ANUS came out a couple weeks ago with a giant defecation on the new Burzum. People immediately complained that we hadn’t heard it, were being judgmental, and all sorts of silly stuff. What they didn’t realize is that you can hear a lot of things without officially owning them or getting them from the label, but you’re not going to do anything to hurt your sources. All of that changed last night, of course, with the official leak of the Belus master and 2LP version.
You want the tl;dr on the new Burzum? “Sounds good, soulless and disorganized.” This album has no direction but Varg is so adept at making simple riffs pretty that you want to drink it down. Cold, sweet, vast in flavor like a Snapple — but after listening to it a few times, you end up thinking: why am I doing this? This is no different than watching TV, going to a megachurch to hear about my immortal soul, or buying wallpaper. It’s pretty but has no direction so it ends up being like all other drone albums: a basic theme that picks up detail as repetition increases, then trails off into nowhere.
If you want music to replicate the experience of watching cheerleaders attempt to act out Macbeth, this might be for you, but not likely. Riffs are based on simple harmony and well-composed, but go nowhere, incorporating at random influences from Russian black metal, Ukranian black metal, German speed metal, Terrorizer and random death metal. A good deal of this shows the tripartite influence of Swedish melodic death metal, Slavic drone metal, and the American style of black metal flavored indie rock. The first track “borrows” the melody from the title track of one of the keyboard albums. Two of these tracks are obvious Uruk Hai do-overs.
The final track sounds like Sunn o))) doing their version of Burzum. Makes me wonder if the label and his Russian handlers didn’t sit him down with recent black metal blockbusters and try to get the trained monkey to make his own version. The musical ability here is precocious as always, but the raw material fed into the machine is gunk, so what’s output is really well-adorned gunk.
When you hear it, notice how simple the riffs are relative to the fills, trills and decorations that space them. It’s like dressing up a turd until it looks like a Faberge egg, from a distance. But when you get close, or listen to it a dozen times, you’ll see the difference.
This series of reviews shows the infectious potential of condensing the multidimensional texture of darkness and mythology into a carefully trimmed brief explosion with no room for filler or long, meaningless passages of droning, experimentation or interludes. Those who mastered the art of the metal EP or mini-LP are rare, but deserve all the more credit for their achievements. The fact that you can listen to everything we have here easily within the space of one evening does not mean that the unlocked experiences won’t stay with you forever.
Slayer – Haunting The Chapel
Showing a strong advancement in technique and an evolution towards a darker style that would be the staple of records to come by the band, Slayer throw off the camp shackles of their excellent first album, and give a more progressive approach to songcraft yet give more emphasis on repetition within individual riffs. The violent droning guitar timbre of Discharge makes itself ever more present whilst the musical language of Judas Priest and Angel Witch works itself within those patterns. The dissonant twin soloing of King and Hanneman is more suitable to this new direction also, whilst Lombardo’s aggressive battery finds more cohesion in using less variation and being more of an ambient backdrop than before, with Araya’s unmistakable rasp encoding itself sadistically within the depths. A bleak affair that summed up the apocalyptic meanderings of the speed metal movement and the embryonic beginnings of the death metal that was yet to manifest. -Pearson
Napalm Death – Mentally Murdered
This work is like a convergence of Napalm Death and Carcass, having left From Enslavement to Obliteration and Reek or Putrefaction behind in order to expand on their styles, towards Harmony Corruption and Symphonies of Sickness respectively. By Napalm’s standards, at this point in their discography, these songs are quite lengthy and structured with an attention to detail that recaptures the subtle shifts in mechanical motion of the earliest side to Scum. This technique is re-invigorated by the cleaner production, relegating the extremity of fuzzy bass for the sake of a twin-guitar assault that creates an hypnotic and delusional sensation, and shows the input of Jesse Pintado who would go on to record another highly influential work of Grindcore – Terrorizer’s World Downfall. Composition is practically freed at very the earliest moments of songs onwards, unlike previous Napalm Death albums where these parts were used to establish exactly which single riff will become immersed in a barely discernable anarchic explosion for the rest of the 30 seconds of music. Instead, it’s given a more Death Metal treatment, e.g. in ‘The Missing Link’, the opening riff seems to degrade over time into smaller grinding patterns until the fragments are juggled like sacks of meat by morbid Death Metal riffs. This is where some of the tremelo melodies that would tear through the rotten wall of sound of Carcass finds its place, accompanied by the mocking lead guitars of Bill Steer. The human tornado, Mick Harris is even more precise than his previous effort, but doesn’t lose any of his epithet’s justification. Lee Dorrian’s vocals become more guttural and undecypherable, conceding to the futility of mainstream political discussion. The seeds of an approach closer in line with the burgeoning interest in Death Metal were sown here, simultaneously taking Grindcore one step further away from reaching the dead-end of short and simplistic outbursts of truncated riffs and hollow statements. -ObscuraHessian
Rotting Christ – Passage to Arcturo
Warm, playful and overflowing with the abundance of inspiration in the rediscovery of ancient shamanic techniques of mystical metal creation, the Greek pioneers of Rotting Christ forsook the aggravated modern noise of grindcore in time to ride the wave of blackness that usurped the European metal underground. Remnants and glimpses of 80’s fast modern metal (Slayer) give way to an astral, luminous intensity of synthesizers and slowly picked melodies that suspend the themes for a moment to enable the mind to stop wandering and relish the unholy moment of concentration, in a yogic gesture of blackness. Few have ever used the crushing sonic world of black and death metal to so fully immerse in ethereal ritual, and such rare examples as Drawing Down the Moon preserve plenty of subtle reminders to this widely heard classic of European black metal. As their chaotic exhortations in countless zines of the period conclude, Rotting Christ’s hybrid of gothic and black metal aimed for an architecture of the infinite, regal sunsets of lost kingdoms whose landscapes are not for the eyes of mortals, except in dreams and in death. As “Forest of N’Gai” aptly proves, black metal was at its height when not contorted to fit the schemes of a political ideology or an orthodox Satanist movement, but like the great works of literature a realm of fantasy of its own whose symbols are rooted in our deepest unconscious fears and desires. This sub-space can then be used by the analytical mind to figure the patterns of generation for a multitude of creative, even lunatic, concepts. -Devamitra
