Saturday, May 31, 2008

Black Metal Mashups (pt 2)

It should be frighteningly obvious by now, to everyone, that we love the sound of record crackle. Pops and clicks, buzz and fuzz. Just have a look at the last 8 or 9 years of reviews, and you'll see that we are grade-A suckers when it comes to that unmistakable sound. In fact, more than once, we posited that if we had a way, some simple system or an effects pedal even, that would render EVERY record we had, more fuzzy, turn every super clear crystal clean recording into something that sounded like it had been sitting in the garage for 50 years and was being played back on a rusty Victrola, well, you know we'd do it in a second.

And if there was one single artist, responsible for cementing that love of crackle and pop, of twisting our tastes all around, of taking a love, and turning it into an obsession, it would very likely be one-man black metal outfit Iudal. Ever since his Nocturnal Coda record, we have been smitten, no, obsessed is more like it. Desperately waiting for another missive of utterly dark murk, of bleary black misery, of swirling roiling madness rendered in disembodied melodies and all manner of distortion and grit. We would later becomes similarly obsessed with soundmakers exploring similar territory, but our fuzzy crackly blackened hearts will always belong to Iudal.

Which is all the more ironic considering A Gate Through Bloodstained Vinyl, his brand new record, is perhaps the least fuzzy, the least murky, the most crystalline and clear recording we've heard from him yet. Recorded in his practice space over the last couple years and later edited into a series of slow developing warbly black soundscapes, Gate finds Iudal moving beyond the so-called "metalgaze", allowing his deft hand at arranging, at collaging various sounds, heck COMPOSING, take the center stage. That element was always present, but was often overshadowed by the sonic weirdness and bizarre, very lo-fi production (tape hiss, drop outs, etc...), whereas here, in these SONGS, the fuzz and crackles is just one more compositional element. Fear not, there are still plenty of old fuzzy recordings, stumbling blast beats, haunting blurred riffs, but here, it seems as if Iudal has chosen the parts and pieces more for their melodic content than their texture, and the results are quite surprising.

The opener is a mysterious creep, muted buzz woven into a blackened whir, in the background, deep melodic swells drift in and out, soon to fade out completely, leaving just crackle like the sound of black rain. Over the track's 9+ minutes, sound shifts and changes, timbre and tone are altered dramatically, often unexpectedly, but it manages to work, finishing off with an utterly bleak fade out peppered with intense squelchy squalls of white noise.

From then on out, the sound is crushingly epic and majestic, the buzzing riffs, rumbling bass and pounding drums stretched out and tangled up into long form pulsing fanfares, some sort of melancholy strange murky ur-drone, underpinned by strange subtle rhythms, and a constantly churning undercurrent.

The end of "Residue Of Nowhere" almost sounds like Nadja at points, with short sharp bursts of heavily delayed and effected samples, but spends much more time writhing and twisting, traversing seas of thrashing chaos. "Shining Through Mirrors" is all low end rumble and whir, shimmer and sway, pulsing and throbbing, a churning blackened sea of sound, this time peppered with strange almost-rhythms crafted from layers of fuzz, giving it an almost Chain Reaction minimal techno vibe.

The disc finished off with the 11 minute "Fanfares Beyond Utter Blackness", the third and final part of Iudal's song trilogy on A Gate Through Bloodstained Vinyl, and begins with a splatter of crackly percussion, a woozy warbly loop, all slowly overtaken by a waltzing minor key dirge, slowly becoming a sort of ghostlike lullaby, that strange persistent percussion, making the track sound like, at times, like it could be from some forest folk or free drone cd-r. Iudal sets up a mournful arpeggiated melody, wraps it in flanger, occasionally spreads a little distortion and record buzz over the top, and lets it weave and say and sprawl until it explodes near the end into a flurry of bleary eared distortion, the melody blown out, the sound jagged and intense, a subtly chaotic, in-the-red climax, that doesn't fade out, instead just blinks out, leaving the strange vacuum of silence.

At first we were a little disappointed that A Gate Through Bloodstained Vinyl wasn't more fuzzy, more murky and washed out, more distorted and damaged sounding, but the more we listened, the more we realized, that all of those elements WERE still present, just in ways that might not be so obvious, A Gate Through Bloodstained Vinyl is still fuzzy and murky and dreamlike and distorted, and it's a testament to Iudal's skill that he's able to make it seem otherwise. And judging from how often this gets played in the store, we're all just as smitten as ever.


This was a mash-up of two Aquarius Records reviews, a review of Philip Jeck's most recent album 'Sand' and a review of the Hydra Head reissue of Xasthur's album 'A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors'.

Iudal is a demon from The Testament of Salomon: "76. The fifth said: "I am called Iudal, and I bring about a block in the ears and deafness of hearing. If I hear, 'Uruel Iudal,' I at once retreat.""

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Exotica - Josephine Baker (pt. 2)

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"Josephine Baker's role as an exotic was complex. Posed in photographs with tiger-skin rugs, she was described as the 'Nefertiti of now' by Picasso. She danced encircled by rhinestone-studded bananas that rose up around her waist like a girdle of sparkling erections. As biographer Phyllis Rose observes in Jazz Cleopatra, the bananas, set in 'jiggling motion, like perky, good-natured phalluses' evolved into stiff tusks. Photographed in The Ziegfeld Follies in 1935, Baker wore a bikini that mutated her erogenous zones into spiked weaponry, impeding any action other than display, anticipating Madonna's spiked bra by more than half a century. Walking her pet leopard along the Champs-Élysées, glorious in her role as a stranger in a strange land, she colluded with the crude fantasies of Africa that so enraptured the French (which were, after all, a relief from the unequivocality of American racial segregation or the racial abuse she suffered from Austrian Nazis), yet she scrubbed her skin with lemon juice at night in the hope of lightening her dark skin."

