Thursday, January 1, 2015

Arcane Americana: Neglected US Black Metal

American black metal while often a source for derision amongst purists has over the years become an identifiable sound, exploring the sinewy nuances of extremity in music not often found in the compositions of its European counterparts. Black metal in North America has become synonymous with experimentation, for my money only matched by international acts like Abigor or Nightbringer, weaving aural structures of sonic intricacy and relishing time outside the box. We have incorporated aspects that stem from overseas but are distinctly American in nature: bluegrass, ambiance and power electronics, flirtations with death metal, shoegaze, crust... our black metal, while sprouted from the roots of what was perpetuated by Bathory and Hellhammer, is evolving at an inexplicable rate that reflects the tenuousness of the American experience.

So in light of that, I'd like to explore a few releases from the annals of North American black metal which I attribute to being mostly responsible for the push of creativity and artistry that was sorely needed in the scene in the late 90's and early oughts.

FOREST OF IMPALED - Demonvoid (1999)

This album is a perfect example of the unbridled aggression present in USBM. Taking equal cues from the Canadian war metal of Blasphemy and Conqueror and melding it intricately with the thrash that our Bay Area bands thrived on. It's vitriol was kind of unmatched in its day, and there have been few bands that came even remotely close to capturing the sound of these Chicagoans; a ravenous maelstrom of sonic violence and inherent blasphemy. This is a classic through and through, and criminally overlooked even in its day.

JUDAS ISCARIOT - To Embrace the Corpses Bleeding (2002)

Not the first album to come from this long running USBM project, but clearly his masterpiece. Weaving an ambiance into his compositions, he would also explore droning guitar lines and emotive melodies dueling with the battery of his primitive rhythm section. There were just as many doom elements as black metal on this album, albeit sped up and delivered with a striking venom that most doom forsakes. It's impossible not to notice the Darkthorne influence, but it's twisted and contrived to a fouler end, lamenting the end of the American gothic experience only observable from the US's midwest. Really brilliant.

WEAKLING - Dead as Dreams (2000)

Weakling basically pioneered epic American black metal. The tracks were long and winding and intricately put together, melodic and furious and screaming for your attention. The instrumentation is superb and the flourishes and nuances an ideal candidate for the progenitor of Cascadian black metal, though bears no resemblance to its current sound. The tracks here flitter between relentlessly crushing with blast beats and tremolo picking and the somber dirges found more typically in the death doom of fellow Americans Evoken by way of Incantation. The album is beastly, with tracks ranging from 10 minutes on the short end to nearly a half hour on the long. It's journey music without peers for its time.

LUDICRA - Hollow Psalms (2002)

More Bay Area black metal, stemmed from the crust movement championing Dystopia and ABC Diabolo, Skaven and Logical Nonsense (for points of reference). Members would go on to Agalloch, Hammers of Misfortune, and Impaled to name just a few. Ludicra's attack was a mixture of black metal rage and d-beat crust, worshipping the throes of depression and addiction rather than exalting Hell and other fictions. Frenetically intense and shrill and disturbing in their imagery and lyricism, borrowing from the themes of Buzzov*en or EYEHATEGOD more than Burzum or Satyricon. Truly unique with a sound that can't be compared to any of their contemporaries.

BLACK FUNERAL - Vampyr: Throne of the Beast (1996)

Black Funeral's first album was released during a time when we were still taking our cues from distinctly European black metal. That's not to say that it doesn't separate itself from it's sires in the Norwegian second wave or blasting Swedish madness cum Marduk or Setherial. Black Funeral create a heavy atmosphere of horror for this record, one that permeates throughout the instrumentation and composition. Hammond organs and low fidelity buzz sawing guitars that stop and start, one moment galloping along at full throttle and the next moment reeling itself in for a slower bout of savagery. The vocals especially are absolutely bestial and the recording, while sparse, highlights each of the elements that make up the project, with some fantastic bass work that's actually audible, a thing almost unheard of in the genre at the time. I can't recommend this album enough!

There are plenty of other examples that I haven't dredged up but are just as responsible for my immersion into this genre. As responsible, if not more so, than any bands abroad that perpetuate the style. Don't get me wrong, I love the scene regardless of the home country of the artists. But while music as a whole is said to lack nationality, it is certainly regional. Listening to these examples should give you some idea of the separation between American black metal and the European and South American forebears. I would be lying if I said that I didn't listen to the genre before hearing these particular artists, but it wouldn't be a stretch for me to say that before discovering these American bands I never fully identified with what I was listening to, and once I did I dove straight in, consumed by subversive music and all the better for it.

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