Possessed by the Moon

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Article by David Rosales.

A legendary time and place for underground metal, the Norway of 1993 is an esoteric landmark (1994 being the exoteric) in time and space in black metal history. It saw the rise of a mythology of its own, the mythology of black metal, and an eventual catastrophic demise worthy of a saga of its own.

Continue reading Possessed by the Moon

Defending Belus

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Article by David Rosales; read yet another (negative) contemporary review of Belus here

After an incursion into ambient metal that lasted for a few albums, Burzum was seemingly trying to make a comeback to metal instrumentation. But appearances can be deceiving, and what seems like a failed attempt at creating streamlined metal music may be, in fact, an attempt at riffing-up ambient music. There is also a hint that it is packaged into an integral release that has to be listened to as a whole. This does sound an awful lot like the premise of post-rock, and while there is a good deal of wallpaper repetition, there are also plenty of good ideas in what is the closest heir we have to Vikernes’ seclusion.

The old DMU reception of the album when it had just come out is spot on in its criticism, but much may be added that redeems this understated album. A very clear line of evolution can be traced from Det Som Engang Var through Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and the anti-black metal ambient expansion of Filosofem to Burzum’s 2010 release. For all intents and purposes, an album like Belus is the next logical step. That it cannot harness the energies of black metal while it attempts to spread like synth ambient is proof of the impermeability of distinct genres.

This shaky, middle-ground positioning was resolved marvelously with 2013’s Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, whose incomprehension by black metal fans shows it as a next filter in the practical evolution of transcendental metal as it maintains its ideals. The filters before them can be seen in the commencement of different underground metal genres, with Black Sabbath being the first obscure revolution, Slayer and Metallica on their debut leading the second, and the waves of speed-going-on-black as intermediary steps towards the third explosion of death metal, which in its technical fetish gave way to the more musical black metal. The next great purge takes place after 1995 as several of the best black metal musicians lean heavily towards minimalist ambient-focused projects, which in some cases turn into affairs that are more electronic than metal in instrumentation (Beherit’s Electric Doom Synthesis is one of the crown jewels of this very select group).

Weakened as it is in its most objective sense, the soft, layered and simple cadences and droning melodies unique to Vikernes’ mind are still more full and less candy-coated than the likes of Drudkh. And where, in Belus, the music seesm to drone on, the choice in length is never as much as the likes of Sunn O))) so that it falls completely into the background. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss was a trip to another dimension, each moment pushes forward, but the next album was a trance with subtle pulsations and bumps, breathing in and breathing out in a quality that cannot be measure quantitatively but qualitatively at an abstract level, admitting no materialistic distinction. The repetition scheme here is a compromise and application of what was learned in Filosofem, relying on a certain quality of endurance that Vikernes’ simple but multi-layered riffs focus on and uniquely shine for.

At worst, Belus is solid ambient music played on suboptimal instrumentation, and at best, a unique chance at perceiving these landscapes through metallic lenses which distort and bring to the fore particular contours and colors. When positioned at the right place and at the right time (having the right mentality), the listener may find himself submerged into dense forests, fuzzy with the brume of unreality. The vision that Belus presents is not that different from Burzum’s early efforts, but where the quick underground fan may detect watered-down content, others may see a matured and spiritually refined thinking.

This is not objective music, this is a secluded path for those who have digested Burzum’s music beyond its atomic particles and into the very essence, flow and nature of it. This fourth filtering-out of profane minds certainly leaves most behind, and though these words may seem spurious, those with a balanced and logic mind, a strong and idealist heart, and an avid curiosity may find themselves on the right path to this shrouded grove.

Burzum’s Filosofem turns 20 today

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This is the sort of recording that could very easily displace the already accomplished works of Kvist from your memory. Filosofem, while released 20 years ago this day, was recorded in March 1993; meanwhile, the first track (“Dunkelheit” or “Burzum” depending upon the pressing) was the first track ever written for Burzum. As part of the initial burst of Burzum’s material, Filosofem sticks to a language of black metal that Varg Vikernes helped define, but is arguably closer in spirit to the pure ambient works that followed it. The internet overflows with discussion of the circumstances surrounding this album, as well as its excursions into a sort of streamlined “Odinpop”, but like its illustrious predecessors, Filosofem‘s influence is immense, even if most who try to imitate the ideas on display here kind of miss the point.

