In the third entry to his four-part feature on how black metal has evolved in the 20 years since Darkthrone’s seminal second album, A Blaze In The Northern Sky, was released, Tom Dare now moves on to look at how bands have incorporated the musical sounds specific to their region of origin into their sound…
5) Location-specific sounds
While the trend of black metal bands making music that sound very much of their country of origin began in part thanks to Bathory’s Viking-era (obviously), it also owes a huge debt an extraordinary Irish band. With Hammerheart, Primordial started what would become an obsession with examining your heritage – be it more recent events with direct effects or the distant past with legends that have passed into myth.
Listen to ‘Empire Falls’ by Primordial:
Their palpable love of Bathory (even before Alan Averill got involved with the Quorthron-tribute performances of Twilight Of The Gods ) has always shone through, but the two things that have made them unique – and uniquely brilliant – are atypical. The first, being the use of the dancing compound time signatures and burbling tunes of Irish music – has been adopted by others since, and it’s easy to understand why. The earlier Primordial material such as Imrama and Spirit The Earth Aflame still hold up superbly, but the more recent records have propelled them into a position where they may not be the best known band in the world, but are one of the most revered by those familiar with their work. In particular, To The Nameless Dead is an album pretty peerless in any sphere of metal in the last decade. The second, Averill’s haunting, anguished voice, is unlike any other, and further adds to the singular quality to their direction.
Their influence is palpable in bands like Winterfylleth, the “English Heritage black metal” act who’ve won massive praise for their second album, The Mercian Sphere. Taking Primordial’s guitar sound and then doing something distinctively different – a profoundly English feel that couldn’t for a second be confused with Primordial or any Scandinavian band you could name – the occasional controversy the band has found themselves in can’t detract from the quality of their music. And further pushing the boundaries of what can be done with BM.
Listen to ‘Gateway To The Dark Peak/The Solitary One Waits For Grace (The Wayfarer Part I)’ by Winterfylleth:
Another British band doing something utterly different but no less “of here” is Fen. While Winterfylleth are more patriotic, perhaps more spiritually akin to Drudkh, Fen are more in the Negură Bunget strain. Their music is trying to evoke their geographical surrounds (hence the name – the band are East Anglian) and is more misty and wandering than exclamatory, as their last album Epoch so evocatively displayed.
Taking another route entirely are “Mesopotamian metallers”, Melechesh. A band far closer in template to Mayhem, the band rip out the evil claustrophobia and replace it with a fiery, Eastern array of pentatonics. Or, put another way, sodding great riffs that sound like a pissed of djinn that wants to immolate you. The atmosphere’s still there, but it’s much closer to more orthodox metal structurally – it’s about songs with big riffs, and as a result the music is both more definably melodic and accessible, however vicious it may be. Last album The Epigenesis might have pushed them a little beyond definitive black metal territories (however excellent), but the stunning trilogy of Djinn, Sphynx and Emissaries are very much in the same realm. Only three thousand or so miles from what they were doing in Oslo record shop basements in 1992.
Listen to ‘Rebirth Of The Nemesis’ by Melechesh:
If you haven’t already checked them out, now would be a good time to read part 1 (fury and mentalism) and part 2 (ambience and progressiveness) of Tom’s essays. That’s because tomorrow sees the final part of Tom Dare’s Black Metal evaluation, taking on the somewhat confusingly post-black metal and non-black metal parts of the subgenre. Yes, it hurts our brains to think about it too.