Misanthropy Records / Cymophane Productions (1996)
I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks spent in Japan. Is it weird that I’ve decided now is the time to write about a(nother) Black Metal record, let alone one so steeped in pop-cultural mythology? Not really, considering that one record shop I visited in Tokyo had a whole wall devoted to Japanese Black Metal bands. Also, I spent seven days in the snow fields of Niseko in northern Japan, and while snowboarding among this ‘grim’ landscape with all its gnarled, deciduous trees clawing their way out of the snow, this was the album I found myself listening to on my trusty iPod.
That’s the weird thing, while hurling myself down a mountain on a plank of wood I was listening to an album which for the most part is hypnotic, atmospheric and down right vacant, rather than some banging Metal soundtrack to an extreme sports DVD . Something about the vibe of Filosofem felt entirely appropriate, especially while dangling above the crisp landscape riding the lifts through the freezing breeze.
Despite Varg Vikernes being an expert at using controversy to garner attention for his Burzum project (racist diatribes, church burnings……surely he didn’t murder Euronymous for the publicity but you can’t deny that it added to Burzum’s mystique), the fact remains that Filosofem is a fucking classic freak-fest of noise, metal and post rock. The rest of his catalogue is more dubious, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is the only other album worth a listen really (avoid the ‘electronic’ records Vikernes released from jail at all costs). But this one is magic.
The tinny, piercing guitars have been emulated by countless bands since but no one has managed to make them sound so ominous and cold. Nor has anyone managed to incorporate keyboards into their blackened buzz the way Vikernes did here – when those synthesised notes, like drops of icy water start trickling down over chiming, but sharp-like-a-buzz-saw guitars on the album’s opening track Dunkelheit……………it should sound so fucking wrong, but instead it’s wonderfully creepy.
Even when he speeds up the pace on tracks two and three, the sound is still sharp like a bed of nails. Even though it’s noisy and uncomfortable, it’s far removed from the traditional realms of metal.
My favourite is the final track, Gebrechlichkeit II which constantly reminds me of KTL. In fact, it has to be O’Malley and Rehberg’s inspiration for that project. Miscellaneous electronics lurk in the background sounding like ghosts rattling chains or water trickling through some cave leading into hell. Discordant guitars ring out in the foreground like hypnotic tentacles reaching out for you. In a similar vein to those KTL records, Gebrechlichkeit II manages to sound immensely spacious and claustrophobic at the same time.
Vikernes was released from jail last year and has a new record set for release this March. Apparently he’s seen the error of his ways, he’s hiding from controversy and the new record has dropped the white supremacy overtones in favour of celebrating Norwegian folk lore. The truth of all that remains to be seen, but I doubt he’ll ever manage to release another record as intriguing or genre defying as Filosofem.