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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.