Picture this: I’m jamming Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal as a winter storm whips around my headphones. Instead of burying the audio, the strong gales match the ebb and flow of the music perfectly. When “Of Wolf And Fear” drops into its acoustic break, the whistling wind is like a serendipitous counterpoint. I feel so in the moment, so connected to the music, nature and Nattens all part of a glorious whole. I hit pause on “ARCTIC BLIZZARD | Winters storm Windows scenery.” I leave the office to get the mail. The sun beams through clear skies, thawing me out from the infernal and grim grip of the industrial A/C. Maybe later, I think, I’ll try Winter Storm Ambience – Heavy Snowstorm & Blizzard Howling Wind Sounds For Relaxation.
For the past year, I’ve been experimenting with playing field recordings, longform sound effects, and synthesized soundscapes over my regular diet of metal. As expected, the blurry, suspended drone of second wave black metal sounds killer when partnered with wind, rain/snow, and/or thunder. It’s basic, but those instantly recognizable sounds accentuate those albums’ themes, making the music all the more dramatic and cinematic. That’s part of the reason why Manilla Road’s Voyager works well with “Sailing Ship In Bad Weather Sound – Blizzard , Rough Ocean Waves And Thunderstorm Sounds to relax” and Cirith Ungol’s classic King of the Dead takes on a new dimension when joined with “D&D Ambience – Small Battle.” But, as long as the secondary/tertiary sound you’re integrating doesn’t throw off the rhythm, any combination has the potential to be magical. I’m sure Doug will be thrilled that Pyrrhon kinda sorta plays nice with “Nature Sounds HD – Brooklyn L Train to Manhattan, HD.”
If there’s a side effect to all of this, it’s that it’s hard for me to listen to some albums without the accompaniment, as if the experience is suddenly missing something without the supplementary frequencies. Moreover, the hunt for complementary noises is addictive as hell. I can’t explain it. When it works, when each disparate strain of audio suddenly snaps together, it might as well be PEDs for music.
Now, it’s worth mentioning: I’m aware that this is incredibly stupid. This isn’t my proudest discovery. I mean, like many New York Times trend pieces, I’m pretty sure this midlife crisis is mine alone. I know this intellectually. And yet, here I am, searching through an infinite digital library of freely streamable sounds, trying to find the perfect one that matches the scenes in my head that certain albums evoke. Why am I doing this? What the hell is going on? And how is this even possible?
Utilizing field recordings or sneakily constructed facsimiles is a sense-of-place trick that has been a part of metal since the beginning. Literally. Black Sabbath opens with drizzle, thunder, and a tolling church bell. As for music in general, it goes way back: Ottorino Respighi’s 1924 symphonic poem Pines Of Rome calls for the recording of a nightingale to be played on a phonograph during the close of its third movement. Surely others got there earlier, taking a cue from Luigi Russolo’s The Art Of Noises, if not the age-old techniques of the theater that would be carried over to radio. Regardless, the practice endures because the shit works, seamlessly transporting a listener to an intended destination, or instilling a certain mood, without much effort.
Decades on from Sabbath and Slayer making it rain, that sound is still a metal standby: Check out the way the shower in Serpent Column’s “Asphodel” seems to amplify the pretty/sad qualities of the melancholic guitar. Similarly, a lot of bands aim for the naturalistic: “Nature walks, with Celestiial :),” says one comment on the Minnesota band’s Desolate North, an album bursting with mystical forest noises. That said, other metallers opt for the man-made, urban, and industrial: Meshuggah’s “Future Breed Machine” begins with the mechanized whir of that very machine doing its thang, presumably. Of course, an aural stage setting doesn’t necessarily need to feature real/feasible things. Slam has filled out the audio bestiary with all kinds of otherworldly, space-marine-hungry horrors. All of these are neat, all of them serve their purpose, all of them are shorter than your bassist’s synth suite intro.
But the effect I’m after is a little different. Instead of a snippet, I want a continuous experience that can span a full album; a feature film rather than an Instagram story. The length is important because, (1) it provides atmospheric continuity and (2) it increases the chances that coincidences will occur, those unexpected moments that cut through the fog of modern life and fully capture my attention.