At the Gates – Gardens of Grief
The original Gothenburg gloomy melody cult made one of their strongest statements on this early EP, pressed from demo to vinyl on the first year of the band’s existence. Fresh from life disrespecting bands such as Infestation and Grotesque, these Swedes nail the most desperate guitar harmonies since Candlemass, but infect them with the viral sensibility of a flux of death current. As if plugging the Sunlight Studios into your brains in direct interface, Svensson’s tremolos rip and rend mercilessly apart the soul of the beast that dared expose its true feelings of living in a world of hypocrisy and uncertainty. The band has preserved the most fragile moment of the Swedish death metal underground, the precarious balance between the catatonic psychosis of headbanging under alcoholic influence and the deep, burning, thoughtful soul of an encrypted Romantic in a world of pain and disguised memories. It all takes such tangible form in Tomas Lindberg’s cracking, maddened scream: “I am at the gates – Lord of Chaos – Let me sleep”. The fear and anger of At the Gates’ most revered albums will always remain something that divides audiences according to their response to such emotional cues, but “Gardens of Grief” is the un-terrorized, exuberant sound of youth that realizes the presence of death and dives into it headlong, appropriate to the Per Ohlin dedication in the liner notes. -Devamitra
Wings – Thorns On Thy Oaken Throne
An all too brief EP from Finnish gloomophiliacs Wings, as ephemeral as the tortured existence that is enshrouded in these twisted sounds of darkness-raped melody. Almost like the missing tracks from Cartilage’s cult classic ‘The Fragile Concept of Affection’, this continuation goes further to explore the sombre moods of songs like ‘Why Do I Watch The Dawn?’, in their Replicant-like reflections upon the transience of a human existence placed between the crushing, vice-grip of nothingness. Wings don’t peturb the balance of pace of slower, more expansive lakes of hypnotic melody that made up Cartilage’s contribution to their split with Altar, but there is greater focus on creating a doomier atmosphere, leaving no space for the grinding riffs of the past incarnation – a technique that parrelleled the Swedish Unleashed on their first album. Instead, an older treatment is given to the bouncier riffs, which could be heard as Punkier passages, but as this EP comes together as a whole to reveal, these bridge the narrative that seems to span across both songs with a mid-pace tempo in which the drawn out melodies pass through towards an expressive, quite neoclassical riff of totality – encompassing all the hopes that are weighed down by all the sorrows in the journey towards death. This poem in two parts is a valuable recording of Death Metal history, as a valid direction for these Finnish musicians to have taken following the demise of Cartilage, with all their weird melodic knowledge as baggage. -ObscuraHessian
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
A true gem, Sacramentum’s first EP showcases a style that is melodic and emotive in a manner not unlike countrymen Dissection and Unanimated. Epic, catchy and well crafted compositions are multi-layered not unlike Emperor minus keyboards, the rush of guitar notes being vibrant and lively, with little emphasis towards a rhythmic expectation, as one would expect with most heavy metal and hard rock music. Simultaneously moody yet without being whiny, this early release by Sacramentum showcases a band who are able to master quality control and bring the best out of all the elements that define their music. Alongside At The Gates, artistically the finest Swedish metal act of the 1990′s. -Pearson
Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
Fast, raging black metal with the fury of early Deicide and the sharp harmonizing typical of Mayhem and Immortal’s ‘Pure Holocaust’ come head to head, in the guise of technically precise, abrupt songs. Shouty hardcore vocals, warm synth overlaps, a near constant blastbeat and anti-humanist lyrical concepts indicate a desire by known Norwegian musicians to advance the aggression of the black metal style and shift it’s idealogical focus away from romantic nostalgia. This brief E.P. lacks the spark of Norway’s foundational acts, but remains an influential statement of the subgenre. -Pearson
Vulpecula – Fons Immortalis
Who would have expected Chuck Keller to open the gates to very Orion itself after the folding of the aggressor squad par excellence Order from Chaos? As if a continuation of the promise of the astrological and alchemistic symbolism of the former bands’ lyrics, Vulpecula slows it down and strums soothing, yet vigorous melodies while the vocals multiple into wraith-like dimensions of rhythmic rasps and Keller’s leads occasionally burst into the aggressive, spasmous flight of an eagle amidst a thunderstorm. “Phoenix of the Creation” delves into exercises in authentic space synth, while “The First Point of Aries” harkens to the mid-paced woodland meditations that the Norwegians used to record at Grieghallen. Occasionally slightly hindered by the band’s eagerness to cram all the influences from Schulze to black metal into one short EP, the mere richness of it invites the ears to take their pleasure at will from the Babylonian garden of ponderous and prestigious movements that are achingly attractive and acceptable in their innocent refusal to complicate things with dissonance. Credit also goes for the lead guitar efforts of Keller on their traditional melodious injection which easily avoids the neutrality of more pop oriented bands trying to do the same. Almost like envisioning a “new age” approach to the genre, Vulpecula is an alien saucer amidst the orbit bound technologies of “progressive” death metal. -Devamitra
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate
