Sunday, December 30, 2007

Various Artists - "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification" (pt. 3)

The second posting of YouTube videos by some of the artists featured on Kevin Martin's excellent compilation album "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification".

Gil Mellé - "The Night Gallery Intro"

Bedouin Ascent - title unknown

Sun Ra Arkestra - "Retrospect" (1990)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mirag - Black Temple Carved In Smoke


"A high platform, roofed and pillared, approached on three sides by tiers of steps of its own length and width. At one end, a deep, semi-enclosed shrine in which, dimly half-visible, looms the figure of the goddess. Black of face she is, with a monstrous lolling tongue, dripping blood. Of her four hands, one grasps a bleeding human head, one a knife, the third, outstretched, cradles blood, the fourth, raised in menace, is empty. In the shadows close about her feet stand the priests ministrant.

On the long platform before the deity, men and women prostrate themselves in vehement supplication. Among them stroll lounging boys, sucking lollypops fixed on sticks. Also, a white bull-calf wanders, while one reverend graybeard in the midst of it all, squatting cross-legged on the pavement before a great book, lifts up a droning voice.


Of a sudden, a piercing outburst of shrill bleating. We turn the corner of the edifice to reach the open courtyard at the end opposite the shrine. Here stand two priests, one with a cutlass in his hand, the other holding a young goat. The goat shrieks, for in the air is that smell that all beasts fear. A crash of sound, as before the goddess drums thunder. The priest who holds the goat swings it up and drops it, stretched by the legs, its screaming head held fast in a cleft post. The second priest with a single blow of his cutlass decapitates the little creature. The blood gushes forth on the pavement, the drums and the gongs before the goddess burst out wildly. "Kali! Kali! Kali!" shout all the priests and the suppliants together, some flinging themselves face downward on the temple floor.

Meantime, and instantly, a woman who waited behind the killers of the goat has rushed forward and fallen on all fours to lap up the blood with her tongue --"in the hope of having a child." And now a second woman, stooping, sops at the blood with a cloth, and thrusts the cloth into her bosom, while half a dozen sick, sore dogs, horribly misshapen by nameless diseases, stick their hungry muzzles into the lengthening pool of gore".

Katherine Mayo, "Mother India", New York 1927 (via Georges Bataille, "Kali", Documents 6, 1930).


Mirag is another of the maniacally prolific Matthew Bower's (Skullflower, Hototogisu, Sunroof!, Total, Pure) many projects.

The project's name possibly refers to the Mi'raj or "Night Journey". This is the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad to the Heavens, an ascension which "... exhibits shamanic content" (Eliade). If my interpretation is correct, it is the second reference to Islam I've spotted in Bower's work - the other being Hototogisu's "Prayer Rug Exorcism".

However, the spirit animating the 15-minute release "Black Temple Carved In Smoke" is very far from the spirit of doctrinal orthodoxy dominating Islam, the 'legal religion' which seeks to subject the tiniest details of domestic and private life to the rule of law.

"Black Temple Carved In Smoke" does not bow to the rule of law but instead exalts night, terror, destruction and chaos - those very attributes the Hindu goddess Kali, whose temple is described in the opening quote of this post, embodies. The gory and chaotic guitar noise bleeds out of the speakers like the blood of the sacrificed goat flows over the temple's dirty pavement. Far off is the blissful and bright electric guitar light of Bower's Sunroof! project: the smoke in which this black temple is carved is as thick as the heaviest incense, as hallucinatory as opium fumes and as lethal to inhale as a cloud of soot, tar and ash. It sounds like a sick, sore and horribly misshapen Tony Conrad, like a monstrous and four-armed La Monte Young, like a John Cale with a red, lolling tongue dripping blood. It is perhaps the most frightening thing Bower has ever done.

"Black Temple Carved In Smoke" is released by Battlecruiser, a sublabel of Celebrate Psi Phenomenon which is run by one of Bower's frequent collaborators: New Zealand's noisemeister Campbell Kneale (Birchville Cat Motel, Black Boned Angel, Ming). Battlecruiser ("New Wave Of Bad-ass Heavy Metal") is used by Kneale to put out more metal-oriented material than on the main label. The Battlecruiser label's artwork consists uniformly of an outtake of some sinister medieval woodcut and an almost-unreadable Metal-style band name logo in silver against a black background. The artwork serves to present a strong aesthetic unity for it's releases, in a manner not unlike Berlin's Chain Reaction label.

