Welcome to Secret Steel, the fifth chapter, “Black Metal 1: An Unholy Union”
Times occur every now and then when experience is difficult to put into words. Is that because they are inexplicable or because we simply fail to shape them into language? Try to put down into words how you felt the first time you thought you had fallen in love, attempt to justify watching traffic from the window of a tall building, write down what happens to you while you are on drugs: they all lead to frustration and abstraction and cannot be conveyed how you would like. Let’s try something else: make a sentence that contains no nouns. The seven words preceding this sentence contain two nouns, ‘sentence’ and ‘noun’. Can you really make a sentence that doesn’t include them? Let’s see. Make writing-long without indicative-speak. Such is writing without nouns.
There was an Argentine writer in the last century, who went by the name of Jorge Luis Borges. He was crippled by poor sight and went blind long before he died, but achieved renown in his lifetime. In 1940, he published a short story in which the writer himself (in the absence of any particular characters) discovers a fictional world named Tlön, where people do not believe in the reality of things fixed in time and space but only of acts occurring in a series, independent of one another. Of the languages spoken by inhabitants of Tlön, one substitutes verbs for nouns and another combines adjectives to form nouns. The result is subjective realism in a form stronger than Berkeley posited, since the world’s reality is denied. Though Tlön is at first a fictional world, it influences Earth’s philosophy and gradually begins to replace our own existence. Such is the story named “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”.
The second track on Bong’s eighth full-length fades in quickly considering its great length, moaning out a flowing stream of sumptuous guitar pulses as waves of distorted bass lap at the ticking of drums, the whole occasionally coalescing and occasionally refracting. Progressing gradually, the 19 minute piece appears stuck in endless self-negation though eventually aligns with another plane entirely, incrementally tipping round its simple axis of guitar, bass, and drums as each small change is introduced. Calling the suggestively-named “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” a song would be a far stretch, while the generic description of drone doom is only helpful if one can accept that the music is light and spacious, and also moves along at a reasonable pace. It is more akin to a journey without any discernible features, merely an evolving state of remoteness. Such is the lack of definition in the music.
“The Golden Fields” is barely shorter and barely easier to describe. Here, it is possible to say that Mike Vest sounds like a doom guitarist, ringing out long riffs of exaggerated slowness, while Mike Smith keeps admirably steady time as well as ornamenting the piece with fills, though Bong form a void with their instruments instead of filling one with the noise they make. Even when Dave Terry’s monolithic chants enter after halfway, “The Golden Fields” remains hugely expansive and yet evocative of nothing in particular, as if the listener were entirely divorced from reality. As on 2013’s Idle Days on the Yann and the more recent We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been, great somethings open up for our something to drift through, all the time coming closer and closer to something. Putting the listening experience into more concrete terms than that would feel like lying. Such is the scope and obscurity of Thought and Existence.
Bong in 2018 are very similar to the band that have turned up on the last four or five albums. The great sense of spaciousness that the English three-piece manage to exude is wonderful, capturing the listener and dragging them away from ordinary considerations after only a few minutes. As such, the brief 36 minutes of the album is much more generous than it appears: fans of Om should remember how Conference of the Birds seemed to possess all the mass in the universe, yet leave the door open for repeat listen after repeat listen, often in the same session. The only difference this time is that Bong have stumbled upon a theme that fits their music and have realised it beautifully – something indescribable and immeasurable that lets the listener disappear. The sense of listening to Thought and Existence may best be described by the narration at the beginning of “The Golden Fields”: “It happened as it always does in dreams. When you skip over space and time, and the laws of thought and existence, and only pause upon the points for which the heart yearns.” Such is the sense of blissful unreality when Bong are at their finest.
What do you think of when you think of Norway? Fjords? Well, I mean I guess so, but that’s not really what I’m getting at. Skiing? OK, there are more things associated with Norway than I thought. What about musically? Anything come to mind musically? Jan Garbarek?! Come on is a metal site! I’m talking about black metal! When you think Norway, you think black metal! Well, at least normal people do, you weirdo. I definitely associate Norway with black metal, so when I see a band that plays a style other than black metal from Norway, it always rustles my tail feathers (so to speak) a little bit. Especially when the band doesn’t play in a more extreme genre—though Norway is known for its second wave black metal bands, there are a couple heavy hitters in the death metal scene as well (Molested and Obliteration come immediately to mind). So, Black Viper definitely rocks my boat (so to speak) more than a little bit, being a speed/heavy band from Norway (Although they do share a member with Obliteration, which is fun). I mean, what do I expect? Are they going to sing in Norwegian? Are they still going to wear corpse paint? Do they Even really exist? The answers to those questions, respectively, are no, no, and yes. And thank Jan Garbarek they do, because their debut album, Hellions of Fire, is one of my favorite traditional metal albums to come out his year.
Black Viper are firmly in the realm of 80’s speed/heavy metal, but that doesn’t mean they are derivative. Most of this album is fast and furious in the tradition of speed peddlers of yore. But Black viper lend a sense of the epic to many of their songs that really sets them apart from a lot of modern speed metal bands. The Intro to the album spells this out well, beginning with clean guitars before building into a totally righteous melodic heavy metal riff, which is swiftly followed by some speed metal madness and screams. All of the songs with either slashes (“/“) or parentheses (()) tend to have a more epic feel, given the fact that they’re relatively long, and songs with slashes and parentheses just tend to be a little more cinematic. There are sections of these songs that are slower and bring to mind the marching of an army across the planes (Quest for power / The Fountain of Might has a main riff that is simply stomping).
Though the longer songs are where the misty-eyed adventurous spirit comes out most, there is a palpable sense of melody and yearning even through the bludgeoning speed metal of the shorter songs. Speed metal (straight up, no chaser speed metal) is one of my least favorite metal subgenres, because I often find that songs run together in a way that doesn’t happen to me with many other metal subgenres. Black Viper, however, injects enough tendencies from traditional heavy metal to make these songs memorable and distinct from one another. Lots of aspects set these folks apart from their speed peers. Their riffs are quite melodic, they switch tempos pretty often, and their vocalist sounds like a USPM crooner rather than an aggressive speed metal maniac. Indeed, he reminds me a lot of Eternal Champion vocalist, Jason Tarpey. He’s got kind of a cool, low key yell that he interrupts with ear piercing shrieks throughout.
Black Viper does retain the aggression of traditional speed metal, however, mainly through their constant tremolo riffing and a particularly propulsive drum performance. Seriously, if you take a peek anywhere at this album, Cato Stormoen is likely blasting away at his double bass drum, murdering his cymbals, or keeping a mean skank beat. Actually, the skank beat is this man’s main mode of communication, and though it’s a beat that I think can get tired very quickly, the constantly changing tapestry of riffs keeps it from getting old. The rhythm section also works really well together. The loud and aggressive bass often holds down a different riff than the screaming guitars, which matches up well with the formidable drums to create a fantastic foundation for these melodic master strokes to flourish.
Highlights include all three of the more “epic” tracks—with particular emphasis on the emotional ending to Quest for Power – The Fountain of Might (“freeedoooooommm”)—the hyper-aggressive Storming with Vengeance, the mysterious Suspiria, and the crunchy, groovy, Freedom’s Reign, which masterfully dances from all out chaos to more controlled and focused riffing with ease. I realize I just mentioned 6 out of the seven songs. That’s because this album rules. This is a high quality album filled with fiery riffs, aggressive speed drumming, forceful vocals, and great songwriting. If Black Viper keep this up on their subsequent albums, you might have to add speed metal to your list of things you immediately think of when I say “Norway” (along with Jan Garbarek and Fjords, you weirdo).
Aaron’s Accurating: 8.7/10
The proverbial encouragement goes thus: “If at first you don’t succeed, then try, try, try again.” You can imagine a teenage metalhead, scrawling in their textbook below that phrase, “If at first you cannot bleed, then die, die, die again.” Such must have been the school life of John ‘Harv’ Harbinson, frontman of Belfast-based heavy metallers Stormzone and previously Sweet Savage. Now six albums deep into a streak of line-up changes and modest interest, the “never say die” attitude of the vocalist proves that at least someone is serious about the potential of Stormzone. Putting his energy into the daunting process of writing music on the road, and also designing the artwork for his band’s albums, Harbinson deserves a salute even before considering the quality of Lucifer’s Factory.