Here is a beautiful and touching BBC documentary on Baker:

Here is a link to a nice London Review of Books article on Baker.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Black Metal Mashups (pt 1)

At the break in "Winter's Apathy", from Embittered Animal's feral, sentimental Sung Darkness, when the guitar picks up and Sin Tear and Nanna Bear's voices flail like children who know they're about to die, it occurs to me that sickness and pain isn't always wasted on the young.

Since their first release, Australia's Embittered Animal have soundtracked the surreal, manic experience of "immature" dysphoria. In fact, the Tear/Bear duo responsible for Sung Darkness is the same that issued 2000's Daemon They're Gone, Daemon They've Vanished, a singular, idiosyncratic take on fairy tale folk and moon-child Black Metal. Fairy tales and moon-children: these are impressions of 'the Beyond' for imaginative children, and it's this mentality that Embittered Animal explore and evoke.

Unlike last year's impressive Here Comes the Misanthrope, Sung Darkness opts for folky ambience and late-night, winter camp wailing to carry the weight (or weightlessness) of its strains. Coldfire Songs, which followed Here Comes the Misanthrope, suggested a similar kind of sprawling, communal minstrel-craft, but without much of Sung Darkness' flair for meandering atonality and nearly free-form drumming. As it happens, the last third of the new record does return to more of an open-ended, exploratory rote, but there it seems less a part of an endless riff than the come-down from scenes of a forest almost too fantastically malevolent to imagine. And despite its eclecticism and relatively Dadaist leanings, Sung Darkness is a depressive album; depressive in its mourning for lost innocence and in its nocturnal non-knowing, and in the bitter, baleful idea that everything will decay -- like it always has.

Musically, Embittered Animal sound less "Metal" here than they ever have, which is to say most of the songs have terribly out-of-tune broken chords that beg to be doubled and tripled by you or anyone else who cares to join. In songs like "Leaf Ditch", "Winter's Apathy" and "Throne", the duo stake a direct claim to Darkthrone's seminally non-produced "Transilvanian Hunger", as their harmonies are such a sprawling mess, that they suggest perfection. As Tear and Bear are filtered through a Radio Shack reverb unit in wordless counterpoint, I think about the damaged ambitions of "Cabinessence" and Smiley Smile. However, as Brian Wilson's visions were symphonies to an already-gone god, Embittered Animal drag the memories of his voice like a crowbar on concrete.

"Who Could Skin a Rabbit" revels in a thousand parts of some giant broken timepiece, as the pair of delirious children slide over screws into a grey den of gears. The acoustic guitar rings in the start of this race with a out-of-tune, minor chord strum, and just after the clattering drums cheer in pandemonium, fragmented croaking vocals spit out as many syllables as possible to describe who knows what sickroom. Sometimes their voices stumble, or trudge on in the unwashed fringes for stretches so long that what seems like pure laryngeal decay approaches intricate polyphony. Above all, a sense of overwhelming balefulness abounds, head hung downward at having discovered this strange place.

Elsewhere, the music is more reflective. "The Choking Voice" layers repetitive figures played through dated synth patches upon each other, as Tear and Bear whisper in dissonance above, as if singing to the vision peering back at them from the skin of a backwoods creek. The rustic, secretive manner of their voices and the barely disturbed forest around them suggests that whatever ghosts inhabit these woods are only too happy to oblige a lullaby or two. Likewise, the epic "Visiting Lords" gathers in faceless, mutated ghosts (i.e., oddly manipulated vocalizations from the duo) to hover over their dying fire in visage of nothing better than the tops of trees. The constant presence of tape hiss moves alongside the voices, helping to keep them afloat, but never suggesting they should organize themselves into anything recognizable or predictable. It's cold, and if it rains they'll get wet and continue to play.

The ritual dance "We Wolves", passing like a pagan baptism for children in war paint, gives way to a trilogy of almost formless ballads, beginning with the erratic hymn "Mouth Silenced Her". Here, Embittered Animal, no longer satisfied to keep their dysphoria in check via tribal drums or vertiginous, fuzzed-out guitar riffs, stumble through scenes with murky, atavistic malevolence. Wordless cries and howling darken the song, and the pair drags their narrative downwards into a sprawling harmonic mess of a guitar tone, hanging like a depressive grey pall, before running into each other headfirst and pouncing on their guitars like real savages. This is how Sung Darkness communicates; in place of organized chaos, there are chance meetings and reunions, and plenty of mournful dances and uncomfortable epiphanies. In truth, it may be too much for some people to take, especially if they're too far removed from this strange environment. For others, it's a unbelievable place, as these guides know only too well.


This was a mash-up of two reviews, Adam MacGregor's review of Striborg's 2006 album 'Embittered Darkness / Isle De Morts' and Dominique Leone's review of Animal Collective's 2004 album 'Sung Tongs'.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Exotica - Josephine Baker

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"Paris in a later age became the spiritual, and actual, home of Josephine Baker, one of the most celebrated exotics of the twentieth century. Born in St Louis in 1906, Baker traveled to France as a dancer in La Revue Nègre. According to biographer Lynn Haney, the show's producer had been advised by the Cubist artists, Fernand Léger, to bring an all-Black show to Paris. 'Give them Negroes,' Léger told André Daven, after he had seen an exhibition of African sculpture at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs. 'Only the Negroes can excite Paris.'

