A Blaze in the Northern Sky Turns Twenty-Five

Darkthrone‘s second album, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, turns twenty-five today. For much of the mid 90s, Darkthrone constantly referred to A Blaze in the Northern Sky as their first album as it was the first commercially released record to adopt the quick and dirty “necro” production style and to have been part of the Norwegian black metal second wave initiated by Mayhem. However most of the individual musical inspirations were audible on their prior Soulside Journey album recorded at Sunlight Studio; the compositions on A Blaze in the Northern Sky were just much more sparse and droning due to different overall compositional goals reflecting the shift from progressive death metal riff mazes to minimalistic Hellhammerism.

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Emperor: Metal for Mordor

The music of Emperor is commonly misconceived by the mainstream metal media and certain YouTube clowns to be merely an atmospheric wall of sound or symphonic black metal orchestration engineered for superficial, surface level aesthetic appeal to an audience atypical for black metal. This is in fact not the case. In the Nightside Eclipse is just as perplexing to typical headbangers on first encounter as it was upon release in 1994. Mainstream audiences are even more flabbergasted and regard the record as a mere curiosity produced by those murderous church burners, preferring Emperor’s more rock-structured later work such as Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, which abandoned the band’s signature riffing style and method in exchange for ones influenced by more stereotypical Norwegian B-listers such as Enslaved and Kvist. Emperor did eventually sell out, becoming technical guitar wank, rock-structured heavy metal after their rhythm guitarist Samoth and drummer Faust were imprisoned in 1994 and their songwriting influence subsequently waned. Yet In the Nightside Eclipse‘s hymns to Satan and Sauron remain as natural mutations of their metallic predecessors’ attempts to imitate horror scores and classical music’s overwhelming power of sublimity.

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Gorgoroth – Destroyer Reissue Coming March 3rd

Gorgoroth‘s Destroyer is being reissued next March on LP and CD by Soulseller Records according to a post of theirs on the Nuclear War Now! Productions forum. Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen, author of the legendary Slayer zine, has written new liner notes.

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Varg on Tributes and Toxicity

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Varg Vikernes expressed how he felt about tributes to Burzum and the toxicity of the Norwegian black metal scene centered around Euronymous of Mayhem in a new black metal history video to this ThuleanPerspective Youtube channel. Varg stated that the tribute bands are creatively inspired by him:

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Reissue Radar: Immortal albums

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While the sundered remnants of Immortal are trying to go their own ways (Abbath released a solo album, the rest of Immortal promises one later in 2016), Nuclear Blast Records is taking advantage of their rights to the Immortal back catalog by reissuing Pure Holocaust and At The Heart of Winter on vinyl. We’ve written about the strengths of Immortal’s early work in the past, and even the more streamlined and accessible At the Heart of Winter has its charms, so it should go without saying that the content of these reissues is valuable. Currently, the vinyl records are only available through Nuclear Blast’s German-language storefront, and not officially available until March 18th. German speakers might want to get in on this opportunity early.

Mayhem to perform De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas live

Mayhem recently announced that they would be headlining Temples 2016 in Bristol, England. Perhaps more interesting is that this is going to be the first time that any lineup of the band has performed De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas in its entirety. Since the current lineup of Mayhem relies on Attila Csihar for its vocals and contains two other musicians from the band’s early ’90s lineups (Necrobutcher and Hellhammer), odds are this is going to sound pretty close to the studio version of DMDS. Regardless of your preferences for Mayhem vocalists (I very much value Attila’s contributions to the album) and recordings, bootlegs, whatever, the band’s performance at Temples is probably a better novelty than the band’s recent studio albums.

Dodheimsgard – Kronet til Konge (1995)

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Kronet til Konge shows what happens when a genre overshoots its inertia. Everything labeled “Norwegian black metal” with “that sound” was selling like hotcakes, which is a rare position for metal to find itself in. The fans, labels and magazines howled for more, which is always a sign that the quantity-over-quality groupthink has arrived. This band pasted together a bunch of riffs and called it an album.

The result shows us how important metal songwriting is: it’s not just about the riffs. Good metal comes from arranging riffs so they talk to each other to create “heavy” moments which feel like realizations (or provoke them). Normal rock is designed to distract you or get you lost in a sea of bittersweet conflicting emotions. Metal builds up illusions and tears them down, then inverts the whole structure to show you a hidden truth. This is the mythological nature of metal.

