Metal as transcendent sublime

Death metal, like Autopsy or Deicide, really is bizarrely brutal—one of the least-accessible forms of high-decibel torture ever to try to pass itself off as popular music. But once you move into other extreme metal subgenres, like black and doom, you face an uncomfortable truth. A lot of this music isn’t exactly aggressive or off-putting. Instead, it’s … kind of pleasant. Soothing, even.

Ukranian black-metal horde Drudkh, for example, may ideologically flirt with quasi-fascist nationalism, but musically they’re no more offensive than My Bloody Valentine or Sigur Ros. Drudkh is loud, certainly. But its loudness is lyrical and sweeping—less remorseless assault than transcendent sublime. – The Atlantic

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Hipsters invading metal

All the world is rock ‘n’ roll.

The West used it during the Cold War to seduce the Eastern Bloc population, making them want a Western lifestyle and pressure their governments in myriad ways.

You can’t go more than ten feet in public without hearing it, in stores, from cars, in commercials, hummed by other people.

Metal is not rock ‘n’ roll. Where rock relies on static riffs and returns, metal is narrative music shaped together out of interlocking riffs, much like soundtrack music or Scandinavian folk.

The problem is that when you mix the two, you cannot reconcile those extremes, so you end up with one flavored with the other. The result is a lack of focus.

For their upcoming album, out this fall on Century Media, the Twilight lineup will consist of Moore, Judd, producer Sanford Parker, Stavros Giannopoulos from the Atlas Moth, Wrest of Leviathan, and Imperial from Krieg. Judd told the 1st Five that he hopes to get Isis’ Aaron Turner, Lichens’ Rob Lowe, and Malefic of Xasthur to also contribute. – Pitchfork

I have owned Sonic Youth albums in the past, and think more highly than average of them than of your regular ol’ rock band. Nonetheless, what Thurston Moore does is create indie rock, and indie rock is incompatible with metal.

There are many things in this world, but few are unique. Metal is a truly unique perspective. Outsiders see in it only rebellion and taboo-breaking. Inside, it’s more complex.

When you replace unique things with hybrids of the norm and that unique thing, you destroy the uniqueness and replace it with conformity.

Indie rock is still rock music. Much as the music of 1968 was rebellious in its day, but now is mainstream enough to show up in blue chip commercials, the indie rock of the 1990s is mainstream at this point.

That isn’t an insult or a moral judgment, but a fact of history.

Do you want to be assimilated into the same stuff as everything else, or keep a unique viewpoint that because it is not the same, may have a perspective others have lost?

That’s the dilemma before metal right now.

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Metal Zines

Set your TARDIS to go back to the 1980s or early 1990s. There is no public internet; dial-up bulletin boards are not yet widely known. Your only source of news is either the mainstream, or tiny xeroxed magazines published by citizen volunteers.

Zines were the only source of news about underground metal for a long time. Knitted together by a postal network of letter-writers and tape traders, they united bands and fans for a genre that was too small and too alienated for the mainstream press.

We’ve put together an archive of metal zines from the classic period. It’s a free text directory tree, so there’s no fancy navigation, just the raw PDFs and JPGs themselves.

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Why don’t metalheads have power?

Bruno of Katornas writes:

Saturday – 3:10AM @ 32Degrees(C) – link below is an epitome of a successful person raking millions of money! she’s 36, and with all the millions she’s earning – she could manipulate mankind in a snap! I’m in my early 30s now and I’m back to level 1 here in first world! I could have been living here last 2002 but to my regret, I did chose the wrong path and that is by : SELLING CDs and WASTED MY LIFE packing orders for about 11 years!

playing satanic music to fight christianity??? hail satan??? those were brainless!! how about desecrating cemeteries to “scare” christians?? are they scared?? let’s face it : the only way for you to defeat christianity is to make christians stop believing on it! and the only way to do that is to have lots and lots of money!! I mean BIG MONEY!!! you’re in control of everything! do you really think your evil corpsepainted heroes are earning big “playing” their shit touring and gigging in wacken?? think AGAIN!!

