Sunday, March 28, 2010

Darkthrone- Circle the Wagons

Even though this album continues the path Darkthrone have been taking for some time now, actually listening to it is shockingly weird. Bizarre lyrics, off-key warbling, passages of stunning brilliance, a pretty crap recording, impossible-to-read irony (?), etc.

Some day we will have to go back and hear Under a Funeral Moon and ask what was really going on there, too...

Once again, Fenriz sings the songs that he wrote, which is probably something I will never get used to. Because the Fenriz songs are always the best, you can look at this in two ways: 1) the best songs on this record are marred by his terrible, high-concept vocals; 2) because they are in a different style than the Nocturno Culto songs, you can regard the album as a "split" or a collaboration instead of a full-band work. Something like John and Yoko.

The Fenriz songs are as much punk as metal, but not really (as metallers will think) a combination of *hardcore* and metal--much less of crust and metal! Rather, just as a punk sound can be heard on the first Iron Maiden albums or in early Motorhead--thus predating hardcore--these Darkthrone songs are more Vibrators than Discharge. More Sex Pistols than World Burns to Death. They are light-hearted and tossed-off, but their goal is catchiness and they don't fail there. Even on "I am the Working Class," which does everything possible to be unlistenable...

The Nocturno Culto songs are dirge-like affairs that seem "stuck" in the Darkthrone records of the early 2000s, and they are less hilarious and less fun than Fenriz's contributions. This means: worse. But as the Engels to Fenriz's Marx, Nocturno Culto still is extremely talented and "Black Mountain Totem" is another dramatically tense composition in the vein of "Oath Minus" from the previous album. "Stylized Corpse," however, *drags.*

Even though I like this album, it is kind of a train wreck: which at least means that it really grabs your attention. What were they thinking? How can they top this? What breach of taste is about to befall me? Obviously this record was not recorded to be Dark Side of the Moon, and it is neither polished nor pruned nor self-serious.

Still, it is an "event" and the artists succeed in bending me to their will and seeing the world their way for 40 minutes. Success. I have been on a journey, if not a soulside journey.

Score: 3.5/5 (*** 1/2)

Best songs: "These Treasures Will Never Befall You," "Circle the Wagons," "Black Mountain Totem"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Burzum- Belus

Burzum was never my favorite of the Norwegian black metal bands--that would be Darkthrone--but like every other fan, gossip, or rubber-necker on the internet, I was curious to hear this album. I even listened to the 30-second previews on Amazon... which in recollection was rather desperate. But now it has arrived in my iTunes, the vinyl is in the mail, etc., and it's time to say what's what.

The first song makes it seem like the last 15 years of black metal never happened (if only!)--could be an outtake from his last pre-incarceration album, Filosofem. And that's... ok. But I think we all really don't JUST want Burzum to be a Burzum clone. And the album really does open out to be much more than that. But what does it add up to? We want something game-changing. We waited long enough.

As the album unfolds, it is apparent that it is NOT game-changing... but then you realize, if we "really knew" what it took to be game-changing, then that would just be an exercise of will. To set out to reinvent everything about music--lots of artists try this, and the history of metal especially is strewn with the failures (Into the Pandemonium) that result. There are very few successes: Bathory's Hammerheart comes to mind as the great mid-career paradigm shift.

Belus is not so drastically different from earlier Burzum... but it is RADICALLY, shockingly different from the black metal of the last 15 years. The album screams, "You guys got it all wrong!"--and I am completely persuaded. Xasthur, Leviathan, Krieg, Velvet Cocoon, Nachtmystium, Wolves in the Throne Room, and legions of more obscure one-man "Burzum-influenced" bands--- all of this seems completely beside the point now.

However, this would not be the case if Belus JUST sounded like Filosofem. It is better than that album, which was limited by its high concept. Belus is, in a way, the definitive Burzum album---but to understand that statement is not to limit Burzum to a mere style. What makes this record is what makes any record: a great number of "neat parts" and compelling riffs. But what makes this album "journalistically" interesting is that it has *zero* attachment to black metal's trappings... and yet... sounds completely like Burzum. Seemingly we missed the point the first go-round.

Black metal since Burzum's last album has consistently tried to "cheat" and produce the style and dubious "kvlt" attitude of a perceived original scene. The most successful bands were the most eccentric--Vlad Tepes, Sacramentary Abolishment, later Graveland, Bone Awl--and eventually not a single person living will care about most of the last decade's basement black metal. But what we learn here is that Burzum maybe ought never to have had ANYTHING to do with all that in the first place.

There is a lot of beautiful music here to lose yourself in.

Best songs: "Kaimadalthas' Nedstigning," "Sverddans," "Keliohesten," "Morgenroede." (tracks #4-7)

Score: 4.5/5 stars (**** 1/2)