Archive for December, 2010

Deathspell Omega – Satan’s Grad Student Theoreticians

Deathspell Omega - "Paracletus" (2010)

Deathspell Omega – “Paracletus” (Norma Evangelium Diaboli, 2010)

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” This phrase appeared in Dante’s Divine Comedy when he strolled through the gates of H-E-Double-Toothpick but, honestly, it should be nailed above the door of every liberal arts department in graduate schools. Why? Because there are no jobs, no money, no nothing in academia these days unless you want a wheelbarrow full of low paying, long hour adjunct jobs, a circle of hell that Dante never visited. So what are a group of newly-minted Philosophy and Comparative Literature Ph.D.s supposed to do when they can’t find gainful employment commiserate with their educational accomplishments? Turn dark, bitter and resentful, transfer their years of marinating in Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari and Lyotard to an all-consuming obsession with Satan, form a band and release a trilogy of the most ferocious, dense and Satanic Black Metal discs the world has heard. And call their band, Deathspell Omega.

Now, granted, this scenario is pure speculation on my part. I can only guess about them because there is no biographical information about France’s Deathspell Omega – no website, no photographs, and only a few academic, impenetrable interviews. They refuse to play live shows and to tour. Deathspell Omega exists, it appears, only to spew the darkest vitriol.

Let’s get this straight at the start – most of the Satanic stuff in Black Metal is downright stupid. The band Gorgoroth, for example, has a song called “Procreating Satan.” Now, I can’t tell from the title or the lyrics what the song is about but if it is about “procreating” Satan then it should be titled, “Doing Satan’s Mom.” Deathspell Omega are not silly or stupid like Gorgoroth – they are intelligently and intensely serious about their Dark Overlord. They fancy themselves as theologians, theoreticians and ideologues of the Black Metal Satan sweepstakes.

Here is what little I have been able to piece together about Deathspell Omega. They recorded a demo, Disciples of the Ultimate Void, before putting together their first album, Infernal Battles, in 2000. Both of these efforts were supposedly Darkthrone-influenced generic Black Metal. In the years since these early efforts, the band had transformed themselves from an aggregation that survived by churning out derivative work to an experimental, technical and avant-garde, post-rock, dark metal behemoth.

The transformation began with the monumental Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice (Latin for “If You Seek His Monument, Look Around”) in 2004. It was the ferocious first installment of a trilogy of platters exploring the relationship of man and woman with God and Lucifer. The next installment of the trilogy Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (“Divine Law – Depart from Me, Ye Cursed, into Everlasting Fire”) crawled out of the abyss three years later. The concluding disc, Paracletus, was released last month.

What does it sound like? Aggressive, dissonant, and intense – intense as hell:

Deathspell Omega – “Epiklesis I” and “Wings Of Predation”

Musically, the album is gloriously resplendent in its atonality and seasick rhythmic complexity. It sounds as if Don Van Vliet had captained a Black Metal band when he cut “Ice Cream for Crow” or if Greg Ginn’s band had been called “Black Metal” instead of Black Flag.

The intensity of Paracletus makes it Black Metal’s only truly scary album.


Nick’s Condensed Metal Reviews

December 22, 2010 1 comment

Swans - "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky" (2010)


They say brevity is the soul of wit – well most metal cares little for brevity and would eat/destroy your soul if it could. Here are some quick thoughts on music I like or don’t that has some (often tenuous) relation to metal.

Swans – “My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky“: The heavy moments of this are pretty much what I am looking for when I troll the internet for metal. 30 years of skill, work and talent. White hot, atom splitting transcendence. My favorite band ever. Swans – “No Words/No Thoughts”

Deathspell Omega – “Paracletus” You’ll read more about this slab of vinyl later here on Pitch Black Brigade. Horrible/Beautiful Qliphothic emanations from disturbed and ravenous minds. These guys are operating on a much higher level than pretty much EVERYONE else in metal and I am glad to benefit from their quest (as should be the goal in all art) to figure out just what the fuck is going on here. And by here I mean reality. The whole satanism thing is a reactionary misapprehension as far as I am concerned, but that is ok. They are eloquent and possessed of genius in the exploration of that misapprehension.

Agalloch – “Marrow of the Spirit“: I honestly can’t see what the big deal is. It doesn’t suck, but not sucking is a far cry from the slavering reviews this has received. Makes me think of poor dead Gary. Ya know: Diff’rent Strokes. It also makes me think of the renaissance fair, those giant turkey drumsticks in particular – not sure why.