So Baker arrived in Paris in 1925, where she performed alongside Sidney Bechet at the Théatre des Champs-Élysées. Picked out from the troupe as a relatively uninhibited body beautiful, she was persuaded to expose her breasts when she danced. The show-stopping climax was Baker's dance with Joe Alex: 'The drummer beat out a steady jungle rhythm, a tom-tom call. Josephine returned with Joe Alex to do their savage dance. She rode onstage upside-down, carried on Alex's broad shoulders. All she wore was a bright pink feather tucked between her thighs ans a ring of feathers circling her ankles and neck. Alex swung her around in a slow cartwheel ... Josephine and Joe then engaged in a primitive mating dance, filled with ardent passion.'


Friday, May 23, 2008

Leviathan - Massive Conspiracy Against All Life

Californian Black Metal band Leviathan's music has been called 'depressive Black Metal', but that is something of a misnomer. Far from a emotional monochrome, Leviathan's music is a veritable kaleidoscope of - admittedly, mostly dysphoric - emotions. On Leviathan's latest album, 'Massive Conspiracy Against All Life', the affect shifts, modulates, transforms continually: agression, lust, elation, triumph, fury, anxiety, resignation, depression and anger. Emotionally, Leviathan's music is richer than ever.

The integrating power of Leviathan's musicianship ensures that the sum of these disparate emotions does not become a jumble of moods and sounds. Far from a confusion effacing all affect and a scramble effacing all sounds, the dissimilar element are aggregated into an demonic whole. Leviathan accomplishes this by means of a certain simplicity: heavily-layered, haze-filled noise, sputtering blast beats, half-smothered melodies and cryptic sound effects are opened onto something luxuriously evil by means of the austerity of riffs.

I must admit I was a little disappointed with the album at the first two, three listens.

I had hoped, and perhaps expected a little, that Wrest (the mastermind behind Leviathan) would continue further in the mind-expanding direction he had taken as 'Lurker Of Chalice', and dare to traverse many genres in a single bound. In my mind's ear, I anticipated Wrest evolving into a Black Metal reincarnation of early The Third Eye Foundation (the early, sinister one, not the later weepy PC one!): I could almost hear a Jazz-orbiting Black Metal; a Black Metal that was more ink-noir than stereotypically grim; a dusty, scratched, junk-shop Black Metal; a Black Metal that is not nostalgic for an archaic consciousness but that reuses the dystopian fears of successive generations (to paraphrase and invert Walter Benjamin).

Probably, I had been anticipating this new album with a little too much impatience. My imagination had ran away with me. I had not prepared for the austerity of riffs. At first, the album seemed taciturn.

But listening to the album repeatedly, made an intimate understanding between the music and myself grow, made my appreciation of the subtleties of this album flower. Because it is a subtle album.

Not only are the disparate elements (riffs, rhythms, electronic sound effects, noise) sculptured in a masterful, subtle way; not only are these elements arranged subtly; but most of all, subtle is the way the pendulum of the music swings from focused and mature austerity to wailing, teeth-gnashing and lunatic miasma. In other words: most subtle is the way subtlety ebbs away and floods back in again.

'Massive Conspiracy Against All Life' is an album of cold and moonsick joy - highly recommended.

Post scriptum

Here is a very interesting post by mr. Reynolds which touches on some of the issues addressed in this post and references the same Deleuze/Guattari - passage I shoplifted for this review.

Unexpected 'web of significance': 'Massive Conspiracy Against All Life' was recorded and mixed by Dan Voss and mastered by Drew Webster ('Drucifer'), both of whom have been associated with two seminal albums by Portland Free Noise band Yellow Swans: 'Psychic Secession' and 'At All Ends'.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Exotica - Sun Ra

In 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world', author David Toop compares Les Baxter and Sun Ra:

"As a striking illustration of the link between these two mavericks of American music, compare Baxter's 'Brazilian Bash', released in 1956 on Skins! A Bongo Party with Les Baxter, with Sun Ra recordings from the late fifties and early sixties. Tracks such as 'Solar Drums', 'Friendly Galaxy' and 'Angels and Demons at Play' feature a similar blend of exoticas: either echo-saturated Asian percussion meditations or Afro-Latin rhythms, mysterious flute melodies and glistening keyboard ostinatos. Even their song titles seem to be borrowed from each other's exotic aesthetics: Baxter recording 'Saturday Night on Saturn' and 'Blue Jungle', Sun Ra recording 'Space Mates', 'Kosmos in Blue', 'Tiny Pyramids' and 'Watusa'.

For both Ra and Baxter, the exoticisms were a part of a broader picture. Sound, particularly electronically generated or mutated sound, was a highly evocative medium for depicting vivid unknown worlds, utopias implied by America's postwar Tupper-conservatism of the suburbs and racial division. Though there were some small similarities in their aims and methods, the real world in which they lived and worked divided them so totally, they may as well have been creatures from two different planets. While Sun Ra was defining a New World Afrocentric identity, Baxter confirmed the imperialist fantasies of the old world, now engaged in tourist escapades as well as military expeditions."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Horde (pt. 2)

Continuing the theme of the previous post, below are the lyrics to Einstürzende Neubauten classic song 'Kollaps' from their eponymous 1981 album. I've supplied an (admittedly mediocre) translation for all non-Germanophones.

