Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Corpse Paint Not Included

Okay, so recently I made a black metal mix for a messageboard I frequent, and I figured that as long as I was writing (however sloppy) I might as well post it here as well. I haven`t really talked about metal much here as I haven`t been listening to it as much as I used to, but in case you`re unfamiliar with black metal, this is a fairly good mix for beginners to get into. Since I was making it while under the assumption that most of the people who would listen to it would not have had a lot of experience with black metal previously, I tried to make it as accessible as I could by focusing on the diversity of the genre, as well as the experimentation with different styles that occurred following the rather homogenous second wave (not a knock, just an observation). It also has a fairly low number of songs (nine total, as any more would have kept me from being able to use Mediafire as a host), so there's not much in the way of filler.

As such, there are no Darkthrone, Mayhem, or Immortal songs included, although these bands were all crucially important to the explosion of the genre in the early to mid 90’s. Still, a few of the important second wave bands are included at the beginning of the mix as a way of defining the genre and forming a template for what black metal is. From then on, the mix veers off in a number of somewhat radical approaches that, while often different in tone and sound from traditional black metal, are still firmly rooted and influenced by it. As a result, I think this mix should be a lot more accessible for listeners unfamiliar to the genre, which makes it a good introduction to an often suffocatingly insular brand of music.

1. Ulver - Capitel V: Bergtatt - Ind I Fjeldkamrene
Bergtatt - Et Eeventyr I 5 Capitler (1994)

Now then, let’s get right into the thick of it. This song begins with a blaring metal riff, and it continues in that same unwaveringly strong, insistent fashion for most of its duration. While Ulver may be most known for their experimentations blending metal and folk (they would eventually detach themselves from the genre, moving on to more experimental pursuits), this song is pure black metal in all its glory. Powerful, intense, atmospheric and lighting fast, this is a great song from one of the most heralded bands (and deservedly so) in black metal.

2. Burzum – Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (1994)

Nearly every negative pre-conception held against black metal can be traced back to this guy right here: Varg Vikernes, the sole artist behind Burzum, and a fairly prominent part of the Norwegian black metal scene back in its heyday. Incidentally, he just got out of jail, where he spent the last sixteen years (and from where he released this album) for murder.

Regardless of his actions, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is considered by many to be one of the classic albums of early black metal, a landmark of the genre alongside the works of other luminary artists as Ulver (above) and Emperor (below). Thick, unyielding guitars and a strong understanding and control of ambience make this one of the darkest and most atmospheric albums you’ll ever hear. And yet, it’s also one of the most inaccessible albums you’ll hear, if only because of the unique vocal approach, which are divided among listeners on a love/hate basis, where some feel it gives the album a tortured, almost evil feel to it, and others feel that it’s just fucking abrasive. The reason for this is that Varg doesn’t so much ‘sing’, as he does ‘scream like someone is tearing apart his genitals with a rusty penknife’ (sorry for the mental image). Either way, it’s a must-listen for its influence.

3. Emperor – Ye Entrancemperium
Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (1996)

No other black metal band has quite the resume of the pull of Emperor. While other bands were adopting a rougher approach, attempting to make their sound even more distorted and poor than it already was in order to appeal to some misnomer about what ‘true’ black metal was, Emperor added keyboards and symphonic elements to their attack. Judging by their current influence and status as one of the defining bands of black metal, they made the right call.

Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk was the band’s second album, and while many would agree they created a classic with their debut, In the Nightside Eclipse, they still managed to not only live up to that standard, but in fact exceed it with their follow-up. “Ye Entrancemperium” is a fast-paced song that shows their innovative and influential blending of keyboards and dark metal, an idea which would be expanded upon by other bands on this list.

4. Summoning – Elfstone
Dol Guldur (1996)

Called ‘atmospheric black metal’ due to their tendency to slow down the pace and to introduce elements alien to traditional black metal into their approach, Summoning are possibly most well known for the fact that almost all of their lyrics are based on the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien (except on Stronghold, which finds itself drawing from the unfamiliar well of the poems of J.R.R. Tolkien). That may sound exceptionally nerdy, but come on; can you honestly say you never thought about forming a band (possibly in high school) for the sole intention of singing about Lord of the Rings? Think of all the chicks you would get, and then get back to me.

(They would be numerous, is what I am saying)

5. Windir – 1184
1184 (2001)

Windir was fucking amazing. They played vicious, relentless black metal, and they did it with a speed and precision that was unsurpassed by any of their contemporaries. What this band utilized that perhaps made them better than any other black metal outfit however, was the way keyboards were blended so seamlessly into their approach (much better than with Emperor), taking the dense and menacing ‘wall of sound’ technique used by so many black metal bands and soaring above it with expertly constructed melodic sections befitting of an electronica artist. Never does the amalgamation sound overdramatic or cheesy like with so many sub-par ‘melo-death’ bands; instead, it adds a power to their music, an emotional resonance that appears so rarely in black metal.

