Had I encountered this album in the early days of my journey of metal discovery I probably would’ve dismissed it as boring. True enough, this album does get a bit samey and the production doesn’t really help things by being quite plain and unadorned. What this album does have going for it – and what certifies it a classic, is its patient and utterly logical riff writing.
Taking the tradition as laid down by Hellhammer/Celtic Frost (more on that next week), each new musical idea on this album proceeds from a blueprint motif/riff that drives the whole track and makes each change sound like a clear and meaningful development from the one that preceded it. Most of the tracks remain in the one key for more or less their entire duration, whilst introducing a sparing and arguably quite Classical (Haydn, Mozart) sense of chromaticism at specific points to colour passing harmonic regions and create the necessary dramatic arc in the track. Being largely monodic though, it skirts the line between evocative ancient-feeling, modal style melody and more Classical structure-centric writing.
For example, Son of the Moon first deviates from its blueprint Aeolian/natural minor by introducing a riff with a # 3rd, returns to the Aeolian melodic shape and then introduces a riff with a raised 4th – two very typically Classical bits of chromaticism that colour regions related by the circle of fifths (a system that explains keys relationships and how to change key coherently) yet also, in the way they are used, give the riff a folkish/modal feel. They also come at just the right moment in the track, when the initial idea has been very much established and it’s time to reveal a bit of conflict and ambiguity. True to the narrative structural approach the track has been leading us along, what follows is a riff that returns to the Aeolian basis, responding to the ‘conflict section’ and expanding the original melodic idea. A properly satisfying emotional resolution is delayed until the very end of the track, yet even then, in typically metal form, the sensation it leaves the listener with is one reminding them that the journey goes ever on – rather than offering up a neat ‘happily ever after’ cadence, the way a pop song or even a piece of Classical music would be expected to end with.
The fact that the production comes with no proverbial bells and whistles means all the more that the riffcraft is laid bare and made the main focus of the listener’s attention. Melodically a lot of the album is very simple, and it really doesn’t stretch itself in terms of speed, variety or technicality, but it does what it does very well, revealing the essentiality of metal song writing in a relatively calm and assured way.
This week I have mostly been listening to…. Immortal – Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism
Less often cited as a classic than the follow up, Pure Holocaust, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is still to my mind one of the gems of second wave black metal. Some of the transitions between riffs/themes are a bit ragged, and the drummer is clearly not up to much of a standard playing-wise, but there’s great charm in this album, and some real magic about the riff-craft at work on it.
Riff-wise, this album is not fully black metal, but borrows heavily from death metal, although the band covers the fact with a cavernous production and droning under parts. Unlike the straightforward melodic approach of black metal the bulk of these riffs are composed in two parts: a modal/chromatic melodic part that becomes more detailed with iteration, and a counter-part that responds to the first idea at a lower register with an oppositional retort. ‘Epic’ moments are generally more straightforwardly black metal – single-motif melodic ideas with plenty of yearning, emotive harmonies.
The interplay between the epic bits and the controlled-chaos parts are really where this album shows what it’s about – an icy warrior outlook that turns whirlwinds of strife into the joy of the fight and the triumph of cosmic forces.
Musically this is also where things can become a bit rough sounding. Sometimes it works really well – Like around the 3/4 minute mark in “A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland,” where themes from the chaotic/violent moments intermingle and then separate again to create an excellent fist-in-the-air, hair-flying-in-the-wind sort of moment. Other times, there’s only a steep drop off from one theme to the next; which is a little less satisfying even if the production does a decent job of smoothing over the edges (see certain moments in “Call of the Wintermoon” and “Unholy Forces of Evil” – less obvious when you’re just letting the mood of the music take you along, but a bit more noticeable when you’re listening more intently. Contrarily though, “Unholy Forces of Evil” is probably a better track on the whole than “A Perfect Vision”…).
This style of riff writing disappears somewhat on the following two (more melodic-riff centred) albums, but makes a return on Blizzard Beasts – which, although also a good album, wears the death metal influence in less of an understated way, taking away from some of the mysteriousness that made the first album special. Unlike with some of the other prominent Nordic second-wavers (Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum) I can’t immediately think of anyone who successfully and completely took on Immortal’s early riff writing style (although Averse Sefira’s latter two albums sound like they might’ve been at least partly influenced). Perhaps this is down to the more technical/complex nature of the band’s sound when compared to that of their peers, and the hyperactive, difficult-to-repeat playing style of Demonaz. As well as being a quality album then, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is also an interesting hint at where black metal might’ve gone had it stuck closer to death metal ideas of riff creation.
Having discovered Põhjast recently, the DeathMetal.org team was psyched at this chance to interview Eric Syre (vocals) and Gates (guitar) of this energetic new band.
Combining the atmosphere of black metal with the speed and riffing of old school doom metal, Põhjast revive the classic metal vibe as hybridized with the adventurous and somewhat darker spirit of the northern styles. The result is both satisfying to anyone who enjoys Angel Witch or Candlemass, but might also appeal to those who keep old Darkthrone and Immortal on hand for daily listening.
The result is a band that avoids the retro backward-looking sensation of many recent releases, but also bypasses the intellectual forgery that is the assumption that making Sonic Youth ripoff albums with black metal logos is somehow a motion “forward.” You’ll be hearing more of them and their energetic vocalist Eric Syre, who channels three decades of metal talent into a single voice…
When did you discover you had a talent for classic metal vocals? How did you form the understanding of melody and sonic topography that guides these vocals? Who were your influences? Why haven’t we heard this voice before?
I have always been into clean signing and started as a singer in a rock band back in the early 90s. I also did some choir work for different projects in the past. When the time came for me to start my own bands I just ventured into heavier music and adapted my vocals to it. I have very little musical training so I work a lot with instinct and feeling, improvising vocal lines first and then reworking them with a keyboard or an acoustic guitar to make them musically “right.” I try to stay away from copying the riffs I sing over and come up with a melody standing on its own. It complements the music a lot better and expands the palette of feelings the whole song has to offer.
As far as influences, I always liked singers who had some grain to their voices, not the perfect-sounding ones. I have a baritone/bass range and I guess that naturally I prefer singers close that range. I have always been into Bathory and Candlemass so I guess you can find traces of both Quorthon and Messiah in my vocals. Bruce Dickinson remains the ultimate clean vocalist in the metal genre, for me. Dio and Gillan are also vocalists I have high esteem for. I also like the octavists singers. They are out of my range but I admire the power and resonance of their voices.
Tell me about how Põhjast came to be. I am told that the band is scattered across the globe, and you collaborate remotely. How do you do this?
We are scattered here and there, both in Europe and America. I am located in Quebec, Canada. With the technology which revolutionized the recording process in the last decade, it became a lot easier to have such a band. They record the music in Estonia and I do my parts here. We exchange emails and samples and, like in any normal band, we come to a conclusion where everything pleases us enough to release the music. It just requires a bit more time and technicalities. I sometimes miss the whole “rehearsal room feeling” but so far it’s the only way to make it work.
What style of music would you describe Matused as being, and how does it differ from previous Põhjast work? Can you tell us what “Matused” and “Põhjast” mean in Estonian? Does the band have any influences, and do they show on this album?
This new album is a good follow-up to the previous one Thou strong, Stern Death, released in 2012. It has some doomier elements, a little more classic Heavy Metal to it and the references to Bathory are present more than ever. To me it sounds like Scandinavian/Baltic Metal should sound; It’s heavy, cold and pounding. If I am not mistaken, “Matused” means “funerals.” It obviously refers to the lyrics of all songs. “Põhjast” means “north,” or at least that’s the understanding I have of the word. I speak French so you can understand my limits with Estonian.
Maybe Gates (guitars) can elaborate a bit more:
Exactly, Eric is right: “Matused” means funerals in Estonian and the name of the album is connetected with the album lyrics. The name of the project — Põhjast — means both the direction of North and the base or foundation of something — a revival, the end of something old and the birth of something new. Therefore the name has a much deeper meaning, at least for me, than just a mere name of a band.
Definitely the project has its own influencers. I personally have been greatly influenced by such persons as Quorthon and Abbath. Both have paved the way to extraordinary music styles. May these be black metal or viking metal, there’s no difference – everyone who have heard their creation can admit that the music is special and that they have not heard anything like this before.
I am not inspired only by their music. I find their healthy sense of humor and attitude towards life inspiring as well. I have always enjoyed the interviews of Abbath — his interviews from 1991 in Septicore and in 2007 in Inferno are both equally pure gold to me.
However, if I should still generalize, then the music of Põhjast can be categorized under Scandinavian Metal — one can certainly detect similarities to Oz, Bathory, Immortal, Morgana Lefay and Candlemass.
Do you think the “true” styles of metal are experiencing a resurgence? If so, why? Is Põhjast part of this, or building on what it has done? If the latter, where do you think your music is going, both stylistically and in terms of content?
I don’t think Põhjast is part of anything. The music stands on its own on among a well-established tradition of European Metal. You can hear traces of classic metal, probably due to my vocal approach. I do not want to link what we do with any of the current “retro” or “true” trends. If there is a resurgence of classic metal it’s probably due to the fact that what’s current isn’t that interesting for the record-buying public. I am just back from the Maryland Deathfest and I can tell you that the people attending there longed for good old heavy music. Most of the acts there either disbanded years ago and reformed recently or were directly linked or influenced older waves of metal.
