Like Justin Broadrick project Final, or post-Napalm Death project Lull, Suuri Shamaani attempts to shape sound itself using overlapping drones and ambient noises to create internal harmonies. Mysteerien Maailma (commonly called the “mysterious mailman” album for its resemblance to that phrase in English) represents a more ritualistic and ordered vision of that approach.
Those who enjoy the later music of Beherit, especially Electric Doom Synthesis, may appreciate the extension of ideas here. Like other post-black metal ambient project Neptune Towers, Suuri Shamaani discards what we recognize as music to shape an adventure or topography out of sound.
It is more like poetry made with discovered noise organized into a music-like language than it is composed music as we know it. Because its sonic texture is lighter than that of booming guitars or bright keyboards, Mysteerien Maailma requires a quieter listening environment and more investment of attention from the listener.
Suppose that you’re a dying society (“the human race was dying out / no one left to scream and shout” – the Doors) and that you decide to give it one last hurrah. To try honesty instead of manipulation.
You might come up with punk music. It strips out everything that reeks of manipulation. The good production, gone; the complex chords, gone; any pretense of musicianship, out the window.
But then people realize that you’re going about it backward. You can’t change your methods to change your goal. You have to change your goal. That means you’re thinking about composing music in a new way, not just how you’re going to play differently with something rather familiar.
This lets loose the dogs of war.
No longer is music carved from a known pattern; the song is the pattern, and it obeys no rule other than its content. Face value is made secondary to internal value. Like it is in human, whether we have souls or not.
Musically, punk’s first wave hadn’t been all that far removed from regular rock’n’roll. “God Save the Queen,” with its hummable melody and simplistic chord changes, is clearly a relation, albeit distant, of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones. The difference is in the attitude, in Johnny Rotten’s adenoidal snarl.
Discharge’s revamped version of punk bore little resemblance to anything that had come before. It was faster, harsher, and often almost entirely lacking in melody. The riffs were generally three-chord affairs, but they were played at warp speed, accompanied by a rumbling bass and a merciless, galloping drumbeat. The songs rarely topped the two-minute mark. As Garry Maloney, who drummed on some of the band’s best recordings, explained to a ‘zine called Trakmarx, “We just embraced speed—the concept—not the drug—took it to its logical limit.”
Away went the blues scale, playing in uniform musical measures, and having pop song format work for you. Instead, the new vision was the lawless chromatic scale, a lack of key and thus of soaring bridge and chorus, or even any fixed song format. It was repetition made into its own undoing, a type of ambient music made from noise.
Rock ‘n’ roll died with Discharge. Others, like Amebix and The Exploited, followed. On US shores the Cro-Mags and thrash (DRI, COC, Cryptic Slaughter, Dead Horse, Fearless Iranians From Hell) further put metal into punk. With metal’s phrasal riffs and punk’s lack of structure, music got closer to ancient times.
Suddenly, the melody determined the song, and since the songs were topical, the melody was determined by the idea. Like ancient Greek dramas, where the chorus sang poetry as the story was acted out on stage, the new punk-metal hybrid entered the world of motifs and mimetic meaning, where art imitates life to tell the story of a journey or adventure and how it changed those who sallied forth.
The end of the second song, nearly eight minutes in, elicited a weak cheer, a few claps, and a robust chant of “D.R.I.”—a local thrash band on the rise, which had played earlier that night.
This was the new legion, thrash and underground metal (death metal and black metal), and it ushered in a new era. Where music was plain-spoken like punk, but mythological like metal. Where it took metal’s criticism of human behavior and used that to explain punk’s extreme political dissidence. Where people started looking at what they’d die for instead of what they’d live for.
Since that time, metal and punk have both gone through many generations. None have gotten very far from those originals who broke free however. They had to destroy before they could create and, when the dust of destruction and subsequent self-destruction finally settles, creation will begin anew.
As related in this news report, Varg Vikernes has been arrested on suspicions of terrorism in France.
The evidence against him appears to be that Anders Breivik wrote to Vikernes some time ago, and while Vikernes then called Breivik a “Christian loser” on his blog (for killing Norwegians), Varg’s wife had recently purchased four rifles legally in France. Somehow these two events add up to a possible massacre.
This is unfortunate because Vikernes has just released the excellent Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, which is like a cross between classic Burzumic ambient and the music of William Orbit. We’re hoping he’ll be freed to make more floaty ambient albums.