The first new release that’s being reviewed for 2010 and it’s already giving distinct impressions of the kind of quality that made 1993′s ‘As the Angels Weep’ a genuinely classic EP. Divine Eve keeps the form of this new material far simpler, stripping away the Death Metal-infected sludginess for a more rudimentary homage to early brutal music like Celtic Frost. ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ makes its own unique statement by honing in on the nihilistic and warlike spirit of the Swiss legend’s To Mega Therion magnum opus, even invoking the same battle-horns on ‘Ravages of Heathen Men’ that bring focus to the beauty of conflict and strife in a meaningless universe. The varied tempo of grinding riffs set to a dirty bass guitar adds to the atmosphere of struggle as an outlet for this primitive, instinctual response to the world. ‘Whispers of Fire’ being the exception on this EP for the constantly up-tempo pace, it’s a pleasure to hear such slow and sludgy music churning visions of the darker universe beyond our lives of comfort and languish. The final and most devastating touch of ‘Vengeful and Obstinate’ is how Divine Eve makes extensive use of the piercing tone that Xan’s grating guitar setup produces, highlighting the spiral passage of powerchords by revealing their hidden, melodic architecture, ingenuiously managing to explain and enhance this rugged approach of legendary lineage. It’s about time the band produced a full-length and they’ve proved that they possess more than enough knowledge of unholy riffcraft to do so. -ObscuraHessian
Coming from the anarcho-punk school of musical and ideological tradition, and finally releasing this, their debut full length in 1985, Amebix had already released a series of excellent EP’s in the early half of the decade. The unique character of their music was a sound that fused the violent hardcore punk of Discharge with the circulative, repetitious song structures that were a staple of post-punk acts such as Killing Joke and Public Image Ltd. Escaping the social-activist themes that were a staple of hardcore, and transcending the melancholia and fatalism that was a common theme of post-punk, Amebix took on board the musical apparatus of both substyles and turned towards a contemplative, naturalistic direction that subverted the generalisation of how we associate themes with forms. Inspiration comes additionally from the NWOBHM of early Motorhead and Judas Priest in the crunching, percussive guitar playing that made itself a staple of speed metal and subsequently death metal. Drums batter clearly as if to stadium anthems, and boom with an echo one would clearly associate with said decade. Droning riffs make an appearance and have a harmonic depth to them that evoke the archaic and the dystopian much like Burzum and Godflesh simultaneously would do in their most prominent work. Whereas the metal subgenres of the 1980′s slowly influenced one anothers musical language, Amebix single handedly introduced new themes and formats that would become the structural basis of future acts to come, and alongside their compilation album No Sanctuary, this important work deserves it’s applause.
Following up the band’s debut album Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz, Impaled Nazarene opened the silo once again to release their deadliest missile of truly Brahmastric proportions with 1993′s Ugra Karma. Roughly translating from the original Sanskrit into ‘bad actions’, the album’s title indicates the nature of this distinctive blend of Punk, Black Metal and other styles and sounds, as a dance of destruction atop the accumulated filth of the modern world. The updated artwork of a hooved, nuclear Nataraja performing this world-ending ritual over desecrated damsels and making occult gestures in front of an inverted pentagram takes this idea further in a profound hybrid of apocalyptic Hindu and Satanic imagery which also heavily underlies the musical approach of Ugra Karma. The deep, muscular bass-work in these anthems of armageddon give power to aggressive and militarised Punk-like guitar riffs imbued with a majestic, Black Metal sense of melodicism and pace. Their target is in sights, the riffs transform imminently like the complexion of a scene changing upon the arrival of Harrier squadrons from over the horizon, to rain hell on harmless victims! It’s these simple and incredibly conclusive narratives that give each song such a depth of expression, with the finality of a Vedic chant. Drums are overbearing and industrious in their sound, maintaining a constant beat that drills the blasphemous, mystical revelations of doom into the listener with a Nazistic authority, leading a new SS to purge the world of its undesirables. Impaled Nazarene present with all of their hatred not only the downfall of the world they despise, but the primal law which will bring that land of light and love to its knees, sodomise it and replace it with evil.
A short and sweet five song EP by Neutron Hammer sees these young Finns tackle a simple, tried yet tested formula, typical of what we expect from retrograde black/death/thrash hybrids, seemingly with the only intention to rehash and rekindle lost memories of something many once saw as ‘true’. With a sharp and clear production that conveys great energy within the constraints of mostly verse/chorus song structures, Neutron Hammer often have a similar charge to their music not unlike Australian nostalgics Vomitor and Spear Of Longinus, though compacted to an catchy, anthemic mode that fits the early, primitive works of Impaled Nazerene and Beherit. Excellent work, and also worth watching if you can catch a live performance.
The Stone – Magla
Serbian black metallers The Stone create an epic work that resembles Texan act Averse Sefira, as both bands combine death metal riffing with Norwegian styled harmonies. The differences here are that the melodies are more obvious to untrained ears and we get much more variation in tempos. Amidst this framework there is a crepitating NWOBHM influence in the guitar work, laid beneath a sheen of violent, modern black metal phrasings. One of the best releases to come out of Eastern Europe since the turn of the recent millennium.
Worship – Last CD Before Doomsday
Reissued on CD format five years after being issued on cassette in 1999, Worship play in a funeral doom style that takes on the amelodic, sluggish, death-doom riffing of Thergothon and the suicidal themes and eclectic ambiences of fellow Germans Bethlehem. This lacks the sense of continuity that makes bands like Skepticism great, often losing its momentum in its search of unfathomable dirges of gloom, though this is no means to suggest it is a bad work, it still has its moments of quality.
Gehenna – First Spell
A minor classic of Norwegian black metal, Gehenna’s debut full length contains five songs that combine simple, punky chords and tremolo picked guitar harmonies amidst a backdrop of haunting, etheareal keyboards. Unlike most bands who have unsuccessfully tried to execute this ‘gothic’ variant of black metal, Gehenna clearly understand quality control, and whilst they allowed this aesthetic to play a key role in what you hear on the surface, it is kept in moderation and doesnt outweigh the artistic beauty on offer. If you are looking for something that triumphs where acts such as Cradle Of Filth handicapped their own potential, one should find it all here. Simple, imaginative, majestic and consistent, this is a highly recommended release.
