We’ve sampled a few of the tracks Olve Eikemo has released as part of the Abbathproject. They certainly exist, that much I can tell you, but I personally wasn’t able to get much out of them beyond a certain level of instrumental proficiency. Response from the rest of the metal communities (curse their still-beating hearts) has been more positive, and Abbath’s proper solo debut will come out on January 22nd, along with a plethora of other albums we’ll have to at least give a perfunctory look. In the mean time, another track from this album (“Count the Dead“) has been released as a single, in case you didn’t already have enough clues about Abbath’s musical approach. Furthermore, Abbath is headlining the 2016 Decibel Magazine Tour through March and April, so he’s definitely got a busy schedule ahead of him.
Black metal emerged as a reaction to the trend of death metal which had already established a musical vocabulary and through that achieved a higher degree of technicality as well as abstraction.
These bands took inspiration from the proto-black Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory and Sodom. The music of these early hybrid bands was quite unlike what became the second wave of black metal or death metal in that its motifs were simple yet concrete; overlaid onto a structure which juxtaposes seemingly unrelated motifs next to one another in an uncomplicated and often superficially nonsensical form. Yet, the result was surprisingly successful as a visceral and chaotic experience of raw, concrete, sensory imagery.
The black metal to follow refined this approach through retaining much of the simplicity and visceral nature of the earlier music while placing the motifs in a more logical format through phrasal composition, in which each riff has a shape created by its phrase and these form a language within each song. This and the trademark atmospheric riffs driven by waves of reverb and tremolo picking – largely invented by the Norwegian bands of note – came to define the public perception of black metal as a genre. Consequently, the Norwegian sound moved away from the rhythmic lineage of rock to music to something closer to the traditional western sensibility: harmony and melody over static, invariant rhythm as famously codified by the experimental gothic sensibilities of Transilvanian Hunger.
Profanatica, from what can be intuited from rare interviews, had strong reactions towards both the Norwegian sound and death metal itself. As such their music took on a different character which has not garnered the band near as much acclaim. The Norwegian sound is, after all, is the standard against which all black metal music is held. Given the fact that all genres are imposed by observation after the fact, it seems that the difference between Profanatica and the Norwegian giants is not one of quality, but of a band not fitting within the aesthetic boundaries of a genre that the audience expects. That and the mad rush for Norwegian black metal pushed Profanatica to the boundaries of the black metal movement where its influence on artists and hardcore fans tells a different story of its importance.
Much like the Norwegians, Profanatica refined the approach of its influences by emphasizing an incoherent structure and seemingly random construction. The motifs themselves are anything but abstract; often sounding vaguely familiar if not recycled both literally and intuitively. The listener will detect a clear sense of familiarity with the image of a particular motif, yet its contextual placement is such that it reveals a new perspective on something familiar. To draw a metaphor, it is as if one obtains a view of the same landscape from the peak of different mountains. This freedom of association allows a particular feeling, idea or image to be used as appropriate, anywhere in a song without sounding out of place. That particular innovation is unique to this band alone.
Structurally, Profanatica develop the proto-black method by emphasizing its motif contrast and non-rational composition. The infamous “Weeping in Heaven” demonstrates this technique through a collection of riff ideas which bears little relationship to one another, nor are treated in such a way that might cause the music to blend seamlessly. The contrast is emphasized which leaves the listener in a position to experience the music on an intuitive level. The result speaks to the body and it speaks towards the id. Logical progression, causality and abstract musical language are rejected abjectly. Profanatica embraces the rhythmic tradition of non-Western forms; using it to give meaning to chaos and incoherence of raw experience. Where one might perceive conceptual weakness and compositional immaturity in the early black metal music, Profanatica matured their approach to the point of strength.
The greatest contrast between the Norwegian sound and their influences lay at the relationship between the subject and the perceiver. The musical component of the proto-black bands described the emotional reactions to a phenomenon portrayed, resulting in the internal discourse one expects when reacting to the representations given to them by their nervous system. The Norwegian sound attempts to paint the external world through its musical discourse. The valuations of the perceiver are never absent quite absent and serve to describe the relationship of the internal world to the external. It asks the question, “where do we fit in the image of the world as presented?”