We also tend to think the whole thing is dumb and overblown. He went to prison; he served his time. Now he’s living a normal life for the first time in two decades. He should be encouraged to do this! Not only for society at large, but for metal, which now permanently has Burzum in its blood.
Ambient band Khand overlaps the metal community because its member and its history are intertwined with the history of east coast underground metal. In addition, much like Brian Eno, Jaaportit, Robert Fripp, Lord Wind, Neptune Towers, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk seem appreciated in some segments of the metal community, hessians appear to enjoy the “metal-like” dark heavy vibe of this ambient band. The following track, “The Squire’s Dream,” is from the upcoming Khand full-length to see the light of day at a time yet unannounced.
After a hiatus of some years, Burzum returns to the path that is intuitive and natural for composer Varg Vikernes, who drifted through a triplet of droning black metal albums before discarding the genre. Sôl austan, Mâni vestan picks up where Hlidskjalf left off, except that this new album uses a wider range of sounds and also covers a wider range of emotions.
The title, meaning “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” encompasses the cosmic music nature of this album. While the sounds are thoroughly contemporary, the spirit of this album is in the stargazing music of the 1970s that attempted to find divinity even as the world around it seemed in a state of total doubt. Having explored the darkness and alienation of the past, Vikernes increases his palette here to include the playful, mystical, mysterious and placid, and works them in contrast to one another so that no one dominates and becomes background noise, but he pushes right to that limit with not only direct repetition but allusion to very similar themes across songs. The result is like a hypnosis into which the listener slides, unaware that through this mundane noise a vision of great beauty and even metaphysical significance will be found.
As Vikernes said in a blog post, “We are all lost souls in a dying world, so to speak, stripped of all spiritual life and energy by the societies we live in, and left to find new spiritual life and energy on our own. We stumble, we fall and we get up again, as we progress, and black metal, although empty and hollow like most other things in this world, is actually a good gateway to the Divine Light. If nothing else black metal has been a way to find true meaning, a positive direction and new life for many.” This attitude pervades through Sôl austan, Mâni vestan which consistently uses simple and catchy sounds to introduce themes which gradually develop into something revelatory of the sublime, like a flower opening from a bud hidden under dirt.
Burzum showed its affinity for 1970s relaxing and New Age style music with classics like “Tomhet,” “Rundgang” and the cheerier parts of Hlidskjalf. This new album picks up from that influence and goes further, fusing the classic Burzum sound with a full range of moods as one might find on a professional ambient album from the heart of that genre. Unexpected technique, including duets with guitar and bass through which keyboards and sampled tones dive like seabirds in flight, and flair borrowed from rock, ambient and jazz, offset these fundamentally simple tunes and embed them in the kind of texture and nuance you might expect from an Autechre or Aphex Twin album.
In the meantime, although not only the black metal aesthetics but also the black metal voice have been cast aside, the uncanny sense of pacing remains which Vikernes uses to engage us, lull us, excite us and finally bring all of these things into collision. In many ways, this music is more black metal than his post-prison guitar albums because it has such a range of emotions, and such a vivid journey from start to finish. In that sense, Vikernes has returned, and has found his natural voice after many intervening years. It’s not black metal, but who cares? It’s excellent and relentlessly intriguing.
The semi-reclusive Varg Vikernes, sole composer of Burzum, has announced his plans to release a film and a new role-playing game (RPG). As part of the film project, he has revealed a new track designed to act as part of a soundtrack for the film.
As if influenced by some of the non-black-metal soundtrack material from the film Until the Light Takes Us in which Vikernes, as in Lords of Chaos, the most in-depth story of black metal before it, Vikernes opts for a down-tempo single guitar track with no distortion.
The result utilizes a slow and gentle sweeping arpeggio behind which lower notes direct the evolution of the track, much as happened with the countertheme in “Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule Der Singularität” from Filosofem. As the song goes on, these layers interact to push change into the main theme, not in the electronica method of circular layers, but the metal one of a narrative expanding from within itself.
It is hard to tell if this is the type of material that will be on the forthcoming Burzum album Sôl austan, Mâni vestan. While many consider the “keyboard albums” among the band’s best output, a mixed-medium album could be interesting. While this new track has one foot in that world, it also has one foot in the more audience-geared world of the last few Burzum black metal albums.
The most immediate comparisons E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr will attract are to Tangerine Dream and other “cosmic” bands of the 1970s, but while the technique of this trancelike electronic waveform fits that description, its composition reflects on something more like the “chill-out” albums of the middle 1980s.
