Change is easy to spot from afar. You watch a whole continent break loose, or a planet change its orbit. The challenge is being able to spot it when you’re on that continent or planet. Is that rumble your home island floating away, or just too much Taco Bell?
Lately the underground has been changing again, as it has in the past. First, a number of people seem to be recognizing that for the last couple years, something has shifted. The quality of releases is better, and the nu-core/indie/alt-metal/shoe-gaze just doesn’t attract the throngs. I blame Beherit, War Master, Profanatica, Blaspherian, Imprecation, Birth A.D. and others for bringing back old styles with new voices.
Next, there’s renewed interest in older formats of music. Cynics will say this is just hipsters, but it’s too big for that. It’s almost like a generalized reaction to the impermanence of MP3s and the lack of control you have if Amazon or iTunes decides to delete your profile for blasphemy.
Like vinyls, zines have an appeal. It’s not that they are somehow more effective than the internet at spreading information. Rather, like vinyl, their saving grace is that they’re less convenient. This creates a big pyramid between bands and fans where multiple people filter the thousands of possibilities down to fifty pages in a zine or 15 LP choices in a distro or record store. They reduce the amount of chaotic information and give you more options, ironically, as a result.
It might be this is all in my head (dead brain cells). But there’s something in the air. It’s not just fall, which we’ll get in Texas in another three months. It’s a sweeping change, what they call a “sea change” in the elite newspapers. After fifteen years of dormancy while the imitations swept in and appropriated what others had created, metal is bouncing back. And it’s bringing back the old ways.
Third-wave black metal band Marduk and legendary brutal Swedish death metal band Grave will be joining Death Wolf and Valkyrja on a European tour. Marduk, perhaps most famous for its fast melodic ode to the unknown Opus Nocturne, will headline all dates on the “Panzer Division Marduk 2013” tour.
For those who experienced early death metal, Grave is well-known for 1991’s Into the Grave, a dark and primitive Swedish death metal journey that straddled the line between dark death metal, brutal death metal and primal grindcore. Among metalheads of the day, not owning a copy of this seminal release was like not owning shoes.
This European tour sees these bands join forces for raw energy through intense speed and solemn but vicious riff attack, which is how each has distinguished itself in the past. European metal brothers and sisters are lucky to experience this unrestrained assault of sonic power.
The resurgence of early 90’s flavored death metal has been steadily picking up in recent years. Spain’s Oniricous attempts to jump aboard the same death-wagon, however by injecting a bit more bounce and melody to set themselves apart.
At first glance I was expecting something similar to Sadistic Intent, but as more riffs progressed I realized that the source material is very much akin to Death’s Leprosy/Spiritual Healing (occasional dabbling of progressive riffing) or Massacre’s From Beyond.
Most of the songs are done in the same format, thus tend to run together and have no song that stands out. After my first listen I felt as if I had just watched a reunited Massacre play on Telemundo. All of the aspects are here to mold into a worthwhile outfit, but there isn’t too much replay value if you judge Ritos Diabolicos based solely on the material that’s presented.
Despite the pitfalls, fans of early Tampa death metal will enjoy Oniricous for being a trip down memory lane. Most of the elements that popularized bands like Death and Massacre are present in Ritos Diabolicos.
Blackhearts is a new film about black metal after Norway in the 1990s, focusing on world black metal in the present day and how it is different from the original integral genre.
This is welcome news for those who were thinking “Aw, geez, do we need another film to tread ground well-covered by Lords of Chaos and Until the Light Takes Us?” You won’t have to suffer through a re-tread of the now-familiar early 1990s soap opera because it’s not mentioned in the movie, despite Blackhearts being the production of a Norwegian film crew.
Christian Falch, producer of Blackhearts, took the time to give us some answers to the burning questions that metal fans may have regarding this new movie.
You are the producer of the movie Blackhearts. Can you tell us what the movie is about?
I’m the producer and I co-write the script (documentaries actually do have scripts too…) with the director Fredrik Horn Akselsen. We both work for the Norwegian production company Gammaglimt AS.
Blackhearts is basically a feature length documentary about the profound impact that Norwegian black metal has had on the lives of fans and artists throughout the world. As you know, this genre has a lot of dedicated followers.
