S.V.E.S.T. – Urfaust (2003)


Playing a style of black metal that became more prominent and perhaps common after the turn of the century, S.V.E.S.T.’s “atmospheric” approach is of the sort that creates a fog out of different layers of intsruments playing different notes to form dissonant chords and having the drums by a vehicle for intensity. Although black metal per se has inclinations towards minimalism and ambience, this explicit brand of atmospheric black metal stretches song durations as long as it is necessary to induce the sense of evaporating time and alienating experience they are looking for.  While many different bands can claim to be part of this, very few retained an anchor in reality and still building something meaningful. S.V.E.S.T. Urfaust is such an album.

The way this balance is achieved in a style of black metal attempting to create a chaotic semblance is to always have one element that is static in proportion to how much other things vary or lash out wildly. For example, this band always keeps some sort of diffuse organlike notes playing in the background, either with some kind of synth or with tremolo-picked guitars, while the drums change slightly more freely, but always responding to changes in the music as a whole, and the lead guitars are allowed to roam around more freely creating the and blending the motifs that lend each piece its personality in a background that is a raging maelstrom.

Of course, the counterpoint between instruments needs to be maintained, it will not do to have an heavy riff underscored by drum patterns that take away the attention from a center in the music  and rather give us two shows in one. Such an event spells out incoherence. The controlled way in which such chaotic force is wielded strongly calls to mind the prophetic work of Colombian pioneers Parabellum.

Urfaust is a gem of an offering whose music lends itself to an esoteric interpretation. Listened to from afar or in a distracted manner, the music may be perceived as a simple repetition of ideas throughout a long time. In part, this effect is intended as the listener is expected to lose himself in the music, instead of counting measures and the number of times this or that theme come and go. Furthermore, the density of the layers covering the details is such that to pierce the uniformity, the listener experiencing this must become acquainted with it in an almost meditative state in repeated visits.

In this, it is similar to the roads taken by Abyssum Cum Foeda Sanie Ex Ore, Kaeck Stormkult and Paysage D’Hiver’s eponymous album. All this leads to an effect in which content is blurred from an unattending audience but revealed to a foccused attention that can both let the music flow and attend to the relationships within it. Masterful music that achieves this must embed these details, progressions and variations behind a strong veil of consistency that also serves to preserve coherence in a rather forceful manner that is vindicated by the overall balance achieved.

This album has an art music work orientation with respect to its overall orientation in concept and publication. First of all, this is a three-song full-length album in which the songs are movements that belong together and not a collection of three songs. The relationship goes beyond a very clear and distinctive choice in voice and is made explicit in motifs throughout the album, with its most obvious gesture being that the opening section of the album in the first movement is the same as the closing one in the third. Another example worthy of attention and presenting an immersive experience is Fanisk Noontide.

The element of chaos is, of course, a metaphorical one, represented in disorienting rhythms that quickly come back to a stable state and are safely supported by anchors. It is their repetition, variation, combination and alternation between different motifs along with the unrelenting percussive attack that create the picture of crumbling sanity from compositions that are technically firm and delineated.

This is where a band like S.V.E.S.T. far surpasses the uncontrolled madness of later Deathspell Omega which incurred in a common mistake in  nu-black metal: the attempt of becoming the atmosphere itself. The so-called experimental disorganization and hispterish disavowal of rules for the sake of breaking conventions displayed by Deathspell Omega leads them to the lazy decision to try to portray chaos by actually making a huge mess out of the music.  Unfortunately, S.V.E.S.T. later took from this band the idea of uncontrolled freedom in fits of post-modern delirium.

The vulgar idea of attempting to imitate what is being portrayed in an overtly obvious and direct manner is not new, although in our era the clowns doing it come out to the unaware as being original thinkers of some kind. Great masters of music like Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach played in this line and warned themselves and others of the dangers of falling to either side of the narrow wall that music forms between evocation and aesthetics. S.V.E.S.T Urfaust stands proudly and firmly as a monument to this balance where both music is preserved in its formality yet evocation and idea envelop it as the non-destructive organization and manipulation of the aesthetics themselves become the door and medium to the experience.