I found Bower's two-track album so powerful as to disturb my sense of time - after listening to the album for the first time I was unable to tell whether ten minutes or an hour had passed. So the short duration of this release should not dissuade anyone from purchasing it: it is a generous offering regardless of it's duration in minutes.

So stick your hungry muzzles into this pool of musical gore, fling yourselves face downward on the floor of this "Black Temple Carved In Smoke": it is intoxicating.

Post scriptum

Bataille's highly interesting entry on Kali in Document's critical dictionary will perhaps be the subject of a future post, as well as an analysis of the perverted use Bataille makes of Katherine Mayo's sensationalistic and pro-colonialist (!) book.

Gandhi said about the book: "This book is cleverly and powerfully written. The carefully chosen quotations give it the false appearance of a truthful book. But the impression it leaves on my mind, is that it is the report of a drain inspector sent out with the one purpose of opening and examining the drains of the country to be reported upon, or to give a graphic description of the stench exuded by the opened drains. If Miss Mayo had confessed that she had come to India merely to open out and examine the drains of India, there would perhaps be little to complain about her compilation. But she declared her abominable and patently wrong conclusion with a certain amount of triumph: 'the drains are India'".

Where Mayo wanted to expose "the drains of India" so that they would be cleansed, Bataille wanted to change the course of that river of filth and direct it towards bourgeois Europe, where hygiene is sacrosanct...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Shortish hiatus

Expect fewer or no posts the next week-and-a-half...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Various Failures

Such a sad list: a top 10 of records I should have bought in 2007 ... but failed to.

Miles Davis - The Complete On The Corner Sessions
Various Artists - Box Of Dub: Dubstep and Future Dub
Bergraven - Dödsvisioner
Aluk Todolo - Descension
Haswell & Hecker - Blackest Ever Black
Stephen O'Malley & Z'ev - Magisterial
Elegi - Sistereis
Grails - Burning Off Impurities
Yellow Swans - At All Ends
Tenhornedbeast - The Sacred Truth

Friday, December 21, 2007

Various Artists - "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification" (pt. 2)

In the coming weeks I'll post YouTube videos by some of the artists featured on Kevin Martin's excellent compilation album "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification"; I'll post two or three videos at a time. The videos are not the same tracks as featured on the compilation; furthermore, I was not able to find appropriate videos for all artists featured on "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification". Nonetheless, I feel they convey adequately the 'taste' of Kevin Martin's compilation and are satisfying to watch in the own right.

Divine Styler - Ain't Sayin' Nothin'

Jan Garbarek - "Entering"

23 Skidoo - "Urban Gamelan"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Black Metal Satellites

In the previous post, I sang the praise of Kevin Martin for creating some epoch-defining compilation double cd's in the Virgin Ambient Series: "Isolationism", "Macro Dub Infection Vol. 1 and 2", and "Jazz Satellites Vol.1".

Martin seems to have given up curatorship, so chances are slim he'll ever create a compilation of "Black Metal Satellites" or "Macro Black Metal Infections". Besides, if Martin has ever been into any sort of Metal it was Grindcore, not Metal's Norwegian variety. Furthermore, Martin's sympathetically staunch multiculturalism makes it unlikely he'll ever develop much affinity with Black Metal, alas an rather ethnocentric music genre.

So a compilation of the almost-Black-Metal and the not-anymore-Black-Metal, curated by Kevin Martin, will never see the light of day. What's there to do but to imagine it ourselves?

Which musicians or bands would be featured on the first cd of the double album?

