Burzum – Sôl austan, Mâni vestan

May 19, 2013 –

burzum-sol_austan_mani_vestanAfter 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.

New Burzum track shows metal technique applied to folk

April 25, 2013 –

varg_vikernes-burzum-band_photoThe 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.

E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr – Kometenbahn

April 8, 2013 –

e-musikgruppe_lux_ohr-kometenbahnThe 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.

The relationship between black metal, ambient and neoclassical music

April 7, 2013 –

nordic_dark_ambient_neoclassical_black_metalIn 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.

Given the news that Neptune Towers is being released on vinyl and Burzum is releasing an album comprised entirely of electronic music, now seems a fitting time to investigate this interesting subgenre and how it arose from black metal in several instances.

Burzum

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.

Neptune Towers

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.

Beherit

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.

Ildjarn

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.

Lord Wind

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.

Floaty music

December 26, 2012 –

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.

Embryonic exhumations – Unearthing classic demos

June 28, 2010 –
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Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas
Helheim – Walpurgisnatt
Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits
Graveland – Drunemeton
Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas

If the architecture of the great Gothic cathedral, with its upward arches, towering spires and cosmic domes laden with images of the suffering divinity on this earthly realm, had been constructed as a kind of sacral road sign to the eternal paradise beyond, then the music of Ras Algethi’s demo is a fitting soundtrack of cathartic expression, a release from the pain and misery of the mortal existence. Like the immortal Oneiricon – The White Hypnotic album to follow, ‘Oblita Divinitas’ relies heavily on the sounds of the mighty organ for it’s intensity as an imposing beacon of death, magnifying the mournful, melodic patterns that guide the listener through the distinct passages of these songs. Where the organ picks up on the general idea of a riff that’s introduced first, the guitars go on to elaborate this phrase in an almost improvisational, though highly restrained, story-telling manner. The bigger picture develops more gradually – far more slowly and funereal than the full-length – and the organs and percussion eventually give way to the austere logic of the main riff, with clever variations that manipulate this momentary freedom from time and space, or blissful acoustic passages that prolong and reflect in it (anticipating ‘When Fire is Father’, one of the most memorable songs on ‘Oneiricon’), before the other instruments return in an emphatic transition, taking the music to an even deeper level of suffering. Ras Algethi show a very mature compositional style from the onset, not just giving a vague sensation of sadness, but carefully detailing the journey with a reference point of possibly going beyond the world that causes it, re-addressing this emotion as a painful longing for release. -ObscuraHessian

Helheim – Walpurgisnatt

Ghoulish, ethereal and enwrapped in a magnetic tape production reeking of ancient tombs and broken 4-trackers, Helheim’s vision of industrial black metal is far more elemental than the connotations of that description during the last decade. As with the primitivist throbbing drum machines of Mysticum and the ambient blankets of Sort Vokter, the aim is ritual-hypnotic music which does not try to spice up black metal in order to make it more comforting or exciting; instead, it challenges one’s concentration by looping, returning and rewiring little fragments and pieces of riff in powerful early Norwegian black metal language, conducted by the raging screams of the now-deceased vocalist Jon A. Bjerk. The svastika simulacrum depicted on the cover highlights the natural difference with the smoother approach of the other Helheim of the same era, famed mostly for the vagrant mythological epics of “Jormundgand” – this Helheim rather spits in the face of the observed tradition in order to bring forth the subconscious terror of life and death that has been embedded in the mythos of all ancient cultures and bring across a pertinent message to the civilization (macrocosmically) and the black metal of our time (microcosmically). -Devamitra

Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits

Remember how disappointed you were the last time you heard a new Varathron or Rotting Christ album? If the same lack of consistency and effort permeates other areas of Greek society, them having descended from the mythic glory of Athene into debts and poverty needs hardly the prophetic eye of Cassandra to fully explain. As in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “American Gods” the lost European deities are found prowling the Wisconsin backwoods, Chicago based Alioth’s mystical and sensual tribute to Hellenic black metal ca. 1993 is admirably not only a continuation of the electric technoid dynamo drumbeat and an application of the palm muted speed and doom riffs in esoteric underground context; it’s also a highly logically strung sequence of moods as if the physical organization of pain and pleasure in a Dionysian ritual theatre, succumbing with the heavy held back moments of “The Channeling” and “Apocryphal Dimensions” and rising through the interludial “Invocation” and “Invocation II” to softly expire orgasmic relaxation. So much could be created out of this basic concept that it’s a pity the full-length album has remained cloaked in the depths of the primal sea, while Wargoat Obscurum iterates far less subtle (and far less interesting) metal with Cult of Daath. -Devamitra