“(…)a symphony of Beethoven presents to us the greatest confusion, which yet has the most perfect order at its foundation, the most vehement conflict, which is transformed the next moment into the most beautiful concord. It is rerum concordia discors, a true and perfect picture of the nature of the world which rolls on in the boundless maze of innumerable forms, and through constant destruction, supports itself. But in this symphony all human passions and emotions also find utterance; joy, sorrow, love, hatred, terror, hope, etc., in innumerable degrees, yet all, as it were, only in abstracto, and without any particularization; it is the mere form without the substance, like a spirit world without matter. Certainly we have a tendency to realize them while we listen, to clothe them in imagination with flesh and bones, and to see in them scenes of life and nature on every hand. Yet, taken generally, this is not required for their comprehension, or enjoyment, but rather imparts to them a foreign and arbitrary addition; therefore it is better to apprehend them in their immediacy and purity.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer

Abyssum – Thy Call (1998)


When we say that metal’s golden era peaked in 1994 and that everything went downhill, it does not mean that there was nothing good after that. By definition, quality after a peak must go downhill in comparison. More importantly, when we say such things, we are referring to a genre-wide average, not to specifics. After all, we have Summoning releasing their classic of classics in 1996 and more great music before and around the turn of the century. The same is true of several black metal bands and a very few death metal ones. In Central America, ever one (or ten or twenty) steps behind in everything as a result of traceable historical processes, what little its reduced population, resources and culture allowed for metal to develop flourished between 1995 and 2000.

The ratios of complete rubbish to authentic music to outstanding music can, in my experience, be roughly and informally distributed in percentages 95%, 4.9% and 0.1%. An actual and precise statistic would be interesting, it’s just a matter of time before we have some empirical data for you here. It is no surprise, then, that you can count the number of enduring releases from Central America with your fingers. To the best of my knowledge, the two bands that are worth mentioning for posterity (rather than out of nostalgia, which would be more inclusive) are death metallers Horgkomostropus from Honduras and black metal project Abyssum, officially from Guatemala.

Formed by the Honduran Akherra on drums and the Guatemalan Rex Ebvleb on vox and the rest of the instruments, Abyssum released two demos in the span of 1995 and 1996, and finally a full-length in 1998 titled Thy Call (it should be clarified that the drummer in this album specifically was Diatharma Thoron). In here the band follows in the most advanced footsteps of mature black metal that is inclined towards ambient music yet does not yet abandon its black metal roots. No trace of rock whatsoever is in sight. In fact, a familiar vibe of dark and “dungeon”/medieval ambient is felt in its instrumentation and coloration. It is the coming-out of metal on the other side of the spectrum and into purity, but Abyssum stops itself short of departing from metal altogether.


As if walking into the forest domain of an ancient mountain god, one sees the vibrant symbiosis and inter-dependent life forms, so insignificant in themselves but meaningful and majestic when brought together. Simple acoustic guitar picked passages, arpeggios that complement synth chords and melodies in a loop followed by episodes born through them. Some of these originating passages serve as starting points in pathways into this wilderness, not complete in themselves, but without which the magic of the next distinct moments would be without significance as all manner of relative points of departure or reference would be missing.

The perfect balance of parallel worlds, one of the physical, the other of the energetic and spiritual, is portrayed vividly in Thy Call. The music is taken to the extreme of what respectable metal can indulge in ambient repetition, while keeping it relevant not only with respect to the rest of the music, but a healthy, though minimalist, movement in harmony guided by a leading melody is ever present. Life itself manifested in the inseparable music. Its nature is not rhythmic, neither is it based on the hanging-on of one harmony either, and it definitely is not the pop indulgence of a single melody line without any other merit. It is neither and yet it is all. Take away one, and it is utterly destroyed. It is a perfect balance of the three in which a holy, indivisible yet distinguishable trinity of elements which would be for naught without each other.

Treading through this dreamy world reached by walking through a portal created by Abyssum, we come by all these scenes of lush greenery among the autumn pigments of melancholy. Here and there animals rush to and fro — an electric guitar and drums disturb the calm, calling out in cries that rip through the whistling wind. Well into our journey, we finally come face to face with the lord of the realm, an old, powerful beast crowned with leaf, moss and flower.  Screeches fly over among powerful but controlled black metal drumming made famous and effective in Emperor and Graveland and supported by tremolo-picked melodies rushing under echoing synths.

This is the atmosphere that envelops one in its presence, this is your shuddering under its gaze. If it were prone to violence, there would be no escape. But the old one is the guardian and center of life and its benevolence is abundant towards those who do not come with destruction. And so, quietly, gracefully, it departs and fades into the vegetation. Distorted guitars and drums vary in patterns that bring it closer to a calm. Acoustic guitars, voice and cello synths come in to see peace instaurated as passages continue in singular impermanence, forming a continuous and uninterrupted existence as they die and are born (and reborn). We walk away and out, with only a lingering note and the whistling of the wind in our ears.

