There are a lot of great myths out there, but no-one has a flair for cosmic metaphor like the Norse. When God King Odin traded one of his own eyes, effectively losing his perspective, to the Fates so he could have sight of the future, the first thing that came into view was his and his pantheon's and all humanity's demise at the hands of the Frost Giants, of the big Ragnarok battle where the shit would finally go down for good. Its a beautiful sad story. Perhaps that heritage is why the Scandinavians have such a proclivity at Black Metal, that their culture has one rope on their Viking Boat tethered to the apocalypse.
Its this unavoidable love affair we have with the dark side that forms the loamy underbelly of all our culture. Literature's morals and resolution are nothing without its conflicts, songs touch you in that way with that wicked finger, even its is coming out of the most well coiffed sleeve. I think we are culturally powered by going to the precipice and jerking back at the last possible second, and as we "advance" we find new ways to stay longer in the cold embrace of Apocalypse, with confidence that our infrastructure will yank us back in the nick of time.
Yggdrasil, the Norse Tree of Life , has a dragon circling its base, gnawing at the roots, knowing one day the damage caused will force the tree to topple. Its one of these charred loamy roots is steeped in Black Metal for me, a genre that takes pleasure in upturning the earth around it to expose the rot and the worms and the stench at the base of our stately tree. I'm still not sure if these dark horsemen of the apocalypse are serious about their hate and demonisms given the theatrical nature of it (Google up "10 most ridiculous black metal pics" to get a feel for it), but satire dips its pen in blood, so either way it works.
My favorite dude in rock right now, Stephen O'Malley, has assembled his Dream Team of Doom, a cadre of infernal loners who labor in their own dark labs cooking up the harshest and darkest bubbling brews, for this release on his unstoppable Southern Lord label. The lineup reads like an outtake from an x-Men Rouge's Roundup: Wrest, Azentrius, Malefic (of my current fave BM project Xasthur), Imperial and Gildorf) but comes off much like the winds must have sounded when Hades opened the Earth from below and stole young Persephone for his bride. This thick stuff opens with the mid-blast onslaught of "Woe is the Contagion" where murky guttural utterance competes in a haze of distortion and almost muffled double kick drum mayhem, moving into "Exact Agony, Take Life" which adopts a more rockist tone. What discerns this slate of mayhem from the rest is the distinct sense of melody on it. Not only does the architecture of the piece imply The End, but the somber melodies do as well in a elegant and pleasing way.
"As The March of Worms" proves to be one of the more dynamic pieces, as it shifts between sounding like a thousand metal dynamos running at once, to a dirge of bass, drums and baleful wailing, only for the guitars to ring the bells of the world's demise, while "Winter Before" a sparsely populated (in BM terms anyway) requiem for the damned, almost a power ballad except for the indecipherable demon bark pushing its way through the Stygian murk. There is no lyric sheet here, so I don't know what incantations are being spewed forth, but its malevolence is unmissable.
"White Fire Under Black Text" is a brilliantly punishing percussive workout, as is "Hopeless Etheride" but another plus to this album is that there is nuance to the onslaught, unlike some other Black metal things I've come across. I had a friend who used to remark that he wanted a job coming up with homilies for Hallmark cards, but if he has an evil twin, there might just be a future fro him in concocting titles like "Swollen Voices in Silence." Finally as I suspect will happen when the world does end, there will be a calm, a mix of detritus and lost radio static and pleading souls, much like the final track "Beyond Light (Beautiful and Malignant)" of this truly powerful and strangely majestic thing. Its the kind of endeavour Thor himself might have offered his hammer for, had he been invited. Essential listen if you have a thing for Doom, and you know you do, whether you own up to it or not.
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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