Into Weeping Firmament, the new EP by Barghest from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is simply overpowering. From the obliterating drum assault in the opening seconds of the first song it seizes the listener’s throat in an iron grip and never lets go. All sorts of other metaphors come to mind — and I’ll probably use all of them — but what they have in common is the sense of being caught up by some force of nature that you’re far too small and frail to withstand — or to resist. But even though the music strikes with the force of a hurricane, there’s more to it than simply shock and awe — as I’ll explain after a digression.
We live in an age when black metal has become a diffuse genre of music. There are certainly fans and musicians who believe that black metal must be defined by the specific spiritual beliefs that inspire it and by the communion (or chaos) that it must help bring about: If it is not a genuine means of practicing Luciferian and Promethean ideals, then it does not merit the name — it is instead some kind of fraudulent posturing.
But many more people don’t embrace (or perhaps don’t understand) such rigid criteria. Instead, they define black metal by the presence of certain specific musical elements and/or by a certain emotional resonance that those ingredients produce. So many bands have borrowed those aspects of the sound (or some of them) and joined them together with other musical styles that “black metal” (or “blackened metal”), as I think most people understand the terms, has evolved into perhaps the most diverse and multi-faceted of all the genres of extreme metal. What accounts for this phenomenon?