Burzum – “Belus“: Makes me really glad for WITTR, Deathspell Omega and all the other interesting and intelligent metal bands out there. I can turn to them when I need a fix of the dark ‘n’ heavy, and I don’t have to listen to this douchebag. The misguided douche is clearly some kind of savant, though. This is no “Filosofem,” but it is undeniably good.

SUNN O)) – “Monoliths & Dimensions“: Genius. Especially Alice. Which is tribute to Alice Fucking Coltrane. These guys have clearly received some special mojo from – ya know – down below or something. And by that I mean their bowels. Art galleries ? Homemade Richard Serra t-shirts ? Trombones ? Yes.

Nadja: The 17 and a half HOURS of music in my library. On the island of metal, it is nice to know that the professors in Nadja are here to school the corpse paint wearing Gilligan-esqe hordes in the science of heavy. But they put out too much music. Seriously.

Mount Eerie – “Wind’s Dark Poem“: Kinda like J Mascis and Varg Vikernes get together to watch Twin Peaks in their jammies. And maybe cuddle.

Family Band – “Miller’s Path“: Not metal at all, yet it is. Husband/Wife hipsters go rural and play darkly atmospheric folk. Check out the Priest/Maiden but clean guitar riffs Definitely a novel and satisfying combination.

Alcest – Hipster Black Metal

Alcest - "Ecailles de Lune" (2010)

Alcest – “Ecailles de Lune” (Prophecy Productions, 2010)

Something weird is going on when earth tone corduroy wearing, facial hair sporting, fixed-gear bike riding, gingerbread-oatmeal-chocolate-butternut-acorn-squash stout drinking hipster start listening to heavy metal. Let’s face it – heavy metal is the least hip genre of music . . . ever. It is – at its heart – “outsider music for outsiders.” But Black Metal-influenced bands like Frances’s Alcest and Amesoeurs may soon change that and make it down right cool for you to flash your Slayer t-shirt somewhere other than the stale, alienated confines your parents’ basement.

For some mysterious reason, France has become the official research and design laboratory for Black  Metal. Yes, Norway gave birth to the genre in the early 1990s but, let’s be honest, the original formula – low fi recordings of bacon sizzling treble guitars, blast beat beats and Satan-centric constipated vocals – could use some thoughtful and inspired re-imagining and reconsidering. France has taken this task of broadening and renovating Black Metal seriously. Lots of interesting and crazy things are being dreamt up in the land of Bernard Hinault (google him if you don’t know who he is), soft cheeses, crusty breads and Jacques Tati (google him too), including Black Metal’s Satanic theoreticians and theologians, the mysterious, obtuse and abstruse, Deathspell Omega (I am convinced they are a bunch of Comparative Literature graduate students who transfered their obsession with semiotics, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari and Lyotard to Satan), the glorious weirdness of Glorior Belli and the mind blowing diversity and craziness unleashed on the world from the label, A Season of Mist.

Alcest started as a side project for Neige (“Snow” en francais), a break from the nastiness of the Avignon Black Metal band, Peste Noire. Neige and the other members of PN cut a four-song demo called “Tristesse Hivernale,” as Alcest, in 2001. This demo was straight-ahead first generation Norwegian Black Metal. After this demo, though, Neige reclaimed Alcest as his own and ditched the frosty but generic Black Metal stylings, resulting in the startling and critically acclaimed “Souvenirs d’un autre monde” (“Memories of Another World”). Three years later, Alcest – with Neige playing everything but drums – released their masterpiece, the album that might make Black Metal cool, “Ecailles de Lune” (“Flakes of Moon”).

What is there for a straight leg, skinny jean, Pabst Blue Ribbon-chugging hipster to like? It doesn’t sound like metal at all. It’s not even metal-esque. Alcest have morphed into a hypnotic, atmospheric, dreamy, jangly alternative shoegaze band. What you ask was shoegaze? Shoegaze was a style of music that shuffled and slumped out of England in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The name comes from either the fact that the members of the band stood around and gazed at their shoes (or more likely at their enormous chains of effect pedals) while they played live. Shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine , Slowdive and Swervedriver featured guitars churning out droning riffs, and an emphasis on melody, melody, melody laden with hooks. Alcest poached this style, added a little early REM jangle, threw in the tiniest bit of blast beat pounding, treble guitars and blackened vocals to create  to a compelling and intoxicating album, one of the only platters that my wife won’t yell, “Turn that crap off” when I put it on the turntable.

Listen to this and you’ll understand why my wife, critics and painfully self-conscious, cooler-than-thou hipsters like it:

Alcest – “Ecailles de Lune, Part I” –

Here is a link to the second song on the album and it features harsher vocals but still it dreamy and jangly:

Alcest – “Ecailles de Lune, Part II” –

If Alcest are able to keep the hipsters plugged in, metalheads all over the world might get laid . . . in their parents’ basement.