1.Kevin Drumm
2. Wolfmangler or Dead Raven Choir
3. JazKamer (something from the 'Metal Music Machine' album)
4. Prurient
5. MZ.412
6. Abruptum
7. Aluk Todolo
8. Silvester Anfang
9. Leviathan (something from "A Silhouette In Splinters"?)
10. Spektr
11. Stalaggh
12. Velvet Cacoon
13. Wraiths
14. Furze

And what would the second cd of this compilation contain? I leave it up to you, dear readers: please do use the comments box!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Various Artists - "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification"

In J.G. Ballards 1968 short science fiction story "The Dead Astronaut", relic hunters scavenge for the remnants of crashed space capsules after a dozen spacefarers died in orbital accidents:

"Already too, the relic hunters were at Cape Kennedy, scouring the burning grass for instrument panels and flying suits and - most valuable of all - the mummified corpses of the dead astronauts. These blackened fragments of collar-bone and shin, kneecap and rib, were the unique relics of the space age, as treasured as the saintly bones of medieval shrines".

Kevin Martin's 1996 compilation "Jazz Satellites Vol. 1 - Electrification" collected musical capsules orbiting Jazz in that music's exosphere - that layer of Jazz's atmosphere where it borders on the vast emptiness of space... The double album presented liminal music: Post Rock, Free Jazz, Electronica and Post Punk, even Industrial and Kraut Rock, all hovering on the threshold of Afro-Classical Music.

The compilation's context was the Virgin ambient series, in which series four compilations were curated by Kevin Martin: two 2cd albums of electronic dub ("Macro dub Infection Vols. 1 and 2") and an album of experimental ambient ("Isolationism"; a compilation whose doomed ambition was to found a new musical genre).

The earliest track collected on the album is Teo Macero's 1963 "Equals", and the most recent track is Post Rock band Ui's 1996 track "Drive Towards The Smoke"; but the vast majority of tracks date from the 1970-1976 period: Alice Coltrane, Miles Davis, Eddie Henderson, Jan Garbarek, Gil Melle, Sun Ra, Norman Connors, Stu Martin and John Surman, Roland Rahsaan Kirk, Joe Henderson, Headhunters, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman and Herbie Hancock.

Coming back to that compilation of the almost-Jazz and the not-anymore-Jazz more than eleven years (!) after it came out, one feels a little like the relic hunters in Ballard's short story. Listening to the music and perusing the liner notes, one feels one is not only scavenging the album for relics of space age Jazz but also for the remnants of a mid-nineties aesthetic that has now become mummified.

That aesthetic is that period's Mondo2000 cyberpunk optimism of limitless faith in technology, internet, psychedelia and smart drugs; it is that era's discourse which presented studio technology as a musical instrument in it's own right (while what is or is not a classified as a musical instrument is a semiological question); it is that era's discourse which reappraised Miles Davis's electrified psychedelic music, presenting that reappraisal as a return of the repressed and as a revolt against Jazz critic's orthodoxy; it is that time's particular music critic's writing style, a style which would find it's culmination in Kodwo Eshun's cult book "More Brilliant Than The Sun".

Though the aesthetic may have become mummified, the album is no less potent for that. All tracks are surging with electrical power - not the electricity of Enlightenment and comfort, mind you, but rather the unholy energy that reanimated the dead body of Frankenstein's monster. There is one artists whose shadow falls over the compilation like the reanimated monster's shadow fell over Little Maria, the girl at the lakeside killed by the monster: Miles Davis. Listening to "Jazz Satellites" it is obvious how powerful Davis's hold over Kevin Martin's curatorial work is.

There is no mistaking "Jazz Satellites" for any other compilation of space age Jazz, such as Soul Jazz Records' "New Thing!" or the "JazzActuel" compilation. Neither as tinged by exoticism and funk as the former nor as informed by Black Power politics as the latter, "Jazz Satellites" is another "...collar-bone and shin, kneecap and rib..." out of astronaut Kevin Martin's saintly body.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Metal Folk Culture

The following citation, from a 1953 issue of American Anthropologist, reminded me strongly of the Sunn 0))) phenomenon - though it also would do nicely on Transpontine's excellent "History Is Made At Night" blog:

"The symbiotic relationship between folk (i.e., "peasant" (...)) and non-folk (i.e. "gentry") here postulated as the key concept of folk culture implies that the direction of culture flow is not alone outward and downward, from city to country and from upper to lower classes. Rather, we are facing a circular phenomenon in which folk culture draws on and is continually replenished by contact with the products of intellectual and scientific strata, but in which folk culture continually, though perhaps in a lesser degree, contributes to these non-folk societies.

