Black, Raw, & Bleeding: Enlightened In The Gleam Of The Scythe, Its Blade Reflecting Funeral Pyres Of The Black Metal Underground

A new moon has passed once again, and yet again I find myself on a bit of a fools errand, seeking to read truth in something as erroneous as the black arts. Contradiction is its fortitude, antiquity its evolution.

Nevermind that. Consider the following meditiation: Do people from Yorkshire listen to A Forest Of Stars and say “what accent?” Does anyone from Yorkshire read this? More importantly, can anyone from Yorkshire surf?

The winds of mayhem exhale once again, dear Trav’lr, and by Nature, Nurture, or Napalm they carry with them a change of the tides. Welcome, once again, to Black, Raw, & Bleeding.

“You either surf, or you can fight.” – L.T. Bill Killgore

Bad Manor – The Haunting
…& A Glimpse At Ordo Vampyr Orientis

Much in the way Venom essentially titled black metal before it broke off into an identifiable genre, the idea of the “black metal circle” was branded in Norway around the Helvete record shop (and, to a lesser extent, the True Satanist Horde from Sweden). Both were crude concepts of the idea–all loose social collectives of artists with different directions and ideologies.

While history is tough to put a permanent pin in, it’s perhaps France’s Les Légions Noire that best refined the idea of the dark collective: A handful of musicians hovering like electrons around the nucleus of an idea and focusing their energies inward, as though they were culled–drawn by an unseen force.

The U.S. circle known as Ordo Vampyr Orientis are far from the first to follow the inward blueprint of LLN, but they seem to understand how to utilize the idea of a collective to their advantage. Beastial Majesty took the lingering elements of death metal that wormed their way into A Blaze In The Northern Sky and ground them down to the point of early Swedeath brutishness; essentially, its the strike of a blunt club delivered behind a black curtain.

While retaining similar values in terms of earnest, biting production, on then surface Bat Magic are drinking deep from the veins of Vlad Tepes. Bite a bit deeper into their Feast Of Blood debut and one may taste their distinctly American flavo(u)r on the tip of their tongue: This occurs particularly in the vocal approach (a bit more “shouty,” for lack of a better term) and in certain riffery choices, bleeding with spite and gross disdain. The climax of the first third of the 21-minute track (starting around the 7:50 mark) resonates with playful yet sinister mockery that coagulates like spiteful spit to blood. The epic comes to a head with a solo delivered with the climactic excess of Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” turned on its head, trading the warm tones to chilling melancholic hues of Knopfler and Gilmore–a fitting conclusion as the beast, full of its drink, soars away victoriously into the night sky.

Release Date: October 31st, 2022
Label: Ordo Vampyr Orientis, Avantgarde Music

Yet two points does not a circle make. And to be fair, neither doth three, but three certainly doth make it a lot easier to sketch the idea of the nucleus with the revelation of an additional electron in play. Keeping with what is now an apparent tradition of “B.M.” monikers, Bad Manor emerged as the third project of Ordo Vampyr Orientis–surreptitiously leaked like a whisper of a rumour. The key of Haunted Manor slides effortlessly into the lock of OVO, revealing a more into its cabinet of curiosities as the tumbler turns a little bit further.

For those who have been putting the pieces together, OVO are constructing a foundation to build an almost Hammer Film Productions catalogue of horror tales. It’s an analogy that strikes home in the first words of the projects first installment, The Haunting. Beyond the agonized wail across the creaking floorboards of the organ and the violent swinging of the window shutters in the drumbeat, the mischievous, darting spirit of the single-coil guitar cackles back and forth. It sounds like exactly the sort of thing that quickly finds the line between childlike curiosity and cruely.

The thick accent cuts through the wails, shrieks, groans, and mad rantings that construct the vocal component. To my Hollywood-poisoned ears, the northern U.K. accent plays the character perfectly. It paints a character with a finely waxed and groomed mustache that speaks to his confidence in a late-19th century idea of science. His tailored suit and top hat allude to an aristocratic curiosity for the occult and Spiritualist movements of the time. He almost certainly owns a great many vials containing curious substances which he uses in his work (and overconfidence) as a professional medium–work which led him to (here’s the part where they say the name of the movie in the movie) one Bad Manor.

