Article by Corey M.
Death Fortress play a truly bellicose version of black metal but not in the Blasphemy war-metal style aped by pointless tribute acts. Deathless March of the Unyielding is minimalist in that it eschews all excessive instrumentation like all the best black metal. Guitars slash out streams of elegiac tremolo melodies or simply strummed chords (there are no leads or trippy guitar effects). The drums either play blasts or dominant marching rhythms. Vocals orate battle commands or agonizingly recount Pyrrhic victories. The overall theme of the music seems to be battles with no heroes and wars with no victors. It’s a deconstruction of Graveland‘s or Bathory‘s style that brought forth the glorious aspect of defeating and conquering: war is still the object in question but the subject isn’t life; it is sorrowful, lonely death.
The melodies are crafted with a tenuous balance between intense grimness and clouded dejection. This is music about warriors and war but not in the fantastical sense that black metal usually takes: no witchcraft or frozen forests are to be found here, only shredded tank tracks, bent artillery barrels, crushed bodies of hapless infantry infused in twisted heaps of smoldering slag, and blackened holes gouged into the earth itself. A useful comparison would be Sammath‘s mid-period output of Dodengang and Triumph in Hatred, though those albums reveal a deeply heartfelt motivation to illustrate the gruesome carnage of warfare without completely abandoning the near-romantically empathetic ties to the fallen fighter. Death Fortress take a more distant, aloof approach, neither glorifying nor condemning the act or outcome and treating the soldier as another soulless statistic. Both bands approach the horrific topic with a sternly wide-eyed, unflinching resolve, giving us the opportunity to witness visions far more stark and distressing than the cartoonish swords ‘n’ sorcery take on combat that black metal too often peddles.
Yet this album suffers from a major drawback: the musicians share the contemporary tendency to disappear up their own asses in wringing all emotive potential from a line of melody. There aren’t any comically awufil or idiotic chord progressions but some of them are inappropriate and others repeated for far too long. The songs have plenty of breathing room and the band never seem to be at a loss for direction or trying to cram in too many lyrics before their riffs overstay their welcome. At times, it’s too easy to become impatient while waiting for the band to introduce the next segment. No amount of drum fills or effects trickery would fix this; the fat needs to be trimmed and the compositions made more concise. A leaner, more refined Death Fortress could easily rise above the better-than-average position in which they sit now.
Article by David Rosales.
I. A Romantic Art
In the past, we have likened the spirit of metal that culminates in death and black metal to that of the literary, romantic movement in Europe. Romanticism was meant to embody ideals of naturalism and individualism in a return to primeval spirituality connecting us with our origins, our surroundings, and a more conscious future. The romantic character of the 19th century stands in glaring opposition to the heavy industrialist upsurge and man-centered utilitarianism of that time. Epitomized metal contrasts with this idea in one important aspect: while artists two centuries ago strived to bring attention to the importance of human subjectivity, underground metal stressed irrelevance of the human vantage point.
In describing metal as a neo-romantic artform we may well be undermining the aspects that define it in its historical and psychological contexts. Historical as each movement is encased in a flow of events linked by causality and psychological, on the other hand because of the relative independence and unpredictability with which leading individuals affront these inevitable developments. Together, these two factors account for freedom of choice within predestination. Even though romanticism and metal were both reactions to the same decadence at different points in time, the latter rejects the former’s inclination towards universal human rights and other products of higher civilization in exchange for a nihilistic realism arising from the laws of nature. Underground metal is a detached representation of a Dark Age; one where power and violence are the rule in which all forms of humanism are hopelessly deluded or simply hypocritical.
The uncontrolled and contrarian character of metal stands at odds with the more self-aware and progressive bent of romanticism. Metal, at least in its purest incarnations, can never be assimilated – something that cannot be said of the older art movement. Pathetic attempts at dragging metal under the mainstream umbrella that abides by status quo ideals often fail catastrophically. When forcefully drawn out before dawn’s break it will inevitably miserably perish upon contact with the sun’s rays like a creature of catacombs and dark night-forests.
Attempting to define metal is as elusive as trying to pinpoint ‘magic’. Outsiders cannot even begin to recognize its boundaries. The mystical, ungraspable, and intuitive nature it possesses attests to this and sets it apart from romanticism in that not even those belonging to it are able to crystallize a proper description. The very substance of the genre is felt everywhere but the innermost sanctum always dissipates under the gaze of the mind’s eye.
II. Romantic Anti-Modernism
Even though it cannot be said that the one defines or encompasses the other, the connection between romanticism and metal nevertheless exists. Aside from the concrete musical link between them which helps us describe metal as a minimalist and electronic romantic art, the abstract connection is more tenuous and related to cyclic recurrence1. Metal is not a revival of romanticism nor its evolution, but perhaps something more akin to its rebellious disciple: a romantic anti-modernism.
