Splits are usually revealing for reasons the bands do not intend. By allowing their music to be placed alongside that of another band in a way that listening to them one after the other is not only encouraged but, in metal culture, almost mandatory, they make comparisons and judgements based on performance differences inevitable. The aim might be to publish a few tracks more efficiently and getting the music to more people since people who know one of the two bands will listen to the other band out of curiosity. The more zealous metal fans, however, are bound to make harsher judgements of anything that is placed too close to the band they follow.
Kawir is a band that belongs to that side of metal whose discussion allows the true metal nihilist to distinguish between free minds who embrace the spirit of metal’s independence from political or religious doctrine. Metal has been characterized by its portrayals of power, courage and strength, while looking down on sheepish behavior, compliance with the system and general cowardice. When bands who openly express musical worship of Pagan ideals as a source for racial/national power, it gives one the opportunity to weed out the sheep in metal guise. The metal nihilist will find in the concept of the pagan theme in metal yet another expression of pride and power apt for the narrative of timeless natural struggle. He may dispassionately nod its head to the idea without necessarily embracing it as something that speaks to him, personally. He holds the burning flame of life in front of him, observing the destroying consumption that drives action in eternal co-dependence with passive materia. He stares at it directly without fear of having the miserable protective borders of human-society constructs burn away, nay, welcoming this removal of the illusory.
But the infiltrator will often reveal himself by expressing typical modern-urban discomfort in the face of the tribal roots of these ideas, deeming them not sophisticated enough and the product of ignorant naturalists and superstitious people– because they have obviously never even read Karl Marx, let alone Michel Foucault or Noam Chomsky. We also find the majority of undecided metal fans who can guiltily accept these “rash” ideas in the context of artistic expression, although not without signs of rubor on their cheeks and heavy perspiration on trembling hands, more characteristic of virtuous maidens than courageous warriors. Yes, metal is masculine, and no, it does not imply misogyny. These last at least exhibit the intellectual honesty towards which metal tends to gravitate, even if the shackles of their own societies and times can still be felt as they adopt a tongue-in-cheek disposition and keep their fingers crossed behind their backs in a sort of secular modern superstitious fear. One may still find them making quick apologies for the band or comical quips that prove their allegiance to their in-time, humanist ideals, putting their puny minds at rest that they have not incurred in heresy.
Isotheos (ίσο – θεος, ‘equal [to] god’ — Godlike) is the Apollonian in-time expression through metal and minimalist Hellenic elements of Dionysian timelessness, the underlying human genetic memory of survival that Nietzsche wisely derived and intuited and that Jung demonstrated empirically. This collective unconscious speaks to us in mental images, flashes of emotion and conceptual ephemeral . A sign that Kawir places utmost importance on the core and significance, rather than on the temporary expression of these, is that although there is a clear embracing of the products of Greek pre-classical antiquity as the heritage of its nation and people, references to both pre-Hellenic and Roman outward manifestations are admitted into the concept of the album. The album deals with the transcendental aspect of Greek symbology, not as temporary and superficial expressions of this or that period, but as evidence to the unique evolutionary path of Greek survival arising as fumes from boiling blood.
Musically, Isotheos revolves completely around simple, modal themes, which in no moment cede to any other element. While there are vocals, rhythm guitars and often more than one melody line, the centrality of the theme is never, even for one moment, lost. Kawir simultaneously achieves the high-energy, dense locomotive character of metal that rides on thundering drums, as well as the melodious, inspiring horizon-gazing sounds of primeval Greece. These, we have now come to associate with the ancient temples and oracles through reconstructions of that ancient European music. Rhythm depends on power chord phrases closer to the approach of Witchfinder General than Iron Maiden, thus a stronger backbone and less distraction. Despite this adherence to simplicity (the beautiful simplicity, the ‘good simplicity’ of Plato’s Socrates), there is no lack of variety, and through smart use of economical and effective use of a close-style repertoire of techniques achieves a strong and fluent expression.
