style.

Ahab – The Divinity of Oceans

Funeral doom of a style similar to Skepticism if merged with Esoteric, with a tiny bit of Paradise Lost or Sleep in the wings, Ahab is a studied take on the slow and depressive atmospheric music that many people seem to enjoy. Stylistically, it is probably the most advanced of its kind; musically, it is perfectly competent; artistically, it is not particularly compelling. Its melodies have less of a sense of mixed emotions than do those of Skepticism, and its songs develop in predictable cycles within cycles, leaving us with atmosphere by default once all else has been blocked out. Like American rock bands, Ahab also has to throw in that sense of “contrast” where any dominant idea gets a contrarian voice thrown up against it, where bands like Skepticism bear down with enhancement and variation inside their major ideas. Few want to be the voice to stand up and say this, but most doom metal is boring, and not just because it’s slow. Ahab, while better than most, falls under this umbrella.

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine – The Audacity of Hype

Purists will kill me for this, but this is Biafra’s best work — it’s musical. Where the Dead Kennedys sounded disorganized and messy without really building on that as an aesthetic, he’s slowed down to a pop-punk combo that uses hardcore riffs (Discharge, Exploited) to balance its melodic lead picking (Circle Jerks, The Plugz). That, plus Southern Fried guitar solos and lead guitar noise, forms the underpinning for a more interesting Biafra performance than has ever been heard before. On this CD, Biafra develops his vocal lines both melodically and in timbre, giving the performance of his life with verve and energy. You’ve heard these riff types before, and many of the note progressions are “pop culture” stalwarts that show up in movie soundtracks and commercials, but here Biafra and his band develop each into a song that’s half-rock and half-hardcore, creating a foundation that will introduce a new generation to the sounds of hardcore punk.

Akitsa – La Grande Infamie

Most of us love the idea of black metal: a few totally socially alienated people, armed only with the truth, pick up guitars one weekend and make a simple mind-virus that helps slay all of the vastly powerful illusions that make our modern world miserable. The problem is that this is far from the truth: most of the people who have made great simple black metal were expert players or at least savants who self-schooled themselves in a unique and powerful style, and their work is very deliberate and designed to make us enjoy life as much as convey some idea. But as in all things, each generation picks up where the previous generation appeared to leave off, so the source of the idea is always lost. Akitsa sounds like a cross between The Exploited and early Dark Funeral, with simple melodic riffs offset against sawing basic power chording; the melodic riffs are too candy-sweet and the power chord riffs are too much of a style we can get anywhere. “Silence” appears to be heavily influenced by “Thy Winter Kingdom” from the first Behemoth CD. The rest of the CD is alternating Burzum influences with later model droning melody. It is both not bad and not really compelling enough to want to hear again.

Orthrelm – OV

I wish this album were a joke, but like most modern and postmodern art, it’s an attempt to “demonstrate” an “idea,” and that idea has no correlation to the reality of an artist both entertaining and informing his listeners. Instead, you get a lot of fast chromatic playing over serial drumming with occasional breaks into jazz-style breakdowns that are either sloppy or misinformed about music theory. The result is a dissonant atmosphere after the band lulls you into contentment with repetition. Over time, the basic pattern increases in a period-doubling format, creating a linear expansion on a basic idea that resembles holy books that write about the universe expanding from a breath, except here the expansion leads to nothing but a reflection of itself. When Burzum did this with Det Som Engang Var, it built a mood that gained resurgent power of time; here it is purely deconstructive and fragments the listener’s attention span by forcing it through a narrow slit of musical awareness. People will like this because it’s unique, and talk about how genius it is because no one else “dared to be different” to such a degree, but as a work of meaningful art and a listening experience, it is worthless.

Blood Mortized – Blood Mortized

This band claims “active” status in the early nineties, with zero material to show for it. It may very well be true; current personnel have some of the more run-of-the-mill Stockholm bands to brag about in their ancestry. Excited yet? This falls somewhere between Amon Amarth and Dismember’s Massive Killing Capacity, smothered in the “soft” mimicry of the Sunlight sound that seems so common for these fence-sitting bands. The plod is painful and simple and the song development as bluntly screwball as the song titles, lending an air of crafted irony to the whole presentation lest somebody seriously stack it up against any of its predecessors. One wonders whence this stuff keeps coming — I’m wont to call this the “Swedish mid-life crisis” and leave it at that. – kontinual

Junius – The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist

What is post-rock? For most, it’s slow atmospheric rock beats with emo, punk, indie and noise riffs slowed down to provide texture. On this CD, Junius blend in a modern taste of the ancient with a Dead Can Dance influence. The result is like a river, winding around obstacles to rejoin itself, but only suggesting a topography. This music is comforting and melancholic, but not really exciting. It is pretty, but will find it hard to escape a lukewarm rock underpinning that reigns in its tendencies to escape for the outer limits. A reasonable comparison might be if Danzig decided to do a space rock album: you can appreciate it aesthetically, but sense how the voice isn’t really there, and how as much as these guys want to be ancient, they’re stuck in a modern paradigm.

