(Andy Synn wrote the following review of the new album by Selbst, a band that originated in Venezuela and is now based in Chile. The album will be released on August 7th by Debemur Morti Productions.)
For a while now I’ve been trying to put into words precisely what the difference is between Death Metal and Black Metal.
Oh, I know there are lots of physical, practical differences between the two genres (despite what some people might think) but I’ve often struggled to express what I feel is the fundamental difference which separates and defines the two.
The best way I can think to put it is this – if Death Metal is comparable to another form of art, it would be sculpture. It’s all hammer and tongs, chisel and awl, structure and form. It’s about making a plan, holding it in your mind’s eye, and then beating things into shape, chipping away at the excess, to forge something with real, tangible physicality.
Black Metal though… Black Metal is more abstract. It’s about letting whatever’s inside you (for better or worse) pour out onto the canvas in wild, expressive strokes and lurid, hypnotic patterns.
That’s not to say there isn’t a clear sense of vision behind it – there often is – but this willingness to just cut loose and see what flows out is, in my opinion at least, what makes the genre so utterly visceral, so unexpectedly versatile and, every so often, so breathtakingly vulnerable.
And it’s also what makes Relatos de Angustia one of the best Black Metal albums of the year.
With a sound that’s comparable to both Mgła – particularly in its busy, creative drum work and willingness to let the lead guitar take centre stage – and Schammasch – especially in the vocals, but also in the creative use of atmosphere and ambience throughout – Relatos… will certainly appeal to a large swathe of our readers who like their Black Metal to be as hypnotically immersive as it is hideously intense.
By the same token, however, Selbst’s overall sound is (purposefully) neither as polished nor as pristine as their Polish/Swiss cousins, and there’s a certain wildness, a raw and unrefined sense of energy, driving songs like “Deafening Wailing of the Desperate Ones” and “The Depths of Selfishness”, which also recalls the primal power of the Icelandic scene, especially the blood, sweat, ‘n’ blastbeats approach of Misþyrming.
But while these vague sonic similarities and rough comparisons serve to ground the band in the here and now, it’s also eminently clear that the band’s main architect and prime mover, the mysterious multi-instrumentalist known only as N, has a distinct vision in mind for his music, one which helps set it apart from the majority of its peers.
It’s not a restrictive vision though, and that’s something important to point out, as while the album’s predatory focus and restless, reckless sense of forward momentum means that, at a little over forty-one-and-a-half minutes, there’s not an ounce of fat or wasted space to be found, it’s obvious that tracks such as “Silent Soul Throes” and “The Weight of Breathing” have been allowed to develop in their own time and on their own terms, with only the lightest touch on the reins from N to keep them moving in the right direction.
The former, for example, starts out as a slow-burning procession of doom-laden dissonance, all given ample room to breathe and brood and broil, which then gives way to a frantic, galloping, blasting display of blackened fury, after which an atmosphere-heavy interlude of brooding, bass-driven darkness sets the stage for a final, climactic deluge of soaring lead guitar and blistering drum work.
The latter intersperses passages of rippling blastbeats and raging intensity with a series of haunting harmonies and mesmerising melodic lead parts, each section flowing smoothly and organically into the next while, atop it all, the vocals howl and wail with unfettered anguish.
What really makes this record stand out, though, is just how natural and unforced everything feels.
Whether it’s the effortless transition from moody, expansive atmosphere to searing aggression during “Sculpting the Dirtiness of its Existence”, or the intricate blending of dissonance-drenched ambience and creative instrumentation (particularly in the song’s vivid lead work and fluid bass lines) which characterises captivating closer “Let the Pain Run Through”, every part and every piece of this puzzle fits and flows together utterly seamlessly from start to finish.
Make no mistake about it, this is the sort of album which doesn’t just grab you and grip you with its sheer immediacy, but which also rewards the truly dedicated listener with new and even more rewarding revelations each and every time it’s played.
Andy, first off, I dont seek to bring you down (both mentally and intellectually–I have a feeling youre a smart guy 🙂
I do appreciate your attempt at pointing out the difference between death and black–A question we should all ponder (or not; this is metal after all; do whatever!)
That said, Im afraid we won’t get to a definite answer by making an analogy to another art form, such as sculpting which you then compare to abstract art? You know of course sculptures can be abstract, just ask Alan Thornhill, who—so I just learnt, thanks to you prompting me–says maquattes deaden activity (wikipedia, yo!), although I will say that even Alan must have had–he died in 2020–some preconception of what he ultimately sculpted.
Anyway, we can go on (again) about this for days….I’d be VERY intrigued by what would happen if you devote a longer article on this!
Apologies that it’s taken a while to respond to this. It’s been a busy week!
First off, I totally reject your assertion that analogies and comparisons won’t get us closer to a definite answer – that’s how human communication works! After all, as brilliant a tool as language is (possibly mankind’s greatest tool?), it’s also quite blunt when it comes to describing pure ideas and sensory impressions, hence we have to rely on comparisons – A makes me feel similar to how B makes me feel – to provide context.
On the other hand, I think you’ve slightly misconstrued what I was saying when I referred to sculpture and painting. I wasn’t suggesting that sculpture (and/or metal working) can’t be abstract, not by any means. Not every sculptor is trying to represent something 1:1 in another medium. They can also be trying to give an “impression” of what something is. But they do so in a physical, tangible medium. Angles and density. Carving lines and smelting shapes. Which is, in my mind, quite different to the way in which painting is “abstracted” from the physical – you have to represent these things in two dimensions. BUT by the same token, you can play more creatively with colour and shade with paint. You’re representing “light” and perspective in a different way than is possible in sculpture.
Which, I think, is also very similar to the differentiation between Death and Black Metal, and perhaps explains why the latter often feels more “atmospheric” (something which is more intangible) than the former. Though there’s certainly crossover between them.
Dont worry, we are all busy.
I meant this analogy, not all analogies (and comparisons; comparing is part of my job, in a way); I had hoped you’d have a better impression of me by now, hehe. I make ‘claims’ in the context of the reviews here, not generalized ones–unless specified otherwise.
The fact that we both feel differently about the analogy you’ve conjured up to explain differences between black and death metal I feel sort of makes my point. Like music, dance and all other (higher and lower) art forms, analogies can be (certainly in this case) subjective..(?)
To me, applying the differences between the brush, chisel, what they are and what they produce in terms of art in an analogy to show how black and death metal differ seems to overstate the differences between the latter two.
Especially in relation to the tools through which they are reified and in terms of what the resultant art looks feels like and does, I feel black and death metal are quite similar. Then again, Im no art expert (having read Gombrich and little else); perhaps explaining black and death metal also is beyond me. It sure feels like that, sometimes.
I never thought of differences between death metal and black metal in such terms. Really interesting perspective. I’ve simply never been able to put the difference into words at all. You do a good job of it. The first album by Selbst in 2017 came out of nowhere and blew me away and made my top-20 list that year. This new one is really growing on me quick. I’ve never heard black metal sound so organic–it just flows out like boiling lava. Any idea as to the origin of their weird name?
I don’t know what was intended by the band, but in German “selbst”, when it comes after a word, seems to mean itself, himself, or herself, and when used before a word seems to mean “even”, as in “even you are confused about this word,”