Continuing the French theme of the last few posts, a review of French Black Metal band Blut Aus Nord's recent cd MoRT ...
A few posts ago, I proposed the idea that Black Metal has drunk deep from occidentalist wells - the term occidentalism referring to Buruma's and Margalit's hastily put together but interesting enough booklet on the western origins of antiwestern thought. In this post, I'll explore this idea a little further.
One of the characteristics of occidentalist thought is that it contrasts wild and rural landscapes with urban landscapes. The urban landscape is portrayed as an inversion of the values of the wild and rural landscapes. The urban landscape is associated with capitalist greed, soulless rationalism, vice, dishonesty, superficiality: the city is both a whore and an automaton. The rural landscape on the other hand is unselfish, spiritual, soulful, deep, pure and true. This vision of nature versus nurture has roots going al the way back to Tacitus' Germania and had some of it's ugliest proponents in the German nazi era.
In Black Metal, rural and wild landscapes, especially those of Norway, are highly significant. The cd cover art of Emperor's "In the Nightside Eclipse" features pictures of Norwegian landscape (one of a fjord and one of a ruined castle) and the lyrics of that album repeatedly portrays the lyrics' narrator in natural surroundings: "Beyond the great vast forest / Surrounded by majestic mountains / Dark rivers float like tears of sorrow / Frost submerge the holy ring of fire" or "As the Darkness creeps over the Northern mountains of Norway and the silence reach the woods, I awake and rise... Into the night I wander, (...) Under the moon, under the trees. Into the Infinity of Darkness beyond the light of a new day, into the frozen nature chilly, beyond the warmth of the dying sun. Hear the whispering of the wind, the Shadows calling... (...) I gaze into the moon which makes my mind pure as crystal lakes, my eyes cold as the darkest winter nights, by yet there is a flame inside". Many Black Metal bands subscribe to deep ecological or ecofascist beliefs: misanthropic, biocentric ideologies that put nature before man.Burzum's Varg Vikernes occidentalism is apparent when he states in a rather disgusting interview "Ironically, the only thing that can save mankind is a stream of pandemics, natural disasters and other human catastrophes, wiping out most of us. In fact, I think the catastrophe is inevitable - unless something drastic happens very soon, - and to be honest I even welcome it. The sooner this world order collapses the better. We don't even need to do anything for it to collapse in chaos. The best and only thing we can do is to get away from the tidal wave, and make sure the best amongst us survive, along with our Pagan culture. We can physically move away from the modern world and all its moral, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual decay and depravity".
Given that Black Metal despises the city, it is all the more surprising and original that Blut Aurs Nord presents urban Black Metal. Just visit Blut Aus Nord's unusual and interesting website (not completely up to date as their most recent cd is not yet included in the discography) and you will see why this strand of the Black Metal web is an urban strand: the site lets the visitor stray through a mazelike, somewhat futuristic but derelict city, vaguely Blade Runner-ish, with Piranesi-like subterranean vaults and Gothic churches, and sombre high rise buildings. Click on the oriental glyphs and be led astray in a decaying urban world, the Paris of a nightmarish future, light years from nature.
Blut Aus Nord's recent cd (MoRT, 'Metamorphosis of Realistic Theories) continues this urban atmosphere. No 'natural, spiritual simplicity' here, but academic intellectualism and philosophical concepts. No blastbeats and 'simple, authentic, rural' folk music but industrialized, complex, almost-IDM-like rhythms and mention of Webern, Ligeti and Stockhausen as sources of inspiration. And aren't academia and industry the epitomes of urban existence?
The way Blut As Nord uses guitars deserves special mention. In an interview with a German website, band member Vindsvall states "We have moved far away from every theory of harmony. This was the perfect way to work more modulations into the guitar sound. If one plays the guitar fast, one has no possibility to hear the last vibration of the sound. But there exactly began our work: we used these last vibrations, gave them a new tone". In an interview with a French website, band member Vindsval tells that they wanted to use the guitar like a piano, "with eight fingers on the neck to obtain the same variations on the different parts played simultaneously by each of the hands", and have started to work with a touch guitar to optimize such techniques. "This broadens enormously the possibilities on the harmonic level, and when you do away with the frets you even multiply those possibilities".
All this makes for a discordant, seasick, murky, disturbing, haunting album, an album of writing tentacles, as formless as a spider, an album that does not sound like it is composed but like it is emanated, emanated like a Victorian trance medium emanates a cloud of ectoplasm, an album that is " (...) part of the human body, external to it, unstable, sometimes soft, occasionally hard, from time to time vaporous, variable in volume, visible only in semi-darkness, making an impression on photographic emulsion, presents to the sense of touch a humid and slippery sensation, leaving in the hand a residue which, when dry, has under microscopic examination the appearance of epithelial cells, without odour or definite taste, in other respects fleeting and transient, whether projected or otherwise, of uncertain temperature, fond of music" (from the DaCosta Dictionary's entry on ectoplasm).