In a sense it attempts to categorize a dark forest in nonverbal symbols. Profanatica, resting firmly in the proto-black tradition, presents the terror of a solitary human being in a forest without describing the forest itself through its musical symbols. The dialogue then, becomes a matter of internal sensation which is untamed and instinctual. In terms of artistry, that innovation ultimately expanded the initial range of expression without reasoning categorically about it.
The effectiveness of this particular approach may be observed on the medley from the Grand Masters Sessions release. The track consists of portions of the band’s demo material stitched together to form a single track. A listener familiar with Profanatica’s back catalog will no doubt sense the familiarity of the material yet what is most striking is the functionality of the piece as a whole. Despite being composed from entirely different songs, the song involves juxtaposition of each motif and its partial ordering, and as a result manages a level of unity as a stream of consciousness which reveals new perspectives on the material through context.
Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007) distills the familiar Incantation sound made famous on their debut record Onward to Golgotha – which Paul Ledney had a strong hand in developing – by stripping the material down to its most basic instincts. The result is a fierce and destructive force of will whose aim is deconstruction. The follow up Disgusting Blasphemies Against God saw the band barbarizing the famous emotional sensitivity of black metal’s melodic heritage and assembling those remains into hideous totems. The record’s defining characteristic is, after all, something of a crescendo implying the process of construction, perhaps out of the remains of that which its predecessor tore down. The latest record, Thy Kingdom Cum, lays siege to its two previous approaches by simplifying its rhythms to the point of idiocy while contorting its melodic forms to the point of mockery. The defining character of its predominant motifs is laughter which can be gleaned easily in the opening moments of the track “False Doctrina.” The aforementioned qualities are not something which need to be abstracted from the music; they are clear and obvious.
Profanatica’s approach is much like an uncivilized warband conducting raids on the civilized. Such groups are as much a tribal patchwork out of violent young men as they are a patchwork of the spoils of their activities: contradictory compositions of the basic human and technological components of a greater civilization whose assemblage is entirely pragmatic and allows for them to serve functions other than intended, but no less effective than their original purpose. Out of elements bound tenuously is something effective, something purposeful, something deadly. The world this music operates in is one which is defined almost entirely by nature rather than one defined by humans.
Where proto-black metal is defined by its visceral nature and deconstructive character, Profanatica embrace the ignorance in a brash display of unconcern for the perfume-soaked intellectuals which decry those outside their borders. Dwelling within the primitive backwater fringe has its advantages by bearing immunity to the abstract and desperate silliness of the rest of the genre. The similarly-goaled war metal attempts to reach back into black metal’s foundations but does so in a way which reduces the motif as an objectified emotion or image into pure texture reducing its communicative efficacy. The work of Ledney and company retains the concrete sensory experiences which drove metal in each of its original incarnations and were later given musical scrutiny before completely fossilizing, allowing their art to pick the last of the low-hanging fruit of metal as a form while others languish in petty revivalism, soulless displays of technical mastery, or vapid experimentation that desperately seeks revitalization by looking to external music genres; copying but not transforming its clichés.
How many people listen to Hellhammer’s Death Fiend? What about Sodom’s 1982 Witching Metal? How popular are Death’s earliest demos? When it comes to early proto-underground bands, these earliest demos probably don’t get the listening attention they used to in the deep past, even from people who would rush to their defense on the internet. Part of this could be that they’re still harder to obtain, which theoretically makes this repressing of Sarcofago’s demos quite helpful. This joint effort between Cogumelo and Grayhaze Records claims to go beyond making the band’s early demos officially available by also doing the typical “release more rarities” trick, notably including demos from the Rotting EP and The Laws of Scourge. It probably won’t replace INRI or Sarcofago’s other studio albums in your rotation, but it’s another way to give Wagner Lamounier money in case you’re worried he isn’t making enough teaching economics.