The dance is illustrative of this process. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Western European dance masters introduced folk dances to social dancing, adapting them to the needs of the courts. English country square dances played a role in the development of the French
quadrille, which was then introduced back into London. These folk dances then became the forms around which composers, then and now, created important works. Folk dances, now become court dances, spread from Spain and France to Latin America, and the process began anew whereby little by little they became the property of the folk. The current American rage for square dancing also reflects this process: after a suitable time the folk entertainment of yesteryear becomes the pastime of the artistic avant-garde".

G.F. Foster, "What is folk culture?" American Anthropologist, Vol. 55, No. 2, 1953, pp. 159-173; quoted in Clifford Geertz "The Religion Of Java" (The University Of Chicago Press, 1960).

PS: I bought the shirt!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dead Raven Choir - My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind (pt. 3)

Here are some YouTube videos of the songs Dead Raven Choir covered for his album "My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind".

Neko Case performing her song "Favorite".

"Bluenose" by Stan Rogers.

Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me", covered by Tom Waits.

"Genesis Hall" by the Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson.

"The Trees They Do Grow High" covered by Andy Clark.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dead Raven Choir - My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind (pt. 2)

That Polish musician Smolken creates corroded Black Metal cover versions of Folk songs - either traditional songs or songs of 'invented tradition' - stands to reason.

After all, the Black Metal has used elements of Folk since the former genre's infancy: just think of Ulver's 1995 album "Bergtatt", which incorporated acoustic folk guitar playing and frilly blouses. And, judging from mp3 blogs such as "Blodvargr", Black Metal now has such unlikely bedfellows as 'alpine folk', 'apocalyptic folk', 'neofolk' and 'nordic folk'. European Folk is one of the strands of Black Metal's 'spider's web of significance'.

And as for covering American folk songs by Fairport Convention's Richard Thompson and Townes Van Zandt - I see that as a return to the origins of Black Metal - isn't traditional American country music one of the formative influences on Rock, which eventually transformed into Black Metal, amongst others?

So I repeat - that Dead Raven Choir fashions an aesthetic unity out of the two genres is not in itself surprising.

But playing a Black Metal cover of one of the classics of the Cole Porter songbook - "It's All Right With Me" - that is odd! Cole Porter, that means: show tunes, musical comedies, sophistication, socialites, homosexuality and Broadway. Few musics could be more at odds with Black Metal than the Cole Porter songbook.

Many a reviewer has expressed the suspicion that Smolken is lampooning the songs that he covers in his unique fashion. In a review of Wolfmangler's "Cooking With Wolves" in Wire 284 Edwin Pouncey writes: "There is a grim determination at work here that makes it hard to tell if Smolken despises or secretly adores his chosen victims - or whether this is all some elaborate jape to raise the hackles of those fans who might feel 20th century Broadway classics and the work of the author GK Chesterton (to name two influences) have no place in the underworld of Black Metal". Sam Davies writes about "My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind" in Wire 285: "There's something very deadpan about Dead Raven Choir. They scratch away at the extreme limits of scorched-earth harshness with enough determination for any Metal fan, but at the same time hold out the possibility of a very subtle send-up. Its trebly tinniness subverts the normal smothering sludge of the genre, and in its pillaging of folk forms seems to [be] deliberately toying with fey wispiness".

In "The Pleasure Of The Text" Roland Barthes writes that there is a break or fissure in the writings of the Marquis De Sade. On the one side of that break is a good, moral text which faithfully copies a canonical model; and on the other side is a empty, mobile text which subverts the canonical text.

The same break can be found in Dead Raven Choir's music. For Pouncey, Black Metal is the text which subverts 20th century Broadway classics; for Davies, trebly tinniness, folk forms and their fey wispiness seem to subvert Black Metal.