Qourthon re-defined Black Metal, invented Viking Metal, made a million of followers all over the world and so what??? he died a lonely man! worst thing is someone even compared him to Whitney Houston explaining the difference between the two!! that’s literally FUCK UP!!

who else? schuldiner?? dio?? those people’s legacy were remembered but anything else?? however, try to look this up: Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, etc – those people defines POWER!!

if you’re happy with your life getting drunk, getting wild in your room while listening LOUD to Bathory’s “Massacre” (not that I’m complaining… don’t get me wrong I’ve done my fair share here), then be stagnated in where you are at! happy with your mere salary while making someone else rich??? then be stagnated in where you are at! I can’t imagine bands like the “big four” still exist. I’ve met ellefson and mustaine last february and all I can say is that they’re happy where they’re at. btw, sorry no pics uploaded; not a metal fan boy here…

reaching 50 years of age playing the same shit over and over again for the next 20-30 years!! those guys got money but where are they spending it?? buying guitars?? buying cars?? anyone of you here knows Manny Pacquiao??? that son of a b*tch got lots of money but you know what… he’s busy buying houses, a Porsche, and a wife that is busy planning for her next liposuction! unbelievable! that’s just TOO HUMAN!! If I’m having money like that I will build my own private army and get ready for what it should be! maybe investing it building a bombshelter buried 3000 feet under the ground, who knows…

so how much more for a struggling evil black metal band who seeks attention by worshiping satan and making literally USELESS NOISE any retard is capable of doing??? well you can cry for satan but that’s just won’t work! you can cry for money but it won’t come to you like the fantasy world gives you…

money defines power! POWER GIVEN BY DRAGON – MOUTH OF A LION – BEAST FROM THE SEEEEEEEEEE??? haha, yeah… I’ve WASTED MY LIFE doing that garbage but I’m still in my early 30s and it’s never too late to rake more money and do the plan and put it into action! in my country alone; money can deny justice, money can make you kill a dozen of people and simply get away with it! so… SHOULD I EXPLAIN MYSELF MORE?

last winter I’ve met a guy and he plays drums and trust me, he’s the USELESS PERSON I’ve ever met! talking about “metal collection” all day?? beer?? eating chips?? jamming?? he doesn’t even have a job to support himself but an allowance from the government!! WHAT KIND OF A STUPID LIFE IS THAT!!! no offense to all of the people around here but it’s a different path now, so…

it doesn’t matter who you are and what religion are you into as long as you bring misery to mankind YOU HAVE MY SUPPORT!! a few months ago, another flyer was posted here and it was like a METALHEAD and a CHRISTIAN PRIEST. the funny thing is that, all the support goes to the LONGHAIRED GUY and no one likes the priest because he’s sinking his dick into kids! and I remember a line like this: “who is the real monster now????” LAUGHING MY FUCKING ASS OFF, hahaaaa!!

I thought “metalheads” wanted to be evil all the time??? people don’t like varg because he’s a murderer and he’s burning churches, boooohoooo! some even called him gay because the guy’s good looking, played casios, and not the typical MONGOLOID LOOKING METALHEAD posing with POINTY GUITARS and a boatload of SPIKES! varg killed someone by stabbing his head, burned down SEVERAL (not just one) churches in norway and someone in the internet calling him “gay”, that’s hilarious…

ARE YOU HAPPY WITH YOUR LIFE???
killing yourself is not the solution but someone else…
think again and do something relevant/irrelevant…
change is essential, take the risk, playing safe is stagnation…
MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL and EMBRACING EVIL IS POWER!!!

He makes a good point.

People who are into metal are not big supporters of modern society.

We can either drop-out, and wage a fantasy war in our own apartments, or get powerful and be effective.

The more emotional someone is, the more likely they are to do the former and not the latter.

But only the latter gets results.

Bruno’s best paragraph:

playing satanic music to fight christianity??? hail satan??? those were brainless!! how about desecrating cemeteries to “scare” christians?? are they scared?? let’s face it : the only way for you to defeat christianity is to make christians stop believing on it! and the only way to do that is to have lots and lots of money!! I mean BIG MONEY!!! you’re in control of everything!

In contrast to what the underground has become, now that its music is popular — drop-out and fantasy LARP (about metal) central:

last winter I’ve met a guy and he plays drums and trust me, he’s the USELESS PERSON I’ve ever met! talking about “metal collection” all day?? beer?? eating chips?? jamming?? he doesn’t even have a job to support himself but an allowance from the government!! WHAT KIND OF A STUPID LIFE IS THAT!!!