The foundation of this anti-modernism is a Nietzschean nihilism standing in stark contrast with hypocritical modernist dogma; it spits in the face of the semantic stupidity of post-modernism. This is a sensible and ever-searching nihilism2 that does not attach itself to a particular point of view but parts from a point of disbelief in any authority. It is a scientific and mystic nihilism for those who can understand this juxtaposition of terms. It does not specialize in what is known as critical thinking but in the empirical openness to possibilities taken with a grain of salt. The first dismisses anything that does not conform to its rigid schemata; the second one allows relativism as a tool with the intention of having subjective views float around while transcending all of them and moving towards unattainable objectivity.
Such transcendentalism connects metal with Plato and Theodoric the Great rather than with Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius. Metal looks beyond modern illusions of so-called freedom and the pleasure-based seeking of happiness. It recognizes that without struggle there can be no treasure and that today’s perennial slack will only lead to complacent self-annihilation. This is why, instead of representing the blossoming of nature in man through the sentimentalisms of romanticism in its attitude above time, to use the words of a wise woman, metal stands stoutly as a form of art against time.
III. Essential Reading for the Metal Nihilist
As an attempt to communicate our understanding of the essence and spirit of underground metal, below are some books through which to start the abstract journey through metal and the metaphysics that moves it.
Theodore John Kaczynski – Industrial Society and Its Future
Albert Mudrian – Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore
Homer – The Illiad
The Bhagavad Gita
J.R.R. Tolkein – The Children of Húrin
Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason
IV. Some Music Recommendations for the Metal Nihilist
We have traditionally presented a certain pantheon of underground death and black metal to which most readers can be redirected at any moment. A different set is presented below that is nonetheless consistent with the writer’s interpretation of Death Metal Underground’s vision.
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares
Julian Bream – La Guitarra Barroca
Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time
Not being a connoisseur of cinema in general, the following is but a friendly gesture. This is a loose collection for the transmission of a basic underground metal pathos.
Tous les Matins du Monde
The Witch: A New-England Folktale
Until the Light Takes Us
A 2008 documentary film by Aaron Aites
and Audrey Ewellabout the early 90s
black metal scene in Norway.
Andrei Tarkovsky – Stalker
1This is not the re-happening of the exact same universe that Nietzsche is supposed to have been talking about, but a transcendental recurrence of sorts. What I am trying to express here is the cyclic reappearance of abstract and collective concepts among humans, because they are also part of this universe and as such are subject to such underlying pendulum swings in the forces that move it. Perhaps a better descriptor could have been abstract collective concept reincarnation, but that seemed to convoluted, and cyclic recurrence captures the wider phenomenon, irrespective of what definition academia wants to adhere to.
2This somewhat liberal use of the term nihilism deserves to be explained a little further in order to avoid confusion. By this it is not meant that metal’s outlook consists of nihilism in the ultra-pessimistic sense, in the sense of total defeat, which seems to be the expectancy of most people from nihilism. The idea here is that as an art movement born in the post-modern era, in a civilization that has already been ravaged by nihilism, stripped from relevant cults, metal begins from a posture of extreme skepticism that is extended to everything and everyone. This skepticism is nihilistic because no intrinsic value is placed on anything, yet it is scientific because it is curious and will experiment. Metal’s development dances between nihilism and individualistic transcendentalism.
Sammath have released a lyric video for “De Heidense Vlam Zal Branden” to promote the vinyl reissue of their debut album, Strijd, on Hammerheart Records. Strijd is more conventional than Sammath’s later albums and one of the best releases in the atmospheric, late nineties black metal style reminiscent of Summoning. Unlike their tawdry contemporaries, Sammath arranged primal tremolo-picked riffs with keyboard leads into narrative compositions. While the keyboards sometimes may seem a tad excessive today, the record succeeds in conjuring up romantic visions of dark age barbarity worthy of its Arthur Rackham cover. Those who enjoyed Kaeck’s Stormkult should take special note.
Strijd may be listened to in its entirety on Folter’s Bandcamp page. The LP may be ordered from Hammerheart Records.
Long time DMU veterans should be familiar with our enthusiasm for Sammath. Strijd was well received by the staff back in 1999 when it was originally released, and a re-release on Hammerheart Records in both CD and vinyl format is still planned for the first quarter of 2016. In the interrim, a digital version is now available on Bandcamp, offering potential purchasers a chance to easily preview the album’s tracks and purchase a copy of sorts.
Dutch-German black metal band Sammath will re-issue its first album Strijd on Hammerheart Records during the first quarter of 2016. This under-appreciated classic has made fans for its enduring emotional and technical power. As our review at the time opined:
Sammath achieve a vast sonic landscape with this release that merges fast black metal riffing with elegant melodies that rise out of the chaos and return to mesh with its themes and transit to a final state which expands upon the conflict. On Strijd, riffs are heuristics which evolve over time as more texture emerges.