“I remember being in my room on Christmas Eve — I had this shitty crackling fire tape I bought at Walgreens in a clock radio cassette player, a Brian Eno album on the turntable and a CD boombox playing something else that was non-rhythmic, and all of these things just started working together in this bizarre way,” Neurosis’s Steve Von Till told Decibel in 2016. “And then I turned on the TV and the Pope was giving a midnight mass in Latin, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m pretty fucking good!'”
That was one of the inspirations for Tribes Of Neurot’s 1999 album Grace, an ingenious ambient/noise recording crafted to be played in tandem with big-brother-band Neurosis’s Times Of Grace. Bandmate Dave Edwardson offered a similar origin story: “My roommates did some psychedelics and I mentioned that if you put two pieces of audio on at the same time, they do some very odd things.” As a proof-of-concept, he paired Univers Zero’s Heresie with Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet Of The Apes OST. Both also acknowledged Zaireeka, The Flaming Lips’s four-CD release meant to be played on four different stereos, a project born out of the even crazier “Parking Lot Experiments” that enlisted 40 cars to play 40 cassettes simultaneously.
These undertakings, like John Cage’s chance operations, are intentional explorations of combining sound from multiple sources, even if the results are unpredictable. The most infamous and mainstream example of music synchronicity, though, was probably accidental. “Dark Side Of The Rainbow” is the title of a piece penned by Fort Wayne Journal Gazette’s Charles Savage in 1995 that covered the growing Usenet-cataloged phenomenon of people playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon over The Wizard Of Oz. How this mashup came about is unclear, and Pink Floyd and associates have dismissed the connection ever since it captured the public’s imagination. No matter, sometime during your life, there’s a chance that an A/V-adept stoner will stare at you expectantly while the Scarecrow moves in tandem with “Brain Damage.”
At least, that used to be the case. These days, the logistical/technological/social demands that once made these exercises fairly laborious to pull off can now be done within any browser. “Do I want to buy three more CD players with which to enjoy Zaireeka or, say, eat?” Pitchfork smirked in a 2002 review. Today, you can hear Zaireeka on YouTube. You can watch Dark Side Of The Rainbow on YouTube. You can experience Times Of Grace/Grace on YouTube…three different versions uploaded by three different people. Heck, you can use YouTube Multiplier to recreate Von Till or Edwardson’s epiphanies if you didn’t want to dick around with a few browser tabs.
YouTube is usually the first site I check when I have the itch to add something more to metal because it’s home to tens if not hundreds of accounts that deal solely in soundscapes. Thanks to the SEO race to get those ASMR/relaxation/RPG ambience clicks, the variety is pretty incredible and crazily specific. Here’s the sound of traffic and the underlying urban hum as heard on NW Vaughn Street in Portland, Oregon. For a sleep-deprived someone out there, that is the best thing I have ever linked.
YouTube isn’t the only game in town, though. With increasing bandwidth speeds and cheaper server costs, there have been a rise in apps and websites that make mesmeric sounds their focus. Youarelistening.to is still active, still mixing police scanner chatter with a Soundcloud-based ambient playlist. Numero Group’s Environments app transports some of the influential Irv Teibel creations to iOS. myNoise, one of a few sites put together by the prolific Stéphane Pigeon, is something of an Environments 2.0 that allows you to tweak an everlasting soundscape of your choosing with customizable sliders. (I’m pretty partial to “Irish Coast” with “Pebbles Shore” turned all the way down.) For the DIYers, Freesound.org and Soundsnap are giant sound repositories. But, lately, I’ve digging through Bandcamp’s constantly expanding “field recording” tag.
Here’s Maciej Wirmański’s The Wind which brought us winter / Wiatr, który przyniósł nam zimę, packed full with the kind of foreboding that’s perfect for stark black metal and doom.
And here’s Simon Šerc’s Bora Scura, described by A Closer Listen as “a field recording equivalent of death metal.” Tweak the volume a bit and jam it with the recent Heavy Hole podcast recommendation Defacement. Sounds pretty swell.
