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Black Metal: The Most Infamous Music?
Transcript of Black Metal: The Most Infamous Music?
The stylistic forerunners to the movement
Excuse the Blood
Celtic Frost: The band in Leather
Venom and the first wave of Black Metal
Darkness in the North?
Not often in music history does a musical movement have a definitive beginning, black metal is one of these few examples. In 1982 Venom released an album by the title "Black Metal", this was the beginning of the first wave. When Venom were asked about their musical blend of ferocity, brutality, evil lyrical themes and intentionally lo-fi recordings they responded that they were black metal (Murder Music: A History of Black Metal, 2007).
Alongside Venom were a slew of other bands that shared a similar esoteric vibe. Bathory introduced us to high pitched raspy vocals; Celtic Frost bought in spikes and leather; Mercyful Fate showed prowess in the art of Satanic themes and
Sabbat showed the world a different perspective of life through the exploration of early pagan religions during pre-christian Europe.
As the 80s drew to a close the first wave of black metal started to die down in the UK and the Death Metal scene through America and Northern Europe had gained a strong following. Fenriz of Darkthrone commented that part of Black Metal's aesthetic was a reaction against American culture, including the death metal movement, claiming that death metal had no substance behind it (Until the Light Takes Us, 2009). This frustration with metal trends was focused intensely in Norway with what became the second wave of black metal, known more prominently as the Norwegian Black Metal movement.
This movement was spearheaded by the band Mayhem who went on to spawn a ridiculous amount of notoriety throughout their ongoing career. They focused the unfiltered aggression of their peers into many acts of defiance and violence amongst themselves and the public (Sephiroth, 2004).
Monday, February 17, 2014
Vol XCIII, No. 311
Roots in the Early Thrash Scene?
The Origins of Black Metal
Varg Vikernes reveals all about the new movement sweeping the world!
Interview with the Count
Norway saw it's most powerful force in this underground subculture in the form of a young man named Varg "Count Grishnack" Vikernes. Varg was to play a significant role in the movement by forming the one-man band "Burzum" which was signed to the Deathlike Silence productions record label founded by Euronymous. It was through his connection with the label that Varg met Gylve [Fenriz] of Darkthrone as well as all the members of Mayhem. Amongst themselves they spoke of spirituality, politics and their unifying hatred for western Christendom that had no respect for the culture of their forefathers. This resulted in a widespread series of church burnings where over 50 churches were left in ashes as a direct result of Black Metal band members (Murder Music: A History of Black Metal, 2007).
When the media reported on it they found themselves being linked to Satanism rather than being seen as anti-christian. Resulting in the highly publicized trial of Varg where he was convicted of Murder, 3 counts of Arson and the theft of 150kg of explosives. He was sentenced in 1994 and was released in 2009 on probation. For Varg, the media had corrupted his message to the point where it was unrecogniseable. His motive for the arson were to oust an occupying culture from the land. Since this "foreign culture" happened to be conservative Christianity, they saw it as an attack from Satan. These wide spread claims of Satanist church burnings bought about a slew of copy-cat attacks that were marked with satanic symbols and graffiti (Until the Light Takes Us, 2009).
Black Metal: The Most Infamous Music
The story of black metal is short but powerful. An entire generation was plunged into darkness with stories of murder, suicide, satanism and church burnings circulating the media. But is there more to this than meets the eye? Let's take a look at the beginnings of Black Metal.
Many people consider the origins of black metal to come from equal parts thrash and death metal. Both are important but for different reasons (Murder Music: A History of Black Metal, 2007). The thrash scene is where bands such as Venom (pictured left), Bathory, Slayer and Celtic Frost pioneered the different musical elements that would influence Black Metal (BM) (Until the Light Takes Us, 2009). Death metal would act as a catalyst in making a onslaught of younger teens wish for a less formulaic music.
Often attributed as the influence for corpse paint and leather
(Murder Music: A History of Black Metal, 2007)
THE APTLY TITLED MAYHEM
Mayhem were by far the driving force of the early BM scene. They drove forward all of the marks that have become cliche. Fronted by "Dead", the band were the first in the scene to use corpse paint and blood on stage. They were the first to intentionally reject modern technological advances and make lo-fi recordings for the atmosphere it produced. Euronymous pioneered how the guitar would be played in the genre. The band musically defined what black metal was. Riffs were tremoloed minor scales, progressions were exclusively minor chords, arpeggiated in an intentionally sloppy way to allow each not to ring over the next. Drummers would play with intense speed at slow tempos and vocals would by high pitched and raspy. These are all things that only came into the scene due to Mayhem inspiring those around them (Black Metal: A Documentary, 2007).
Mayhem manged to also find themselves in the media when singer "Dead" committed suicide. Euronymous decided that rather than get the bandmate cleaned up, he should take some photos of the situation. One photo became the album cover for the band's release "Dawn of the black hearts" [Pictured top right]. It was around this time that a feud broke out between Euronymous and Vikernes, resulting in Euronymous' death.
Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, Darkthrone
The Big Four Black Metal Bands
Mayhem are the head the Norweigan movement. The contributions from mayhem are as numerous as protools contribution to the record industry. Euronymous is credited with being the founder of Deathlike Silence productions, the record label that essentially started the movement. All four of these bands were signed to Deathlike Silence at one point or another. Euronymous also owned the record shop "Helvette" (Hell in norwegian) which functioned as the headquarters for the genre. Deathlike silence operated out of Helvette's basement and is currently being used as an Art gallery (Until the Light Takes Us, 2009).
Ihsahn is one of the few black metal musicians to stay in the spotlight as a musician rather than a criminal. While Samoth (guitars) and Faust (drums) decided to go out and burn churches as well as the latter murdering a homosexual, Ihsahn preferred to work on his creativity. Emperor's "In the Nightside Eclipse" was one of the first Black Metal albums to show any technicality on guitar. Emperor would eventually go on to be the first black metal band to include a guitar solo in their songs. Something that is still frowned upon in the community today (Murder Music: A History of Black Metal, 2007).
Emperor: The Kings of Black Metal Virtuosity
Does black metal really need musical complexity?
After 1994, with the high profile trial of Varg, some members of the BM community wanted to distance themselves from the headlines and be recognised for their music. One of these bands was Emperor.
In 1994 Emperor released their studio effort "in the nightside eclipse" which strayed from the conventional black and white album cover of its peers and introduced small amounts of synth to the mix in an effort to boost atmosphere. Production quality was still low but definitely a step up from previous albums.
The band were accused of trying to bring glamour to black metal by introducing virtuosity and musicianship as well as stepping up production quality. The band also decided to reject corpse paint with this album, another defining feature of the genre. Though they were criticized for these decisions, the band has gone on to inspire many other bands such as Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth (Murder Music: A History of Black Metal, 2007).
- Suicide note by Mayhem's Singer "Dead"
One of the Many lesser known bands to emerge from the early scene
Heat from some late arrivals.
Satyricon: A Bit of Competition
Watain: Carrying the Torch
Watain are one of the few newer bands to have a authentic BM sound.
Bathory: No Need to React
Bathory's music as a death metal Band inspired the young members of the big four Black Metal bands
(Murder Music: A History of Black Metal, 2007)
Thorns in the side
Thorns guitarist, Snore Ruch, had helped develop the black metal style riff with Euronymous. Without much further impact on the scene they recorded a studio album with Satyr Wongraven of Satyricon. They then went on to eventually do a split with Emperor.
Symphonic Metal and Other Black Metal Spin Offs
Following down the road of Emperor adding in Synths to Black Metal, we see the rise of a sub-sub genre, Symphonic Black Metal. Gylve has discredited the movement for loosing touch witht he elements that he believe are the essence of black metal: aggression, atmosphere, darkness. He says that in an effort to create more atmosphere they have lost their aggression (Until the Light Takes Us, 2009).
Many bands have pursued this musical path anyways with great success. Noteworthy entries being Dimmu Borgir (Norway-left) and Cradle of Filth (Eng-right).