We have three main protagonists in the documentary. They are all really passionate and dedicated fans with their own black metal bands. One of them is a member of parliament in Greece, the other one is risking everything for the music because it is strictly forbidden where he lives: Iran. The third is a truly devoted Colombian Satanist. In the documentary we want to explore why black metal is so special to them and what the fascination is all about.
The story of black metal has been told a number of times, most notably through Lords of Chaos and Until the Light Takes Us. What is your documentary doing that these other sources have not?
First of all, our film will not deal with the events in the past, but rather look at the situation today. The storytelling in Blackhearts happens as the story of our different characters evolve, so this is not something retrospective, but we get do follow our three protagonists in several exciting episodes throughout the film.
I also want to mention that this documentary is being made for a wide, international audience, not only metal fans. Therefore we deal with universal topics like passion, politics, religion and dreams — of course everything still is about black metal. A great mix of everything a good documentary needs if you ask me.
Do you think it has taken us — Norway, the West and/or humanity in general — almost a generation to absorb what black metal was about?
In this documentary we will have a close look on how different cultures, religions, political situations and so on deals with the black metal phenomena. The fascinating thing is that it varies a lot! Here in Norway, the government pays black metal bands to record their albums and at the same time they would not mind flogging you for listening to Mayhem in Iran…
There are still a lot of different opinions around when it comes to what black metal is all about — and that is exactly what we want to explore and learn more about in this film.
Following up on the third question: what was black metal “about”? Do musical genres have ideals? Are those always clearly articulated? Is there a benefit in not articulating them like we articulate science and politics?
That’s a good but difficult question to answer. In my opinion black metal was about making atmospheric music with a hint of opposition to the society in general — the media (and some of the artists) made a great impact when it comes to defining the ideals behind it, but I believe that every individual had a personal, and therefore different, motivation to join the scene. I’m not a fan of putting the same ideological label on every individual or band just because they play black metal.
Speaking of politics, how are you going to deal with tricky subjects like Varg Vikernes and his political beliefs which I don’t trust myself to summarize, the murders of homosexuals by black metal musicians, the church burnings and the numerous statements of adoration for National Socialism and Stalinism by black metal musicians?
As I mentioned, we won’t go deep into the dark and difficult past of this genre, but of course we need to mention what happened and how it influenced the scene (and it still does). We would like to show that the black metal scene is more varied than most people think. We will do our best to deal with this subject as fairly as possible.
What do you think made black metal different from other forms of heavy metal, both musically and in idea?
For me, the difference is in the atmosphere, the way you feel when you listen to black metal, the images that appears in my mind…I don’t need to go into musical terms, it is the feeling of the music that makes black metal special. The idea of it all is of course to be more extreme than heavy metal and other subgenres. That’s really nothing I personally need to enjoy a good black metal band, but I have to admit that the myths surrounding some of the bands and artists attracted me in the first place, many years ago — and I still think it continues to attract new fans to this day.
Are you going to cover other extreme metal activity in Norway, like death metal bands such as Cadaver and Molested?
Unfortunately not. We simply don’t have the time to do that. Our focus will be more or less strictly on black metal. The only exception might be the appearance of Destructhor from Myrkskog and Morbid Angel.
You are apparently the metalhead among the production group. What got you into heavy metal? Do you still listen to it? Why do you like it, and what makes it relevant to you?
I’m the only metalhead in the crew…as with many fans of my generation it started with Guns ‘n Roses, hahaha, but it did not take long before I discovered other bands with more hard hitting music and once you start enjoying this kind of music it makes you start looking for the next band that takes it to a more extreme level and that’s how it goes I guess.
I still listen to all kinds of metal amongst other things, but I’m not very good at keeping up to date with all the new bands and releases. To me, music, and especially black metal is something personal and special. I don’t feel the need to share it with anyone else or even speak about it. Black metal is the little luxury I enjoy alone when there are no other distractions around. I should also mention that there is a lot of crappy black metal bands out there, guess I’m picky when it comes to this genre.
Where is Blackhearts in terms of production? When will we be able to see it? Will it be in theatres or online? How much interest does The Movie IndustryTM have in a film like this?
We have been working for two years with this documentary already and we have about 50% of the material shot. The timing of the release all depends on the financial situation of the project in the time to come, but for sure people would be able to see it sometime during 2015. We are planning a massive release on all platforms including cinema, festivals, TV and of course DVD and online.
