The Ajna Offensive
BLUT AUS NORD
The Work Which Transforms God
Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice
The Ajna Offensive
Near Death Experience
I’ve been listening to a fair amount of black metal lately, and it’s clear that the Scandinavians have lost control of their creation. The ancestral home of second-wave BM might be Norway, but in 2007, the torch is being kept ablaze in France. Yes, France, the country that for decades has been a rock wasteland (Magma being the sole, debatable exception). The four groups listed above have made some of the most compelling black metal of the last three years (the two Deathspell Omega releases are from 2004 and 2005 respectively, and Blut Aus Nord’s The Work… is from 2003, but the others are from 2006), inhabiting and incarnating a darkness that should make US lo-fi half-wits like Xasthur and Leviathan fill their jeans with hot, wet shit.
Antaeus are the most conventionally “rock” of the new crop of French black metallers that I’ve heard. Their first CD, the demo collection Cut Your Flesh And Worship Satan, has one of the greatest titles in all of metal, and lives up to it with blazing, fuzzed-out guitar riffs, screaming so harsh you can almost hear the vocal cords snapping, and drumming so relentless and minimal it’s worthy of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Blood Libels, their third disc (I missed the middle one), features slightly better production but no slackening of their utter sonic and lyrical misanthropy. Occasional sound-effects and/or electronic touches only serve to accentuate the fundamental atavism of their work. Fans of Craft or early Immortal will very much enjoy this stuff.
Blut Aus Nord, by contrast, have ambition. Their 2003 release, The Work Which Transforms God, combined traditional black metal elements with industrial (but not of the Ministry/KMFDM guitars-on-the-dancefloor school) noise and effects—disconnected voices, drones and ambient sounds, etc., etc. Quite a few tracks were instrumental, most notably the 10-minute closer “Procession Of The Dead Clowns,” and some were simply short electronic bridges with no “metal” elements to them at all. Their latest disc, 2006’s MoRT (it’s an acronym for “Metamorphosis of Realistic Theories,” not a nod to death or Feldman), is even weirder. At times, it reminds me of Main’s Hz, but with extra surliness and psychedelia. The tracks are labeled as chapters, I through VIII, and they all blend together into a seamless47-minute whole. Chants and whispers drift past as ever-more-dissonant guitars seethe and wail, and the programmed drums seem mostly there to frustrate anybody searching for a rhythm. Anaal Nathrakh blend industrial with black metal, too, but they do it in a much more brutal and unsubtle way—they’re Ministry to Blut Aus Nord’s peak-period (Too Dark Park, Last Rights) Skinny Puppy. Folks who find most black metal too sonically and philosophically reductive should give these guys a listen.
Same goes for Deathspell Omega, particularly in the philosophy department. Their 2004 CD, Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice (reissued this year), was somewhat schizophrenic; while they had some very good ideas regarding the use of medieval-style chanting for eeeeeevil, they kept losing their nerve and reverting back to the bash ’n’ screech that had dominated their first two albums. It was only on the follow-up EP, 2005’s Kénôse, that their art truly blossomed. Its three songs unfold over nearly 40 minutes, and the music has all the complexity of progressive rock, with enough riffs in each piece to fill a whole album by a less ambitious band. The first, near-16-minute track begins with five minutes of slow, un-distorted guitar over a doomy rhythm (and ends with three more), before the band catapults into gear and the ranting begins. The lyrics, like the music, are way over the top; Deathspell write in paragraphs, not verses, their vocalist croaking out endless lectures on the nature of divinity which the listener is encouraged to follow in the ultra-thick pamphlet enclosed within the digipak. (You know you’re in for it when the first word of each song is “Therefore…”) It can be a little hard to deal with over the long haul, but these guys are quite obviously very serious about what they’re doing, so “fun” is really beside the point.
The last of the bands I’m enjoying lately, Spektr, is much more opaque about intention and mission. Near Death Experience is possibly the most musically broad-minded of everything discussed in this piece, moving from electronic moodscapes to howling black metal to dissonant, almost jazzy instrumentals (“Whatever The Case May Be”). All the tracks are soaked in atmospheric effects, from static crackle to sudden bursts of distortion and digital glitches – far from embracing old-school black metal primitivism, Spektr chooses to create layers of sonic illusion. Indeed, some tracks, like “Visualization,” have little or nothing to do with metal – ghost voices drift in and out, amid clouds of whoosh and hiss, eventually giving way to surges of strings and distant cymbals and dubby drums. Near Death Experience is an argument for black metal as worldview rather than style – the genre’s trademark guitar and drum sounds are only briefly present, one more element in the mix rather than a dominant trope. Yet the feeling of desolate disorientation that underpins all the best black metal is a constant presence. That’s what all these bands have that catapults them out of the pack. Vive la France, and Hail Satan!