(This Dark Reign)
I think one of the things that rings so true about Black Metal for me is that it has international currency - there is some strain of it spurting to the surface from nearly ever corner. Caustic voodoo metal from South America (Inferi from Argentina, Arum from Brazil being just the beginning of the encyclopedia of infernality emanating from out southern neighbors) Blazing torment from Israel (Lord Offal), huge names from the UK like Cradle of Filth and probably if there are more than six disaffected teens living in the wastes of Greenland, they are donning some bad face paint and calling themselves by demon names and blasting trigger drum mayhem to a moshing pit of penguins vainly trying to throw a goat sign with their flippers. The devil is everywhere and anyone can tap into it and make some cool shit happen. Thank you, Satan!
In the isolated geopolitical and climatic wastes of Belarus, a place that sounds saucy and exotic until you realize that a large portion is still rendered unlivable by Chernobyl and is a blighted son of the bad father of the former Soviet Union, a formidable mix of orchestral synth and jackhammer rhythm and big Yes-grade concept toils in the cauldron of Asguard. At first, it reminds me of the errant rock that would slip out of Russia in the 80's stuff that it was boron completely out of the smattering of tapes that snuck over wall and through the red tape. It was not rare to hear of a Russian band who'd say their biggest influences were Metallica, Depeche Mode and ABBA, and sound like it too, but Asguard manage to take this piecemeal concept of rock, mix it with the scope of classical overtures and make something noble out of it.
They have the bog standard black metal attributes of machine gun drums, and raging almost lilting power riffs snaking through it, and the demon roar vocals that set my black heart a flutter. What they add to the usual stew of bloodletting and befoulment is a three-part concept revolving around totalitarianism and world destruction, two things of which the average Belorussian might have more than a passing knowledge. Each act of Dreamslave starts with an orchestral invocation before the real mayhem kicks in (the best example is the warehouse rattle of There is No Time for Inaction" and the lightning fast "Master of Everything" opening the album. Asguard have a more developed sense of melody which might send the average BM fan grumbling off to their batcave, but I can dig the over-the-top grandeur. Particular example is "Masquerade" which combines some intricate acoustic or near acoustic fretwork, big fat psych swells and a string section swooning over the whole mix. The keyboards sound dated to be sure, but they are timeless in their effect. Once the vocal and triggered kickdrum jumps in, it sets the whole thing into a convulsive stutter. If you have your hipster on, its hard to justify the level of anachronisms present here, but should you let all that drop like the window dressing in the teenage metal head bedroom of the soul and band your head like you know you want to.
The other two acts are mighty affairs in their own rights. Act II's "Master of Everything" marches out the gate like a Mussorsgy theme in metal form and "Supremacy over the World" is a dazzling miasmas of spinning melodies making up one huge maelstrom of a song. Overall, these guys have a vague Russian Folk vibe, the way the melodies lurch and cycle (and I say vague because my ignorance of the nuances of eastern European folk forms may be showing) that creeps into the lighter airier bookend pieces that separate the acts, like "Time of Eternal Dream" does, with enough diaphanous texture to almost be a Danny Elfman movie theme, as well a s much heavier fare like "Crash of Hope" that follows with its church bells and chanting monks before the crunch comenceth. The most telling is the opening to the 4th act which has touches of Stravinsky mixed in with its cinematic splendour, ending in a descension of harps and violins.
This album is not for the orthodox listener. Its not the run of the mill grind and screech Black Metal nor is it pansy ass diva-new-age metal but heavily nuanced jackhammer thrash that reflects a long and short history of a neglected part of the world. Its violent, convulsive, and rather melodramatic, all things I like to see in my OTT metal listening. This stuff is even heroic in spectacle. If you are a headbanger who has more than a couple Deutches Grammaphone recordings on your shelf, then this might just be the missing link you have been looking for.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com