Particularly stamped on the capable listener’s mind will be the natural consistency with which themes are treated, the healthy growth of variations without even the slightest hint of pretension. In no moment does technique supersede communication and structure, a balanced sort of modest beauty that maintains its worth by carefully and sparingly choosing climaxes that never come beforehand. This is achieved through gradually evolving the theme, so that a structure of cyclic transformation is represented. Each song makes use of one theme only, usually, tying it poetically with the concept, and making absolutely revolve around it. This is not a theme on a melody dancing above moving harmony with an occasional quote and echo, but rather the whole of the music adds a grain to the theme itself, as it assumes no definite form and all forms. While the classical variation starts from a primordial seed that is represented in increasingly complex forms, the ancient spirit of Kawir’s music lends no particular importance to any of the manifold incarnations of Dionysian memory. To be more precise, what we find on Isotheos are not the strict romantic themes, but motific variations that are kept at relatively close Levenshtein distances, thereby guarding them from disfiguration.
In this music, every single aspect is important and none of them are. Their preservation in transfomations is immortal, but their temporary forms or manifestations are only suitable for that instant and hold no value in and of themselves. Each moment is distinctive but strongly related to future and past, as water raining on the tops of mountains, running through ravines, precipitating down waterfalls and reinvading the ocean uncountable times as no single drop of water survives but is reincarnated. If there ever was an album that explicitly collects the Nietzschean balance of the Apollonian and Dionysian, it is Isotheos. If there is any place in metal which takes one closer to the Platonic musical ideal through appropriate forms, it is Isotheos.
During the 10th century A.D., Prince Volodymyr and Queen Olha before him adopted Christianity in a war-torn land with deep-rooted Pagan beliefs. Little could either of them have predicted how hard it would be to impose a foreign philosophy on the yet unbroken Slavic spirit. Over a millennium later, the politically-imposed monotheistic deathcult would be suffering a slow death while the true colors of the Slavic nation would slowly resurface out of the fires of hate.
After all how could they have known that culture and spirit are embedded in the very marrow of bones and hearts of the people? Alas! This ignorance would still be espoused by armchair ideologists until the 19th century and further hammered from above from the second half of the 20th till this day, when true scientific thought is again challenging institutionalized blindness. That is, an ignorance of the logical implications of the lessons of history, psychology and biology, and instead seeing them through the lenses of a secularized Judeo-Christian paradigm. Such a modality of thought still reigns supreme today, even unknowingly among those who would claim allegiance to no supernatural power.
As the land of Ukraine became the collision point for both Asian and European hordes, its brave people soldiered through the intermittent periods of cold desolation and burning brutality. Their spirit weathered the storm, and as a sword forged between the hammer of growing materialism and the anvil of that Middle-Eastern cult of death (administered in a variant especially fostered for European minds, slightly different than that given to the Native Americans), a crude but precious Herculean force arose.
II. Slavic-Pagan Heavy-Black Metal
European nations previously beyond the Iron Curtain have not been known to produce the most accomplished black metal. These usually make prominent use of heavy metal technique while overlaying folk tunes on a poorly-focused progressive structure. These may still win the hearts of the fans of underground metal as honesty and spirit are still highly valued. This ‘best effort’ attitude is endearing, but such obvious naïveté, however authentic, can only take one so far.
Amateur tones characterizing the Slavic underground have meant simultaneously, salvation and bane to the subgenre. On the one hand, its crudeness has effectively forestalled the sellout phase that sooner or later comes about as entropy sets in. On the other, it has deterred a much desired collective coming of age. This is all very much in keeping with the general Slavic spirit: over the top bravado, sincere yet aloof sentimentality, but not the most structured of foundations.
III. The Coming of Age
Nokturnal Mortum’s history stretches back to the time when metal was on its deathbed, the junction at which the rise of parasitic and zombie-minded scenes first came about. The band achieved a certain degree of notoriety in the underground with their sophomore release Lunar Poetry in 1996. After that, the band did not offer much more than a few unconvincing recordings that flirted with pseudo-symphonic stylings: starting out big and epic early in the album and quickly degenerating into slightly comical rock beats and awkward folk tunes.