Or lack there of.
Black Metal Tech
Black Metal Sound
Varg Vikernes has also contributed significantly to the Black Metal scene, both musically and culturally. It was Varg who [allegedly] incited the first church burnings. Much of the controversy around black metal stems from the murder of Euronymous at the hands of Varg. However, these things aside, Varg's greatest contribution is the D.I.Y. aspect of Black Metal. Verg's band Burzum consisted of himself on every instrument as well as vocals (Until the Light Takes Us, 2009).
The focus of attention here is Gylve who is by far the driving force behind the band. He plays the drums and writes most of the riffs. He works with "Nocturno Culto" on most of the albums and the band isconsidered a duo. Darkthrone's biggest contribution to the scene is the release of "A blaze in the northern sky" which is the first officially released album by any black metal band. Though others had made the sound, Darkthrone were the first to produce an album with it. This opened up the doors for many other lesser known Black metal Bands to acheive moderate success (Until the Light Takes Us, 2009).
(Black Metal: A Documentary, 2007)
Though Satyricon weren't there at the very start of the movement, they didn't take long to assert themselves as a dominant force. Their first two albums made waves and they gather supporters quickly. The two bandmates that formed Satyricon, Frost and Satyr managed to get extra work with Gorgoroth and Thorns respectively gaining themselves a reputation as individuals that also fostered success for the band. With the release of "Nemesis Divina" Satyricon solidfied themselves as leaders of the movement pushing aside pioneering bands such as Thorns and Burzum. As the band had a tendency to write more from a pagan perspective rather than an anti-christian perspective, they have often been accused of selling out though Satyr sums up his feelings quite well when confronted about it (Lawson, 2009).
“…it [black metal] is not necessarily about Satanism but it kinda [sic] goes without saying that it covers dark subjects and not politics. It’s much more spiritual than death metal…”
– Satyr Wongraven, Satyricon.
Part of the Black Metal sound is the production. When Mayhem released their first demos they were scratchy and lo-fi. This was due to not having high quality gear, at least to begin with. Members of the community re intrigued by the sound and decided to intentionally reproduce it. When Varg went to record for Burzum's first album he used nothing more than a radio headset mic for everything. The guitar was intentionally fed through the cheapest amp they could find with the oldest strings on the guitar (Until the Light Takes Us, 2009).
Recently, new wave black metal bands such as Watain and Immortal as well as recent Emperor and Satyricon albums have been achieving a "raw" sound via the use of extreme saturation rather than low quality recording. The mix is still dense but there is a lot more clarity in the music.
It is extremely common for a BM band to cut low frequencies from their mixes to achieve a harsher sound.
The musicality of black metal is derived strongly from a traditional thrash metal approach. A standard band mix of one or two guitars is coupled with a bass and drums. Vocals are often high pitched or spoken. It is not uncommon to have lyrics delivered in a speech like style rather than singing.
Guitars use extensive use of tremolo picking and dissonant chords, such as the chromatic movement of minor chords or tri-tone intervals. The typical black metal riff is usually associated with slow bends, and lazily tremoling chords while allowing the pick to hit extra strings to give off a more droning sound. Bass guitars usually pluck a root note or follow the guitar.
Black Metal drummers are amongst the most athletic in the world. It is not uncommon to hear extensive use of blast beats and extremely fast double bass technique as well as frequent fills, usually to mark the end of phrasing since it can be hard to count bars of continuous beats.
Black Metal: A Documentary. 2007. [Film] Directed by Bill Zebub. United States: s.n.
Lawson, D., 2009. Metal Detector: Satyricon. Metal Hammer, December.pp. 92-93.
Murder Music: A History of Black Metal. 2007. [Film] Directed by David Kenny. United Kingdom: s.n.
Sephiroth, 2004. The Roots of Darkness: A Brief History of the Norweigan Black Metal Movement, s.l.: s.n.
Until the Light Takes Us. 2009. [Film] Directed by Aaron Aites, Audrey Ewell. United States of America: Field Pictures.