Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I'm not sure where i stand on this release. While i admire Varg Vikernes' renewed activity under the Burzum moniker ("Belus" and "Fallen" are both phenomenal, essential additions to the Burzum canon and black metal as a whole) this new album seems to serve little purpose. "From the Depths of Darkness" is an album of rerecordings of classic Burzum material, mostly culled from the first record, with two songs from the second. Oftentimes there's little need for an artist to revisit their earlier works; this is especially true in the case of Burzum, whose debut was so pivotal and forward thinking that there's virtually no improvement that could be made to any of the material. This record solidifies that position, offering new renditions that sound so similar to their originals the listener is left wondering what, if anything, has changed.
I won't doubt that could very well be the point of this record. Perhaps the best thing about "Belus" was that it illustrated, without apology, how little Vikernes had changed in the last two decades. Burzum picked up exactly where it left off, and there is no other band in the black metal universe that sounds remotely like them (or is able to measure up the template Vikernes created.) That begs the question, then, of the necessity of a project like this. If there's nothing new to offer, if there's no new takes on any of the material (and there isn't-the songs play exactly as they always have), and if even the sound itself isn't terribly different (Vikernes' drumming is slightly more confident this time out) then why the hell does this even exist? I'm dumbfounded.
If the point was to shed light on the actuality of black metal, the true philosophy and ideals behind the movement, then Vikernes has succeeded. It requires a deeper level of contemplation than the music itself invites, but at this point i don't feel Vikernes is attempting to reach anyone other than those who have always been with him. The spirit of rebellion is eternal, the flames of hatred burn bright. What was iconoclastic then still is today; the visionary still walks a path few can follow. I've always believed this of Burzum, and whatever Vikernes' faults as a person, the strength of the music has been more than enough for me to stand behind him from an artistic perspective.
So what is this album really? Is it ill-conceived or bad? No. It's very well-played, and the thrill of hearing these songs again, of hearing Vikernes still standing behind his contributions despite his distaste for modern black metal, is obvious. You can't create something and then say you don't care what happens to it. I've never bought that level of flippancy from artists, and i have a hard time taking seriously anyone who says anything remotely similar. Those who are driven to create put their heart and passion into what they're making; those projects and ideas contain a part of us that will always be found in it. If you're not invested there's no point. You can say that "work x" is always changing and never complete, and in some instances (the world of film immediately comes to mind) that may be close to the truth, but to completely dismiss what you've worked towards and say it doesn't matter, that is has no meaning, is near unforgivable to me. If it isn't important to you then why the fuck are you doing it? Vikernes is doing this because it's his: this is the person that more or less invented black metal (I love Mayhem too-don't get me wrong-but Vikernes' vision is THE template for everything that came after) and this album serves as a reminder of that, lest time bury his contributions under dust and fallacy. For the most part the music here rages as gloriously as it did the first time around. "Spell of Destruction" and " A Lost Forgotten Sad Spirit" both validate themselves as two of Buzum's most epic and mesmerizing compositions, reiterating the level of mastery Vikernes has over the form. Only "Ea, Lord of the Depths" fails to impress in its new guise; the slightly heightened pace does little to up the song's intensity, and only serves to pale it in comparison to its parent track. Also unnecessary are the three (!!!) intro tracks offered here, each more pointless than the last. I understand the need for mood and texture, as well as Vikernes' interest in these sounds, but here they only distract, and their collective brevity (perhaps under three minutes all told) makes one wonder why the hell they were even included. I don't need any sort of break-I've been listening to this shit for decades. Let it wash all over me; i don't need any breather.