Abyssum MP3s

Twilight Fauna/Jennifer Christensen Split 2015


That good music makes its way to the promo stack occasionally is not a huge surprise. We do not expect it to happen in more than one in twenty or thirty occurrences, but sooner or later, something good does come. And then, we expect a great album (not a true classic, but perhaps a highlight in the year) to arrive at an expected rate of about one every two or thee months. What we do not expect is a two-track split in which the first is a modernist piece composed for strings in the manner reminiscent of Górecki’s 3rd String Quartet or Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

The second track, “Crossing the Threshold” by Twilight Fauna, is one of those supposedly black metal ambient pieces that amounts to little more than sounds here, noises there, sometimes violated by a heavily distorted guitar that adds nothing to what’s going on. All for the sake of ambience. It falls into the same category of poorly-done but pretentious music like Ulver’s and Sun O))), themselves a parody of what Robert Fripp did much better in The Gates of Paradise or his work with Brian Eno in Evening Star. I’d recommend these guys to study the work of early Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, the master. If what they want is actually something more black metal, but elongated and that does not sound like some sort of pointless intro, they should check out Paysage d’Hiver’s work. Because the track has not been made public, we can only share their own release earlier this year through bandcamp for reference.

“Sickness Unto Death”, by Jennifer Christensen, is a patient work that I would venture to describe as minimalist. But rather than the circular pop minimalism of Philip Glass, this is more of the religious and dark nature typical of Górecki’s music. Clearly structural in construction but never rushed, motifs pass you by and interleave as passing scenes and a whole flora and fauna of a world evolved from a single primeval cell arise in distinguishable affinity. Now, as much as I not only enjoy but appreciate the higher quality of Ms. Christensen’s work here, I am wondering why would she release this in a split with a dark-ambient-going-on-black-metal band.

If she is somehow planning on turning her efforts in this direction, her classically trained mind and obvious talents for dark minimalist music would be interesting if applied to the whole spectrum of ambient instrumentation. Or even to two guitars, drums and backbone bass — that kind of black metal with a solid musical base would be much appreciated. After listening to her track many times, we know that the attitude and the spirit for this kind of music is definitely not missing. But the question is, does she actually understand the black metal spirit? Independently of this, I am looking forward to listening to more music composed by her, metal or not.


Interview: Funeste


1. How did Funeste come into being?

Yannis: Well me and Léo met through my work. As a tattoo artist I get to know people rather quickly since we spend long hours together. We realized that we had a lot in common, especially music. Our passion toward the raw and the bleak immediately spawned an interest for us two to collaborate musically. We started Léo playing drums and me on guitar duty and started to incorporate other members as we progressed. But eventually the project died of its own. A couple of years later we were still involved in musical projects together. While I was mixing a common project Léo threw at me the idea to start a black metal project. At the time I was overloaded with family and work but, the idea stuck in my head and we gave the project a go. And thus Funeste was born. From there things started to moved rather quickly. After writing a couple of songs I already had test visuals for the mood of the project. But it was just for fun since we didn’t have plans to release anything serious. But the more we listened to the tracks and the more people gave us feedback on it, we realized that we had something special. So we decided to release the Ep as a demo since it wasn’t mixed at all. And then it exploded, people started to respond very positively to it and it hasn’t stopped since.

2. Funeste plays a style of black metal which although firmly standing on a modern conception of the genre also does a very good job at keeping a smooth continuity in the music through paying attention to the consistency of material. How conscious a decision is this? Do you think a choice in style matters a lot?

Yannis: Like you said although I enjoy the traditional aspect of any genre, I think it has to move forward. To me heavy metal has always been about being extreme and subversive. Personally I think these two things can only be quantized by the era we live in and what was done before. So yes I think our style of black metal is a more modern interpretation of the genre. That said I don’t think what we do is especially new.

As far as the consistency of the material goes, I think we don’t think to much about it. I personally hate music that is too linear and safe. Even super technical band can get boring if there’s no contrast in their music. So in terms of mood I think we’re pretty consistent but, sonically wise I like I’m not so sure. I don’t want us to be coined to a specific genre, that’s why we change things a lot from song to song. Most of this is pretty much done on intuition.

Lastly, the choice of style was important at first to give us a foundation to work on, and draw inspiration from it. But like punk, black metal is more an ideology than a specific sound. It’s music that is very emotionally driven and that wants to leave the listeners scarred In every way possible. At least that’s my interpretation of it. So based on that frame of mind, I think we thrive to use all our influences to emphasize those intentions which creates a black metal with a richer spectrum of nuances.

3. In that same vein, do you think that musical genres have inherent powers or strengths and that they can be especially useful at channeling specific messages?