Unfortunately, the band ended prematurely in 2004 after singer and group mastermind Valfar died of hypothermia at only 25 years old (considering that he had been releasing music under the name for ten years prior to his death makes his accomplishments while alive all the more impressive). Still, we have four albums he wrote as Windir that stand as a testament to his strength as a songwriter and performer (there was no full band line-up until Windir's third album, the aforementioned 1184).

6. Arcturus – Collapse Generation
The Sham Mirrors (2001)

And now we are all but entirely distanced from traditional black metal. Arcturus was a collaboration between a number of influential metal musicians, including Garm, the singer for Ulver, and Hellhammer, the guitarist for Mayhem. Often called ‘avant-garde metal’ for the unique and frankly bizarre approach of their last couple of releases (including this one, The Sham Mirrors), they still retain some of the black metal qualities inherent to their earlier works.

For example, listen to the drums on this song. Holy. Sh*t.

7. Woods of Ypres – The Sun Was in My Eyes: Part 1
Pursuit of the Sun and Allure of the Earth (2004)

Woods of Ypres are a melodic black metal outfit from Toronto that combine folk, doom (much like the next band on the list) and black metal into a heavily atmospheric package. They are one of many modern black metal-leaning bands today that are looking to nature as a form of musical inspiration, rather than the somewhat questionable influences that guided the second wave of black metal. They are also exceptionally good, and are one of the most easily accessible bands on this mix.

8. Agalloch – Falling Snow
Ashes Against the Grain (2006)

Possibly the most well-recognized band on this list, and also one of the furthest to depart from traditional black metal, Agalloch take a similar approach to Woods of Ypres (which is more likely due to their influence on WoY, rather than vice versa). On their earlier releases (especially The Mantle), Agalloch take on an Ulver-inspired folk metal approach, wherein a natural atmosphere is emphasized and electric guitars are often eschewed in favour of acoustics. On Ashes Against the Grain, they rely on that sparse folk aesthetic a lot less, instead creating a thick, commanding, almost ethereal sound. “Falling Snow” is one highlight of many on this album, and the opening guitar riff is among the greatest I have ever heard. This song is a lot slower than most of the other stuff on this mix, and the atmospheric stance taken is one heavily dissociated from the common idea of black metal (you can occasionally even hear the bass). Yet the influences are apparent as well, especially in the vocals, and Agalloch serves as a strong example of what can be produced when creativity and artistic inspiration are stressed over following the norms of already well-defined genres.

9. Wolves in the Throne Room – Cleansing
Two Hunters (2007)

Dark. Overpowering. Suffocating.

All of these are accurate descriptors of the last ten minutes of this mix, courtesy of one of the most important bands in black metal today (and one of the only USBM bands to get it right). Though their personal beliefs often overshadow their music (think Thoreau), there can be no doubt as to the strength of that music, which takes ambient cues from Burzum while still retaining a forceful and progressive musical complexity (Varg was never quite lauded for his musicianship).

click here for EVIL


Nick said...

I've never listened to any black metal for the same reason I've never listened to any RAC/Skrewdriver - I don't like Nazis. Now obviosuly not everyone in your mix is racist, but some are (Burzum).

I guess I'm just thinking about this aimlessly. Does this stuff bother you?

cretin said...

what a coincidence, I'm currently writing an essay on how the ethical sensibilities of a work of art can bely its aesthetic strength. come on, let's make a debate out of this!

to the aestheticist, the answer to your question would be no, as no work of art can have an ethical stance; either it is well-performed, or it is not. those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming, and for them there is no hope.

aestheticism, however, is a crock, so I'll reply to your question in a different manner. namely that the ethical disvalue of a work of art can only supplant its aesthetic value insofar as it is subsumed within the work. in the case of Hvis Lysat Tar Oss, this racist stance you ascribe to the artist, in this case Varg, is completely absent from the layman's interpretation of the work as a whole. this ethical disvalue which would exist were the racist sympathies of the artist directly translated into the work is simply not there, not the least of which could be considered due to the fact that the vocals and lyrics (and therefore message) are completely incoherent, not to mention in a different language.

(feel free to rebut if you disagree with any of the above)


honestly though, philosophical pre-text aside for a second, a lot of what has occurred in the development of black metal is fucking stupid. the church-burnings, the corpse paint, the bullshit posturing... it's not exactly an enlightened genre of music. my point in making the mix, however, was to show where the genre had started (well, ignoring the first wave anyhow), while going on to look at how it influenced a number of bands who pushed the boundaries past and progressed past the small-minded, homegenous mentality of Norwegian black metal. Burzum, being an extremely influential part of the development of black metal, were then necessary in showing this evolution.

I should also mention that if you avoid all black metal on the basis of what a certain segment of it believes, then you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater. however, if you avoid it just because it's fast, abrasive, growly shit, then by all means, keep at it.

Anonymous said...

Hellhammer is drummer for Mayhem? not the guitarist.