Virginia’s Wrnlrd has a new EP, the four-song Death Drive. You won’t find music any more idiosyncratic, individual, repeatedly unexpected in the black metal underground. He’s also one of my favorite interview subjects to date, offering a description of American black metal (and American music in general) that I’ve returned to frequently. When I spoke to him in 2008 about his sixth album Oneiromantical War, he laid it out like this:
I expect USBM inherits the fundamental American narrative of rebellion against European tyranny. All the elements of European metal that have been refined and perfected over the years are probably subject to that American mixture of reverence and contempt. The My concept of the one-man-band has always flourished here, long before black metal, and I think this is quintessentially American. Obviously there are a lot of one-man black metal bands in Europe and many have produced essential, genre defining works. But also the idea of community seems to have resonated in Europe much more than in America — this idea of connecting to the past and the spirits of one’s ancestors. Viking metal, war themes. In the US I think it’s the idea of the individual that resonates more powerfully, the strong individual with his own agenda: The pioneer, the entrepreneur, the lone gunman … I see ghosts of American music everywhere. I hear Dock Boggs in black metal, the droning banjo, voice like an earthquake. I hear Blind Lemon pounding his feet on the floor, and I know he is my cousin. I find black metal in traffic noise. Whether the streets are German or Japanese. I think the essence of black metal is something that goes beyond geography and stylistic tradition, even beyond music.
In less than 20 minutes, Death Drive makes good on this poetry. The collection — partially inspired by Freud, “the seminal American pop music motif of the automobile crash as a ritual of escape from impending adulthood,” computers — was “built of outtakes from Wrnlrd’s previous album Myrmidon.” As he puts it: “These castoffs were refined and molded under the Death Drive concept…” It’s beautiful, bracing, at times oddly catchy. You might want to start thinking of him as a composer as well as a songwriter. (For various reasons along these lines, I think he’d make a good collaborator with Sufjan Stevens.) “Midnight Ride,” inspired by the Shangri-Las’s “Dressed In Black” and “Leader Of The Pack,” features pedal steel (plus guest vocals from Integrity’s Dwid Hellion, continuing the hardcore/black metal affiliation you see in Black Anvil, etc.). “Luster” is a gorgeous, lonesome piano piece. “Grave Dowser”‘s built on warping “virtual saxophone.” And take note of the accordion, lurching grooves, and collisions in “Death Drive.” It makes sense hearing how the EP ends, going from there…
02 “Grave Doswer”
03 “Midnight Ride”
05 “Death Drive”
The Death Drive 10″/Digital EP is out 11/30 via FSS, the label started by ex-Kranky co-owner Bruce Adams. You should check out the “Operator’s Guide” Wrnlrd made for the in-depth Death Drive listener. It includes notes, concepts, and images and can be downloaded in PDF form at wrnlrd.com. The cover art:
The image at the top of the page is from a forthcoming “Moonlight Ride” video. My friend Marc recently did, in his words, “a witness protection-style piece” on Wrnlrd. Watch it at P4K.