Pureblood Albums – A 2013 Recap

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Article by David Rosales

As another year ends and a new one begins, many “best of” lists pop up here and there, among them our own here at DMU. While others may be eager to know about what is ever new, we are more interested in what stands the test of time. Today we will look at some albums that were highlighted here as the foremost products of the year 2013, which was a year of renewal, great comebacks, startling discoveries and a general wellspring of inspiration. In the opinion of this writer, 2013 has been the best year for metal in the 21st century.


To start off, we shall pay respects to long-lasting acts with a black metal background, namely Graveland, Summoning and Burzum. While the last has left the metal camp for good, its approach and spirit is still very much enriched by the essence of the deepest metal infused with transcendental values. Summoning is still doing their thing, ever evolving, trying a different permutation of their unique style. Fudali’s project has become the warrior at the frontlines of the strongest nationalism grounded in music that uplifts the heart with an authentic battle feeling (as opposed to those other bands playing funny-jumpy rock and acting all “dangerous”).

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Sôl austan, Mâni vestan is an ambient affair that uses short loops which revolve around clear themes in each track. The approach is a little formulaic, thereby limiting the experience with a feeling of repetition. However, as with many good works of art, this self-imposed canalization serves to speed the result in a direction. As with a lot of Burzum’s work, this is a concept album that must be listened to as a whole. When this is followed and one stops looking for novelty and instead concentrates on the details that bring variation within the familiar landscape, the somewhat arduous experience brings great rewards once the summit is reached and the journey is taken more than once.

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Something similar can be said of the slightly pop-minded Old Mornings Dawn. This effort by Summoning certainly lacks the density of their masterpiece, Dol Guldur, but is no less effective, although perhaps shallow. But what isn’t shallow when compared to that masterpiece? As with every Summoning album, Old Mornings Dawn has a very separate personality, and in this case, it is one of heroism, light, regeneration and hope. Something that will never leave the band’s trademark sound is the deep feeling of melancholy and longing for ruins.

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Graveland materializes in Thunderbolts of the Gods one of their most warlike efforts to date in a smooth trajectory that has gone from rough-pagan to long-winded and epic to heroic war music. What raises this offering above others in Fudali’s current trend is the awesome bringing forth of destructive energies mustered in the imposing drumwork. Gone are the clumsy rhythms of Cold Winter Blades and the redneckish tone of the (nonetheless great) album Following the Voice of Blood. This is the technically polished and spirit-infused summit of this face of Graveland.

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One of the most deserving releases of 2013 was Black Sabbath’s 13. More expectations could not have been placed on anyone else. Yet the godfathers of metal delivered like the monarchs they are: with original style, enviable grace, magnificent strength and latent power. Along with the last three albums just mentioned, this album shows itself timeless in the present metal landscape. It encompasses all that it is metal, and brings it back to its origin. This is an absolute grower which will age like the finest wine and is, in my opinion, the album of the year of 2013.

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In 2013, Profanatica finally achieved amazing distinction with Thy Kingdom Cum, which can be considered the fully developed potential of what Ledney presented in the thoroughly enjoyable Dethrone the Son of God under the Havohej moniker. To say this is the natural outcome of Profanatica’s past work is as true as it is misleading in its implications. This is not just a continuation of what the band was doing before, but a deliberate step, a clear decision in the clear change in texture quality that means the world in such minimalist music where a simple shift in technique or modal approach defines most of the character of the music.

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Cóndor’s Nadia was probably the hidden pearl of the year. Never mind the metaphor of the “diamond in the rough”, there is nothing rough about this. It is polished, but it is hidden. The shy face of this beautiful lady is covered by a veil that turns away the unworthy, the profane! This is immortal metal artwork which to uninitiated eyes and ears seems but like the simple, perhaps even amateur, collection of Sabbathian cliches and tremolo excuses of an unexperienced band. The knowledgeable and contemplating metal thinker recognizes the Platonic forms under the disfigured shapes.

