It's a great time for fans of Black Metal. Dozens of bands, new and old, are spattering off in dozens of new directions, revising and revitalizing the much-maligned stepchild child of metal. As an adjunct to my post on Lugubrum and Silvester Anfang a few weeks ago, here are a few more great bands leading the charge to new era:
Drowning the Light
Drowning the Light is a great one-man Australian project that mixes the traditional lo-tech Black Metal sound with a mush of guitar euphony that's absolutely Kevin Shields-y, almost shoegazer in nature. DtL are part of the "depressive" or "suicidal" movement in Black Metal, a subgenre that's brought mournful melodies and slower tempos to the forefront, rendered with a passionate intensity that's excited a lot of fans (myself included) in a manner reminiscent of the initial Norwegian explosion of the early-to-mid 1990s. (Many of the depressive bands are quite good, and there are a lot of them, each with their own unique take on the sound: Défaillance, Whisper, Leaden, Animus, Strid and Voluntaria are just a few of the great ones that I've heard recently.) Drowning the Light often favor slow, circular rhythms, and chord progressions that churn along in a spaced-out, almost 50s ballad sort of way. It's all in the ear of the beholder I suppose, but the cyclical repetitions of these songs, especially the longer tracks, are easy to get lost in. DtL turned a corner into this interesting musical territory with four monumental full-length releases in 2007. Of those, A World Long Dead, Of Celtic Blood & Satanic Pride and To the End of Time are my personal favorites, all sampled below.
Wolves in the Throne Room
Wolves in the Throne Room's newest disc, Two Hunters, was released in late 2007 on Southern Lord. In underground Metal terms, this means you've officially arrived. The label has both great distribution and a reputation for high quality. WitTR are from Olympia, Washington, and have a much richer musical palette than your typical BM band, one that cements them into a larger pantheon of classic rock and heavy metal music. This is not to say that they don't have more than enough hi-speed blast beat takeoffs to satisfy the fans, only that they weave in acoustic passages, keyboards, melodic female vocals and some slower tempos to great effect, the heavier side of their sound never losing its potency. Their epic, suite-like songs, many clocking in at 12 minutes or longer, recall Sigur Ros or Dead Can Dance about a third as often as they do Enslaved or early Ulver. Their band page at Encyclopedia Metallum describes their ideology as, "quite different from many Black Metal bands. In interviews Wolves in the Throne Room have shown respect for left wing politics, radical environmentalism and "eco feminism."" Ha! Now that's progressive. I've posted one track from 2006's Diadem of 12 Stars below. Also included is a track from their 2004 self-titled demo, a great piece, which nonetheless gives only a glimpse of the focus and diversity to come on their more recent albums.
Deathspell Omega have been around for a while and will not be a secret to anyone with an ear to the upturned cross and an eye on the baphomet. This French band started out in 1998, playing a robust, well-written (if derivative) post-Darkthrone style of hateful Black Metal (as in "tikkatikkatikkatikkatikkatikkatikkatikka—rrrrrarrrrrgghhhhh!"); records like 2002's Inquisitors of Satan give little indication of the intensity and complexity of vision that would come only 2 years later. Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, from 2004, was DsO's first masterpiece, fusing old-school Black Metal to sputtery, arrogant time signatures, flowing progressive arrangements and dissonant guitar chime—brutal, dense and beautiful all at once. The releases that followed, 2005's Kénôse, contributions to two compilations, and their latest, Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (2007; also distributed by Southern Lord), play out an enthralling evolution of the band's sound into evermore outré song forms and sophistication. The newer records (from Kénôse onward) feature cleaner recording and an even more skewed and idiosyncratic vision.
Many thanks to Brian Turner for steering me toward New York's Ash Pool, who made perhaps the best Black Metal album of 2007, World Turns on its Hinge. Ash Pool take a Jesus Lizard or Raw Power-era Stooges approach to BM, pounding out coarse riffage in unpredictable, inventive arrangements. Their songs may seem like traditional Black Metal at first, but will sneak up on you with a catchiness that hides within the band's more obvious merits of power and aggression. Ash Pool also often eschew the more traditional lyrical topics like Satanism, Paganism, misanthropy and general existential angst for darker realist fare like "Sexual Domination, Perversion, Dark Sexuality." How very New York, and refreshingly original—at least in Black Metal terms. Guiding force Dominick Fernow has a slew of other projects, including the Hospital Productions label and store, and is perhaps most well known for his live electronics project Prurient and the formidable Black Metal/Noise band Vegas Martyrs, both of whose recordings are worthy of attention.