More and more, I start with these types of field recordings and reverse engineer the metallic partner. They just seem to have…more of a story. The reason why didn’t click for me until I watched Sam Campbell’s Sound Fields: Adventures in contemporary field recording, a short documentary produced by The Vinyl Factory. In it, Lawrence English encapsulated the modern incarnation of the genre as “…you’re listening to someone else’s listening.” Even when recordings don’t connect, there’s an artistic intent driving the process that could be as simple as a choice of microphone or as grand as a guiding philosophy that forces a recorder to highlight one noise over another. “There is no such thing as documenting a reality,” artist Yan Jun said in a field recording primer English wrote for FACT Magazine. “There is no divide between documenting and creating.”
To that end, what really grabbed me was how nearly all participants in the film felt that the sounds they captured were affected by the way they collected them. “…it was though there was another frequency,” David Chatton Barker said of recording at the ancient Frithelstock Priory, “…the combination of things allowed this other frequency to come through.”
I’m no sound engineer, as evidenced by the fact that I merge mastered albums with EQ-destroying field recordings, so I can’t tell if there really is another frequency coming through. But my brain is wired in such a way that I buy it. And that’s kind of the thing: The deeper you go into all of this, the harder it is to separate subjective synchronicity from objective apophenia.
In Thomas Hobbs’s piece on Dark Side Of The Rainbow for Little White Lies, he interviewed cognitive psychologist Daniel Levitin. I’m going to pull this whole part out:
[Levitin] believes the human brain can successfully match up just about any piece of music with any film, and that the ‘Dark Side Of The Rainbow’ theory is principally driven by fandom: “It might just be that Pink Floyd fans, for whatever reason, are more inclined to look for these connections.” In effect, Levitin is saying that Floyd fans are simply looking for new ways to enhance a work they are already infatuated by.
“The ‘deeper meaning’,” he concludes, “is that the brain is a giant pattern detector — it seeks to find order in chaos and to match things up even if there is no apparent relationship, as part of a grand-scale prediction system. If this goes with this, they must be related, and maybe I can predict the behaviour of x by observing the behaviour of y.”
This goes hand-in-hand with the stances taken by Dark Side Of The Rainbow skeptics, that the believers are exhibiting “cognitive bias” by ignoring all of the times Floyd and Oz don’t line up. And, yeah, if I’m talking to you about my metal-plus-one experiments in a bar, I’m not going to tell you about how Earth 2 fused with anything else sounds like the worst Guitar Center.
But, beyond my propensity to build patterns, there’s something else at play here that makes combining metal and field recordings so attractive to me. Maybe it’s that applying field recordings reduces the studio-ness of some metal recordings. It’s like how Alan Lomax’s recording of Mississippi Fred McDowell on his creaky porch has the patina of realness. In other words, it’s a way to minimize the artificiality of the experience, that I’m really listening to Immortal in the HEART OF WINTER and not the HEART OF PETER TÄGTGREN’S STUDIO, even though a metal band a few feet away from a source of electricity probably sounds like this.
So, hilariously, what I’m doing is actually the most artificial thing. However, the emotions it elicits are genuine. While writing this intro, I’ve been mixing Godflesh and train sounds…because I used to listen to Godflesh while riding the train. That’s a connection that’s unlikely to make sense to anyone else, but I experienced it so I’m able to twist those two things into one thing. Because of that, it’s transportive. It’s immersive. I feel old, long-dormant feelings. But it’s just a simulated escape, a fabricated present made out of invented pasts, one granted by my ability to compose a different reality by finding something that might not actually be there.