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Imprecation’s Satanae Tenebris Infinita and Blood Dawn by Warmaster draw our attention to the strong presence of a more humble but profoundly (though not obviously) memorable album and EP. These will stand the chance of time, but will not necessarily remain strong in the mind of a listener in a way that he feels compelled to come back to them often.

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Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves by VON seemed more enticing at the time. It’s definitely a solid release, but it is however a very thinly populated album with more airtime than content. Whatever content it has is also not particularly engaging. The enjoyability of this one is a much more subjective affair and like a soundtrack is more dependent on extra-musical input from the listener’s imagination.

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As delightful as the three heavy metal albums Argus Beyond The Martyrs, Blitzkrieg Back From Hell and Satan are, the intrinsic qualities of their selected subgenres makes them a difficult candidate for long-lasting and profound impact. That is not to say they have no lasting value. If anything, these are albums one can come back a thousand times and perhaps they will not grow that much, but they will never truly grow old.

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Autopsy’s Headless Ritual is one of the strongest yet most understated albums of the year. The extremely rough character of the music may contribute to how it carelessly it can be left behind. Fans of brutal music will find it little different from the rest and will quickly forget it. Fans of wider expressions and deeper thoughts will pass it by with little interest. Such is the tragedy of this very respectable album.

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A few stragglers in this group; Master’s The Witchhunt, Centurian’s Contra Rationem, Derogatory’s Above All Else, and Rudra’s RTA proved to be more impact and potential than manifest presence. These will remain fun and quaint for a very occasional listen, perhaps even a sort of throwback feeling, but lacking the long-lasting impact of others in this list.

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A special mention is deserved by Into the Pantheon, the essential synthesis of Empyrium, being their most revealing, powerful and clear release. While not outwardly metal, this live recording everything that is to be metal at the level of character and spirit. As such it is the perfect closing note for this recapitulation and reevaluation of past selections.

Pathways

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Article by David Rosales

In ancient times, a transcendental and reverential cosmological vision made of the hardships of reality a way to elevate intellectual life to the status of the divine. The power to speculate, explore and decode reality around us was considered a gift.The time given to pursue such enterprises was considered invaluable.

What we now call history is the constant decaying of civilizations, an ebbing of true understanding, followed by a wave of revolutions, one after the other in relatively rapid succession as a drowning man desperately clutching for air. Scrapping whatever he could, man acquired dominion over the material while all sense of meaning was gradually lost.

“…for the powerful children of natural emotion will be replaced by the miserable creatures of financial expediency.”

The following is a list of four artworks of the greatest refinement, be it formal or otherwise, achieved through experience or birthed by the innerworkings of an innate calling. The first three are metal and of a minimalist stripe. The third is a Baroque religious vocal work. These are the echoes of what once was.

However, if there ever was an art for the elite, this is it. It will challenge each of the shortcomings of the fickle man. The first will call into question the superficial appreciation of aesthetics and will render the disavowal of prejudices compulsory. The second will require self-internment and the ability to perceive higher truths. The third will furthermore force those with a mind for the complex and an aversion to clear, straight lines to look beyond these and settle down in an openness to the expression. Finally, the last and most ancient will bring to bear the capacity of imaginatively layered music to quickly wear down the animal mind. This will be the bane of the simple-minded.

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On Det Frysende Nordariket

Disdained by most metalheads and followed with unthinking loyalty by kvlt fanatics, Ildjarn has achieved an infamous reputation in one way or another. Either of these camps considers the project to be non-music, with polarized opinions divided between “far from filling the requirements of music” and “simply beyond music”. The former point of view assumes a position of authority on technique whence it presumes to judge what music is. The latter is the inexcusable blindness of spineless and undiscerning individuals who place image before content.

While one could easily disarm the first argument on philosophical grounds, an unbiased judgement of the performance itself leaves any knowledgeable instrumentalist with no option but to accept that this is certainly not the weakness of the music. If issue were taken directly with the arrangement — the composition — of the music, there could be a worthwhile side to these attacks. More often than not, though, these critics arise from the new funderground camp, who have a notorious obsession with sheer standard behemoth-sounding production values, and so the argument usually runs along the lines of Ildjarn’s music being buried too deep in noise to have any value to speak of.

