Dark Metal

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Sinners Revolt

Sinners Revolt
Rupert Neethling

They hated us for fighting back. Unforgivable, that. Gays, albinos and shunned wives should be easy prey. Lying down quietly and taking it was the least we could do, for our sin of existing.

It was summer, scant water, sand everywhere. Laughter and slaughter. The world. They did not want us in it.

One by one, from every corner, we who’d heard about it found refuge in a cave, halfway up a hill surrounded by hills.

There was fresh water at the back of the cave and we piled brush in front, always careful to wipe our footprints, coming and going.  That was as far as our plans went, until we found Khuma.

Khuma had collapsed beside a dried-out acacia at the foot of our hill, legs streaked with blood and piss, her pelvis caked in red mud.  Dragging her up the hill she seemed typical, just another reject, dribbling from the front and rear after getting herself gang-raped by soldiers, shot in the loins, then driven from her village by husband and kin for the crime of being violated. But her eyes, if you really looked: No horror there, no shame, no timidity. They were deep brown with slivers of amber.  When you looked into Khuma’s eyes, a lion stared back at you.

We never discussed it.  We were four used-up old women accused of witchcraft, two shy boys who liked each other’s bodies too much, and an albino, starving in a cave. By the time she could walk a few steps, Khuma had become our teacher.

She taught us how to read using an old newspaper. And how to set traps for spiny mice. She made our worlds bigger and she showed us how to survive without the laughing slaughterers.

We would still have been in that cave, staying out of sight, but for two things. First, there were the soldiers who every day came closer to finding our hiding place. And then there were the guns and bullets we’d found buried next to the spring at the back of the cave.

Before one of the soldiers shot her, Khuma had watched him load the magazine of his rifle, smack it in, and take off the safety. That she knew how to show us. That was enough.

Where did we find the courage to follow Khuma’s lead? Perhaps it was because she recognised the man who’d broken her, and we could not deny her. Or perhaps none of us much wanted to return to our respective hells that day. Either way, we had this one chance, and with her example, everything that followed seemed to happen without having to decide anything. We crouched behind outcroppings, waited gravely, and pulled our triggers as soon as Khuma did.

Half a dozen soldiers dead or dying in minutes, far below. Their blood black on green uniforms, bright clouds of flies appearing instantly.

I did not move afterwards; just stared at the bodies. I don’t think I would have picked up that gun, much less use it, if there had been more time to think. Killing someone, even a man who was coming to hurt you – there is no turning back. But they were gone and we were still there. Our ears were ringing, and I felt giddy, as if I had heatstroke. We never found out whether they had been looking for us or someone else.

The next day, though, there was no doubt that we were the ones being hunted.  One of them had gotten away. We did not know that, and were unprepared for the swarm of soldiers and villagers who came for us just after sunrise.

I was away, digging among the rocks for anything that scurried or crawled. But I was close enough to hear and see my friends dying. Not before all the women were raped again, of course. This time, though, no limb remained attached, no face was recognizable. I only knew who was who because I watched as they were butchered.

My girl, you may think we achieved nothing by killing those soldiers. But that was the day when we fought for our lives. You stand up for yourself, or you learn how.

Now finish sharpening your knife. You stand first guard.

Emperors of Pain

German destroyers of repose Imperium Dekadenz are a perfect example of a black metal outfit that follows the rules while blazing a new trail. They do the sawing lawnmower sound and the tear-your-throat out screams so well that you just sink into the dismal comfort of it all, relishing the familiar sound of infinite torture while you relax in the recognition of their sure-handedness in composition and execution. No dull edges, no repetitiveness, just excellence. And yet, it’s not just standard fare. These guys have vision, a sense of purpose that goes beyond the mere striving to sound kvlt. Maybe it’s musicality, the epicness, the never-overblown *colour* of their work that adds a new dimension to the sinewy bleakness of their black metal.

