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USBM (United States Black Metal) as a term encompasses such varying sounds as the primal war chants of Von, the uncompromisingly precise assault of Averse Sefira, and the operatic mewling of Weakling. Scar Sighted, Leviathan’s newest release, is still USBM but typically is categorized by fans as “depressive suicidal black metal,” along the stylistic lines of Sweden’s Shining and fellow American Xasthur.
Unlike the epic and powerful surge of teeth-clenching energy that one feels from black metal ne plus ultra like Sacramentum, Immortal, or Darkthrone, Leviathan’s music is more about… who knows? Something relatively vague but generally negative, self-loathing, and frankly boring. Take this line of lyric; “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” This line seems assertive and confident; you may wonder what meaning this cryptic passage may hold. And wonder you shall, forever, because placing it in the context of the rest of the song does not reveal any clearer meaning. There is no point other than the expression of narrow-sighted negativity. This is the unifying theme of Scar Sighted; a gross misdirection of self-contempt projected toward any and all things outside the self, with uninformed “occultic” references mixed in for good measure.
My contention with Scar Sighted is not just with the lyrics, though. The composition of each song reflects the fragmentation apparent in the lyrics, throwing out one cool-sounding line after another, but leaving the observant listener with a stark sense of having witnessed a slide show of barely-related images. Melodies come and go with nary a whimper as the listener gets deeper into each song. Certainly, a lot of blustery riffs throughout the album got me excited and interested in hearing where the music would lead me next. But that makes the album all the more disappointing, as one song can throw a series of two or three engaging riffs at you and then switch tracks completely and strand you amidst a wash of dissonant non-melody that, rather than moving the song forward, just wallows within its own two-or-three chord cycle that doesn’t relate to any other part of the song.
To Wrest’s credit, a lot of the riffs are very cool, and he has a refined sense of how long a riff can be exploited before it becomes too boring for repetition. Sometimes, he makes the right choice and heads into a complimentary riff to accentuate the previous one. However, more often than not, the last riff is shrugged off and a whole new feeling is admitted, complete with a disparate drum beat, a new scale, and, too often, a new vocal style. Wrest has a very intense low-end growl that synergizes with the grimy, slimy, bass-heavy sound that is wonderfully mixed on this album. Wrest is clearly a craftsman that takes his work seriously and not a lazy writer. However, the result of his work is an incoherent collection of songs, some of which sound like they could come from a post-hardcore band on Level Plane in the early 2000s. With that in mind, Scar Sighted wouldn’t be a bad album by any means if it weren’t marketed as black metal. But when contrasted with the standards of black metal and the techniques employed by the best bands, we find that the intensely personally-focused introspective meanderings of Leviathan fall apart.8 Comments
The audience for this album are the same people who are fooled by magic shows at carnivals, speak in tongues at revivals, buy the latest iGadget sight unseen, and smoke in bed. If you claim to like this album, you are either not paying attention or merely a fool. Like every sell out, it is designed to cater to the lowest common denominator, which generally recruits idiots.
Thantifaxath combine trivialist “progressive,” minor key black metal riffs, and indie rock to make what they call “depressive suicidal black metal.” Songs start with basic black metal-ish riffs, but instead of featuring a varied internal texture, these are uniform with an equal number of strums per chord and chords generally changing on the beat, creating a drone effect. The band then play “progressive” riffs that amount to showy but not all that complex guitar and sonic technique used as distraction, and then get to the main point, which is minor key indie-rock riffs that feature the hook to the song. If you can imagine LSD guitar practice plus a basement black metal band ending up in a cover of someting off Daydream Nation, that is the sum total of Thantifaxath.
While the sin committed by Sacred White Noise is insincerity, its musical failing comes from being essentially contentless and relying on fireworks or pop techniques to fill in the void. What does this album communicate? According to people who claim to love DSBM, they find an emotional rush from this in realizing how horrible life truly is. But how is that different from emo? Late 80s emo achieved the same thing but it kept the pop more visible, so it could cry through the tears, as the saying went. This band wallows in its sadness and then plays random music over the top to distract from how fundamentally simple it is.