While the LLN comparison to the group’s approach is arguably still applicable, there’s a bit more of a Grausamkeit bent to the music this time around. There’s a greater emphasis on mid-tempo sections punctuated with heroin-chic guitar tone that swirls with ecotoplasm that perfectly sets the stage for the horrors the confident medium is thrust into. Despite being so digestible, there isn’t a moment that isn’t somehow discomforting and cruel. The album is loaded with hooks, but every one of them is rusted, jagged, and wholly unpleasant as they express the distinguished medium grapples with true madness–or is it something from beyond that lurks within the walls of the house itself?

For fans of: Grausamkeit, LLN, A Forest Of Stars, Baazlvaat, Victorian horror, spiritualism

Vosbúð – Heklugjá

Release Date: January 6th, 2023
Label: Self-released

Iceland’s Vosbúð channel the power of the volcanos of their homeland into vast, black metal epics. Four years after the band shaped the might of the Almannagjá gorge into a promising debut of the same name, the band deliver on that promise with Heklugjá.

Invoking the spirit of Hekla, one of Iceland’s most active fiery mountains, the sophomore album presents a more refined take on the style of the debut. Sweeping, lush atmospheric riffs build tension out of the brief peace of the intro on the seventeen minute opener. The ground rumbles with the fury of the kick drums-the eruption is building. Choral vocals, acoustic guitar, and delectable bass work fill out the sound, layering in and out in a masterful display of subtly progressive songwriting. The changes are fluid and organic–like massive teutonic plates shifting and colliding in their building to the Main Event. When “Myndhöggvari lífsins og dauðans” (“Sculptor Of Life And Death”) does erupt, it does so with power and majesty. Explosions fire away in the background, trumpets sound, the guitar tremolos its heart out to some high-necked climaxes. It’s utterly breathtaking, and when that triumphant pagan riff comes rushing like lava down it’s all I can do to get my jaw off the floor before it gets swallowed by the flames–and this is just the first track!

Across the album, Vosbúð meet at a nexus of influence to bring Hekla’s power to life. Sure, there’s some pretty instant comparability to Drudkh, but there’s a distinctive Icelandic flair to Vosbúð’s melodic choices and their style doesn’t hinge on it. It’s as though the duo are plucking just the right ideas to translate their vision, making them their own and weaving them into this fiery tapestry that feels equal parts atmospheric, pagan, and progressive. The admittedly intimidating song lengths cover vast amounts of territory, the flow of the songwriting envelops everything thrown in front of it in the name of Hekla.

I’ve never seen a volcano erupt in person, but Vosbúð do an incredible job of translating the utter majesty of this deadly yet beautiful force of nature–it’s a powerful listen that gives a feeling of both awe and respect for the subject matter. The band used the four-year gorge between albums wisely, honing their already strong craft into an even more impressive experience. Fans of the band who were awaiting another release will be pleased, new listeners: run don’t walk to this band! And labels, please pick this up!

For fans of: Drudkh, Enslaved, Vanum, Cosmic Church, volcanos

The Gauntlet – Dark Steel And Fire

Release Date: January 13th, 2023
Label: Eternal Death (vinyl), Nihil Verum Nisi Mors (digital)

Sure, the New Jersey band’s cover art doesn’t exactly scream “Bathory worship” before the play button is pressed, but The Gauntlet’s second effort doubles down on the Blood Fire Death-era odes to Quorthon on Dark Steel And Fire.

“Okay, terrific, a worship act. Why wouldn’t I just listen to Blood Fire Death?” you’re surely asking yourself. To which I say one never needs an excuse to listen to Blood Fire Death, so go do that and then put this on after when you want more. Seriously though, there is a difference, to me, anyway, between aping and rebranding a style and crafting a love letter to as beloved a musician as Quorthon. The Gauntlet stands out by 1) not focusing solely on Bathory (seriously, I’m up to my neck in xeroxed yellow goat clones these days, there’s a lot more to Bathory than just that!), 2) having the riffs and devotion to pull it off, and 3) an immaculate attention to detail.