Whatever it is, Imperium Dekadenz are not just a competent black-metal band. They are artists who always take care to honour black metal, but not to restrain themselves by what has gone before.

Meadows of Nostalgia is a masterpiece. If they never make another album, that’ll almost be better than being disappointed by it. But if whatever they make next doesn’t disappoint … oh, wow.

Romanian Metal Masterpiece

10 years before, these guys made an album called Maiastru Sfetnic.  Then, in 2010, they remade it and called it Maiestritt.  This may be the greatest album that Romanian black metallers Negura Bunget have ever made.  Layered, searingly beautiful, majestic. Not a note wasted; just brilliant.

Negur? Bunget - M?iestrit

The almost classical compositions, the heartfelt roaring (I almost don’t want to call it screaming because it never seems pathetic, if you know what I mean), the creative instrumentation and refined power of this album make me return to it time and again. Maiestritt is masterful. 

Black Perfection

I’ve heard Deathspell Omega before, and wasn’t as impressed as perhaps I should have been.  But Paracletus is a different story.  This is a furious work of art.  A perfect combination of teeth-grinding apocalypse and sad musicality. This is what makes black metal so different, to my ears, to other metal subgenres.  There is honest creativity here.  Not technical virtuosity, not pompousness, not “I can thrash faster than you”, but creativity.  I like where they take me.

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Riding To War Under A Black Silk Pennant

You know, if you listen to Darkestrah there is little evidence that their lead singer is female.  Admittedly, this is easier with black metal than with death metal, as the growling in the black variety is higher-pitched anyway: like the growl of a small panther rather than the roar of the Lion King.  But there it is. She calls herself Kriegtalith, and in full black-metal regalia she’s almost indistinguishable from her male counterparts:

darkestrah

But I digress.  Darkestrah hail from Kyrgyzstan, and they’ve been around for over a decade. I haven’t heard all their music, but there is a trend towards greater quality through the years.  Their latest album, The Great Silk Road, is quite possibly their best.  I love their pagan black sound.  It is rich and evocative without being cliched, and, like all black metal, it is also comfortingly forlorn. (You can worry about the contradiction if you want; I just enjoy it.)

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Urfaust want you to repent in leisure

Imagine travelling in a jet-black, filigreed gondola down the River Styx. Everything is dark, except for the a faint oily sheen on the water and the ultraviolet inner-mouth glare of your gondolier, as he scream-sings to you with aching soulfulness of the fate awaiting you in Hades.

Urfaust are something new, in my opinion. There is such an extreme blending of heartfelt beauty and horror in their work that I find it impossible to stop listening to them.  The album in question is Der Freiwillige Bettler (as you probably know, one needs to be very specific about which album to rave about when it comes to metal bands), and no black-metal album in recent memory comes close to the density and detail of atmosphere that this 2010 album evokes.

Their metal has been described as pagan, black and doom – I think these adjectives all apply to Der Frewillige Bettler – that is, if you can describe echoey wailing as “pagan”.  (Don’t get me wrong, they do the echoey wailing superbly : – )

The singing sounds as if a squad of Prussian foot soldiers had been banished to Hell, and it is now 300 years later and they are still gnashing their teeth in agony and screaming penitently for all the raping and pillaging they had done while alive.  Sorry, I know it sounds like I’m having fun at their expense; but black metal is nothing if not melodramatic.  But as with all good art, everything is larger than life in black metal (or is that larger than death?), so you must expect this kind of … plumminess.  With worms in, of course.

Seriously, though, these guys are incredibly good.  They are not only aesthetically powerful (self-effacingly overwhelming, is another way to put it), but also sincere.  I dare you not to be carried away by their heart-searing music.