Hellfires were set loose in Helsinki, Finland last weekend by a horde of black metal maniacs from all over the Earth. Profanation, an intangible feeling of myth, alignment of spirits, pervaded the atmosphere. Let me remind you that while the gig situation concerning underground black and death metal in Finland is rich and fertile, every so-called cult band appearing on stage is no longer going to change anyone’s life to something more mysterious and powerful. Maybe the younger audience sees the matter differently, but I believe they are becoming jaded also. This weekend was something different however. The main event was the 2-day Black Flames of Blasphemy fest, on 23rd and 24th, the Friday night featuring Taake and Horna, among others, but I wasn’t attending, on one hand because of a lack of interest regarding the bands, on the other because I could use one spare night between the “pre-party” on 22th (aptly called “Unholy Night to Remember”) and the Saturday explosion featuring bands of the caliber of Blasphemy and Revenge from Canada.
The dark side of Finland
So, it all started on a rainy and windy Thursday night, in a small Helsinki pub called Darkside which I had only visited once before, when it was empty. No-one was expecting a large crowd because normal people would have jobs and studies to attend to, but the place was crowded and intense. Demonos of Barathrum, the drunken bastard, was shouting at the doorman and people were consuming beer like it was the eve of ragnarók. In that one room of a few hundred cubic meters had been compressed all the dreams and neuroses of Finnish black metal since its very beginning. Even Pete Helmkamp came around to see for himself what the fuck was going on. Ofdoom, a Blasphemy clone from Hamina whose members are barely 18 years old, played a reasonably aggressive set of uncannily familiar sounding songs. I am thankful that at least the cover song choice was “Christ’s Death” by Sarcofago instead of something from the war metal scene. Many of the old school maniacs I met applauded the energy and sincerity these young guys brought to the evening. However, I was more thrilled by the Goatmoon set that saw the audience become a rioting mass of fists and headbanging. The garage punks of Finnish black metal, Goatmoon unleashed a set of familiar songs from their albums mostly resembling a triumphantly melodic cross of Dimmu Borgir demos and Absurd, not to mention an enormously provocative cover from Finnish RAC band Mistreat.
But the real reason why everybody was there that night, the crux of all the anticipation and nervous violence was the return of the infamous Azazel on stage, an early Finnish black metal coven lost to annals of history but fondly remembered by everyone who breathed the air of 90′s Finland, when worship of darkness was still pure and cold… clad in spikes. Stories about Azazel and their infamous frontman Lord Satanachia are equivalent to an inverted saga, one of madness and devotion. For a decade the band was forgotten until suddenly it seemed to have reformed in alliance with some members from young occult metal band Charnel Winds. It all seemed unbelievable and to see it with one’s own eyes… triumph!
It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that an Azazel gig might prove to be a disaster, in normal sense. Enveloped in the mists and throes of an ancient curse, the guitarist’s malfunctioning equipment threw the disorganized band from the brink of a metaphorical cliff into the abyss, to be carried upon the wings of Death. While Demonos threw himself from the audience into the stage in an alcoholic spasm, wires were torn, microphones were ripped and fists started flying. Part of the equipment was mute, the rhythm section was confused and Satanachia’s croaks were barely audible chants and incantations of demonic names. A morbid pall descended upon Helsinki. In anti-arranged structures of primitive, broken black metal, Azazel mocked everything and everyone. Brilliant and beautiful riffs, performed at variable and confused speeds, interlocked with rhythms and blasts whose randomness remained cryptically problematic. No-one knew if the songs are actually like this or have all the members gone insane. The most sensitive part of the crowd was devastated and ultimately impressed. Others were bored and drunk. Enough said about that evening except that I doubted even Saturday can give a more authentic black metal experience, because for the rest of the night and the next day, Azazel’s psychosis was still deeply within my heart.
The church of blasphemy
Saturday night was again cloaked in the weather of Jack the Ripper’s London. Through the rain we approached the ominously titled Dante’s Highlight, converted from an old church on whose steps Mannerheim and Hitler had shaken hands in a pact of war. It served as a normal nightclub until a few years ago it became one of the prominent metal bars of Helsinki. We have no knowledge how much blasphemous intent influenced its current use, but it was something to see candles and torches lighting the altar (stage), bestowing a comforting, cavernous gleam upon the high ceiling and reflecting from the chain-wrapped wooden posts adorned with gasmasks. The gig organizers par excellence Kold Reso Kvlt had taken lots of care in making this event perfect, as it was also the destination of a veritable exodus of German, French, Italian and other foreign black and death metal fans.
Proclamation from Spain launched into formally perfect, yet somehow vague and heartless Blasphemy aping primitive death metallic sounds and while the gig was technically the dream of your standard NWN forum fan, it raised apprehension that this is going to be an evening where every band sounds the same and everyone plays a Blasphemy cover! There was still some space to move around the building but despite three floors, it was rapidly becoming claustrophobic and difficult to breathe. The gig had been sold out ages ago. Black Witchery from Florida, USA, specialized in repetitive high speed exercise of redundant riffs, which despite its great marketing value to black metal consumers lacks the spiritual depth and intellectual convolution of the high masters of the genre. To anyone who has heard a Black Witchery album or two it was easy to guess what the gig is all about and for their fans, they probably did deliver the goods. I liked a few of the atonal, destructive, confusional parts that reminded me of the greatness of the Australian disbanded legend Bestial Warlust.
