Defending Belus

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Article by David Rosales; read yet another (negative) contemporary review of Belus here

After an incursion into ambient metal that lasted for a few albums, Burzum was seemingly trying to make a comeback to metal instrumentation. But appearances can be deceiving, and what seems like a failed attempt at creating streamlined metal music may be, in fact, an attempt at riffing-up ambient music. There is also a hint that it is packaged into an integral release that has to be listened to as a whole. This does sound an awful lot like the premise of post-rock, and while there is a good deal of wallpaper repetition, there are also plenty of good ideas in what is the closest heir we have to Vikernes’ seclusion.

The old DMU reception of the album when it had just come out is spot on in its criticism, but much may be added that redeems this understated album. A very clear line of evolution can be traced from Det Som Engang Var through Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and the anti-black metal ambient expansion of Filosofem to Burzum’s 2010 release. For all intents and purposes, an album like Belus is the next logical step. That it cannot harness the energies of black metal while it attempts to spread like synth ambient is proof of the impermeability of distinct genres.

This shaky, middle-ground positioning was resolved marvelously with 2013’s Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, whose incomprehension by black metal fans shows it as a next filter in the practical evolution of transcendental metal as it maintains its ideals. The filters before them can be seen in the commencement of different underground metal genres, with Black Sabbath being the first obscure revolution, Slayer and Metallica on their debut leading the second, and the waves of speed-going-on-black as intermediary steps towards the third explosion of death metal, which in its technical fetish gave way to the more musical black metal. The next great purge takes place after 1995 as several of the best black metal musicians lean heavily towards minimalist ambient-focused projects, which in some cases turn into affairs that are more electronic than metal in instrumentation (Beherit’s Electric Doom Synthesis is one of the crown jewels of this very select group).

Weakened as it is in its most objective sense, the soft, layered and simple cadences and droning melodies unique to Vikernes’ mind are still more full and less candy-coated than the likes of Drudkh. And where, in Belus, the music seesm to drone on, the choice in length is never as much as the likes of Sunn O))) so that it falls completely into the background. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss was a trip to another dimension, each moment pushes forward, but the next album was a trance with subtle pulsations and bumps, breathing in and breathing out in a quality that cannot be measure quantitatively but qualitatively at an abstract level, admitting no materialistic distinction. The repetition scheme here is a compromise and application of what was learned in Filosofem, relying on a certain quality of endurance that Vikernes’ simple but multi-layered riffs focus on and uniquely shine for.

At worst, Belus is solid ambient music played on suboptimal instrumentation, and at best, a unique chance at perceiving these landscapes through metallic lenses which distort and bring to the fore particular contours and colors. When positioned at the right place and at the right time (having the right mentality), the listener may find himself submerged into dense forests, fuzzy with the brume of unreality. The vision that Belus presents is not that different from Burzum’s early efforts, but where the quick underground fan may detect watered-down content, others may see a matured and spiritually refined thinking.

This is not objective music, this is a secluded path for those who have digested Burzum’s music beyond its atomic particles and into the very essence, flow and nature of it. This fourth filtering-out of profane minds certainly leaves most behind, and though these words may seem spurious, those with a balanced and logic mind, a strong and idealist heart, and an avid curiosity may find themselves on the right path to this shrouded grove.

Mgła – Exercises in Futility (2015)

Mgła - Exercises in Futility (2015)

A recent discovery of mine, if far from a newcomer to metal music; Mgła plays a sort of streamlined melodic black metal on Exercises in Futility. There are no real divergences from this formula, even in their slightest form, and even any residual rock or traditional metal influence is assimilated deeply into the overall sound and form of the music. It’s easy to pass this album off as repetitive, dull, and pointless at first glance, but the constraints of this style have bred some much-needed creativity. Continued listening highlights the band’s ability to successfully vary their compositions in a narrower range than most of my recent reviews. This is a difficult skill to learn, and its payoff is often subtle to the point of inaudibility, but the band’s efforts paid off; they’ve secured this listener’s interest and showcased their potential prowess as songwriters.