Every riff feels like it could have been penned by Quorthon’s hand, and it’s clear Ace Forsberg and Ace Meggido share a mutual love for not only motorcycles, but Manowar. Occasionally, Meggido plays with the boundaries of the sandbox he’s made for himself, dipping occasionally into an older style Bathory riff (see “Winds Without Mercy”), and it’s neat to hear it in the immaculate Blood Fire Death-esque production. The grit and fuzz are warmed by the fires of the classic record, and again that attention to detail marks a merit in The Gauntlet’s favor. The final two tracks reach further into Bathory’s discography, edging closer to the fully realized epic metal style of Hammerheart, and they’re both delivered with the familiar unbridled conviction of the project’s muse.

After a listen, the cover art becomes a little less shocking–it was never Quorthon’s intention to “lick the balls of Odin or suck the cock of Satan” (his words), he just wrote music around themes he was interested in. Sure, it doesn’t fit the presumed aesthetic of those classic Bathory records, but it still fits the spirit of the music! I left Dark Steel And Fire feeling like I witnessed the two Aces sharing a common passion for metal, motorbikes, Manowar, and medieval armor in a mutual space between the living and the dead–the art of an inspirational love letter and more than worthy offering to the G.O.A.T. goat in the slipstreams of the god himself.

For fans of: Bathory, Manowar, motorcycles, freedom

Arnaut Pavle – Transylvanian Glare

Release Date: January 20th, 2023
Label: Mystískaos / Amor Fati Productions

Finland’s Arnaut Pavle have been working at the pace of the undead–after all, why rush to record when one has been granted the dark gift and its blessings? The band’s eponymous 2013 demo was a ripper of arrogant, snotty, blackened punk and thrash. The trebly, almost surf-rock tones seared across crusty, primitive d-beats. Touches of doom and an atmosphere of Elder Evil breathed life into the rickety skeleton, while a boiling ferocity pumped blood into its veins.

Despite this promising injection, the beast lay dormant for six years. Their eponymous 2019 album cemented the whispers of vampirism into superstition with a blast of necrotic evil that drank heavily from the veins of Darkthrone, sinking its fangs particularly deep around the Hate Them Sardonic Wrath era. Still coated in grave soil production, the band mixed sanguine tastes of roots black metal, a peppering of death rock, and the fierce adrenaline of crust-laden punk into a most satisfying cocktail.

Four years later and with just as little fanfare, we’re greeted with Arnaut Pavle’s (disappointingly, for some of us) non-eponymously titled sophomore album, Transylvanian Glare. Luckily, few of those (some of us) will find much disappointment beyond the title, which is (admittedly) appropriate for the band and their direction. One way of examining Glare shows the band regressing down the Darkthrone timeline–while that punk and primitive thrash backbone remains a core tenant of the band, its blood flows more in the veins of A Blaze In The Northern Sky Under A Funeral Moon than its predecessor. The once feral beast now possesses the deadly sense of grace and patience of a more experienced predator, commanding a greater set of songwriting tricks. Vibrant leads buried beneath the grave dirt that covers the production color the album with richer textures than the drier bones of Arnaut Pavle, and play a vital role in the album’s twist of a conclusion, “On A Shrine Of Rats.”

This isn’t to say Arnaut Pavle have matured away from the roots, quite the contrary. The urgent, primal bloodthirst remains unquenchable; that bestial energy that really sold their first efforts has, if anything, only grown more insatiable. The riffs are mean as all fuck, with the very Aura Noir-sounding “Baptized In Jesus’ Piss” reminding me just why I fell for this band in the first place. The album’s title track proves to be a mid-pace banger–not only can Pavle write ’em fast, but they know how to pen a weight-curling pounder as well. Having that space to breath highlights just how richly the succulent static radiates from the guitar or how the drums sound warm and organic as blood, the toms splattering across the pulsing beat.

Despite the Darkthrone comparisons and wampyric allegory, I was hesitant to use either as there’s a serious over-saturation of both these days. Pavle are far from a worship act, but they do have a knack for putting a lot of the same pieces together in their own way and then coat them in a slather of juicy leads. And as for the wampyric themes, well… let’s just say Pavle are more interested in stalking prey than brooding in a tower somewhere. Hail the vampyrs ov olde, and may all others be cursed to feed on the blood of rodents!

For fans of: Darkthrone, Aura Noir, Craft, wampyres

Tarvos – Beholden To Saturn

Release Date: January 27th, 2023
Label: Self-released

Contradiction once again rears its head, its fangs dripping with the venom of hypocrisy. I know how this looks–beneath the above moaning of the abundance of Darkthrone clones lies yet another band that relies heavily on the Norwegian band’s metallic necromansy, British Columbia’s Tarvos.