By the time the third band, Archgoat from Turku, Finland, commenced their set, the full force of the Finnish metal scene had already coalesced upon the building and for anyone who knows people or is known himself, much time and attention had to be spent on greetings, handshakes, throwing the horns, mock fighting and the like. However, the atmosphere was also rapidly gaining a more intense, expectant and noxious odour. Screams, blood and bursts of madness spattered the overcrowded club. Between pockets of peace, chaos reigned, the passing of souls from one layer of Hell to another, brother and enemy united in prayers of profanation. While for some people the grinding, organic and physical malevolence of Archgoat marked their best gig ever, I say the 2005 comeback gig after a decade of silence still holds the scepter. Heavily influenced by VON and Sarcofago, Archgoat was the first band of the evening to capture a cold, theatrical melody and frame the counterpoints of primitive death metal riffs with heavy, well placed doom. It was the only performance of the evening whose spine was not hardened by monotonous speed. Instead, it slithered up the walls like a serpent of abomination.
Amidst beer, guts and blood, headbanging Italians and Finns going mad over the controversies and abstractions of the night’s leading band (“Are Blasphemy real, do they really exist?” “Is that negro over there Caller of the Storms?”) everyone who was ever famous in Finnish black metal walked entranced amidst the crowd, as one with the spiritually dead. Black metal skinheads went out for a smoke and traded with kebab and banana merchants around the corner. Someone’s face was fisted and another got a kiss from a new girl.
Revenge, the Canadian commando force, was for some members of the audience the main event to witness here and for a good reason. By the unholy candles’ light, between the walls built to serve God, James Read attacked the drumkit like a voodoo priest releasing magick vapours of steaming ether, in a sharp and fluid tribute to grindcore percussion masters. In a battle position, in the attire of a right wing street fighter, Helmkamp’s fingers tore thrash influenced phrases from the trusty bass guitar as he used to do already decades ago in Order from Chaos, while his sharp intonation revealed the lyrics be less a narration, more a ritual chant of words whose meaning and connotation have been obvious to warriors for millennia: “traitor”, “victory”, “blood”, “conquest”, “force”, “survival”. The robotic, inhumanly precise ability of the three musicians to control chaos resulted in the most impressive technical display of the evening. It caused uncertainty and fear. What can even the mighty Blasphemy do after this 100-percent martial art display of perfect war metal kata forms?
Luckily we didn’t need to wait very long until Black Winds and co. gave us the answer. As a storm of the angels of apocalypse and doom, this noisy but influential group of Canadians were far from any kind of perfection in their music. They appeared as in constant battle, a crackling terror of violent audial force, ripping and rending the soundscape of world without end. Dramatic and physical, it seemed as if the walls are about to collapse. Black Winds seemed at times lost, at others frenzied and focused. Strong war screams arose from his throat in defiance to heavens. Caller of the Storms didn’t play his guitar, he molested its corpse. A gargantuan sized session bassist filled the forefront and provided background vocals. Ryan Förster of Conqueror played second guitar wearing a gasmask. Original drummer 3 Black Hearts of Damnation and Impurity pulsed, leaped and attacked with his beats as lightning that strikes amidst a raging storm. It wouldn’t be correct to say the band was in top form, or something. The band was a force of nature, a mission of war that happened on stage. It didn’t compete with the musical precision and finesse of Revenge. It maimed the listeners with its droning and anti-sacred frequencies into submission, obeisance and ultimately an intuitive sense of the laws of nature. Cosmos, life, nature is about war. That’s what war metal and Blasphemy is about. The order of things, as it is, revealed in chaos. The highest principle of art, which is truth. Rarely, in years of seeing the finest of the bands perform on stage, have I been filled with such a calm, inspired joy as in the midst of this night’s rendition of “War Command”.
Thus, I have witnessed two of the finest evenings of black metal this year. I give my highest and sincere thanks to individuals who year after year, day after day, spend their attention and hard work to organize cultural events of the highest magnitude, even while they will never be as celebrated for their work as even mediocre bands are. Flyers and ads already promise interesting happenings for next year, so for now, I still very much enjoy living in this Northern land of bloody lakes and corpse-strewn woods!
This long-awaited independent film documentary finally hit London as part of the Raindance film festival, as metalheads and indie pricks alike filled the seats to watch what has been promoted as the least sensationalist take on the all too familiar events surrounding the Inner Circle and that Scandinavian wave of Black Metal. ‘Until the Light Takes Us’ presents the story through the thoughts of some important figures from that scene, most notably Burzum’s Varg Vikernes and Fenriz of Darkthrone, who are able to articulate more of what constituted the worldview of that movement, from two very different perspectives – Varg as the idealist finding himself trapped within his surroundings and Fenriz as a former idealist now trapped within himself. For example, the Count Grishnackh likens his experience in prison to being in a monastery, as it imposes a strong sense of discipline on him, conducive to self-development, engaging with reality at the level of ‘ideas’ and the eternal quest for ‘Truth’. Fenriz, on the other hand, looks pretty directionless and resentful of the events that culminated in his loss of spirit to the extent that he describes his current music with Darkthrone as like petting dogs (the fans) and inspiring them to share his misery, possibly offing themselves as a result.
This film is clearly a chance for those involved to speak about such things after the initial media attention and exposure had long ago infected the exclusivist purity of Norwegian Black Metal. As such, it is not really a film about Black Metal. No clear picture is put together as to be able to explain what Black Metal is, although larger conclusions can be drawn as streams of dialogue intersect and are placed alongside appropriate imagery and Nordic scenery. The anti-Judeo-Christian sentiments of church burnings and the anti-consumerist, anti-westernisation implications of Helvete’s radical ideology are explored with reasonable depth, but there is nothing much said about what they affirmed and found beauty in, which is the real impulse behind many classic Black Metal albums. Combined with what seemed to be the ultimate fate of these artists as some form of social ostracisation and self-destruction (captured by Satyricon’s Frost and his throat-slitting public art display, and Dead’s suicide), Black Metal – whatever it is – comes off as a dark curiosity ultimately yielding fatalistic results. Fair enough, that’s not the purpose of the movie, but for a Black Metal initiate, this film offers little more than surplus interview material. It’s interesting as a documentary, exploring the detrimental effects of media bullshit super-imposed on an ideological and artistic movement that stood well outside of what the media can express in it’s limited lexicon, and provides content for those interested to further research this cryptic genre.