Here’s some writing about music. –Ian Chainey
10. Csejthe – “L’horreur De Čachtice”
Location: Quebec City, Québec
Subgenre: black metal
Csejthe is one of the more unusual bands to hail from our French-speaking metal neighbors to the north, eschewing the wintry atmospheric black metal blasting of many of their compatriots for a rawer, punkier take on the genre that’s full of odd tempo and tonal shifts. The end result is unpredictable, often kind of quirky, and, ultimately, unsettling and grotesque. On “L’horreur de Čachtice,” Csejthe is downright menacing, stomping through absolutely bruising passages on the way to a fade out that constitutes an end of sorts, though feelings of unease linger well after the abrasive guitars go silent. Other tracks on the album will show a slightly different side to the Csejthe on display here, but this one stands out for it’s stopping power. [From L’horreur de Čachtice, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
9. Source – “Hunger”
Subgenre: heavy metal
Sweden’s Source is kind of like an NWOSHM take on Mercyful Fate, the, ahem, expected destiny of a quintent with an ex-duder from Portrait (Richard Lagergren) shredding within the ranks. Ah, but I can sense that some of you are concerned. Yeah, as you can sniff out from context clues (such as it appearing in a column highlighting new metal), this single is fresh off the presses and not something that High Roller Records’s expert archaeologists have unearthed. If you’re like me and have a hard time getting on board with trad created this century that fails to nail the right vibe, you have every right to read that first sentence as cynically as possible. But, much like Black Viper from last year, Source has “it,” that ineffable spirit of metal that other modern tradsters can’t capture in their DAWs. Lagergren and Julia von Krusenstjerna (also of the promising Mystik) have that Denner/Shermann telekinesis, bouncing all kinds of sweet riffs off each other. Patrick Dagland (drums) and Jimmy Edlund (bass) are an energetic battery, adding neat accents that sharpen the edges. The songwriting, though, is the thing: Source’s (s)word is sharp as hell. Indeed, you’re paying for the ridiculously named title track here, but consider spending an equal amount of time wearing out the B-side. “Hunger” starts out like a Styx song, transitions into perky (read: lightly hornball) early Def Leppard territory, and then swings the metal hammer so fiercely that I’m sending them my chiropractor bills. Singer Emil Busk, who previously only had a death metal credit to his name, comes alive on this track, nailing a high wail without getting too screechy. (He sounds like the dude from Proud sold his soul.) But what makes “Hunger” so legit is the stuff Source has hidden within it: von Krusenstjerna’s backing vocals, Edlund’s extracurricular bass twiddles, the runs, the fills, the outro, and tons of other pieces of hard candy. Replay value: high. Hyperbolic comparison: earned. Lastly, shout out to last_vinyl_before_doomsday who had this in her feed before anyone. If you’re in the market for a music selector that updates more frequently than us, she’s a solid follow on Bandcamp. She should start a band or something. [From Spelling Swords, out 5/24 via High Roller Records.] –Ian Chainey
8. Elizabeth Colour Wheel – “Life Of A Flower”
Location: Boston, MA
Subgenre: shoegaze / sludge / noise rock
This falls about as far afield from true metal as we go in this column, not that we put too much stock in genre boundaries anyway, or reader expectations (or good taste). If it sounds good, it is good. And if it’s reasonably heavy and hits the spot, it gets a shot. Elizabeth Colour Wheel — a Boston-based quintet with no particular genre loyalties and a name lifted from a fairly unbrutal source — have gone and given us one of the best oddball records of this young year in Nocebo, and it gets plenty heavy when it needs to. For a band that is quite clearly not an actual metal band, ECW are obviously familiar with the form. Across 48 minutes, in between the subtle crush of shoegaze, drifting slowcore, and fractured noise rock, they swerve into some particularly dark corners, delving into downtrodden sludge and a few flashbang blasts of actual black metal. To be honest, I found this tough to wrap my head around at first, mostly because my brain wasn’t prepared for the vocals. Singer and front-person Lane Shi mostly sticks to cleans, but the register of her voice and her off-kilter inflection means the vocal sits above the riff-swirl in a way that never lets you ignore it. And she’s constantly doing weird shit: sing-song playfulness melts into a jazzy drawl, syllables rolling around her mouth until she finally lets loose with a wail, while the songs beneath go in every direction but straight ahead. At every turn you’re reminded this is something you haven’t heard before. With time the strangeness takes form, digs into your subconscious, and drops anchor. Keep an open mind as you listen to “Life as a Flower,” and see what happens. [From Nocebo, out now via The Flenser.] –Aaron Lariviere