I agree with Eric — Põhjast is not trying to follow trends.
I personally do not listen to a very wide variey of stuff – I listen the things that I used to listen to in my “youth”, be that either Bathory or The Smiths. I have never had an ambition to “invent a bicycle”. I have always wished to create the music that I admire. I wouldn’t call it plagiarism, rather as a bow and a hommage towards the musicians I admire, hoping that the music we make is worthy enough. If not, let it sink into the obscurity of ages…
When you sing, how do you pick the notes and textures you use? How much of it is based on the music as written, and how much is your own interpretation of where it should go? Are the rest of Põhjast flexible about giving you space to create?
In Põhjast, everything is already written and recorded before I even start working on the vocals. I work on finished songs so I need to adjust everything I do to the reference files I get. I usually start improvising vocal lines and then refine everything using keyboards or classical guitars as guidelines. I try to have everything in tune but also keep a lot of notes “on the edge,” if you know what I mean. Quorthon used to do that a lot (voluntarily or not) and I like that. It’s important for me to write according to my vocal range but I also try my best to fit the vocals with the mood of the songs. This is the highest in pitch I ever went on a record so far as I am more of a baritone/bass singer. It’s a good thing to have completed songs to work over as I can get the whole feel of it a lot better. Sometimes I hit a wall trying to fit in patterns and melodies as the lyrics are also completed. It’s a maze I come out of with time and a lot of demo recordings. I get total creative freedom from the rest of the band and I truly appreciate that. They trust me a lot as they rarely or never hear anything up until I send them all the vocal tracks at once.
What do you think makes a good metal band? Is there an outlook, content or stylistic direction that is uniquely “metal”? Can this be lost such that a band could use metal riffs, techniques, etc. and still not be metal?
If you keep aside the usual instrumentation (guitars, bass, drums, vocals), metal has this abrasiveness and weight you rarely find in other genres. Heaviness isn’t all about tuning down and playing loud, it has a lot to do with the whole package built around the music, the themes, the vocals and even the artwork. Metal is this visceral manifestation of the darker side of human nature trough music built around riffs played on electric guitars and accompanied by pounding drums and intense vocals. It requires passion and dedication to make it sound right and it’s no wonder enthusiasts of the genre smells the fake ones miles away. Listen to Front Line Assembly’s Millenium or Skinny Puppy’s The Process to see if using metal riffs automatically makes metal music. I like those albums but they’re definitely not Metal.
Why do you think that black metal (which seems to be a partial influence on Põhjast) exploded as it did? Was there a mental state required to bring it about? Or was it all just music?
I like to think that there has to be more than just the music. The innovators of the genre believed in more than just “music,” at least when they began. A lot of death metal bands were just into it for the music and you see where the genre ended in the late 90s. The same happened with black metal with the turn of the millennium. You can’t get great art from trend-aspiring musicians writing typical riffs. Black metal exploded because it was the latest genre representing integrity and involvement transcending creation. It looked and sounded fierce and the leading figures behind the genre made everyone feel like they meant it. Some truly did and some didn’t, as history proved to us. The metal scene needed this level of “involvement” after the debacle of death metal. It still does today, now that most genre has been swallowed by the mainstream. Doom metal is the current trend and I never expected it to be…
I think also that there should be more than music – why not friendship? I believe that for example The Smiths might as well never have been, if Mr. Marr and Mr. Morrissey had not met… or Abbath and Demonaz.
How was this album recorded? Did you use a studio, and if so, which ones? Did you have any idea of what the final product was going to sound like when you did the vocals?
I will let Gates answer parts of this question:
Both Põhjast albums are recorded in Estonia, in Roundsound professional studio under the baton of Keijo Koppel. Cooperation with Keijo has been very productive and we hope that it will continue, as there are more Põhjast records on the way. I personally have had a very concrete idea about the material until Eric comes along :)
As for the vocals, everything was written and recorded so, yes, I had a good idea of where I was heading with the vocals.
What’s next for Põhjast? Will you all unite somewhere to tour, or continue recording? Do you have a label for Matused? Was this a recent signing?
I will let Gates answer this question:
We thought that Põhjast would always remain a studio project. But we have to probably eat our own words, since, if everything goes according to the plan, Põhjast can be seen already in summer 2014! At the moment we are looking for a worthy record company, with whom we could develop an effective cooperation.
If people like Matused, where should they next turn for more Põhjast or related acts?
