Archive for February, 2012

Swedish Black Metal (Part I)

Posted in black metal history, musings, sweden with tags , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2012 by blackmetallurgy

Swedish black metal is fantastic. However, it seems as though Swedish black metal often gets overlooked, and that’s stupid. There is a reason for it that can be addressed, and that’s what I’m going to start doing here (but when this thing starts looking like my masters thesis it needs to be broken up into a couple of week’s worth of posts). I’m also going to address how fantastic Swedish black metal is, so don’t get your panties in a bunch assuming I don’t like it. I quite love it. I’m also aware that it had a hard time finding its feet.

It is a story with a happy ending, though.

There are multifarious reasons why I feel the need to write this, and not least of them is the prospect of seeing Watain not once, but twice, in a couple of months. Another is the fact that Marduk is working on a new album, and that has me all giddy, because I love Marduk and I’m stoked to see what kind of brilliance they can come up with after Wormwood, and I cannot wait to see them live again.

Also, it occurs to me that Swedish black metal occupies a weird place in the genre. It seems to be represented as second-fiddle to Norwegian black metal in a lot of ways, and that’s silly. Because Swedish black metal is its own thing with its own merits. Even though they often borrowed from Norway, we mustn’t forget that the second wave Norwegian bands owed a lot to early Bathory, and that it was Dead’s lovely rasp that put Mayhem on the map.

So today I’m going to start talking about Swedish black metal, and I’m going to make this into a series of blogs because it’s going to be too long to cover in one. Today we will start with early Swedish black metal, and the reason why the second wave in Sweden had a hard time getting off the ground (it’s not entirely Norway’s fault, either).

The Beginnings

Sweden’s Bathory, alongside Tom G. Warrior’s Hellhammer and Celtic Frost (Switzerland) were kind of the progenitors of black metal.

We generally refer to them as the first wave (No, Venom doesn’t count. Venom isn’t black metal. They just came up with the name). Bathory got huge in the mid 80s, and were a great inspiration to a lot of bands, including a little band from Stockholm known as Morbid. Morbid played a blend of death metal with some Bathory influence, with Dead doing the creepiest vocals ever (seriously. His work with Mayhem was great, but Morbid!). They sang about death and pastries, and their December Moon demo was big enough to get Dead noticed by Mayhem. So in 1987, that same year, Dead trotted off to Norway. He never came back though he always intended to continue Morbid, and Morbid split up. There was also a kind of proto-black metal band called Mefisto in Sweden who were big rivals of Morbid, and they were a big deal at the time, but they too fell apart after a couple of demos.

[Gotta love Dead’s DIY album cover]

[Mefisto is one of my new favorite bands, also.]

Then, in the early 90s after Dead’s suicide, Mayhem had managed to establish a nice little underground black metal scene in Norway. Bands like Immortal and Darkthrone were taking off, bands like Satyricon and Gorgoroth were graduating high school and listening to the aforementioned legends, and a healthy little scene was starting up. Sweden, of course, was picking up on this black metal theme too. Marduk got their start in 1990 (I think Morgan, their guitarist, knew Dead), and Dissection had been playing since 1989. Finland was also jumping on the bandwagon; Impaled Nazarene and Beherit played their own part in the burgeoning Scandinavian scene (which partially entailed prank calling Emperor. There was a  mutual hatred healthy rivalry going on too).

Nevertheless, there was a serious imbalance between Norway and Sweden in terms of black metal production. The second wave Norwegian scene’s success as opposed to that of their Swedish neighbors can be neatly summed up in the following video clip (Norway would be Thumper).

Alas, though they had support (Marduk was super chummy with Mayhem, and Dissection was a personal favorite of Metalion from Slayer Mag, which certainly never hurt them), Swedish black metal had a hard time finding their feet in the second wave. Norway had surprisingly little to do with it. We have to look at Sweden itself to figure out why.

Gothenburg

Gothenburg, Sweden put its own brand of metal on the map. This is melodic death metal, bands like At the Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquility, later on Arch Enemy, etc.