Dodheimsgard are talented musicians. They have about one good riff idea per song, and are musically adept enough to cook up the other riffs and bits necessary to tie it together into a song, but these are addressing the riff itself and not some underlying topic or feeling for the song. As a result, these songs feel random and convey nothing, although it’s hard to come to this conclusion when caught in a quality riff. But the sum has to be more than the total of its parts and that leap to greatness is not made here.

Isvind – Gud (2015)

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Part of me still wants to like Gud. Isvind’s 4th studio album is a textbook example of how to sound like black metal, for sure, but the specific emphasis on consonant melody (mixed with some primitive and ambient elements ala Darkthrone) make for a substyle that at least can be done well in the right hands. Under this admittedly pleasing exterior, though, lies a heart of incoherence and confusion. Isvind, at least in 2015, is random to the core, and their inability to properly organize their songs makes for a tedious 45 minutes.

While this pervasive failure makes it more difficult to zero in on any one flaw, a few are at least more prominent and demanding of attention. One thing I immediately noticed were the presence of gimmicky female vocals – after the short but dissonant prelude at the beginning of the first track, they are scattered very sparsely throughout the rest of the tracks. They fail to add much beyond the occasional peak of shrill dissonance. As I kept analyzing Gud‘s tracks, I found that the tracks were full of these distractions in various forms, whether it was extra instrumentation, or stark shifts in tempo or tonality or other aspects of the songwriting. Each one of these is the musicological equivalent of being constantly pestered by a small child who demands your attention; eventually you get used to it, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. To their credit, Isvind manages to incorporate a great deal of dissonance into what is primarily a melodic and consonant style, which makes for some interesting isolated riffs, but since they can’t string the sections of their songs together properly, it almost doesn’t matter. To be fair, I don’t think this problem is caused specifically by the musical exploration, since other black metal bands (read: Averse Sefira) have written far more coherent and therefore interesting songs than are present on display here.

Still, I can’t recommend this in good conscience. It’s not quite as nonsensically random as Myrkur or a Krallice, but it’s a lot closer in spirit to those albums than what its aesthetics may lead you to believe on your initial listen.

P.S: I almost pluralized listens, but you shouldn’t give this album that much attention.

Crushing the sacred idols – Transylvanian Hunger (1994)

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Article by Lance Viggiano, read the more positive DLA review here

1993’s Under a Funeral Moon displays Darkthrone at their peak of creativity with a depth of vision that is initially challenging and abrasive yet contains a high degree of musically which constructs an experience out of relatively simple components and nuance whose reward is inexhaustible. Many place the decline of the band somewhere between 1995’s Panzerfaust and its follow up Total Death; in truth, Darkthrone as a creative force reached its nadir on 1994’s Transilvanian Hunger.

Unlike its predecessor, this record lacks in subtly and nuance. Gone is the inventive call and response of “To Walk the Infernal Fields”. The listener is mistreated by being deprived of the atonal, uncomfortable but highly inventive melody of “Natassja in Eternal Sleep”. Within the first minute, one will have gotten the gist of each track as the songs remain in a static pulse of two or ideas with a third idea serving as a bridge back to the initial thoughts, an interjection or an outro. Any relationship to an underlying narrative is tenuous to the charitable and absent to the honest. This is not a call for novelty in music as over time nothing remains novel; rather, it reveals a lack of dynamic character which offers no reward in a full listening of any track here; especially after the initial novelty fades with repeated listening.

As a piece of minimalism, this record fails abjectly. What is found in the successful minimalism of Eno, Reich – or perhaps Kraftwerk in moments – is the layering of simple ideas composed for multiple instruments in which absolute simplicity is woven together to create evocative if not complex art. Darkthrone instead chose to compose only for the guitar. The bass follows root notes of the guitar in a paltry attempt to give body while the drums meander near ceaselessly on a blastbeat which is only occasionally broken by an uninspired fill or a canned metal pattern. Their inclusion is questionable and unworthy of discussion or serious consideration. Their merit is valuable only to a critic as a display of the artists’ lack of confidence in leaving behind genre tropes to achieve a full realization.