While the band’s debut demo does owe a large debt to the Darkthrone style–littered with breakout riffs powered by a one-two beat, it’s really Tarvos’ approach to the tremolo/blasting sections that reveal the band’s hand. The way the band embrace minimalism, dwelling a just a little too uncomfortably long on certain notes that construct the tremolo riffs on “Taciturn Caverns” breeds a disconcerting tension that feels a little more on the Judas Iscariot side of things, sans charmingly sloppy production–for better or for worse.

The Judas Iscariot influence is all but confirmed by closer and album highlight, “Beholden.” The way the vocals patterns give room for the guitar to work its way with the crooked swagger of the undead across tritones breathes the same air to atmosphere as the likes of the Heaven In Flames era of their forebearers.

Other elements are not so obvious–there’s bits of Hellenic black metal that loosely tie back to the band’s name and album title–there’s perhaps Mediterranean influence on the same track in the form of the breakout riff. Also within “Beholden,” Tarvos hit a riff at the 1:58 mark that bleeds with the swagger of early Rotting Christ. However, despite how well it masks it, the production clearly gets a boost from modern recording techniques–it does seem the sort of release that would benefit from the spontaneity of a filterless, analogue recording environment. It could add so much, were the band merely attempting to craft something to replicate the ways of old, yet every time I listen I can’t help but think this band has greater aspirations than focusing on fiddling with recording equipment.

What equally delights and bothers me about Beholden To Saturn is how beholden (ahem) it is to a particular era–sans the benefit of modern production technique, this demo could have been released as an album around ’95-’01 and heralded as a cult gem. It begs the question–are Tarvos using this as a jumping off point in the way that bands that re-interpreted the core elements of black metal at the turn of the century or merely copying those who came before? Only time and output will tell. I don’t know if it’s hearing something in the passion and conviction behind this demo or if they’re just scratching an undying itch for me, but every time I listen I’m ready to put my money on the former.

Sure, it’s ground that’s been trodden before, but it’s executed with swift precision. Deconstruction is necessary to fuel rebirth, and with Beholden To Saturn, Tarvos lay a solid yet subtle foundation for self-discovery with a demo backed by riffs and chops, passion and conviction, fire and blood.

For fans of: Darkthrone, Judas Iscariot, bits of early Hellenic black metal, 1995-1999 underground black metal

Reflections In The Gleam Of The Scythe:
Thorns – Grymyrk Trøndertum

By the time Thorn’s eponymous debut album was released, the momentum from Norway’s black metal scene had combusted, bursting its energy like a plague across the globe. To put it in perspective: by the time Thorns was released in March of 2001, a contingent of artists in black metal were already kicking back against what the genre had become. Thorns was neither in the big-symphonic-selling-out-one-off-shows-at-the-oprah-house camp nor in the ultra-kvlt return-to-roots camp. If anything, the album fit a lot closer to the DNA of black/industrial artists like Mysticum and Blacklodge.

Rewind a decade back, and Thorns are releasing their first demo. Grymyrk was an oddity indeed. It’s lack of drums/heartbeat/pulse and vocals/empathy/humanity make it a standout in the dusty demo bins–and also a difficult sell. Just guitar and bass sounds boring on the surface, right? Sure, until Grymyrk is popped in the ol’ tape player at three in the morning.

Grymyrk is, at its core, the Art of the tremolo riff. It’s as though each note freezes into an icicle and is promptly shattered as Snørre’s hand drags just a hair as it sweeps across the fucked up tuning of strings. It’s as though weighted by shackles, adding an element of tormented weight to the playing. The demo works excessively with tritones in a way that sparks memories hearing the evil in “Black Sabbath” for the first time–ominous, like something is stirring in the record and just waiting to leap out of the speakers.

Perhaps it’s a bit of an oversimplification, but an argument could be made for the eerie chill of Grymyrk is the frostbitten ingredient in Norwegian black metal, regardless of if the band was seeking to embrace metal or hang onto it by only a thread. Couple Thorns with Sarcófago and early Sodom and you get Mayhem. Couple Thorns with Bolt Thrower drumming and you get Immortal. Add drums and synth and you get Burzum. There’s something distant and eerie that elicits goosebumps. The “missing” percussive element strips the music of its body–a haunted, lifeless spirit . A crude, incomplete demo that serves a vessel for an idea that so many bands would adapt (or attempt to, anyway) into their own style.

