The work of J.R.R. Tolkien has had an indelible influence on Black Metal culture. Many names of Black Metal bands have been derived form Tolkien's oeuvre. Christian 'Varg' Vikernes was a Tolkien aficionado, and named his one-man band Burzum, the word for "darkness" in the Black Speech of Mordor. Norwegian Black Metal band Gorgoroth is named after the plain of Gorgoroth within the mountains that cordon off Mordor from the rest of Middle-Earth. Isengard - named after the castle of evil sorcerer Saruman - is a solo project of Fenriz, the drummer of Darkthrone.
What does that mean? What does the choice of the Tolkien's oeuvre, of the literary genre of Fantasy reveal about Black Metal?
Science Fiction can be loosely defined as fiction which speculates about social effects of future technological advances. Fantasy as a genre is not oriented towards the future or technology. Fantasy constructs fictitious pre-modern (tribal or feudal) societies, and explores themes related to the history of religions, morality (good vs evil) and heterophobia (in the sense of: "fear of that which is different"). Because it is not oriented towards future societies and explores different themes, Fantasy has been compared negatively to Science Fiction. Fantasy has been called retrogressive. However, the mere fact that the fictitious societies of Science Fiction are technologically advanced and those of Fantasy are not, is in itself not enough to condemn the latter genre. Themes like the history of religions, morality and heterophobia are relevant to our society, and are highly likely to be relevant to societies of the future. Calling literature in which the drama takes place in pre-modern societies irrelevant is tantamount to calling the academic disciplines of history and anthropology irrelevant. Like all literature, good Fantasy novels can convey to us something about the human condition.
The themes of Fantasy novels are highly relevant to Black Metal. Black Metal themes such as Satanism, daemonology, paganism and black magic all indicate an interest in the history of religions. The musical genre's obsession with evil relates to questions of morality. Heterophobia finally is a hallmark of this ofttimes intolerant, hateful music.
One might say that without the Fantasy influence, Black Metal wouldn't be Black Metal but another genre entirely.
Nevertheless, I feel that such a statement is a little bit too facile. And anyway, it is interesting to speculate what Black Metal might have sounded like, if classic Norwegian Black Metal bands had not been influenced by Tolkien, but by other literature. What would it have sounded like if the work of William S. Burroughs had played the role that Tolkien's oeuvre played?
What if the landscape of Mordor was replaced by a landscape of "swamps and garbage heaps, alligators crawling around in broken bottles and tin cans, neon arabesques of motels, marooned pimps [screaming] obscenities at passing cars from islands of rubbish"?
What is orcs and elves and hobbits were replaced by "followers of obsolete, unthinkable trades doodling in Etruscan, addicts of drugs not yet synthesized, pushers of souped-up Harmaline, junk reduced to pure habit offering precarious vegetable serenity, liquids to induce Latah, Tithonian longevity serums, black marketeers of World War III, excisors of telepathic sensitivity, osteopaths of the spirit, investigators of infractions denounced by bland paranoid chess players, bureaucrats of spectral departments, officials of unconstituted police states..."?
The music of two-man band Yoga might provide the beginning of an answer to those questions.
In an interview with the Hammer Smashed Jazz blog, one of Yoga's musicians describes the music as 1970s 'Berlin School' Kraut Rock Electronica (Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream) recorded with the fuzzed out, cold, hollow-sounding, thin, raw, completely blown out and in the red recording style prevalent in underground Black Metal. "The dirtier and [the more] desperate the sound, the more otherworldly and distant the sounds became."
I'm not at all a fan of the New Agey strains of Kraut Rock. Tangerine Dream's universally acclaimed classic, the 1974 album Phaedra, bores me: entirely conventional, soothing, feeble music. I enjoy Yoga's music exactly because it uses New Agey Kraut Rock in a way William S. Burroughs proposed to use the voice of Alabama pro-segregation politician George Wallace. Burrough's essay 'The Electronic Revolution' contained these instructions: "Take a recorded Wallace speech, cut in stammering coughs sneezes hiccups snarls pain screams fear wimperings apoplectic stutterings slobbering drooling idiot noises sex and animal sound effects and play it back in the streets subways stations parks political ralleys." Where Burroughs advises to garble Wallace's conservative harangues with the aural excretions of the human body, Yoga destructurates Kraut Rock's conservative side with sonic detritus, hellish wailing, ruinous distortion, tape hiss, drop outs, intense squalls of blackened noise, sinister drones, constant churning and warbling.
The resulting music evinces the hallucinatory quality of Burroughs work: a fantastic, nightmarish merging of the rectums of early Coil, Goblin and Xasthur, an unendurably ragged, malodorous delight.
The split cd under review contains 8 tracks by Yoga and two by Quebecois Doom Metal band Ghäst. The Ghäst tracks earn sympathy by using samples from Amando de Ossorio's 1971 horror film La Noche Del Terror Ciego (aka Tombs of the Blind Dead), but are otherwise instantly forgettable. The Yoga tracks were released on an extremely limited cassette (only 50 copies!) before being released in its current form (limited to 250 copies)