Goreaphobia – Morbidious Pathology

Goreaphobia’s debut album wouldn’t have been quite so eagerly anticipated without a strong back catalogue of minor releases such as the ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, which provides an unexpected listening experience if Mortal Repulsion is the only recording you’ve heard from the band. Where the full-length communicates visions from the abyss through the blank eyes of an old mystic locked in a lucid dreaming state, this demo is full of enough youthful energy to express the paranoia of a thousand souls trapped within the claustrophobic confines of their own mortality. Variations in riffs reflect these tightly packed structures, seeming to progress with not so much a linear logic than the re-arranging of parts of the whole, like limbs being removed from a body and sewn on to somewhere else entirely until the true grotesqueness of humanity is revealed. As with Mortal Repulsion, despite the physical connections to Incantation, there is a stronger similarity to the craftsmanship of Immolation and albums that would come in later years, such as the complex and disjointed but melodically evocative Here in After. The lead guitar work, though highly restrained, possesses a sense of neoclassical refinement that bridges some short-burst riffage with eloquent but totally disturbing solos. This demo shows the beginnings of an all too rare experiment in Death Metal where you can observe the maturation of a consistant idea as it goes through the turmoil of a tortured, temporal existence. -ObscuraHessian

Graveland – Drunemeton

It’s not difficult to understand the distaste that Darken has for the recordings commited to tape during Graveland’s infancy in the light of his recent catalogue of pristine, epic and Atlantaean creations. Some distance away from the expansive scenes of battlefields and expressions of Romantic nationalism, this ancient offering from the living master of Pagan Black Metal is totally shrouded in a necrotic production, like ghostly shadows moving through oaken forests, casting a spell within more cloistered and Druidic surroundings than the output of Graveland from the past 15 years. Alongside the visions that created the force of Scandinavian Black Metal in the early 90′s, this demo represents the reclusive and misanthropic esotericism of that era, especially the primality of the lowest fidelity cults, Beherit and Ildjarn. Sounding like the work of a punk ostracised by that increasingly over-socialised group for being too idealistic and inhuman, Darken conjures a lurid interpretation of hypnotic Bathorean riffing that develops through the echoing of majestic, synthesised voices that open this recording as though a prologue to ‘The Celtic Winter’. The experimentation with primitivism in ‘Drunemeton’ is so deconstructionist that the guitar technique becomes fragmented completely and subordinated to reveal gloomy ambient moods that amplify the silence of a forest at night before the dawn of battle. There’s a similarity to the Beherit song ‘Nuclear Girl’ in how the guitar is used more like a sample, reverberating it’s texture through the keyboards to emphasise a cloistered sensation, accompanied by monastic chants at other times. Culminating in the ambient classic, ‘The Forest of Nemeton’, this demo is the successful beginnings of Graveland’s exploration into unconventional and nihilistic territory beneath the folky phrasing of guitar-led melodic work, which would shape the dynamic of his entire discography to follow. -ObscuraHessian

Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Fifteen years ago, we were too proud and lofty to listen to it, our sensory devices soothed and inflamed by Panzerfaust, Battles in the North and Høstmørke, while the new generation of neo-progressive and mainstream black metal bands sought to enrapture even wider audiences with movie soundtrack influenced keyboards and angelic female voice conjured by fat-bottomed gothic tarts. For the atmospheric maniacs only, as it’s hard to argue for its musicality against the likes of Vikingligr Veldi; but the epic wanderlust and distorted pagan death ritual of this demo’s centerpiece, “Fimbulwinter”, unfolding like a flower at dawn or the psychedelic mandala of LSD invading brain receptors, is one of the pure innocent and mesmerizing gems of underground black metal in this sacred and forsaken era. The primal Isvind-esque melody dance like ripples of waves on a forest pond, the hissing tracker production complete with the macabre clack of a drum machine and the dampness of a Nordic bedroom cellar permeate the recording to such a thickness of adolescent black metal fury that it’s hardly palatable to generic audiences then and now. Barely a trace of the fast norsecore of the more familiar debut album Kill For Satan is noticeable here, the only similarity being the guitarist Draugluin’s technique of bricklike tremolo chord architecture where rhythm plays little importance. While primitive, this compositional method bears an intrinsic beauty which is worthy of recapitulation when the pure augustness of early Norwegian black metal has mostly become forgotten in favour of seemingly more rich and elaborate indie stylings. -Devamitra