Thantifaxath use questionable “black metal” riffs. The riffing is essentially static such as that which bands like Nile or Necrophagist used, where the point was to play a chord in a certain rhythmic pattern and then add an extended fill so it seemed like a death metal riff, despite having more in common with Elvis or Lynyrd Skynyrd than death metal. These parallel the “progressive” playing, which seems to focus on finding a whacky guitar technique (whacky: odd, ironic, rarely used — because it is useless for expressing anything but musical confusion) and repeating it at different notes quickly and erratically. Sometimes this becomes comical when these patterns resemble familiar phone numbers or radio jingles. Its indie rock is clearly its heart, because the full melodic hook comes out here, but it does not distinguish itself from thousands of other bands in this area.
In summary, Thantifaxath create directionless melodic wandering at a slow pace with a hookish atmosphere in three styles, doing none well and fooling only those who have no particular ability to pay attention for prolonged periods of time. At its best, its melodies resemble the wandering style that Celestia brought out, but this style owes more to lack of purpose than to any idea or feeling it communicates. An astute observer will notice that for all of its supposed variation, this album expresses only one mood and it never changes — only is interrupted by distraction — and that it applies technique uniformly to create sonic wallpaper from even the most “different” pieces. To its audience, who apparently are so deep in self-pity that “depressive suicidal black metal” seems important, I have a word of advice: cut harder.41 Comments
Xasthur’s reclusive and asocial Malefic gave us a few moments of time to ask some esoterica and rewarded his listeners with the following interview, in which he gives some analysis of the interconnectivity of thoughts inside and outside of the black metal “scene.”
When you first started Xasthur, what factor of the project made you most uncomfortable?
Hmmm, that’s a real good question. There were two times when I ‘first started Xasthur’, the first time was a failure…constant losers,liars,trendies for bandmates; I was very upset. I felt that nobody believed in how serious I was in bringing forth a horrifing aura of blackness. The second time was just the same, but on the other hand better. I had totally given up on people, I admit I was uncomfortable when I decided to get a drum machine and do it all on my own, I didn’t know if it was possible,and still alot of poser fuckers didn’t believe in me, they thought their party heavy metal parking lot bands were more meaningful..well,the good news is that I’m planning on, and will have the last laugh!!! Another factor was the vocals, I had never done that before, but I knew that I would have to force myself to…it was never in my plans, but as a one person band, it had to be; other than that, everythng fell into place and I learned how to overcome certian difficulties such as drum programming, vocals, humans etc…
Had you been in any bands or musical apparati before Xasthur?
Yes, a couple death metal bands, back in 94-95 here in So.Cal..didn’t really work out. There was always some differences, they wanted to be unoriginal, and at the time I thought it would have been quite possible to mix death metal with darkness and doom. I can’t really get along with anyone in a band-like environment.
At the time, what bands inspired and/or motivated you? Writers? Visual artists? Movies?
Mütiilation and the black legions, Burzum, Graveland (Thousand Swords), Manes, Shining, Forgotten Woods, Funeral Winds and too many to mention. Hmmm, I don’t watch movies much…my favorite movie is Carrie (the old one from the 70s) as far as Visual Artists are concerned, whoever made the Aphex Twin video, what a perfect vision of the remains of an apocalypse, I always have that video in my head…but like I said ,I don’t watch TV really…
Where were you when you first thought the project had longterm potential for you?
In my house, as usual…looking out my window and there was nothing there, When I was finishing a song and it actually disturbed me. That was like looking into a mirror and not liking what I saw….when it refected a nightmare, I thought it had some potential…but for what?”
Does anyone else work with you? Why or why not?
The only other person that really helped in the past was a good friend of mine, Mike/Draconis, but that was in ’99, before I just did this band on my own. Maybe it’s where I live that I can’t rely on ANYONE to help out…I don’t need anyones input, people here want to be famous like Cradle of Filth and write safe-normal riffs to impress their friends, get girls etc…that is all I have EVER seen…I don’t need that kind of input.
There is an obvious Burzum-influence (this is something of which to be proud, but hopefully you’re not going to be annoyed by it) in Xasthur’s music; what did Burzum do that no other bands have done?
No, I’m not annoyed by that…actually, thanks. Burzum is darkness, or has that word lost its meaning? All I know is that Burzum can take you anywhere but where you are…and it’s usually somewhere cold. I don’t want to be where I am, or anywhere for that matter.
A soldier once remarked, “we had to destroy the town to save it.” F.W. Nietzsche once offhandedly said that if Christianity had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent it. Do you think all things on planet earth are bound up in their opposites?