In the lyrics, singer Blixa Bargeld invokes an 'us' (the band? Punks? Disaffected youth?) which is a "new Golden Horde", a Horde that will destroy cities.

The lyrics evince what André Breton called 'the temptation of the end of the world' (in his 1948 essay 'La Lampe Dans L'Horloge'). Breton described this longing for the world to end, this desire for the 'Kladderadatsch', as having its origin in '... the state of mind of men like Nerval, Borel, Baudelaire, Cros, Rimbaud, Lautréamont, Mallarmé...', in other words; in Black Romanticism. Breton, writing at the beginning of the Cold War, believed that the threat of nuclear extinction had extinguished that temptation: "We no longer want it, since we see the features under which it takes shape and which, against all expectation, strike us as having become absurd."

Near the end of the Cold War, Bargeld's lyrics prove Breton wrong: the temptation of the end of the world, however absurd, was still very much a part of Black Romantic culture.

Norwegian Black Metal, which like the lyrics to 'Kollaps' used the term 'Horde' as a central metaphor, came into being at the tail end of the Cold War: Mayhem was formed in 1984, a year before Gorbachev came to power in the USSR. There can be no doubt that a nuclear holocaust must have appeared possible, even likely, to those involved in the Black Metal movement. Nevertheless, they - like Einstürzende Neubauten - invoked the Horde, as a symbol of the collapse of capitalist, urban society. As a heir to Black Romanticism, Black Metal too felt the temptation of the end of the world.


Kollaps / bis zum Kollaps
nicht viel Zeit
Kollaps / bis zum Kollaps
nicht viel Zeit
Kollaps / Unsre Irrfahrten
zerstören die Städte
und nächtliches Wandern
macht sie dem Erdboden gleich
Kollaps / alles was ich kriegen kann
Alles in mich rein
Kollaps / süßer Kollaps
bitter und bitter und bitter
bis zum Kollaps
Horden / die neue Goldene Horde
diesmal ohne Dschingis Khan
wir zerstören die Städte
nächtliches Wandern macht uns blind
Kollaps / sei mein Kollaps
Kollaps / nicht viel Zeit / nicht viel Zeit
schlag schneller schrei lauter
leb schneller / bis zum Kollaps nicht viel Zeit
wir sind die neuen Goldenen Horden
diesmal ohne Dschingis Khan
bis zum Kollaps nicht viel Zeit
verbrenn mich reiß mich nieder
bitter / bitter / bitter / bitter


Collapse / Until the collapse
Not much time left
Collapse / Until the collapse
Not much time left
Collapse / Our wandering
Destroys the cities
And our nightly roaming
Razes it to the ground
Collapse / All I can get
Everything into me
Collapse / Sweet collapse
Bitter and bitter and bitter
to the Collapse / the new Golden Horde
This time without a Genghis Khan
We destroy the cities
Nightly roaming makes us blind
Collapse / Be my collapse
Collapse / Not much time left / Not much time
Beat faster cry louder
Live faster / Until the collapse not much time
We are the new Golden Horde
This time without a Genghis Khan
Until the collapse not much time
Burn me cut me down
Bitter / Bitter / Bitter / Bitter

Post scriptum May 20th 2008

The last line of the text has been changed from Bitter to Bitte and back again.

Sigivald had commented: "Having never bothered to look up the official lyrics, I'd always heard "bitter" as "bitte". For that matter, pleading for the Kollaps[e] strikes me as a more striking reading than calling it bitter." I've checked with a friend whom I consider to be an expert on all things Neubauten, and he at first suggested both readings might be valid as all lyrics were improvised by Bargeld and mutated over the course of time.

Further research however proved 'Bitter' to be correct: both in "Stimme Frisst Feuer" (book by Bargeld) as in Kollaps' cd-booklet the lyrics are "bitter bitter bitter" as opposed to "...suesser Kollaps".

Saturday, May 17, 2008


In Black Metal culture, the term 'Horde' is often used as a metaphor for 'band'. Even one-man Black Metal bands are described as Hordes!

Undoubtedly, the word 'Horde' is used in Black Metal culture because it carries connotations of violence, brutality, barbarity, belligerence, masculinity. The history of the use of this metaphor in Black Metal is obscure: I have not been able to reconstruct how it became part of Black Metal culture. Perhaps some reader of this post with a better knowledge of Black Metal history can enlighten me?

Nevertheless, in this post I will examine the 'web of significance' of the term 'Horde'.

The etymology of the word 'Horde' itself is clear: 'Horde' is a term of Turkic origin meaning a royal residence or camp. The 'Horde' is the residence of the Khan (paradoxically, where the original Turkic word had connotations of settling down, of stasis, the contemporary word has connotations of movement: a horde is teeming, swarming, advancing). Genghis Khan united the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia, and thereby founded the Mongol Empire, which eventually came to occupy most of Asia. Under Genghis Khan's grandson Batu, the Mongols definitively conquered Volga Bulgaria and the Kievan Rus in 1237. The Mongols brought a terror to Europe that would is remembered to the present day. However, the Mongol empire divided into competing factions before the thirteenth century was over, and in 1502 its last stronghold in Russia ceased to exist. Nonetheless, the name for their awesome military force would leave its burn mark on the languages of Europe: the Horde.