Does it seem to you that the days are shorter
And does it seem to you that the nights seem so much longer
Well it does to me, and in time you will see
That the fate of the world is burning in fire
– Deströyer 666, Genesis to Genocide
In my visions of another age, Australia is a domain of rogues and devils, swept by sands and heat, a colony of fear. Aboriginals fight, mutated animals leap and grappling hooks are thrown from jeeps that speed with metallic roar across the wasteland. Humanity decays, but Australia preserves the instinct for survival, man against desert, taking pleasure in the primitive actions of hunting, fighting, lovemaking and getting drunk on bourbon. Nocturnal winds howl through the chasms, kangaroos leap over graves and tribal chants are raised amidst campfires as skull goblets are raised.
While I have never been to the country, the impressions of Australian black and death metal do nothing but strengthen the images of brutal frontier life. The sense of the wild is different, more internalized, almost Jack London -like, compared to the European romanticized walks in civilized Teutorburger woods or pure, silent Scandinavian nature. Australians are rebels who have tasted the whip of slavery and still remember it – with hate in their blood.
Every rock fan knows AC/DC and Nick Cave, the astonishing twin pillars that represent total opposites of image and style roleplay in hard rock. Both of them influenced heavy metal around the world, but a mainstream fan would be hard pressed to name any other Australian bands of note. I’m not going to dwell on the early 80′s, but mention some events that were triggered by the resurgent death and black metal ideas of Europe and the USA.
Australia is characterized by geographical distance from the Western pop culture trends and so, death metal didn’t happen early but it was marked by a serious intensity from the beginning. As a perfect example, we can take Armoured Angel, who with their late 80′s series of demos gradually developed from a heavy and grinding version of speed metal into a technical artillery of militantly precise death metal akin to Polish innovators Vader. Hobbs’ Angel of Death, due both to their cult reputation and connections to later more visceral bands, proved definitive with their self titled album in establishing the early death metal attitude and sound of bands like Destruction and Slayer in Down Under. Hobbs’ raw, molten hot solo bends and breaks were like burning gasoline leaking from a bullet torn hole in a fighter plane. Meanwhile, Sadistik Exekution initiated their campaign of abuse against every known musical principle, which continues up to this day.
Influenced by hardcore and speed metal, these madmen from Sydney proceeded to destroy the reputability of Australian metal with their on-stage and off-stage antics, almost becoming performance art with their macabre, sarcastic terror campaign of pure noise. Already “The Magus”, recorded in 1986, suggested that this band would dare to go where others would not, the subconscious realm of damnations and mutations, yet containing the elements within an underground death metal rhythm and riff based format. Their second and best album, “We Are Death… Fukk You!” was already something else – a noisy freakshow of an album, with the catatonic, desperate screams of Rok and nearly fusion jazz-y random blasts of violence from the strings of Rev Kriss Hades and Dave Slave. Sadly, their later albums mostly devolved into using the madness as a gimmick instead of a mode to express actual items of perception.
The next generation produced more self-contained music but it also showed the blooming of the world wide death metal presence, as we are talking about the days when death metal was at its commercial heights, ’91-’93. Many bands wanted to be like their big brethren in Florida, as a shameful but popular example let’s mention Mortification, who aped the thrashy sound of early Death with some of the complex rhythms of Obituary or Suffocation, yet infiltrating the standard gore text with reborn Christian propaganda, which had a widespread presence in Australian metal at large. Meanwhile, a band like Anatomy, whose elegant use of melody as texture, akin to Swedish bands like Grave or maybe even At the Gates, remained unknown to most death metal fans. Anatomy’s constructions weren’t altogether as brilliant, but as with many Norwegian early death metal bands, it was a breeding ground for musicians and ideas that would fully develop into a wave of satanic, intense war metal. And if you read the diSEMBOWELMENTreview we published some time ago, you already know that they were able to built a transcendentally blissful temple of Zen-like tranced out death metal from the simple basis of combining British style grindcore with British style doom.
The acid, sex and Satan obsessed wave of barbaric war metal, ca. 1994, was again closer to the sardonic “fighting man’s black metal” attitude of Beherit, Blasphemy and Impaled Nazarene, than Norwegian “top hat black metal”. This means that Bestial Warlust (“Vengeance War ’til Death”), Deströyer 666 (“Violence is the Prince of This World” and “Unchain the Wolves”) and Gospel of the Horns (“The Satanist’s Dream”) used Sarcofago and Destruction as templates to unleash a torrent of riffs which could have been untuned Motörhead on 45 rpm, emphasized by an artillery of ambient drumming to evoke images of blooddrenched hordes and endless streams of bombers. I remember how back in the day these bands were even widely detested in zines documenting the black metal phenomenon, but they proved crucial to bands which around the turn of the millennium clad in bullet belts and started wearing gas masks in “war metal” revival’s endless stream of clones.