Yannis: I think so. I always found Black metal very introspective in nature. Delving into the roots of the honest and darkest human emotions, this music can be vessel to all sorts of messages. To me it’s one of the few styles were a musician can expose self-hatred, awe and fear of the world, spirituality to its fullest. Although this music is most of the time executed to be a hard listening experience, i think it is a very positive outlet for the musician and the listener because the themes in black metal are very universal and in the end, it is very easy for people to relate to it.

Léo: I agree with Yannis and think it can go even further than that. Music that touches me is music that was made by someone feeling any kind of emotion, positive or negative, and transcripts these emotions through sound. Or at least this is how I make music. And link with the previous question, this is not constrained to any music genre. Some black metals songs can be transmit hope or relief, and pop songs can be depressing. Anyway, I guess this is why we like having vocals that melt into the instrumental part. Funeste is all about hearing a dark gloomy violent overall sound, and relating to melodic lines in any way that fits with your mind when you hear it. It could destroy your mood or strengthen it depending on who you are and what you

4. Would you care naming your main influences in metal?

Yannis: Oh this could be long hahaha! Well I know it’s not metal but, I grew up listening to King Crimson and Genesis and I think that at that era was the metal of their time. Intense, intricate and creative. When it comes to metal I started with the basic, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath then in my teens got a NuMetal phase but I was always looking for darker more punishing music. At the time I was living in the suburbs of Montreal and the only place I could dig for music was Archambault, a big record store like HMV. So I would spend days there listening to anything with a cool album cover. That’s where I discovered Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Immortal, Darkthrone. These we’re my first contacts with extreme music. Than when I moved to Montreal thing’s got better hehehe. I had more friends into extreme music, listening to death metal like Deicide and Cannibal Corpse, Macabre, Converge, Katatonia, My dying bride, Dark Tranquility. And then the internet started blooming. Oh the glory! Like most kids my age It was a revelation. And it really allowed me to find music that was tailored to my standards.

But to answer your question more specifically, the metal bands that really influenced me to carve the music I do with Funeste would be bands like Weakling, Twilight, Leviathan, Converge, Brutal truth, Cryptopsy, My dying bride, Buried at Sea, Gaza, Deathspell Omega, The body, Abandon. I also draw inspiration from any genre, weather its Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, all the discography from Songs ; Ohia, Van der Graff Generator or the classical music of Alfred Schnittke. Listening only to metal makes really narrow minded records I find.

Léo: Appart from the bands that Yannis cited as direct influence for Funeste, we both listened to many genres which (I hope) gives us some diversity when we compose. My father has a pretty big vinyl collection, and I listened to literally every kind of music that he could find. Later on I developed my own tastes and started to listen to slipknot like many people, which quickly got me interested in more extreme metal bands such as vader, amon amarth, cannibal corpse, gorgoroth, and a lot of punk-hardcore and crust bands like converge, black breath, defdump, etc. There are so many bands that make awesome music that I kind of feel bad to name only a few of them, but I love listening to any band that makes me feel some emotion. Although, music playing with darker emotions will get to me more easily.

5. What about influences outside metal? What about outside music, perhaps in literature or cinema?

Yannis: I guess I answered parts of that question in the last question. For the music we create I focus more on reality. I watch a lot of documentaries on war, poverty and other bleak subjects. Lots of true crime shows. But mostly, what inspires me the most is my own personal experience. I’ve been dealing with Generalized Anxiety disorder for a good while now. Living constantly with feelings of dread generates a lot of anger, which in the end make for good heavy metal hehehe!

Léo: Well, I like making music by myself, so I guess I’m mostly inspired by what goes on through my mind when I let it slide alongside with the music. But what you live everyday is an inspiration. If you have a bad day have a beer and you will most likely write fucking angry music. As long as it concerns me, I like watching movies a lot and taking pictures. I think I’m always writing music with a graphical environment in my mind, but I couldn’t really tell, as my composing process is mainly based on letting everything go, get in my personal bubble and plug my guitar.

6. What is your composition process? Would you care detailing it and commenting on what you believe are its strengths and weaknesses?

Yannis: We’re only two in this project and tough we live in the same city we don’t jam together. I think of us more like a two headed one man project than an actual band. The way it goes is we both compose riffs and we send them to each other, than we build unto them. And then we trim the extra fat, the stuff we don’t want or like. Then I add the bass and the lyrics and vocals. I think it’s a great way to work. We can create on our own time that way we don’t have to go through the hassle of make everyone’s schedules fit. And there’s no downside because we’re always calling each other for input and we meet for beers on a regular basis.

7. Does Funeste have a goal, a message or an intention? Does the music attempt to transmit something in particular or is music “just music”? I am not referring to music in service of an ideology, necessarily, but as music as a communicator of aspects of our condition as human beings.