Metalheads, stoners, and other drop-outs do not make change. They complain. Sometimes beautifully, but those days seem gone now. What’s left is the failed, and it justifies its failure with more alienation.

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Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities, ed. by Troy Southgate


Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities
Edited by Troy Southgate
200 pages, Black Front Press, $20

From the snow-covered environs of Norway and secluded graveyards of England to the dark forests of Germany and remote woodlands of Poland and Ukraine, an unstoppable Black Metal beast has dominated the extreme end of the musical scale for more than two decades.

Black Metal is an aesthetic, an emotion, an attitude and, for many, a way of life. Exposing the inner workings of your delicate eardrums to unbridled screams of primeval fury, an unending torrent of galloping rhythms and indomitable wall of buzzing guitars is like being thrown head-first into the whirling eye of a chthonic vortex. Black Metal can be disturbing, invigorating, provoking and empowering. One persistent and enduring image that is often associated with Black Metal is that of semi-comedic corpse-paint, futile church-burnings and Satanic ritual; but the genre itself can often take on a decidedly political and cultural form and many of its exponents have controversial views and opinions that are frequently overlooked by the commentators of the underground music industry.

We aim to examine some of those tendencies in Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities. Ever since Varg Vikernes was courting media headlines for all the wrong reasons, Black Metal – like a fine wine, perhaps – has matured a great deal. The steady process of counter-cultural ripening has led to the formation of various sub-genres, among them Viking Metal, Progressive Black Metal, Blackened Death Metal, Symphonic Black Metal and National Socialist Black Metal.

So whether you like your Black Metal traditional and ground-breaking like Venom, Bathory and Hellhammer; raw and brutal like Mayhem, Emperor and Immortal; slick and polished like Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir and Old Man’s Child; or politically controversial like Graveland, Drudkh and Absurd; this book is for you.

Contributors include:

  • Troy Southgate
  • Tony ‘The Demolition Man’ Dolan (Venom/Atomkraft/M-Pire of Evil)
  • Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn (Venom/Mantas/M-Pire of Evil)
  • Hendrik Möbus (Absurd)
  • Alex Kurtagic (Supernal Records)
  • Jarl von Hagall (Der Stürmer)
  • Alexander Wieser (Uruk-Hai)
  • William Vithólf (Fanisk)
  • Gareth Giles (Hrafnblóð)
  • Matt Kay (Wodfreca Records)
  • Vijay Prozak/DeathMetal.org
  • Elena Semenyaka
  • Erik Proft
  • Smierc Polarstern
  • Neil Hiatt
  • Nils Wegner
  • Chris G. Hicks

Signed copies of Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities are now available to pre-order. The book will be around 200 pages in length and costs just £15 with free postage to anywhere in the world. The Paypal address is:

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Interview: Brian N. Russ (BNR Metal Pages)

When the Internet first became commercially available, there was no information on metal available save a handful of ASCII files and Megadeth, Arizona. A few brave souls challenged that by writing about metal and thus creating an information stream focused on the art, and not the marketing of the art as was all other information on the topic, having a corporate origin (this condition continues today, with the added complexity that most metal sites simply repeat said corporate information and slap the label “underground” on it). One of these brave souls was Brian N. Russ, who created BNR Metal Pages with a simple mission: to reflect his opinions about the better metal bands out there. Over the years, millions have read and loved this site for its simplicity and candor. Brian was kind of enough to come by the ANUS command bunker and chat a bit about his motivations, methods and metallic ambitions…

What inspired you to start the site, and what made you think, “I’ll do a database, instead of a reviews or pictures site”?

First, I’ve always had a mind for statistics and trivia, in both music and other areas (for example, sports statistics and fantasy football), so coming up with a database and learning all sorts of useless facts about bands fascinated me. As it turns out, when I was in graduate school in the mid-eighties, one of my programming projects was implementing a database, and in fact I used some of my metal knowledge back then as testing data. Long after that was done, I continued accumulating data, without really knowing what to do with it until the WWW sprouted up in the mid-nineties. Finally, I noticed at the time (as well as now) there are many more well-done reviews sites than database sites (though some other good database sites have come online in recent years), so I thought I could develop my own little niche in the metal world.

