Ahead of the release of their second album, Devilment 2: The Mephisto Waltzes (Nuclear Blast Records),Ghost Cult caught up with lead vocalist and creative driving force Dani Filth to talk all things Devilment, touring, soundtracks, horror, Faust and oh, the small matter of the next Cradle of Filth album… Continue reading →
What makes a “classic”? In the case of Mayhem’s Live In Leipzig (Peaceville) it’s primarily down to what it represents – not only the closest thing to a full album by the classic line-up of Mayhem (itself awarded the c-word at least in part for the fact that two of them were dead by violence within three years), but an important document in the development of both a scene and a genre. It’s impossible to look into the early days of “second wave BM” without running into a reference to Live In Leipzig, and it still regularly appears in lists of the most important releases in the genre. References to it tend to spend longer talking about its classic status, the “atmosphere” or the events of the scene it helped give birth to than the music itself, which can cause alarm bells to ring.
Setting everything else aside for the moment, then, the first thing to say about the music is that it’s RAW. Not just the sound – which is better than you may be expecting, especially in its’ remastered form – but the song-writing and playing too. People already familiar with the band after Dead’s… er… death may be surprised – the mystical, sinister atmosphere of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (Deathlike Silence) is thin on the ground, and the experimentalism that the band embraced in their later years is entirely absent. Early tracks like ‘Necrolust’ and ‘Carnage’ push their Thrash and Venom influences to the front, and even DMDS tracks are more savage and direct than their studio incarnations.
Traditional wisdom has Dead being the quintessential Mayhem vocalist, but his style is much more straightforward and orthodox than that of Maniac or Attila – fans of the latter in particular may be disappointed with lines like “in the middle of Transylvania” delivered in a straight rasp rather than Atilla’s vampire drag-queen tenor. The quality he’s so treasured for, of course, is authenticity – it’s hard to deny the genuine rage and alienation of a man who shot himself in the head five months after this performance – but the extent to which it really informs the music is a matter of personal interpretation. It’s precisely that “realness” and lack of irony that can transform Live In Leipzig into something more than the sum of its sloppy parts, but it’s hard to pin down objectively – one person’s “sloppy” is another’s “dangerous”.
As a document of the genre’s early days, Live In Liepzig is as important as you’ve heard, and the bonuses in this package (a booklet full of scene memorabilia and a second disc of another performance with most of the same tracks and a rawer sound) makes it even more so. As a piece of music it’s both undeniably flawed and often genuinely captivating – and in many ways it’s the flaws that makes it so engaging. Still an essential history lesson for those interested in early 90’s Scandinavian BM, but not always an easy one to swallow, and some fans will find themselves blasphemously glad that Black Metal has been so thoroughly house-trained.
Over the course of more than 20 years, black metallers Kampfar have always been one of the genre’s most understated acts; certainly one never reaching the acclaim or, of course, the headlines of some of their brethren of that period. Despite all this, these Norwegians have always had an air for taking black metal to new boundaries and territories, often with stunning results. On their latest album Profan (Indie Recordings), they showcase this even further, concluding the recent trilogy of albums to a flourishing finale.
Having been a part of the burgeoning Norwegian black metal scene in the early 90’s, Kampfar expectedly show much of that common sound, but they aren’t afraid to merge it extra traits, or inject it with contemporary production values. Take album opener ‘Gloria Ablaze’ which almost instantly shows the blistering fury and blastbeat driven pace that the genre is synonymous with, before it interjects with moments of grandeur, bellowing clean vocals and an epic atmosphere. The proceeding ‘Profanum’ similarly brings in a crawling, doom like slower passage bookended between pacier parts. Their use of unconventional and traditional instrumentation is present as well, from the ominous orchestral introduction to ‘Icons’ to the use of didgeridoo on ‘Daimons’.
At its core, this holds much of the structure and sound typically assigned to black metal, but it has nuances, both obvious and less so, throughout which make this a deeper listen than it first appears. Kampfar are a band that aren’t completely reinventing the wheel when it comes to black metal, but who are pushing it to further expanses and borders than many would dare to.
Having stolen the best band name a gothic metal vampire act had never thought to use yet, Cape Of Bats have spent the last six years belching out a slew of independent releases and splits; fully espousing a DIY ethic and ethos before arriving at Violent Occultism (Broken Limbs), their debut full-length, a thirty-six minute speedball chaser of blackened punk.