However, Ildjarn at its peak is far more than the jumbled improvisations the early recordings let through. The extreme punk channeling raw energy that this music consists of took some time to be harnessed. Det Frysende Nordariket (“The Frozen Northern-Kingdom”) shows us a refinement and redirecting of these ideas. While the self-titled was barely more than a collection of scattered ideas, intuitive impulses and visceral cadences, it is in this release that Ildjarn develops these ideas into mature extensions which make efficient use of the strengths of the original riffs, thereby burying the relevance of their shortcomings.

Coming to an aural absorption or a gnosis, so to speak, of Ildjarn’s rougher side necessitates not only the listener’s amiability towards ultra-minimalist and long-winded ambient music, but also a positive familiarity with low-fi punk and metal production and its use of what are normally considered sound artifacts as tones and colors on the palette of the artist. Once this is understood and the raw texture is successfully digested, one can start to appreciate the unique ideas presented in each track. The genius of Ildjarn lies in the masterful ultra-minimalist manipulation of the original ideas that can be likened to a stretching and contracting, which is occasionally accompanied by a seamless expansion that is so shy it is barely noticeable if the listener is not attentive.

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On Hvis Lyset Tar Oss

1994 marks the turning point in metal history when innovation stops and a gradual degeneration starts to take place. This year is also the highest point in black metal, seeing the release of what we can consider the quintessential genre masterpieces. First among them is Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.

The meteoric ascent of Vikernes’ previous works from varied yet focused ideas to the purest synthesis of elements in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss could only have one possible outcome. The groundbreaking impact this had on the genre can only be compared to that of albums like Onward to Golgotha or Legion on death metal. While some argue that Vikernes single-handedly “developed” or “defined” black metal, the truth is that he brought it to an end in this album. It is the kind of album that has the words “THIS IS IT” written all over it. There is nothing for us, mortals, beyond the incognizable infinite.

While there is much dark beauty in other works in the genre, works that may serve as veritable portals to hidden corridors of existence, when it comes to the art of composition, there is no other that brings this black romanticism to a more perfect incarnation. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss addresses all facets of black metal and gives them an equally important place in a masterfully balanced music.

The often-used descriptor “ambient black metal” falls criminally short of what this album has to offer. That this “atmospheric” feeling is the only thing blind men can perceive is empiric evidence of its extant layers penetrable to their last consequence only by esoteric means. The least trained will only hear repetition (variation details are lost on them), while those into ambient music will sense the fog around them. He who decries structures and can, to some extent, understand their relations, will be able to delineate muscle fibers and bones — an objective confirmation of content. Further and higher lie realms to be walked but never shared.

Navigating the waters of this ocean, we see indomitable and gargantuan waves slowly rise before us, we experience the placid breeze under a dark-grey sky streaked by clouds mutilated by the rays of a moribund sun, and we face the wrathful tempest. Battered and sucked into a timeless maelstrom, all that remains at the very end is the essence, the ultimate undifferentiated mother of creation.

On The Rack

Asphyx’s debut garners “historical” respect, but is often deemed to be the preparative stage before more refined ones. This argument appears to be supported on two pillars. The first is that a later Asphyx was more technically outspoken, and the second, that the band managed to narrow down their style into a more focused expression. Both of these are true, yet they did not result in higher artistic merit as later works became increasingly sterile. The fact that people get “a feeling” from them is besides the point. Yet, when it comes to art and especially to music, some might confuse these visceral reactions with effective communication through the intuitive.

The Rack presents a style that is both minimalist in its building blocks but displays a progressive tendency in the overall arrangement of parts. Here, Asphyx goes beyond style fetishization and instead uses characteristic phrases and riffs as symbols standing for moods and points in a storyline. This vision places it alongside classic albums that work at a higher level than the merely technical or the grossly emotional. However, it is important to keep in mind that all this intellectual dissection is only a way to uncover this work’s secrets and must not be confused with the end.