What was the hardest part of getting it going? Did you face any technical hurdles back then?

Once I learned simple HTML, the process of generating the pages from my database was pretty straightforward. And back in the early days before everyone had a .com place to host their stuff, I had an affiliation with my university, and they allowed me to host the pages there, which was very easy to do. So, there weren’t a lot of technical hurdles there. My struggles have usually been trying to find ways to keep the site looking good — not too plain, not too flashy. I don’t have an artistic background, so it’s hard to make the site look just the way I might like it.

What’s your own favorite era and genre of metal? Has this changed over the years?

The 80’s will probably always be my favorite era of metal. Of course, I’m not talking about the popular view of 80’s metal (glam/hair stuff), but the 80’s was when metal was still new to me — there were so many new bands with new sounds to listen to. So, from a nostalgia point of view, that era will always be my favorite.

As for favorite genre, right now my favorite bands are often the ones that don’t neatly fit into any one genre. When some talks about a metal band and uses phrases like “eclectic” or “avant-garde”, I am interested. This might be partially because I’ve heard everything else for so long, and/or because that’s what my tastes have evolved to, for whatever reason. In general, I’m not sure any one genre really stands above the others to me, though some (doom and thrash, perhaps) might be slightly above others.

You have been accepting of Christian metal bands while most other metal sites are not. Can you tell us a bit more about your philosophy of defining Christian metal as a separate genre? (Note: this is not an adversarial question – I think something “objectively” vital will emerge from it)

To me, it’s really the music itself that defines a musical genre more than lyrics. Therefore, bands with Christian lyrics are really no more or no less “metal” than bands with non-Christian lyrics. I’m not a Christian in the church-going sense, but I see no reason to disregard Christian bands just based on their image. Along those same lines, I find it slightly disturbing that certain Christian bands/fans isolate themselves from the secular world. I’ve found some Christian bands to have good things to say lyrically (which is great), and others that seem to be using their music solely as a marketing/recruiting tool (which isn’t great), but even those bands in the latter group still should be considered metal if they sound like metal.

To be more specific about your question, I don’t really consider Christian metal its own genre. I list it as such on my site, but only for convenience for readers, who read about a particular band and may wish to find others in the same vein. But really, it shouldn’t be a separate genre. I’d rather refer to Stryper as a pop metal band and Tourniquet as a thrash/death band rather than just calling them Christian bands.

What, in your mind, defines metal, and differentiates it from other popular music genres?

First, as I alluded to above, it’s not the lyrics. To me, it’s the “image”, but not image in the lyric or visual sense. There is a certain mood that is conveyed with most metal bands, a dark (I’d almost use the word “evil” here, but that’s a bit too simplistic) mood that resonates from metal. I’m anything but dark, evil, or angry, but yet it’s those moods that fascinate me about metal music. Certainly, though, there are bands that are on the fringes of what is commonly accepted as metal, and so it’s difficult to impossible to define metal just by listing bands that play it.

How often do you update the site, and what tools do you use (ex: Notepad)?

I now update the site roughly once a week. As it now stands, the information itself resides in several text files (representing, in a sense, crude database files, derived from the programs I wrote ages ago that I talked about above), and I edit those using vi, the UNIX programming editor that I learned so many years ago and still use in my profession (as a software developer) now. I’ve written programs/scripts that have evolved over the years, but whose function is the same — read the text files and output HTML. After that, it’s just a matter of packaging up the files (winzip) and uploading them to the site. Thankfully, this part of the process is far less time-consuming than writing the band descriptions and so forth.

Do you have any idea how many people visit on an average day? Do hits pick up over the weekend?

Unfortunately, no. This is partially due to my dissatisfaction with my current web provider, as I have had difficulties with them in regards to bandwidth/disk space issues and providing me with useful administrative tools. Though, to be fair, I just haven’t had the time to go back to them and sort the whole thing out, so as long as the site is up, I’m happy. I need to rectify this someday.

You tend to write summaries of a band’s sound, ideas and history all wrapped into one, then list albums with data only. Why did you decide to use this highly-efficient format, instead of writing about each CD individually?

