Black Funeral – Ankou and the Death Fire (2016)

Counting among the longest running US black metal institutions to date, Black Funeral has given birth to a motley collection of musical works over the last twenty-five years, spanning regional adaptions of Northern European black metal, over dark ambient and archaic/industrial drones, through the Les Legions Noires-styled raw melodic approach of later years.

Purists may frown at the stylistically fluctuating character of the band’s output, but one of the main attractions of Black Funeral concerns their ability to provide an immersive experience by careful adaption of aesthetics pertaining to the concept at hand. This approach also reveals the weakest link in the band’s songwriting. Being mainly driven by a desire to convey a strong aesthetic, the compositions tend to wander without any perceivable goal beyond establishing credible atmospherics, begging the listener to question the relevancy of these incredibly vivid, yet static make-believe worlds.

While arguably one of the finest release by the band, Ankou and the Death Fire is a frustrating listen because it catches Black Funeral at their height of inspiration yet fails to channel this potential into an enduring musical statement. There’s no denying that the raw rehearsal-bunker production coupled with infectious, pseudo-folkish melodies are a pleasure to the ear, but repeated listening reveals the stale, almost formulaic nature of the compositions. Almost every riff adhere to a typical hardcore punk template of statement and altered repetition. This is not necessarily a bad method, but since the songs remain circular this trick becomes old exceedingly fast. Attempts are made to break up the monotony with interludes and contrasting sections, but seldom do the songs move beyond binary modes of development. It’s as if the band has become too confident with their sound to even bother lifting the compositions to the next level.

Regardless of its flaws, Ankou and the Death Fire trumps almost every contemporary black metal release on the strength of its strong correlation between concept and applied aesthetics. Black Funeral stands on threshold of creating a masterpiece here, and one can only hope that they will fulfill their potential next time.

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17 thoughts on “Black Funeral – Ankou and the Death Fire (2016)”

  1. S.C. says:

    There is great potential on many of this band’s recordings but I wonder if it’s even possible for Michael Ford to fully realize it. I tried to read one of his books and it was damn near unreadable. He had zero focus and he constantly repeated ideas (and the book most clearly had not passed through any editor’s hands). It seems he has an actual solid kmowledge base of what he was trying to talk about, but no ability to convey it in a coherent manner. I think his music is exponentially greater, but i think his writing helps to paint a bigger picture of what he is actually capable of as an artist in general.

    1. Spinal says:

      Although I have admittedly not read any of mr Ford books, I can imagine him being more of an artist than a “thinker”.

      1. S.C. says:

        You only need to see the first page to kmow you’re in for some serioisly nonsensical autistic ramblings. I couldn’t make it far through the book I had. It was genuinely painful.

          1. S.C. says:

            Truly quite bad

  2. Bra Burning Womynist says:

    Don’t go to Michael Ford’s YouTube channel or risk having Black Funeral ruined forever.

    1. S.C. says:

      Haha yeah… He tries so hard though. He gets a participation ribbon for effort.

      1. Takes a true esoteric to realize verbal communication is trivial when you abandon its symbols and shit lol

        1. S.C. says:

          Yeah great point. The symbols are designed to be interpereted individually and internalized through years of secluded study. Conversations on such should really only take place between those who have already unlocked the meanings.

    2. Mutilated Penis says:

      This made me convert to Judaism, the only true evil.

  3. Chad shilldinger says:

    “Pseudo-folkish melodies” – not a helpful description

    No use in describing the project as a “band” – Ford has not worked with the same musicians for more than 1-2 albums, though he is planning to work with Azgorh again.

    One, maybe two riffs on the album sound related to hardcore punk at all.

    1. Rainer Weikusat says:

      One, maybe two riffs on the album sound related to hardcore punk at all.

      He didn’t write “sound related to hardcore” but “constructed in a hardcore-way”. This I can’t judge (and I probably shouldn’t be writing this but – hey – I’ve cleaned all of my floor and washed the dishes, only some clothes left to do and cooking a dinner and it’s only 03:32am!) however, the description was accurate: This (the part I listened to) is a sequence of two-part riffs with the first part usually being an interesting melodylet and the second a trivial modification of that, downshifted and and keeping the rhythm of the first part of that (much longer than the second) and the second some kind of ostinato variation of the first second part (this makes 2 parts composed of 2 smaller parts).

      A term used round here which seems to fit: carnival music.

    2. Johan P says:

      (I’m having some issues with the reply-function here so my apologies if this appears multiple times).

      1. Many of the guitar’s melodies resemble folk music, hence the term.

      2. Rainer explained this very well above. This type of riffing is of course not exclusive to hardcore punk, but there are many examples of it in that genre.

      3. Should we refer to Bathory and Burzum as projects as well then?

      1. Chad shilldinger says:

        Since so few of these riffs resemble the genre, it seems misleading to describe them in that way. If I had not heard the album already I would have thought they were haphazardly constructed. They have a nuanced vocality to them- not too dissimilar to medieval or renaissance music. It is worth noting Azgorgh’s treatment of 4ths and 5ths here – not midlessly moving power chords around.

        Initially I objected to the term “band” because you had proposed that they were overly confident and this was in fact the first recording they had made together. However, I do realize that Azgorgh has been making (a lot of) metal for over a decade and this might actually have some validity. Which brings up some questions relating to how this album was made.

        We do see on the liner notes that it was recorded on two different continents and that Azgorgh had written all of the compositions. Did Ford write the lyrics first and send them, or maybe give a vague idea about the concept he intended for each track? If even that?

        Anyways, I find this far better than any of Drowning the Light’s work that I have heard, however it was assembled- even in the individual riffs themselves.

        @1st commenter: Had thought that carnival music meant that it was odd/ strange/ fast for the sake of entertainment?

  4. Concerned Reader says:

    This is truly awful.

    Come on dudes, Last Sacrament and now this??

    I am appreciating the stronger articles more recently, but when the above projects are the ones you guys deem to be on the edge of greatness and put forward as examples of hope, it calls into question everything.

    Truly depressing and feeble music.

    1. Marc Defranco says:

      Not calling you out just genuinely curious what you would offer as an alternative to the two albums? I like the last sacrament album enough but not so much this. Also I don’t think the two reviews shine so much praise on the albums just notes of what really works on them

      1. Johan P says:

        That is exactly the point with these reviews (at least mine).

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