[These songs are from the bands’ first full length albums.]

The Gothenburg death scene took off in the early 90s, and everyone got really excited about it, to the point where if you played black metal in Sweden in the early 90s, no one really cared. This seems a little weird, because Bathory was from Sweden and had tremendous influence on the Norwegian scene, and Morbid also had a great impact. However, Bathory at about this time had undertaken a dramatic shift from the early Satanic black metal. In 1990, Bathory released Hammerheart and Quorthon took the band in a new direction by inventing Viking metal, which relied more on a death metal sound than a black metal one.

Morbid had also been defunct for about three years, Dead having gone off to Norway to front Mayhem and never coming back and the band just deciding to call it quits. The remaining members of Morbid went off to work on various other projects, none of them black metal. The most important band that grew out of former Morbid members was Nihilist, which broke up and later became Entombed. Which is an excellent band. But which is not black metal. Thus, death metal took over Sweden.

Of course, there were black metal bands in Sweden. There was Dissection, who were unfortunate enough to be from Gothenburg and not playing the right kind of Gothenburg metal to get them noticed (although they were greatly influenced by the Gothenburg melodic sound).

And there was Marduk, but they were little metal-babies, and weren’t the behemoth that they are now.

So the answer to what happened to Swedish black metal in the early 90s is simply this: Swedish death metal. As much as it overshadowed Sweden’s black metal, however, the Gothenburg sound also helped the scene develop a sound that separated it distinctly from Norway.

Until next time, when I will address how Swedish black metal found its feet as well as its sound.

-Hagalaz

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Up and Coming: Massakren

Posted in new artist, underground with tags , , on February 20, 2012 by blackmetallurgy

So a couple of months ago now, I had the chance to get to see Chicago-based Massakren in Des Moines. They’re a young group, and they’re very talented. I’d heard a couple of songs of theirs before the show, and their live set sounded every bit as good as the studio recording. It’d be great if they could get a live keyboardist so they don’t have to use the samples, but they did a great job with what they had.

[This song has that Death Cult Armageddon-era Dimmu sound, which as far as I’m concerned is a good thing. The thrashier parts remind me sorta of Watain].

Unfortunately, most of the crowd was there to see a hardcore/ techno group instead, so they weren’t as into Massakren as they should have been, but they put on a great show nonetheless. I’d like for them to get to tour with more of a metal lineup sometime, as I think they’d get more of the recognition they deserve. They are very professional and clearly put a lot of work into making sure their live show comes off as well as they plan for it to, and it’d be nice for them to play in front of a metal crowd that had more appreciation for what they are doing.

I got to meet their vocalist and bassist, too, and they were really nice and humble guys. They were excited to be out on the road, and I think that they’ve landed a record deal, which they totally deserve.

[This is my favorite Massakren song. It was rad live, too.]

The trve kvlt black metal fans probably won’t dig Massakren, because they’ve got solos (good ones, at that, and people who gripe about solos in black metal must have not heard Watain, which is a pity), and they’re certainly not doing the low-fi thing. It’s a very clean sound, and they’re very young, which I think may get them dismissed as too cute or wholesome. But listen to it! Seriously! These guys play very well together, and their sound is tight and well-controlled. And the fact that they’re as good live as in the studio is very promising. Whether or not they’re kvlt enough for you, you can’t deny that Massakren is talented, and they’ll be going places. I, for one, am excited to see what they’ll do.

[As you can see, they utilize a lot of different styles. It’s the other thing that gets me really excited about Massakren. They’re pulling from a lot of influences, and what they’re doing with them is great.]

You can buy Massakren’s self-titled EP on iTunes for $4.95 (USD). Their MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/massakrenofficial

They’re on Facebook too!: http://www.facebook.com/Massakren

Keep an eye out for Massakren. I will be, and I’ll keep you updated.

