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MY JOURNEY INTO SUBURBAN DAMNATION: LIVE BLACK METAL

by Alex V. Cook
originally published: August, 2005

I asked, what makes something Black Metal instead of Death Metal, and he laughed, looking over at his band's singer, Christraper, saying, "Give him a scream."


I asked, what makes something Black Metal instead of Death Metal, and he laughed, looking over at his band's singer, Christraper, saying, "Give him a scream."

MY JOURNEY INTO SUBURBAN DAMNATION: LIVE BLACK METAL

story by Alex V. Cook
originally published: August, 2005

Kult ov Azazel
The World, The Flesh and the Devil
(Crash)
Live 8/22/2005 - The Darkroom, Baton Rouge with Cathlicon + Teneberous + Horn of Valere + Teratism + Bloodstorm

It came about as what I can only discern to be infernal intervention. The Kult ov Azazel CD was smoldering like the damned tome it is on my "to be reviewed" shelf belching smoke and pestilence all over the nice sweet inide pop cd's next to it, and then I get on the tv-typewriter a notice that they are bringing their dark tent revival to the local all-ages shithole. If you have had enough temerity to wade through my exploration of metal over the past months, you will have noticed I have been nursing an unhealthy but oddly rewarding obsession with Black Metal. I've been trying to pin down what exactly about this stuff is striking such a resonance with me. I'm really more of a folky, stripped down music kinda guy at heart, and Black Metal is anything but. It's heavily processed, highly theatrical, often fast as fuck and sometimes nigh unlistenable, being the musical equivalent of novelty hot sauce, where you try it not for the flavor but for the challenge. And, while I opt for flavor over flair when it comes to food, I am still indefatigably compelled to sample some beastly habanero concoction when I see a pretzel stick poking out of the little paper cup, so I went into the heart of darkness to meet Black Metal, mano a diablo.

How to describe the scene....OK imagine an old, gutted Pizza Hut. Then stop there. There were six bands of three to four members each and I'd say roughly 30 audience members, 5 of which were female, sharing bottles of water and bummed cigarettes in the parking lot, being mostly amiable and happy to be there. At $10 a head, and given the lack of reaching for wallets at the two merchandise tables, I'd say these guys are not in it for the money or the chicks. I tried to find a viable outfit in my decidedly square wardrobe, but a black Drive-By Truckers shirt did not mask my outsider status. Still I have to say, the crowd's congenial nature mirrors that I've had with the cottage industry types from the dark realm.

How to watch a black metal band:
1) stand resolute with ones arms crossed.
2) at times designated by some signal I was not privy to, raise your arm in a goat horn salute
3) clap briefly at the end of songs
4) depart immediately once the band comes to a finish, so the next one can set up. This seems key to keeping the wheels greased at an event like this, since there is makeup to be applied, OTT BC Rich guitars to be tuned up, and though everyone used a communal double kick drum kit, each drummer was to provide their own bass drum pedal and cymbals.

Let us now speak kindly of our intrepid opening acts. I missed local heroes Cathlicon, but maybe all for the best, since Nemesis from  of Newport, RI 's Horn of Valere declared them to be grindcore instead of the glorious Black Metal that was the main course. In fact, despite eschewing the corpse paint and costumes, Horn of Valere turned out to be one of the better acts musically on the bill, their "Black Moon"- something being an epic piece of mayhem. It was Teratism, though that won the costume contest. Full black robes, zombie face paint and gigantic spiked arm bands, the two guitarists, Desekrator and Murder, flanked Wrath (its key to have a demon name in Black Metal) on vocals who really seemed to smell the sulphur the most of the evening. His face was contorted into a vortex, eyes carefully hid behind his cowl, while one of the guitarists would consistently step off the short stage to inflict his riff and demon scowls on the willing victims in the front row. Good stuff.

During one of the many breaks, I took some time to chat with Nemesis while deciding which Xasthur CD I was going to purchase. I asked, what makes something Black Metal instead of Death Metal, and he laughed, looking over at his band's singer, Christraper, saying, "Give him a scream." Christ gave a sample of the retch-tiger growl that was the de riguer for the evening and said "Now go listen to Cannibal Corpse and you'll see the difference." Nemisis kindly took in my blank stare and elucidated, saying that its all in the scream. The Death Metal scream is a low, mooing growl, while the Black Metal scream is more nasal, more cutting. Christraper added that Black Metal is also more theatrical and less about getting drunk and rocking out and more about the music. And, more fun to watch.

The experience came to a head at a quarter till 11 (all-ages venue, and it is a school night, after all), when Ft. Lauderdale's finest Kult ov Azazel took the helm. With two guitarists, bass, a Tolkein-esque Ent-man on drums and two members doing vocals in slightly different screams, they provided the most turbulent and massive tsunami of menace for the evening. I think one of the things that resonates with me is the undercurrent of simple melody that runs like a vein through the overblown theatrics and distortion. Unlike the more technically intricate metallics I've sampled, Kult ov Azazel and its horde make me sway a little. Even once the humanity has been boiled off, leaving an angry yelping carcass, there is still a nascent sense of groove to it.

On their latest record The World, The Flesh and the Devil you get a sense of the live performance from a different angle. Their instrument of torture becomes a little thinner but sharper, trading their live war hammer for a two handed sword. The dueling growls of Xaphan and Xul belch forth their collective disgust for weakness, and religion and humanity and everything else with unrelenting fury. What Black Metal drummers have to sign over to the Prince of Lies to be able to keep up that kind of pace, even during the short sets I observed last night, I can only venture to guess. Honestly, among most stuff in this genre, the songs run together for me, but after observing the stoic resistance against their baleful gale, Black Metal is a connoisseur's game, and I can't tell a bad Merlot from a good Pinot Noir.

What I can say is that this album is a wrecking ball demolishing your walls around you, a white-hot iron scorching out the kinks in your head, the mad dog keeping people from your yard. Its a strangely beautiful thing. How you want to ingest the satanic overtones is your business: you can savor it on your tongue or scrape it off before taking this meaty deal unadorned, but its smoky, bitter, rich flavor will stay with you, and I don't just mean the ringing in your ears.

Alex V. Cook

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

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