Ensiferum – Symphonic Heroic Folk Death Metal

December 10, 2010 1 comment

Ensiferum - "From Afar" (2009)

Ensiferum – “From Afar” (Spinefarm Records, 2009)

Folk metal – it sounds like a joke or an oxymoron at least. It conjures up images of some bastard offspring of This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind and a Viking reenactor convention. But folk metal, the sub-genre that melds metal to traditional European folk music, is the most hip and happening thing in the sprawling land of metaldom right now. Folk metal bands are doing something unusual – they are moving units and selling a lot of concert tickets. You don’t believe me? How about this anecdotal information? My posts on Pitch Black Brigade about Finntroll and Eluveitie get 10 to 12 times more hits than any other post . . . every day!

Ensiferum is one of the pioneering Finnish folk metal bands. One fateful day in 1995, Markus Toivonen, who was toiling in a cover band that churned out Pantera covers, asked his friend, Kimmo Meittinen, a drummer, if he wanted to play some “heroic folk Death Metal.” Miettinen replied, “Hell yes!” (or whatever the Finnish equivalent of that phrase is) and then they went out and recruited Sauli Savolainen on bass. Now the only thing left to do was to come up with a name for the aggregation. One day, Markus happened to open up Sauli’s Latin dictionary – we all have one lying around – and came across the word, “ensiferum,” which means “sword bearer,” a pithy little tag for a Finnish band serving up heroic folk death metal, right?

Ensiferum have been busy since 1995. They’ve dished out four albums and one EP, and they have toured relentlessly. Their latest disc, “From Afar,” hit turntables in 2009. “From Afar” is vocalist’s (and guitarist), Petri Lindroos, second album with the band.

What does it sound like? “From Afar” features the ever present metal-ish guitars married to “galloping” drums. The keyboards, as usual, carry the folk part of the program. The vocals are one interesting aspects of the album. Lidroos’ leads are sung in the typical Death Metal growlies, but many of the songs utilize group parts where the vocals are clean.

What separates Ensiferum – and this record in particular – from other folk metal acts? The symphonic elements. In fact, I would have to categorize Ensiferum as a symphonic heroic folk death metal band. “From Afar” has orchestral arrangements – at times it seems like Jean Sibelius’ symphonic poem, “Finlandia” is going to erupt from the background at any time. And it is more than the usual synthesizers imitating an orchestra – I think from listening closely that they actually had strings and horns in the studio.

Listen to both of these songs and I think you will hear the symphonic element immediately.

Ensiferum – “From Afar”

Ensiferum – “Heathen Throne”

Now this is a sound that is hard for them to recreate live unless they travel with a 20 or 30 piece orchestra.

In the end, I think that “From Afar” is a testament to the maturation of the folk metal as a sub-genre. It is evidence that folk metal has evolved to the point that it supports several different and distinctive styles, including symphonic heroic folk death metal.

Categories: Folk Metal Tags: ,

Eluveitie – It’s a Celtic Folk Death Metal World After All

Eluveitie - "Everything Remains As It Never Was" (2010)

Eluveitie – “Everything Remains As It Never Was” (Nuclear Blast, 2010)

I am astounded continually by the diversity of heavy metal today.  The combinations and permutations of genres are endless and, quite frankly, mind blowing: Maldavian progressive death metal, anyone? Check out Nothnegal. Greek operatic metal? Chaostar. Israeli Oriental metal? Salem. Chilean doom metal? Mar De Grises. Bulgarian dark industrial metal? The Bleeding Light. And if you need a fix of Celtic folk music thrown together with some death metal from Switzerland? Try Eluveitie.

Yes, that’s right – I said Celtic folk metal from Switzerland. Regardless of how strange it sounds, though, Eluveitie‘s interest in Celtic-influenced culture and language is historically accurate. How did things Celtic arrive in Switzerland? The Gauls occupied a region encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland. They spoke Gaulish, an early dialect of Celtic. Gaul culture and language flourished in Gaulish territories from c. 450 B.C. until the time of Roman conquest by Julius Caesar around 50 B.C. Talk about yearning for the good old days – over 2,000 years ago! So it is a Celtic world after all, right?

Eluveitie appeared in 2002 as a side project of the band’s self-described “mastermind Chrigel Glanzmann.”* By 2004 Eluveitie became a “real band,” as opposed to a side project.  Since then the band has contained between 8 to 10 members who play everything from guitars, bass and drums to bagpipes, a hurdy gurdy, a violin, whistles as well as a barrage of other “folk” instruments.

“Everything Remains (As It Never Was)” is Eluveitie‘s fourth album. Let start with the cover of “Everything Remains,” shall we? It has everything a red-blooded Gaul male would want: A hot chick with long blonde hair wearing a cloak and animal pelts, a thatched roof hut, some deciduous trees, and snow-capped mountains as a majestic back drop.

What does it sound like? It sounds like exactly the way the band describes their sound like “Eluveitie‘s sound is authentic, traditional Celtic folk music combined in a unique way with modern styled melodic death metal.”* An interesting combination, right? Obviously the guitars, bass, drums and “Cookie Monster” vocals provide the Death Metal part of the equation during the verses of the songs.  The folk elements usually – but not always – pop up in the intros, choruses and the bridges.  Clean female vocals, which contrast sharply with the Death Metal-style vocals, also crop up in the same places that folk instruments appear.

This is my favorite song on the album. It is a good illustration of how the band melds its two different styles:

Eluveitie – “Everything Remains (As It Never Was)”

Here is another one:

Eluveitie – “Thousandfold”:

The production on this album is amazing. It is one of the best-recorded and best-mixed metal albums I’ve heard in ten years. The production team did a great job. Tommy Vetterli (Kreator, Coroner, a.o.) engineered and co-produced the album, Colin Richardson (Slipknot, Machine Head, Behemoth, Trivium, a.o.) mixed it and John Davis (U2, Led Zeppelin, Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, a.o.) for mastered “Everything Remains (As it Never Was).”*

Although I am just beginning to wade into the genre, “Everything Remains (As It Never Was)” is the best folk metal album I’ve heard so far. And the good news is Eluveitie is coming to Atlanta in February so I can see and hear how they bring these seemingly disparate elements together live. It should be a lot of fun.

* – accessed 12.4.10

Categories: Folk Metal Tags:

Rimfrost – “A Swedish Black Metal Blizzard”

Rimfrost - "Veraldar Nagli" (2009)

Rimfrost – “Veraldar Nagli” (Season of Mist, 2009)

As I have mentioned several times before, many Black Metal bands have forgotten that the term “Black Metal” is shorthand for Black HEAVY Metal. Instead they think it stands for “Black Depeche Mode” or something equally ludicrous and un-rocking.  Thank God, Satan or Odin – take your pick – Sweden’s Rimfrost aren’t interested in phony dark atmospherics and “textures”; they are only interested in bludgeoning the listener.

Who are Rimfrost? They are a duo of “corpse paint” wearing metal dudes who live in Boras, Sweden and they are damn proud of that fact based on how many times they mention it. The singer and guitarist, Hravn, began jamming with Throllv, the drummer in 2002 at the tender of age of 14 so they are now approaching their wizened and elderly mid-20s. Rimfrost don’t have a permanent bass player at this point but Peter Laustsen (Nox Aurea, ex-The Cold Existence) plucked four strings on the album.*

Speaking of the record, “Veraldar Nagli” is Rimfrost‘s second slab of vinyl. According to the band’s myspace site, the album’s title translates into “Axis of the World,” which means the North Star.* It is their first album for the always interesting French record label, A Season of Mist.

What does it sound like? The band’s mission statement reads like this: “The Swedes from Borås are organically fusing Black, Death and Thrash Metal into a mighty sound of their own.”* While that description is a little over the top, you can’t blame a band for trying so make themselves sound more distinctive than they are. The truth is, though, Rimfrost are  heavy like “a cement mixer filled with anvils,” as one person put it. And I liked this album after the first few seconds of the first song because it sounded like heavy metal. No long “intros” to slog through – just heaviness based on riffs you can imagine Iron Maiden or Metallica or some other metal band playing.

Rimfrost – “Varaldar Nagli”

My enthusiasm for this record now brings us to a point that I have been studiously avoiding – it’s metal but is it blackened metal? Rimfrost touts the album as a “A Swedish Black Metal Blizzard,” which is an interesting description because Sweden isn’t really known for its Black Metal – Sweden’s specialty is ye olde Death Metal.* And honestly “Veraldar Nagli” has more in common with Amon Amarth than Burzum or even other Black Metal bands like Vreid. There are no bacon sizzling treble tremolo guitars here, lots of “cookie monster” vocals instead of spectral blackened vocals. In the end, it doesn’t matter which label you want to stick on this record because it bludgeons regardless of which genre of “extreme” metal it gets stuck in.

*, accessed 12.2.10

Categories: Black Metal Tags: ,