I’ve been a latecomer to black metal, but it’s been growing on me, sorta like rash that just spreads the more I scratch it. I’ve been trying to further my black-metal education (though still, I haven’t read Hideous Gnosis) while at the same time trying to keep up with interesting new releases across many extreme metal genres — which hasn’t been easy. Only so many hours in the day, unfortunately.
Basically, when it comes to black metal, I feel like a small child. In black diapers. Actually, I gave up the black diapers last week. Figured it was time. Because they weren’t black when I started wearing them.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to get educated. One thing I’ve learned is that the term “black metal,” standing alone, really doesn’t tell you very much. Bands that work under that banner can sound remarkably different from each other. I suppose I still associate that genre label with tremolo picking, blast beats, and evil-sounding shrieking in the vocals — but I’m discovering that’s a gross generalization that fails to capture the musical variety of “black metal.”
For example, I’ve listened to three new/forthcoming releases in the last couple weeks that are all classifiable as “black metal” but that sound dramatically different from each other — one from a legendary Norwegian band whose members are pictured above and whose name will be found in every history of the genre that has been or will be written — Darkthrone — and one from a band that is painfully obscure outside their home country (and maybe even within their home country) — Nydvind.
I really like both releases, though they sound nothing alike. Collecting some thoughts about each of them in this roundup and allowing you to stream some excerpts is as good a way as any to illustrate the variety in black metal, even as it’s being practiced today. (read on, after the jump . . .)
You black metal afficionados out there in the audience will probably know exactly how these different interpretations of black metal fit into the genre’s rich history. I don’t have to be an expert to know that what Darkthrone is doing is completely original.
As for the other one, you experts out there, unlike me, could probably trace the sounds/styles of Nydvind back down the branchings of black metal and identify their precursors. For all I know, their music is completely derivative of something further back along those pathways of time — but I don’t yet know enough to tell. We don’t get many comments here at NCS, but I really want to encourage some on this post if you feel up to it. What do you hear when you listen to this music? Do you think it’s good or imitative? Or both? Help further my education!
You don’t have to read much about the history of black metal before coming across the name Darkthrone. This two-man creative force (Fenriz and Nocturno Culto) has been making music for more than 20 years and was a pivotal element in the so-called second wave of black metal that began in the early 90s. Darkthrone’s latest album (their 14th), Circle the Wagons, is scheduled for an April 5 release on Peaceville Records, and it’s one of the best things I’ve heard this year or last.
Put aside your expectations, unless maybe you’ve listened to the last two Darkthrone albums, which apparently began the sharp turn in direction that the new one continues. Think of this: a combination of punk rock rhythms, thick guitar riffing (downright sludgy in places), screaming solos, classic rock-n-roll drum rhythms and high-hat work (no blast beats — Fenriz seems to detest them), a combination of gravelly harsh vocals and dramatic clean singing, and yes — some tremolo picking. I can’t think of anything I’ve heard that sounds quite like this.
The pace varies from up-tempo rockers to down-tempo doomy numbers, and the songs invoke widely different emotions, but they’re all just primitively appealing. A lot of that elemental appeal comes from the production — intentionally designed to produce a raw, garage-band sound. When most extreme metal bands are taking full advantage of the sophisticated recording and mixing technology that’s now available on a DIY basis, Darkthrone have thrown themselves back to another era — or maybe just staying connected to the underground in the current era.
Take it from the ever-interesting Fenriz himself, as quoted on the Peaceville web site:
Album by album we gnaw away at the overwhelming mass of so-called raw metal out there – well, the only time i saw something raw wrapped in plastic was when it was DEAD meat. And so in the long run, all raw bands with old raw sound WINS – and your plastic paradise instant gratification sound vanishes with time.
Picking a song to share with you from Circle the Wagons was hard as hell, but I finally decided on “Stylized Corpse”. It includes more awesome riffs than anyone has a right to. It starts slowly, but by the time it ends, it twists your head right off at the roots. Man, I just love it! (Circle the Wagons is available for pre-order from the usual retail merchants — go spend yo money!)
This pagan/black metal band from France has been around for ten years, but the recorded output has been notably scarce: The first full-length was released in 2006 (Eternal Winter Domain), and the second (Sworn To The Elders) only emerged this year, on a German label called Trollzorn. We’re guessing the low output has something to do with, you know, figuring out other ways to pay the monthly bills, so we’re definitely not being critical.
The band describes itself as “Nordic Heathen Metal,” which presumably refers to the incorporation of folky, pagan melody into the music — and it’s an interesting and very appealing blend of traditions.
Sworn To The Elders includes eight songs — and the first one of those is an instrumental Intro, an ominous but epic-sounding orchestral overture, heavy on the bassoon, plus the cawing of crows and what sounds like the grinding of a rack or the crawling of wagon wheels across rocky ground. That Intro abruptly shifts into a wash of buzzing, tremolo-picked guitar and a mix of howling and clean vocals on “Son of Fire.” That song — like all others on the album — is very catchy, quite melodic, and darkly beautiful.
The music throughout the songs that follow the intro shifts back and forth between buzzing waves of guitar, blast beats, and shrieked vocals, on the one hand, and more traditional melodic pagan metal stylings on the other, with the transition marked by shifts in tempo. The songs have an anthemic quality to them, and include unusual elements (at least within conventional black metal) of prominent bass lines and the use of acoustic instruments in places. Vocalist Richard Loudin is adept at both the mid-range howling and the clean vocals and the rest of his bandmates are quite good at what they do, too.
The production is clean and sharp — which may be exactly the kind of thing Fenriz is complaining about. Granted, Nydvind doesn’t sound as raw as Darkthrone or the next band featured in this post, but for the kind of music Nydvind is creating, it’s a plus — and I like it a lot.
Have a listen to this track from Nydvind’s Sworn To The Elders: