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Angst Skvadron – Space Black Metal

Angst Skvadron - Sweet Poison

Angst Skvadron - Sweet Poison (2010)

Angst Skvadron – “Sweet Poison” (Agonia Records, 2010)

Let’s say you have been in a Black Metal band for almost twenty years. Yes, it pays the bills (barely), but sometimes you feel like creatively you’ve been locked in the “black apartment of depression” by all the falderal that comes with pledging allegiance to Satan.* This is the conundrum that Trondr Nefas, who sings and plays guitar for Urgehal, has faced recently.

Formed in 1992, Urgehal is a first generation Norwegian Black Metal band that is known as much for its “corpse paint” and spikes as for its solid but generic black metal. So what do you do when it all gets, well, a little boring? Form a side project, Angst Skvadron, and dole out some “Space” Black Metal so you can spend your time playing songs called “Aerophobia,” “The U.F.O Is Leaving,” and “The Eyes Among Stars” instead of songs with titles like “Satanic Black Metal in Hell,” “Goatcraft Torment,” and “Through the Grace of Hell.”

“Space” Black Metal is interesting and weird – in a good way – musically like Hawkwind and Voivod groped each other one night, fell into bed and then had a troubled, cough-syrup-drinking kid. It is Angst Skvadron’s use of Voivod‘s tonality or, more accurately, angular atonality that makes it so interesting. I am a sucker for unusual atonal riffs like Greg Ginn of the almight punk band Black Flag and Piggy of Vovoid ripped from their guitars.

Angst Skvadron – “The Eyes Among Stars”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV_jmqDaQvw

The tempos here are much slower than the ones usually found in Black Metal. Angst Skvadron specializes in sludge-like rhythms that lumber and lurch like songs from a Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weil musical. In fact, the wheezy organs and discordant pianos that infuse the album also sound like they are straight out of Brecht and Weil production, but I am sure that this is an accidental shout out rather than an intentional reference. I’d be blown away if Trondr Nefas brushed up on his Brechtian distanciation in the spare time he had away from doing Satan’s work (or maybe Brecht sold his soul late one night at a German crossroads and we are just now finding out about it).

Angst Skvadron – “Aerophobia”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUJq7iKVhpk&feature=related

The angular atonality and lumbering rhythms make this record. It may not be your cup of Black Metal but you need to check it out at least.

*”The Black Apartment of Depression” is my favorite Black Metal song title. It is the name of a song by the Italian Black Metal band, Leaden.

Vreid – “Pitch Black Brigade” Review

Vreid - "Pitch Black Brigade" (2006)

Vreid – “Pitch Black Brigade” (Tuba Records, 2006)

Black metal is plagued by a dirty little secret. Many blackened bands have forgotten the first commandment of metal: Thou shalt rock. They are so busy fiddling with their “corpse paint,” deciding who they worship or don’t worship, fulfilling the generic conventions (sizzling treble guitar, thrash tempo), or creating ten minute dark symphonic opuses to bother to put a little rock in their roll. Luckily, there are aggregations like Vreid who buck this trend and remember that metal whether blackened or unblackened has to have some “Rocka Rolla,” as Judas Priest pointed out so poignantly and poetically.

Vreid means “wrath” in Norwegian. The band started down its dark path in 2004. It features three former members of the symphonic, “folkloric” black metal group, Windir. Windir’s multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and “incontestable sovereign” (what is it with metal bands and authoritarianism?), Terje “Valfar” Bakken died in January 2004. Windir’s official website described Valfar as a “musical genius.” Events would prove, though, that however musically inclined he was, Valfar was no rocket scientist – he set out on foot in the middle of a snowstorm to hike to his family’s cabin and froze to death before he got there. Windir disbanded after his death when the remaining members decided they couldn’t go on without their leader.

Hvalle (Jarle Kvate), Steingrim (Joren Holen), Sture (Sture Dingsoyr) (what is it with black metal bands and pseudonyms?) still wanted to play black metal but, without the authoritarian artistry of their sovereign, they chose a different direction and decided to follow the anarchist Bon Scott who always proclaimed, “Let there be rock.” The song “Pitch Black Brigade,” the inspiration for the title of this humble blog, is positively anthemic, a word that is not usually invoked to describe any songs in this genre.

