Friday, August 17, 2007

Deathspell Omega - "Fas - Ite, maledicti, ite ignem aeternum"

Many Black Metal bands seem to take the most-quoted line of 1994 film Pulp Fiction's Marsellus as their motto: "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass". Their aesthetic reflects the view that the medieval period was a time of drafty castles with dank dungeons, plague, poverty, torture, witch hunts, brutal kings and wall-to-wall ignorance; and true to form, Black Metal inverts the negative value attached to that era's supposed primitiveness and brutality, extolling exactly those qualities.

Black Metal band Deathspell Omega aesthetic is far from medieval - the French band's motto is rather: I'm gonna get Baroque on your derrière"!

Not that Deathspell Omega's music is dominated by the contrapuntal style, as Baroque music was.

Rather, their new album - the extravagantly titled "Fas - Ite, maledicti, ite ignem aeternum" - employs sophisticated musical techniques to create exaggerated motion and clear detail, producing drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur - exactly like Baroque visual art and sculpture. Deathspell Omega's music is characterized by the juxtaposition of blastbeat fury and chaotic riffing to complex, atypical rhythmic structures, stop/start dynamics and angular, dissonant riffs; by great drama, rich deep color, and intense light and dark shadows. There's something of Caravaggio in the best parts of the album - the painter about whom a contemporary cardinal's secretary wrote: "In (his) painting there are but vulgarity, sacrilege, impiousness and disgust... One would say it is a work made by a painter that can paint well, but of a dark spirit, and who has been for a lot of time far from God, from His adoration, and from any good thought...".




Like Baroque visual and architectural art, Deathspell Omega's music is quite bombastic, sounding like a monument in sound, using it's absolutist authority to impose obeisance and fear. The band transform the racial elitism, which is so prevalent in NSBM, into an intellectual elitism. In fact, if one reads the reviews on sites like Encyclopedia Metallum, Black Metal fandom seems to be a little intimidated by the complexity of the music as well as by the obscure, even hermetic language in which the band cloaks it's Satanic theology - like a Lacan of the occult.

Deathspell Omega is on a 'mission civilatrice'. However savage the riffing may be in places, overall the music is intelligent, sophisticated, intricate; there is a measure of artificiality - in the positive (anti-"authentic") sense of the word; a sense of "good taste"; ecclesiastical decorum, even. Unlike many Burzum-inspired and neo-pagan Occidentalist Black Metal bands, Deathspell Omega do not disavow culture. On the contrary, Deathspell Omega embraces learnedness and the places of learning: the library, academia, the city. Thus, the band seems to share Baudelaire's “ivresse religieuse des grandes villes”.

The afterlife plays a prominent role in Deathspell Omega's aesthetic - first of all, in the title of the cd. Wikipedia states erroneously that the album's title derives from the comical medieval morality play Everyman - a play which is not even in Latin. Rather, the title derives from chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus foretells the Last Judgment. From the King James Bible: "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels".

Deathspell Omega's conception of the infernal afterlife is also post-medieval. Hell is not portrayed as a place of torture: no branding irons, cooking pots full of boiling oil, tongs, pliers and blacksmith's tools for these Frenchmen. In Deathspell Omega's hell, it is the soul rather than the flesh which suffers torments or experiences ecstasies. The void of Nirvana is about as far off as Satan's medieval torture chamber. As Roger Caillois points out in his essay 'Métamorphoses de l'enfer', such a conception of Hell arose after the Middle Ages.

And let us not forget that the Baroque was also the period in which Milton published his magnum opus "Paradise Lost", which presents Satan sympathetically: as a rebel both tormented by and proud about his isolation from a tyrannical God. In "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", the poet William Blake wrote: "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil's party without knowing it". In secularized modern France, Deathspell Omega can flaunt that they are of the Devil's party; still, their Satanism is a Miltonian challenge by Satan of the Omnipotent.

Theatrical, daring, enigmatic and fascinating, I can recommend any music aficionado to throw himself body and soul into Deathspell Omega's "everlasting fire".


Post scriptum

See the comments for a remark regarding my unfair dismissal of Wikipedia.

3 comments:

dschalek said...

exhaustive...hypnotic...excellent..that goes for this review, as well. DsO's latest is truly transcendental...

Dominic said...

The band transform the racial elitism, which is so prevalent in NSBM, into an intellectual elitism

...although the two are made to cohere in Hate Forest / Drudkh's "music for the white intellectual elite"...

But philosophical satanism is generally ultra-individualist: its "elitism" is not a set of propositions about the social necessity or inevitability of an elite class (or race), but has more to do with self-surpassing, aspiring towards excellence and so on. And DsO have certainly surpassed themselves with this album.

Anonymous said...

'...Wikipedia states erroneously that the album's title derives from the comical medieval morality play Everyman - a play which is not even in Latin. Rather, the title derives from chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus foretells the Last Judgment. From the King James Bible: "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels".'

I think you might be mistaken in your dismissal of the Wikipedia reference. The play is indeed not in Latin, but the line itself is spoken in Latin.


Alas, how shall he do then?

For after death amends may no man make,

For then mercy and pity do him forsake.

If his reckoning be not clear when he do come,

God will say- ite maledicti in ignem aeternum.


http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/everyman.html