Do you need this? If you grew up on Burzum like i did, then fuck yes. You'll buy it, listen to it, and find it worthy. You may wonder as to the actual conceptualization of it, and perhaps give thought as to why Vikernes didn't just vanish for a year or so and then emerge with new material, but you'll love it just the same. The pull of nostalgia (especially when there's still such a discernible vitality to it) is difficult to resist. If i'd been in prison for almost twenty years, i'd feel a drive to record too. These songs belong to Vikernes; they're his to do with as he pleases. I can't wait to hear some interviews about this record and get closer to the actual why. For now I have the songs, and that's enough. I used to wonder, in my early twenties, if i'd still be listening to black metal and feeling the same emotions connected to it. I do. The importance of this doesn't fade away or tarnish with time. It's eternal. If you understand that, this is a record you'll want to hear. Anyone else-this isn't meant for you.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

UTARM/SADNESS SATURN "SPLIT" (Chrysalis of Matter/Handmade Birds)

Harrowing split of lo-fi blackened extremity from Utarm and Sadness Saturn, an excursion into obscurity that blankets all in shades of grey and void. Another example of a severely well-conceived split record, the two acts here both complement one another and seem worlds apart, creating a mesh that gives itself over to disorienting confusion and wasted mesmerization. The common meeting ground is theoretical black metal; from that palette each band crafts its own potent mixture of terror and bleakness.
Utarm occupies the first side with their punishing dirge "The Cumridden Plague." Massively blown out crumbling guitars scorch out rote black metalisms in the form of weeping minor key chord voicings while seriously abrasive vocals wash over the entire mess, creating a stifling aura of hopelessness and rage that overtakes the entire piece. Whatever melodocism was present via the guitars is rendered inconsequential, a mere addendum to the onslaught of screaming indictment that constitutes Utarm's approach here. This is unbridled iconoclasm, a rewriting of the black metal template to suit the aesthetic needs of something far more corrupt and frightening. Utarm here are tapping into absolute negative space, and the result is a winterwash of blinding, suffocating fury and angst. This is pretty much the audio accompaniment to someone falling completely apart, and it's appropriately unhinged and unsettling. The psyche shatters; the self cripples. This is the sound of the bottom.
Sadness Saturn's side consists of three spacious tracks of hyper-distanced hypnotic black metal, sounding like it's coming from another world buried five miles underwater. For those familiar with Servile Sect (a sister band to Sadness Saturn) you'll recognize the vaguely psychedelic textures and machine-like intensity on display throughout the material. Though divided, the three pieces really act as one whole, opening up with grueling mechanized BM terror that gives way to washed out open-space drift, culminating in dirging, narcoleptic reaching metal deconstruction. The truly blasting black metal parts speak to the earliest one-man explorations of the genre, with an unchanging pace and temperament that belies its creator's isolation and disgust. While that perhaps simplifies things too much (Sadness Saturn aren't a traditional black metal act, in terms of sound or philosophy; the structures hint at the progressive and the atmospheres are decidedly oblique) it does give an idea of the sonics. There is a feeling of aristocracy here, a purity of black metal ideology that understands the necessity of removal for the music to be most effective. Sadness Saturn seems to come from universes far away, the message transformed into something recognizable but still buried with haze and mystery.
This is a split that appeals to the most dedicated underground denizens. The refusal of obvious black metal structure combined with the reinterpretation of classicism by both units makes for thirty minutes of highly unique, harrowing exorcism. Utarm especially come on strong here, but Sadness Saturn's contribution speaks to a knowledge of BM's history as well as an almost innate sense of where it can go without sacrificing its core aesthetics. Beautifully conceived, and worth tracking down. The Handmade Birds version comes in a gorgeous pressed slipcase with a rusty razor affixed to the front, an additional acknowledgment of genre intent that only heightens the split's caustic environment. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 25, 2011


The master returns. Few other hiatuses in the black metal universe left as large a void as Leviathan's; only Varg's incarceration has the same level of importance for me. When Jef Whitehead dissolved the project a few years back he left behind a body of work that pretty much lays waste to any other black metal band's discography in terms of atmosphere, originality, and sheer emotional intensity; i cannot recall the amount of times i've listened to "Verrater" and been moved near to tears by the dark, haunting beauty and sheer relentless of it (in fact, i listened to it once in the throes of a mushroom trip and had to hide under a pile of blankets for an hour and simply focus on trying to fucking breathe because the experience was too overwhelming.) Whitehead is one of few musicians able to tap into some extremely void recesses and emerge with the scars transformed into music; as a result virtually every work by Leviathan feels personal and universal, something horribly intimate but so reaching and vast that you feel like it's going to consume your world in its fragile entirety.
It was hard to function musically in a world where something so triumphant had been laid to ashes by its creator. Perhaps Whitehead's resurrection of the project was an inevitability, given his prolific approach and musical restlessness, but with the release of "True Traitor, True Whore" it's hard not to feel like you're in the presence of something monumental, a truly important piece of time in the black metal timeline. I feel i hardly need recount the facts regarding Whitehead's current legal troubles and their relation to the album title (which i'm not entirely sure of anyways-i have different ideas as to its meaning) but i will say that i find the amount of backlash he's received from much of the black metal community to be absolute bullshit and disturbingly hypocritical. We have to reach a point in society where we can separate the art (and not just art-any sort of expression or message) from the person creating it and allow ther work to be judged on its own merits. I have a sneaking suspicion that this critical lack was in part responsible for the tepid review given to "True Traitor, True Whore" by Pitchfork; instead of looking at the record as it relates to the body of work that preceded it and Whitehead's aesthetic, the review was more or less a call to diminish Whitehead's standing amongst the musical landscape and reduce his influence to something inconsequential. Anyone who actually listens to "True Traitor, True Whore" will see how shortsighted that vindictiveness is, as well as understand the foolishness in dismissing so rich a piece of blackened art.
"True Traitor, True Whore" is very much a Leviathan album (some reviews have said contrary, focusing on the dissonant and "ambient aspects) and very much a refinement of the aesthetic showcased in crushing works like "Tentacles of Whorror" and "The Tenth Sublevel of Suicide." I think this record is an incredible improvement over the swansong "Massive Conspiracy Against All Life"; while that record felt a bit overwrought to me, this one seems lean, focused, and fucking hungry. Obviously bearing the marks of its creator's personal struggles, "True Traitor, True Whore" cuts away everything inessential to the pure viscerality of black metal abstraction and delivers eight punishing songs that wave the flag of black metal classicism as well as Whitehead's unique reimaginings of those same tropes. Whether it's the lightning trilling in "True Whorror" reminiscent of Gorgoroth or the blazing Darkthrone-like primitive arpeggiating that makes up most of "Every Orifice Yawning Her Price," Leviathan is a project that can both reiterate and innovate. Whitehead's personal touch screams across the record's whole: the aching dissonance that practically defines him is all over this, as is the strained and mutated melodies that make Whitehead's music so fucking soul-carving. Some of the guitar work in "Shed this Skin" and "Harlot Rises (Mesmerized Again)" is so fucking triumphant it dares the listener not feel some sort of emotional connection to it, and elsewhere Whitehead's choices to drown the musical environment in swirling psychedelics practically lift you up into some state of transcendence. But the ultimate statement here, and probably one of the best Leviathan songs i've ever heard, is the bruising closer "Blood Red and True." As much an accusation as an expression of philosophy, the song takes the best elements of Melvins-esque obstinancy and chromaticism and fuses it to a punishing structure of drums and texture that leaves room for little other than total immersion. Whitehead's yearning lead work fuses a carved out sorrowfulness to the track, creating a piece of music so suffocating and gorgeous that it can't be classified as anything other than a Leviathan song. I cannot think of a higher compliment for any artist than the triumph over influence, the ascension to true and actual creation.
This is a landmark work. I sincerely hope this is the start of a new cycle in the Leviathan orbit, the mere first part in what can only be a total mastery of the black metal form. There is so much happening in "True Traitor, True Whore" that i feel like it's going to take me weeks to absorb all of it in. As a record it's a massive, challenging work from one of black metal's true auteurs; as a statement of intent and philosophy it's vicious, uncompromising, and near beyond reproach. However Wrest's troubles work out, only an idiot would refuse to acknowledge the power of this piece. That so many have only reminds me of how close minded the general black metal audience really is, and how conservative many of its ideals really are. For me, that's what the title "True Traitor, True Whore" really means. It's a calling out of everyone who's forgotten what black metal is supposed to be. It's about rebellion, and it's about violence, and it's certainly about controversy. But it's also, most importantly, about amazing music that no one else can tap into. It's primal, it's raw, it's purely aggressive and unabashedly emotional at its best. Leviathan is all of that; this record is the fucking proof. A masterpiece. Highest possible recommendation.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Much needed reissue of this long gone pair of LP's from Blake Green of Wolvserpent operating under his solo guise, Aelter. Taken together the two records show an obvious musical evolution as Green explores the limits of the genres he's looking to work within, crafting something resembling the wasted twang of Souvenirs Young America by way of the most compositionally majestic of his work in Wolvserpent. These two albums, "Follow You Beloved" especially, are shot through with a horror film type darkness that drips from every note and drenches you in a suffocating, hypnagogic atmosphere. An olive branch to the infinite is extended here, the only offering coming back the hallowed void of nihilism. Conjuring images of dust storms and starless, choking nights spent languishing in the desolate West of the past, Aelter successfully transcends the "Dead Man" influence and gifts us with something far more structured and frightening, a descent into a spiral of forever that bleeds black and nullifies any thought of hopefulness. This is the total bleak, and it's wide open.
Of the two, "Dusk Dawn" is the more baroque and exploratory. All manner of instrumentation is employed, lending the record an atmosphere similar to that of a dark, demented cabaret. Gone is all the crushing power of Wolvserpent, replaced with the oppressive din of accordions and overdrone, a quagmire of bizarre theatricality that belies the general waywardness of Green at this project's inception. While not entirely perfect, "Dusk Dawn" does offer up a fairly choking dose of mystery and avant-blackness; while the hulking punishment of Wolvserpent is stripped away the compositional complexity found in that project is taken to a new extreme within the expanse of Aelter. As much as Green as worked in to "Dusk Dawn" it never feels like too much; each sound is arranged and organized to serve a purpose and to paint a specific pocket of the musical enclosure a specific color and tone. There is a richness to "Dusk Dawn," a hint of magick in the corners, a whisper of an otherworld beneath the gargantua of the sound. While the title may make one think of sparseness and deserts, there's another element to those times: any photographer is familiar with the richness inherent in the dusk and dawn times, when the light is at its most naturally evocative and painterly. Green gets at some of that here, and it's a weird, winding journey to obfuscation.
"Follow You Beloved" virtually rejects everything that "Dusk Dawn" offered and delivers a a seriously minimalist mantra of darkness, hauntingly cinematic in its scope and silently breathtaking in its awe-like beauty. It feels hushed but imbued with a richness and a power, a communication with forces that lurk in the tears of reality. The two tracks here are gorgeous interpolations of wasted Americana, the folk music heard at the twain of sleep and consciousness. Across 40 minutes Green wades into the pool of tradition and emerges covered in the weight of archetypes. This music feels primal and possessed, but it's so elegiac and graceful that it's difficult to categorize it as strictly menacing. It's certainly mesmerizing; the ongoing repetition of the chiming guitar figures in "Follow You" is near enough to induce coma. But it goes somewhere past somnabulism. This is music for the astral wanderer. I can't really put it any better. This is out of body type shit, the soundtrack to the space that is neither real nor imagined. It's Third Eye ritual mixed with the fluff of the cosmos and it's a seriously heady fucking trip. The darkness Green paints with here is near impenetrable except for those few glimpses of that indefinable other: the mirage in the desert, the blinking lights in the Northern skies. The feeling of something waiting in the wings of the real, a visitor from beyond desperate to shed the confines of infinity and slither in to the purely sensual realm of the tangible. The great forever laid bare and blinding, the endlessness of experience within an arm's reach.
Aelter traffic in transformation; the question of illusion and experience and their releneltess intertwining are at the crux of these two records. Green has taken something distinctly American and wrenched into a new and confusing shape, a stab in the eye of the endless that both transports and transcends. There is something happening here; there is a hex hanging low in the skies. What pieces of the landscape with which we're familiar may very well disappear in the wake of Aelter's warm hypnotism; that sun-washed stretch of road might become nothing less than pure, unbending paths of white-hot infinity, leading past the stars and into the further. The world is not beyond your reach. All it takes is a key.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Gorgeous release from artist Craig Colorusso, providing an audio document of his art installation piece "Sun Boxes." The Sun Boxes are solar powered units designed to play a loop of a guitar note; together the boxes form a crushing B flat chord. The nature of the work allows that each installation will yield radically different results in sound depending on the sun, as well as the listener's position amongst the boxes. I can only imagine how awe-inspiring and dwarfing it would be to actually immerse myself in the area and let the boxes wash over me; the raw, visceral, and humbling power found in the two field recordings presented here is something beyond simple music, a coalescence of nature and composition that owes as much to the ecstatic truth of Werner Herzog as it does to the overwhelming beauty of Eliane Radigue. There is a communication here, a rich exchange that rewards your openness and willingness to succumb. This is introspection at its most purely physical, a journey into the very aura of light.
The two pieces here represent the Sun Boxes under different environmental stimuli, illustrating the vastly different moods and tones this installation can produce. Side One is entitled "Grassy Knoll" and effectively evokes that, with a warm and inviting ooze of drone that glides over you and makes you feel as though you're under the gaze of the sun itself. The piece moves slowly, unwrapping itself and changing ever so slightly across its elapse. New tones bubble up and stretch out as old ones begin to recede, giving a feeling of constant evolution and transformation. Colorusso has made reference to the effect of the piece being akin to Yoga and meditation, and here that comparison is particularly apt-the drone pulls you ever further inward, easing you deeper into relaxation and contemplation, taking you further and further into the outer regions of your own consciousness. I would love to hear a full length version of this; the power and depth of Colorusso's drone is near endless, and total sonic immersion would border on the transcendent.
Side Two is called "Frozen Pond" and is an equally suitable description for the piece. At once more brittle, crystalline, and austere, "Frozen Pond" moves with trepidation and fragility, cloaking itself in distance and hallucinatory ambiguity. There is no menace, nor any sense of darkness here; instead there is a beauty that seems hushed and almost vanishing. The tones are glassy and light, like a soft winter wind across drifting snow. "Frozen Pond" moves at a much slower pace than its companion piece, forcing the listener to consider the environment under which it was recorded and visualize accordingly. Were this drone stretched out to full-length duration, the effect would reach something close to severe unease. There's a "there but not there" quality to the piece that defies easy ingestion and demands constant attention; the changes are so soft and subtle that if you let yourself out of the trance for even a second the spell is broken. It's hypnotizing in the same way a whiteout is: its power lies in the repetition of the obvious, a powerful reinforcement of the infinite that renders all outside detail incomprehensible.
Together the two work as a near visionary piece of drone art. Though others have worked in this sort of simultaneous tone composition before (most notably Phil Niblock, Chord, and Colorusso's bandmate and contemporary Duane Pitre) those attempts have all been based purely in the technical, allowing for none of the natural grace that Colorusso has made such an important part of his project. This is as much about the awesome power and overwhelming beauty of nature as it is about the might and purity of sound, and by unifying the two Colorusso has emerged with something that caters to the best aspects of both, sacrificing nothing from either in the process. I'm reminded of the mesmerizing jungle in Herzog's "Aguirre"; it's a seduction and a power that simple human understanding can't even begin to approach. Only when you give yourself over to it completely and abandon every vestige of calculation can you begin to fully appreciate what's before you. It's meant to be felt on a deeper, more base level. It's emotion. There is music and poetry in being. It flows through every piece of every day of every life. Colorusso has tapped into that vibrancy and brought a piece of it back for us to behold. When you truly consider what "Sun Boxes" is communicating, the incredible beauty of it is nothing short of majestic. Highly recommended.