It wasn’t really by design, it just sort of ended up that way. When the site first went online (1995), the reviews were a bit more personal and less information/history based, and over time I’ve adjusted it to be more objective. If I had more time, I’d probably broaden the descriptions to discuss individual CDs more in depth.

Looking at your top ten lists, it seems your tastes vary widely within the genre. What else do you listen to besides metal? What do you look for in a metal band that makes it a winner for you?

Actually, I rarely listen to anything other than metal, at least as far as buying non-metal albums goes. There are a couple of exceptions, and I’ll throw out two bands that I’ve enjoyed before — Crystal Method and Portishead. To me, though, the range of metal styles is so great that I can listen to bands from across the board and not feel like I’m “just” listening to metal all the time.

As I mentioned above, bands that are off the beaten path are often winners for me. That’s not an absolute — there are some bands that (though original and unique) don’t appeal to me, and there are a few completely unoriginal bands that somehow click. But after listening to metal for so long, it’s the bands that are pushing boundaries that I usually like best. A great example is the band you’re just about to ask about…

I’m bummed as hell to hear that Kong disbanded. Do you think there’s a value in listing such obscure bands alongside mainstream ones, and do you know of any people who’ve gotten into them from your review and listing?

I think there is such a value, and yes, I have received emails from people who read about Kong on my site, checked them out, and thanked me for the recommendation. That’s a great feeling. It is too bad they broke up, though their direction on the later releases led me to believe they probably wouldn’t last forever. The best bands never do…

You seem to like hardcore, but not metalcore. Is there a reason?

I’m not really a fan of either. It’s mostly just that I don’t like that vocal style. I used to dislike most extreme vocal styles, but over time I’ve come to accept death growls and even like black metal singing, but monotonous shouting just doesn’t do it for me. This gets back to the mood that one hears/feels when listening to metal — two words that at least begin to describe metal moods are “evil” and “angry”, and for me personally, I greatly prefer the former mood in the music I listen to.

Do you feel it is possible for bands to “sell out”? If so, “how”?

I think it is possible, but I don’t think it happens nearly as often as many seem to believe. Every time a band comes out with an album that changes their style even slightly from their previous work, accusations of sellouts are everywhere. I just don’t think that’s usually the case. To my mind, if you’re a musician who likes and plays a particular form of music (you might even attain some level of success with that music), and then you radically change your music with the sole purpose of making money, then you’re selling out. If a band explicitly and obviously jumps on the current bandwagon to follow whatever trend is in vogue that day, that can be selling out. But it’s difficult to prove one’s motivations. Let’s say I play in a traditional thrash band, and my new album comes out, and it’s a metalcore album, which just so happens to be the thing to do right now. Am I selling out? Maybe, maybe not. It’s certainly possible and reasonable that I enjoy this new metalcore music, and my own new music reflects that. If that’s the case, that’s not really a sellout. So I’m sure it happens, but it’s probably not as prevalent as the accusers would have you think.


Where do you think metal will go, once black metal finishes fading away and metalcore is no longer trendy?

For some time I had guessed that electronica and programming and industrial influences would become more prevalent. It still might happen. I can’t say I predicted the past trends (nu-metal, grunge, metalcore), so it’s hard for me to say what the future will hold.

Do you think you’ll listen to metal your whole life? Even in the retirement home/old age?

For awhile I thought I would, and then there was a period where I figured it’d only be a matter of time before I’d move on to something else. But I think I will always listen to some form of metal, though probably not the most popular or basic forms of it.

You don’t seem to be very fond of black metal. Any reasons you’d like to give here? (Although, notably, you did pick out Enslaved to like, which suggests a sharp eye for musicality)

Actually I don’t think that’s really true. Certainly, when it first became a legitimate genre, I wasn’t on board. I’d heard a few of the early bands and thought they were sloppy. The vocals turned me off. The corpsepaint really turned me off. I pretty much ignored the bands and listened to other forms of metal. Over the last several years, I’ve changed my stance. I’m still not a fan of the real old-school raw stuff, but if you look at my recent top ten lists, you’d see several bands that at least have some basis in black metal, though perhaps not in the traditional sense. I can tell you this — I’d much rather listen to an average black metal band than an average metalcore band, or an average power metal band, or an average death metal band. Hey, just the other night I was quite enjoying newer albums by Gehenna and Carpathian Forest, so I don’t think it’s accurate to say I don’t like black metal now.

