One of the first novelties to really captivate me in World of Warcraft was holiday events. WoW was the first game I ever played that really felt like a full-blown world and not just a collection of zones. (At least, it did back before Blizzard effectively shrunk everything with portals and fast travel.) Holidays added a further immersive element–a sense that this world actually experienced the passage of time. While that aspect was left by the wayside as the game expanded, it had a powerful effect on me back in 2005. Playing the game for me then didn’t mean statistics-grinding–being the first on my server to down a boss or accomplish an ‘achievement’–it just meant checking out of real life for a few hours and immersing myself in this fantasy environment. You could start a new character on Halloween, set off on the long hike to a major city, and there you’d find the whole place decked out in pumpkins and ghouls with themed mini-games and the like. Come back at Christmas, and the world will have aged again. I loved it.
The Darkmoon Faire is an event unique to Azeroth. Originally a traveling carnival that you might happen upon by chance, it eventually set up permanent shop with easy access to the major cities, but the settlement maintained its air of mystery. In practice, the Darkmoon Faire Merry-Go-Round is a necessary stop for anyone interested in speed-leveling a new character due to the beneficial enchantment that visitors receive, but its music leaves you wondering if you didn’t just lose your soul in exchange…
This Jason Hayes composition was not actually introduced to the game until late 2012, in the Landfall patch for Mists of Pandaria, but it could easily find a home in the game’s annual Halloween event.
The short-lived, Yaroslavl-based band Векша (Veksha) offer a look at that strange world of ultra-nationalistic, rabidly pagan Slavic metal that began to emerge shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. I love the awkward juxtaposition (by 1998 standards) of black metal and this anonymous woman’s clean, almost childish singing in the environment of absolutely rock-bottom recording quality. The aesthetic consequence is spooky–a sort of half-formed ghost of a demo tape that dares you to shut off your speakers and see if it continues to play.
But the appeal that keeps me listening to На пороге ночи (Na Poroge Nochi) might not have been the band’s intent. Believe it or not they actually had a website, on which they greet all Aryan brothers with pastel flowers and rotating heart gifs.
But creepy by accident is always more effective than creepy by intent, right? The bizarrely pervasive fixation on race throughout a lot of early Slavic pagan metal bands probably has an interesting historical explanation that is well beyond the scope of my knowledge, and the explicitly sinister intent of a few prominent bad apples in that bunch might cast the rest a little out of context, but at any rate it’s another off-kilter factor in rendering Veksha’s lone release just a wee bit disturbing for reasons the band probably never intended. They’ve definitely earned a spot in my Halloween playlist.
If there is one artist I have consistently returned to every October for the 15 or so years that I’ve had a clue what I’m talking about, it’s Vratyas Vakyas. I first discovered Falkenbach via Audiogalaxy–a long forgotten site that stood out back in the Napster days for a design which allowed users to easily explore non-mainstream genres. I had never heard anything remotely similar to Falkenbach at the time, and I fell in love with the plodding hymns that seemed to turn black metal on its head and generate a spirit of reverence rather than darkness.
Of course, in hindsight Falkenbach fits into a broader historical progression, but his sound is still entirely unmistakable. Vratyas Vakyas was one of the earliest artists to really latch on to the ‘viking metal’ ideal that Bathory began in the late 80s, before too many stylistic norms were standardized, and the sound he landed on has never ceased to captivate me. “Heathen Foray” is the opening track to his fourth studio album, Heralding – The Fireblade (2005), and it also makes an appearance in somewhat grimmer form on his second album, …Magni blandinn ok megintiri… (1998). How far back the basic idea of the song dates is hard to say; there is a ton of earlier demo material available going as far back as 1989. I could have chosen any of dozens of stand-out songs to showcase here without any reservations, but this one has been speaking to me lately. Enjoy!
Part of the ‘appeal’ of the second wave of black metal as it manifested in Norway is the feeling that you are listening to a product of truly deranged minds. Granted most of the artists in the scene were fairly normal kids who matured and went on to enjoy long-term musical success, the genre’s focus on the occult, Satanism, and all things traditionally “evil” brought a few real wackos into the fold. Most of them wound up dead and behind bars. Gorgoroth pressed on.
This is a band that continues to project itself as dead-serious Satan-worshiping masochists long after their peers evolved away from the genre’s early image or else dropped sufficient hints to be recast as a sort of warm cuddly metal-spiked parody. Does their sound reflect this? I like to believe it does. “Procreating Satan” is the opening track to Twilight of the Idols, the band’s sixth studio album, released in 2003. It features the most notorious of the many vocalists the band has had over the years: Gaahl.
Lars Jensen has been working on his solo project, Myrkgrav, since 2003, but his discography is pretty brief. Trollskau, skrømt og kølabrenning (2006) is his only full-length album, and it’s a pretty solid entry into the annals of pagan metal. The album is a bit brooding overall, with a lot of slower tempo black metal-infused hymns, but the optimistic closing track has always stood out to me the most.
“Endetoner” feels like a victory anthem–a celebration of Norse history and tradition that honors those old gods who always seem to make a brief return to Midgard around this time of the year.
If I asked a random metal fan to name ten folk/viking metal bands, chances are they wouldn’t drop Sweden’s Månegarm among the contenders. It’s a bit odd, considering they’ve been around since 1995. But besides having a name that isn’t entirely easy to reproduce on a standard keyboard, there’s no reason to leave “Månegarm” off the list. Their ability to fly under the radar is something I don’t really understand; this band has definitely drawn less attention than they deserve over the years.
I am guilty to an extent, with nothing prior to Vargstenen–their 2007 release–in my collection, but I was still a little surprised to realize I had never featured this band before let alone this song. Following a brief intro track, “Ur själslig död” kicks off Vargstenen with epic bombast and a creative progression that avoids the easy temptation to repeat the track’s catchy main melody in excess. One thing that always stood out to me on this song was the vocals. Erik Grawsiö demonstrates a level of diversity I’m more accustomed to out of Slavic metal bands than their Germanic counterparts, and I absolutely love how he transitions back and forth between guttural singing and atonal growls. I couldn’t resist the urge to belt out a death metal roar of my own at the 40 second mark when I was listening to this in my car earlier today. So much for not scaring the new neighbors. <_<
Well, I started out this series featuring a couple of songs I’ve been enjoying for the better part of two decades. Here is one I discovered less than a week ago. It’s not too often that music successfully creeps me out these days, but I suppose I should have known I was in for a treat when Veilburner were described to me as a bad acid trip.
“Scorched Earth Exorcism” is a great example of this band’s unique, psychedelic mix of death and black metal. It’s some seriously twisted stuff, and nothing on the album better captures the deranged spirit of the season than the melody that takes over this song around the 4 minute mark. I’ve been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead marathon over the past few days, and I seriously had a dream about hunting zombies with this screwed up tune playing in the background. It was disturbing and awesome.