Kometenbahn uses many of the same samples and sounds as old Tangerine Dream. The Moog keyboards intermix with the highly sequenced percussive synthesizer that keeps time, and lengthy and intricate guitar solos use the same distortion and tuning. Even the studio sound is very similar.
How E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr differs from the cosmic musicians however is in structure. This music is built more like the 1980s techno and chill-out albums, like the KLF’s album titled after the genre, than the 1970s bands. The electronic acts of the 1970s had a lot more in common with progressive rock, and so structured each song around either a set classical form, or as an adaptation to the content being expressed.
In contrast, more like the 80s material Kometenbah is composed in layers shaped around a central circular structure. This is not verse-chorus, but more linear, with the idea that one alternating pattern attracts others and then variations are made to those to tweak intensity and build up an experience of their atmosphere and immersion of mood.
This album offers powerful stuff to those who love ambient music. It is a feast of sounds, textures and rhythms. While it does not use the cosmic song forms of Tangerine Dream and friends, it produces a more contemporary atmosphere of suspension of disbelief and exploration of not a labyrinth, but deepening detail of an intensely ornate and beautiful object.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The proof that death metal is formed of a spirit and not random techniques can be found in the open-mindedness of death metal fans. Contrary to public perception, death metal fans are quite open to any music that shares the same spirit they find in death metal.
Unlike rock music, where the underlying music is so similar that the only distinguishing traits are surface appearances like instrumentation and rhythm, dark music is formed of phrasing and melody. It sounds evil even when played on a kazoo or acoustic ukelele. Such is the spirit that animates San Antonio, Texas’ own Goatcraft.
Goatcraft creates necroclassical music in the intersection of the dark metal spirit, epic soundtracks like Conan or Lord of the Rings, martial neofolk like Lord Wind or Winglord, and dark ambient like Elend or Arcana. If you can imagine Dead Can Dance with a focus on the darkest aspects of classical and metal, and without vocals, Goatcraft is that.
Although it seems hard to believe, Goatcraft is the work of one man (Lonegoat) who routinely hauls his keyboard to metal shows and stands alone, covered in blood and accompanied only by a clock, bashing out songs of epic isolation, loss, doubt, darkness, despair, desolation and warlike aggression.
Much like quality death metal, Goatcraft is based on the transitions between riffs and finding ways to knit riffs together in such a way that atmosphere is not sacrificed and some kind of storyline emerges. In this case, it’s a melodic line slowly evanescing from the midst of Goatcraft’s trademark cascading flurry of hammer-on style piano notes.
Like a good soundtrack, these songs manipulate mood without using a standard format. The structure of each song is adapted from the content, and so they are hard to follow at first, but once the ear adjusts and starts tracking where the melody is going, they suddenly make sense like a mystery novel’s final chapters tie up all the loose ends. Since there are no vocals, and minimal effects, the lone voice of the piano dominates.
All For Naught avoids the pitfall of trying to be populist by incorporating electronic beats or repetitive samples. It’s like a highly structured 47-minute guitar solo. Themes repeat, but in an unpredictable order that gives them added weight with each appearance. Each song has a distinct theme and structure that defines its meaning.
As a result, Goatcraft is less pop-song-format than Lord Wind or Winglord, and less ritualistic than most neofolk. It is closest to a very stripped down version of a war movie soundtrack, as even with this mild-mannered instrument a strong aura of violence and the necessity of combat emerges. This then evolves slowly into a melancholic melody which transforms itself into a narrative, leaving behind a lingering feeling of primal isolation and emptiness.
This music will not be for everyone. All For Naught shows Goatcraft expanding upon the concept that enthralled and bewildered concertgoers for the past few years, but in this more developed form, the music has greater weight and power. It’s not as easy to listen to as your average punk or groove metal album, and the challenge this album faces is finding enough people who get its trip.
All For Naught drives away the boredom and conformity that has settled into this scene over the last decade. This album is an experience unlike any other. More musical than most guitar-based albums, and with a greater amount of creative work, it is a unique experience for the listener unafraid of new methods of voicing the rare emotional ground that the best death metal explored.
One of the hidden influences on death metal, along with classical and progressive rock, was the wave of inventive ambient and electronica that came out in the 1970s.
In particular, this music like death metal, was highly structured in that verse-chorus structures would turn it into droning tedium. Thus it invented the narrative structures later used by death metal, the “riff gluing” as explained by Asphyx.