Ten Years #16: Falkenbach

Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
16. Falkenbach (1,418 plays)
Top track (84 plays): Heathenpride, from En Their Medh Riki Fara (1996)
Featured track: Tanfana, from Tiurida (2011)

Happy Halloween! As you may have guessed, October 31st is our favorite day of the year here at Shattered Lens. I thought I’d celebrate with two entries in my Top 50 series that both happen to be particularly appropriate for the occasion. The first, coming in at 16th place with 1,418 listens over the past ten years, is the solo brainchild of Vratyas Vakyas: Falkenbach. A band I find some excuse to mention almost every October, Falkenbach have about as much of a right as Bathory or Enslaved to claim the invention of viking metal. While Vakyas certainly lacks the widespread influence attributable to Quorthon–only nine copies were supposedly ever made of the 1989 Havamal demo–he seems to have been a part of the movement from its very founding. Recording originally in Iceland and later settling down in Germany, Vakyas has dedicated his career as a musician to persistently refining a unique sound inseparable from the notion of viking metal.

“Viking metal” is a term I use sparingly. It marks, in my opinion, the transition of fringe metal bands away from reactionary Satanism and towards a more refined, pagan appreciation for pre-Christian European tradition. This process took the majority of the 1990s to fully realize, and many of the bands that most commonly receive a “viking” tag–Bathory, Enslaved, Falkenbach, Burzum–originated firmly within the spectrum of black metal. (The term “pagan metal” emerged in much the same manner further east, as Ukrainian and Russian black metal bands found similar cause to divorce Satanism.) Modern use of “viking metal” refers to little more than a lyrical theme, the transition to a folk aesthetic in black metal circles and beyond being at this point complete. “Pagan metal” seems to be the tag for any folkish band that still lies on the fringe, usually through heavy doses of black metal, provided they didn’t get dumped off in the “viking” bin first.

It would make a great deal of sense to me to lump the likes of Enslaved and Bathory into the “pagan” category where applicable, along with more recent acts like Moonsorrow, and abandon “viking metal” altogether. But if it is to persist, I find no band more appropriate for the title than Falkenbach. Much like Summoning, Falkenbach’s sound developed into an independent entity with no clear counterparts. From Ok Nefna Tysvar Ty (2003) onward, Vakyas’s sound has stood distinctly apart. The looping electronic woodwinds, acoustic guitar, mid-tempo beat, and chugging electric guitar in the sample track I’ve provided are all fundamental to the sound visible within the earliest available Falkenbach recordings and fully realized by 2003. But where Summoning has always defied classification, Falkenbach’s close ties to the onset of the viking metal movement seem to grant the term weight. It would be a bit silly to suggest that Falkenbach’s uniqueness is somehow more significant than the countless other innovative, folk-inspired metal bands of the 90s and 2000s, but his timing in history and lack of parallels, be they copycats or coincidental, has earned Vakyas a distinction beyond his impeccable song writing and sincere reverence for the old gods. Falkenbach is, for me at least, the closest thing to viking metal as a style of music that you will ever find.

Song of the Day: Hammerheart (by Bathory)

Resident site writer and music-editor necromoonyeti knows more about the history of the Swedish metal band Bathory who helped pioneer not just black metal but an even more awesome subgenre we now know as Viking metal. I’m still educating myself in the sounds of Bathory, but one particular song from their epic discography which has caught my attention would be the 7th song from their 6th album, Twilight of the Gods. This song makes the latest “Song of the Day” and it’s simply called “Hammerheart”.

“Hammerheart” was the only song from Bathory’s sixth album which wasn’t written by it’s founder Quorthon but adapted from English composer Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets. To be more concise this Bathory adaptation uses an excerpt from The Planets’ fourth movement called “Jupiter”. The Holst song must’ve made quite an impression on Quorthon for it remains one of the more memorable Bathory songs once he switched the band from it’s 80’s black metal days to the slower, heavier style which would become Viking metal.

This song, every time I listen to it, makes me think of the cold, icy fjords being plied by dragonships full of Viking raiders as they move in and out of the rivers and tributaries of mainland Europe to bring their unique brand of culture to mainland Europe. It also makes me think of Viking funerals with this song being played as an accompaniment. I may not have Norse blood in my veins but this song lets me imagine that I do.


Now that the wind called my name
And my star had faded now hardly a glimpse
up in the empty space
And the wise one-eyed great father
in the sky stilled my flame

For the ones who stood me near
And you few who were me dear
I ask of thee to have no doubts and no fears

For when the great clouds fills the air
And the thunder roars from o, so
far away up in the sky
Then for sure you will know that I have
reached the joyous hall up high

With my bloodbrothers at side
All sons of father with one eye
We were all born in the land of the blood on ice

And now you all who might hear my song
Brought to you by the northern wind have no fear
Though the night may seem so everlasting
and forever dark

There will come a golden dawn
At ends of nights for all yee on whom
Upon the northstar always shines

The vast gates to hall up high
Shall stand open wide and welcome you
with all its within
And Oden shall hail us bearers of a pounding

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.