On first impression, Violent Occultism is like being forced to endure a series of particularly noxious bottom burps in a small enclosed space, caught, every two minutes, in the ever-regurgitating waves of the putridity. At first it’s hilarious and more than a little impressive, but it doesn’t take many occasions before the joke, unlike the air, begins to wear a little thin and things turn a little stale.
But just when you feel you need a change of scenery and to get some cleaner air in your lungs, Cape of Bats drop another air biscuit of horrid proportions, but this time including some surprising flavours such as the Kveltertak-getting-done-over-with-studded-maces-in-the-car-park ‘Ultimate Evil’, or ‘Follow Me (To Death)’ with its early second wave of Black Metal riffs and atmosphere; the former followed up with the 37 second punk-blast of ‘Blue Hands’ as if to get things back on track, and the latter by the manic start of ‘Buckets of Blood’.
Cape of Bats deal in sloppy, aggressive raw music with black metal, crust and loose thrash permeating their riffs. Add in Francis Kano’s deranged yelps and throat-rips, Cassidy McGinlay’s drumming switching from D-beats to gakked out surf rock grooves, Matthew Geary’s B-movie carnivalesque keys sporadically appearing and some speed metal frantic soloing and Cape of Bats prove an uncompromising and coarse outfit who are particularly effective when they flirt with the more black metal side of their arsenal, and songs like ‘Damned To Sands’ and ‘Grand Evocation Of War’.
Cape of Bats take raw to other side of the lathe, sinking their filed teeth into still breathing vermin carcasses and expectorating abrasive, unrefined, spiky stabs of punky black metal. A fucking mess of chaos and feral as all hell, nonetheless, there’s something worthwhile in their uncultured savagery.
The inception of Vreid (meaning ‘wrath’) unfortunately was a result of the tragic loss of Windir’s founder and front man Valfar, who died of hypothermia in 2004. The remaining members chose to continue under the Vreid moniker and have gone on to be a prolific Norwegian black metal band, releasing an album every two years. Sólverv (Indie) marks their seventh opus, an album inspired by their Norwegian heritage and ancestry, a passion embedded within the black hearts of each band member. Perhaps not attaining the same notability status as other Norwegian BM bands that still uphold huge popularity today, such as Satyricon, Gorgoroth, Taake etc, a loyal fan base has remained devoted since the Windir days.
Remaining true to the BM paradigm, Sólverv exudes 90’s second wave black metal nostalgia, with blast beats and fast paced tremolo picking in abundance. A morose atmosphere permeates through, as lead singer Sture’s devilish snarl leads us further into the deep dark depths of hell. At times the rigid black metal elements wear a little thin; however the interjections of synth and none blast beat led track ‘Ætti sitt Fjedl’ offers some release from the relentless monotony. Tracks such as ‘Haust’ and ‘Sólverv’ have almost a Darkthrone-esque quality, whereas ‘Geitaskadl’ is a full on thrash metal assault, full of vigor and bombast. Final track ‘Fridom Med Daudens Klang’ is laden with atmospheric embellishments, a tolling church bell, war sirens, tense drum beat and haunting synth all obscured by an incongruous bass line that kills the premise of the bleak introduction.
The production is a little thin but representative of the minimalistic icy black metal sound that the Norwegians seem to craft so well. Groundbreaking and innovative this album is not; nevertheless it does what it needs to and to a credible standard. Not really pushing any boundaries but solid reliable black metal, which to be honest I never really tire of.
Black metal has always been shrouded in controversy, and the arguments about what music is true rage on to this day. While both the purists and innovators may be walking different paths musically speaking, it’s undeniable that both sides are producing some seriously exciting music. Perhaps a little late onto the scene for their Norwegian second-wave sound, 1349 emerged in the late-90s to continue what they felt were the key principals of black metal. 16 years after their initial demo release, drum legend Frost talks to us about how this band have remained one of the key players in black metal.
“In the second half of the nineties, black metal as a genre was brought way into gothic land. It was all about extensive use of synthesizers, female vocals and pompous arrangements, about light melodies and harmonies and about gothic imagery. Ravn’s disappointment with the general development of black metal drove him to try doing something about the situation rather than just complain about the miserable state of things, and start a new band of his own which was to focus on the core values of black metal the way he felt them to be. And thus the menacing machine called 1349 was put into motion. Ravn’s earlier bands Hofdingi Myrkra and Alvheim were left to the scrapyard of history, and this new constellation with a much stronger intent and force of gravity arose instead. Grimness, darkness and rawness were the ruling principles from then on.”