That leads me to conclude that, while the break still exists in Dead Raven Choir's music, the question which side is which has become indeterminable. Both Black Metal and 20th century Broadway classics function as canonical text; both Black Metal and 20th century are a subversive text which satirizes the canonical text. Could it be said that Dead Raven Choir is hyper-Sadean music?

The information about Dead Raven Choir on the bands MySpace page seems to suggest that Smolken makes his music quite in earnest: "DEAD RAVEN CHOIR is a horrid blight upon black metal and does great damage to credible black metal artists everywhere. Or perhaps it's keeping black metal alive and interesting. DEAD RAVEN CHOIR doesn't care which it is, just plays black metal covers of country and folk songs".

What if we interpret the cover version of Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me" just as earnestly?

The performer of the song's lyrics plays the role of a jilted lover who seeks forgetfulness in someone else's arms, knowing very well the wrongness of his actions. Loneliness and a sense of being-out-of-place pervade the song. Cole Porter himself - a homosexual in an age in which such a sexual orientation was tolerated at best - suffered from severe depressions: Wikipedia states that he was one of the first people who experienced electric shock therapy. Furthermore, a riding accident crushed his legs and left him in chronic pain, largely crippled; in the end, the legs had to be amputated.

For me, Dead Raven Choir's cover brings out the depressive aspect of "It's All Right With Me", an aspect which remains latent in most it's performances. The sombre, distorted and stunted sound of Dead Raven Choir's unique and inspiring brand of Black Metal is in tune with these hidden currents in one of Cole Porter's greatest hits.

To conclude this post, here are Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole performing Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me":

Post Scriptum

I really shouldn't write a second post on Dead Raven Choir's "My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind". After all, Wolfmangler's PKlima quoted a my review of that band's album "Dwelling In A Dead Raven For The Glory Of Crucified Wolves" as an example of 'extremely bad poetry'. But then again, I'm a second-rate mystic, a parasite of the sublime, a plagiarist of ecstasy - what to expect but a debacle when it comes to poetry?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Dead Raven Choir - My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind

In an interesting post about Burial's excellent "Untrue" album on the "An Idiot's Guide To Dreaming" blog, Loki writes: "A bad mp3 rip might even enhance the spaciousness because Burial seems to be about holes, about absence. A few seconds of silence as an i-pod struggles and whirrs seems to me apt for this album and I'm sure I'm hearing more gaps than there are".

Interesting: where Loki finds a bad mp3 rip the most desirable way to listen to Burial's new album (a wide-screen, even panoramic album with a huge depth), I prefer to listen to Dead Raven Choir's new cover album of blackened and corroded folk songs "My Firstborn Will Surely Be Blind" on state-of-the-art speakers and audio equipment - even though it flaunts it's "total disregard for all conventions of audio fidelity". In fact, it is proudly announced that the album was "recorded in Poland on cheap and archaic Soviet Bloc technology".

That the Soviet Bloc (I almost wrote: Soviet Blog) origin of the recording technology is underlined, connects the album to Black Metal culture hero Euronymous' admiration for repressive communist dictatorships: "Poland was quite all right, but it could have been even MORE grey and depressing. I like secret police, cold war and worshipping of dictators. I like bugging and spying on people, torture chambers in police stations and that people suddenly “disappear”." It seems the grey and depressing, crude and brutal nature of these dictatorships corresponds to the sound Dead Raven Choir strives for. Certainly, the sombre black and white photographs of the grinding poverty of farmers and workers in the first half of the 20th century which form the album's artwork, answer to that grey and depressing aesthetic.

But what explains the inverted formal relationship between Burial and Dead Raven Choir - great recording played on crappy technology vs. a piss-poor recording played on great technology? Why do I put on my audiophile headphones when listening to Dead Raven Choir's distorted Black Metal Folk songs to hear every nuance of that crude, grey sound?

Is the difference that where Burial's music is about holes and absence, Dead Raven Choir's music embodies holes and absence?

Post scriptum

What's with the Gothic associations that Burial's album evokes? The album reminds Loki of Cranes and the Comte de Lautréamont's "Les Chants De Maldoror", while Transpontine hears Bauhaus in Archangel!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Two From Emilio Miraglia

La Notte Che Evelyn Usci' Dalla Tomba (1971)

Assasination (1967)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Costumes and props

One of the things that I've always found intriguing about the iconography of early Norwegian Black Metal is the different eras to which the costumes and props of Burzum's Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes and Mayhem's Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth referred.