All this might have you thinking that the Nordic and Romantic styles of black metal were obsolete in Australia, but this was not to be the case. Abyssic Hate (whose “Cleansing with an Ancient Race” was a perfect match for the Immortal related Det Hedenske Folk on their split album) intended to capture the harsh poetry of Burzum and Ildjarn. Later material was somewhat unsuccessful because of humanocentric (“suicidal”) terminology, despite ambient leanings in songwriting. Nazxul was the Australian counterpart to mysticist bands like Nåstrond or Osculum Infame, whose cloaked, symbolic stage presence was a source of controversy. Theatrical, esoteric and arrogant, Nazxul did not fail to clothe oblique satanism in suggestive and venomous fury, at times surprisingly cerebral – especially on the mini-album “Black Seed”. Samain‘s “Indomitus” recalled some of Enslaved‘s and Graveland‘s explorations in long songs influenced by folk and classical music, wandering through interludes and heavy, thunderous, emotional modes as if paralleling the documented trials of the ancient Indo-European tribes, whose mythological symbolism filled the lyrics.
Gradually, we can note the presence of all the international metal trends and hypes increasing in Australia, filling the continent with meaningless bands. It would be a lie to say that the random band you hear from Australia is up to anything good. But there’s some you might like to hear. Asphyxia is a young technical death metal band, influenced by Nile, Kataklysm and the rest of the champions of convoluted hyperspeed – they are bit in love with the Necrophagist digital treachery fashion but they have room to develop and the players definitely deserve applause for their instrumental excursion. Midnight Odyssey uses oceanic layers of slow melody to transform black metal to a landscape of dark clouds, using keyboards in the evocative manner familiar from Schulze and Summoning. The best of the epics on “Firmament” rediscover a youthful, hopeful beauty that hasn’t been too fashionable in the image and commodity oriented latter days of black and death metal. Nazxul, who sadly lost a vital member to a motorcycle accident, released in 2009 their possible magnum opus, the immense “Iconoclast” which has established itself as one of my top black metal choices of the year despite initial skepticism towards the more standard imagery and vocabulary employed on the surface. Suggestively classical and elegant, as Emperor and Avzhia did it, Nazxul praise the unliving and the unknown with a Bach-ian playful sonority, adding themes, keyboards and guitar leads to basically simple songs the same way an alchemist adds prime materials to his boiling tincture of salvation. It is all, and much more, than most of Funeral Mist (and their ilk) tried to achieve with their experimental norsecore.
The old horde is still going strong, of course, as I got the initial inspiration for this writeup when interviewing Deströyer 666 (now based in Netherlands and the UK) elsewhere. With their latest album “Defiance”, they continue to quote the metal history all the way back to Judas Priest and the NWOBHM and this was of course much enjoyed by this writer even though it would be false to say that they would have reinvented, or even surpassed, their old selves in any manner. The scene is still brimming with offshoots of Anatomy and Bestial Warlust, such as Ignivomous, who on “Death Transmutation” have definitely listened their Incantation and Immolation, not without streamlining them to a more generic barbaric noise approach though, and Razor of Occam, whose “Homage to Martyrs” updates the violence of Sodom and Kreator to a new generation yet again, as wolves surrounding the throne room of Absu who stumbled and diluted their ancient black thrash in favor of “progressive” stylings that mostly only pleases reviewers in Terrorizer.
I know that mortals’ ears are already bleeding, but it’s impossible to escape this topic without mentioning a few curiosities from Adelaide group of total nutcases, starting the cult old school death metal band Martire back in the early 90′s. The early demos and EP’s have been re-released multiple times. Since that, members who call themselves “The Great Righteous Destroyer” and “The Serpent Inquisitor” have continued to baffle the hapless headbangers with one after the other more indescribable and twisted songs. Stargazer‘s Lovecraftian, off-center and racing death metal is what I personally consider the flagship band, whereas Cauldron Black Ram grooves like a joint venture of Celtic Frost and Running Wild members (in concept also). Misery’s Omen paints a hyper-dramatic curtain of dreamy black metal resembling Samael and a krautrock band on an endless bad acid trip, describing “Desolate Winds of Mars”, “Antarctic Ice Chasms” and other spectacles of consciousness awaking to the immense possibilities offered by nature itself, impersonal, cold but beautiful.
Gather ’round all you fire-starters
Whirlwind reapers and comet riders
Come to our mountain hall
Come and heed the call
Britannia was throughout much of the 1980’s, with the exception of the grindcore movement, a musical wilderness ever since the general decline of the NWOBHM movement, which globally had given way to the speed metal movement, and subsequently what were then ‘embryonic’ or otherwise non-foundational forms of death and black metal.
The year here was 1987. Onslaught had already made their mark with their first two full-lengths, and Sabbat were yet to release their debut. Virus’s debut will remind some of Onslaught, as both bands have seem to have inherited a lot of their influence from the music of crossover act, Discharge.
Virus take a more primitive approach to their music, both in execution and production. In the guitar patterns we see a heavy influence from the early music of Sodom, the melodies tend to be fashioned in the same NWOBHM- indebted manner as their ‘In The Sign Of Evil’ E.P. whilst they are executed at a more quick and furious pace that resembles their first full-length Obsessed By Cruelty. The drums are not as chaotic and more or less run more fluidly with the pacing of the guitars, and are of a low volume, giving an almost ‘cautious’ sound that is rather similar to Bathory’s self-titled debut. Vocals are a direct shout, English-accented, and an obvious paean to Discharge or Subhumans. Lyrical content focuses on themes of post-nuclear society, and the consequences of chemical and agent warfare, lyrics and song titles almost laid out as if to honour the broken English vocabularies of early Sepultura and Sarcofago. In short, like a lot of classic speed metal it sums up the way the genre analysed the Cold War world; decades of pacifistic tension and the foreknowledge of ultimate conflict.
In hindsight this band were quite unique; the hybridisation of styles into a rough and cohesive song format, all bound by a common theme appears to have shown it’s influence on various bands throughout the years. Like countrymen Onslaught they were deeply rooted in the attitude of early 80’s British punk hardcore, and although minor, crafted a minor sub-style within the trappings of their era that was uniquely English. They are still an obscure act today, but given that in said period tape trading was considered a norm, it would be hard to not to imagine prominent bands today. Some of these would easily include Beherit, Conqueror, Bolt Thrower, Impaled Nazerene, Blasphemy, Angelcorpse, Spearhead, among others.