Too Much Metal For One Land

Years ago you would have put a "heavy" in front of it, but today it’s more accurate simply to call this breed of music "metal". After all, it has forked into so many subgenres since the halcyon days of Black Sabbath – those crusty pioneers may have been the original heavy metallers, but today you also get metal of the Viking, oriental, symphonic, folk, black, progressive, groove, death, technical death, power, drone, glam, rap, thrash, sludge, stoner, doom, trance (I kid you not), industrial, avant-garde and post-varieties. Not to mention nu metal, metalcore, deathcore, grindcore and mathcore. Don’t be surprised if a few more subgenres have sprouted up by the time you finish reading this article. Metal is booming, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Storming the World

But this isn’t an article about metal’s mutant-octopus family tree. What really interests me about this unabashedly loud music form is the fact that it’s being created and consumed in ever more countries – and wherever it is found, it takes on the colour of its surroundings, acquiring the unique cultural qualities of its host country while still retaining its proudly anti-authoritarian stance. So not only is metal one of the most prolific genres in the history of music, it is probably also the most adaptable. Of course, you may not be surprised to learn that most of the metal produced in the past 40 years is absolute fertilizer. Thanks to the insane volume of metal being produced, though, there is a lot that’s worth hearing. Some of it is even wonderful. The table below offers a taste of present-day metal confections that are both geographically diverse and genuinely worth listening to.

NAME

GENRE

COUNTRY

GRIMACE FACTOR

Alcest

Post-metal

France

12% – very pretty, with a few harsh bits; metal for sad romantics

Behemoth

Blackened Death Metal

Poland

89% – monstrous, merciless, nasty – delightful, in short

Darkestrah

Epic Black Metal

Kyrgyzstan

30% – pretty with a steel backbone, very more-ish

Eluveitie

Celtic Metal

Switzerland

25% – catchy, bouncy folk-type metal with some growling

Grand Magus

Retro Heavy Metal

Sweden

20% – clean, hard, retro metal; time to mosh!

Ihsahn

Post-Metal

Norway

70% – abstract but still fun; much high-pitched growling

KOBUS!

Extreme Metal

South Africa

65% – lekker & bitter. Do not play this during huisbesoek

Mar de Grises

Doom Metal

Chile

45% – psychedelic, slow, fascinating; some growling

Melechesh

Black Metal

Israel

78% – exotic, melodic and violent "Mesopotamian" metal

Moonsorrow

Pagan Metal

Finland

60% – epic, powerful, catchy and addictive; love it

Myrath

Progressive Metal

Tunisia

35% – lovely, mostly in Arabic, tough but melodic

Negura Bunget

Black/Folk Metal

Romania

65% – harsh, but also atmospheric and alluring

The Dillinger Escape Plan

Mathcore

USA

98% – very discordant, lots of screaming, yet fantastic

Metal is even starting to take off in countries such as Brazil and China. Africa is not left in the dark either; there are some surprisingly good metal bands in Botswana, including Crackdust, Wrust and Skinflint. Metal’s growing popularity is however not always welcome; concerts in Iran and Malaysia have been subject to government crackdowns. For a fascinating pair of documentaries on the social dimensions of metal around the world, take a look at Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal, presented by Canadian anthropologist Sam Dunn.

A Visceral Reaction to Greatness

How do you know when a metal track is great? Your body tells you: You want to jump, shout and head-butt the air. More importantly, your hand can’t help but do this:

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Older than metal itself, this sign was popularised among metalheads by Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath’s second vocalist after Ozzy Osbourne. His Italian mother had taught it to him as a traditional sign to ward off evil. In American deaf sign language, it means "I love you".

Too Much Metal for One Hand

And how do you know when a metal track is truly awesome? Well, that’s when there’s simply too much metal for one hand:

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From Black Metal, a 2-part graphic novel by Rick Spears and Chuck BB

On the surface, the metal produced in each country often has stylistic differences – this enriches the genre. But dig deeper and you’ll find that metal everywhere has one thing in common: a spirit of discontent, of rebellion. Perhaps the biggest reason why metal is so popular worldwide is because it gives voice to discontent, and energy to rebellion.

Good or bad, metal is a force of nature.

The one thing that causes rape, guaranteed

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This Just In … Communication Received from the Animal Kingdom

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