To this day we have experienced an impressive amount of interest from distributors, international co-producers, TV broadcasters, film institutes and so on. I am really happy about this because it makes it possible for us to make this film on the level of quality I think it deserves. As far as I know, there is no documentary on black metal out there with the approach we are doing so there is a wide range of possible scenarios for the finalization and release of the finished film.
I guess the biggest question for all of us is “why”: why did black metal come about, why was it so violent, and why does it fascinate us today. Does your film address these whys?
This is the core of the film. It is a difficult question to answer, but this is why I wanted to do this film in the first place — to find out why this weird, hate promoting genre is so incredible fascinating. Hopefully we are able to understand it a bit more after seeing the finished film.
Can you tell us more about the format of the film? Is it interviews, or a narrative, or a mixture of both? Will you use black metal music in the film?
The film will be character driven. In other words, we will follow the people in real life situations and all of them have their own story that we are in the process of filming at the moment. There might be some interviews as well, but not like one would expect from a typical documentary. For example: in Blackhearts we meet an Iranian, Sina. He is the only black metal artist in his country. We first get to know him at home in Tehran, then we follow him to Norway as he is about to do his first ever live concert at the Inferno festival. Then comes the tricky part — can he ever go back home to Iran after promoting what some people consider to be blasphemy on stage?
Through following Sina’s story we will get to learn more about how strong the passion for black metal can be and how the music is still provoking authorities around the world. This is just one example and I can promise we have more fascinating stories too!
When it comes to the music in the film, people should not expect to hear lots of it, but of course it’s there when we show scenes from concerts etc. A treat for all black metal fans (and for me) is that the one and only Snorre Ruch has composed music specially for this documentary.
Last but not least, can you tell us about yourself, not necessarily as formal as a CV but a bit about film, how you came to love it, and how you came to be a movie producer.
I work as a full time documentary producer on several different films. Most of them are related to the second world war or religion and music. This is of course all topics that I am really interested in on a personal level. I never really loved films more than the next guy, but I ended up producing music videos and documentaries because it brought me to places and people that I never would have met under “normal” circumstances.
I have been doing it for the ten years now and I’m liking it more and more as time passes. One of the last documentaries I produced is called The Exorcist in the 21st Century and it has been doing quite well, specially in the US. We got unique access to one of the top exorcists in the Vatican and we followed him around the world as he was doing his thing. Therefore I have seen a about one dozen exorcism rituals being performed.
Since this interview will mostly be read by metal fans, I can reveal that the demon that reveals itself during the rituals we filmed sounded like Maniac from Mayhem at times, hahaha!
Do you remember Souper Salads? It was a buffet place where you could dump all the soup and salad ingredients you could eat into your bowl and then pig out. Black and Blood is sort of like that with various shades of death metal, speed metal and heavy metal riffs. In that, it more resembles the South American scene than Boston, where it’s putatively from.
The review cheat sheet for this album describes it as half old school death metal and half Norwegian black metal. That’s not quite correct: it’s mostly mid-period death metal in the Suffocation Pierced from Within and Death Symbolic model mixed with melodic death metal riffs from guitar-heavy bands like Carcariass, set to the song format of stadium heavy metal. The result is a tour through the years of heavy metal with a guide who clearly enjoys the process.
Soul Remnants songs stick together on pure gut feeling. No complex theory here but riffs tied together for maximum contrast when necessary, but otherwise, a feeling of organically interrelated pieces. Underneath that there’s intense blasting and strong linear basslines, giving this a feeling of power. Black and Blood borrows most intensely from stadium heavy metal of the 1980s, building up these songs like power ballads and giving them some emotional intensity.
Vocals are modern death metal as is the tendency to mix and match riffs, but within that format the heavy metal breathes through and takes over. What emerges from this ferment is a listening experience that evokes the greatness of metal in a humble but energetic way. The resulting product is a flow of interesting guitar work that, while often allusive to past metal genres, keeps enough of its own voice to carry its own songs.
What do musicians do when the drive to create has vanished?
When the label is clamoring for something new, does the band bow down and fulfill the request, or do they uphold standards? Black metal in particular has struggled with these questions for over a decade, with a myriad of responses. Some have chosen to retreat completely, seeking refuge in the wild.