Upon realising that the nature of the work fully validates its creator’s confidence, one might be led to wonder why Stormzone is not a name better known in the metal community. Doubtless there are reasons, such as dwelling on the lighter side of the metal spectrum, adding little to the genre’s basic elements, and indulging in few moments of showmanship; however, the refinement of the style should be enough to win over most rock and metal fans without a struggle. Any festival-goer knows the power of punchy, simple riffs, bold, memorable choruses, and moments of lead guitar abandonment, all of which are included on almost every song on Lucifer’s Factory. Factor in a dream production job and a five-piece line-up in which everyone pulls his own weight – we really have a winner on our hands here.
Despite “Dark Hedges” commencing the experience with a dark power metal feel (owing to a rare, though tactful, use of keyboards), the standard for Lucifer’s Factory is traditional heavy metal as introduced by Accept and Saxon. Like the former, Stormzone utilize hard rocking struts alongside more free-flowing metal, remaining at a steady pace and medium intensity apart from some thrashy riffing on “Albhartach” and occasional double bass drumming. On the other hand, Saxon always had something more anthemic about their songs than the energized instrumental focus of Iron Maiden, which is a fit for “Cushy Glen” and “We Are Strong”, both songs that instantly imbed themselves in the listener’s memory without any exceptional features needed. In “Cushy Glen” and “The Last Goodbye”, the group vocals and jaunty riffing form another link to power metal: fans of Jag Panzer and Virgin Steele need not ask why those elements make the songs on Lucifer’s Factory so catchy.
Another topic that requires discussion is the album’s consistency. Since Stormzone are not a flashy group, the songwriting prowess and memorable nature of the material is their greatest asset, and praise must be given for maintaining a high level of these attributes across the board. Listening to Lucifer’s Factory for the first or second time may fail to show its merits, simply because every song contains high points, right from the enveloping introduction of “Dark Hedges”. However, Stormzone have proven once again what they often have: 13 songs spread over 65 minutes is not excessive when each cut is of the highest calibre. Writing a concept album on the topic of Irish legends did not prevent Harbinson from creating a stock of potential singles, since each of the songs works equally well in isolation as among the herd. Finally, the low intensity of sections during “Last Night in Hell”, “Broken Window”, and “In for the Kill” ensure that the long album does not drag as one might fear.
Nowadays, it seems to be harder and harder for middle-of-the-road metal bands to make a name for themselves: in the case of Stormzone and their brand of catchy melodic metal, that’s a real pity because quality is abundant and the ideas sound fresh. Naturally, the Irishmen won’t be able to fit into any particular scene because few groups are pursuing this direction, though the old stages of the ‘70s and ‘80s might well give way to this kind of group in a few years. Whatever the result for Stormzone, it goes without saying that an album like Lucifer’s Factory deserves more respect and will make fans happier than many of the more prominent metal releases this year.
Larry breaks down each album by the German industrial goliaths to decide which one sits on top.
Interview with Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze
Conducted by Colonel Para Bellum of Blackdeath.
Larry rounds up all the decent (and some not-so-decent) thrash releases for the headbang-happy year of 2017.
This was a banner year for death metal by any measure.
Here are some of our favorite death metal releases from 2017.
The diverse spectrum that encompasses metal music’s many sub-genres could be likened to various mythical races united under two opposing banners, staring each other down as they make ready to charge and turn the field red with the other’s blood. From one year to the next, the advantage may tip from one side to the other, but in the grand scheme of their eternal conflict, the forces of light and darkness have tended to be equally matched. 2017 saw the forces of melody and order take the advantage in the eyes of the reclusive bard that tells this end of the year tale, though naturally his is not the final word on such things, and other codices in the grand archives of metallic exploits deserve your consideration. Still, these are the 50 acts of heroism that defined the year, because too much has occurred to settle for a mere 30.
2017 has proven to offer up the tightest race we have seen in a long time in the quest for the gold! So without any further ado, here is the creme de la creme of the year!
December’s still a month, right?