A Curse for the Lifeless
In my trek through the bleak and harrowing terrain of Metal, I'm starting to get a lay of the land, how regions of it are divided up and what the customs are in each region. In the land of Death Metal, the speeds are harrowing fast, the musicianship is top notch and the image is tertiary to the above two. Amongst the thickets of Math/Progressive Metal, the musicianship is even more intricate, but speed is sacrificed for nuance and excess. But at the edge of this realm is a hole belching up petulant gases, indicating the entryway to Black Metal, the moist curious of the infernal arts. Here the virtuosity, the intricacy, the corporeal trappings of the music only serve to support the ambiance of evil. Vocals are often mucked into a hellish grumble, the guitar work lost in a morass of distortion, but the mood is a carefully orchestrated buffet of despair. Here is where the clang of Metal happens for me. The ornate demon costumes and weapons, the theatricality. Instead of being inundated with musical data, you are dragged screaming into the bowels of the underworld. And much as I don't want to admit it out loud where the demons can hear me, I kinda like it. This stuff is not actually as foreign to the novice Satan worshipper as one might imagine and a recent split CD from that alchemists cave that is Southern Lord provides a fine example of two practitioners of this dark power.
The website declares the first half by Denmark's Nortt "unleashes pure Depressive Black Funeral Doom Metal in the miserable veins of Thergothon and Disembowelment" Since there is a decided gap on my CD shelf in the D's where Disembowelment should reside with smoldering menace, I'll try to break it down in terms that the yet-to-be-damned can comprehend. Throughout his 17 minutes, from "Hedengagen (intro)" to "Dystent Sind (Outro)" Nortt possesses us with a slow plodding piano melody, distorted as fuck guitar sheets, a beatbox with the tempo set to zero (or perhaps a drummer trying to play submerged in quicksand) and one of the more infernal growls I've heard committed to tape. The thing that caught me off guard by all this is how, how do I say this, "pretty" it is once all the elements are combined. Not butterfly pretty, maybe more like panorama-of-crashing-glaciers-pretty. Brian Eno declared his ambient music to be Heavy Metal for adults, in that it washes over you in a package, and I think he was onto something, about metal anyways. Nortt's tidal wave of menace is rather soothing once you get used to the smell of sulphur.
Xasthur, the project name for the equally cryptic Malefic, offers up three epic graveshovels of chiming Gothic guitar menace. "A Curse for the Lifeless" kicks in with a slow moving funeral march to the netherworld broached by, though I am a bit fearful to mention it, The Cure in their heavier moments. Like Pornography and Disintegration, the gloomy ones OK? Robert Smith has come out as a metal head on a number of occassions, hasn't he? Nevermind, forget I said anything. I am expecting minions of darkness are readying to ambush me for such heresy, but there it is. "Blood From the Roots of the Forest" picks up the pace as we race from the ever plodding reaper to our infernal destiny. Xasthur's take on the black art is a highly melodic, and surprisingly accessible one without weakening the emotive impact of the music. "Lurking in Silence" provides a final cinematic sweep in this baleful triptych, pushing right off the pier into the black-purple Stygian swell..
I find myself searching for synonyms a lot when reviewing this stuff, but not because of any lack of complexity on the part of the artists. Its that there is a clarity of vision in this music. Its a cathartic ride that doesn't try to bake some sunshine into the human pie of suffering. Instead, it bids you to compete in a pie eating contest, hands bound, wallowing in its juices until you are full.
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