Some have become exasperated with the genre, turning to electronic music before returning in glory. Others have waged war on modernity, risking well-being in pursuit of these goals. However, the greatest number have bowed to the wishes of the crowd and released a product that was quickly forgotten, which is where Satyricon’s self-titled album falls.
Embodying all that is lazy and lethargic, Satyricon is an excellent example of modern black metal ethos. Black metal only on the surface, the album is musically a hard rock/heavy metal album designed for max promotional appeal. Simple riffs with obvious sequencing, simple implementation, and solid production produce a well-shaped package that undoubtedly will allow the band to increase its commercial influence.
Sounding like a tribute to Fallen-era Burzum‘s minor-chord noodling but lacking even what little sense of spirit that album possessed, the band chucks in references to pop and blues cliches as if the label funded a study aimed at producing the most cookie-cutter album conceivable, then shared the results to the band…and let’s not delve into the collaboration with Sivert Høyem.
There is nothing here for readers of this site to enjoy, except for the more morbid members among us. This album goes nowhere. It has nothing to impart. And perhaps most damning, it’s not even terrible. It is simply a non-entity.
Vic Records re-issues the first album of German death metal band Torchure, whose style of heavy metal infused thunderous death metal saw favorable comparison to early Therion, Morgoth and Miasma.
Formed in 1985, Torchure recorded three demo tapes and two full-length albums which were released on legendary German metal label 1MF. These albums, out of print for two decades, have been aggressively sought by collectors but nearly impossible to find.
Beyond the Veil re-issue contains two re-mastered unreleased tracks as bonus, new liner notes, rare pictures and the original album in its entirety without remaster. You can order it online from Vic Records for € 9,99 and thankfully it is not a digipak.
The spin on this one is that it was recorded in nine days, so they gave it the mentally catchy title. Sounds very indie rock, no? That’s exactly what this is. Strangelight sounds like a more technical cross between Mudhoney and Sonic Youth.
In fact, I’m baffled as to how this made it into a metal distribution list. It’s indie rock. There’s not even appreciably more distortion. It’s nicely done, with reasonable guitar melodies and vocal support, but it’s highly repetitive.
9 Days also illustrates another problem with indie rock which is that all of it expresses a single mood, which is a kind of depression mixed with wistfulness. I guess it seems profound to Tori Amos fans, but to me it just sounds like people who haven’t yet learned to approach life like they’re alive.
Strangelight do have some interesting influences. In particular, there seems to be an affinity for both British electro-pop and the stream of guitar bands from the 1970s that predated the hard rock and metal explosion. Nothing here is bad, just not particularly relevant.
Although there’s a very noodly and “progressive” surface to Azure Emote, what lies beneath the skin is a mixture of speed metal and alternative rock. That gets layered in metal riffs, jazzy guitars, industrial-style vocals and complex percussion.
The Gravity of Impermanence despite having a cool-sounding name delivers almost nothing of what we want from progressive metal, which is puzzles. Games. Brain witchcraft. Interesting twists and turns that make us look forward to another day of being alive, again.
Instead, Azure Emote deliver relatively consistent surges of volume in vocals and drums, and “unpredictability” that’s so predictable it’s like watching a dancer so bad she lunges in exactly the wrong direction at the wrong time. As if sensing this is paltry, the band experiments with extensive vocal weirdness and frequent build-up/break-down types structures.
Perhaps looking for some underground cred, Azure Emote throw in every third riff as something vaguely death metallish in the Nocturnus-Obliveon spectrum of technical riffs. However, without the context to support it, it becomes random instead of interesting.
The mysterious entity known as Empyrium has attracted its share of attention over the years by upholding the strongest nature-mystic tradition in metal, and dark ambient into which it migrated.
Like other nature mystics in metal, Empyrium expand the metal lexicon with lush dark organic soundscapes and dynamics that more represent the whims of nature than the mechanical sounds of city or ideology.
Into the Pantheon shows Empyrium in a live setting, both with a concert DVD and a documentary film made about the band and this event. Eagerly awaited by fans who remain loyal to this publicity-shy act, Into the Pantheon delivers a subtle but powerful live experience.
We were fortunate to be able to catch up with Markus Stock of Empyrium for a quick interview.