Virus – The Black Flux

For the last time: if I wanted indie rock, I would have gone to a different part of the record store. Take your Sisters of Mercy gothic vocals, your bad indie rock open chord guitar riffs, and your basic song structures interrupted by dramatic outbursts, and put them there. I don’t want to fall into the old trap of saying “this isn’t metal,” because what I really want to say is that this is indie rock and should be integrated into that genre for the modicum of black metal stylings and ideas it still possesses. Sure, they’re going to call it a “post-rock” influence, but other than a little flexibility of rhythm, what’s going on here is the same stuff emo, indie and shoegaze bands were pumping out in the early 1990s.

Mefisto – The Truth

This CD resembles death metal in no way other than the vocals, which are the kind of reverbed whisper shout that made the first Sepultura EP so memorable. But the music… well, it’s stranded in the 1980s. Throw a lot of Metallica, Kreator, Slayer and Destruction in a blender — like every other band from that era — and you’ll get this mismash of riffs very similar to both the aforementioned bands and a huge heritage of heavy metal. To their credit, this band string them together well rhythmically but otherwise seem entirely random. Before someone convinces you this is a forgotten classic, ask them if classic means “good” or just that it was around in the early 1990s.

Sarke – Vorunah

We all want to love anything with the enigmatic Nocturno Culto on it. In fact, many of us were hoping he would pull off a Nemesis Divina where his skills converted an unexceptional band into a relative masterpiece. Not so on Sarke — his performance is phoned in, mainly because these songs are sparse, undeveloped, and entirely derivative of their influences in a 1989 way. In fact, the whole CD has the vibe of a collection of songs that have been kicked around since they got written in the 1980s, finally put onto vinyl years after the genre has passed them by. You’re familiar with these chord progressions and general rhythms, since many of them come out of punk rock and hard rock, and you’re probably not unacquainted — unless you’ve been under a rock labeled BLACK METAL GO HOME for the last two decades — with Culto’s interpretation of them. It’s all quite vanilla; nothing to really be appalled at here except how little you care about this flat regurgitation of the past.

Drautran – Throne of the Depths

We live in a time of fools. Given no real truths to chew on, they raise themselves on lies, and make competing lies so they can be heard. Then they tell us what metal bands to listen to, and they cannot tell the difference between good music and derivative shit. They will, for example, convince themselves that Drautran is folk metal, when really it’s indie rock songs dressed up in black metal chord forms with a little extra violence. Unlike metal songs, where riffs fit together and make sense, these are rock songs with some metal riffs dropped in between the sing-song verse chorus. They take their riffing inspiration from Enslaved’s Frost but none of the compositional coherence is here. Listen to this if you want to distract yourself, fragment your concentration and dull your possibilities of ever understanding the difference between good music and crap.

Moëvöt – Abgzvoryathre

Every now and then, people who lack direction in life and so pay attention to surface features more than anything else, hoping to use these to justify their emptiness, will try to tell you how good a band is because it’s unique and nuanced. Usually this includes some kind of infantilism, like extreme minimalism or incoherence. This tedious little recording fits the bill. People like it because it’s obscure, kvlt, whatever… the truth is that it’s melodically simplistic, goes nowhere in song development, and showcases no really unique ability except to waste your time. They try to eat up as much tape as possible with intros, chants, and very basic keyboard melodies, but basically there’s nothing here. Maybe that’s the artistic point — emptiness — but then again a blank tape would have been more effective, and pleasant.

Black Vomit – The Faithful Servant

Interesting approach by this Mexican band: take a more technical version of the full speed burst style semi-melodic black metal that Sarcofago made, and intersperse it with flowing keyboard-enhanced choruses in the style of countrymen Xibalba and Avzhia. The result suffers from the radical shift between two very identifiable poles, but the music although very basic develops gently through this style, and as a result is more credible than most of what we get sent here at the Dark Legions Archive Metal Reviews and CD Recycling Center. This is a band worth keeping an eye on.

Archgoat – The Light-Devouring Darkness

I’m convinced that a lot of death and black metal is music designed for children, because not only is it painfully simple and repetitive, but it also uses gentle rhythms of chord change — while playing at top speed. It’s like listening to a fan slowly playing an early Mozart piece. This album is similar. Sounds a lot like Blasphemy meets Impaled Nazarene, with the lower register production and slamming tempo changes of Belial. So as a retrospective of Finnish metal technique it’s great, but for anything else, it’s kind of a droning lullaby. What excuses it is that this CD shows purpose in its songwriting, and captures a mood, but for many of us the droning outweighs its significance.

Cruciamentum – Convocation of Crawling Chaos

During the past two years, underground black metal shifted from emulating the early 1990s — fast melody — to emulating the late 1990s, specifically Demoncy’s “Joined in Darkness.” The Convocation EP does its best to revive that sound, with an injection of Finnish death metal and possibly American doom/death like Incantation, Winter and Infester. Although it keeps its goals limited, which is appropriate for a demo, this release shows promise in songwriting in that (a) every piece works together (b) together they create a vision of some idea, experience or emotion we can recognize from life itself and (c) while a good deal of it covers known death metal archetypes, it does so without borrowing straight from one source and so gives us a sense of exploring these ideas from a new angle. Low rasp voices, downtuned rigid guitars, and drumming that sounds like it’s straight out of drone/hardcore punk fusion gives this CD a sense of growing out of the past toward something even more ancient.

