Archive for the revisits Category

“You’re Listening Wrong:” Revisiting Misunderstood Albums (Funeral Mist’s Maranatha)

Posted in black metal, funeral mist, revisits, sweden, underground with tags , , , , , , , on December 9, 2012 by blackmetallurgy

(Thanks to Jamie for the title…)

It occurs to me that there are a number of albums out there that much of the black metal community seems to take offense to for whatever reason: Satyricon’s Now, Diabolical, Mayhem’s Grand Declaration of War, and Dissection’s Reinkaos to name a few. It also occurs to me that I tend to like these albums, for whatever reason. As someone who studies literature and is trained to pick things apart as well as my capacity for being bull-headed and enjoyment of playing devil’s advocate, I think that it would be both fun and enlightening to look at these albums, which Jamie calls the “stray mutts of extreme metal,” and figure out why exactly people have the aversion to them that they do, what merit they have, if any, and why it might be worth it to give them another listen (Note: I’m not going to touch Cold Lake. Even I can’t defend some things).

I figured I would go easy on myself and start this segment by discussing an album that is very near and dear to my heart, and that I feel like I know like the back of my hand: Funeral Mist’s Maranatha. Released in 2009, Arioch made us wait five whole years for the thing and then a lot of people were disappointed by it, which I’m sure was frustrating for everyone involved. So let us delve into the common criticisms, as well as what people are really saying when they make them, and look at the possible merits of the album. Then, maybe you will be inspired to give it another shot, or at the very least, you can throw out some specific reasons why it bugged you.

Funeral Mist- Maranatha (2009)

The Context: Funeral Mist’s Salvation, released circa 2003, is inarguably one of the greatest releases of the first decade of this century. Though a release mostly circulated through and to the black metal underground, Salvation was a milestone in the realm of Orthodox black metal (Arioch claims Ofermod as exact contemporaries and won’t take all the credit for starting the sub-sub-genre, but he certainly spear-headed it), and is considered by many to be proof of the salvation (see what I did there?) of the larger black metal scene. 2009’s Maranatha, by contrast, was lambasted by many of those same people, who, crushed, went home thinking that maybe Arioch wasn’t the savior they’d been hoping for.

last.fm

The cover is as ugly as what’s inside it. (image from last.fm)

The Complaints:

1)      It sounds too much like Marduk. Apparently. This is odd to me. I don’t think it sounds much like Marduk, although I can hear influence from Funeral Mist seeping into Marduk’s newer releases (parts of “Gospel of the Worm” from the new one have that kind of churning feel that Funeral Mist has). However, the reviewer I culled this from claims that Maranatha adopts too much of the blast beats and machine-gun fire from Marduk’s artillery (I’ll stop with the puns. I promise), and I am listing complaints. That’s a valid one. Too much leakage from outside influence.

2)      The experimentation on the album. Other complaints deal with the weirder aspects of Maranatha, mostly either how it was too experimental or not experimental enough. “White Stone” is particularly bizarre, and many people found it, and the rest of the album, to fail in terms of being compelling. I also read somewhere that “Blessed Curse” is 8 minutes too long. It’s a long song. It’s a little repetitive, and that preacher guy is creepy and annoying. Experimental albums are risky; these reviewers complain that the risks didn’t work out.

Another complaint that can be classified under experimentation is consistency. It is said that there is none, that the album is not coherent, that it feels scattered, the screams are too random, the thing is a muddled mess.

3)      It is contrived. This is a complaint I have seen A LOT concerning Maranatha. So it was experimental; many people also believe that the vocals and music just sound disingenuous. It doesn’t have the spontaneous ugliness that Salvation had, it’s too planned, too insincere.

What They Really Mean:

1)      “It sounds too much like Marduk.” Translation: “It’s too linear.” I don’t think Maranatha sounds like Marduk. I do think, however, that what these people are trying to say is that Maranatha is a very linear album. It has A LOT of blast beats. It is very forward-pressing. There are a couple of mid-paced tracks on the album, but most of it is in your face, brutal pummeling. But I don’t think that sounds like Marduk. Musically (atonally) I think it sounds more like Deathspell Omega. Abrasive swirling murk indeed. It is a lot more straightforward than anything on Salvation, however, and I think that this is what these reviewers are trying to get at.