The scene may have changed drastically since the 90s, but there are still many that insist that the original sound is the only true black metal. While 1349 do embrace this idea, its not quite as rigid an ideal as many would believe: “I perceive black metal in part as a life form that has been around for a while and that has developed quite a lot, but which has gotten rather stagnant, conservative and retrospective. The core principles and ideas are luckily untouchable and timeless, and 1349 is built on those.”
While the band does consider themselves to be true, their views on what this means are surprisingly refreshing.
“A sound can not really be ‘true’ in itself – the ‘true’ part comes from the creation and execution of music. Something is true if it is heartfelt, and performed in a convincing way. The sound can help bring out the qualities in the music – or do the opposite. It’s still all about the feeling and attitude of the musicians. I think it’s important for us in 1349 to strive for elitist ideals in that respect (ALL music that we make should sound like we truly mean it with all our soul, either we rehearse, record or play live), without being pretentious about it.”
Despite their core principals, 1349 has never been content to remain static and consistently strive to progress with each album.
“The core qualities of the band, as they were displayed in pure form on the debut album Liberation (Candlelight), are total grimness, aggression, darkness and rawness. On that foundation we have built layer upon layer since the debut release: Beyond the Apocalypse(Candlelight) displayed more nuances and details, and had a sound picture that allowed for more complexity and a somewhat richer musicality than the very one dimensional first album. Then, with Hellfire (Candlelight), we tried to maintain that level of musicality and the intriguing musical solutions while cranking everything up to 11. A very dense, hostile and aggressive album. Eventually we reached a point where it felt absolutely necessary to dig deeper and to bring the band way, way out of the comfort zone and thereby stimulate 1349’s collective creativity and finding new sources of inspiration and drive. We had since the beginning felt that the band had a potential for conjuring a different, deeper and more menacing darkness (the excellent song ‘The Blade’ from Beyond the Apocalypse hinted to it) – something that was much more eerie, mystical, occult and spiritual rather than aggression-driven. The result of our determination to explore that side of 1349 was the experimental album Revelations of the Black Flame(Candlelight) which holds some of the most soulful musical passages in the band’s history so far. An album all about Spirit. Having returned from the Abyss, we brought DEMONOIRto the world – an album that is musically closely tied to Hellfire, but which has this deeper and scarier darkness integrated in the relentlessly aggressive music. With the new album Massive Cauldron of Chaos (Season of Mist) we have put all our force into making the music really come alive – in terms of compositions, flow, performance and production. For the first time in 1349’s history there is actually a solid sense of groove in everything that we do, the album is dynamic and musical on a level we haven’t been close to before. What we have realised, is that by making the music groove, and by really bringing out the human energy in the performance through the production, it also kicks harder, digs deeper and gets more dangerous. That is what truly makes MCoC the highlight in 1349’s existence this far.”
With the new album Massive Cauldron of Chaos released last month, Frost promises that once again the band are pushing their sound further. The album is “1349 at it’s very best and most convincing. Organic, but freezingly cold; raw and relentless, but also refined and complex. Black as night, but with stars illuminating everything brightly.”
While Massive Cauldron of Chaos may seem like an unusual album title for the band, Frost suggests that it perfectly represents the position and direction of 1349 at this point.
“That title came to me as we rehearsed the newly composed song that was to become Cauldron, and was inspired by the energy and feeling of that song. It was as if it was spelled out for my inner eye. We later felt that the title perfectly reflected what 1349 is about as a band, at this point with this album.”
Despite the different in sound, the writing process for 1349 remains consistent. For music that provides such aural chaos, putting it together takes on a surprisingly structured form.
“Most, even if not all, of the songs starts their life as compositions of guitar themes from Archaon’s side. Based on this I create rhythmic structures, and we jam the material in the rehearsal place. Sometimes we end up reconstructing the original ideas to a larger or lesser degree at this point. When the fundamental song structures are in place, bass lines and vocal lines are made on that fundament. Sometimes a new round of restructuring happens. When we are ready to head out to the studio out in the woods of Toten, we just wait for a last round of inspiration to take us all the way to completing an album. Quite a bit of creative and inspired work usually takes place at that stage.”
With the new album released and the band heading out to tour it, plans for anything further may not be in the forefront of the bands mind. There is one driving goal that keeps the band moving forward however.
“I must quote Aleister Crowley at this point – “Exceed! Always exceed!”.