How did Empyrium come about? Did you have a concept when you went into this practice, or did it develop naturally?
When we started Empyrium back in 1993 we were just 15 year old kids and didn’t have a detailed plan or concept whatsoever at first. We just followed our heart and made music that came naturally to us…now, 20 years later, we still follow that rule, but of course we are much more experienced and skilled these days.
Were you influenced by past metal bands who’ve used acoustic instruments among the distorted guitars, like Cemetary and Pyogenesis?
Yeah, we were. I loved the first Pyogenesis MCD (on Osmose) when it came out. Big influences also were My Dying Bride, early Paradise Lost, very early Cradle Of Filth, Darkthrone and Emperor (especially their unbelievable split with Enslaved).
Some have hypothesized that metal is in a slump, and for it to break out, it’s going to need to get closer to genres like classical or folk music where there’s a greater range of instrument used, thus more musical possibilities. Did you have a similar idea in your own path?
Actually, no. Today I don’t view Empyrium as a Metal Band anymore. We have influences from many, many genres and styles of music. I think the whole “let’s mix our metal with folk/classical/hip-hop/funk/whatever” went a little overboard and today I enjoy Metal much more when it retains some purity of the genre. Nothin wrong with some classical elements or keyboards but the electric guitar and the pounding drums should be the centerpiece of a Metal Band.
Into the Pantheon is an immaculate concert with high technical performance but also emotional intensity. How did you practice for this? And how much did you just “wing it” to keep the mood strong?
We practiced alot. I wrote a score for each live musician involved so they could prepare themselve at home and then we rehearsed about a week in a smal venue that was rented for us. It was important to me to be well prepared.
Do you see an affinity between yourselves and other atmosphere based metal bands like Summoning?
Oh yes. I loved the whole Summoning stuff. I hear they made a new album I need to check that, though I find it hard to retain this kind of 90ies atmospheric today.
Most would identify your style as some kind of doom metal, like My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, but at the pace of a funeral doom band, like Skepticism or Winter. What made you choose the tempi at which you play, and what does it suggest, artistically?
Like mentioned earlier I can see influences and similarities to bands like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride in our very early works but Skepticism or Winter? Definitely no.
Empyrium has a reputation for being secretive. Are you secretive? If so, why?
No I am not. This is because we haven’t played live in more than 15 years of band history. But, I am not lurking in a cave, deep in the woods, pondering in solitude and silence over my future plans.
Metal bands seem to have this life cycle where they start out with fresh ideas, and then become more like their influences, then get big and quality plummets after that. Have you observed this? How will Empyrium beat this cycle?
We have actually finished a new album and with a break between the last album and this one of almost 10 years – believe me, if you follow your heart and do the music that comes out of you it will be fresh again.
In addition to the live concert, there was a DVD made about the band. How did this come about? What did you think of the final product?
I think it’s a nice addition to the live part of the DVD and was a lot of work. Personally I can’t see myself talking over such a long period of time but fans will definitely love the detail and the work that went into this documentay,
Once this DVD and documentary hit the stores, there’s going to be a reaction. How much does it influence you? Will it inspire you to tour, or release more music?
There will be no tour with Empyrium. A few selected live appearances but no tour. As mentioned earlier we have a new album in the pipeline to be released maybe early next year.
What are your non-musical influences? Are there works of art or literature that capture the vision you’re trying to create in sound?
Of course. Movies, literature, paintings – everything I consume inspires me. Nature and landscapes have always been a big influence on Empyrium. Past, present and future.
It must be challenging to integrate so many instruments and voices of such different loudness and timbre into your works. How do you compose your songs? Do you start with an idea, or a melody, or a riff?
It usually starts with just one theme – a small melody or a riff…from there we go and build up a song. With newer Empyrium material it’s is often that a song is based on one single theme and we go from there and build it up, let it collapse again, change small details etc. to make the theme work over the period of the song. You’ll hear that when the new album hits the streets.
In your view, what is heavy metal “about”? Does that change for doom metal?
Heavy Metal is about energy to me. Wild, touching, deep and archaic emotions at the same. As mentioned earlier, I don’t see Empyrium as a Metal band – we are more about the silence and the thoughts that come to you in silence. It’s much more introverted versus the the extroverted spirit of Metal.