5 Artists/Bands I Fell In Love w/ in 2009

While I’m not as well-versed with all sorts of music genres like some friends of mine I do have a well-rounded taste when it comes to music. Growing up during the 80’s it was hard not to get into the hair-metal which dominated the scene. Yes, I fully admit to being a Motley Crue fan and even listened to the random Poison track here and there. In addition to hair-metal I also got into rap and hip-hop during the 80’s and early 90’s which I still consider the Golden Age of the genre.

Young people nowadays can have their Lil’ Wayne or Soulja Boy (but why would they want to) and the Dirty South crew and all that. I say I’ll take giants of the genre like Eric B. and Rakim, EPMD, Wu-Tang Clan, Afrika Bambaataa, Paris, N.W.A, Ice-T and Ice Cube over these new youngbloods any day of the week and Sundays included. While rap and hip-hop have become too much about commercialization I do like current acts like Mos Def and Talib Kweli of Black Star, Common, OutKast, Mobb Deep and Goodie Mobb.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve branched out from those two genres and embraced all types of music (though folk music still escapes me most of the time). It doesn’t matter now whether the artist/band plays some subgenre of metal like Norwegian Black, Viking, Pagan or combinations in-between. Or if they’re more classical genres like baroque, chamber and symphony. If they sounded good and I got into them I couldn’t care less what sort of genre they went under.

2009 was a good year for me in terms of discovering some new bands and artists. These were not new in the way that they’ve just been making music recently. All five I’m about to mention have been making music for at least a decade or decades for a couple.

1. Altan Urag

Altan Urag is a folk-rock band from Mongolia who have combined traditional Mongolian folk music, Western rock stylings and traditional Tuvan/Mongolian “karkhiraa” throat singing. It’s just very difficult to try and explain Altan Urag who has never heard of throat singers and folk music from the region. I’ve pretty much scoured every music store in my area, the net and other shadowy options to find their music. To say that I fell in love with this band would be one of the major understatement of the year.

2. Bathory

Bathory is one band I’ve heard of in the past but never really bothered to try. I was still very leery of the subgenres of metal that went by labels such as Norwegian Black, Pagan, Viking, etc. I was very much still a child of the NWOBHM movement of the lat 70’s and early 80’s and the rise of trash/speed metal of the 80’s. But the last two years I’ve branched out to try more types of metal and in 2009 I finally gave Bathory a chance and was instantly hooked. I’ve wondered since why I never gave them a chance. My favorite track of theirs has to be “Hammerheart” from their “Twilight of the Gods” album. It’s a much more subdued Bathory, but every time I listen to it I feel like I should be at a pub or some Viking hall downing a few pints of ale or horns of mead with my buddies before going off to battle. I definitely feel like Odin is watching over me when I listen to Bathory.

3. Blind Guardian

What is there to say about Blind Guardian that its most ardent fans haven’t already said ad infinitum about this greatest of all power metal bands. Power metal have been a genre I’ve dabbled in here and there in years past but never really paid them much attention as they truly deserve. Blind Guardian changed all that for me in 2009 and I now count Power Metal as one of my favorite type of music. Blind Guardian’s epic and quite operatic 2002 album, “A Night at the Opera”, was my first introduction to this power metal band of all power metal. While I’ve come to love all the other albums of their pre- and post-Opera I found this album of theirs the most accomplished and musically complete. Even people who are not typically fans of metal would find this album as something they would enjoy listening to. My favorite track is also the longest and most complex in the album, “…And Then There Was Silence.” It is an epic 14-minute track that tells the story of the Trojan War. If there’s a song more epic than this one I haven’t heard it.

4. Boris

Whenever I used to think of Japanese popular music and rock I always thought of J-Pop and it’s rock equivalent. I’m not wrong in that assumption as those type of music coming out of Japan have become quite popular due to the rise in the popularity of anime in the West. So, color me surprised when the same friend who introduced me to Blind Guardian and Altan Urag told me to check out Boris. The band is the power trio of Atsuo (vocals/drums), Wata (lead guitar) and Takeshi (bass guitar/vocals) out of Tokyo who simply cannot be hobbled by any particular genre of rock. One album may be stoner rock while the next all about doom and drudge metal. They’ve even released ambient rock and noise rock albums where one would think the music was just amps feedbacking back on themselves. I’ve come to call Boris the mad scientists of rock and their albums attest to that. My favorite track of theirs come from their 2003 album, “Akuma no Uta.” The song in question is called “Naki Kyoku” and one just has to listen to this song just what sort of musical geniuses the trio of Boris really are.

5. Tom Waits

Tom Waits. There’s just nothing much I can say about my love for Tom Waits other than people who have never heard him should just listen to “Pasties and a G-String” and be amazed. To try and describe Tom Waits would be an exercise in failure. One either loves The Waits or just don’t get him. There’s no middle-ground when it comes to The Waits.

So that makes the 5 bands and artists I fell in love with in 2009. Honorable mentions must go to these others: Mastodon, Turisas, Isis, Otis Taylor, Mantic Ritual, The Black Keys, Mirrorthrone and Nightwish just to name a few.