Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dead Raven Choir - My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind (pt. 2)

That Polish musician Smolken creates corroded Black Metal cover versions of Folk songs - either traditional songs or songs of 'invented tradition' - stands to reason.

After all, the Black Metal has used elements of Folk since the former genre's infancy: just think of Ulver's 1995 album "Bergtatt", which incorporated acoustic folk guitar playing and frilly blouses. And, judging from mp3 blogs such as "Blodvargr", Black Metal now has such unlikely bedfellows as 'alpine folk', 'apocalyptic folk', 'neofolk' and 'nordic folk'. European Folk is one of the strands of Black Metal's 'spider's web of significance'.

And as for covering American folk songs by Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson and Townes Van Zandt - I see that as a return to the origins of Black Metal - isn't traditional American country music one of the formative influences on Rock, which eventually transformed into Black Metal, amongst others?

So I repeat - that Dead Raven Choir fashions an aesthetic unity out of the two genres is not in itself surprising.

But playing a Black Metal cover of one of the classics of the Cole Porter songbook - "It's All Right With Me" - that is odd! Cole Porter, that means: show tunes, musical comedies, sophistication, socialites, homosexuality and Broadway. Few musics could be more at odds with Black Metal than the Cole Porter songbook.

Many a reviewer has expressed the suspicion that Smolken is lampooning the songs that he covers in his unique fashion. In a review of Wolfmangler's "Cooking With Wolves" in Wire 284 Edwin Pouncey writes: "There is a grim determination at work here that makes it hard to tell if Smolken despises or secretly adores his chosen victims - or whether this is all some elaborate jape to raise the hackles of those fans who might feel 20th century Broadway classics and the work of the author GK Chesterton (to name two influences) have no place in the underworld of Black Metal". Sam Davies writes about "My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind" in Wire 285: "There's something very deadpan about Dead Raven Choir. They scratch away at the extreme limits of scorched-earth harshness with enough determination for any Metal fan, but at the same time hold out the possibility of a very subtle send-up. Its trebly tinniness subverts the normal smothering sludge of the genre, and in its pillaging of folk forms seems to [be] deliberately toying with fey wispiness".

In "The Pleasure Of The Text" Roland Barthes writes that there is a break or fissure in the writings of the Marquis De Sade. On the one side of that break is a good, moral text which faithfully copies a canonical model; and on the other side is a empty, mobile text which subverts the canonical text.

The same break can be found in Dead Raven Choir's music. For Pouncey, Black Metal is the text which subverts 20th century Broadway classics; for Davies, trebly tinniness, folk forms and their fey wispiness seem to subvert Black Metal.

That leads me to conclude that, while the break still exists in Dead Raven Choir's music, the question which side is which has become indeterminable. Both Black Metal and 20th century Broadway classics function as canonical text; both Black Metal and 20th century are a subversive text which satirizes the canonical text. Could it be said that Dead Raven Choir is hyper-Sadean music?

The information about Dead Raven Choir on the bands MySpace page seems to suggest that Smolken makes his music quite in earnest: "DEAD RAVEN CHOIR is a horrid blight upon black metal and does great damage to credible black metal artists everywhere. Or perhaps it's keeping black metal alive and interesting. DEAD RAVEN CHOIR doesn't care which it is, just plays black metal covers of country and folk songs".

What if we interpret the cover version of Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me" just as earnestly?

The performer of the song's lyrics plays the role of a jilted lover who seeks forgetfulness in someone else's arms, knowing very well the wrongness of his actions. Loneliness and a sense of being-out-of-place pervade the song. Cole Porter himself - a homosexual in an age in which such a sexual orientation was tolerated at best - suffered from severe depressions: Wikipedia states that he was one of the first people who experienced electric shock therapy. Furthermore, a riding accident crushed his legs and left him in chronic pain, largely crippled; in the end, the legs had to be amputated.

For me, Dead Raven Choir's cover brings out the depressive aspect of "It's All Right With Me", an aspect which remains latent in most it's performances. The sombre, distorted and stunted sound of Dead Raven Choir's unique and inspiring brand of Black Metal is in tune with these hidden currents in one of Cole Porter's greatest hits.

To conclude this post, here are Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole performing Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me":

Post Scriptum

I really shouldn't write a second post on Dead Raven Choir's "My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind". After all, Wolfmangler's PKlima quoted a my review of that band's album "Dwelling In A Dead Raven For The Glory Of Crucified Wolves" as an example of 'extremely bad poetry'. But then again, I'm a second-rate mystic, a parasite of the sublime, a plagiarist of ecstasy - what to expect but a debacle when it comes to poetry?

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