The mythic resonance of the word 'Horde' would lead Charles Darwin to use it in his 1871 book "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex". He used the term 'Horde' to designate the social groups of primeval men and the ape-like progenitors of man. The sociability within these barbarous groups, from which all civilized nations descend, was the result of natural selection, spurred on by increasing reasoning powers and foresight, and by the praise and the blame of other members of the group. For Darwin, the male was the actor of natural selection, while the female was merely passive: "Man is more powerful in body and mind than woman, and in the savage state he keeps her in a far more abject state of bondage than does the male of any other animal; therefore it is not surprising that he should have gained the power of selection." The era in which this power of selection was wielded is long gone: "It deserves attention that with mankind the conditions were in many respects much more favorable for sexual selection, during a very early period, when man had only just attained to the rank of manhood, than during later times. For he would then, as we may safely conclude, have been guided more by his instinctive passions, and less by foresight or reason. He would have jealously guarded his wife or wives." I interpret Darwin's text as a creation myth, a story or explanation that describes the beginnings of humanity. Darwin' myth is an ethical precept that sanctions Victorian gender relations. In this myth, the primitive horde is presented as simultaneously attractive (there is more than a little nostalgia for the era when men wielded 'the power of selection') and repulsive ('an abject state of bondage').

Sigmund Freud's 1913 book Totem and Taboo uses Darwin's text as the basis for some myth-telling of his own. Drawing far-reaching conclusions for very superficial ethnographic knowle, he wrote: "All that we find [in Darwin's primal horde] is a violent and jealous father who keeps all the females for himself and drives away his sons as they grow up. (...) One day the brothers who had been driven out came together, killed and devoured their father and so made an end of the patriarchal horde. United, they had the courage to do and succeed in doing what would have been impossible for them individually. (Some cultural advance, perhaps, command over some new weapon, had given them a sense of superior strength). Cannibal savages as they were, it goes without saying that they devoured their victim as well as killing him. The violent primal father had doubtless been the feared and envied model of each one of the company of brothers: and in the act of devouring him they accomplished their identification with him, and each one acquired a portion of his strength. The totem meal, which is perhaps mankind's earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed, which was the beginning of so many things - or social organization, of moral restrictions and of religion." For Freud, the Horde as a social group - and indeed, humanity as a social group - is founded upon a crime - a crime which Freud describes with a strange combination of attraction and repulsion ('memorable and criminal').

Darwin's and Freud's myths remind me strongly of ethnologist Michael Taussig's 1987 book "Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing". In this book, Taussig investigates the “wildness” projected onto American Indians by Western colonial imagination. This 'wildness' evokes bloodthirsty repression by colonial (ecclasiastical and capitalist) authorities of the Indians it is projected on: the savages must be brought in line by savage means. At the same time, the 'wildness' projected on the Indians also leads the colonialists to impute supernatural healing powers to the Indians. Taussig: “So it has been through the sweep of colonial history where the colonizers provided the colonized with the left-handed gift of the image of the wild man--a gift whose powers the colonizers would be blind to, were it not for the reciprocation of the colonized, bringing together in the dialogical imagination of colonization an image that wrests from civilization its demonic power”. Cannibalism is an essential trait of the wildness projected onto Indians. Likewise, for Freud the cannibal wildness of oedipal totemism must be brought in line through civilizing psycho-analysis. Freud constructs psycho-analysis as a colonialization by consciousness of the exotic and savage jungle of the unconscious, which is simultaneously the exotic and savage, cannibal world of prehistory. But for Freud, the confrontation with the savagery of the unconscious also has extra-ordinary healing powers.

The 'Horde', under the name 'nomadic war machine', swarms forth again in Deleuze and Guattari's classic 1980 book of postmodernism 'A Thousand Plateaus'. Inspired by the work of British historian Arnold Toynbee and by the psycho-analytic work of Freud, the two philosophers contrast the socio-philosophical meaning of nomadic life against that of life in city-states. Where city-states are characterized by a hierarchical, homogeneous and totalitarian ("arborescent") organization, nomadism has a more freely structured, heterogeneous ("rhizomatic") organization. Nomadism is idealized by Deleuze and Guattari as a practice which must counter the capitalist greed, soulless rationalism, and superficiality of the urban landscape. Again, the 'Horde' is presented as a violent force that must heal the ills of Western culture.

So how do these connotations of the word 'Horde' relate to the use Black Metal culture makes of it? What can we say now about the web of significance woven around the word 'Horde'?

The connotations of violence, belligerence, masculinity, primitivism, cannibalism and occidentalism that the word 'Horde' has in the writings discussed above, are all relevant to Black Metal. Like with Freud's primitive Horde, in Black Metal a culture hero whose life ended in violence (Dead) was cannibalized; I'm referring of course to the rumour that Euronymous would have consumed a part of Dead’s brain. Memorable and criminal, attractive and repulsive, Black Metal has wrested its demonic power from civilization, receiving the left-handed gift of the image of the Horde and reciprocating civilization with teeming, swarming, blackened, buzzing noise.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Exotica - Les Baxter (3)

In his book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' the author David Toop writes how Exotica composer Les Baxter's penchant for sound colors found enormous opportunity in horror films:

"Baxter confirmed his enjoyment of this freedom in Soundtrack! 'But horror films, in actual fact,' he said, 'present far less restrictions to a composer because of the extreme range of orchestral color at your disposal. The hardest films to score are those like Born Again where nobody turns into a monster or develops X-ray vision, where there are no ghostly houses sinking into the swamp.'"

Here are some trailers for films mentioned in the Soundtrack! interview.

Frogs (1972)

Goliath and the Barbarians (1959)

Premature Burial (1962)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dead as Michelet

In which France's most revered historian and Black Metal's best known suicide find inspiration in a surprisingly similar, revolting way...

