I don’t think I could have possibly stumbled upon a more appropriate image for this penultimate entry in my music column than the goat Heiðrún feeding on Yggdrasil. (Well, technically Læraðr.) I’ll today be concluding my compilation of songs that, while still being “black metal” in some sense, extend well beyond the boundaries of the genre.
10. Hardingrock – Faens Marsj
In 2007, Ihsahn and his wife Ihriel teamed up with Hardinger fiddler Knut Buen to merge Ihsahn’s evolving progressive black metal with Norwegian folk music. If the vocals are the only real trace of black metal remaining in this particular track, I think the appeal is no less apparent.
9. Temnozor – Busov’ Vran’
(Темнозорь – Бусовы Враны)
Temnozor’s 2010 release is easily their best in my opinion, and certainly their most folk-infused. That this Russian band in 2007 released a split with Nokturnal Mortum might be telling. Their ability to harness folk as a sort of primitivism has evolved tremendously, and it herein shows. The gripping dynamics of Russian vocalization are inseparable from the overall sound. It’s no wonder this is a predominantly Eastern European movement.
8. Boris – Luna
Pretty much any obsessive Boris fan will tell you they’re the most innovative band in existence, and I totally buy into the hype. Boris has, over the years, consistently denied all forms of classification, seeming to incorporate a new style of music on practically all of their myriad releases while remaining always recognizably Boris. In 2009 they contributed one track to a split with stoner metal band Torche, and in doing so gave black metal a unique new form. It’s an unfortunate shame that the last two minutes of this song, in which they transition into an Electric Wizard-esque doom metal outro, aren’t available on youtube. But for the purposes of this column, this song’s significance still comes through. Boris eat musical styles and shit roses. This is one of them.
7. Agalloch – Limbs
Where were you the first time you heard Ashes Against the Grain? I think a lot of people can actually answer that. Pale Folklore and The Mantle were brilliant and unique albums, but THIS, this was something innovative on a whole new level. I remember the thought striking me almost immediately: “Woah, post-black metal exists.” Any use I’ve ever made of the term originated from my first listen to Ashes Against the Grain. Isis’s Oceanic was probably my favorite album at the time, and here was everything I liked about it taken to by the best band at creating musical imagery that I’d to that point known. The marriage couldn’t have gone better. Ashes Against the Grain will go down in history as groundbreaking and unique, one of those albums that predicts the future without ever wholly conforming to it. It always was a stretch to associate Agalloch with black metal, but in so far as musical genres are merely generalizations, the most unique bands always seem to fit into all and none simultaneously.
6. Ulver – Hymn VI: Of Wolf and Passion
The first 18 seconds of this song are about a decade ahead of their time. They’re absolutely beautiful–downright uplifting. I guess I never really thought of unadulterated black metal as something that could be triumphant. Sure, bands put it to positive use by incorporating folk and the like, but here you have nothing but blast beats and tremolo, a basic Norwegian breakfast, speaking of something glorious. Perhaps black metal’s origin naturally associates it with the dark and devilish, but very briefly, in 1996, Ulver showed that the same unbridled intensity could turn itself towards any honest end. Of Wolf and Passion. An apt title.
5. Nokturnal Mortum – In the Fire of Wooden Churches
I said you hadn’t seen the last of them. Another NeChrist masterpiece, In the Fire of Wooden Churches is an eclectic, constantly transitioning song that almost never repeats and ends triumphant. This video extends a few minutes beyond the end of the song. Its proper length is about 7:11.
4. Peste Noire – Ballade Cuntre Les Anemis De La France
Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor got my 2009 album of the year vote. To quote my brief review of it, “This is brilliant, fascinating, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. As has been said, the ambiance of hate is gone. What replaces it is something I can’t quite define, but it’s captivating. If Famine hadn’t coined it “Black’n’Roll” I think the term still might have popped up, but it’s a whole lot more than that. The 60s-70s rock and roll styles it incorporates, while similar in construct, conjure nothing of the sort to mind. Instead, it gives this sort of disturbingly lively essence to a dismal, filthy Dark Age. Track three feels like I’m dancing circles around someone in a torture chamber randomly sticking hot pokers into them and really enjoying it.” You are listening to track three.
3. Krallice – Wretched Wisdom
Listening to Wretched Wisdom while driving through a barren pillar-studded wasteland in Arizona was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. This is the gut-wrenching scream of an absolute desolation stumbling hopeless at last into the depths of insanity. And here the term post-black applies more than ever.
2. Nokturnal Mortum – NeChrist: The Dance of Swords
Alright, this is my last Nokturnal Mortum entry. Honest. I’ve very little left to say about this band, but I hope you can see why I chose this as their best song. I said of their first entry “this isn’t just a statement about the past, it is a violent declaration of war on the present.” NeChrist might be the celebratory feast on the night of that declaration.
1. Alcest – Le Secret
In 2005, Neige decided it was time to take a new approach with his black metal project. He wanted to write something beautiful, and that he did. The album Le Secret is 27 minutes long and consists of two songs. Neige himself regarded the work as widely misunderstood, and seems to have concluded since that black metal just isn’t a compatible medium for some things. His next album was more on the order of shoegaze, with little in the way of black metal remaining, and his 2010 release, while significantly heavier, largely distinguished the black metal from the shoegaze elements as a sort of contrast between dark and light.
Souvenirs d’un autre monde and Écailles de Lune are both fabulous albums, make no mistake. But Le Secret is so much more. It’s one of those works that can never be repeated, because beyond musical genius it requires a sort of innocence. Those 18 seconds for which I glorified Ulver… here they stand on their own, independent and beautiful.