Untrue And International: Living In A Post Black Metal World
, April 9th, 2012 10:55
Brad Sanders celebrates the 25th anniversary of the birth of modern black metal by looking at how the genre has finally emerged from the long shadow cast by the True Norwegian scene and where it is headed
Given that it is 25 years since the release of Mayhem's Deathcrush EP, it's slightly lamentable that the discussion about black metal centres (still) on the arsons and murders of the Norwegian scene of the early 90s or the apparent hipster transgressions of current acts like Deafheaven and Krallice. The genre still seems to be more concerned with its narrative rather than product. This is unreasonable, given that as long as it has existed, it has managed to be the most creatively fertile subgenre of metal despite its sometimes reactionary tendencies.
Now, more than at any other time in the genre’s history, the door is open to bands who want to take the traditional black metal framework and rework it into a seemingly endless array of disparate shapes and functions. More importantly, the best of these bands are finding acclaim with both heavy music neophytes and entrenched metal warriors alike. Darkthrone, Burzum, Enslaved and the like exist as points of reference, but they’re an increasingly distant dot in the rear view mirror for a crop of tirelessly creative, forward-thinking acts.
This environment has led some to dub the outlying edges of modern BM “post-black metal”, which is less helpful as a genre tag than it is as an ideal. It’s not that Bathory or the Norwegian Second Wave bands are irrelevant now; without their blastbeats, tremolo picking, demonic vocals and allegiance to aesthetics, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this - and bands such as Mayhem and Ulver continue, sporadically, to push forwards. It’s just that we’ve finally managed to step outside of the very long shadow that they cast, and bands can make bold music that nods to the masters more subtly than ever while creating yet more ground breaking music for a new generation.
No list like this can ever be complete - it can merely give a flavour or an idea of where we're at. This list of ten excellent bands doing their part in carrying the torch for post-black metal as a concept is more of a jumping off point for debate.
Wolves In The Throne Room
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend” is what the old-fashioned newspaperman from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance told Jimmy Stewart’s character. Such has become the approach to writing about so-called Cascadian black metal progenitors Wolves In The Throne Room. Brothers Nathan and Aaron Weaver are as famous for the apparently Luddite existence they toil away at on their communal farm in rural Washington as they are for being the best, most important band in heavy music today. With a sonic palette inclusive enough for comparisons to Burzum and Popol Vuh to both be warranted, the band’s simultaneous obsessions with earth and sky place them rightly at the forefront of the current black metal wave.
Required listening: 'Thuja Magus Imperium' from Celestial Lineage
Further listening: Black Cascade
Despite a gradual evolution that has seen their sound move into territory more befitting of the “post” tag, the title of Cobalt’s first album – War Metal – remains paramount to any understanding of their music. Vocalist Phil McSorley is an active duty officer in the United States Army, and what he’s seen on the battlefield comes through in his lyrics and performances. As crucial is multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder, whose evil-Adam-Jones riffage and almost tribal drumming brings McSorley’s Hemingway headspace to life.
Required listening: 'Gin' from Gin
Further listening: Eater Of Birds
Nearly a half-decade before Liturgy brought the tiresome black-metal-authenticity debate to the wider music press, the underground had its collective panties in a bunch over Alcest’s masterful 2007 album, Souvenirs D’Un Autre Monde. This doesn’t sound like black metal, the argument went, with the obvious subtext being this isn’t very good. True, Neige buries his tremolo picked guitar leads under shoegazing shimmer, and the dream worlds he evokes are more idyllic than nightmarish, but the bonds his most personal project shares with black metal make him one of its finest craftsmen.
Required listening: 'Percées De Lumière' from Écailles de Lune
Further listening: Souvenirs D'Un Autre Monde
Altar of Plagues
If one of the trends of post-black metal has been to take the genre in a direction that doesn’t shy away from embracing positivity, Ireland’s Altar of Plagues’ reactionary response is to plunge further into darkness than anyone before them. White Tomb, Tides and especially last year’s Mammal are definitive statements of despair, with absolutely no light emanating from the void the band creates. They go so far to make the focal point of 'When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean' a field recording of a Gaelic keening ritual. It’s the sound of a loved one being mourned, but placed in the context of Altar of Plagues, it could just as easily apply to all of human civilization.