7. Skryptor – “Lotus And Mace”
Location: New York City, NY
Subgenre: math rock, prog
Welp, here’s why I’m not writing about death metal again. Let’s get this out of the way up top: I love craw. Bodies for Strontium 90, the Cleveland band’s final transmission, is an all-timer for me, its knotty, esoteric, extra kinetic punches plunking me on the chin at just the right time, compelling me to quickly acquire the previous three that featured the nutty playing of guitarist David McClelland. Roughly a decade earlier, writer/musician Hank Shteamer (STATS) was similarly floored by craw’s debut, something you can read in his Invisible Oranges retrospective from 2014. Meanwhile, back on the planet of weeds, our fan paths depart: Shteamer worked his ass off on a Kickstarter and re-released craw’s pre-Hydra Head discography. Per Skryptor’s bio, the reinvigorated interest in its slept on ancestor led to McClelland and Shteamer forming a bass/drum duo. Soon, Tim Garrigan, he of Dazzling Killmen, another math rock colossus, joined on guitar. Now we have Skryptor and Luminous Volumes, a seven-song instrumental set that recalls these dudes’ histories without using the old tools to retell them. In fact, this shift in style initially caught me off guard. “Lotus and Mace” is kind of like if rock heard the Allman Brothers and stayed awhile, using that as the evolutionary jumping off point that would beget prog and punk. On the first listen, “Lotus and Mace” fits in well with stuff like Earthless and Elder, bands that embrace the transcendent qualities of the rock riff. But then the oddities start to surface: Weeding Out punk/jazz, cyclical riffs that roll around with a stutter, and fiery, nervy playing. It’d be more accurate to place Skryptor alongside tinkerers like Gift Horse (needs a repress) and the Denison/Kimball Trio (still in print) in that these bands took something that resonated with all acolytes of heavier rock (the riff) and remolded it into a unique thing without losing the dominate thing that makes the thing the thing. Does that even make sense? I don’t know. A lot of Luminous Volumes is just feel. You come out the other side just wanting to hear it again, partly to find out what the heck it’s doing and partly because it rocks so hard doing it. Oh, worth mentioning: The ultimate edition of this fucker comes with an “illustrated 200+ page book featuring original horror stories curated by Skryptor bassist David McClelland.” There’s the metal justification, if you were wondering. [From Luminous Volumes, out now via Sleeping Giant Glossolalia Records and SKiN GRAFT Records.] –Ian Chainey
6. Ruined Mind – “My Time Has Come To An End”
Location: Tula, Russia
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Ruined Mind’s lush depressive atmospheric black metal rarely lets the sun peak through, but when it does it’s a glorious thing. Amidst the overwhelmingly gray palette on “My Time Has Come to An End” — and as you would have surmised based on the rear-view title — these briefly bright, reverb-drenched moments are as much a look back as a way forward. It’s just as satisfying, though, to get lost in the fat brushstrokes of melancholy guitars, the programmed drums, and the buried organ. A one-man band, Ruined Mind keeps it seemingly on the straight and narrow and focused on the feeling at hand. But pay attention for small flourishes and buried undercurrents — a stuttering guitar, an unexpected and understated synth — that accent the prevailing nostalgia and reveal themselves with careful listens. [From Life Goes On After Me, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
5. Waste Of Space Orchestra – “Wake Up The Possessor”
Subgenre: droning psychedelic black space doom
Before you run screaming from the grossness that surely flows from a genre tag like that one, just know one thing: Waste Of Space Orchestra consists of the entirety of Oranssi Pazuzu and fellow Finnish dronelords Dark Buddha Rising. Apparently the Roadburn festival commissioned this mind-altering monstrosity for a one-off performance in 2018, and the participants enjoyed the experience enough to try and recreate the results in the studio. And it works unnaturally well. I was prepared to hate this after reading the promo copy, but here we are. Sure, there are slowburn interludes and burbling synths and raygun sounds and all the rest you’d expect on something as inherently indulgent as a nine-part, 65-minute, psychedelic song-suite created by 10 musicians already known for excess…but there are riffs! Rather than shapeless blobs of nocturnal amp emissions, we get fully formed NOTES, many of which bond together into CHORD