Jump ahead a year to 1992, and Thorns finally have the semblance of a full band–well, drums, blitheringly spiteful vocals, and a tasteful bit of fucked up church organ that sounds like it was struck thrice by thrice with the hammer of satan. And while the Trøndertun demo doesn’t quite have that “lifeless, drifting, sinister spirit” feel of Grimyrk, it does make for a pretty solid demo. The band play a lot more in the slower, doom-drenched sandbox that Czechian band Root had been exploring two years prior with their Zjevení debut. It’s the same sandbox that Rotting Christ would be joining the same year with the Ade’s Winds demo that marked their shift from grindcore to black metal–perhaps the first seed in the Hellenic sound.

Snørre’s Nordic chill from Grymyrk still worked its way in, sitting nicely atop the band’s base sound like a coat of frost. The half-note steps of the tremolo are chilling, complete with the slow-handed emphasis that makes them all the more grim and unsettling. In fact, those of keen ear may notice a familiar progression to opener “Ærie Descent,” particularly in the chorus. The vocal delivery strips all but a thread of coincidence. Right at the 1:22 mark, repeat the following in your head: “A spell was cast, and the sky turned red. The angel’s heart froze to ice.”

The second song drops some clues as to the direction Thorns would take on their debut album a decade later. The hypnotic bass slides, chiming above the nut of the guitar, the disjointed, disconnected way the song begins and ends–Snørre’s strength seems to lean into shaping the fringes of the instrument into features. By the time he finally sat down to record Thorns, having something like ProTools at his fingertips must have had him feeling like a kid in a candy shop–but that’s something to be explored in the light of a different moon.

Perhaps it’s the slower tempo of the demo and the obvious nods to Root, but Trødertun does have me reflecting on just how deep  impact the early works of Paradise Lost and Winter had on black metal. It’s not difficult to argue a secondary influence on the second wave of black metal beneath the Venom>Hellhammer/Celtic Frost>Sodom>Sarcófago>Mayhem line–after all, both death/doom bands paid close attention to the way Hellhammer and Celtic Frost slowed things down with reckless, foolhardy, and crushing efficiency. Thorns picked up on it quite early on, the Trøndertun demo feels like a forebear to Norwegian bands that featured less fewer in Kerrang! articles or got their shit together a bit too late. While probably not directly influenced, Fester, Forgotten Woods, and Hades all found something familiar within the same elements that make up the core of Thorns’ second demo, particularly in the same slower tempos, melancholic undertones, clashing melodies, and uncanny vocal deliveries that parallel Mayhem’s post-Deathcrush shift from brutal shock to skin-crawling nightmares.

While the circulation on the pair of Thorns demos is pretty vague, they were clearly tapping into and striving to make their own imprint on what they considered the darkest, most evil metal of the time. While there be nary a Norwegian black metal interview that focuses on the early days that fails to mention the impact of Snørre’s playing style on Norwegian black metal, few stress just what a lightning-a-bottle moment his early works were.

“What the hell do you know about surfing, you’re from goddamn New Jersey.”

Posted by Ryan Tysinger

I listen to music, then I write about it. On Twitter @d00mfr0gg (Outro: The Winds Of Mayhem)

  1. Cheers for reminding me how great that Arnaut Pavle demo was/is. I hadn’t listened to it in years, but I cranked it today; so frikkin good. I miss that crustier edge of their demo, but Transylvanian Glare still sounds nice and raw. Great stuff.

    Reply

    1. I like all three of their releases so far, but I do think I like the demo over S/T by a hair. New one felt like they’re mixing it up a bit, but to my tastes it was from one style I love to another and I think they do a bang up job in both. I’m glad they still keep a bit of the dbeat, though–whatever it is they’re bringing its gonna get nasty!

      Reply

  2. Tarvos really took me back in black metal time and I loved it. (Back in time theoretically that is, I admit–in the early 90s I was listening to to Nirvana (ugh) and Dinosaur Jr. not black metal.).

    Reply

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