-Hagalaz

The Slayer Mag Diaries… And Some Thoughts on the Extreme Metal Underground

Posted in musings, Reviews, underground with tags , , , , , on February 12, 2012 by blackmetallurgy

Currently Listening: Borknagar- The Eye of Oden

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a copy of Metalion’s The Slayer Mag Diaries. For those who don’t know, Slayer was a zine that ran throughout the mid 80’s to 2010. Editor Metalion (Jon Kristiansen) states “from the start, I made Slayer Mag as honestly and as best as I could,” and it shows. I was into black metal in 2010, and I wish I’d known that it was still being published. I would have tried to snag myself a copy.

                   

The book itself is amazing. It’s two inches thick (that’s a nickel in the picture, by the way. I couldn’t find a quarter), and it weaves Metalion’s autobiography and experiences throughout scans from every issue of Slayer. Metalion’s story is fascinating, his experiences of getting drunk with the guys from Mayhem and details about how he put the zine together. And of course, the excerpts from the zine itself are every bit as great, and every bit as personal as Metalion’s story. Metalion’s questions to bands are funny and original, and it’s cool to see these interviews with huge names that were just starting to take off (Napalm Death, Slayer, Morbid Angel, and Kreator, just to name a few) as well as several bands that are now defunct but who had high hopes for themselves (Mefisto, Obscurity). My new hobby has become trying to find some tracks by these old bands.

Included is the issue that witnessed the birth of Arne Babb, Slayer‘s moose head-wearing kangaroo mascot and the subsequent confused interviewees asking “Who is Arne Babb?” I ordered my copy from Bazillion Points, the company that published the book, and they included an Arne Babb patch, which might be the coolest thing ever. (I really need to start working on that battle jacket.) The book includes several pages of color photographs as well, featuring members of Emperor, Sodom, and Watain, and there’s a really good one of Jon Nödtveidt of Dissection. There are also several inserts memorializing Dead and Euronymous, as Metalion was close to them both. One thing that makes the Slayer excerpts so cool to me is that there’s so much of Metalion in them. It’s very personal on a level that you don’t get with big name magazines like Metal Hammer (This is just the first magazine that came to mind. That, and I also have a vendetta against them because they assured me I’d like Children of Bodom’s Blooddrunk and I still feel betrayed). And none of the interviews are like this crap on YouTube, where you get someone who doesn’t know anything about black metal to go interview a band like Watain. Metalion knows these bands and is a huge fan of metal, and he’s clearly very passionate about working with them. This is his life. This is what he loves to do, and that very much comes across in his writing.

                 

Metalion also says that there’s no point in looking back. And perhaps not. On the one hand, I’m very sorry I missed the tape-trading and zine days. I’ve developed quite a taste for obscure basement black metal, and having lived in Oklahoma and Iowa, where there’s not too much of a scene, I think it would be way cool to get to communicate with bands and fans from across the world. At the same time, I can do that. The internet has made communication between metal fans much easier, just as I was able to post in the same Reddit thread as a UK fan this morning, and just as it took me about 20 seconds to hunt down the above videos. Neither cost me the price of a postage stamp. And this thing. You could be reading this from anywhere, and I could be writing it from anywhere. And that’s really cool. And it’s not as though there aren’t still small distros and zines out there. There are, although you have to look a bit for them sometimes or talk to people to find them, and Anus.com has a list of zines. (I’ll post these at the bottom of the page. I don’t have much yet- I’m new to this too- but it’s a start). And that is one of my goals for this blog, too- to spread the news about cool stuff you haven’t heard about, but would enjoy (I’ve got a list. It’s coming. Likely I’ll do one next time). Up and coming artists, bands that never broke the surface, bands that have fallen in the shadows of their louder contemporaries. And of course, the bands you know and love, too, because good coverage ensures running the gamut, like Slayer Mag did.

So keep listening, keep going to shows, and support your local bands. And let basement black metal live on. And check out The Slayer Mag Diaries while you’re at it. It’s excellent stuff, and is somewhat of a holy grail to obsessive Mayhem fanatics like yours truly.