PROGRESSIONS, of which a shocking number undergo a hellish chrysalis and emerge as full-fledged MELODIES that claw through the fleshy folds of your mind. If you’re familiar with Oranssi Pazuzu’s take on kraut-damaged black metal, a lot of this will sound familiar. The addition of Dark Buddha Rising members adds a layer of ritualistic doom — but fortunately for us, there’s a reasonably up-tempo rhythmic press that never lets up. The vocals…are all over the place. Several singers trade off screams and actual singing, and at one point an actual choir of space goblins shows up to chant sweet nothings into a black hole — meaning it’s all pretty outré and charming, befitting the odd spectacle of smashing black metal, doom, drone, cartoon psychedelia, and dark krautrock into a singular listening experience. “Wake Up the Possessor” deviates even further from the mean, with the introduction of a soothing female vocal that makes this sound almost like actual music — at least until the walls fall down in the back half and all hell breaks loose. [From Syntheosis, out 4/5 via Svart Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
4. Ellende – “Die Wege”
Location: Graz, Austria
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Ellende’s a smooth operator, seamlessly weaving extended melancholic instrumental passages alongside pedal to the floor blasts and finding a remarkably satisfying middle ground. On “Die Wege,” we’re working with an Alcest vibe from the gate, with a sort of cool, building tension that’s explored, heightened, and ultimately diffused before heading in a different direction altogether. As a work in contrasts, “Die Wege” is awesome, and few songs scratch the itch on the fine line between despondence and fury as well as it does. Existing in the gray, faded color palette of the aforementioned Alcest or bands like Heretoir or Sylvaine, Ellende is in very good company; and like the best from those bands, “Die Wege” warrants repeat listens, evoking a fresh rush of energy with each press of play. [From Lebensnehmer, out now via Art Of Propaganda Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
3. Smoulder – “Ilian Of Garathorm”
Location: Toronto, Canada
If March was depressingly light on death metal, at least we got an embarrassment of riches at the other end of the spectrum: the trad gods were good to us this month. Canadian newcomers Smoulder play one of my favorite traditional metal varietals: epic doom, of the sort we rarely hear performed at this level, except by cult acts like Atlantean Kodex, Reverend Bizarre, Scald, and Solstice. Fierce company to keep, but Smoulder stands apart due to vocalist Sarah Ann’s ferocious pipes. On “Ilian of Garathorm,” she shows us she can sing with the breadth and depth of any of her peers, but still brings the requisite grit as she launches into an uncommonly feminine take on blood-drenched sword-and-sorcery. For the lesser nerds out there, Ilian of Garathorm is one of the few female incarnations of Michael Moorcock’s multi-dimensional Eternal Champion — a perfect choice to be immortalized on a bed of rollicking trad riffs, neatly sidestepping the chest-puffing homoeroticism of Manowar to give us something equally violent but much less depressing. Just as the cover art depicts a mounted female warrior poised to strike down a barbarian bound with rope, most of the songs feature women dealing indiscriminate death to all. On the technical front, the riffs deliver — the leads on “The Sword Woman” are sharp enough to slit your throat and leave you grinning. But I’m most impressed by the rhythm section, how it nails the push and pull of building tension in the verses, but pounds you into the dust when the chorus hits. For a debut LP, Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring is weirdly consistent and reasonably inventive considering the context. Seek this one out. [From Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring, out 4/26 via Cruz del Sur Music.] –Aaron Lariviere
2. Aara – “Aare”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
It’s been some time since a release from a completely unheralded artist has grabbed me like Aara’s awesome So Fallen Alle Tempel. The album, from the duo of Fluss (vocals) and Berg (everything else), checks a lot of WM’s atmospheric black metal boxes: massive, haunting ear-worm hooks; killer guitar tones; a spot-on sense for when to slow it down to a body- and head-moving groove; gentle wave sounds; buried vocals; and sparse doses of monastic chant sprinkled in for arcane effect. A+. Of all the killer tracks to choose from — and it really was difficult to choose — it ultimately had to be “Aare” that we featured here. The song, briefly heralded by those gentle waves, a chant, and a lone, absolutely righteous guitar lead, wastes little time before exploding into all out epic and dangerously catchy anthem that rings of destiny. After “Aare,” I highly suggest you listen to the album from the beginning to discover moments of both awe-inspiring vastness and profound heaviness. [From So Fallen Alle Tempel, out now via Naturmacht Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