Vreid – “Pitch Black Brigade“: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DykjMRgjZnU

Let’s just set the guitarist/vocalists Lemmy obsession (including Lemmy’s interest in World War II) aside for a bit.  Other reviewers ascribe Vreid‘s “rock action” to incorporating punk rock into their black art. I guess since I graduated from the School of Hardcore Punk Rock (and because I’m old) I see it a bit differently – I hear the influence of Judas Priest (“British Steel” and earlier) and early Iron Maiden in Vreid‘s “riff-age” rather than the strains (or stains) of punk.

The “riff-age” and the “rock action” grind to an ugly and unseemly halt with track 5: “Hengebjorki.”  For some inexplicable reason, they decide to bust out an OMD-inflected, minor key, atmospheric intro complete with club-like drum tracks.  What?  Where the hell did this come from? All I can say is, “Boys, you’d never find this on a Motorhead album. Never.” Nuff said.

The Good: It rocks, a rarity these days in the land of black metal.

The Bad: The singer/guitarist’s Lemmy fixation.  Have the courage to be yourself, homeboy; there’s only one Lemmy and you are never going to out-Lemmy Lemmy.

The Ugly: Dudes, leave the Eurotrash DJ at home and kill the black metal A-Ha stylings.  It’s not cool or metal.

Finntroll – Finnish Polka Black Metal

October 19, 2010 3 comments

Cover of Finntroll's 2004 album "Nattfodd"

Finntroll – “Nattfodd” (Spinefarm Records, 2004)

This is Pitch Black Brigade’s first review, a review of Finntroll’s disc “Nattfodd.” But, honestly, how can anyone be cogent or insightful when they are writing about a Finnish polka Black Metal band that pretends they are trolls and sings their songs in Swedish? As our friends in the great band Corrosion of Conformity would say, “I’m at a loss for words” for how to describe polka- and foxtrot-inflected metal.

Here is what I can piece together about Finntroll (given the fact that my Swedish is about as good as the Swedish chef spoke on “The Muppet Show”): They started playing together in 1997 in Helsinki. The impetus for the group came “during a night of alcoholic carnage in Finland,” when “Teemu ‘Somnium’ Raimoranta (guitar) and Jan ‘Katla’ Jämsen (vocals) conceived of a band that fused the darkness and grandeur of black metal with the traditional Finnish hoedown-music.”* The band coined its odd name from “an old Finnish legend where Swedish priests coming to Finland encountered a wild-looking man who killed most of their party. The survivors went back [to Sweden] bearing the tale of the Finntroll.”* And, by the way, I’m not making any of this up. Today Finntroll play as a septet, featuring a lead singer, two guitar players, two “trolls” on keyboards, one on bass, and a drummer. “Nattfodd” – or “Nightborn” in English – is the band’s fourth album.

So what does the fusion of the “darkness and grandeur of black metal with the traditional Finnish hoedown-music” sound like? It is an incongruous melding of Black Metal, folk metal and Finnish humppa. What is humppa, you ask? It is a style of Finnish dance hall music from the 1950s that reinterpreted the old foxtrots of the 1930s into a new context. Humppa‘s tempo is hyperkinetic – two beats to a bar or approximately 220-260 beats per minute.  As you might imagine, the keyboards carry the burden of creating Finntroll’s distinctive humppa sound.

What do you get when you throw it all together?

Finntroll – “Eliytres” from “Nattfodd“:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa1k1iBtGTE

Sometimes they sound like a Black Metal band and sometimes they shuffle like a ska band that chased four shots of espresso with Red Bull.  It is, you’ll have to admit, an incongruous but fun mixture.

Korpiklaani, a Finntroll-inspired Finnish band, describes their music as “old people’s music with heavy metal guitars.”  And while Korpiklaani sound different than Finntroll, I think this description provides a good description of “Nattfodd” and polka Black Metal in general – “old people’s music with heavy metal guitars” and blackened Black Metal vocals.

That’s enough about Finntroll from me; you’ll just have to decided yourself.  Let me know what you think.

Finntroll – “Trollhammeren” from the album “Nattfodd“:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGywo81G6lk

Finntroll – “Nedgand” from the album “Ur Jordens Djup“:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2HMWBsgURs&feature=channel

*http://www.myspace.com/officialfinntroll, accessed 10.18.10 5:46 p.m.

Hey, Yngwie J. Malmsteen, How Do You Know if You Are Listening to Black Metal?