People can check our previous album Thou strong, Stern Death (Spinefarm, 2012) — www.pohjast.com They can also check our other bands: Metsatöll, Sorts, Barren Earth, Rytmihäiriö, Ajattara, Beast Within and Thesyre.
Thanks a lot for your support and involvement. It’s appreciated!
Eric Syre – vocals
Gates – guitars
Vesa Wahlroos – bass
Marko Atso – drums
This classic band finally got around to making a video. While there were many Dissection clones back in the day, with Dark Tranquility and In Flames leading the pack, Sacramentum always had something different going which was more like where Sentenced and Amorphis were heading: a nocturnal romance with the potency of existence and the power of the unknown.
Poetic in their approach, and beautiful in the result, Sacramentum launched an initial EP of highly artistic intentions before moving on to their full length, Far Away From the Sun, which suffered from a cover too close to that of Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse and hit just before the melodic metal explosion but just after the Dissection clones debunked themselves. As a result this band never quite got the attention they deserve, which would be to always be mentioned in the same breath as melodic metal greats like Dissection, Sentenced, Necrophobic and Unanimated.
This recording starts off with great promise: unlike almost all of the bands to experiment in this style, Dead Hills knows how to make the riffs of a good Burzum-style sweeping dark and morbid black metal romp work. For example, a standard song will work itself up to intensity through an excellent use of the “Burzumic sweep” and dark meandering riffs, creating an excellent dark and ancient atmosphere. The vibe is perfect.
After that, it’s harder to know where to go. Dead Hills fill the space with mixed elements from Nordic and Finnish black metal, which provides a highly musical and entertaining resolution to the album but radically changes each track from its Burzumic beginnings to something more like second-wave black metal. It will often revert to its atmospheric voice, creating a divide where some of this music sounds like conversation, and other parts sound like walking through twilit hills.
Although sometimes songs lose their center and wander, and thus become purely musical questions and remove themselves from the representative art of black metal, on the whole this release keeps up the energy and unlike almost every black metal band in the last fifteen years, produces an experience in which the listener can lose himself or herself. With that in mind, this is a promising start and a rare complete experience from Australia, which normally produces chaotic bands.
Weighing in at an hour and a half, this release may overwhelm some listeners but it also offers a good chance to really lose yourself in the sound and distance all other input, like a meditative course. The enemy of highly interrelated music like black metal is the standard lick, in which patterns that conveniently unite familiar riffs become relied on too much; where most bands have instead gone full into that mode, Dead Hills has tried to find its own voice before adapting riffs to that, and the result is noticeably clearer and more emotionally compelling.
According to frontman Imperial, Krieg have unearthed the original recordings of the Blue Miasma album, without samples, and are going to use this heavier mix for the re-issue of the album. Imperial mentioned this in a Facebook post detailing the discovery.
Imperial said, “The original unmastered with no samples mix of Blue Miasma has been unearthed thanks to Jeff Marcheski and will have some minor additions to it for the reissue of the album. This original mix was heavier and dirtier than the one that got released and, to me at least, sounds better.”
While the original Krieg release was improvisational chaotic black metal, the band had drifted into more modern metal influenced styles over the past decade as Imperial and other members collaborated with indie-rock-hybrid black metal bands and took influences from the experience. The latest developments are part of an ongoing arc back toward traditionalist black metal ethos for this band.
There have been many publications written about black metal, in an attempt to understand a difficult and enigmatic genre. Most focus on either the musical style of the genre from a historical viewpoint or on the ideology and views of the genre – including the illegal actions taken by a few energetic participants.
Author Dayal Patterson has attempted to combine those methods in his soon to be published book, Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult. Featuring numerous interviews and photography, the book aims to be the most complete resource for black metal research:
“It captures the progress of the genre, from its infancy in the early eighties through to its resurrection in the nineties and onwards to the fascinating scene we see today. Combining interviews with the key individuals involved with editorial insight and iconic photography this epic tome examines the artistic, musical, spiritual development of the genre and the creative work, ideologies and often colourful lives of some of its most significant bands.”
The participants interviewed include the most respected among black metal’s elite: Fenriz, Nuclear Holocausto, Tom Warrior, Rob Darken, and others; guaranteeing that there will be a level of quality already present in the tome that hopefully that rest of the book can carry.
Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult can be pre-ordered through Amazon, with a projected release date of November 13th. See the facebook page for more details.
After the first wave of Norwegian black metal entirely re-defined the genre into a melodic and intensely artistic form of music, it seemed metal had culminated. Its technique exploded in death metal, and with black metal, it began the process of creating narrative melodic compositions.