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The color palette with which Asphyx plays has a narrow enough range that its extreme opposites are not as contrasting that they incur in an incoherent string of topic changes, yet the individual strokes that riffs represent are distinctive enough that they form clear statements and unambiguously show the way. The triumph of The Rack lies, furthermore, in that it not only signals these inclinations but actually follows them to their last consequence without derailing.

These progressions may seem too clear-cut, leading to them being perceived as ‘blocky’. But when inspected closely, they are shown to be not so much as separate stones in alignment, but as rock-hewn steps in a massive staircase of which each stage is birthed from the underskin of the last. Other ‘brutal’ albums constitute a string of emotions, but here we find an ancient megalithic maze that dwarves petty human creations.
Switching between thematic solos and motific riffs, grindlike attack and doomlike arrest, this first Asphyx takes us through savage plains and forbidden peaks in a barbarian’s world. Now we hear the rage of souls crushed, the karmic cruelty thence resulting, now the ecstatic state following the release of unrestrained fury as we claw our way through this arid wasteland of unmercy.

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On Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi (recording by Roger Norrington and the Schütz Choir)

A baroque religious work might at first seem like an odd addition to a metal compendium, especially one featuring such corrosive albums. A sympathetic relation may nonetheless be found in deeper metaphysical recesses. This hidden concept being the most relevant connection that merits mention does not stop us from discussing other outer traits that surface from that common source, even though their materialized natures lie at antagonizing angles.

The homogeneous, cloudy exterior of Schütz’s offering to the highest being is a continuous exaltation in which each moment is as much a unique apparition as it is an illusory shadow in a sequence of conditioned stages. A flow through condensation, solidification and dispersion let the listener on to the infinite possibilities arising from the two, who are themselves from the one.

Dense, saturated and appreciable only as a mass, Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi will only reflect a clear image if the listener is standing in the right place (at the right time?). This same is true of the Ildjarn, the Burzum and the Asphyx as well. They represent mental spaces within which they are as palpable and engulfing as daylight itself. But places must be traveled to, gates must be unlocked and the decision to step through them is a voluntary one.

Seeds being planted,
guarded by the old ones below.
Against the sky they lay roots,
Once to bloom with signs.

A Descent into the Occult

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Since ancient times man has looked into both himself and nature around him as a portal into dimensions our species’ abilities are not adequately or readily prepared to perceive let alone understand. This is why and the sciences developed their theory and instruments which became increasingly specialized and compartmentalized, to the point that the ulterior workings of, for instance, chemistry and physics are not even truly understood by any single person but that have been recorded and detailed so that theories can be devised to model them. This is both a weapon for more precise understanding and a blindfold that prevents us from seeing the big picture. The ancient occult sciences attempted something contrary to this, which was to grasp at the phenomenon as a whole, not by measuring bits here and there, isolating them and attempting to harness them for mundane tasks, but rather seeing how everything interacted and describing it through metaphor and accepting that knowledge concerning reality cannot be taught or communicated: the path can only be hinted at but it is for each person to take.

paracelsus-portrait “We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things, and are asleep in regard to that which is real within ourselves.”

 

Music can be used as a way to contemplation, as a window of what is in front and within us. This is a way towards the self, towards one’s nature, the species’ nature, and our place in the planet as life springing from it. When done correctly, it is not an escape from “reality” as materialists would have it, but rather a search for the experience and understanding of actual reality through human eyes. This includes an accepting of the limitations we can never truly overcome and yet trying to capture visions and feelings of what the universe beyond us is like. Music can convey this by acting as a conduct, taking the mind to a certain state. This is much more than the “setting of a mood” of pleasure-oriented music, and requires an active engagement by the listener, a locking in the senses, a voluntary  stepping-through to the unreachable umbra of that-which-is. This is not about salvation or reaching out for a different world, it is a discovery of the cosmos as it is in reality.

silesius_2500090-69325 “Could one that’s damned stand in high Heaven, even there He’d feel within himself all Hell and Hell’s despair.”

 

Underground metal and its related genres (dark ambient, for instance) as a mystical experience may lead us through a variety of paths, up to mirrors, dead-ends and upside-down positions which may seem incomprehensible at first but whose value is appreciated in retrospect as a lesson. At the end of the day, no vision reflects reality, we can only dip into experiences that transmit flashes of this or that aspect, but nothing that encompasses everything which is far beyond our capabilities. It is like trying to capture the infinite in one’s mind, or simply trying to imagine not being human.

Teresa-of-Avila-150x150 “To reach something good it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience.”

 

The following are a few album recommendations that the author feels are strong and sure passageways from whence grand sights a piercing eye may descry. Though each of these may follow a slightly different path, they all shine light into particular corridors and avenues by virtue of different methodologies and philosophies. Each kind of experience is in the eye of the beholder and is ever partial and incomplete, but the truth behind all of them is one and whole.

 

Emperor- In the Nightside Eclipse

An album about the astral origin of our self, a constant reference

to the nightsky, the dark forest and the darkest confines of

the individual’s mind and a connection to the source.

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Burzum – Sôl austan, Mâni vestan

The day, the movement of the major celestial bodies seen

through the eyes of a druid. This album is the trickling of life,

the flow of energies from one state into the next.

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Endvra – Black Eden
This is introspection and the exploration of the self’s demons in

a sincere way. A complete closing off from the outside, it is

best experienced alone and in complete darkness. This is

a facing of everything within oneself through oneself.

Endvra 1996 - Black Eden a
Mütiilation – Remains of A Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul

Music for ruins, cemeteries and places in which dark memories

are still alive, this is the universe through deep pain. As with the

first item in this list, it hints at Black Magic, into illicit and

probably self-destructive channeling of negative energies.

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New Burzum / Vikernes direction with “Skáldskapr: Hávamál stanza 138 & 139”

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Burzum composer and mastermind Varg Vikernes has released his latest musical composition, two verses from the Hávamál set to music and voice. This takes a more floaty ambient Vangelis-style approach, spending its time setting scene and then varying texture within it, more like modernist classical than the linear music of today.

While his last few ambient albums have been widely praised on this site, he finds himself in a difficult place: there are many clueless Hot Topic buyers who would love to snap up a Burzum album that sounded like Motley Crue or the Deftones with more evil, a smaller but loudmouthed horde of FMP/NWN tryhards who want only three (chromatic interval) chords and the truth, and then a world music audience which is impossibly locked in its expectation of the same mishmash of Afro-Cuban rhythms with any local tradition it wants to explore. Finding an audience is difficult.

Placing all of his money on the wildcard, Vikernes has decided to appeal to those who have already drifted past all of the above, which are essentially multi-decade trends (no core, no mosh, no fun) that have long become cliché but their audience, being self-obsessed and oblivious, cannot tell the difference. This new track shows Burzum going more into soundtrack-land and trying less hard to please any of the audiences hovering around black metal’s corpse like flies.

The Mystic Tradition in Metal

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As a movement arising from in the post-modernist era but against this establishment, metal has often taken connotations of mysticism. To further clarify this position we must stress that contrary to what seems to be the popular understanding, mysticism is anything but superstitious. Mysticism was the response of lone wolves, singled-out intellectuals and contra-status-quo savants  to established and unquestioned dogma for hundreds of years. Come the age of post-Enlightment scientific-mechanistic materialism, it was the mystics who opposed its arrogance as well: the pretension of the mechanistic paradigm of the sciences that attempted to define reality only by what they could account for within the limitations of their formulae. Mysticism cannot be defined as a philosophical current per se, because its tradition is one of scattered individuals barely connected in a network that spans through cultures and time as well as transcending gender and race as the privilege of those who rise above the self-centered and limited vision of the societies into which they were born.

When referring to metal in this elevated manner, we are referring to the best of the best, and to those who upheld a deeper view of the genre while crystallizing the view with great musical prowess. Both need to be present, the power of a dialectical mind and the divine rapture that lights the unconscious and undefinable. As was explained, mysticism as a tradition is more of a method and a mindset that parts from the notion that experience cannot be shared and that the best attempts to communicating deeper and holistic experiences come from the use of objects and language as opaque symbols that indicate relations and motions rather than refer back to the physical object or original “logical” concept they were referring to. What Cusanus refers to as the “coincidence of opposites” and others as the all in all, the all in one and the one in all — the universe in a drop of water.