Yannis: For me it’s a way relieving myself of a lot of anger and frustrations towards that I’ve been repressing for a long time. I guess my main goal is to make music that I enjoy while keeping metal relevant and as far away from the cartoonish travesty it can become. I try to write lyrics that are close to my heart. I know I should be signing about nature, satan or the fact that I wanna go back to our old Viking ways with my iPhone in one hand and my credit card in the other but , this is just not me and its not part of my heritage. I’m a city boy and always been. And the city is a very demanding and stressful place, where the well-off cohabitates with the homeless. With anxiety and depression on the rise, people losing their religion and values and replacing it with careers and selfies. This is all very bleak to me and pushes me to create music that reflects that. Also all the lyrics are written in French which was really important to me. Here in Montreal, the French Canadian underground is not very strong. Very few band writes their music in French. They’d rather write everything in English because there’s a better chance for them to ”make it” in the music business. I think we shouldn’t be ashamed of our heritage and we should promote the hell out of it, even to places that don’t speak french. If the music is good there will be ears all over the globe that want’s to listen to it.

Léo: We started Funeste with no specific goal other than make music and “evacuate” some energy through that. Also, we didn’t expect the attention we get now at all, so we don’t have specific goals related to that. But if people listen to Funeste and enjoy it in any way this we are very thankful. And we will continue making music in the same mindset.

8. Do you have a vision for the future of the band in terms of its growth?

Yannis: Create new music, grow as a musician, meet people. I’d like for us to do splits in the future as well. I still don’t know what our next release is gonna be. Another Ep? LP? who knows. One thing is for sure we’re writing new music as we speak, and it should see the light of day in the next 6 months or so. Eventually I think we’d like to get a proper line up to do live shows but this is still in discussion at the moment.

11. Is Le Triomphe du Charnier Funeste’s first release or is there anything else fans of the band should check out?

Yannis: The Ep is our first outing. Me and Léo also play in a Electro Post-Rockish band called St-Petersbourg. Our new ep that I personally mixed, is coming out this summer. Other that’s pretty much it on my side.

12. What would be the best way in which the audience can get into contact with Funeste?

Through our email: funestemtl@gmail.com

Facebook: https: www.facebook.com/funestemtl

Black element Production: blackelementproductions@gmail.com

13. Is there anything in particular you would like to let the metal world know about the band? Is there any particular reason why the audience should keep an eye on Funeste?

Yannis: Well, if you like bleak, unforgiving black metal, give us a try. There’s a good chance you’re gonna enjoy our EP. And keep in mind, the next song are gonna continue pushing our own boundaries to create music more and more punishing.

Graveland to play live dates


Flowing black metal band Graveland will play its first live dates ever in August of this year. Composer, guitarist and vocalist Robert Fudali announced his intent to play live on Facebook with the tantalizing detail that most of the set will be older songs with several new ones thrown in the mix, “more or less.”

To longtime underground metal aficionados, this represents a sort of holy grail as like many early black metal acts, Graveland never played live. Formed of a hybrid between grinding Oi and melodic black metal, Graveland distinguished itself early on for its landscape-like melodies and ambient atmosphere, but has since developed its sound to be more like movie soundtracks with layers of instrumentation and composition inspired by ancient traditions in European music, as well as epic soundtracks such as those from the Conan movies by Vangelis. To hear the full evolution in a single show would be of great interest to most black metal fans.

Conditions for the Proper Gestation of Metal, A Discussion


I was listening to Antaeus’ Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan the other day and found myself thinking “This is pretty awesome metal coming from France!”. After all, France is not a very metal country, so the surprise is not, itself, surprising. At best, that country has produced a few flukes like giants Massacra and obscure Mutiilation, a product of Les Légions Noires’ elite circle. It is my contention that true metal art loci arise in such elite circles in very particular conditions and in reaction (metal is, to a certain point, what detractors of realism in a deluded society call “contrarian”) to different but at some level similar kinds of environments in which strong and perceptive minds fight an intellectual battle against a modern, peaceful yet poisonous complacency. Therefore, we may also clarify that metal proper is not a protest music. Protest belongs to a class warfare, while metal abstracts itself from both the futility of human rejection of reality and the petty strife caused by ignorance and incomprehension of our relative place in an uncaring universe. Not an evil universe as some fairy tales say, but an indifferent universe that could only care about humans as much as we care about a microbe that dies on the surface of our skin without ever even registering in our conscience in any way.

