Of all the branches of heavy metal, black metal is the most susceptible to cultural malleability. Of course there are sounds and styles that largely originate from or develop identities around certain scenes (German thrash, Swedish death, US power). Black metal, however, channels a certain strength in necromancy when it comes to reviving the spirit of the past, long thought dead and buried. Since Bathory’s transition from evil, primitive black metal to the pagan glorification of Quorthon’s Viking ancestors, black metal bands have reached deep into their native soils for inspiration from Those Who Came Before. The past is alive, indeed.
The necrotic enchantment of black metal was particularly effective in the Eastern Hemisphere. As the second wave was just beginning to emerge in the early nineties, the Soviet Union was collapsing. Countries that had long been under the cultural umbrella of the Russia (in the case of Lithuania, nearly 200 years) were recognizing their sovereignty and rediscovering their individual identities as nations. As the raging brushfire swept clean the status quo, it exposed a fertile ground for cultural expression that had been, for many countries, repressed for generations. Simultaneously, the seeds of black metal were spreading across the globe thanks to the tape trading phenomenon, as well access to instruments and recording equipment in regions where such commodities were previously outside the realm of access. These seeds took strong root in countries such as Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Estonia, and Lithuania, and the black metal scenes in each country can be viewed as a perverted twist on their respective struggles to reclaim a national identity, albeit through the shaded lens of the metals black.
While the root approach of Poccolus can be traced back largely to the first three Burzum albums, the inspiration serves more as a key to unlocking the band’s own vision. The longer-form, unconventional songwriting, the choice of haunting keys, and especially the harrowing shrieks of the vocals all certainly call back to the Norwegian influence. Yet Poccolus don’t feel like a Burzum clone at all – moreso using the influence as said key to unlock their own potential, twisting and expanding upon the style to create a black spell of a more distinctly Baltic origin.
With no intros, frills, bells, or whistles, Poccolus drop straight into the album with “Vilkolakiai” and right into one of the most subtly catchy riffs on the record. Impacted by the bouncy one-two beat of the drums (which further add to the folkish pagan element), this riff completely sets the tone of the album – and then promptly drops into a more relaxed mid-tempo. At this point the vocals have already worked their way into the song, and will be a make-or-break moment for most listeners. On the surface, they appear as disjointed, off-time shrieking, yet as the song settles in they fall into place and make their own sort of twisted, bizarre logic in the music. Digging a little deeper, the vocal work is actually quite brilliantly layered and diverse, perhaps subtly calling back to the traditional acapella arrangements of Indo-European music. While the first verse is fairly straightforward, by the second verse a more subtle half-chant half-moan works its way beneath the surface. As the song progresses, these layers twist and change – in the extended bridge the moans evolve to spoken word, as the shrieking main vocals transmogrify into distant wolf howls that add to the increasingly eerie background that lurks in the shadows of the entire album.
“Pakol Dega Laužai” starts fairly strong in the Burzum influence, especially in the choice of keys and the riff. Hell, even the swing of the drums evokes memories of the debut. Yet again, Poccolus make it their own, introducing bits of acoustic and traditional Baltic instrumentation by the halfway point of the song. In fact, the acoustic interlude and subsequent build feel like a precursor to a staple of Drudkh’s style circa Autumn Aurora that would come nearly a decade later. The following track, “Ugnis Kyla Virš Ąžuolų,” hits that balance between rage and sorrow – the slower tempo weighs the song down with remorse. Conversely, there is a defiant, almost uplifting defiance about it, like a triumph burdened with great cost. The vocals rip with pain, the synths labored with the trudge of the riffing as the song pounds its way to it’s first climax. Beneath the crackling fuzz of the haphazard production there is some true magic going on; it’s impossible not to feel the pain in the music. Dropping into a traditional arrangement, the Lithuanian culture shines as a centerpiece for the song – a moment of respite before dropping back into the swirling conflict of black metal.
While probably not the original intent of Poccolus, there is an almost psychedelic undertone to their debut that cannot be ignored. The way the keys wash over the backbone of the repetitive riffs, or the manner in which the vocal chants dance with and around the shrieks of the main vocals – especially on tracks like “Begeyte Pecolle” and “Dvasklajys” – have a knack for transporting the subconscious to a different time and place. It’s like viewing a time long past through a distorted portal; being able to see the edges of a window into the ancient nether.
Those looking for a more straightforward black metal approach will find plenty to appreciate in “Tai Bus Mano Triumpfo Valanda” with it’s more simplistic and repetitive structure that never loses a bit of the atmosphere of the record. Furthermore, the song bleeds over into another stellar highlight of the record. Despite the tranquility provided by the kanklės at the beginning of the song (the traditional Lithuanian instrument is additionally present on “Pakol Dega Laužai” and “Ugnis Kyla Virš Ąžuolų”), “Kirsk, Medine, Kirsk,” is one of the more fiery builds Poccolus as it harnesses the power of the huntress Medeina into black metal fury, as though her spirit was summoned by the melodies of the traditional instrument.
It is important to note that up until the Norwegian explosion, the majority of heavy metal bands strove to appeal to an international audience by writing most of their lyrics in English. It was black metal that first truly embraced singing in the native tongue with the outbreak of the Norwegian scene. It was an extremely successful attempt to make the style even more their own; and this seemingly resonated as the evolution of black metal worked its way further east. In lands long under Russian influence, singing in their native tongue added additional empowerment to the emotional resonance of bands such as Poccolus. While from an outside perspective, this may translate as an interesting quirk, for the bands of the time it was a steadfast statement to the survival and authenticity behind the culture, which only further proves that no matter how vehement the oppression, the spirit of the culture itself has a way of surviving through the generations. While the music of Poccolus may have confused their ancestors over two centuries past had they the opportunity to hear it, there is certainly a thread that survived the decades upon decades of Russian influence on the country. Interpreted through black metal, the cultural influence of the music lives – after all, culture is rarely stagnant and more of an ever changing and evolving beast in its own right. It may seem over-reaching to assume black metal, or even heavy metal as a whole, has a significant impact outside of its own relatively small scene. Yet all art has a way of reflecting cultural shifts as well as preserving tradition. Poccolus stands quite magnificent in it’s own right – an underappreciated work of black metal that deserves more recognition in it’s necrotic abilities to call upon the past within the shadowed realm of black metal – creating something new brimming with inspired energy from a time thought lost and forgotten.