Rotting Christ’s 12th studio is in the works. Entitled Rituals, it will come out on Feburary 12th, 2016; a single has already been officially released to the internet for streaming. Given the timing, I’m not under the impression that Rotting Christ’s latest upcoming album was directly inspired by Varathron’s most recent efforts, but that’s something to ask the band’s personnel, if at all. Interestingly, the album is currently available for preorder from Season of Mist‘s online store. While I am not familiar with Rotting Christ’s later discography, I haven’t heard much complimentary about it from the DMU types. If they’re to be believed, it doesn’t really measure up to the band’s strong formative work, perhaps even coming off as a pale and overly streamlined imitation of such. Might be better for you to stick to modern Varathron if that’s the case.
Kronet til Konge shows what happens when a genre overshoots its inertia. Everything labeled “Norwegian black metal” with “that sound” was selling like hotcakes, which is a rare position for metal to find itself in. The fans, labels and magazines howled for more, which is always a sign that the quantity-over-quality groupthink has arrived. This band pasted together a bunch of riffs and called it an album.
The result shows us how important metal songwriting is: it’s not just about the riffs. Good metal comes from arranging riffs so they talk to each other to create “heavy” moments which feel like realizations (or provoke them). Normal rock is designed to distract you or get you lost in a sea of bittersweet conflicting emotions. Metal builds up illusions and tears them down, then inverts the whole structure to show you a hidden truth. This is the mythological nature of metal.
Dodheimsgard are talented musicians. They have about one good riff idea per song, and are musically adept enough to cook up the other riffs and bits necessary to tie it together into a song, but these are addressing the riff itself and not some underlying topic or feeling for the song. As a result, these songs feel random and convey nothing, although it’s hard to come to this conclusion when caught in a quality riff. But the sum has to be more than the total of its parts and that leap to greatness is not made here.
The guy who went to Black Flames of Blasphemy VI seems to have liked them – Destroyer 666 is returning with a new studio album after 7 years of inactivity on that front. They’ll presumably continue to be a partial throwback to ’80s first-wave black metal on Wildfire, which is currently set for release on February 26th. The band’s frontman, K.K Warslut commented on the artwork his band has procured for this album, saying that he “…was after something very simple and very metal, being sick to death as I am with pseudo-occultniks dressing everything up in the garb of mysticism.” It’s probably not just him, although the local occultists here at DMU might take issue with that. After this album’s release, the band has a few tour dates lined up in Europe for 2016.
As part of Peaceville Records’ holy mission to rerelease every shred of music they can, Dødheimsgard is releasing a vinyl pressing of their debut album on December 11th. I haven’t actually listened to Kronet Til Konge, but it’s apparently a fairly standard work of Norwegian black metal perhaps most notable for showcasing one of Fenriz’s many performances. It also predates both Dødheimsgard’s brief flirtation with the small black-thrash ‘movement’ (read: Monumental Possession) and their evolution into a goofy experimental metal act. This repress also contains the usual sort of additions – contemporary photographs, new liner notes, and other biographical material for the sake of added value.
Part of me still wants to like Gud. Isvind’s 4th studio album is a textbook example of how to sound like black metal, for sure, but the specific emphasis on consonant melody (mixed with some primitive and ambient elements ala Darkthrone) make for a substyle that at least can be done well in the right hands. Under this admittedly pleasing exterior, though, lies a heart of incoherence and confusion. Isvind, at least in 2015, is random to the core, and their inability to properly organize their songs makes for a tedious 45 minutes.
While this pervasive failure makes it more difficult to zero in on any one flaw, a few are at least more prominent and demanding of attention. One thing I immediately noticed were the presence of gimmicky female vocals – after the short but dissonant prelude at the beginning of the first track, they are scattered very sparsely throughout the rest of the tracks. They fail to add much beyond the occasional peak of shrill dissonance. As I kept analyzing Gud‘s tracks, I found that the tracks were full of these distractions in various forms, whether it was extra instrumentation, or stark shifts in tempo or tonality or other aspects of the songwriting. Each one of these is the musicological equivalent of being constantly pestered by a small child who demands your attention; eventually you get used to it, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. To their credit, Isvind manages to incorporate a great deal of dissonance into what is primarily a melodic and consonant style, which makes for some interesting isolated riffs, but since they can’t string the sections of their songs together properly, it almost doesn’t matter. To be fair, I don’t think this problem is caused specifically by the musical exploration, since other black metal bands (read: Averse Sefira) have written far more coherent and therefore interesting songs than are present on display here.
