Why you should listen to Profanatica

Logo of Profanatica

Article by Lance Viggiano

Black metal emerged as a reaction to the trend of death metal which had already established a musical vocabulary and through that achieved a higher degree of technicality as well as abstraction.

These bands took inspiration from the proto-black Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory and Sodom. The music of these early hybrid bands was quite unlike what became the second wave of black metal or death metal in that its motifs were simple yet concrete; overlaid onto a structure which juxtaposes seemingly unrelated motifs next to one another in an uncomplicated and often superficially nonsensical form. Yet, the result was surprisingly successful as a visceral and chaotic experience of raw, concrete, sensory imagery.

The black metal to follow refined this approach through retaining much of the simplicity and visceral nature of the earlier music while placing the motifs in a more logical format through phrasal composition, in which each riff has a shape created by its phrase and these form a language within each song. This and the trademark atmospheric riffs driven by waves of reverb and tremolo picking – largely invented by the Norwegian bands of note – came to define the public perception of black metal as a genre. Consequently, the Norwegian sound moved away from the rhythmic lineage of rock to music to something closer to the traditional western sensibility: harmony and melody over static, invariant rhythm as famously codified by the experimental gothic sensibilities of Transilvanian Hunger.

Profanatica, from what can be intuited from rare interviews, had strong reactions towards both the Norwegian sound and death metal itself. As such their music took on a different character which has not garnered the band near as much acclaim. The Norwegian sound is, after all, is the standard against which all black metal music is held. Given the fact that all genres are imposed by observation after the fact, it seems that the difference between Profanatica and the Norwegian giants is not one of quality, but of a band not fitting within the aesthetic boundaries of a genre that the audience expects. That and the mad rush for Norwegian black metal pushed Profanatica to the boundaries of the black metal movement where its influence on artists and hardcore fans tells a different story of its importance.

Much like the Norwegians, Profanatica refined the approach of its influences by emphasizing an incoherent structure and seemingly random construction. The motifs themselves are anything but abstract; often sounding vaguely familiar if not recycled both literally and intuitively. The listener will detect a clear sense of familiarity with the image of a particular motif, yet its contextual placement is such that it reveals a new perspective on something familiar. To draw a metaphor, it is as if one obtains a view of the same landscape from the peak of different mountains. This freedom of association allows a particular feeling, idea or image to be used as appropriate, anywhere in a song without sounding out of place. That particular innovation is unique to this band alone.

Structurally, Profanatica develop the proto-black method by emphasizing its motif contrast and non-rational composition. The infamous “Weeping in Heaven” demonstrates this technique through a collection of riff ideas which bears little relationship to one another, nor are treated in such a way that might cause the music to blend seamlessly. The contrast is emphasized which leaves the listener in a position to experience the music on an intuitive level. The result speaks to the body and it speaks towards the id. Logical progression, causality and abstract musical language are rejected abjectly. Profanatica embraces the rhythmic tradition of non-Western forms; using it to give meaning to chaos and incoherence of raw experience. Where one might perceive conceptual weakness and compositional immaturity in the early black metal music, Profanatica matured their approach to the point of strength.

The greatest contrast between the Norwegian sound and their influences lay at the relationship between the subject and the perceiver. The musical component of the proto-black bands described the emotional reactions to a phenomenon portrayed, resulting in the internal discourse one expects when reacting to the representations given to them by their nervous system. The Norwegian sound attempts to paint the external world through its musical discourse. The valuations of the perceiver are never absent quite absent and serve to describe the relationship of the internal world to the external. It asks the question, “where do we fit in the image of the world as presented?”

In a sense it attempts to categorize a dark forest in nonverbal symbols. Profanatica, resting firmly in the proto-black tradition, presents the terror of a solitary human being in a forest without describing the forest itself through its musical symbols. The dialogue then, becomes a matter of internal sensation which is untamed and instinctual. In terms of artistry, that innovation ultimately expanded the initial range of expression without reasoning categorically about it.

The effectiveness of this particular approach may be observed on the medley from the Grand Masters Sessions release. The track consists of portions of the band’s demo material stitched together to form a single track. A listener familiar with Profanatica’s back catalog will no doubt sense the familiarity of the material yet what is most striking is the functionality of the piece as a whole. Despite being composed from entirely different songs, the song involves juxtaposition of each motif and its partial ordering, and as a result manages a level of unity as a stream of consciousness which reveals new perspectives on the material through context.

Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007) distills the familiar Incantation sound made famous on their debut record Onward to Golgotha – which Paul Ledney had a strong hand in developing – by stripping the material down to its most basic instincts. The result is a fierce and destructive force of will whose aim is deconstruction.  The follow up Disgusting Blasphemies Against God saw the band barbarizing the famous emotional sensitivity of black metal’s melodic heritage and assembling those remains into hideous totems. The record’s defining characteristic is, after all, something of a crescendo implying the process of construction, perhaps out of the remains of that which its predecessor tore down. The latest record, Thy Kingdom Cum, lays siege to its two previous approaches by simplifying its rhythms to the point of idiocy while contorting its melodic forms to the point of mockery. The defining character of its predominant motifs is laughter which can be gleaned easily in the opening moments of the track “False Doctrina.” The aforementioned qualities are not something which need to be abstracted from the music; they are clear and obvious.

Profanatica’s approach is much like an uncivilized warband conducting raids on the civilized. Such groups are as much a tribal patchwork out of violent young men as they are a patchwork of the spoils of their activities: contradictory compositions of the basic human and technological components of a greater civilization whose assemblage is entirely pragmatic and allows for them to serve functions other than intended, but no less effective than their original purpose. Out of elements bound tenuously is something effective, something purposeful, something deadly. The world this music operates in is one which is defined almost entirely by nature rather than one defined by humans.

Where proto-black metal is defined by its visceral nature and deconstructive character, Profanatica embrace the ignorance in a brash display of unconcern for the perfume-soaked intellectuals which decry those outside their borders. Dwelling within the primitive backwater fringe has its advantages by bearing immunity to the abstract and desperate silliness of the rest of the genre. The similarly-goaled war metal attempts to reach back into black metal’s foundations but does so in a way which reduces the motif as an objectified emotion or image into pure texture reducing its communicative efficacy. The work of Ledney and company retains the concrete sensory experiences which drove metal in each of its original incarnations and were later given musical scrutiny before completely fossilizing, allowing their art to pick the last of the low-hanging fruit of metal as a form while others languish in petty revivalism, soulless displays of technical mastery, or vapid experimentation that desperately seeks revitalization by looking to external music genres; copying but not transforming its clichés.

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29 thoughts on “Why you should listen to Profanatica”

  1. Flying Kites says:

    Best Black Metal.

    Everyone will bitch about Ledney being a sellout, though he isn’t selling Satan. It’s his fucking Will! An American hero who terrorizes all Catholic Mexicans.

    Profanatica is my cock and Beherit is my breasts.

    1. I blew my head off like Per Ohlin says:

      Beherit are your titties eh? I presume the left breast squirts Drawing Down the Moon whilst the right on squirts out Engram.

    2. jinko says:

      profantika is 2 mah left pect what beherit is tah mah rite. nawaam say uhn

    3. hypocrite says:

      Who bitches about Ledney being a sellout? The man makes some of the most ridiculously non-commercial music ever.

      1. Flying Kites says:

        An immaculate display of the will can not be understood or perceived by most people in it for the scene. Criticism about Ledney leaving concerts hanging to spite the launderers is laughable. If you support Metal, then you and your buds should huff up a few grand and watch a master at play.

  2. jinko says:

    sick ass essay, but to be honest I just go with ‘i liek what i like’ in 99% of situashuns and jus talk over ppl for the rest. the very title: ‘why’ i ‘should’ panders to 0cd and or Ortistics is avoidable. Horns!

    1. jinko says:

      sorry man, coming off phenmetrzine yetserday and it sends me fuckin nuts EVERY time. But yeah these guys are wicked. total old-school firecracker spirit. also check out DEMONCY, PENTAGRAM, BELAIL, SARCOFAGO, BLASPHEMY etc.

  3. vOddy says:

    This article is interesting.
    I will look in to Profanatica because of it.

  4. vOddy says:

    In the future, though, you should let me proof read your articles. I have spotted grammatical errors in both of them. Respond to me if you are interested in my offer.

  5. Lance Viggiano says:

    I write a review disparaging a classic,the readership chimes in with about 40 or so comments of vitriol and complaints. I speak positively of a classic band, near silence. Hilarious.

    1. Gabe Kagan says:

      It might’ve looked like that, but we approve comments manually at DMU, although most of them (even the obvious trolls) tend to be allowed through as long as they’re not blatant robospam.

    2. MP says:

      I’ll just say I enjoyed the hell out of your analysis and spent a good chunk of the evening listening to Profanatica.

      Articles like this are why I visit the site daily.

    3. OliveFox says:

      I would say the lack of comments just proves that your analysis was spot on and that everyone pretty much agrees with you on Profanatica’s brilliance. Not that you need the encouragement, but, Bravo to you anyways on the inspiring article…any excuse to throw Domonatia on is an excuse worth having!

    4. Lance Viggiano says:

      I wasn’t looking for people to suck me off. Well, wait a minute, that sounds nice. Thanks brahs.

  6. Abominable Goatpenis says:

    You forgot the most important anus ripper that is Havohej.

    For this your punishment shall be death thru sodomy!

