Article contributed to Death Metal Underground by Anton Rudrick.
Septic Flesh have always oscillated between dark goth rock and simple death metal. Esoptron1 strode past both genres with expressive ambient interludes and enveloping everything in arcane rock akin to Fields of the Nephilim, reorienting Septic Flesh’s sound towards a suitable incarnation of their music’s abstract themes.
When we last checked in on Blackhearts, the upcoming documentary was halfway through filming, and the creators were optimistic about a 2015 release. The filming is done, and they have started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo with the hopes of paying for the costs of post-production and marketing. As of this writing, interested backers have 31 days to contribute funds. A wide variety of rewards are being included, ranging from early access to the finished film, to memorabilia from various famous black metal musicians, to (amusingly enough) one of the producers selling shares of his immortal soul. Let’s hope that doesn’t backfire on him.
Blackhearts purports to offer a new perspective on modern black metal, as it follows three fans from around the world (Iran, Colombia, Greece) instead of merely rehashing the scene’s founding myths. In the words of its crowdfunding campaign, “It explores how a music scene develops across religious, cultural and political lines, and provides comic relief on the things humans say, think and do when hijacked by passion.”
The history of Western music did not begin in the baroque period. A continuous musical tradition can be traced back at least as far as the early middle ages and this music itself has links to the musical traditions of ancient Greece. Much of this music fell into relative obscurity due to its notation and the anonymity of its composers, however throughout the 20th century a concerted effort on the part of scholars and performers has resulted in a revival of much of the music of the middle-ages and the renaissance. This series will present selections of music from the middle-ages and the renaissance together with some historical and philosophical background along with reflections on why it is relevant to metalheads.
The earliest medieval music that has been preserved to the present day is monophonic, that is to say it consists of a single melodic line without a harmonic accompaniment. This music has mainly been preserved in the form of the sacred chants of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. The chants associated with the Catholic church are relatively well known to Western ears as Gregorian chant, whereas the chants of the Orthodox church are less familiar.
From a purely technical standpoint these pieces are interesting due to their use of different modes (scales) and the fact that they focus on pure melody, rather than using melodic lines that conform to a harmonic structure. This approach will not be entirely unfamiliar to metal listeners given that death metal in particular tends to utilise melodic lines which are not rooted to a particular harmonic scheme. From an artistic standpoint these chants are also of interest to metal listeners. Their contemplative and reverent nature speaks to a mentality more aligned with metal than with modern incarnations of Christianity and suggest an understanding of that religion which has long since been forgotten.
The following is an example of Byzantine chant (the chant of the Greek Orthodox Church). Note that it utilises a vocal drone which is not entirely static but moves away from and returns to the tonic note of the mode in order to create tension and resolution. This technique may be considered a predecessor of modern harmony but the music is still essentially focused on melodic material.
Some modern “black metal” is superior to others; and not all of it is created by flannel-wearing, latte-drinking hipsters (just around 70%). Thankfully, there are some albums around that will not turn the listener androgynous after a single spin.
Greek black metal band Burial Hordes’ recently released album, Incendium, takes a death metal flavored approach to the modern black metal problem. Carrying on the early Incantation/Profanatica and Demoncy single-string riffing style, the band updates it to the millennium’s expectations: production is clean, ambiguous arpeggiated deviations abound, and linear tremolo-picked guitar lines rise above the churning mass below. Vocals have more in common with death metal than any other genre.
Doubtless this album will achieve some measure of success, as it adequately fulfills several niche roles: death metal riffs for “old-school” fans, whilst the newer will be entertained by experiencing a presentation that challenges them while simultaneously remaining in a place safe enough to understand.
Indeed, that last part is the most damaging criticism of this release: it does not attack the listener in the ways the aforementioned bands did; it remains heavy, but essentially pleasant music to listen to. For that reason it remains unclear how long this album (and genre) will endure, as the less dedicated fans will eventually leave to whatever new release is in the press next week, consigning each modern black metal release to a week of interest before being retired to a dark corner on the shelf.