'Varg' Vikernes brandished a mace, a crude and barbarous weapon that as no other points towards medieval times. Also, according to the "Satan Rir Media" documentary Vikernes sought to provoke the Norwegian police wearing a suit of armor.

'Euronymous' on the other hand wore a long cape and flourished an épée (fencing sword), a weapon that points to the late-seventeenth century, the time of Alexandre Dumas "Les Trois Mousquetaires", absolutism and Enlightenment.

There is a photograph of Euronymous wielding the aforementioned - Vikernes's - mace, but (without wanting to get into Freudian metaphors) the mace hangs limp and Euronymous looks as if he doesn't know quite to do with it. But that shouldn't be surprising ... in a sense, it is the weapon of his murderer.

Obviously, that the costumes and props of Euronymous and Vikernes refer to different eras, signifies something: I feel it is perhaps part of a larger discursive clash between 'Varg' Vikernes and 'Euronymous', of which the costume and props are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Wolves In The Throne Room - Two Hunters (pt.2)

In an interview (here), Wolves In The Throne Room (WITTR) states that the title of their recent album "Two Hunters" was inspired by the cave-bear cults of prehistoric times. "That man, through his intellect and cunning, was able to defeat such a fearsome foe represents a powerful psychic turning point, for better or worse. So the two hunters are bear and man".

That there has been such a thing as a bear cult in prehistoric times is now very much in doubt among paleo-anthropologists. But that is insufficient as a critique of WITTR's concept, so an attempt to write a post about the current scientific insights with regards to the bear cult was quickly abandoned.

I was tempted to write a demystification of "the cult of prehistoric man" in the style of Roland Barthes' "Mythologies" instead. That post, if it had been written, would have been a denunciation of the inverted teleology of portrayals of prehistoric man, a genre in itself, in which the life of prehistoric man is presented as containing within itself the 'historical process as a whole'. The post would have proposed that the "prehistoric cult" genre in a sense postulates that history had already ended before it began and that, paradoxically, these historical fictions deprive man of History. Telling in this respect is that "the cult of prehistoric man" is never in the plural, always in the singular - or so the post would have put forward, if it had been written.

It would have been great fun writing such an post, but I don't have the stomach for the necessary research: I'd hate having to read the entire "Clan Of The Cave Bear" cycle, I don't even want to see the movie. And neither do I have an appetite to watch "The Quest For Fire".

Also, "Mythologies" is perhaps the most irritating book Roland Barthes has written. There is something self-contented about it's denunciations of bourgeois culture, and something hypocritical too. What's worse, is that his enmity of the bourgeois dulls the sharpness of his analysis. Furthermore, as an anthropologist I am taken aback by the very negative connotations 'mythology' has for Barthes.

So instead of the demystification of "the cult of prehistoric man", I'll leave you with an YouTube video of WITTR performing "Behold The Vastness And Sorrow" from the "Two Hunters" album. The performance took place on October 2nd 2007 in Slim's in San Francisco, California.

Post scriptum

Here is a WITTR review by Erik Davis over at Slate magazine, which arrives at the same conclusions as the previous post.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Wolves In The Throne Room - Two Hunters

"As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and to devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for the wildness which he represented. Once or twice, however, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me" - Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Can you imagine the idealistic, well-educated nineteenth-century intellectual stalking through the woods, the blood and entrails of some forest creature dripping from his mouth and beard? This historic scene points forwards towards the paradoxes, ambiguities and contradictions that form the intellectual manure fertilizing American Black Metal band "Wolves In The Throne Room" (WITTR).

WITTR's latest release, "Two hunters", is an album of magnificent paradoxes. WITTR's band member all hail from the DIY punk underground (an idealistic left wing environment) but make Black Metal (a genre with links to the radical right wing). WITTR subscribes to a deep-ecological ideology, but use electrical instruments, mixing boards and what-have-you. They espouse a philosophy, yet forswear urban life - never mind that the birth of philosophical thought is indelibly connected to the birth of the polis and that ecological thought is the fruit of academics, not of farmers.