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Until the Light Takes Us: Review

This long-awaited independent film documentary finally hit London as part of the Raindance film festival, as metalheads and indie pricks alike filled the seats to watch what has been promoted as the least sensationalist take on the all too familiar events surrounding the Inner Circle and that Scandinavian wave of Black Metal. ‘Until the Light Takes Us’ presents the story through the thoughts of some important figures from that scene, most notably Burzum’s Varg Vikernes and Fenriz of Darkthrone, who are able to articulate more of what constituted the worldview of that movement, from two very different perspectives – Varg as the idealist finding himself trapped within his surroundings and Fenriz as a former idealist now trapped within himself. For example, the Count Grishnackh likens his experience in prison to being in a monastery, as it imposes a strong sense of discipline on him, conducive to self-development, engaging with reality at the level of ‘ideas’ and the eternal quest for ‘Truth’. Fenriz, on the other hand, looks pretty directionless and resentful of the events that culminated in his loss of spirit to the extent that he describes his current music with Darkthrone as like petting dogs (the fans) and inspiring them to share his misery, possibly offing themselves as a result.

This film is clearly a chance for those involved to speak about such things after the initial media attention and exposure had long ago infected the exclusivist purity of Norwegian Black Metal. As such, it is not really a film about Black Metal. No clear picture is put together as to be able to explain what Black Metal is, although larger conclusions can be drawn as streams of dialogue intersect and are placed alongside appropriate imagery and Nordic scenery. The anti-Judeo-Christian sentiments of church burnings and the anti-consumerist, anti-westernisation implications of Helvete’s radical ideology are explored with reasonable depth, but there is nothing much said about what they affirmed and found beauty in, which is the real impulse behind many classic Black Metal albums. Combined with what seemed to be the ultimate fate of these artists as some form of social ostracisation and self-destruction (captured by Satyricon’s Frost and his throat-slitting public art display, and Dead’s suicide), Black Metal – whatever it is – comes off as a dark curiosity ultimately yielding fatalistic results. Fair enough, that’s not the purpose of the movie, but for a Black Metal initiate, this film offers little more than surplus interview material. It’s interesting as a documentary, exploring the detrimental effects of media bullshit super-imposed on an ideological and artistic movement that stood well outside of what the media can express in it’s limited lexicon, and provides content for those interested to further research this cryptic genre.

– Written by ObscuraHessian

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Ur-Tod – on the birth of death metal

Something like the problem of transubstantiation for the church fathers, the birth of death metal, who did it and where, is one of the prime causes of contention of metal messageboards across the world. Some give credit to Venom‘s blasphemies and chaos that were basically Motorhead with less technique and more sluts, ca. 1981. Thomas Gabriel Fischer‘s Hellhammer, formed in 1982, was an extreme entity from Switzerland that explored the furthest reaches of negativity and doom, guitars tuned low and vocals devolving into grunts and screams. Around this time the same guys also started a fanzine called “Death Metal”, later to lend their logo to a 1984 compilation of Noise Records bands, including Hellhammer. Around 1983, still not more than two years after Venom’s “Welcome to Hell” and the same year Mercyful Fate and Metallica would debut, Kam Lee of Mantas (pre-Death) and Jeff Becerra of Possessed were utilizing growled low vocals from the bottomless depths of Hell and elements of death metal guitar (tremolo and chromatics) and drum technique (blastbeat) that are staple elements of what consist a normal death metal album today.

I went to high school with Jeff Becerra and Larry Lalonde. They actually recorded and released ‘Seven Churches’ when we were in school. I even had a copy of the demo. I read all the time people citing that album as one of the first Death Metal albums and that they helped start all that. I seem to remember those guys being really into bands like Destruction, Venom and Celtic Frost… but I guess Possessed took it a little further. At the time I didn’t think it to be the start of anything.

– Mark Peters

The above quote from the Peacedogman forum highlights the essence: bands were taking the influence of the previous generation of bands into areas that seemed so natural to them that they were not thinking of going out of their way to create another “experimental” genre. Thinking about thrash and thinking about death metal in their pre-trend incarnations is mostly an invention of the historians – it’s best to focus on the organic development of metal over time and remember how people unrelated to each other stumbled across the same kind of approach independent of each other. To celebrate the diversity and energy of this formational period when speed metal bands were discovering the praise of death and invocation of satanic forces, one could do worse than listen to this old school death metal compilation created by Fenriz for Vice Magazine – it’s in fact a good supplement to our article on the history of Norwegian death metal, because it represents both the contemporary sound of Sweden and the various evil conjuring voices from around the world that these kids heard by tapetrading, thus influencing their sound.

Written by Devamitra

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