A Blaze in the Northern Sky: Music for October (part 6)

Happy Halloween. Hope you enjoy the conclusion to my black metal countdown.

10. Bathory – Bestial Lust
Were I outlining a history of black metal, this song probably wouldn’t make the cut. By mid-80s standards it might be black metal, but by early Bathory standards it’s pretty straight forward thrash. That is, from a stylistic perspective it was already in 1985 a throwback to the genre Bathory had evolved out of. But it’s such an awesome song that, thrash and black metal being so intimately tied in the 80s, I think I can justify it. I considered giving the ten slot to In Conspiracy with Satan instead. Feel free to humor it as the more appropriate choice.

9. Mörk Gryning – Tusen år har gått
When I think of quintessential black metal, stylistically speaking, the first album that comes to mind isn’t In the Nightside Eclipse, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, or any other obvious staple. It’s Mörk Gryning’s 1995 release, Tusen år har gått. This inexplicably forgotten Swedish band managed to capture every stereotype element of black metal perfectly in their debut release. If I personally ever aspired to start a black metal band, this album is what I would try to emulate.

8. Immortal – The Call of the Wintermoon
But when it comes to influence, to the legends go the glory. Immortal gained much of their fame for later works, with Call of the Wintermoon known best for its ridiculous music video, not the song itself. I avoided showing that video for a reason. 1992’s Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is less noisy than a lot of its contemporaries, and its dark character shines through all the more because of it. This album, and this song especially, set a standard for black metal aesthetics. It’s one of the first to be so distinct from thrash that the influence is no longer immediately apparent.

7. Burzum – Key to the Gate
Varg Vikernes’s works being so album-oriented, I could think of very few individual tracks that maintained their greatness apart from their larger vision. But Key to the Gate always, for me at least, stood apart. The intro is absolutely demented, and yet it progresses into a well-structured song. For me it really captures Varg himself, a mind half brilliant and half warped beyond rationality. In explaining his historic past, Varg has been known to change his story frequently. Sometimes the church burnings, the murder, the primitivism all appears to be part of a rational and not altogether disagreeable plan. Sometimes he reveals himself a racist, homophobic, paranoid imbecile. The 2010 release Belus, his first in over a decade, is in striking contrast to Dissection’s Reinkaos. Following Jon Nödtveidt’s jail term for murdering a homosexual African man, his creative genius had left him. His next album was a failure, and he took his life not long after. Varg made some rather bold statements about Euronymous’s sexual orientation in explaining his motivation for murder (not to mention some claims to white supremacy that surpassed mere confusion to the point of complete ridiculousness). Yet after serving more than twice as long as Nödtveidt, his next album was a brilliant continuation of the old Burzum, as though no time had passed at all. There is a sort of unnatural complexity to him, and his music alike.

6. Dissection – Where Dead Angels Lie
But Jon Nödtveidt’s significance in at least this one instance should not be overlooked. Storm of the Light’s Bane, released in 1995, features perhaps the single most memorable black metal song I’ve ever heard. At least for a brief three years, Sweden’s Dissection was rivaling anything Norway had to offer. As so many black metal stories go, Nödtveidt’s suicide was nothing approaching traditional. I read that he blew his brains out sitting in the middle of a pentagram surrounded by candles, with a grimoire open before him.

5. Gorgoroth – Ritual
I wouldn’t go so far as to say Gaahl is overrated, but Hat, their vocalist from 1992 until 1995, suits me best. Their debut Pentagram is just as unforgiving as their later works, but with a lo-fi value that captures an essence of evil more effectively than brute force. The third track, Ritual, struck me the first time I heard it and remains still one of my favorite songs of the genre. (And it shares so much in common with Nattefrost that I almost have to believe it had a direct influence on his solo project.)

4. Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger
This one kind of goes without saying. If Kathaarian Life Code initiated the second wave of black metal, Transilvanian Hunger predicted its future. Primitive and raw on a whole new level (it was recorded three years before Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal), the album’s trance-like appeal might have some relation to Varg Vikernes’s lyrical contributions. I imagine it was more a matter though of fewer minds leading to a more consistant focus. It was the first Darkthrone album involving Nocturno Culto and Fenriz exclusively as band members.

3. Emperor – I am the Black Wizards
Emperor’s self-titled 1993 EP briefly pre-dates In the Nightside Eclipse and, along with two other EPs/demos of the era, features many of their first album’s classics in their unrefined, original forms. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the originals better (Emperor’s reunion performance of the song at Wacken 2006 is by far the best version of it out there), but the original appeals best to that rawness with which the second wave of black metal made its mark. All of the refined features that set Ihsahn’s song-writing apart–the heavy synth, the complex movements, the difficult guitar riffs–are present, but in this early form they still took second stage to that demented ethos black metal embraced for a few years in the early 90s.

2. Carpathian Forest – Shut Up, There is No Excuse to Live
If you question this placement get the fuck out of my article.

1. Mayhem – Funeral Fog
“Please excuse all the blood.” Dead’s suicide note, the artistic photographed rearrangement of his splattered brains for use on a future album cover, clothing buried with dead animals for weeks to reek of decay, Euronymous’s brutal cold-blooded murder with a knife to the skull, Varg Vikernes’s inclusion as the album’s bassist AFTER murdering its lead guitarist, the burning of the Fantoft stave church, the trial that lead to Faust’s confession of murdering a random stranger, Tchort’s imprisonment for grave desecration, Samoth’s imprisonment for arson… Black metal consumed itself in a real life horror story unrivaled in fiction between 1991 and 1993, and it all culminated in the release of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Funeral Fog must be appreciated with an eye towards the literal insanity that surrounded it. “In the middle of Transylvania, all natural life has from a long time ago gone. It’s thin and so beautiful.” We reflect on Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad Tepes as the real life icons of evil from which the cultural genre known as horror, 20th century serial killers not withstanding, was born. But in the early 90s, the middle of Transylvania was southern Norway.

Happy Halloween!

I leave you with a final treat that couldn’t stylistically make the cut.

Review: The Walking Dead Volume 12 (by Robert Kirkman)

[Some Spoilers Within]

Tonight marks the premiere of Robert Kirkman’s widely-acclaimed and fan favorite zombie comic book series aptly titled The Walking Dead. The series has preeminent filmmaker Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) and genre-veteran producer Gale Anne Hurd producing the adaptation for AMC. So, it’s with the 12th volume in the collected series that I welcome the tv series.

“Life Among Them” sees Rick and his group of survivors (now less three of its original members and picking up a new one along the way in the previous volume) finally finding a semblance of a safe haven after the travails they endured at the hands of “The Hunters”. It has been a long and deadly journey for Rick and his people. The fact that the promise of a working government they had been moving towards was actually a lie from one of the new members wasn’t too much of a surprise to loyal readers of the comic. This is a group which has had its hopes dashed bloodily over and over that any good news they see as too good to be true.

This goes for the sudden arrival of a scout party from a walled-off community which promises the group safe haven with no questions asked. Rick, who has gone through such promises from a previous safe community, sees this offer with some suspicion and this brings forth another aspect of Rick’s personality which has changed from issue 1 to this volume. He has become paranoid and mistrustful of those not in his group and offers of safety and a respite from the grueling travels of the road he sees with suspicions eyes. But they accept this invitation and find out that this safe haven couldn’t be any different from Woodbury.

What they see inside the fortified walls could pass off as a slice of their former lives. A suburban-like community where people safely walk the streets at night and their kids play ball in the yards and streets without hints of danger. Leading this community is a former Congressman who had taken the stole of leadership and keep the haven running smoothly. All he asks of Rick and his people is that they contribute in some way to help continue the community’s expansion in some way. Rick returns to what he did before the fall of civilization and patrols the streets as the town’s constable. Michonne thinks it is now safe for her to put away her sword. Even Andrea has caught the eyes of more than one of the town’s many single men. Even Abraham has pitched in to become part of the work detail whose job is to go out and find building supplies to help strengthen and expand the walls.