Summoning jumped into this heap by evolving from a relatively straightforward downtempo black metal band into a melange of keyboards, lengthy fast-picked slow melodic passages, and soundtrack-style framing of song structures in the context of atmospheric, Tolkien-inspired vaguely medievalist metal. Ever since they nailed that combination on Dol Guldur, Summoning has been a legend in the metal scene.
After the experiment in greater use of vocals and folk-like dynamics that was Stronghold, Summoning returned with Oath Bound, which edged them closer to the territory last explored on Dol Guldur before the music got more atmospheric on the Nightshade Forests EP. Seven years later, anticipation ran high for their latest, named Old Mornings Dawn.
Coming from the same creative wellspring as other Summoning works, Old Mornings Dawn channels three separate influences: the classic downtempo black metal of its origins, the “Renaissance Faire” style of folk/world music that it became, and an influence that can only be described as dark 1980s industrial goth pop. This album fits in with Joy Division, Soft Cell, Sisters of Mercy and other darker forms of synthpop and EBM, much in the same way that Nightshade Forests picked up similar influences. At the same time, hints of the Stronghold style where vocals lead composition help define these songs.
What is most pronounced on this album however is that Summoning are using the layered style that worked so well on not only Nightshade Forests but the Lost Tales EP as well, but have removed even more of the metal “forward” style narrative composition. Instead, these are circular compositions with layers, but in the best metal style, moods accrue and eventually force change into an entirely different but complementary riff. The result is a ferment of slightly differentiated influences fit into the only song structures that could incorporate them all. The result is like an exotic tour alongside a riverbank populated by fantastic figures from dreams.
Old Mornings Dawn is a creative journey into the recesses of the mind and embraces the sentimental alongside the epic, using its ambient structuring to immerse the listener in a world far beyond anything they have experienced. The result drifts farther from black metal without betraying black metal, and instead creates a voice unique to Summoning which sensibly does not try to be Dol Guldur II, but to create a niche for itself. Its decreased distance from the listener allows emotion to meld with music and create an atmosphere unique to this band and the spread of time they have chosen with their music.
Burzum composer Varg Vikernes has posted a “goodbye” to his old self as a metal composer and in a sentimental posting, announced his retirement from metal and his intent to pursue ambient music alone.
Burzum appeared from nowhere in 1991 with a demo tape made up of a dozen guitars-and-bass-only tracks in rehearsal quality. I made a few more or less successful metal albums, but they all always included at least some ambient music. With time I moved further and further away from metal, and today only the ambient music remains. Today (2013) I think I am done playing metal music for good.
Many of you followed Burzum through the years, some even from the beginning, and I think metal-Burzum deserves a proper “good bye”. So, just like I started out I will finish metal-Burzum with a guitars-and-bass-only track in rehearsal quality. “Back to the Shadows” is made up of the last metal riffs I ever made (in 2012). It was never released in any way, or recorded (beyond what you hear here), and it will not either — beyond this short “video”.
Take it for what it is; a sentimental good bye to metal-Burzum.
The music is playing with an image of the 17 year-old me, taken from the time when some of the first Burzum tracks were made. You can see this track as a good bye to that fellow too.
For those of us who have been watching Burzum and Vikernes over the years, this is a welcome development. Heavy metal is beautiful but it will always be attached to popular conceptions of entertainment. Ambient music, especially complex material, gets treated as culture.
While we hope to change that perception of metal and to have it be studied as art and part of culture, that’s an uphill battle when the fans routinely rush to gimmick bands and depthless clones in a hope to be part of the next popular trend.
Either way, this bodes well for more interesting compositions in Burzum’s future.
The semi-reclusive Varg Vikernes, sole composer of Burzum, has announced his plans to release a film and a new role-playing game (RPG). As part of the film project, he has revealed a new track designed to act as part of a soundtrack for the film.
As if influenced by some of the non-black-metal soundtrack material from the film Until the Light Takes Us in which Vikernes, as in Lords of Chaos, the most in-depth story of black metal before it, Vikernes opts for a down-tempo single guitar track with no distortion.
The result utilizes a slow and gentle sweeping arpeggio behind which lower notes direct the evolution of the track, much as happened with the countertheme in “Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule Der Singularität” from Filosofem. As the song goes on, these layers interact to push change into the main theme, not in the electronica method of circular layers, but the metal one of a narrative expanding from within itself.
It is hard to tell if this is the type of material that will be on the forthcoming Burzum album Sôl austan, Mâni vestan. While many consider the “keyboard albums” among the band’s best output, a mixed-medium album could be interesting. While this new track has one foot in that world, it also has one foot in the more audience-geared world of the last few Burzum black metal albums.