In what ways do you wish metal fans/the metal community would change? Have you been able to do anything to effect that change?

There is some close-mindedness in the metal community, and some immaturity. That’s one reason I don’t have a discussion forum on my site — every time I go read someone else’s, there are immature flame postings and the like polluting everything. I’m not sure there’s anything I can do about that…

When’s the Assuck page coming? ;)

Here’s the thing. As much as I try to be organized about how I manage the site, bands fall through the cracks. I’ll listen to a band for awhile, get the basic info researched, and for whatever reason, forget to follow through, due to the sheer number of bands I’m researching at any given time. That’s what’s happened here, as well as too many other bands for me to admit to. I’ll see if I can get it done finally!

I don’t know if this is rampantly unprofessional of me or not, but can you talk about some of the metal websites that were around during “the early days,” and what you thought of each in terms of its method of organizing information about metal?

I don’t think it’s unprofessional, but I’m honestly having a hard time remembering what sites were around in 1995. Most of the sites I look at now aren’t that old. I do remember thinking that there really wasn’t a site that really did a great job with discographies and lineups and the like. Nowadays there are other sites, bigger than mine, that do that, though I hope that my site is still relevant in that area. I probably had some complaints about cheesy graphics that some sites used (and still use), such as rotating skulls or the famous dripping-blood horizontal bar (hope I’m not stepping on toes there!).

Is your site designed to help research, or fans? Who do you envision as the average user of your site?

The best emails I’ve gotten are from nostalgic fans, who remember listening to metal long ago, somehow stumbled across my site, and went back to listen to their old albums. That’s great, though that’s probably not the typical reader. Many use my site as a reference, or as a first option toward getting an opinion on a new band. By no means do I think my opinion is best, always right, or the only opinion out there, but I’d like to believe that, given my experience and love of metal, that my opinion is worth hearing. Of course people disagree with me on certain things (most often, what bands/sub-genres do or do not belong on my site), but it wouldn’t be right if there was no disagreement.

The one most relevant [cultural factor] here is language. In general, scientific discourse adopts as its ideal univocality — one word, one meaning. Closely related to this goal is the belief that a language exists, or can be forged, that is purely instrumental. Clearly and unambiguously, it will communicate to the world what the speaker or writer intends to say. Roland Barthes (Rustle) has ironically called this the belief that science can own a slave language, docile and obedient to its demands. Anyone who has seriously studied how language works is aware, however, that it shapes even as it articulates thought. There is now an impressive body of work exploring how metaphors, narrative patterns, rhetorical structures, syntax, and semantic fields affect scientific discourse and thought…language is not a passive instrument but an active engagement with a vital medium that has its own currents, resistances, subversions, enablings, pathways, blockages. As soon as discovery is communicated through language, it is also constituted by language.

– N. Katherine Hayles, Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science, p. 5 (1991)

BNR Metal Pages
The Former Home of BNR Metal Pages

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Botswana metal

While Botswana is perhaps best known for its wildlife reserves, a burgeoning counter-culture is painting a very different image of the small south African country.

Clad in leather, adorned in spikes and topped off with cowboy hats, these are Botswana’s heavy metal heads.

CNN got up close to the hardcore rockers and discovered a passionate retro scene proudly celebrating its African heritage. – CNN

Glad to see mainstream metal coverage as metal expands to another continent! There’s an older article on Vice.

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Beherit renews black metal with “Celebrate the Dead”

After a new genre establishes itself, bands try to stand out by either mixing other genres into their music or to expand upon the original idea, increasing its complexity and depth.

Beherit launches itself into this conflict first with the triumphant Engram, which connected the generations of black metal in a concept album that paid tribute to the past while evolving it into a new form, and now with the fertile landscape of ideas Celebrate the Dead.

This vinyl release contains two songs, a version of “Demon Advance” which is mostly faithful to the version on Engram. Some areas have less distortion, and the overall sound is a bit more raw and offhand, which gives this track a slightly different atmosphere.