In 1957 Georges Bataille published a book called "La Litterature Et Le Mal" ("Literature And Evil"). It consists of eight essays on writers who dealt with the theme of Evil in their literary work: Emily Brontë, Baudelaire, Michelet, William Blake, Sade, Proust, Kafka and Genet. In a series of posts, I have compared two Black Metal musicians to two of these writers: I've likened Mayhem's Euronymous to Kafka (1, 2, 3) and Ofermod's Michayah to Jean Genet (1). Now it is time for one of Black Metal's most enigmatic figures: Per Yngve Ohlin, better known as 'Dead'.

Ohlin was for some time the introverted, eccentric and depressed vocalist for Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem. His musical career was cut short when he killed himself with a shotgun at the age of 22, on April 8th 1991.

At concerts, Ohlin hoped to enhance his performance by stimulating his senses in unusual, morbid ways. He performed acts of automutilation on stage: slicing himself open with a broken bottle, he invented a Black Metal tradition that continues to this very day (think of the French Antaeus, who released an album called 'Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan'). Pig heads were impaled on wooden spikes, and pieces of pig meat were thrown into the audience. During one tour with Mayhem Ohlin had found a dead raven, which he put in a plastic bag and took with him to concerts. He would often smell the bird before performing, saying he needed to "smell death".

And here - the odd practice of raven sniffing - we find a point from where we can spin a "web of significance" (or a spider's thread of significance at least) from Dead to Michelet.

One of the essays in "Literature And Evil" is dedicated to French historian Jules Michelet's 1862 book 'La Sorcière' (literally 'The Sorceress'). It is a history of witchcraft, published in 1862. Bataille posits that, in writing the book, Michelet was "...guided by the ecstasy of Evil" - and certainly, his florid style gives the impression that witches made him lose his head. The final paragraph of the essay is relevant for the connection with Dead.

"[Michelet] was obviously dominated, and even bewildered, by anxiety as he wrote this impassioned book. In a passage from his diary (I have been unable to read it since it is still inaccessible, but a third party has provided me with adequate information), said that as he worked he would suddenly find that he lacked inspiration. He then would leave his house and would go to a public convenience where the stink was stultifying. He would breathe in deeply, and, having 'got as close as possible to the object of his disgust', return to work. I cannot but recall his face - noble, emanciated, with quivering nostrils."

I can imagine Dead this way too. Can you?

Post scriptum

I could also have written a post with Dead as the Jacques Vaché of Black Metal: a cryptic figure, a hidden source of inspiration for the high priest, a suicide.

Do you know any other artist using unusual olfactory experiences for inspiration? Please use the comment box!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Exotica - Les Baxter (2)

From 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"[The films Les Baxter was scoring] draped themselves loosely around invasions from without - space monsters, voodoo zombies, revivified mummies, commie rockets - or they sparked paranoid alarms of panic within - biker gangs, body snatchers, vertical corpses, vampires roaming the suburbs - ensuring teen appeal by a judicious combination of fixations. They were dedicated to the alienated outsider: the alien, the creature, the thing, the biker, the drunk, the lonely surfer, the man who shrinks to nothing, the woman who grows into a fifty-foot monster, the man with x-ray eyes whose nightmare of perception was to see through the surface of society, so incurring his own destruction."

Here are some trailers for films scored by Les Baxter.

Bride And The Beast (1958)

The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)

Savage Sisters (1974)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Wallace Stevens - The Snow Man

Reproduced below is a poem by Wallace Stevens: 'The Snow Man'. Of course, anything to do with snow and ice is 'gefundenes Fressen' for Black Metal aficionados. But more specifically, the poem explores themes that are relevant to both my post on Ofermod and my posts on Paysage D'Hiver.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Ofermod - Mystérion Tés Anomias

Many sociological accounts until the nineteeninetees would suggest that people join cults, sects and occult groups out of socio-economic frustration and social isolation; occultists are marginal people subscribing to marginal beliefs. More recent research, such as Tanya Luhrmann's 'Persuasions of the Witch's Craft' suggests otherwise: most paganists are solid, well-functioning middle-class suburbanites, not Lumpenproletariat. Rather than "ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, (...) vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux, brothel-keepers, porters, literati, organ-grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars" (Marx), occultists are secretaries, civil servants, computer workers.

However, that most occultists are middle-class suburbanites leaves open the possibility that some are marginal people. Swedish Black Metal band Ofermod are a case in point.

Guitarist Michayah, the driving force behind Ofermod, is a convicted heroin dealer, and a (former?) addict. Heroin addiction is a virtual guarantee for socio-economic frustration and social isolation: in an interview with Terrorizer magazine Michayah speaks of the 'violence and misery that one has to face each and every day'. What's more, Michayah has been in prison almost without interruption since March 2006, having been convicted for assault, robbery and other violent crimes.

Michayah is also a dedicated occultist, his intellectually elaborate yet violent 'chaos theology' taking inspiration from Qabbalah, Aleister Crowley and Gnosticism. Michayah's occult practice seems to be a relatively socially isolated endeavor, as it takes place outside Wiccan witchcraft communities ('covens') or formalized Western Mysteries fraternities.

