Black Metal in the Modern Era

The New Wave of Black Metal Arrives. . . Finally

 

What happened, Black Metal? Sure there’s still traditional BM all over the place – low-fi, horrible screeching screams over constant blastbeats and constantly buzzing too-much-treble sixteenth note guitar, bass (is in there somewhere?) picking some root notes, I imagine…all played by a bunch of dudes wearing Corpse Paint – a more demonic version of Kiss make-up.   The quality, however, is sooooo bad; who can hear the bass tones, anyway? So. . . there’s still that stuff..the stuff that’s “traditional,” the stuff that has no purpose and goes nowhere and just plain sucks. Keep in mind, as a music lover. . .a lover of all kinds of music, I don’t mind traditionalism: traditional values – nodding towards the roots and infantile beginnings of a genre. Hell, I’m a pretty big fan of the Grateful Dead, and you can’t get much more traditional rock/Americana than that – the once-novel, once prolific blending of the sounds of the American “Old West,” bluegrass, folk, blues, jazz, and more. And I love it! But also, in the same way that I love that kind of traditionalism, I am, even moreso, a total fan and absolute believer in pushing the boundaries of music: exploring the supposed imaginary boundaries of a genre; pushing it forward by constantly trying to find new angles and approaches to its music and adding other elements found outside the given genre. This is progressive music not as a genre, but as a mind set, belief, approach, and way of looking at music that few, if any, have thought of….or even attempted. Every band I have been in has been one that tries to blend elements of a variety of influences in order to form something progressive, original, and new.

Black Metal and its proponents, however, have been so stagnant and stuck it a tradition developed in the mid-to-late 1980s for so long it really is mind boggling. I don’t know of a single genre or subgenre that has been so adverse to change than Black Metal. So it’s refreshing to notice that there has been a trend occurring, slowly but surely, over the past. . . decade. . or so – perhaps longer, perhaps not. It has been happening so slowly that I have just, in recent years, realized this evolving “new wave of black metal. ” While looking back and trying to pinpoint an exact time frame during which this new wave, or even its remote elements, began to take hold it’s quite difficult. At first, I found myself looking at Rotting Christ, and their release, “Theogonia,” and all that came after. Then I found myself looking at the majority of the catalog of Blut Aus Nord – the ever-evolving avant-garde French Black Metal act that has also been pushing the genre’s boundaries for quite some time.

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Rotting Christ is a Black Metal band from Greece that, despite several line-up changes throughout the years, has always aimed to maintain its own identity within the world of Black Metal. Even some of RC’s releases prior to Theogonia, dating back to the early 1990s, while largely being considered “traditional,” had some elements present in this new and updated Black Metal. Blut Aus Nord (which I must confess is one of my personal favorite bands) is an enigmatic act which consists of only one person, who refuses to verify any of the lyrics contained in any of BAN’s songs. Each release differs greatly from the last leaving listeners excited for each upcoming album. While each release is undeniably Black Metal, BAN has found a way to mix in a variety of elements of other genres while consistently leaving most critics in awe. Most notably, one must check out the “777” series – three albums which incorporate industrial elements, with BM, atmospherics, and general metal aesthetic. In my opinion, these are some of BAN’s most prolific recordings, and a great entryway for any newcomer to the band. While the newest release,”Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry,” is a throwback to traditional BM, it manages to add new and interesting atmosphere, clean modern production, and more.

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Rotting Christ and Blut Aus Nord are probably the earliest examples of BM acts splicing elements ultimately found outside of the genre into their sound. They have, ultimately (and likely without knowing it – do prolific artists understand the impact their work will have while they’re making it? – entirely different discussion), paved the way for more modern acts that are microgenre’d to hell. . . let’s fact it though, this stuff is Black Metal with some new twists here and there. And I get it; some of the mincrogenres are necessary: Traditional Black Metal, Atmospheric Black Metal (which casts a wide net in, and of, itself), Post-Black Metal (which technically a lot of the stuff to which I am referring in this post falls under: generally when I speak of a “New Wave” of Black Metal. But doesn’t one think that Post BM would combine elements of Post-Metal/Rock with BM?!? – but I digress), More modern examples include stuff like: Deafheaven (“Sunbather”), Black Monolith (“Passenger”) Altar of Plagues (“Teethed Glory and Injury”), Gris (“A L’Âme Enflammée, L’Âme Constellée…”), Summoning (“Old Mornings Dawn”),Thantifaxath (“Sacred White Noise”) (another of my favs – like BM’s version of Ghost, as they don’t show their faces, but they’re waaay more progressive with crazy time signatures and other prog elements uncommon in BM); Deathspell Omega (to whom much of these shifts within the Black Metal genre have been attributed), and the band that actually planted the seed for my writing of this post – Schammasch – which I will get to in a moment. But before we do, I would be remiss if I failed to mention American’s own Agalloch, who created their own brand of Black Metal infused elements of folk along with the grim sadness that can only be inspired by their Northwest American surroundings. Though they’ve recently (and prematurely is you ask most of their fans) disbanded, they’ve left a legacy and a sound that is remarkably their own within the Black Metal genre. Though their entire catalog is impressive, critically acclaimed, and deserves your attention,“The Serpent & The Sphere” – the band’s final release – remains my personal favorite. Granted, all of the aforementioned bands in the list deserve as much, or in certain cases, more credit to these shifts in Black Metal. And, please, let me be clear, this “shift” to which I am referring, really consist of artists viewing Black Metal as a true form of art; probably Blut Aus Nord’s crowning achievement as the band is/was one of the first to see Black Metal as an art form. BAN saw the stupidity in making Satan/Satanism/Religion the primary focus of Black Metal, and really began looking at the genre as one that could be twisted, turned, manipulated, and artfully viewed as artfully as any other musical genre. To get back to my my original inspiration for writing this post. . .

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Image result for triangle album schammasch

I was recently on my fourth full listen through of Schammasch’s epic album entitled “Triangle.” This thing is truly epic – a three disc (if you still use CDs or their mention as a representation of musical length) concept album that explores the idea(s) and journey that is death/loss/nothingness. Each “disc” is delivered in its own style – one that is still the style of the artist, but a style that differs from the last set of songs in order to further, or one may argue, more properly develop the themes contained therein. This album hearkens to some of BM’s finest, with nods toward Behemoth’s “Demigod,” among others; while also bringing its own atmostphere(s) to the table through a variety of vocal styles (chants, spoken word – like that of a fire and brimstone preacher’s sermon, screams, and more). This album incorporates some traditional elements, but really does serve as a terrific example of how Black Metal has changed. . . or is changing. . . for the better.

Until a few years ago, I was really only a fan of a handful of those “traditional” bands within the Black Metal genre: Immortal (probably the most traditional), Dimmu Borgir (technically Symphonic Black Metal), Emperor (cause…who doesn’t), Rotting Christ (their earlier works were “traditional”), and some others. I never considered myself to be a true fan of Black Metal as a true metal subgenre, but keeping an open mind over the years and by doing a lot of listening, my mind has taken an abrupt turn. So, if you’re one that has completely and totally written off BM for some of the reasons that I’ve described above (i.e. traditionalism), or for any other reason(s), perhaps you should hear me out and give it another chance. – These recent shifts away from traditional BM have really helped expand the genre and bring it into the modern age; the Black Metal of the future is now.