Friday, July 11, 2008

Spellbound Pt. 1 and 2

1. Black metal, or at least as it is known today, got started back in the late 80’s in Norway (This does not include the first generation, but Venom also influenced Metallica, so there you go). Seeing as I was working with Saturday morning cartoons at this time, not Pagan Occultism, I really had no chance at hearing A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and even if I did, I’m sure it would have been traumatized me for months. So, like many fans of the genre, especially in the current world of Metal, we end up rushing the gate a little bit later…okay, a lot later. I admittedly was late getting into Metal, like less than five years ago. The nineties were amazingly cruel to the genre and in my neighborhood of Beanbag hippies and Chrisitan all-stars, the bleak underground of black metal was worlds away from my ears.

A decade plus, here I am dying to talk about the genre and even getting a chance to represent my home turf in the process. A far cry from Norway, America has always taken a back seat in black metal, owning the rites to death metal instead. While this year shows that Scandinavia is still strong with releases by seminal bands like Mayhem (Ordo Ad Chao) and Marduk (Rom 5:12), there are also some great efforts made in the good ol’ U.S.A.

Profanatica is from New York and has been around since the early days, and so underground that it took them almost two decades to release an LP. There were demos and “Best of” compilations along the way, but no definitive statement to match the second-generation greats, like Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (Emperor) or Storm of the Light's Bane (Dissection). De Domonatia is one, a conjuring of satanic worship, and oddly second, a fusion of American prog/doom. Fans that are holding on to Deathcrushkvlt” will detest the guitar tone because it “drones,” instead of offering the scathing low-fi of traditional black metal. The album is full of classic tremolo work, but powerfully cloaked, mixed down to the extent that the guitar is almost indistinguishable from the bass, like a molten tide rising beneath Paul Ledney’s monstrous vocals. Even some of the dynamics drudge along, like on “Scourging and Crowning,” adding to the doom influence. Song titles and lyrics are pure blasphemy, with names like “A Fallen God, Dethroned In Heaven" and “Cursed Nazarene Whore.” To sum up, Ledney ends the album screaming “I’ll tear this fucking religion to the ground!!!” With De Domonatia, Profanatica is back in a huge way.

2. The Northwest. Surrounding Cascades and dense forests provide a view that never strays too long before turning up and into a bent wall trees. Most escape to the valleys to find some space to roam, but the regions trademark is the hymnal of roots that reach towards the heavens through a canopy of limbs. Then, it begins to rain. Throughout most of the year, a steady dirge of rainfall gathers the dead and rotting earth, and carries it to some swift and cold depth. The constant downpour seems to weigh on time as much as it does the land. A long grey winter soaks into your bones, the rising mist drawn in through every breath. You learn to live in a fog, wake in the night.

For Wolves in the Throne Room (and yours truly), this is home. Home, and then some, to the extent that they have decided to shed all trappings of “civilian life” and dwell completely immersed in the forests of rural Olympia, WA. Their second release, Two Hunters, is a reverent oath to their world, beyond the sight of average daily life, born from the hidden realms of a lost time. In the symphonic vein of black metal, Wolves in the Throne Room are reminiscent of Burzum’s brooding melancholy and extended composition. The production isn’t heavily tampered with, but the album sounds beautiful. The tremolo guitar work resonates powerfully without overpowering the low end, the drums aren’t triggered but audible when raining down. It gives great depth for the guitars and bass to well up from under, and surround the driving percussion.

The band chooses not to focus on Satan in subject matter, relying instead on nature’s unrelenting path and force. While the emotions that stir when in the alone in wilderness have always been a part of black metal, at least the second generation, it defines Wolves', and like Burzum, Two Hunters sacrifices raw aggression for a desolate serenity. Then, there are more subtle touches in the mix, adding some corners to turn. First track “Dia Artio” opens with sounds of the forest night before a sweeping synth takes over the reigns. On “Cleansing” a brewing storm is haunted by guest female vocalist Jessica Kinney, a rarely seen aspect in black metal, and is one of the albums greatest moments. While there is no real new ground broken with Two Hunters, Wolves in the Throne Room have created a triumph of black metal, true to their hallowed roots.

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