    1. Lance Viggiano says:

      I consider Profanatica and Havohej to be the same entity. Albeit, Havohej quickly diverged into brilliant experiments in texture. Kembatinan Premaster, for example, succeeds where war metal fails by putting primacy on the feelings behind the texture instead of “muh aesthetic.” Maybe one day I’ll drink enough to review Havohejs latter output. I attempted once to write one for Purple Cloak, but ended up writing lyrics for it instead based on how it felt. Since fuck knows what ledney is yelling.

      1. reamus mchungo says:

        sounds like it could be interesting. post lyrixs pls.

  7. Why I do NOT listen to Profanatica (or Havohej) !

    A Profanatica video showed the bassist ejaculating unto a bible and Ledney licking it up; the latter claims they are “definitely not homos”.

    ha ha. Yeah, right !
    Actions speak louder than words and that WAS a totally homo act.

    1. vOddy says:

      I can’t tell if you are serious or not.
      IF you are not, well done. You are ambiguous.
      If you are, then who the fuck cares?
      Let them stick their penises in to other men if they want to.
      When music is good, it’s good.

    2. morbideathscream says:

      Yeah I think that’s gay too, but that doesn’t make the early profanatica demos any less awesome. In the same sense that rob halford’s homosexuality doesn’t make early Judas Priest and their comeback album painkiller any less essential.

  8. Obvious Troll no robot says:

    I am an obvious troll but I`m not robo-spamming no shit, so could you please allow this comment to go through ?

    1. Gabe Kagan says:

      I’ve approved this comment. Does this strengthen your cause?

      1. Obvious Troll no robot says:

        I cannot answer that question since I am a robot. Wanna cyber ?

  9. Poser Patrol says:

    What’s the best way to hear their non-LP material?

    1. morbideathscream says:

      Buy profanatica’s ‘the enemy of virtue’ which compiles all their early demos and includes their side of split they did with Columbia’s masacre in 1993. You can probably buy it off hells headbangers, they released it some years back. It is better than any of their LP’s.

  10. OnlyInDeath says:

    One thing this otherwise excellent piece is missing is a discussion of Profanatica’s artwork and imagery. Angel silhouettes with cartoonishly large erections, drawings of huge-cocked goat demons double-teaming a provocatively dressed nun, inversions of various Christian symbols (doves, crosses, angels), Christ vomiting onto a Eucharist, the notorious old photographs of Ledney and co nude and drenched in blood, their current stage attire of bloodied nun’s habits…

    All of this works to compliment the musical aims of Profanatica. Much like the music itself can be described as “idiot-savant”, the visual component of the band works through absurdity. The outrageousness of it—sometimes bordering on the outright silly—serves to illuminate the ridiculousness of anyone (i.e. Christians) actually being threatened by it; only a pathetic, self-conscious religion of weaklings would be truly offended by a man in a nun’s habit screaming about bodily fluids in front of a picture of a cherub sporting a gigantic hard-on. Yet at the same time, Ledney’s artwork touches on Christianity’s preoccupation with sex and sexuality as a source of evil and sin, subconsciously stroking the id to remind it of the desires we sublimate to act civilized, as well as duplicating the feral, animalistic qualities of the accompanying music. One can only assume the average “SJW” would find the artwork of a Profanatica album to be enormously violent and misogynistic.

    As a footnote, Ledney has cited early Venom as being an influence on Profanatica; I would venture that this influence is related to the sexual imagery, as Venom often used crude sexuality in some of their material (“Poison”, “Red Light Fever”, “Leave Me In Hell”) for shock value.

    1. Lance Viggiano says:

      I have never had an eye of taste for visual art so naturally, these observations were missed.

    2. Meek Metalhead says:

      I don´t know, Profanatica covers seem pretty run-of-the-mill to me. Like Immortal, their best ones are them just doing silly poses.

  11. Payback's a ... says:

    I really got bored reading your article – it seems to me that writers around here try to imitate Prozak’s hyper-lucid style but miss out on the philosophic/nihilistic ideas that his musicological reviews contain.

    “The listener will detect a clear sense of familiarity with the image of a particular motif, yet its contextual placement is such that it reveals a new perspective on something familiar.” – what exactly is this supposed to mean ?

    I stopped reading after this one – but, alas, I just finished reading it in full, I didn’t want to post a comment for nothing. Yeah, I can’t say your analysis is straight-out wrong, but the writing is soulless. Too many forced comparisons (“the same perspective from different peaks” – that sounds like a boring thing to do – I don”t go in the mountains to see the same stuff each time).

    Profanatica are great in that their black metal isn’t about coldness, majestic nature etc., but it is about the savageness within, our darkest, amoral, insane nature and as such their work represent musical (and lyrical) transgression in the purest sense.

    Please consider this diatribe as payback for your shitty, reductionist Darkthrone review.
    … BIATCH :)

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