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These elite metal artists that do not follow directly after each other but appear consciously independent of one another (Iommi, Quorthon, Hanneman, Warrior, Azagthoth, Vikernes, Ledney, among others) illustrate in ways that seek to evoke and communicate first, and consider artistry as an after thought, if at all. A latent danger of aesthetic lawlessness may be perceived here that has been adopted by lesser minds in their confusion about how to go about implementing this. The mystic artist does not do away with language or convention altogether, he bends it so that words and expressions create impressions. The original meaning of the figure of speech/music or term has to be known by the audience for them to understand the solidification and transposition that the artist puts the symbol through.

As a way of illustration we can take repetition, which in classical tradition is used minimally for the audience to get acquainted with an idea, is used in metal for mood-setting and an entrancing — a setting-out in a grand adventure or a passing-through the gates of perception into another plane. The proportion of repetition in relation to the length and weight of other sections as well as a consideration of their individual properties and relations between the sections, structures and riffs all weigh on the mind of the gifted and mindful artist.

The chaos of bands like late Deathspell Omega that seek to shock and produce a random feeling of overwhelming disorientation can never communicate anything more than a blatant sense of disorder. That is the limitation of such experimental or avant-garde bands: their revolution is only skin deep and being concerned with appearances and the effect of how changing these directly affect the experience. Metal in its highest mystic expression will use the existing language as it is, allowing the significance of symbols (cadences, ascending or descending melodies, percussion, etc) retain a semblance of their original function while their actual usage is shifted to point to the indescribable and unrepresentable meaning, becoming the vehicle for new relations directed by the mind of the composer — a method illustrated but little comprehended in Ludwig van Beethoven’s process.

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But understanding of this Platonic acknowledgement is not given to most and so interpretation of metal’s nature gets diluted and bastardized to terms such as “playing with feeling” or  “being heavy” that barely scratch the surface. We understand these and their superficial descriptions, but when in the hands of the uninitiated, such simplification becomes the total understanding and decadence of a movement becomes imminent as ideas are perverted by inferior comprehension. Metal was started and carried forward at each meaningful juncture by one of these luminaries, and while a few lost underground gems wrought by excellent minds can be found in caves, in between, there was only uncountable fodder.

As a mystic understanding and reaching for the Dionysian through differing Apollonian guises metal seeks to discretely transmit glimpses of phenomena that recur in and around us. A reality that flows and changes state producing what we know as time, but that remains one and the same through and through from beginning to end.

“True, authentic being consists in our ability to let all that is be as and how it is, not distorting it, not denying its own being and its own nature to it.”

— Jan Patočka

 

The Forgotten Role of Drums in Metal

darkthrone

Fenriz as the archetypal metal drummer is perhaps a puzzle to most, perhaps considering his status to be a mere by-produt of Darkthrone becoming an icon. The status of most worthy personalities of metal tends to be double sided in that way. There is the respect for what came before, usually a blind fanhood of what is not understood and is only explainable in terms of some kind of historical relevance and then there is the underground ackowledgement of the musical talents of the artist in question that stand the test of time. The difference in perception arises from the fact that these artists’ greatest merit lies in subtletly. The Subtlety of where to use a specific technique, however rudimentary, so that the music is better enhanced, completed or open to being built on (say the drums got written before everything else).

In drumming in particular, the lack of appreciation for proper arrangement has been greater than in the vocal or guitar departments, perhaps because the only antecedents in this type of percussion come from rock and jazz. In rock, the drums are merely a time keeper and groove-adder. In Jazz, it is typical that they serve that function plus, like all the other instruments, allow the musician to keep masturbating on the instrument with little thought to how this adds to the music as concept and not self-referential indulgence. But in all fairness, there is an old school of jazz in which the music is kept together more neatly and in which the drums play a much more constructive role.

In metal, the drums are not only a support instrument but should blend in into a whole. In fact, ideally, the guitars should be doing this too. The point is so subtle and hard to grasp that even the musicians that acknowledge it have a very hard time translating it into practice. As with all great things coming from a simple concept, it is easier said than done. The most prudent drummers and bands limit the percussion to a function (that in metal is more prominent and important than in rock) rather than the spotlight, and this is at least a first step.