Required listening: 'Neptune Is Dead' from Mammal
Further listening: White Tomb
Whereas a lot of these acts’ ties with black metal are tenuous because they don’t sound as evil or misanthropic as the genre’s founding fathers, Anaal Nathrakh exist on the fringe because they are perhaps too evil and misanthropic. Black metal, grindcore, industrial, noise and whatever else Irrumator (Mick Kenney) and V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (Dave Hunt) deem suitable to the band’s total sonic destruction are thrown in a blender, and then they break the fucking blender. Nathrakh has also been a key force in urbanizing black metal, with the streets and factories of their native Birmingham conjuring up grimness in the stead of mountains and fjords.
Required listening: 'Submission Is for the Weak' from The Codex Necro
Further listening: Passion
Post-black metal didn’t necessarily need a Varg Vikernes, but sole Leviathan member Jef Whitehead aka Wrest was happy to lend it one anyway. With songs like “The History of Rape” and “Every Orifice Yawning Her Price,” Wrest was never out to make friends with his lo-fi black metal assault, and the sexual assault allegations that still hang over his head have painted him as the USBM scene’s most controversial figure by a long shot. Still, his sometimes almost structureless approach to psychedelia-leaning black metal is refreshing, even when his imagery is hard to stomach.
Required listening: 'Her Circle Is the Noose' from True Traitor, True Whore
Further listening: Massive Conspiracy Against All Life
You’d think it was Liturgy mainman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix who allegedly sexually abused his girlfriend with tattoo tools for all the ire the V-neck-clad Brooklynite has drawn online in the past year. Liturgy is controversial in the sense that they take black metal to some uncomfortably ebullient places while still calling it black metal. The amount of time Hunt-Hendrix spends in the major key or with his nose in a book of transcendentalist philosophy has no bearing on how furiously his band shreds when they get going though, and Aesthethica is a masterpiece of the first order. It’s easy to misread Liturgy’s genre skewering and proclaim that post-black metal’s next logical step is to cut ties with black metal altogether, but Hunt-Hendrix’s steadfast insistence on keeping the nomenclature is an important move that shows that the genre is in capable hands.
Required listening: 'Sun of Light' from Aesthethica
Further listening: Renihilation
There’s only one full-length album under this Indianapolis crew’s belt, but it’s a real wrecking ball. The six tracks on When All Became None are disgusting odes to world downfall played totally straight-faced by either a sludge band playing black metal or a black metal band playing sludge. The fluidity with which Coffinworm transitions between slow, distorted passages and breakneck blackened parts is astounding, and miraculously, their ceiling still feels years away. All together, now: “We are all but blood on Satan’s claws!”
Required listening: 'Start Saving for Your Funeral' from When All Became None
Further Listening: Great Bringer Of Night
Gnaw Their Tongues
The most productive band on this list is without a doubt the Netherlands’ Gnaw Their Tongues, whose 28 official releases since 2006 make sole member Mories the busiest man in black metal. While the industrial elements incorporated by Anaal Nathrakh are a useful signpost for his sound, they don’t go nearly far enough. This is atonal chaos that would fit as well under the noise banner as the black metal one if only Mories would drop what Metal Archives calls “morbid esoterica.” The often lengthy compositions released under the Gnaw Their Tongues name are perverse affairs, lyrically obsessed with bondage and torture and syphilitic madness, but their insanity is more than matched by their sonic accompaniment. Be afraid.
Required listening: 'For All Slaves… A Song Of False Hope I' from For All Slaves… A Song Of False Hope
Further listening: All The Dread Magnificence Of Perversity
This anonymous solo artist goes by the pseudonym “The Botanist” and all the songs on his debut double album are about flora and have the Latin names of plants. And that’s far from the strangest thing about this band. The Botanist puts more casual nature-lovers like Wolves In The Throne Room to shame with not only his plant-themed lyrical compositions but also his highly sustainable approach to the black metal sonic framework – that is, he only uses hammered dulcimer and drums. The result is music that disobeys every rule about black metal, sounds nothing like black metal, and yet can’t really be called anything but black metal. In that way, Botanist could be the fullest realization of the post-black metal concept yet, and that makes the future awfully exciting.
Required listening: “Rhododendoom,” from I: The Suicide Tree
Further listening: II: A Rose From The Dead
Keep on watching the Quietus for more features celebrating the 25th Anniversary of True Norwegian Black Metal