WITTR are acutely aware of these paradoxes and seems to feel deeply guilty about them: "We are all hypocrites and failures" the band states in an interview (here).

The ethical dissonance between their ecological beliefs and the realities of being a band in 21st century America, cause the to attempt to reframe Black Metal's ethos: "If you listen to BM, but you don’t know what phase the moon is in, or what wild flowers are blooming then you have failed" the band states. Of course, from the perspective of the history of Black Metal this is patent nonsense. The members of the Norwegian early Black Metal scene were middle class boys living in apartment blocks and suburbs; and the scene's omphalos was an urban site, the record store "Helvete" in the city of Oslo, Norway's capital. I doubt that Varg Vikernes and Øystein Aarseth were at that time interested at all in botany or astronomy. If early Black Metal takes any position with regards to the countryside, it is that of a perverse urbanoia - proudly donning the mantle of the city-dweller's worst fears about the countryside - never mind that they were city dwellers themselves.

I see this reframing of Black Metal's ethos as a reversal of the polarities of transgression. Nature imagery in early Norwegian Black Metal if firmly on the side of evil - if Burzum, Mayhem and their ilk would have known the paragraph from Walden quoted above, it would have been because of it's bloodthirstiness and savagery, and not because Thoreau was so very much in tune with nature. Not so for WITTR - nature is on the side of the good for them, and technological civilization on the side of evil. For WITTR, using technology is a transgression.

In this sense, WITTR owe much to the transvaluation of Black Metal initiated by Burzum's Varg Vikernes. It was Vikernes who transformed the transgressive, "evil" position of early Norwegian Black Metal into a less ambivalent position. Basically Vikernes started to believe that the transgressive positions he and his peers had taken initially were non-transgressive, "good" positions. Before becoming a national socialist, Vikernes used anti-Christian Nazi imagery to transgress the ethical boundaries of Scandinavian Christian social democracy; later he actually subscribed to that drivel. It was also Vikernes who first stressed ecological concerns. "Burzum is one of our strongest influences" states WITTR's Aaron Weaver: "Burzum creates an intense mythic space with the music that evokes an ancient, tribal order: one can become lost in that world".

I would regret very much WITTR regressing wholly into a late-Burzumesque occidentalism, for I feel it is neither their deep-ecological thought nor their back-to-the-land idealism which provides the fertile ground from which their music springs: but it is the propulsive power of a system divided against itself, ecological thought realizing it is impossible and tearing itself up, it is the incoherencies, the paradoxes and the ambiguities, which provide the music with it's impetus.

Though WITTR calls music that is processed through the lens of technology 'a compromise' I like those parts of the album best in which technological processing is most audible - such as the instrumental opening track, which starts with an audio sample (electronica!) of crickets chirruping. That first track has a majestic sound not unlike the 'shoegaze' music of the 1990s; the rest of the album employs more familiar Black Metal tropes. The album as a whole creates a beautiful landscape-like spatiality with torrents of distortion, feedback precipices, droning riffs and a processed drum sound. On the last two tracks, the voice of Jessica Kinney ( Eyvind Kang and Asva) rises above the din, her Dead-Can-Dance-style soprano evoking Alpine purity and ancientness. The melodies are slow yet as aesthetically powerful as sunlight breaking through the clouds, conjuring up colossal mountains, primeval woodlands, skies, storms, mist. From the interview: "The music is about wild forests, unfettered rivers, nature: furious and vengeful". WITTRs music calls to mind the conception of nature as sublime, as conception historically grounded in the Romanticism of the nineteenth century.

In fact, the music resembles not so much nature itself as a big Romantic landscape painting, in the style of Caspar David Friedrich. And it is exactly this painterly quality I love about WITTR's "Two Hunters": the sense that though nature's majesty is depicted, one can see the technologies of canvas and brush-strokes if one studies the artwork at close range.

Post scriptum

Links towards other WITTR interviews here and here and here and here.

Is WITTR's Jessica Kinney also this Jessica Kinney?