The result feels like a land constantly wracked by war and disaster in which brief moments of intense beauty emerge. The majority of riffing here is consistent with what one might expect from late-1990s black metal, which is a stripped down but highly genre-conventioned vocabulary. Unlike most bands Sammath fits these riffs together into a language that fits each song, and as such there are no random bits floating around for the purpose of being faithful to a template.
The emotional state of black metal is fragile because it is finely delineated and requires a great deal of background experience and understanding to parse. Sammath achieves the violence and yet arch beauty of black metal, a Romantic vision in which the lone thinker takes on the herd and triumphs by denying the human pretense which unites dying societies like our own. Strijd shows Sammath at simultaneously its most emotional and most violent. While not as technical as later releases from this band, Strijd won over fans for its plain-spoken truthfulness and elegant melodies.
A statement released by the band detailed the upcoming re-issue of Strijd:
Sammath to reissue debut LP on Hammerheart Records
In the first quarter of 2016 the long sold-out debut album “Strijd” from Sammath will be re-issued.
“Strijd” delivers black metal in high-powered generous doses but also maintains its introspective side, creating the perfect melancholic warrior album for a dying world.
The LP will be released on gold vinyl and is limited to 300 copies.
Many of us are also hoping for a CD re-issue so that new generations can own this powerhouse in a compact format.
Like a tapestry woven of coloured threads Kaeck Stormkult is music in which simple individual elements are brought together with a larger vision in mind. The overall expression is an affirmation of violence and chaos tempered by a sense of order and beauty. Individual ideas are violent sawing chromatic fragments which generate new material by subtle variation. This tendency to unify songs through variations on a single idea is contrasted by the occasional introduction of a more expansive melody, these melodic phrases will be familiar to Sammath listeners for their strangely chromatic and yet tonal quality. These elements combine to make Kaeck one of the more interesting recent acts in black metal. There is an understanding here that individual riffs cannot stand alone but require a conceptual framework which transcends them. Each song is unique in its composition and yet there is a sense that this work is a unified statement. Whilst there is still room for improvement in overall consistency Kaeck offers black metal with real vision and some hope for the future of the genre.
Sammath unleashed its debut album Strijd in 1999 to not much fanfare. The black metal community had essentially collapsed under a wave of Dimmu Borgir/Cradle of Filth clones, and the underground had retreated to the Full Moon Productions board to re-style punk riffs as black metal and make boring music that is forgotten at this time. Almost no one wanted to simply keep their eye on what had worked and make it return.
As our review published at the time opined, however, Strijd succeeded because it conveyed both the elegance and violence of black metal, instead of becoming a top hatted children’s show satire focusing only on what the Thomas Kinkade fans of the world think is “elegant” (in America at least, every pretentious but incompetent person must have at least one Thomas Kinkade painting, Ansel Adams print, and dreamcatcher). Sammath brought back the ancient feeling, the meditative look at a life shrouded in darkness, and the misanthropy and intolerance for stupidity and lies that made black metal so satisfying in the midst of the lie-drenched 1990s.
Hammerheart Records has been focusing more of its attention on resurrecting classics and picking out modern bands with the same power, which seems to signal that the great metalcore trend is on the wane and people are looking for the kind of power they found in traditional metal genres, again. Strijd delivers this in high-powered generous doses but also maintains its introspective side, creating the perfect melancholic warrior album for a dying world. Although a date for the vinyl re-issue has not been specified, it is something to look forward to sometime in the latter half of 2015.
After a very promising debut album which the band explained as consisting of a collection of demos and other recordings, Antaeus released their first “proper” album in 2002: De Principii Evangelikum. Antaeus play a saturated black metal that foreshadows the developments of Sammath and shares with it an antecedent in Uranium 235 Total Extermination. For all the violence expressed here on the face, the riffs ride very short melodies that make up for the constant percussive assault. The more one gets familiar with the album, the more this balance is perceived. Like most black metal albums, the front assaults or deceives the listener (some albums present a saccharine front that actually contains very thoughtful and detailed music, even if not reflected in quantity or variation of patterns) that only reveal their whole worth after both repeated listens and emotioal immersion in the music.
De Principii Evangelikum does sound like a consolidated Antaeus, insofar as they choose a very particular approach narrowed down from their previous album, Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan. In a Faustian gambit, Antaeus ripped all pretension of ambience and took the frontal assault that only figured as one aspect of their earlier music. As such, this is a condensation of that style that even if it limits the expression range of theband, it allows it to refine a very particular language and also sets it in a track in which a band attempt to perfect a sound until they get it. A parallel would be Sammath’s more-than-a-decade long efforts that finally culminate in 2014’s Godless Arrogance, a kindred spirit of De Principii Evangelikum.
As a first full-album effort, De Principii Evangelikum show us a highly focused band that knows what they want and that have matured musically. It is the realization and not the concept that is still being experimented on. In De Principii Evangelikum this is practically realized in potency and convincing excellence. The question is, is this all the band is aiming for?