After five years away from the studio, the band returned with a folk-ambient album speckled with rock metal enhancements here and there. This was the necessary transition that would make the next album after it the most accomplished Slavic black metal album to date. To be more precise, what was achieved in that following album, The Voice of Steel, is an accepting of the full paradigm of black metal without giving up the naturalistic and folk-like tenor unique(in this day and age, at least) to Eastern European metal.
IV. Golos Stali: A Solar Black Metal
In contrast to traditional black metal, the ideological bent of its Slavic counterpart demands a different approach to technique in order to better convey the necessary impression. Instead of outright occult devilry, either through blasphemy or mystic conjuration, we find the remembrance of heroic personalities as well as true active(that is, through expression in the actions of life, ordinary and exceptional) reverence and worship presence of the forces of nature, both seen and unseen. This admiration for heroic prowess that so characterizes the native spirit of the land and people channels the powers of nature itself in their superlative expression at particular points in time according the times themselves.
Rather than the modal, riff-heavy construction of traditional underground metal, Nokturnal Mortum takes a harmonic, rock chord strategy. This may deter many a purist of the serious underground, but a little patience when approaching The Voice of Steel will result in a most rewarding experience. Once past the local use of rock aesthetics incorporated into a melody-and-riff riding that is closer to the methods of metal, the longer, repetitive structures of goal-oriented black metal become clearer.
Sections and patterns are allowed to sink in beyond familiarity and to embed themselves inside the mind of the listener. The lighter nature and swinging rhythm of the salient folk tunes are not given to induce a pensive trance-like state, and so the overall effect is used to a different result. Smooth yet significant transitions take place in such stealthy a manner that they may go unperceived by an inattentive audience. These bring a refreshing sense of justified variety to the strict continuity of events. A comparison with Sorcier des Glaces and the French method may not be out of the question in this respect, with the considerable difference that Slavic bands such as Nokturnal Mortum or Drudkh make more frequent and overt display of rock/post-rock textures and musical sensibilities.
To conclude, it feels necessary to point out the outstanding use of ambient techniques that should be part of the repertoire of any black metal band of any worth, whether applied explicitly or otherwise. These, in combination with rock texturing, rhythms and guitar soloing brought to the mind of the writer the late Pink Floyd. The result of the correct fusion of the more popular techniques showcased in the older band with the sharp focus of proper black metal can result in an interesting balance. The strictness of black metal seems to have been what the disconnected, apparently drug-induced passages of Pink Floyd required in order to contribute to the formation of a full music. These elements are humbly utilized in The Voice of Steel, which through the careful and patient working out of little aspects, their interactions and combinations, give birth to a formidable solar metal.
Some have wondered — including part of our older staff — as to why we don’t feature the newer-styled black metal acts like Drudkh, Blazebirth Hall, and the like here on DeathMetal.org. Our answer is simple: they’re part of the same distraction that killed black metal.
It is in fact an illusion to argue that black metal still exists. Rather, something exists that uses the name of black metal, but it’s not really related to it musically or artistically. In the underground, it’s mostly punk-based bands or the above type of flowing black metal. Above that, it’s DeafHeaven: shoegaze/emo/indie with pretenses of being socially unacceptable.
We all know how it got this way. In 1994, the momentum ran out. The original guys who made death metal and black metal had each had their say and were bogged down in band politics, label economics and personal life decisions (stay with band, or be able to afford food). It was clear there was not much money in underground metal as a career.
However the following years showed us a simple truth: people were afraid of underground metal. Thus an internship in underground metal before going on to a career in a different genre could be quite lucrative. It was “street cred” of a comparable level of being in a gangster hip-hop group. Thus the gates opened, and in flowed the herd, bringing with them their disease.
On the underground side of things an interesting transformation took place. The original black metal emphasized a kind of intensity that could not be replicated. So bands aimed for the next best things, which was to take that surface and put candy-metal underneath it. Specifically, stuff like the following:
In general, these bands have one salient attribute: they use longer melodies but these melodies tend to be recursive instead of developing, giving them a sense of internal dialogue like meandering thoughts on a balmy day with a cool breeze, watching over a town and thinking idle notions.
