Literary inspirations of metal


Fenriz (Darkthrone, Storm) unleashed his band Fenriz’ Red Planet a half-decade ago and on its first release included a song named “John Carter, Man On Mars.” This should immediately send all of you running to your search engines, where you will find that John Carter was the protagonist-hero of a number of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of which are available online.

That in turn leads to the larger question of which metal bands have shown their literary influences. If a list were made, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien would lead the list from the 1970s onward, but perhaps the influences are subtler. Jim Morrison acknowledged Louis-Ferdinand Céline and William Blake, and this carried forward into metal through thematic elements, some of which have been picked up on by metal bands since. Many of these influences may be subtler than explicit reference, such as whatever gore-drenched literature inspired Carcass and any of the occult fringes of underground metal.

One wonders what lurks in lyrics and song ideas from the vast library of black metal, death metal and grindcore. Science fiction seems to make an appearance with the more technical bands, where the more primitive and violent prefer popular but challenging literature such as Lovecraft. It has yet to be seen whether metal bands can adapt ideas from Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy. But perhaps some are working on it. If you can think of any literary references in metal, drop them in the comments.

The Forgotten Role of Drums in Metal


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.

Funeste – Le Triomphe du Charnier (2015)


Funeste play black metal with a tendency to emphasize atmosphere through the creation of spaces, voids within the music in a treatment of the style that is very modern. In Le Triomphe du Charnier
one is able to identify great potential, as some of the elements in the music are very well-written, solid and balanced musically, consistent while not forgetting to create the movement necessary to give life. On the other hand, there are also more regrettable decisions here that can lead a fan of the old school to cringe. What the reader needs to understand is that those who understand the old school have this sort of reactions to many methods of the “new school” because the latter tends to lack a center, favoring whims that border on an experimentalism that is little more than ignorance of composition in its complete sense (and not just attending to its most basic and superficial necessities like playing in a key or using a particular mode).

On Le Triomphe du Charnier, Funeste often use arrangements in which three guitars playing distinct parts may be recognized. Sometimes there are only two or even as little as one guitar present. The transitions between these are reasonably smooth although sometimes tend to verge towards the modern tendency of lazy contrast excused as surprise. When the guitars are treated like melody lines, sometimes collaborating, sometimes providing accompaniment and counter-melody, sometimes just forming a mega-riff, Funeste show us the amazing arrangements that can be applied to metal guitar styles without having to sound superficially “neo-classic” or to resort to jazz-mongering.

There is a particular element on this album that stands out as the rotten apple in the barrel: the drumming. While in the three-part guitar sections a guitar may sometimes engage in some indulging and completely unjustified (musically unjustified, that is, not connected to the rest of the music very clearly, but just floating as an extra appendage) decoration takes place, the drumming patterns seem disconnected from the music most of the time. It is not enough that the drums play in the correct tempo and time signature, but this instrument also has to blend in with the rest of the music in a way that subordinates it to the whole and not as a self-important and self-agrandizing member. I am sorry if the traditional metal’s balance consisting on having the drums play a supporting role hurts the ego of drummers but mindful and reserved composition should come before anything else.

Neo-metalists of recent times take this to be a kind of close-minded imposition on their creativity and will try to release drumming from its subservient role and let it run around unchecked, affirming its presence and new-found freedom as a child who’s been chastized for the least of things throughout his life and grows up to suddenly find himself free of limitations and now runs amok performing actions of painfully self-referential significance. So it is that we find the drumming in this album attempting to take over dominance, fighting it out with the rest of the music, and accounting for the unnecessarily busy feeling of the music that is taken by neo-metallers as “creative complexity”. In truth, this is no more than lazy self-indulgence, this so-called complexity being no more than an increased quantity of notes. The drums should work from within the nature of the movement of melody and harmony to enhance the whole, adding to it not as something else occurring besides the rest of the instruments but as an indispensable breathing apparatus.

Here the main thing was to understand the combination and opposition of the three great factors in music- rhythm, melody and harmony; to understand, for example, that the cadence that is harmonically and melodically perfect will have a weaker effect if it does not occur simultaneously with the rhythmic cadence
— Johannes Brahms

Commending Funeste on its overall music-organization and especially on its very promising and mostly controlled guitar arrangements is in order. The band’s drummer is more than obviously technically gifted and definitely has talent but he or she must make decision here and now: will you write music as a “musician” looking for technical performance perfection or as a “creator” — a composer trying to give birth to an artistic expression? As a black metal drummer trying to achieve balance, it is recommended that one should first study the work of Fenriz in the albums released with Darkthrone around Transilvanian Hunger, trying to understand how and why he plays what he plays. After that a hard and long look at Adrian Erlandsson’s work in At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours will prove to be an invaluable lesson of drumming giving life to music in creative, varied yet reserved manner as well. Even though to simple minds it might seem that he is just being limited, others might understand his intention towards affording music with the necessary percussion while retaining proportion and a semblance that does not diverge too greatly from the intended concept.

