Sunday, January 10, 2010


Isolation is a terrifying extreme. The feeling that you're cut off from everything, that no one understands you or can empathize with you, the idea you are without friend and more or less alone in the universe-it's a harrowing and horrifying experience. From a psychological perspective isolationism goes hand in hand with arrogance and oftentimes accompanies depression, leading to increased thoughts of worthlessness and suicidal impulses. From an artistic perspective, isolationism can yield amazing work that is completely devoid of interference, art from a place that others have a hard time reaching. Certainly geographic location plays an important part in the creation of music. Sound is tied to place or origin as much as it is individual ideas and influence. Nowhere is this idea more clear than in the world of black metal. Norwegian BM sounds distinctly different from Swedish BM, which is worlds away from French BM, which is nothing like the sound of US BM (whose actual "sound" is still a matter of argument). As far reaching as the tendrils of black metal are, there are still those corners of the world where it hasn't permeated, where BM artists are rare, where there's no clear cut "sound" to link to, where the only references are the artist's own ideas and the records that they may or may not have heard. Be Persecuted from China, Pyha from the Koreas and Enecare from Ireland are all good examples of this sort of musical isolationism. Another amazing example comes in the form of Grim Funeral, an entity from the romantic wastes of Spain, whose approach to BM is firmly rooted in classicism yet is uniquely individual. My first experience with Grim Funeral was their split album with Ghesteenland, a challenging, lengthy, cold record whose dissonance and crudeness could be seen as off-putting to all but fervent worshipers of Ved Buens Ende and the Black Legions. Now comes the full length on Total Holocaust, five tracks of shrieking banshee-esque BM demanding to be taken on their own artistic terms with little compromise in terms of sound. This is trebly, icy BM-the guitars are drenched in reverb, chorus and echoes while the programmed drums hammer relentlessly away with mechanical inhuman precision. Not especially technical but nowhere near amateur either. The vocals are all over the map-most of the time a chilly scream freezing above the callous music landscape, clouding across the songs like a knifing rain, other times a droning croak of bile and vomit. The music references the grandiosity of Emperor with none of the pomp-songs are complex, long and melodically confusing but never overbearing-the notes just don't go where your ears want them to go. What you know is thrown away in favor of a more distanced approach. Atmosphere is important, but again, never the focus-keyboards are omnipresent but always just behind, cradling and fleshing out. The echoes do most of the work. As the album reaches its concluding apex the mark of Xasthur becomes ever more apparent as the guitars become more distant and washed out, the pace more industrialized and hyperplodding. This record is massive step forward from the split material, especially in terms of production. Whether this ushers in a new style of BM remains to be seen, and what relation this album has to the overall sound of Spanish BM remains a mystery as well, at least until more albums surface. What you can be sure of is that this is an entity all its own, the touchstones obvious but never ripped off. The album cover suggests to me a declaration of war, a military stance, and in some ways the music reflects that idea-there is certainly little reprieve to be found here, even in the final drumless track of guitars and screams, but what war is being declared on isn't clear. The listener? The "scene"? Contemporaries? Life in general? Grim Funeral offer no opinion, only a strange, dissonant work of BM art birthed from their own torments. Not a masterpiece but totally an entity to watch.

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