As Michayah posits his theological position as fundamental to his music, I will explore it a little further. Unusually for religiously oriented Black Metal, Michaya has rejected Satanism and Evil: "Only Christian exoteric fools can be Satanists". His theology posits Chaos as a supreme and remote deity (the 'Lord of Radiant Darkness'). This deity is 'utter spiritual death' and exists beyond Good and Evil. Good and Evil are concepts of the material world. It is essential to free oneself from this base material world and from bodily existence, which is a prison of flesh. Michayah: "The very creation of the entire cosmos can be related to as an act of pure evil, so from this point of view, its destruction must be considered a blessing. (...) To be human is to be cursed. But there is a way out of this circle of the worms called men, and it is called theurgy and magic. The transformation of the human to the super-human." Here, Michaya's theology is obviously strongly Gnosticist, albeit with a Nietzschean slant.

By rejecting Evil, Michaya has repudiated transgression as a too this-worldly endeavor. Equally, he has rejected Good. Transgression of any symbolic boundary sustains that boundary; thus, transgression supposes a degree, a hypocrisy, which Michaya rejects. By rejecting both transgression and the boundary that is transgressed, Michayah has deprived himself of everything but self-interest.

Indeed, Michayah submits himself rigorously to self-interest. The interviews published on the Ofermod website evince an agressive, overwrought (drug-fostered?) egotism: "Most of the people who listen to Black/Death Metal should go and kill themselves, simply because they are not worthy to dwell in the same dimension as myself.' His tales about drug use, the criminal world and his knowledge of the occult only serve to exaggerate his own importance, power, and notoriety. In an interview with Terrorizer magazine, Michayah promotes the use of heroin (!), not as a way to dissolve the ego but on the contrary to harden it: "It is not only educational about the human nature, but also a process that hardens the individual, with all the violence and misery one has to face each and every day." Heroin is not only highly addictive but also generates a strong tolerance in the user: soon, the drug is used primarily to avoid to prevent the effects of withdrawal, i.e. for future well-being instead of momentary loss of self. Thus, heroin addiction produces economic subservience. Michayah is profoundly servile, a hysterical slave to his self.

For sociologist Emil Durkheim, the sacred world is coterminous with the world of the social. Society does not only - like a divinity - establish moral rules, it has the power to call forth or inhibit conduct, irrespective of any utilitarian calculation of beneficial or harmful results. Furthermore, society has a stimulating and invigorating effect on it's members: in a crowd one becomes capable of exalted emotions and conduct of which one is incapable when left to one's individual resources. Society is to it's members what a god is to the faithful.

Social isolation is in effect the absence of the social. Where the social is absent, it has no power to call forth or inhibit conduct: anomie is the result. Only unrestrained utilitarian calculation remains. In the case of Michayah, this calculation is bolstered by identity politics, by disengagement with social relations, and by a refusal to communicate. Utter spiritual death means the absence of the stimulation, invigoration or exaltation that the social inspires. Michayah has deified his impasse, his social dead end.

Michayah can be likened to Jean Genet - or, to put it more exactly, the philosophical portrait of Jean Genet's painted by Georges Bataille in his 1957 book 'Literature and Evil':

"Genet's will is no longer the furtive will of any man, of any 'sinner' who is satisfied with a minimum of irregularity. It requires a general negation of the taboo, a search for Evil relentlessly pursued till the moment when every barrier has been broken and we reach a state of complete collapse. (...) An unlimited weakness becomes evident; it affects disinterested crime and the basest calculation, open cynicism and treason. No taboo gives Genet the sensation of a taboo anymore and, with numb senses, he finally founders."

So what about the music?

Ofermod's 'Mystérion Tés Anomias' is composed of two parts. The first, Mysterium Iniquitatis, was originally released as a 7" in 1998 by Pounding Metal Productions; the second, Netivah Ha-Chokmah, was recorded in 2004. Both were recorded in the Necromorbus studios and both were released by French Black Metal label Norma Evangelium Diaboli in March 2005 on the cd under review.

The albums starts with a passage of Alfred Schnittke's music, which slowly builds and builds an builds the tension until an eruption takes place, an eruption that is best described as a cold conflagration of Black and Death Metal. The sound is fuller and clearer, less fuzzy than is usual with Black Metal recordings, and the musicianship is technically excellent - as is to be expected from a musician who studies technically highly complex forms of occultism. The 'art brut' character that is associated with some Black Metal bands (Striborg, Dead Reptile Shrine) is far off: rather than damaged and demented, the music is eerie and intelligent. Rather than communicative, the singing (or more accurately: shouting) is self-absorbed, pompous and demonstrative; I am reminded a little of fake-medieval techno-gothic band Will, but thankfully the singing is not as ludicrously bad as John McRae's vocals for that band and does not distract from the music. Though short - a mere 26 minutes - this is an excellent album, that I can wholeheartedly recommend. The excellence of Ofermod's music is reflected by the fact that it has influenced other important Black Metal bands, such as Ondskapt, Watain and Funeral Mist.

Michayah's refusal to communicate, does not mean that his audience perforce cannot communicate with the music he has created - as long as the audience is willing to sever the ties that bind the music to its creator. The destiny of a artistic creation lies not in creator, but in its destination, in its audience. As an audience, we can use Ofermod's music in a way that refuses Michayah's egotistic theology and bathe in the eerie unlight of the music's cold conflagration.

Post scriptum

From Ofermod's website: "In December 2005 the Holy Union of OFERMOD will once again enter Necromorbus Studios. This time to start the recording process of their long-awaited full length debut: "Pentagrammaton". (...) Some titles that will be included on the album are: (...) "A Likeness To Yah". Pentagrammaton would be the first Black Metal album to have a Rastafari song title! ;-)

Here is Stewart Voegtlin's review of Ofermod's album.

