Tag Archives: Black Metal

Deafheaven: New Bermuda

Deafheaven_New Bermuda

Deafheaven: New Bermuda
Anti- (2015)

Hit play, and the moment church bells and garroted drones fade into earshot it’s clear you’re in for a special ride. Your face is smashed in by blast beats and half-time dischord, and then they launch into a kick ass riff that’d make Slayer proud. New Bermuda blasts out of hell into the Californian sunshine.

Deafheaven exploded on release of their sophomore record Sunbather. They copped their fair share of flack too. A Black Metal album with pink cover art, WTF?! They must be hipsters! But having the balls to stray way outside Black Metal’s comfort zones is exactly what makes Deafheaven so curious. For many, including myself, Sunbather‘s mix of blast beats, gut wrenching shrieks and psychedelic interludes was interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying.

New Bermuda is a more fulfilling affair. It trades in a heavier and diverse sound; the riffs are a gutsier, and the melodic passages more ambient. George Clarke’s shrieks are more concise and percussive, draped in reverb. Daniel Tracey’s drumwork is somewhat playful which adds a bounce to what could easily be an overwhelmingly oppressive listen. And there are pianos.

Like their US peers Wolves in the Throne Room (and to a lesser degree Liturgy), Deafheaven lift Black Metal out of its violent and nihilistic cave into a realm that’s cathartic and almost uplifting. Sure, they’re angry, but the sound is majestic. At times it soars, upwards towards hope. Which is probably why so many Black Metal freaks despise them. Is this a pop music version of Black Metal? No fucking way. I guarantee this would terrify and turn off anyone unfamiliar or uninterested in this particular genre. But Deafheaven aren’t afraid to break the scene’s shackles and daub their world in shades of violet, turquoise, pthalo blue and yes, even a little pink.

Maybe I’m just in the mood for some angst, but there’s an arty moodiness on New Bermuda that really resonates with me. I can understand why the Kvelt elite are annoyed, but I say screw ’em. Go and buy this.

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Digging: Burzum

Burzum: Filosofem
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.

New release: Xasthur

Xasthur: All Reflections Drained
Hydra Head Records (2009)

This is one seriously depressing record. No surprise really, if you’re familiar with Malefic, A.K.A Scott Conner, who makes up the one-man Black Metal band Xasthur. Xasthur

I first discovered Xasthur on Sunn O)))’s Black One album where he contributed tortured screams to two tracks. Rumour has it that the Sunn O))) boys shut Malefic into a coffin with a microphone to record his terrifying performance on that album’s closing number Bathory Erzsebet. I’m a sucker for that sort of corny bullshit, so I couldn’t help but venture a little further into the world of Xasthur.

From there I became obsessed with the 2006 album Subliminal Genocide. At the time I was working in a job I fucking hated and the discordant, seasick and utterly bleak music on that album was a fitting soundtrack to my days cooped up in a tiny cubicle surrounded by a ‘team’ of people I wouldn’t piss on.

Xasthur isn’t your typical Black Metal act. Firstly, he lives in Los Angeles, rather than Northern Europe. Secondly, there are no riffs, no blast beats and limited use of double-kick drums. The tempo is generally a slow, plodding death march but don’t be fooled into thinking this just another Doom band. Xasthur couldn’t give a fuck about power chords or achieving a ‘crushing’ sound. These records are about layers of un-tuned guitars playing nonsensical melodies that crash into, rather than compliment each other. It’s about lazy synths stabbing out of the darkness and Malefic’s tortured, mutantly distorted screams buried so far down in the mix that he becomes just another part of the white (black) noise. This is more Abruptum or Funeral Moon, than Immortal or Darkthrone.

Malefic records all this in his bedroom, on cheap equipment that creates a murky, solitary and claustrophobic atmosphere. Then he distributes it to the world via tape cassette, split singles and occasionally on cd through some label or another.

The bleakness has been amped up quite a few notches on All Reflections Drained, which is largely an instrumental album. The addition of swirling pianos and other acoustic instruments thickens up Malefic’s already dense sound and increases the claustrophobia ten-fold. I’ve only managed to sit through the album twice from start to finish because it’s just too over the top. Song titles like Released from this Earth and Maze of Oppression might place Xasthur in the Emo camp, but where those pretty-boy bands with sleeve tatts and expensive haircuts are acting all sensitive just to get girls, Malefic actually wants you to slit your wrists.

P.S. steer clear of Xasthur’s 2007 album Defective Epitaph, it’s crap.

New releases: Wolves in the Throne Room.