-Hagalaz

Anus.com’s Zine List: http://www.anus.com/metal/about/zines.html

Distros:

BlackMetal.com (tons of out of print/rare stuff): http://www.blackmetal.com

Hell’s Headbangers: http://www.hellsheadbangers.com

Nuclear War Now!: http://www.nwnprod.com

Abyss Records: http://www.officialabyssrecords.com

Review: Alcest- Les Voyages De L’Âme

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2012 by blackmetallurgy

Back! Whew! After a stressful week, everything is falling right into place. Class is going well, and my professor is almost as excited about my paper on Cascadian black metal as I am, so that’s good news. Also, I have internet again- my computer is being weird, so I had to buy a network adapter to hook up to the network, but we’re up and running again and I should be updating this more now. Also bought my ticket for Behemoth/Watain, so I have a place reserved for me.

I promised a review of the new Alcest album and here it is!

Alcest- Les Voyages De L’Âme

My friend Jamie introduced me to Alcest several months ago, just in time for me to find out that I couldn’t make the show when they opened for Enslaved (boo). Alcest is French post-black metal/shoegaze/blackgaze. Once, Neige said in an interview that Alcest is not intended to be melancholy, that he wanted it to be a positive experience. This newest offering is certainly that- it’s calming and inspirational. The new album features Winterhalter on drums, and mastermind Neige (which means “snow” in French) does everything else. I preordered the new album, which came out on January 17, and it doesn’t disappoint.

(You can listen to the album here): http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7BF53AFB2555C55E

The first single off the album was the first track, Autre Temps, which was accompanied by a fantastic video. The album version is a bit longer than the single version and features an intro that has broken chords over ambient sound- very pretty. I had pretty much decided I was getting this album as soon as I heard this single, and I’m happy to say the rest of the album is just as good.

Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles has more of a rock feel to it- the drums are much more driving. It and Faiseurs De Mondes also feature some black metal shrieks, which fit very well over the calming music. I hadn’t heard Neige do harsh vocals before, but they are very well done. His clean vocals are as excellent as ever- he has a lovely voice that’s very soothing. The title track is very cool, as it could be two songs in one. It shifts pretty sharply at 3:13, yet the track remains cohesive.

The lyrics on Nous Sommes L’Emeraude were apparently not written by Neige, though I am at a loss to tell you who Charles Van Leberghe is (maybe a poet?). Not my favorite track by far, but it’s a slight miss for me on an album full of hits.

Beings of Light is an instrumental, and one of my favorite songs on the album. I’m not sure why I can’t get enough of this one- perhaps it’s the fact that the resolution is not what my brain expects it to be. Even when I’ve come to expect it, it’s a thrill every time. When the drums and guitars kick in at 1:22 over the ambience and quiet vocals it’s chilling in a good way. Also, the fact that the resolution never comes at the end of the song, letting it just fade out, is a nice touch as well. The other instrumental track on the album is Havens. This one doesn’t quite do it for me- it’s nice, but feels more like a transition than a single track- it doesn’t seem to stand on its own as well as Beings of Light does.

Summer’s Glory epitomizes I think the positive feelings Neige wants to evoke with his music. Upbeat and uplifting- it’s impossible to feel bad while listening to this song. The guitar at 4:10 sounds like sunshine breaking through the trees.

The artwork for the album is very fitting. The cover features a peacock in an illuminated stone arch that frames a pastoral scene. The liner notes (which are the lyrics) are in a gold font, printed on a dark teal background and surrounded by a design that looks like gold peacock feathers. It’s simple yet classy, and it fits the album perfectly. The only thing that caught me off guard was the fact that the instrumentals are not listed in the liner notes, which is fine because they have no lyrics, I just would have thought they’d be listed too.

So give this album a listen. As a fellow Shredditor said when posting the above link, “If you aren’t a fan of Alcest, you are now.”

Hagalaz’ favorite tracks:

Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles

Les Voyages De L’Âme

Beings of Light