2)      Complaints about experimentation. Translation: “This is weird and I don’t know how to approach it.” Experimentation is always risky. Throwing on a track like “White Stone,” which Arioch even contends is weird, is a big risk, especially when your fans are expecting something big from you. I’m not saying that you should like it just because it’s strange and Arioch worked hard on it, and this complaint really is a matter of opinion. I think that “White Stone” is creepy as hell; ugly and creepy is not always synonymous with fast and brutal. Arioch took a risk. Some people didn’t like it. “But Blessed Curse is 8 minutes too long.” Have you ever sat through one of those hellfire and brimstone sermons? They go on forever too.

Likewise, the consistency argument. The complaint here, I think, is that the experimental bits are throwing people off. How does “Anti-Flesh Nimbus” fit into all this? Is there a theme here? Is it about Armageddon, or the Black Death, or both? What the hell is up with that preacher guy? Assuming that the album was not meant as a concept piece, this complaint feels a little weird to me, but I guess I can see how it could feel scattered with a song like “White Stone” right next to “Jesus Saves” (that weird little bit at the end of that song is one of my favorite parts on the album).

3)      “It is contrived.” Translation: “It’s too clean, and it contains too much that doesn’t feel real.” There are a lot of moments on the album where Arioch is doing things with his vocals that no mortal man can do, regardless of how close he is with the big guy down below. So Arioch meddled a little with the editing on the vocals. There was some of this on Salvation, too, if you were paying attention, although there’s more of it here. I think that this complaint also fits in with the cleaner recording complaint that always comes up in black metal. Maranatha is not all that grungy sounding, and admittedly, a low-fi recording may have helped make it sound less polished and more to these reviewers’ taste.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, what I hear the most when I hear people complain about Maranatha is “But it’s not Salvation.” And therein, I think, lies the problem.

Why It Has Merit:

1)      The experimentation (yes, groan, I know). Maranatha is a highly experimental album that finds new ways to approach the same kinds of subjects that normally crop up in black metal. “White Stone,” for instance, is very dirge-like, and the vocals sound anguished, which fits the subject matter of being denied nearness to one’s god. “Blessed Curse” (I have sat through those sermons, I know) to me feels like a Burzum-esque atmospheric track that should allow you to get lost in its meanderings. “Anti-Flesh Nimbus” is absolutely lovely, and it’s unlike anything else from Funeral Mist’s catalog. Perhaps these experimentations didn’t go over so well across the board; the fact of the matter is, Arioch is coming up with new ways to represent these things, and is certainly not willing to let the genre stagnate.

2)      I feel that it is a very cohesive album. A lot of the songs, with the exception of the ones above, seem to be connected in terms of musical execution and theme. There’s this kind of madness through the entire thing that makes your heart race and your brain reel. This is the way the world ends… Ultimately, the song that sticks out like a sore thumb is “Anti-Flesh Nimbus,” and it is, I think, the best song on the album, so I don’t understand what all y’all’s problem is.

3)      It is UGLY. Funeral Mist is really good at creating soundscapes that sound like the bowels of Hell have just opened up in your living room. Maranatha is no exception. The title track, “Jesus Saves,” “Sword of Faith…” all of these and more are some of the most hideous cacophony ever. Funeral Mist has lost none of its brutality. “Anti-Flesh Nimbus” is horrific and beautiful simultaneously, and ties the whole thing together nicely.

4)      The vocals are really cool. Okay, so that one guy thought the shrieks and screams were random, but do you honestly think that Arioch would ever put in anything randomly? Sure, not everything could be recreated live, but Funeral Mist doesn’t play live, so I think we can cut him some slack on that front. Also, if you think of the album as a piece of art, I think you can allow the weird editing. Since “A New Light” will likely never be played live, can we not allow for the album to stand as a work of art? Is it really necessary to be able to recreate it in a live setting?

Why You Should Give it Another Chance:

This point I’m going to make in reference to Maranatha as an album but also in reference to the complaints and whingings: MARANATHA IS NOT SALVATION. It’s not. I believe that the number one problem people have with this album, the one that they won’t admit, is that they are upset that it is not Salvation Part II. Arioch did not intend to make Salvation Part II. He wanted to do something different. Try not to listen to Maranatha and always place it in comparison; I encourage you to listen to it and value it for its own merits, which are plenty.

Salvation was a ground-breaking and fantastic album, and it’s going to be very hard for anything that comes after in Funeral Mist’s catalog to compare with it. So perhaps we shouldn’t try to. Maranatha is an ambitious, experimental, ugly, beautiful album, and it should be allowed to stand on its own.

***

Anyway, I hope this was as fun for you as it was for me (I love analyzing things, that’s why I do what I do). I’ll be back Thursday with some other stuff.

In the meantime, give Maranatha another chance. (And then go listen to some Krieg; it’s excellent weather for it).

-Hagalaz