Here is a very interesting article on Marx's concept of the 'lumpenproletariat'.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Exotica - Cry of the Banshee

From 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"In the sleevenotes of Les Baxter's 1970 soundtrack for Gordon Hessler's American International film, Cry Of The Banshee, Baxter archly reported that one passage in the music had been reported by friends 'to cause an apparition to materialize. I had no idea, in my own writing, that such a thing was taking place, although every composer knows that sometimes when he is writing he will write things he doesn't remember, as if they come from an "outside" source. Whatever caused this, some said that during this particular passage they thought they saw Satan materialize - others were not sure just who the spiritual image was, but I feel I must warn those who have a fear of the supernatural of the possibility of such an occurence."

Find the record sleeve - including the notes! - and a rip of the soundtrack here.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Euronymous as Kafka (pt. 3)

"To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was’ (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. For the Messiah arrives not merely as the Redeemer; he also arrives as the vanquisher of the Anti-Christ. The only writer of history with the gift of setting alight the sparks of hope in the past, is the one who is convinced of this: that not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious." Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History.

An image of a mythical configuration in which Mayhem's Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth figured as the 'left hand' and Burzum's Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes as the 'right hand'' flashed up when I reread the chapter on Kafka in Georges Bataille's 1957 book 'Literature and Evil'. In this mythical configuration, the artist (left hand) harbors a secret desire for a society that denies him the right to exist (right hand). The configuration as it flashed up, was a model for a dramatic process which so influenced social behaviour that it acquired a strange processual inevitability overriding questions of interest, expediency, and morality.

Does this configuration redeem Vikernes' murder? Can the murder be redeemed, or is it inexpiable? And even if it can be redeemed, must it be redeemed? Wouldn't it be, so to speak, a waste of some perfectly good evil? And vice versa: wouldn't redeeming the murder be letting Vikernes off the moral hook too easily? - after all, killing Aarseth caused serious grief to his relatives. Furthermore, wouldn't redeeming the murder make it subservient to utilitarianism and Messianic teleology? And wouldn't "vanquishing the Anti-Christ" be utterly inappropriate for Black Metal?

With Benjamin, I would answer that the murder must be wrested away from Vikernes' fascist ideology - even if I do not believe that can be called 'redemption'.

By interpreting the murder as the result of a dramatic or narrative process model, I have hoped to deny Vikernes the authorship of the killing. One might counter that the "author is dead", that there is no need to "kill" him as an author of a murder. But Vikernes as an author still reigns on the internet, in interviews, magazines, in "Lords of Chaos", as in the very consciousness of metalheads. Vikernes still has authority over the murder: in this sense he is an undead author. These three posts then are an attempt to drive a stake through his fascist heart.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Euronymous as Kafka (pt. 2)

An aphorism, found in Emil Cioran's 1973 book "The Trouble With Being Born", touches on the subject of the previous post:

"One cannot do a writer a greater service than to forbid him to work for some time. One should establish short-lived tyrannies, during which all intellectual work should be halted. Freedom of expression without any limit exposes talented people to a deadly danger, forces them to go beyond their means and stops them from accumulating sensations and experiences. Unlimited freedom is an attack on the spirit".

The aphorism proposes, like Bataille, that literature thrives on (socio-political) circumstances that deny it the right to exist. Like Bataille, Cioran proposes that literature feeds on impossibility. But where Bataille accents the left-handed side of this paradox (revolt, childishness, transgression), Cioran stresses its right-handed side (authority, safety, teleology, limits).

This characterization of these two perspectives on literature, is derived from the work of Robert M. Hertz. Hertz (1881-1915), a French ethnologist, pupil and close friend to Marcel Mauss, wrote a systematic study of the symbolic meaning of the left hand and the right hand: 'La Prominence de la Main Droite' (published in 1928). The symbolic meaning of the two hands is dichotomous. The right hand was associated with authority, adulthood, virtue, faith, limits, truthfulness; the left hand with revolt, defilement, childishness, transgression, crime, fraud and treachery. This dichotomy is applied to the least detail in ritual, in the practice of divination, in customs and beliefs. Hertz' study was a major influence on the thought of Roger Caillois, a French thinker who co-founded the Collège de Sociologie with Georges Bataille.

I must underline that more is at stake here than mere static, cognitive signification: this 'language-game' is as serious as Russian roulette! The symbols of the left and right hand are - as all symbols - metaphoric expressions and dramatizations of (contradictory, paradoxical, tense) social forces in a given society. Furthermore, symbols such as these are dynamic and actively shape events and passions in friendship, sexuality, art and politics.

I interpret the symbol of the artist as a creator who desires a society that denies his right to exist, as a dynamic symbol. I see it as an expression of social and symbolic tensions in the early-nineties Norwegian Black Metal community (and wider Norwegian society), which gave shape to the dramatic relation between Mayhem's Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth and Burzum's Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes.

The artist as a creator who desires a society that denies his right to exist, is a paradoxical symbol. An artist embodying the left-handed side of this paradox was murdered by a fellow artist who embodies the right-handed side of the paradox: the drama which unfolded in the Dream Time of Norwegian Black Metal certainly had a "...strange processual inevitability overriding questions of interest, expediency, or even morality" (Turner). The murder of Mayhem's Aarseth by Burzum's Vikernes was not only a tragedy in the Classical sense of the word. It was and is more than that: it is the frozen image of a configuration pregnant with tensions between opposing but interdependent socio-cultural forces, a configuration that was shocked into crystallization into a monad, not by the thought of the dialectical critic (Benjamin), but by the violence of the act.