What does it take to be infused with the primordial essence of metal? Individual paths to a certain illumination over which we do not have total control? Metal is, after all, not made of the same matter as intellectually and experimentally-driven traditions such as classical music. We may learn certain methodologies that will better focus inspiration and drive, but the metal way is the way of the mystic, the way of spiritual transcendence. As with any opposition to esoteric affairs, there will be outcries against the allusions to an ultra-physical dimension in the wording, perhaps pointing out that metal has traditionally been strictly realist to the point of nihilism. But for those who understand what it means, mystic references will carry the point home without there being any suspicion of a contradiction. The mystic way is the use of images as passageways to vantage points that are unreachable through common language and from which we can see behind the frontispiece of human constructions.

Simple statistical scans of data from bands in different countries and at different times that it is also not a the healthy “scene” that brings about excellence. Scenes bring about scenesters and poseurs, not better music. For the better part of this last week, I had been on a mission to try and discover lost gems from among Central American bands (that means Guatemala down to Panama, for the geographically impaired). The task is not so easy, but I thought I might cover a lot of ground by first heading to Metal Archives (a very useful resource worked tirelessly by the plebeian masses of metal underlings that think any third-rate metal band around the corner is worth documenting)  and looking at the entries of lists by country. Although the number of entries per country varied wildly in relation to their sizes (from 30+ in Nicaragua to almost 200 in Costa Rica), after scanning the lists and listening to songs from each of the bands in the lists, one finds out that only a similar number of bands from each country would pass the high-level standards of metal we espouse here. That our “judgement” is suitable or not is not the point and is irrelevant to this point. The point is that a comparatively huge scene like Costa Rica’s did not yield more quality music in terms of composition than the meager offerings of Nicaragua or Honduras. Costa Rica’s larger scene, in great part fomented by a larger population and improved economic conditions, boasts of many albums with European-level metal production, abundant professional musicianship and and more gifted performers. All that is for nothing, at the end of the day.

This is also true for classical music, but it will not be discussed here for it requires a little more research about its particular condition to assert anything further. Metal flourishes not from fully-formed scenes, but rather from individuals in intellectually-challenging or adverse landscapes that choose not to fight social convention or status quo as such from within, but seek to escape it altogether after recognizing how nonsensical it is to submit to human imagination is if it were reality. Our minds are innately equipped with the machinery to see things in terms of illusions, essences and constructions. In the end, it is unavoidable. But it is in the individual to decide whether the illusion will dominate him or he will use it as a tool to carve his path through the uncertainty of chaos. Scenes, as human social circles that promote tolerance for the mediocre, are completely unfit to give birth or nurture creators — only perhaps shadows of them that bring more of the same or complete nonsense that does not amount to music.

Does this mean that we should stop trying to make metal as individual artists if we do not consider ourselves to be chosen? Not at all. Those we could consider somehow chosen (the patriarch Iommi, Hanneman, Quorthon, Warrior, Vikernes — frankly, I do not think death metal produced any such luminaries) were not self-referential assholes who believed themselves to be some sort of Messiah. Rather, they worked single-mindedly at their craft. While they were immersed in that and that goal remained the sole focus of their efforts, their music grew and expanded, building ever higher towers whose tops penetrated and seared the stratosphere in spite of scorching winds and burning ice. Experimentalists, retro-acts and self-professed proggers with no direction, on the other hand, kept running around in circles chasing their tails in a puddle of filth. Besting the destructive cyclones of hail that make short work of feeble-minded, the true leaders crossed boundaries and opened doors that were locked.  But these accomplishments are built on two equally important pillars. The first is the struggle in the midst of intellectual adversity. The second is tradition.


Det Som Engang Var: Significance and Merit


Much like Darkthrone’s Under a Funeral Moon preceding Transilvanian Hunger or Immolation’s Herein After before Failures for Gods and Close to a World Below, Burzum’s Det Som Engang Var(roughly translatable as “What Once Was”) before Hvis Lyset Tar Oss(“If the Light Takes Us) puts on display all of Varg Vikernes’ faculties as a composer in a way that is still relatively easy for a listener to make out the different things he is doing, unlike the next album where a convergence and purification that only a minority are able to grasp in all its excellence and magnificence. As Brett Stevens commented not so long ago in reference to Immolation’s Close to a World Below, some bands make the same album again and again until they are able to solidify their vision in a magnum opus.