Whilst not a ‘direct influence’ per se, if we consider many black/death hybrids we see today, amongst modern underground crazes such as ‘war metal’ for example, it is easy to establish on listening to this release where some of these acts derived and later advanced their themes and concepts. As well as this it serves as a nice example of music that borrows forms from the metal and punk traditions, and comes across as honest and original without going out of it’s own way to do so. Worth a check.
By the time the doors opened at the Forum at 2pm, individuals were already gathering outside the venue. As the hours passed themselves by, more people congregated in accordance with the more prominent bands that were playing.
Cork duo Ghost Of Medina began proceedings just after the doors opened, and played purely instrumental music that bore strong resemblances to the music of post-hardcore acts such as Isis and Neurosis. At this early stage of the day, the venue was under packed and more or less saturated the impact of their live performance: both guitarist and drummer were highly able, and performed compositions that were well thought out, though like most bands of their ilk, it seemed at times like a disorganized pastiche of ideas. Nothing particularly special, but an otherwise necessary means to begin proceedings.
The next band to play, Belfast’s Overoth, played an excellent short set, and played mid-to high pace death metal that were of a consistent formula: the simplistic song structures of Swedish acts, such as Unleashed and Dismember, combined with the techniques not uncommon on the early works of New York metal acts Suffocation and Immolation. The production on their studio output is the clear, crunchy tone not unlike the sound of classic Entombed, though their live acoustics this day had a rough edge to it, sounding raw yet discernible, like Morbid Angel’s ‘Covenant’ it was well treated yet free of artificial compressions. For a crowd that was not yet numerous enough at that early stage and somewhat less participant than could have been, Overoth had quite a commanding presence in the midst of what could do lesser acts a complete lack of justice.
Just as energetic and fierce were England’s Spearhead, whose appearance at the venue was partially beset and delayed by unknown travel circumstances. A somewhat abrupt end to the band’s brief set came across as a slight disappointment. A well respected act on the underground circuit, their style is a hybrid of the British death metal/grindcore that defined Carcass and Bolt Thrower, with the charging tempos and structures of modern acts, Angelcorpse and Axis Of Advance. Guitar technique was skillful yet not over-extravagant, solos bearing a strong resemblance to the classic Trey Azagthoth/Richard Brunelle trade-off style, with vague similarities to the shredding Gene Palubicki, with clicking, compressed and tight drums an aesthetical paean to the acoustics of a machine gun. Their precise, warlike songs again should have generated a much more enthusiastic reception from a venue that was still under crowded at that phase, though they were still a pleasure to watch, and made their craftsmanship known.
Kildare’s Mourning Beloveth were the first act of the night to generate strong passions from the audience. Their morbid, downtempo heavy metal was met with a good stage humour, and they received the warmest of responses from a crowd that was by this time, healthy in a size and possibly spurred on to enthusiastic involvement by the ingestation of alcohol. More fitting to this good performance was the set time they were allocated, which allowed for their lengthy dirges to weave momentum. Musically, they bring about the gothic overtones of My Dying Bride and mix it with simpler, melodic song structures that resemble influential NWOBHM bands like Witchfinder General or Angel Witch, and sluggish, flowing tempos that echo Skepticism.
Onslaught played a very competent and energising set, their Discharge-esque speed metal came across as provocative and inspired. Even with newer songs that seemed watered down at times, and perhaps lacking the chaotic splendor of their early period, their setlist was full of momentum, and was performed with great prowess, the falsetto wails of the vocalist evoking a general atmosphere of nostalgia of an era that pre-dated the mass commercialization of the metal genre. I would conclude personally that Onslaught may be now past their best days, but their excellence as a live band is fitting to a climate where an improving work ethic and a greater respect for artistic clarity is making itself heard amidst what some have called ‘hard times’.
Primordial got the warmest of receptions by a native crowd, and stylistically began where Mourning Beloveth left off; melancholic in a sense that only Ireland could fathom and know, but more triumphal than the former, and almost Nietzschean in the sense that their music makes one stare into the abyss, only to emerge a better man. They played a lengthy set, consisting of material that ran in fluid cohesion, like a more hookish, streamlined My Dying Bride, and a use of guitar dominated forms that reference Burzum as much as they do Candlemass. Impressive as is known the onstage dynamism of vocalist Alan Averill, whose onstage character is that vibrant it comes across as bring rhetorical without having to make use of words. In terms of showmanship, professionalism, a will to evoke the vision of tragic heroism, Primordial were the most impressive band of the entire festival, with little room for dispute.
Legendary grindcore veterans Napalm Death were hotly anticipated though came across as a disappointment due to two factors: the first being the depleted length of their set, and the second being what some perceived as a muddied sound job that permeated the guitars during their time onstage. During the intensity of their set, which given their indisputable live reputation would have made little difference to the highly involved crowd; though due to an unbalanced mix, it was only possible to follow the song forms through memory of having heard them before. Songs were from the mostly from the earlier part of their discography, and in between this were pieces taken from their latest release. Anyone new to the band listening to their performance I am sure would have had trouble trying to appreciate the nature of some of the output, and would have otherwise physically involved themselves in the ensuing crowd actions purely for the sake of doing so. The set did not even exceed forty-five minutes and this was also perceived as an obvious disappointment given the fact that they were given the headlining slot.
In spite of anything that might have at anytime proved to be detrimental, this happened to be an excellent day and evening. It was especially brilliant for an event such as this to actually take place in the south-east of Ireland. By all accounts it was a memorable night.