(In this review Andy Synn turns his attention to the new album by Illinois-based Pan-Amerikan Native Front, which was released earlier this month.)
The more I think about Black Metal (and, trust me, I spend a lot of time thinking about Black Metal) the more it occurs to me just what an astounding paradox the genre is.
Founded by a bunch of no-good Norwegian punks (though if you called them “punks” to their faces you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the response) whose back-story has since been retold and mythologised almost beyond recognition, Black Metal was originally just one big “fuck you” to the rest of the world, a purposefully introverted and isolationist rejection of ideas such as popularity, normality, and musicianship.
And yet, somehow, despite this – or, perhaps, because of this – it’s gone on to become not only a global phenomenon, but one of the most artistically adventurous and progressive genres in all of Metal.
How did this happen? Well, for me, it’s the underlying primitivism of Black Metal which makes it such an unexpectedly universal musical language.
Whether they knew it or not, those crazy kids somehow managed to tap into something truly primal and innately human with those ramshackle early recordings, something which connected with people all around the world and which they could then use as the foundation of their own art, and as a way to tell their own stories.
Stories like Little Turtle’s War.
Now, I’m honestly a little surprised we haven’t seen/heard more Black Metal artists and albums dealing with indigenous Native American history (I’m not saying there aren’t any, to be clear, just that they seem to be few and far between, and we could fill pages upon pages with discussion as to why that might be).
After all, the genre has – perhaps ironically – proven itself to be nothing if not culturally adaptable, with bands from all different countries and backgrounds using it as a canvas on which to express themselves.
And Little Turtle’s War is a prime example of that, dealing as it does with a period of history (specifically the late 1700s) where a confederation of Native American tribes waged a war of resistance against the encroachment of US settlers onto their lands.
With casualties and losses on both sides, including several instances where the US forces suffered some of their most severe and stinging defeats, and an ongoing legacy which still resonates to this day, it’s obviously fertile soil for Black Metal whichever way you slice it, and although the events depicted here may be several hundred years in the past it’s clear from the word go that the emotional connection on display throughout this album is both very real and extremely raw.
Which brings me nicely onto my next point – Little Turtle’s War is far more than just a history lesson. It’s a damn good album in its own right, one whose visceral energy and palpable fury are easily the equal of many bigger and more famous bands.
Musically speaking Pan-Amerikan Native Front is still heavily indebted to the icons of Black Metal’s “second wave” – Mayhem in particular seem to be a central touchstone for the band’s ragged-edged yet furiously focussed approach – but also, on certain songs (most notably the hammering “Power of the Calumet Dance”) hint at an even more ferocious, War Metal inspired sound.
But all this fire and fury is tempered, and dare I say strengthened (which, to be fair, is what the word “tempered” should imply), by the band’s more melodic inclinations, which elevate tracks like the heroic “The Battle of the Wabash” and the prowling strains of “The Great White Beaver Lurks” to new heights without losing that innate connection to the music’s more primal roots.
This marriage of raging intensity and riveting melody reaches its apotheosis on the album’s final track, “nakaaniaki meehkweelimakinciki”, whose reckless metallic rampage eventually gives way to an utterly sublime, soulfully sombre mid-section of both epic, and elegiac, proportions, before one last burst of bombastic blackened barbarism brings things home.
Of course, absolutely no-one, not even Pan-Amerikan Native Front’s own Kurator of War (who handles everything on this release himself) is going to pretend that Little Turtle’s War is some sort of paradigm-shifting redefinition of the Black Metal ideal. It isn’t, and it’s not meant to be.
But what it is, ultimately, is further proof that the marriage between the traditions of Black Metal and the traditions of other cultures, other voices, other histories, only serves to make the genre stronger.