Yes, that F.W. Nietzsche quote makes sense to me…just cause something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it needs to be invented…we would still have a broom, if the streetcleaner or vaccum wasn’t invented, the broom cost only 4-5 dollars and the others several dollars more, plus they’re noisy and don’t save that much time…according to that quote, I’m not disagreeing with it, the quote to me is just based on human nature and what people will predictably do….or…maybe I have no clue?
Most black metal bands seem to aim for linear expansion, namely, riffs that stretch out of 2-3 notes across 3-5 frets within the same chord form. This produces a very clear pattern that requires a counterpoint. Burzum and others, including Xasthur, seem to structure counterpoint within a recursive phrase, more like a fugue. Is this true in your view?
I try to not have such few notes per song/riff. My instincts tell me when or when not to have such few notes, when to be this simple or not to be,there’s a time to be repetative. For example, something with a hardcore upbeat (like you mentioned somewhere else in this interview) shouldn’t be repeated 8-12-16 times ect…Across 3-5 frets? I’d say you’d better add a bunch of other ideas to accompany that kind of simplicity or its gonna get boring…but like I said else where, there are no rules. Slightly rehearsed, last minute improv can not only fool thyself, but the listener as well…or at least I’d like to think. Don’t wanna come across as someone trying to be an expert, ’cause these are just instincts talking here…there’s not much theory behind what it is that I do, ’cause I basically had to learn anything I know on my own…on my own, that’s what life really comes down to, and death as well.
How much of the black metal community do you feel is social time for wayward youth? How much of it is artistic?
Too much social time! To play this music and make it as dark as you can, one has to give up alot…like friends,sleep,money etc…Alot of people will be too busy being a part of “life” to take it further than bass,guitar,drums,vocals,pentagram and then they’re done! When this kind of work is done, I’ll be social with others who are into what I’m into..who the hell am I?
Negativity seems to me like a mental forest fire; with everything reduced to ashes, any new ideas seem fresh and hopeful. What have your experiences on this topic been?
Well, negativity is all around, weather you want it or not…how can one rebuild when only ashes remain? Whenever I look at my scars…I remember where I’ve been and where my state of mind always takes me.
Many view Varg as duplicitous in his representation of his own beliefs, but in the first interview I have with him, he refers to himself as a theosophist, and on his first album, he has a lyric making reference to his socially unacceptable political views. Do you fear the same thing with your own music and later, views? is there any way around being called “inconsistent” as one grows?
is there any way to summarize what you’ve learned about music since starting xasthur, or to find a few central points of change, and if so, can you list them here?
I have learned alot,I have learned things that I already knew and felt. I have learned that playing music is like solving puzzles that have no direction and are certianly not flat like puzzles usually are. I learned that many riffs of songs have infinite possibilities for harmonies/dis-harmonies with all instruments, having 4 or 5 different sounds in different octaves (yet all slightly similar) coming together finding a way to let out all the thousands of ideas in my head…painting a mix of sounds with the most bleak of colours, what to do, or what to add that will reflect the exact mood….I learned that being unpredictable with the changes in the song can work for me, instead of against me i.e, one of my friends used to tell me that 2 certian parts wouldn’t/didn’t go together, I say bullshit, I’ll find a way, and the best way i possibly can…there are no rules, no rules…its the one thing that can keep it interesting to me…I don’t know if this is the kind of answer you were looking for…
What do you think – if any – is the relationship between radical, terroristic environmentalism and black metal?
Hate!! Downfall of urban culture (or lack there of)..if I’m understanding the question properly.
Do you have a preference for type of equipment? In your mind, how important is equipment to the production of music?
I’ll tell you that it makes a difference. When getting a good guitar sound, that’s when just anything WON’T do. On some old recordings,I used a dist.pedal and all it picked up was alot of noise I didn’t even know I was hearing, plus it was very weak ad thin…then I switched to an effects processer rack mod. and that really helped take away all the noise and added some fullness…a way of mixing is important too. A 4track with mixing capabilities included, the effects processer and a cd-r burner for bouncing tracks…these are all the essentials and main ingredients.These things made a difference and made recording easier for me.
When you first conceive of a song, or a riff, is your starting point a boundary or a direction?
Neither. I don’t want a limit, and boundary makes me think of that…if there was a direction then it wouldn’t come from within,plus predictability in music makes it boring to play after a while.
What are your thoughts on Hegel’s theory of dialectics, namely that each thing (“thesis”) has an antithesis, and eventually a compromise between the two leads to the next thesis?