Where the album finds success is by pandering to the overly sentimental via – admittedly – effective melodies and well executed aesthetics. Neither excuse the sheer laziness of construction nor the complete dearth of rhythmic variance and supportive content to fill out the body of the music. Instead what is presented is weightless and immediate music whose significance can only rely on memory of time and place; a sense of nostalgia for the first experience. It is thus difficult to discuss the emotional qualities of this music due to the near loss of artistry on part of its creator(s) which robs the record of any vitality and spirit. The music is heartfelt and bittersweet – with varying degrees of success – but ultimately it exists, at best, as audible candy for the melancholic.

Transilvanian Hunger‘s inability to grow with the listener over time and its misapplication of minimalism, despite containing a strong melodic component, places the record just a slight cut above the bargain bin. 2/10

Embryonic exhumations – Unearthing classic demos

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas
Helheim – Walpurgisnatt
Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits
Graveland – Drunemeton
Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas

If the architecture of the great Gothic cathedral, with its upward arches, towering spires and cosmic domes laden with images of the suffering divinity on this earthly realm, had been constructed as a kind of sacral road sign to the eternal paradise beyond, then the music of Ras Algethi’s demo is a fitting soundtrack of cathartic expression, a release from the pain and misery of the mortal existence. Like the immortal Oneiricon – The White Hypnotic album to follow, ‘Oblita Divinitas’ relies heavily on the sounds of the mighty organ for it’s intensity as an imposing beacon of death, magnifying the mournful, melodic patterns that guide the listener through the distinct passages of these songs. Where the organ picks up on the general idea of a riff that’s introduced first, the guitars go on to elaborate this phrase in an almost improvisational, though highly restrained, story-telling manner. The bigger picture develops more gradually – far more slowly and funereal than the full-length – and the organs and percussion eventually give way to the austere logic of the main riff, with clever variations that manipulate this momentary freedom from time and space, or blissful acoustic passages that prolong and reflect in it (anticipating ‘When Fire is Father’, one of the most memorable songs on ‘Oneiricon’), before the other instruments return in an emphatic transition, taking the music to an even deeper level of suffering. Ras Algethi show a very mature compositional style from the onset, not just giving a vague sensation of sadness, but carefully detailing the journey with a reference point of possibly going beyond the world that causes it, re-addressing this emotion as a painful longing for release. –ObscuraHessian

Helheim – Walpurgisnatt

Ghoulish, ethereal and enwrapped in a magnetic tape production reeking of ancient tombs and broken 4-trackers, Helheim’s vision of industrial black metal is far more elemental than the connotations of that description during the last decade. As with the primitivist throbbing drum machines of Mysticum and the ambient blankets of Sort Vokter, the aim is ritual-hypnotic music which does not try to spice up black metal in order to make it more comforting or exciting; instead, it challenges one’s concentration by looping, returning and rewiring little fragments and pieces of riff in powerful early Norwegian black metal language, conducted by the raging screams of the now-deceased vocalist Jon A. Bjerk. The svastika simulacrum depicted on the cover highlights the natural difference with the smoother approach of the other Helheim of the same era, famed mostly for the vagrant mythological epics of “Jormundgand” – this Helheim rather spits in the face of the observed tradition in order to bring forth the subconscious terror of life and death that has been embedded in the mythos of all ancient cultures and bring across a pertinent message to the civilization (macrocosmically) and the black metal of our time (microcosmically). –Devamitra

Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits

Remember how disappointed you were the last time you heard a new Varathron or Rotting Christ album? If the same lack of consistency and effort permeates other areas of Greek society, them having descended from the mythic glory of Athene into debts and poverty needs hardly the prophetic eye of Cassandra to fully explain. As in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “American Gods” the lost European deities are found prowling the Wisconsin backwoods, Chicago based Alioth’s mystical and sensual tribute to Hellenic black metal ca. 1993 is admirably not only a continuation of the electric technoid dynamo drumbeat and an application of the palm muted speed and doom riffs in esoteric underground context; it’s also a highly logically strung sequence of moods as if the physical organization of pain and pleasure in a Dionysian ritual theatre, succumbing with the heavy held back moments of “The Channeling” and “Apocryphal Dimensions” and rising through the interludial “Invocation” and “Invocation II” to softly expire orgasmic relaxation. So much could be created out of this basic concept that it’s a pity the full-length album has remained cloaked in the depths of the primal sea, while Wargoat Obscurum iterates far less subtle (and far less interesting) metal with Cult of Daath. –Devamitra