Where did this style come from? Let’s recover the generations of black metal. It’s nonsense to say black metal existed before the 1984-1987 generation of Bathory, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sodom and Sarcofago. Even then, those bands were not black metal per se so much as proto-underground metal sharing traits between death metal and black metal.
While others often mention Venom, Mercyful Fate and other early bands as being “black metal,” these were musically heavy metal acts not black metal at all. They may have been inspirations, but they shared no musical relation to what was to follow, and yet fit within the genre descriptions given to them if one ignores subject matter. Venom was NWOBHM right alongside Motorhead, and Mercyful Fate fit into the proto-speed metal generation that overlapped with NWOBHM and included Tank, Satan and Blitzkrieg.
After the proto-underground generation, most bands explored death metal because it had the most immediate possibilities. What defines death metal is that it turned riff salad into a narrative form and thus created a new type of progressive music that was progressive at the compositional level, but surely not at the mechanics! It was thus a perfect fusion of 1970s avant-prog (King Crimson) and the utter nihilism of punk (Discharge, Cro-Mags, Amebix). This fusion was apparent ever since Iggy and the Stooges and Black Sabbath kept one-upping each other with albums from the late 1960s through mid 1970s.
The first generation of black metal really came about in 1990 with Immortal. Bathory had developed fully with Blood, Fire, Death but had also regressed into the speed metal styles popular at the time. Immortal had a simple idea: take the approach of Blood, Fire, Death or Hammerheart and adapt the mechanics of 1985’s The Return to it. The result fused the extreme with the progressive-ish yet again, and from it was born Immortal’s first album. There was also a change in topic, spurred in part by the Odinic (Bathory) and occult (Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost) ideals of the past generation.
By 1991, it was clear that a new movement was afoot. Some of the best bands were hovering on the edges of this movement, making melodic death metal inspired by the previous generation of Swedes (At the Gates, Carnage), Norwegians (Cadaver, Molested) and Finns (Demigod, Amorphis, Demilich). In addition, there were “dark” bands like Merciless and Cemetary which essentially made older genres tinged with the mood and feeling of the new music. But during that fateful year, the early works of Burzum, Immortal, Darkthrone, and Mayhem were all tumbling onto the record racks, followed by Emperor, Gorgoroth and Enslaved.
The next generation defined itself as the space between the Emperor/Enslaved split, which really opened up black metal worldwide as people could easily understand this as an aesthetic, and Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. The former more resembled the horror movie music and progressive heavy metal of the time, and the latter changed black metal from something that vaguely fit into rock song-format into something entirely unrecognizable, a hybrid with ambient music and progressive avantgarde. But right in the middle of this generation something interesting happened.
Inspired in part by Burzum’s use of melodic development to underscore longer pieces like “My Journey to the Stars” and Emperor’s vast “Inno a Satana” in addition to the more theatrical works of Gorgoroth like “Sorg,” these bands made longer songs. However, their melodies were not designed to be distinctive as much to preserve a feeling in mid-air for as long as possible, so they tended to use recursive patterns within the melody. This and the fixed tremolo strum and background rhythm gave them a flowing effect, which Graveland exploited over a waltz beat for maximum detachment from modern ‘reality.’
Eventually, this culminated in the Ancient guys coming up with something that sounded like it could have come off of a Camel, Yes or Genesis album, but only if those bands were committed to death of humanity and restoration of a medieval order:
It was from this template that the Blazebirth Hall and related Slavic and Colombian bands derived their sound. However, they’d done something none of the original bands did: they removed the ambiguity, struggle, reverence and steadfastness that were part of the original, which itself derived them from 500 years of European proto-Romanticist thought.
In other words, made candy-metal. It’s no surprise mainstream industry linked this up to its closest pop music relation, shoegaze and emo/punk/indie, and quickly made a cheesefest out of it:
Hint: this is what other kids were listening to in 1990-1995, if they hadn’t already gone for the full mainstream-fest of Nirvana and Pantera. The record labels knew this formula worked, just needed a stylish new outfit to put it in… so they recruited black metal. Interesting how both the underground and aboveground sold out in parallel.