“Celebrate the Dead” is another story. This lengthy (16:18) track shows Beherit experimenting with a fusion between ambient music, electro-acoustic, black metal and classical forms. Like most artists of statute, the composers behind Beherit know how to separate aesthetics (surface) from composition (structure and melody). As a result, while this track is a blueprint for an ambient or dubstep song played as if it were a metal one, it reaches for the greater objective of finding a mutual language among these music types.

While popular music (pop, rock, rap, blues, jazz, disco) songs vary wildly on the surface they rely on very similar underlying structures. These structures are based on cycles, or the back-and-forth between a verse and a chorus with a few detours to keep it interesting. The purpose of music in these genres is to equalize song structure so that surface traits, like using a flute or recording underwater, stand out and become interesting.

In narrative music (metal, classical, some ambient, electronica and electro-acoustic acts) the surfaces tend to be similar across songs and albums, but underlying song structure changes to fit the topic of each song. Riffs expand upon the context of previous riffs and force re-interpretation of both, expanding the storyline just as how each new clue in a mystery changes the direction of the book.

These are more like poems than cyclic sonic wallpaper or droning consistency; in fact what makes them great is that they’re inconsistent and based on change, not maintenance of a moment. This fits with the purpose of these genres, which is to show a change in character through the course of a journey or experience, so that the starting point is different from the end, and the people involved have a new strength or vision. They emphasize the difference between the start of a journey and its end, but also the many different types of journeys.

“Celebrate the Dead” shows Beherit deciding how to integrate these two types. It wants the ritual power of black metal and its own vision of occult dubstep or electro-acoustic ceremonial music, but with the ambient version comes a dose of the cyclic and layered that excludes the narrative. Beherit tries to keep the sense of the unique journey which is inherent to black metal, and enwrap it in the layered ambient approach, and as a result produces music that is every bit as much ritual as early black metal.

The song migrates through three major movements, in which pairs of riffs transfer potential energy between each other as layers of drums, vocals, samples and keyboards are applied to build an intense tapestry of hanging sound, complete with sonic breaks and metal-style interludes. The result is a deepening experience but in its non-linearity it loses the epic power of metal’s ability to tell a tale, which is what Beherit changed with their music for the Engram LP. On that album, the narrative wins out and the layering circular style is brought in slowly.

This is rough listening. In part because this is a demo of the laptop-and-guitar type, which means that it’s not so much an organic sound as a pastiche of recorded and generated sounds. However, what will throw most people off are the vocals which are fragile and yet shamanistic, in what music reviewers call “accessible” but is more likely an experiment in the deliberately immature, unformed and intellectually curious sound that diverse musicians such as Roky Erickson and Absurd have made popular. These are the anti-slick, and while hipster pop has ruined “accessible,” their child-like honesty gives them a weight that no polished vocal could achieve.

What is most impressive about this release is that it is a pathway to future development for metal. The best of the genre, like the first Enslaved album or the longer Burzum works, tended toward a type of ambient music that used guitars but did not fall into the loop-pattern of popular music, instead preferring the epic storytelling of metal and classical. Black metal backed down from the challenge offered by albums like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and instead became a plaything, a hybrid of either indie-rock (“post-black-metal”) or a darker form of punk (“black crust”,”war metal”).

Beherit turned black metal back toward a sensible path with Engram, which cited forms and styles from the past (some in tribute to Venom and Bathory, from the sound of them) but worked those into a concept album that ended in the meditative “Demon Advance.” To include the ambitious “Celebrate the Dead” in the same album might have made it lopsided, but in this sample track we see a possibility of metal guitars and dynamic acoustics existing in a narrative style.

This release will not make it past the enthusiasts and diehards who are curious about what the most fertile minds in black metal are thinking for the future. This is a shame, as all metal musicians should study this work to find a pathway out of the current rock-style slump that grips metal, and also to find a new inspiration for connection to the ancient ways of both metal and music from time immemorial.

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The Dark End metal show

DJ Cherrysthorne brings you the Dark End metal show and The Metal Trip show every week at the following times:

  • The DarkEnd Metal Show ( Tuesdays 7-9pm EST)
    Thrash, speed, power, doom, black thrash and all kinds of 80’s metal
  • The Metal Trip Show ( Mondays 10-Midnight EST)
    Atmospheric ambient metal, progressive rock and metal, and very dark doom.

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