Goreaphobia – Morbidious Pathology

Goreaphobia’s debut album wouldn’t have been quite so eagerly anticipated without a strong back catalogue of minor releases such as the ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, which provides an unexpected listening experience if Mortal Repulsion is the only recording you’ve heard from the band. Where the full-length communicates visions from the abyss through the blank eyes of an old mystic locked in a lucid dreaming state, this demo is full of enough youthful energy to express the paranoia of a thousand souls trapped within the claustrophobic confines of their own mortality. Variations in riffs reflect these tightly packed structures, seeming to progress with not so much a linear logic than the re-arranging of parts of the whole, like limbs being removed from a body and sewn on to somewhere else entirely until the true grotesqueness of humanity is revealed. As with Mortal Repulsion, despite the physical connections to Incantation, there is a stronger similarity to the craftsmanship of Immolation and albums that would come in later years, such as the complex and disjointed but melodically evocative Here in After. The lead guitar work, though highly restrained, possesses a sense of neoclassical refinement that bridges some short-burst riffage with eloquent but totally disturbing solos. This demo shows the beginnings of an all too rare experiment in Death Metal where you can observe the maturation of a consistant idea as it goes through the turmoil of a tortured, temporal existence. –ObscuraHessian

Graveland – Drunemeton

It’s not difficult to understand the distaste that Darken has for the recordings commited to tape during Graveland’s infancy in the light of his recent catalogue of pristine, epic and Atlantaean creations. Some distance away from the expansive scenes of battlefields and expressions of Romantic nationalism, this ancient offering from the living master of Pagan Black Metal is totally shrouded in a necrotic production, like ghostly shadows moving through oaken forests, casting a spell within more cloistered and Druidic surroundings than the output of Graveland from the past 15 years. Alongside the visions that created the force of Scandinavian Black Metal in the early 90′s, this demo represents the reclusive and misanthropic esotericism of that era, especially the primality of the lowest fidelity cults, Beherit and Ildjarn. Sounding like the work of a punk ostracised by that increasingly over-socialised group for being too idealistic and inhuman, Darken conjures a lurid interpretation of hypnotic Bathorean riffing that develops through the echoing of majestic, synthesised voices that open this recording as though a prologue to ‘The Celtic Winter’. The experimentation with primitivism in ‘Drunemeton’ is so deconstructionist that the guitar technique becomes fragmented completely and subordinated to reveal gloomy ambient moods that amplify the silence of a forest at night before the dawn of battle. There’s a similarity to the Beherit song ‘Nuclear Girl’ in how the guitar is used more like a sample, reverberating it’s texture through the keyboards to emphasise a cloistered sensation, accompanied by monastic chants at other times. Culminating in the ambient classic, ‘The Forest of Nemeton’, this demo is the successful beginnings of Graveland’s exploration into unconventional and nihilistic territory beneath the folky phrasing of guitar-led melodic work, which would shape the dynamic of his entire discography to follow. –ObscuraHessian

Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Fifteen years ago, we were too proud and lofty to listen to it, our sensory devices soothed and inflamed by Panzerfaust, Battles in the North and Høstmørke, while the new generation of neo-progressive and mainstream black metal bands sought to enrapture even wider audiences with movie soundtrack influenced keyboards and angelic female voice conjured by fat-bottomed gothic tarts. For the atmospheric maniacs only, as it’s hard to argue for its musicality against the likes of Vikingligr Veldi; but the epic wanderlust and distorted pagan death ritual of this demo’s centerpiece, “Fimbulwinter”, unfolding like a flower at dawn or the psychedelic mandala of LSD invading brain receptors, is one of the pure innocent and mesmerizing gems of underground black metal in this sacred and forsaken era. The primal Isvind-esque melody dance like ripples of waves on a forest pond, the hissing tracker production complete with the macabre clack of a drum machine and the dampness of a Nordic bedroom cellar permeate the recording to such a thickness of adolescent black metal fury that it’s hardly palatable to generic audiences then and now. Barely a trace of the fast norsecore of the more familiar debut album Kill For Satan is noticeable here, the only similarity being the guitarist Draugluin’s technique of bricklike tremolo chord architecture where rhythm plays little importance. While primitive, this compositional method bears an intrinsic beauty which is worthy of recapitulation when the pure augustness of early Norwegian black metal has mostly become forgotten in favour of seemingly more rich and elaborate indie stylings. –Devamitra