All seems to be working as it should with everyone safe. The first sign that not all is what it seems is the mention of a name. A person who helped organized the building of the walls, but who seems to have become “HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED” to everyone Rick and his group meets inside the haven. The town’s leader also seems to hold secrets of his own. Rick senses the dark undercurrents permeating the town’s vibe and in a sequence right at the end of the volume we see just how damaged Rick has become since we first meet him in issue 1.

While the volume doesn’t go heavy on the zombie action it does a great job in setting up what could be another major story-arc coming in the subsequent volumes. Will Rick and his people learn the secrets the town has been keeping from them? Will Rick become what he despises the most in trying to keep his son and his group safe from the dangers of the outside and what he perceives as dangers inside as well? This volume is almost the calm before another shitstorm about to hit the group and this time will the butcher’s bill be as large as the one which was tallied in the end of the 8th volume.

Song of the Day: The Man Comes Around (by Johnny Cash)

We’ve now reached the final day of what has been a week-long horror-themed “Song of the Day” feature for the site. It’s quite appropriate that this final day also lands on Halloween and I’m sure many will approve of this final choice to cap off the week.

A week which has seen Italian film composers and prog-rock bands chosen for creating and contributing some of the best and most memorable themes to horror films which will stand the march of time. We’ve seen an epic song from a Montreal band whose music has the apocalyptic sound to it. There’s also two entries from films created by a master of the horror genre in John Carpenter.

The week began with Goblin’s main title theme for George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead. With Halloween night the premiere of the long-awaited and heavily-hyped tv adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series (by none other than Frank Darabont himself) I thought what better way to bookend Goblin’s theme for the Romero zombie epic than by picking Johnny Cash’s song “The Man Comes Around”. One of the last songs penned and sang by The Man In Black himself and properly used by filmmaker Zack Snyder to  be the intro music for his remake of Dawn of the Dead.

This song with its gospel-like (though not as hopeful as most) sound and it’s apocalyptic and Biblical lyrics just speaks of the apocalypse like no other song from this past week has done. It comes off almost like a prophecy come down and spoken by one of God’s main dudes. This song when paired with the scenes of the zombie apocalypse crashing down on an unsuspecting world in Snyder’s film instantly made it a favorite with all zombie fans everywhere and introduced The Man In Black to a whole new set of fans.

I would like to think that when the zombie apocalypse does arrive it would be to this song as I and those who share my belief in how to survive such an event ready ourselves for whatever may come.

The Man Comes Around

And I heard as it were the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying come and see and I saw
And behold a white horse

There’s a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the Man comes around

The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup?
Or disappear into the potter’s ground
When the Man comes around

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singing
Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum
Voices calling, voices crying
Some are born and some are dying
It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

Till Armageddon no shalam, no shalom
Then the father hen will call his chickens home
The wise man will bow down before the throne
And at His feet they’ll cast their golden crowns
When the Man comes around

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the Man comes around

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singing
Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum
Voices calling and voices crying
Some are born and some are dying
It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

In measured hundredweight and penneypound
When the Man comes around.

Close (Spoken part)
And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked and behold, a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was Death
And Hell followed with him.

Celebrate Halloween with Ms. 45!

Happy Halloween!

In honor of the holiday, here’s a Halloween-themed clip from one of the greatest films ever made — Ms. 45, the movie that proved that the Grindhouse is often more sincerely pro-woman than the mainstream.

(Big spoiler warning: This scene is actually the end of the film so if you’re the type of little toadsucker that’s always crying “You should have warned me boo hoo,” consider yourself warned.)