In general, Mgła leans towards the consonant, the ambient, and (at moments of weakness) the predictable. Exercises in Futility is driven primarily by very simplistic riffs and sometimes even single chord drones, but frequently overlays melodic, treble heavy guitar lead counterpoint over the exceptionally basic chord patterns that serve as its foundation. The rhythm section is muted in comparison to the guitars, but it dutifully follows their acrobatics by offering up its own new patterns as the tracks evolve. While I rarely found my ears focusing in on the drums, I was pleased by how the drummer didn’t treat his subsidiary position as an excuse to mindlessly blast or simply keep time. This was more of a problem with the vocalist, who admittedly also handles guitar and bass. For how prominently the vocals are mixed, the unending sameness of their techniques and how unaffected they are by any other aspect of the recording is quite a setback. Still, the instrumentation tends better than the alternative (incompetence), and when every metal band with a budget can assume their performances will be studio quality, the ability to add nuance is quite important.

Exercises in Futility is still not a particularly diverse album, although it doesn’t necessarily need to be one to be worthy of attention. Its biggest weakness is most likely that its tracks don’t develop particularly well over their duration, although the songs at least have clear (if basic) structures, which suggests some non-trivial effort towards this end. Other problems with this recording are relatively trivial in comparison, as strength of narrative/communication is perhaps the one aspect this genre’s elites can safely say they share. To truly unlock their own potential, the band members will have to cut repetition and achieve a greater level of focus and precision when constructing their songs. They may very well be able to pull it off if they’re willing to put forth the effort.

Empire Auriga – Ascending the Solar Throne

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American ambient-metal band Empire Auriga’s second album Ascending the Solar Throne expands the style pioneered by Burzum through the “Decrepitude” I& II tracks from “anti-black metal” album Filosofem. Ascending the Solar Throne comprises songs that are cold, distant, and simplistic. These spacious compositions rely on the repetition of arpeggiated guitars providing a base for reverb-drenched and piercing treble guitars to shine through, along with an anguished yet faint vocal accompaniment. Although the band forgoes the use of percussion entirely, tempi are regular and recursive song segments are identifiable. Synths or heavy guitar effects lightly sprinkle the mix almost as decoration, enhancing the presentation of the album but not interfering with its texture.

Expressing the desolation of technological existence, Empire Auriga weaves a journey through an inner experience of an individual separated from the external world of perception through pain, before coming to rest in a more peaceful place. Gradually moving from aggressive and dissonant chords in the beginning towards a calmer and safer mild major key conclusion, Ascending the Solar Throne is unfortunately unable to complete the journey which is hinted at in the opening tracks. Instead of turning the nihilism present into existential achievement, the album instead retreats into the safe and vacuous womb which afflicts most post-modern music.

Rather than confronting the question of one’s existence directly, as Filosofem did so elegantly, the choice instead is made to ignore it. This disappointment aside, Ascending the Solar Throne is an interesting album which attempts something rare in contemporary music: an artistic voyage. For that reason, it deserves consideration and acknowledgment where it succeeds, but ultimately the listener will be left slightly hollow and bereft.

Ascending the Solar Throne will be released on August 19th via Moribund Records.

Ildjarn – Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths

ildjarn-seven_harmonies_of_unknown_truthsOriginally shunned by most of the “new and wise” black metal community in the post-1995 era, Ildjarn emerged shrouded in mystery, and its renown has increased over the past almost two decades through the appreciation of writers and fellow musicians.

Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths packages an early Ildjarn demo by the same name into a CD/LP release that showcases this band’s potent sound that mixed black metal, oi, drone and primitive folk music. The album has been released on Eisenwald Records and can be ordered here.

While those who have heard early Ildjarn will note the similarity to both the self-titled release and the material on the Ildjarn-Nidhogg compilation, but like other Ildjarn EP-length material Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths presents a slower and more atmospheric vision of this band.