As in hypothesis, an educated guess? A part of being psychic? A mathematical algebra-like theory of prediction? If 2+ _ = 8 then what’s blank? If someone/something does 2, but is hiding the truth, that being blank, then why does their face have 8 written all over it…I don’t know,I’m so tired right now I don’t even know…
Many people are saying “black metal is dead” right now, and, while I understand their saying so, it seems to me like they mean “most of black metal is dead” when they declare its demise. What do you think is the difference between “living” and “dead” in this context?
Yes, I agree “most of black metal is dead” because if it was all dead,I would have one of the last significant reasons not to live. There are still some bands out there that can save at least the feeling or that bring back some nostalgia of the way it once was. I don’t think war metal does…war metal is just some kind of retro protest towards the norweigians?? This negativity of black metal is the only thing that brings me any pleasure or excitement anymore…ironic,or a contradiction?? It was “living” in the early 90’s when it was more of a threat to society, I suppose.
What were your earliest metal influences?
In the 1982-84 era, is when I first discovered metal, I was a bit young at the time…I liked Motley Crue,Iron Maiden,Quiet Riot,AC/DC ect…I rarley listen to those bands anymore..sometimes. Later on in the later 80’s I got into Mercyful Fate,Dark Angel,Megadeth,Slayer.. then death metal,black metal then…??
How much of metal do you think is derived from hardcore?
Hmmm, some of the drum beats are similar to hardcore. However, I think metal bands did alot more with hardcore beats than the hardcore bands did themselves..
The gentleman from Axis of Advance probably thinks I’m a fag because so much of this interview does not address metal itself, but abstract and possibly unrelated thoughts. Do you think there is a link between the sound that is produced and the thoughts that occurred to prompt the attitudes, values and ideas expressed?
Well, talking about real life is probably more grim than death itself….and metal too. Axis of Advance?? That link you talk about, yes I think there is…that is, if you’re talking about a persons mental state of mind, if you can hear a persons mental state of mind…I could probably hear where the guys in Axis of Advance are coming from when I hear their songs and I would hope that one would be able to hear where I’m coming from with mine, also these are from two different planes….
Do you believe it is necessary, as Keats did, to desire the end for its cessation of the activity of life, before one can see what is of value remaining?
Darkling I listen, and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful death . . .
Now more than ever seems it reach to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain
If we could see the world through philosophical photonegative states of mind, what do you think would be the seat of evil? Would those who believe still conceive of “god” as an entity outside of this world?
Do you have any mystical belief?
Energy…hateful. Energy taken from souls. Believing in yourself,cause you can’t have faith in anything or anyone else
Many in black metal advocate a “fuck everything, do nothing” type political attitude that is more bitterness than ideology. Others overcorrect by becoming very-unliberal people with the liberal attitude that one “must” change the human situation. Where do you stand?
How about change the human situation for good by mass genocide since there’s no answer to everyone’s/anyone’s problems and everyone hates being alive, whether they can admit it or not. I’m sick of humans having so many rights…they just piss and shit on all that is given to them. To me, this is bitterness AND ideology.
What drugs do you think anus.com should explore as possible nutritional supplements for its writing staff?
“Explore the world of medication”
Please drop in here any additional comments, final words on this interview, or jokes about sodomy that you feel would fit.
Knock,knock. Who’s there? Clint. Clint who? Clint Torres….get it?! I am in the process of copyrightng this joke.
Thanks for the interview, Prozak…whether people know it or not you’re a pessimistic guy that goes back a long way…thanks to anyone that wastes their time reading this… suicide can be a relief.
Did we speak about “end” and “totality” in a way phenomenally apprporiate to Da-sein? Did the expression “death” have a biological significance or one that is existential and ontological, or indeed was it sufficiently and securely defined at all? And have we actually exhausted all the possibilities of making Da-sein accessible in its totality?
We have to answre these questions before the problem of the wholeness of Da-sein can be dismissed as nothing. The question of the wholeness of Da-sein, both the existentiell questiona bout a possible potentiality-for-being-a-whole, as well as the existential question about the constitution of being of “end” and “wholeness,” contain the task of a positive analysis of the phenomena of existence set aside up to now. In the center of these considerations we have the task of characterizing ontologically the being-toward-the-end of Da-sein and of achieving an existential concept of death.
– Martin Heidegger, Being and Time