Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nothing But Black Metal November

Does the black flame within you burn brightly enough to handle listening to nothing but the elite cacophonous dominance of black metal music for a month straight?

Thus commences the third (?) annual month-long ritual ushering in the colder, darker parts of the year. Really, I should be calling this "Quite A Bit More Black Metal Than Usual November" - listening to nothing but the frozen, sordid sounds of pure sonic hatred for an entire 30 days proved to be far more difficult (and a lot less fun) than I thought. Here are mini reviews for some of the more notable records I've delved into during this first week.

Dissection – The Somberlain

·                          Starting off with an old favorite of mine. The 1993 debut album from Swedish black metal legends Dissection is, in my opinion, one of the most significant black metal releases of all time. Even before Emperor’s seminal 1994 debut In the Nightside Eclipse, Dissection was playing a remarkably developed style of black metal that eschewed the atonality and minimalism of early black metal stalwarts like Burzum and Darkthrone, bringing in a refreshing ethic of impeccable musicianship and melodicism. They favored clear production and a focus on complex riffing that was informed by Maiden as much as Bathory and Celtic Frost. Nötveidt wrote somber black metal anthems – "Black Horizons" and "A Land Forlorn" are fist-pumping, triumphant heavy metal songs as much as they are frosty black metal. They would ultimately surpass the debut with their legendary sophomore release Storm of the Light’s Bane, but The Somberlain remains one of the most refreshing debut albums in black metal history, and perhaps metal music as a whole. My only criticism is it’s length; a couple songs towards the end could’ve been trimmed and this might’ve been on par with Storm…, but when it works it’s good enough to supersede little flaws like that.

Mgla – Presence

·                         First impression was a mediocre, somewhat irrelevant EP that shows a band with some interesting, articulate lyrics but incredibly uninventive music (especially considering the utter mastery of this year’s With Hearts Towards None). I suppose you have to start somewhere, right? Any experienced appreciator of black metal could probably imagine exactly what this kind of derivative classic-styled black metal sounds like without actually listening to it. Inessential, but worth looking at for the folks who were floored by With Hearts Towards None.

Leviathan – The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide

·                      I am only beginning to dig deeper into the cavernous discography of San Francisco’s notorious Leviathan (I had only been familiar with Tentacles of Whorror and Massive Conspiracy Against All Life before now), and as intimidating as his voluminous body of work is, this album is as good of a case as ever to continue. The debut full-length album from Wrest’s wretched black metal project following a staggering 14 demo albums is a seedy, antisocial slab of white hot hatred. His tendency towards ambient dissonance on later albums is toned back here – the riffs are (relatively) clearer and as hostile as they are suicidal. "Mine Molten Armor" and "Fucking Your Ghost in Chains of Ice" are startling in their seething anger. His unique vision isn’t quite as developed as it is on TOW or MCAAL, but it shows a musician that’s hungry, passionate and unwilling to pull any punches.

Nokturnal Mortum – Voice of Steel

·                      This is my first taste of the Ukrainian folk/black metal legends after seeing some high praise for their latest offering, and I think it’s shaping to become a new favorite of mine. While I’m usually not a fan of this kind of symphonic folk metal, the thick, bottom heavy, battle-ready riffs and triumphant melodicism is tickling me in all the right places. The use of folk instruments (violins, acoustic guitars, clarion trumpets, flutes, etc) is classy and understated, but when they’re used they hit home hard. The melding of incendiary black metal aggression and swilling fiddle and flute on the title track and “Ukraine” are true exemplars of folk metal done right, and the rest of the album is no exception. It's worth mentioning the band members' questionable adherence to right-winged ideologies (as well as my own forceful denouncement of such moronic beliefs, for the record), but fortunately this doesn't seem to manifest in the lyrics as far as Google translate can tell me.

Arckanum – Kostogher

·                     Continuing my frozen journey exploring lesser-known classics and various other lynchpins of the subterranean world of underground black metal, I found the time to check out the second album of the esoteric Swedish project, Arckanum. A one-man band run by the learned Chaos-Gnostic Swede Shamaatae, Arckanum’s lyrics are all sung in ancient Swedish and are evidently informed by Shamaatae’s deep devotion to Ant-Cosmic Satanism (or Chaos-Gnosticism), the same bizarre ideology adhered to by Dissection’s Jon Nötveit. Given all of this nutty occult esoterica, one would think it might make for some mind-bending, reality-shattering music to truly exemplify such a bleak belief system -  unfortunately not for his sophomore album, Kostogher. What we have here is instead some fairly standard-issue Scandinavian black metal fare that is hardly as challenging and obtuse as its presentation implies, but nonetheless satisfying in a meat and potatoes fashion. It’s old school and tries in no way to really stray from the black metal rulebook in any meaningful manner, but it’s executed well and should feel right at home for those who dig the classic black metal sound. Plus, that has to be one of the coolest black metal album covers I’ve ever seen.

And that's all, folks. More reviews, whether full length or simply a package of little ones like this are forthcoming. Stay frosty my friends.

      - Potato Swede

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