It was the increasing distance between all rock-like perspective in music that made metal approach a more purified and important integration of drums into its frameworks. Works such as Hvis Lyst Tar Oss or Transilvanian Hunger are inconceivable without percussion. That is not to say that the rest of the elements are not good, but they are incomplete without percussion. And so are their corresponding drum patterns without them. Metal had to go back to an extreme minimalism, stripping down every layer to realize the importance of every little element. This Burzum album belongs to end of black metal as an era, but I will place it here even if it appears counter-chronological.

After an initial dive into this primitivism driven (Celtic Frost, Bathory) by gut instinct of the most authentic kind, death metal proper developed and quickly escalated in its use of technical arrangements that went overboard in the sense that they were unnecessary for the point of the music itself, though not necessarily bad. Technicality was set besides essence and communication in importance. The formal music tendencies that are so prominent in classical music started to surface in metal.

A great overlooked exception to this rule was the work of Adrian Erlandsson within the framework of arrangements and indications of Alf Svensson for At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours. The fact that these integral arrangements are unmatched in death metal to this very day is a testament to how little understood they are. The fact that the drumming here twists, bends, propulses, stops, counterpoints in a great variety of different drum patterns that while theoretically rudimentary are often technically demanding, especially when performed as  a whole, indicate that a sense of continuity in expression must be kept by the drummer through changes of tempo, time signature and character. What makes this superior to other progressive-oriented albums is that for all this variety, the style of expression is tightly restricted. The reduced repertoire of guitar and drum techniques to the minimal from which it builds its complexity in a language of its own endows it with this distinct personality. Without the guidance of the architect Svensson, though, this band completely floundered in mediocrity soon after his departure.

Today, few bands grasp the importance of the integrated drums let alone being actually capable of translating the concept to a concrete plan and then puting it into practice. As far as I have seen, with very particular exceptions, the most sober drumming comes from the modern tradition that has branched from (old, the only real) black metal. First of all, it may come to those learning it by virtue of studying the past, this makes the grasping of a concept much easier. This does not include the nu-black or post-black camps which represent a departure, regression and deconstruction of metal, a reflection of decadence.

It is rather in the work of Abyssum’s Akherra that we see the role of drums as an essential part of the music. For this, the rest of the instruments must accomodate the drums, not only run on top of it. The naive layering of instruments most bands are used to is precisely what makes them amateurs in this. In proper metal, the drums are inside, not under the music. This is part of what the metaphor “drumming in counterpoint” reflects. Drum patterns that are relatively independent in the sense that they aren’t just there as a support, but come into contact at every moment with the music, bending, yielding and transforming along with the rest of the music.

Such attention to detail goes far beyond just playing slower or faster, stronger or softer when the rest of the music does so. It is not only a matter of intensity or speed in correspondence. The drums must live in symbiosis with the guitars, and not like a running pair of athletes besides each other. Silences and types of drum patterns specifically tailored to different sections are exemplified in Abyssum’s “The Illusion of Pan” in which we see important  decisions taken about the smallest details such as ride strikes in the rhythm of a particular keyboard melody speed, the variations between soft blast beats and other less forward-moving patterns as great inflections and indicators of the song’s pictorial journey that are not as clearly reflected in the rest of the music alone.

This entry is not about judging this or that band over another. The point is the study of drums for the future of metal. The recognition of the evolution in the use of drums throughout the genre. Surprisingly, Black Sabbath Master of Reality shows the kind of thinking that would go into Celtic Frost To Mega Therion in terms of the reduction and powerful use of elements into highly-personalized expressions. In this Black Sabbath showed how far ahead of their times they were. It took metal more than a decade to catch up to them. These musical transpirations in their music were refined through the black metal tradition going through death metal. The best we can hope for is bands today piecing out elements in this way, and being able to identifying what great drumming consists of in metal. But this must start out from the vision of metal as a proper music, as highly-integrated elements which conspire within an indissolubly dependent complex set of relations.

Det Som Engang Var: Significance and Merit

Burzum-Det_Som_Engang_Var-Frontal

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

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

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

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

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