1. Spectral Lore – “No Excuses For Fascist Sympathy (Book Of Sand Cover)”
Location: Αθήνα, Greece
Subgenre: black metal
Spectral Lore released a new song earlier this week, at the absolute last second for purposes of inclusion in this column. You can download it for free right now. Right up until I heard this thing, saw what it was, and pressed play about a hundred times in a row, I was planning to write about the new Waldgeflüster, which is plenty good, but it’s not this. It’s not every day one of the best living bands emerges with new material. It’s even less common to see such a vicious statement of purpose, never mind one that spits in the face of an increasingly vocal contingent of black metal fans. You probably skipped right past it, but go back and read the song title. “No Excuses for Fascist Sympathy” is a cover — a fairly deep cut from the obscure one-man experimental black metal “band” Book Of Sand’s second album, destruction, not reformation. If you’ve followed Spectral Lore to this point — across four increasingly sick full-lengths, culminating with 2014’s III (one of the best black metal albums ever made), and the exploratory EPs that followed — you know this band can do anything. But it still comes as a surprise to watch this latest transformation unfold. Earlier this month, Ayloss, the sole member of the band, stepped out of the shadows to directly engage with fans for what looks like the first time. “The concept of Spectral Lore from the very start was to be a ‘ghostly’ entity,” he wrote. “At this point, I’d like to open up a little, because one of the things that I’ve come to understand is that self-imposed limitations can be good, but will eventually turn their back on you and bite you.” He promised new music soon, and lots of it. Less than a week later, he gave us this. Here’s an excerpt from the accompanying Facebook post [emphasis added]:
I couldn’t imagine years ago that I would be making music with a direct political message and I don’t think I’ll do it again for some time, but it was very important for me now. It’s not just the black metal scene that has been turning more and more reactionary over these last years, it’s the world itself. And it’s a very dangerous time in history that we currently live in. Fascism needs to be opposed firmly and decisively.
I wanted to make such a statement for a long time now and the New Zealand mass shooting was the final tipping point. I can’t understand how we can go on after such a consciousness-ripping event with the same kind of apologia, horseshoe-theory or downright nazi fascination that’s often met in this music. In any case though, let me be completely clear: fuck racism, fascism, white supremacy and also every other form of bigotry like sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and so on. If any of the above offends you, too bad. I’m pretty sure that some people will be, but you ought to know where I stand, so it would be best to do this from the beginning. To all others, I hope you enjoy it, and also don’t forget to listen to the original song and the fantastic album where it comes from.
The song itself is a gem. The original was a wash of lo-fi guitar and bedroom drumming that sounds like subterranean rain, all subsumed by a haunted violin repeating the same melody for 4 minutes straight. Ayloss takes the bones of the original and adds flesh and blood, transforming it into an epic for the ages — an elegy for the dead and a declaration of war. Sonically, this is pure Hellenic black metal, not too far a cry from something like Macabre Omen, rich with antiquity, melody, and meaning. Take all the triumph and tragedy of mid-period Bathory and add extremely competent guitars, and you’re halfway there. But it’s the glistening, crystalline catharsis of the outro that really gets me, drawing me back to the message of the song every time I hear it.
Those of us who spend our days immersed in this world know what it looks like on the ground. Extreme metal is by no means monolithic, but there’s a persistent undercurrent of heinous ideology bubbling just beneath the surface, and it’s everywhere, in plain sight, and it’s past time to kill it. Labels that should absolutely know better continue to give these bands a home. Fans who know and don’t care, or don’t bother to look, continue to keep these bands alive. We’ve all let it slide for far too long, myself included — by turning a blind eye, by focusing on the riffs (but the riffs, we cry), and by staying quiet. No more. No excuses. [From No Excuses For Fascist Sympathy (Book Of Sand Cover), out now via the band.] –Aaron Lariviere