The History Of Black Metal


As detailed in The Heavy Metal FAQ, heavy metal developed through parallels found between several musical traditions both inside and outside of the developing genre. Black Sabbath emerged from the intersection between heavy rock, nascent punk and progressive rock; black metal emerged from proto-underground metal and hardcore punk, taking the most intense aspects of each and fusing them together.

The Until the Light Takes Us crew filmed a lengthy interview with Fenriz in which he outlines the roots of black metal in several stages, from its rise in heavy metal with Black Sabbath, Motorhead and Mercyful Fate through the expansion out of speed metal (via hardcore and thrash) through Slayer and finally, the proliferation of bands inspired by NWOBHM band Venom such as Sodom, Hellhammer and Destruction from which much of the modern sound emerged, finalized (in his view) with Bathory Under the Sign of the Black Mark.

As black metal rotates around the same carcass that stopped artistically expanding 22 years ago, understanding its roots becomes even more important as it is necessary to drive away the ghouls, parasites and grave-robbers desperate for some of its legend through imitation and pandering to a new audience. The two videos add up to about fifty minutes of air time and worth watching for the black metal fan, historian or curious bystander.

Darkthrone announces release of Black, Death and Beyond anthology


Former black metal, now heavy metal band Darkthrone have announced the upcoming release of a triptych analog release via Peaceville, featuring a retrospective from each stage of the band’s career. Entitled Black, Death, and Beyond, the tracklist is as follows:


Side 1:

1. Snowfall
2. Sunrise over Locus Mortis
3. Soulside Journey
4. Neptune Towers
5. Nor the Silent Whispers

Side 2:

1. Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia (NRK version)
2. Sadomasochistic Rites
3. In his Lovely Kingdom
4. Black Daimon
5. Paragon Belial


Side 1:

1. In the Shadow of the Horns
2. Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn
3. Under a Funeral Moon
4. I en Hall Med Flesk og Mjod

Side 2:

1. The Hordes of Nebulah
2. The Claws of Time
3. Fucked Up & Ready to Die
4. Hate is the Law
5. The Cult of Goliath


Side 1:

1. Graveyard Slut
2. Forebyggende Krig
3. These Shores are Damned
4. Pervertor of the 7 Gates
5. Wisdom of the Dead

Side 2:

1. The Winds they called the Dungeon Shaker
2. Grizzly Trade
3. Those Treasures Will Never Befall You
4. Stylized Corpse
5. The Ones You Left Behind

Additionally, the release will be accompanied by a book detailing the history of the band’s career, with input from Fenriz, Nocturno Culto, and former bassist Dag Nilsen, in addition to archival photos and commentary from associated artists and conspirators.

On choosing which tracks to be included on the release, Fenriz described his method, which he calls the “Fenrizolator”:

I never quit my day job; one of the reasons being that I can listen to music on headphones there all the time. To the extent that I rarely listen to music at home anymore, and if I do it’s like I can’t hear it PROPERLY. At work with headphones is where the details reveal themselves and also which songs I can and can’t use in compilations or dj’ing appear quite clearly.

Every time I get/buy a cassette or vinyl I have to transfer them to wav files via a computer programme, then I write a little note to accompany the final burnt disc. But the note first swings by my workplace where I can rate the various songs with a clever underlining-system called THE FENRIZOLATOR. And so passes the days.

He went on to state that following his system, Hans Siste Vinter was the band’s worst track, and The Cult is Alive received the highest score.

Helvete, famous Oslo black metal hangout, returns

helvete_store_oslo_black_metalBack during the golden age of black metal, the shop Helvete was the focal point of the Norwegian black metal movement. Run by Mayhem guitarist Euronymous, the store was the go-to spot for the genre’s elites to spread their music and ideas.

After the first media explosion of black metal occurred, Helvete shut down in response to negative reactions from the community. Shortly after, it became famous after the events surrounding Euronymous’ death and gained mythic status amongst the newer fans to journey to and attempt to understand what had occurred there.

After languishing in other business purposes for over a decade, as of this August the location of the original store will be reclaimed for its 1990s purpose: spreading black metal. Neseblod Records has decided to relocate there and is busy setting up a museum experience to preserve the history of the genre. Featuring classic releases and rare flyers and posters, the project aims to revive interest in what inspired the original black metal musicians to create what they did.

Throughout this endeavor, the project has had the support of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, who has directly involved himself in the moving process, guiding the presentation to be as realistic and truthful as possible, which can only help increase awareness of both the history of the genre and its future exploits.

In this case, realistic and truthful means making the past come alive once again and remembering those ideals, which are timeless, and carrying them forward into a new time. At least, that’s if they want to avoid nostalgia, which pretty much killed off the souls of Generation X before they even hit their forties. Those interested in seeing documentation of the progress can head over to the Facebook page.