Forged and Molten: Metal in 2006 (Stewart Voegtlin)
I received more promotional copies, listened to more music, and wrote less about music in 2006 than I ever have. Dubious it was: call it perplex. Suddenly, a genre that I’ve listened to since I was 15 years-old was being lauded as the next big thing; “serious” writing about metal showed up in ArtForum Magazine, the New York Times and innumerable music websites, blogs and messageboards. The big metal mags hawked the next big things, and their dread-locked, illustrated forms preened on glossy covers from Barnes & Noble racks while “cool jazz” percolated around the unaffected lot sipping iced lattes and pretending to write poetry or prose on a laptop the size of a six-pack.
What’s worse? – Sunn, Boris, and Mastodon constituted a single bloated teat for the uncritical masses to slurp from, while forefathers Celtic Frost and Iron Maiden ambled back with provocative, mature – and in Celtic Frost’s case – cryptic efforts. The underground, of course, remained as such, with Norwegian firebrands like Beastcraft shirking attention from Internet locus: “No trades! No promos!” Tasmania’s Kill the Kristians took it a step further: “Burn down your local church, synagogue or mosque in our name and then fuck off and die!!!” Dry to say the least, but mildly invigorating in contrast to the usual suspects’ milquetoast takes on metal.
Athens, Georgia’s Harvey Milk is the indisputable story of the year for me, reissuing an old beaut; releasing a retrospective DVD, a new record and a slew of singles. They still lumber and laze through thundering structures. Creston still writes tragic and often inchoate lyrics. Paul’s drumming is still powered on arithmetic and outburst. And Tanner is still one of the most monolithic bass players alive – pace James Plotkin.
Plotkin, unfortunately, was involved in the bump in the road that was Khanate’s untimely demise. Misunderstood and written off as 1,000 different examples of self-indulgent “art-metal,” Khanate was power and pain on catastrophic scale; Plotkin, in a move of grace, teamed up with Runhild Gammelsaeter for one of the more haunting and surprisingly enjoyable listens of the year, with Khylst’s appropriately titled, Chaos Is My Name.
Khanate wasn’t the only loss: Dissection frontman Jon Nodtveidt took his own life, and one of my greatest influences as a writer, R.W. “Johnny” Apple – while likely full of fine foie gras and uproarious fanfare – left the dinner table way too early. But away with the doldrums: The rest of the best? Read:
Some LPs, CDs:
Antaeus, Blood Libels LP [Norma Evangelium Diaboli]
Some Reissues, CD-Rs, 7”s, cassettes:
Battletorn, Burn Fast 7” [Mad at the World]
It was likely Paradigms Recordings’ year. The London label unleashed many gems, all ridiculously diverse, superbly packaged and presented. Icelander Hallvarður Ásgeirsson’s Lífsblómið is a stunning collection of modern miniatures, working stark and disparate elements into avant composition while paying homage to the Viennese School. It’s not as stuffily academic as it sounds; sweeping, emotional strings reminiscent of Gorecki in his more empathetic moments dominate the disc when ethereal voices aren’t shaking the trees. There are also brassy interludes that come off like a dyspeptic Aaron Copeland. Ásgeirsson is inherently rambunctious, however, and he has no qualms about sending bits and pieces of sonic skree through otherwise serene moments. Remarkably, the effect isn’t as jarring as one might think; even the musical violence is delivered in a glacial way, fusing voice, string and sonic terrorism in a palatable, crystalline form. Paradigms’ Jarboe 7” is another triumph, especially the B-side, which sounds like the first enactment of Walpurgisnacht put to vinyl grooves.
Within firing distance – and certainly in the same league – is Fair England’s Aurora Borealis, which released its share of trophy artifacts this year, such as Wolfmangler’s Dwelling in a Dead Raven for the Glory of Crucified Wolves, and Villains’ [purportedly] forthcoming Drenched in the Poisons. Both recordings are marked by natural influence, pulling music out of the environs and giving me something to really hang my head on. D Smolken’s Wolfmangler managed to take Deep South affect, Osaka Noh – and Black Metal, massage all of their unruly essences and disperse fanged and frothing distillations of the unlikely triumvirate in wildly interesting ways. What we’re left with is chamber music for the Faulkner set – gnawing on a pickled pig’s foot; slurping from a Dixie cup of shine: Shit always rolls downhill. New Yawk’s Villains isn’t as disparate as Hillbilly Smolken’s crooked offspring, but it does recall the days of yore in respectful and potent ways. I can certainly remember getting my first taste of Motörhead via the “Iron Fist” and “Ace of Spades” videos. One look at those mustaches, chrome drum kit and monster mics and I was tossing my JFA and SSD records into the bin. The same beer and brawl, smoke and shout digressions are launched in earnest by Villains; this is a band that cares little about presentation and everything about confrontation. Drenched in the Poisons channels the conflict well, creating Thrash Metal that sounds like many different bands, but borrows from none of them. AB Proprietors Witherspawn [pictured above in all his glory with Metal Tigger and elixir] and Tone Loki similarly manage to shirk “unifying ideology,” allowing for a pick-and-choose amongst the nasty little bits that choose to lurk in shadow. Raise a tin of Scrumpy Jack for the lads, please.
Oregonian cleric Der Sechste Chakra pulled the corpus of Thrash from the nether with Negative Plane’s Et in Saecula Saeculorum and awoke other ghosts with a glorious two picture disc set of Reencarnacion’s 888 Metal. Reencarnacion marries Black Metal with a sort of morbid Latino folk music powered by plaintive acoustic and eerie violin. Negative Plane breathes its fetid breath into church organ, activates the effects pedals and single-handedly reanimates Floridian Thrash in what is likely my favorite record of the year. Also from the hand of Der Sechste is Wolfe’s self-titled effort, a brooding, luminescent record that lingers indefinitely – partly due to the folkish melodies that run underneath its anguished din.
Gaul’s Antaeus undoubtedly puts forth the most powerful recording of the year with Blood Libels, something to be marveled over rather than enjoyed. There is honestly no pleasure in Antaeus’ locus. Pain, surrender and utter acquiescence are the only existing “choices”: Human agent as bereft of thought and emotion – complete reification. Ultimately an exercise in “musical” fascism, Blood Libels triumphs in its domination: every single facet of each song is completely controlled, no matter how unstable the structures become. This is not a record to be loved; it is a record to be admired.
Also from NED’s coffers comes the miasmatic reissue of two Black Metal greats, Funeral Mist’s Devilry and Salvation, the latter having the distinction of being perhaps one of the most effective Black Metal records of all time. Ambience has always been the bedfellow of the darker set; Funeral Mist use it like no other, creating a plastic and contorted region littered with decaying bodies – man and animal, forests free of trees, bogs burgeoning from scorched earth, twisted magma sigils writhing with millipedes and cockroaches. The sky a bruised ceiling of gray and black; the sea like blood and stagnant with expired fish – oil covered gulls swoop down and tear through the inanimate lot in a vociferous frenzy. Those that do walk the domain are subject not only to their degenerating appetites, but also to the hegemony of evil. Songs arise rather than begin, prefaced with folk chant – the mantras of ritual and necessity. Songs are overwhelmed rather than concluded. And songs are rendered in the language of the church, with “In Manus Tuas” – the Catholic invocation for a “happy death” – delivered entirely in Latin. Devilry, too, is a formidable record, showing the seeds of evil that had truly yet to come. Verily, verily I say unto thee……
By Stewart Voegtlin