Many metalheads who respect this album may do so out of a respect for how influential it is, without truly understanding that even if this album came out today, after all the others they are said to have influenced, it would still be as impressive and worthy of high praise — but perhaps it would not be noticed by the same people who today profess to appreciate it. Contrary to common belief, its worth is musical, not historical only. This is not very different from people who “enjoy” Black Sabbath or Celtic Frost, but fail to see the monument that works like Master of Reality and To Mega Therion are. In great part this error lies in associating or equating technical prowess on the instrument and an apparent “complexity” of notes with  a complexity of thought and excellence in composition. These albums display an astounding clarity resulting from the exquisitely fused elements of music (harmony, melody, rhythm…) in a way that may strike the unaware as “simple”. Confusing intelligibility with limitation/blandness/simplicity is the greatest sin one can commit against masterworks of music, because the greatest works all share this as a common trait.. While this is even more true of Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, it bears bringing into question the undue musical disrespect of which Burzum in general is the victim.

The album contains tracks that make use of abrasive and extremely dissonant intervals, very consonant and relaxed harmonizations of melodies, synths as support and synths as the main instrument in ambient tracks all together and mixed in different ways and given the spotlight in different tracks. It is, perhaps, this up-front “complexity” of having so many distinct colors that at least attracts the attention of and mention by even those who do not understand black metal. The composition itself is technically nuanced but like any proper work of art, comes off as intelligible to the point of being confused with “simplicity” in its negative connotation. The complexity of the works like Burzum lies in the seamless unfolding of a story, a masterfully woven tapestry blending all sorts of disparaged puzzles and meanings within its frames not unlike Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. The importance of discussing Det Som Engang Var is that it is here that his thinking  is most easily and obviously seen. Without understanding this album, monumental works like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Burzum’s stepping-into ambient(or as he described it, Anti-Black Metal) territory, Filosofem, can never be truly appreciated.

Regarding its little-mentioned lyrical topics that are actually worth mentioning in any integral metal work, they consist on a mixture of melancholy and longing for a grand and fantastic past that exists more in the mind of a romantic than in historical reality (but which makes the values and traditions it longs for no less meaningful or real), and an existentialist questioning of the self’s position in a world of men that makes little sense and which launches the brave man in search of truth behind, or rather past, human constructions. In addition to that, the tendency towards nature worship and an attraction towards the forest as the archetypal home of homes, a safeguard from the evil of men and their perversions motivated by greed and thirst for power, is ever present in Varg Vikernes’ language and allusions. These have also been the target of cynical contempt by the petty minds of postmodernists who are unable to make a connection with nature and are rather too fond of themselves as creatures of a decadent society, leading them to denounce anyone pointing at obvious truths about its breaking-apart.

Restoring the pride and respect that Det Som Engang Var has never had in truth, just as Burzum hearkens to a grand past that has never existed here on Earth but that through an evocation of opposites rather points to an idealist future, so we attempt here to find a direction for future metal to grow in undreamed of ways that do not diverge from the essence of metal and that stand on the firm example of the greats that did exist but have never been duly studied.

Necromantic Worship – Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death (2015)

Necromantic Worship

Occult-themed black metal that emphasizes its theme/ideology as its guiding light (as opposed to nu-black metal projects who can hardly be said to actually incorporate the ceremonial aspect into their music in any way besides their post-metal meanderings attempts at creating “atmosphere”) often fail for a variety of reasons. More often than not it is because they lose sight of what music is, and thinking only about their meta-presentation and try to justify poorly constructed music with the excuse that the goal lies outside music. In truth, good music is the goal itself, as a medium and experience. Rather than a gateway, it is the vehicle.

Necromantic Worship incorporates a very simple and almost rock-like repetitive black metal played with guitars that are barely set to override (not even truly distorted) and mix this with ambient-like passages that include the use of piano and synths, prayer exclamations and tremolo melodies. The best aspect of this three-song release is the latter. The simple and rock-like sections barely hold up musically, repeating for too-long with the only purpose of supporting the vocal track, itself only the medium for words. The verses that contain rapid-changing tremolo-picked melodies and soft blast beats are the only sections containing “singing” voice that can be rescued.

The sections that musically embrace the occult right and mix ambient and black metal are worthwhile and should be focused on by this artist in the future as his method has huge potential in its progressive bent. An alternative suggestion would be to learn motif-form variations in the black metal style from Varg Vikernes’ work with early Burzum. This, combined with a guitar tone that actually fills in the frequency spectrum of the audio would improve the overall experience.

Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death tracklist:

  1. Nergal, The Raging King
  2. Conjuration of the Fire God
  3. The Dark Young of Shub Niggurath

More on Le Triomphe du Charnier


Beginning with an interesting melodic progression, picked on an acoustic guitar and accompanied by background noises of synthesized chords and muffled mechanical noises, the title track and introduction to Le Triomphe du Charnier suggests a world of underlying mystery and danger. After a noisy segue into the second track, we find that, not surprisingly, the music of Funeste is hardly acoustic guitar-oriented. Dual-guitar distorted riffs are constructed like a highway for heavy traffic, as one guitar militantly plugs away at a rhythm and sticks to one chord while the second guitar plays a melody that races along the foundation of the first guitar, taking twists and turns in cycles before switching to a new course once the harmonic tension is exhausted and the low-register rhythm guitar changes chords and opens up new paths for the flightier second guitar to navigate. This “lead guitar over rhythm guitar” approach is hardly a novel one for metal or rock music but Funeste pulls it off elegantly and with a very natural (rather than formulaic and unimaginative) feel, as the best of the classic black metal acts (Emperor and Immortal come to mind) have done. Vocals appear at the proper moment, reverb-laden and rather indistinct phonetically-speaking, but serving a purpose (through the stretched-out screams that decay slowly) as each vocal line connects riffs either from beginning-to-end or through transitions, from end-to-beginning.

During the second track which is the first fully proper song, Funeste displays an adroit sense of how to piece together their songs smoothly without relying on any uniform structure. The first really outstanding riff involves a downward chromatic drop that loops a handful of times before giving in to a less-disorienting melodic progression. After the lyrics have been vocalized, the progression then reiterates the downward drop once more before charging into the “outro”, the riffs that lead the song to its conclusion. This method of structuring a song is also traditional of great black metal; play a riff (A) that leads into a harmonically related riff (B), eventually looping back to the original riff (A) before boldly rushing into a new melodic territory altogether with a new riff (C).

Funeste still make a handful of strange choices that may be chalked up to oversight on their part due to inexperience, or the choices may be conscious and intended to disorient the listener. Either way, there are some awkward transitions like a “bridge” near the end of the third track, Le Passager Invisible, which is made of strange background noises and a slowly plucked guitar melody with minimal percussive intervention. The band meanders lethargically through this segment for a while before abruptly breaking into a high-speed tremolo-picked riff that closes out the song. This is likely to disorient the listener since smooth transitions have been the norm up to this point, and something like a steady increase in tension would be expected as the band moved from a slow, clean-sounding section to a high-speed aggressive-sounding section. Instead, we as listeners are lead delicately along a cliff edge, allowed to take cautious glances over the side and, then, before getting a chance to really let the danger of our predicament sink in, booted clean off the ledge and dropped into freefall. While the effect is intense, it is not congruous with the smoothly-flowing nature of the rest of the song and serves as a “magic breaker” that snaps us out of our imagination and reminds us that we are only listening to a song, not experiencing a journey.

Further, there is a tendency for the musicians (in particular, the drummer) to suffocate the gripping melodies of the guitars with redundant ornamentation. The drums were apparently played by someone with a love of hip-hop-style grooves and amphetamines. While there is nothing inherently wrong with enhancing your drumming skills with amphetamines, this guy’s style often detracts from rather than enhances the melodies because he overplays the two drums that have the sharpest percussive attack – the snare and kick drum – in flailing, jolting beats that sometimes resemble overlong fills that draw most of the listener’s attention and end up leading nowhere. This is an unforgivable sin as it achieves the opposite effect of emphasizing the most important part of the music – the melody – by obfuscating the note changes. Imagine reading an engaging story, written with carefully-chosen words, but sprinkled randomly with periods, semicolons, parentheses, and ellipses. That is akin to the experience of listening to well-written music with intrusive drums. Still annoying but to a lesser degree, a guitar will sometimes break into a nonsensical stream of artificial harmonics or other obnoxious noise, but these fits are few and far between and don’t detract so much from melody as just add some uncalled-for ornamentation.

Beyond musicianship alone, Funeste have added too many background “found sounds” or just strange digitally-manipulated noises that add nothing to the “atmosphere”, which I assume was the reasoning behind adding these extra layers. There are two reasons why this is bad:

1. The riffs that are more harmonically sparse lose their dynamic capacity from being drenched in washes of amelodic background noise, and begin to sound even denser than the full-on blasting sections.

2. It makes the band seem underconfident in their ability to let the melody carry itself and express emotion, mood, thought, sense, experience, which the melody is perfectly capable of doing if just given some breathing room.

Much of the time, new bands (particularly those trying to play black metal) try to get away with being so simplistic that they sound like a really stoned punk band that can’t count how many measures they’ve been through and end up making ten-minute songs out of the same two chord progressions. Others focus so much on “technicality” that they end up playing something like etudes for guitar wankers. Funeste is special for committing neither sin; they have given us some good melody-focused work here that will benefit from having the extraneous elements removed.