Still, I can’t recommend this in good conscience. It’s not quite as nonsensically random as Myrkur or a Krallice, but it’s a lot closer in spirit to those albums than what its aesthetics may lead you to believe on your initial listen.
P.S:I almost pluralized listens, but you shouldn’t give this album that much attention.
Article by Lance Viggiano, read the more positive DLA review here
1993’s Under a Funeral Moon displays Darkthrone at their peak of creativity with a depth of vision that is initially challenging and abrasive yet contains a high degree of musically which constructs an experience out of relatively simple components and nuance whose reward is inexhaustible. Many place the decline of the band somewhere between 1995’s Panzerfaust and its follow up Total Death; in truth, Darkthrone as a creative force reached its nadir on 1994’s TransilvanianHunger.
Unlike its predecessor, this record lacks in subtly and nuance. Gone is the inventive call and response of “To Walk the Infernal Fields”. The listener is mistreated by being deprived of the atonal, uncomfortable but highly inventive melody of “Natassja in Eternal Sleep”. Within the first minute, one will have gotten the gist of each track as the songs remain in a static pulse of two or ideas with a third idea serving as a bridge back to the initial thoughts, an interjection or an outro. Any relationship to an underlying narrative is tenuous to the charitable and absent to the honest. This is not a call for novelty in music as over time nothing remains novel; rather, it reveals a lack of dynamic character which offers no reward in a full listening of any track here; especially after the initial novelty fades with repeated listening.
As a piece of minimalism, this record fails abjectly. What is found in the successful minimalism of Eno, Reich – or perhaps Kraftwerk in moments – is the layering of simple ideas composed for multiple instruments in which absolute simplicity is woven together to create evocative if not complex art. Darkthrone instead chose to compose only for the guitar. The bass follows root notes of the guitar in a paltry attempt to give body while the drums meander near ceaselessly on a blastbeat which is only occasionally broken by an uninspired fill or a canned metal pattern. Their inclusion is questionable and unworthy of discussion or serious consideration. Their merit is valuable only to a critic as a display of the artists’ lack of confidence in leaving behind genre tropes to achieve a full realization.
Where the album finds success is by pandering to the overly sentimental via – admittedly – effective melodies and well executed aesthetics. Neither excuse the sheer laziness of construction nor the complete dearth of rhythmic variance and supportive content to fill out the body of the music. Instead what is presented is weightless and immediate music whose significance can only rely on memory of time and place; a sense of nostalgia for the first experience. It is thus difficult to discuss the emotional qualities of this music due to the near loss of artistry on part of its creator(s) which robs the record of any vitality and spirit. The music is heartfelt and bittersweet – with varying degrees of success – but ultimately it exists, at best, as audible candy for the melancholic.
Transilvanian Hunger‘s inability to grow with the listener over time and its misapplication of minimalism, despite containing a strong melodic component, places the record just a slight cut above the bargain bin. 2/10
This December, a few notable black metal acts are touring Western/Central Europe. Gorgoroth and Gehenna, at the very least had some fame and notoriety back in the 1990s and are still well known today, although the former has drifted quite far from their best days. On the other hand, I’ve never heard of Kampfar until just now, although a cursory look at Encyclopedia Metallum suggests they’ve existed since the mid-90s. Supporting acts are expected to vary, but in the UK, these three bands will be joined by De Profundis, who is at least tangentially related to the black metal focus this tour has. I’d like to label this a “tour of the fallen” like the recently covered Slayer/Testament/Carcass tour, but it seems less definite than in that case.