October 18, 2010 1 comment

Walknut - "Graveforests and Their Shadows"

What defines black metal as a musical style?

Black metal, as a specific genre of heavy metal, emerged in Norway during the early 1990s when bands like Burzum, Darkthrone, Emperor, Immortal and Mayhem stole bits and pieces from earlier groups like Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost and melded them into a new genre.  So how do you know if you are listening to black metal?  Good question, Yngwie.

Black metal is marked by a set of distinctive musical conventions (the characteristics of the lyrics will require another entry).  Whether you are listening to green black metal, French shoegazer black metal, Ukrainian black metal or Finnish regional folk metal, you (or Yngwie) will usually notice the following:

Guitars: The sound of blackened guitars is treble, treble, treble served with side of a treble.  Detuned guitars, which are so prevalent in other forms of metal, surprisingly, do not appear in black metal.  In addition, these trebly guitars are distorted – so distorted, in fact, that on some recordings (like the truly evil Burzum) the guitar sounds more like bacon frying in a cast iron skillet than a musical instrument.  The trebly distorted guitars are used for a lot of rapid tremolo picking (single string picking) high up on the neck of the axe.

Drumming: Black metal features what they call “blast beat drumming.”  It sounds just like good old fashion hardcore thrash drumming to me.  However, one thing that does separate it from thrash is the prevalence of the battery of 1/16th notes on the kick drum.

Vox: The vocals are high-pitched and effects-laden – and generally annoying.  I guess they are supposed to sound “wraith-like” or spectral.  They are annoying in different way than the annoying low, guttural “dog barking” (or dog vomiting) style of vocals found in death metal and thrash metal.

What do you get when you put it all together? Here is the Walknut song “Motherland Ostenvegr” – 10 minutes of the bacon frying guitar, constipated “spectral” vocals, and at about 1:50 in you the get 1/16th note kick drum action.  Let me know if you actually make it through all 10:31 of it.

Walknut – “Motherland Ostenvegr”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oK4br4nFx4I

What is Pitch Black Brigade?

October 17, 2010 1 comment

Wolves in the Throne Room - "Black Cascade"

It all began innocently enough.  I read a blurb about the band, Wolves in the Throne Room (or as my wife calls them, “Wolves in the Bathroom”) on the web.  The piece described Wolves as an “ambient black metal” band.  I had no idea what that meant.  I knew what black metal was from the days of my youth – poorly recorded heavy metal churned out by bands like Venom who sang silly songs about Satan.  And I also was familiar with Brian Eno‘s ambient music from albums like “Music for Airports,” “Another Green World” and “Apollo.”  I can see Eno collaborating with David Byrne and Jah Wobble, but Eno crossed with Venom?  It just didn’t compute.

I was already intrigued, but then I found a review of a recent album that described black metal this way: “Despite its modest early-’80s inception at the hands of England’s blissfully clueless, crude, and cartoonish (errr, also brilliant, of course) Venom, black metal has emerged as one of the heavy metal movement’s most diverse and astonishingly experimental subgenres, thanks to endless shape-shifting through the years as it quickly suffused the planet with its controversially anti-everything musical and lyrical philosophies.  Now, as the ’00s draw to a close, the style’s leading creative edge appears to reside with bands focused on extended meditations steeped in folk and psychedelic music, atmospheric textures, and mystical pagan themes, e.g. Enslaved, Nachtmystium and Wolves in the Throne Room.”* Black metal diverse, experimental and creative?  That’s not what I remember, but I was hooked – color me fascinated.

So I started to look around and what I found was astonishing; it sounded like a joke, a “mockumentary” like This Is Spinal Tap meets A Mighty Wind at a Viking reenactor convocation. Are you ready for this list?  Here goes:

Eco-friendly “green” black metal? Check.

French shoegaze black metal? Check.

Finnish “trollish hoedown metal?” Check.

Ukrainian autumn-loving drone black metal? Check.

Scandinavian pagan folk metal groups that use both regional folk instruments and regional dialects? Check.

Viking metal bands crooning paeans to Odin, Thor and Asgaard?  Check.

Join me here at Pitch Black Brigade as I discover the good, the bad and the ugly of contemporary black metal.

Wolves in the Throne Room – “The Cleansing” from the album, “Two Hunters”:

*Eduardo Rivadavia, Review of Forest of Stars, “The Corpse of Rebirth,” iTunes, accessed 10.17.10 at 12:45 p.m.