Wolves in the Throne Room: Black Cascade
Southern Lord (2009)

black-cascadeI have to admit that on some level it’s the concepts driving Wolves in the Throne Room (WITTR) that I’m attracted to more than the music they create. That and their way fucking cool name. It fascinates me that a band can take the misanthropy and general negativity of Black Metal’s façade and shape it into their own brand of mysticism. In a genre that believes itself to be about fucking the system, WITTR are one of the few Black Metal bands who actually do buck the trends instead of conforming to the scene’s stringent rules and codes.

For the uninitiated, WITTR are loosely affiliated with the eco-terrorism movement. They want humans to stop fucking the planet up and start living simpler lives. Brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver live together on a farm called Calliope in the outskirts of Olympia, Washington. They try to exist as self sufficiently and eco-consciously as possible. They maintain a very low profile, but in a rare interview Aaron spoke about being hassled by US Federal Police because of the band’s friendships with various eco-terrorists (people subsequently jailed for setting fire to McDonald’s outlets and bombing environmentally un-friendly corporations). He believes the farm’s phones have been tapped.

Whether paranoid or real, it’s fucked up and intriguing shit.

WITTR reject the nihilsm, fascism and Satanism linked to much Black Metal and indulge in the genre’s association with more pagan elements. Traditional Black Metal iconography uses imagery of ancient forests to suggest darkness and unknown horror; WITTR subvert the forest into something magical, wondrous and devine. They latch onto Black Metal’s fascination with ancient worlds as a time when Mother Nature ruled and capitalism hadn’t driven man to destroy everything in his path.

Yeah, yeah it sounds like heavy shit. But really, you can take what you want from the sound this band creates. WITTR root themselves in the straight forward riffs of early Black Metal bands like Mayhem; there’s none of the twists and turns presented by newer and weirder bands of the genre. Nathan’s raspy screeches are completely indiscernible and leave you to enjoy the surge of blackened guitars and ambient interludes, if you’re not so keen on their philosophies.

Black Cascade is their third full-length album, and their first on Southern Lord, a somewhat ‘major’ indie label. Cleaner production makes this their most accessible work to date. Their sound has always had a shoegazy appeal, but the buzz has been rinsed out leaving a warm wall of drone that’s easy on the ear (for Black Metal, anyway). What sets them apart musically from other bands in this genre, is their willingness to embrace major chord changes that relieve the oppressive atmosphere and conjure something much more grand and (here’s that word again) mystical.

Early albums featured an amazing female vocalist, a friend of the band who painted WIITR’s lengthy tunes with soaring melodies, like some wintry siren. Alas she doesn’t feature here; apparently the band wanted to create an album that was easier for them to reproduce live. I’m not sure how I feel about this change. The ambient and experimental interludes that they’ve introduced instead are interesting, but it feels like something is missing.

Black Cascade is certainly an intriguing listen, and shows that the band is committed to refining their sound. If you’re interested in Black Metal but not sure where to start, the meditative nature of this record is probably a good place to dive in. Whether or not WITTR’s philosphical spruiking adds or subtracts from the band’s noisy cauldron is something you’ll have to decide for your self.

New Releases: Deathspell Omega

Deathspell Omega: Veritas Diaboli Manet in Aeternum – Chaining the Katechon
Norma Evangelium Diaboli (2009)

I’m yet to indulge my interest in noise and Black Metal on this site, but what better place to start than with mysterious French weirdos Deathspell Omega.deathspell-omega

Since 2000, the band has steadily evolved from a straightforward ‘raw’ Black Metal band into a transgressive sounding act with bizarre philosophical overtones that have lead some to describe them as avant-garde.

Chaining the Katechon is a twenty-minute, single-track e.p. that continues to push the boundaries of their sound. Originally released as split single with S.V.E.S.T. this is Deathspell Omega’s longest and most complex track to date.

There’s no fucking around here. Press play and it explodes out the speakers with blast beats and ringing, augmented guitar work that leaves you dizzy and elated. The vocals shift between a low growl and echoing baritone, while guitar notes are constantly bent of shape so that everything feels woozy. Think Xasthur played at 45 rpms.

The power of Deathspell Omega is their ability to dissolve into stuttering, quiet moments of intrigue and suspense before returning to beat you around the head. It’s a skill they use to mesmerising effect here. The sense of release when they shift from nonsensical riffs into passages that almost resemble melody, is indescribable.

Where other Black Metal bands achieve weirdness through lo-fi, murky recording techniques, Deathspell Omega reject that ethos in favour of clean production and chiming guitars that almost make you feel seasick. Chaining the Katechon is way fucking out there because it doesn’t sound like anything else, and has possibly pushed its way into my top ten Black Metal records of all time.

If you’re not into this sort of stuff, this isn’t going to change your mind. But for the rest of you just buy it already.