Matthew T Grant

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Tall Guy. Glasses.

A Disappointing Film About Norwegian Black Metal

I watched the documentary film Until the Night Takes Us and was disappointed. I really think it fails on every level.

Neither a true “history” of black metal (Norwegian or otherwise) nor a revealing portrait of the genre’s main innovators (Fenriz of Darkthrone and Varg Vikernes of Burzum), the film never even raises the questions it should answer.

For example, wherein lies an engagement with or appreciation for this genre, especially in its purest, “necro” form (as one might find it on Emperor’s Wrath of the Tyrants, for example, or Darkthrone’s incomparable, Transylvanian Hunger) as an aesthetic experience?

Sure, Fenriz and Varg talk about choosing the crappiest amps and mics, etc., but why does the result sound so compellingly haunting?

And, frankly, how did it even become a recognizable genre and how do we categorize its defining characteristics?

On the other hand, where is the discussion of the neo-Nazi ideology associated with this music, so associated with it, in fact, that there is a sub-genre known as NSBM, or National Socialist Black Metal? I use the term “sub-genre” here guardedly since some of the genre-defining artists have produced music that falls squarely in this dark realm.

On that last front, why don’t the filmmakers actually call Varg on his bullshit?

For example, during the segment about his trial for the murder of Euronymous, Vikernes states that he was given a stiff sentence (by Norwegian standards, not American) because, in his words, the authorities wanted to say, “We don’t tolerate this kind of rebellion.” What kind of rebellion was that exactly? Stabbing a man, fleeing from you in his underwear, to death?

Varg is also shown saying, “It’s very hard to recognize the truth, when you are bombarded by lies all the time.” This may sound noble, until you realize that this is the kind of “truth” he’s after:

If we have a positive relationship to our homeland, to our blood, to our race, to our religion and to our culture we will not destroy any of this with modern “civilization” (id est capitalism, materialism, Judeo-Christianity, pollution, urbanization, race mixing, Americanization, socialism, globalization, et cetera). The “nazi ghost” has scared millions of Europeans from caring about their blood and homeland for sixty years now, and it is about time we banish this ghost and again start to think and care about the things that (whether we like it or not) are important to us.

Finally, why do they let it slide when Hellhammer—known for saying things like, “Black metal is for white people”—refers to the man Bård Guldvik “Faust” Eithun (erstwhile drummer of Emperor) killed as a “fucking faggot”?

I’m sure they’d fall back on the “we’re letting our subjects speak for themselves” ethos of some documentarians (and if you’re reading this, please feel free to comment!) but even there they don’t let their subjects speak enough or at length. One of the most interesting segments involves Fenriz being interviewed by a German journalist (in which he says, “We’re not just sitting around in a trailer camp listening to Anthrax!”). Why couldn’t we have more of his views or ramblings (and, while we’re at it, a conversation about his use of the phrase “Norwegian Aryan Black Metal” back in the day)?

For good or ill, I don’t tend (any longer) to reject music or other works of art based (solely) on the politics or behavior of the maker.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe that one should at least explore the ways that politics and aesthetics inform and influence each other and, if only on a personal level, ask ourselves why our response to something, on a visceral level, may be positive when we would reject it on an intellectual level.

Anyway, if you have the time and interest, Lords of Chaos is a much more satisfying account of black metal, its origins, and its consequences.

How High Was My Fire (or Why High on Fire Matters)

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Easily the best band on earth. I sincerely hope other bands pay attention and decide to eschew all the pretension and all the trends and just focus on creating real, honest-to-God ART. That’s a rare thing these days. – urdisturbing

I went to the Metal/Hardcore festival at the Palladium in Worcester in 1999 mainly to see Morbid Angel, a band I’d been into since 1991.

After reading about Morbid Angel in Spin, I picked up an Earache compilation called Grindcrusher at Disc Diggers (long since defunct) in Somerville (I also picked up Morbid Angel’s masterful Altars of Madness there shortly thereafter) and was introduced to their sound via “Chapel of Ghouls,” a Slayer-esque monolith of strangely psychedelic, thrashy death metal.

Of course, the rest of the cassette kicked as  well because Earache’s roster in the early 90s was a who’s who of genre-defining death and grind bands (Carcass, Entombed, Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death, Terrorizer, etc.). Given my association, then, of the label with a certain level of aesthetic quality, I was happy to come across a basket of discounted Earache cassettes sitting on a table in the hustle and bustle of the “labels” area set up at the Palladium that night.

After a bit of rummaging around I ended up buying some Napalm DeathFrom Enslavement to Obliteration and Harmony Corruption, if memory serves— and a tape that, like anything that matters, altered the course of my life: Sleep’s Holy Mountain.

I’ll be honest. I bought the thing because is was like two bucks and the cover boasted an intricately ornate graffiti tableau consisting mainly of variations on “pot leaf.” Listening to it while driving through the dark and wooded hills outside of 495, my mind just blew and blew. These Sabbath worshipers, thanks to their ability to craft a riff and wail trippily, took unabashed adulation to the point of mad originality. The first galloping notes of “Dragonaut” —the sinewy ooze of the bass line, the oddly chanted vocal (“Ride the dragon under Mars’ red sky”)— hooked me immediately. I couldn’t believe how great it sounded. Read the rest of this entry »

Metal Age

Looking for Slayer videos on YouTube I came across this: “Reek of Putrefaction,” by Carcass.

Apparently the video was shot on the “Grindcrusher” Tour in 1989. The tour got it’s name from an amazing compilation which I bought on cassette back in 1990 at a store that no longer exists.

In addition to the studied metal stylings of Carcass, said cassette introduced me to some of my favorite metal bands – Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel, and Entombed.

The cassette also introduced me to Earache Records, the grey lady of grindcore labels. In fact, it was while rummaging through a bin of cheap Earache cassettes at the first big Metal/Hardcore festival in Worcester that I came across Sleep‘s enduring classic, Holy Mountain, originally issued on Earache.

I paid like $3 for that thing and then listened to it about a ten thousand times.

The Ecstasies of Metal

Learn from the mystics is my only advice. – Roxy Music [misheard]

opeth super metal mages and spiritual conduit to other dimensionsA friend suggested that I write a review of the Opeth show I attended on Saturday, May 2, 2009. I find myself quite incapable of doing so because, frankly, I cannot judge their music objectively or provide an accurate recounting of their performance.

This inability stems from the fact that my experience of Opeth was not primarily aesthetic in nature. Rather, as has been the case with the best metal shows I have attended, my experience in the presence of these masters of the art tended more towards the mystical/ecstatic realms of human consciousness.

Indeed, my most immediate memory of the show finds me in a state of frenetic, possessed movement accompanied by an ego-annihilating oceanic feeling. I give Opeth credit for inducing this state, a thing they accomplished via a sometimes subtly, sometimes savagely evolving rhythmic intensity coupled with serpentine melodies, strange words, and the trance-inducing repetition of droney, modal patterns.

Through its deliberate and complex structures – not to mention the aggressive amplification of sound and hypnotic manipulation of light – Opeth’s music invited the listener to become lost in its labyrinth.

However, it was not an all-devouring minotaur that awaited it us at the center of these intricate and winding passages. It was, instead, a refreshing, liberating, and, dare I say, “communal,” transcendence.

For all who seek the fortuitous and often unexpected profane illumination sometimes afforded by the marriage of technology and spirit in this post-everything age, I recommend that you seek out Opeth and especially the public display of their conjurings.

Image Courtesy of deep_schismic.