Structured as seven numbered tracks plus the archetypal Ildjarn song “Death Dynamics,” Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths is like most Ildjarn releases an ambient composition as a whole where songs serve as motifs. Varying between the doomy and the faster edge of mid-paced, these songs return us to the lawless forest where the spirit of Ildjarn resides.

Ildjarn – Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths re-issue

ildjarn-seven_harmonies_of_unknown_truthsLike thrash bands of the 1980s or the first two Napalm Death EPs, Ildjarn is often first mistaken for a novelty for its short and seemingly irrational songs. What exists under the skin is a complex outlook toward the world distilled into a simple naturalism.

Much like the techno, oi and black metal that these songs derive inspiration from, Ildjarn is a visceral emotion: its songs are not so much concepts, as emotional concepts created from the application of intellect to real-world problems. This is not theory; it’s application. However, it exists in small fragments that appear irrational to us because they are beyond the human perspective, as if spoken by the voices of nature themselves.

Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths is an early Ildjarn demo that has appeared in fragmentary form on several other recordings, but never in full. Eisenwald Records has re-released the demo on CD and LP with new artwork.

Released on September 23, 2013, the new edition is properly balanced but not remastered or cleaned up for the authentic “period” sound. Pre-orders come with a free poster of the cover art and an ILDJARN sticker. It is gratifying to see interest in this band resuming again after a short periodic absence, as has occurred wavelike since the founding of the band.

Seasons of Mist unleashes Ildjarn re-issues onto a grateful world

ildjarn-re_releasesBack in the 1990s, most people couldn’t stand Ildjarn and side-project Sort Vokter. These bands were seen as too simple, primitive, nihilistic, raw and amoral for even black metal.

One web site — our direct ancestor — praised the releases to the skies, claimed they were brilliant, and aggressively advocated them, culminating in an interview with the mastermind behind Ildjarn himself. We were ridiculed, mocked, scourged, spit upon, etc. until suddenly people woke up and realized the brilliance of Ildjarn.

Ildjarn mocks deconstruction. Modern people love to deconstruct things into tiny little statements that are true but also incomplete; Ildjarn took many tiny states, and using them like spatter-paint making a silhouette on canvas, used them to create a vision of a much broader and pervasive truth, as exemplified in the phrase “Forest Poetry.” Ildjarn is naturalism that does not retreat to happy Disney Land where all the animals are fuzzy and cute. Ildjarn is feral reality coming back through the (poetic) beast within.

Many years later, label Seasons of Mist has opted to re-release the classic of the Ildjarn era with new artwork and hopefully minimal remastering if any. These releases are already available for pre-order in the Seasons of Mist online shop.

We encourage all people who have not experienced Ildjarn to listen and revel in the simple coordinated profundity of this primal black metal band. These mighty slabs of minimalist metal will be available on August 16, 2013.

Ildjarn – Ildjarn

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Ildjarn – Forest Poetry

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Ildjarn – Strength and Anger

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Summoning to release new EP, re-issue vinyl versions of older classic albums

Members of ambient black metal band Summoning have braved the hellscape that is Facebook in order to carry news of further releases.

summoning-old_mornings_dawnEarlier this year saw Summoning release their first album in seven years, Old Mornings Dawn. Our review saw it as “a creative journey into the recesses of the mind and embraces the sentimental alongside the epic, using its ambient structuring to immerse the listener in a world far beyond anything they have experienced.”

Fortunately for us, the band possesses six more tracks from the album session. They will began the process of finalizing their production and expect to release these tracks next year as an EP. Until then, the band will hold its fans over by releasing an “earbook” edition of Old Mornings Dawn, which includes two acoustic bonus tracks; and vinyl reissues of Nightshade Forests, Oath Bound, and Lost Tales.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news; as the band has stated that this is a prelude to a period of dormancy:

“In the end of next year, when everything is said and done, and all works are finished and released, the forges will get cold again,and we will rest at last. Then Summoning will fall asleep again for a longer time, until a new dawn is rising…”

We hope that this interval will not be as long as the gap between Oath Bound and Old Mornings Dawn, but we recognize that art often needs time to germinate and we eagerly await new material, whenever it may arrive.