Today's lesson: how to make a fucking awesome Black Metal CD. Like this, for example:
- You choose the battle for Middle-Earth as your subject. While you're at it you engage in some revisionism and describe the final victory of the Dark Lord's armies over the pathetic Men and Elves.
- You write all your lyrics in Latin. (!)
- Your vocalist shall be a fellow shrieking in a highly incomprehensible fashion, somewhat reminiscent of a train whistle. So as to not make things boring you also add some (at times pitchshifted) grunting, spoken word and clear, monk-like chanting here and there.
- You use keyboards. They are generally employed to add a light atmospheric/military touch to the songs; more notable is the fact that they are used to create melodic nuances and entire passages or interludes respectively, which do not sound folky as much as they are of a classical/baroque nature.
- Skilful songwriting is a must as well. Do not spend the entire running time blindly speeding across the landscape; on the other hand, do not over-sweeten the listener's expected grim black me(t)al with pounds of sugar. In other words: be brutal, but not too brutal; be melodic, but not too often and precisely when the moment calls for it. This also fits the concept of the album: the brutal parts are the musical version of the merciless slaughter committed by the hordes of Mordor while the harmonic keyboard parts represent the beautiful and good qualities of Elves and Men, as well as providing variety.
- The album should neither be over- nor underproduced. Nicely rough and yet with a good sound.
- Excellent cover art does not hurt either.
At any rate, this is how the duo NAZGUL from Italy did it – not to be mistaken for the Spanish band with the same name, or any of other NAZGULs on this planet – and what's the result? "De Expugnatione Elfmuth" is the result, and we should be glad it is.
In a very short period of time, "De Expugnatione Elfmuth" has become one of my favourite BM albums, surpassed only by the incredible "Bergtatt". That's OK; I don't expect anyone to be able to measure up to ULVER. The rest of the field, however, is left in the dust almost single-handedly by Zakrathor and Thornset.
How they achieved that? By playing innovative Black Metal or at least combining many familiar elements in a more than accomplished fashion. As I've alluded to, the interplay of brutal-as-hell, occasionally lightly keyboard-supported BM punishment and partially peaceful, partially epic instrumental passages (often obviously based on classical/baroque music) is one the reason why this album is so interesting and fresh. Unlike in usual BM, melodic aspects are not used for the sake of being melodic; within the frame of the concept behind the album, they have their place and purpose. In a way, "De Expugnatione Elfmuth" is the soundtrack to the war that rages in Middle-Earth, and all the noise (as well as all the melodic interludes) has an immediate right to exist.
Listen to "Elficidium" for example, which deals with an ambush of a pack of ogres on a group of Elves. Initially it is a graceful, merry and playful, almost classical piece involving a flute and strings that immediately conjures up images of carefree, light-hearted Elves. Thereafter, however, it turns into an uncompromising, black and Metallic batterfest: you hear a godless slaughter, the bloody disembowelling of the helpless Eldar, the rape and murder of the valiant Elf maidens, the complete crushing of the weak Children of the Stars. (And lest anyone take offence to these expressions: it can all be found in the lyrics. Nyah-nyah.) Military-like trombones form the background of this acoustic massacre, and brief, ominous choral passages are found throughout the song.
Want another example? One could also cite the tracks "Dies Festi..." ("Day of the Feast") and "In Summus Montibus" ("On the Crests of the Mountains"), which are found back to back. The former is a kind of short tonal documentation of a jolly feast celebrated by Men and Elves, and naturally has a rather Folky feeling to it. Immediately afterwards, "In Summus Montibus" strikes with full force and commits to sound the assault of the supremely powerful armies of generals Baazgor and Orkian on the mountain citadel and the valley. Here, too, the mood on the track is "lightened" by brief atmospheric passages, during which the sight of the incoming hosts is described via spoken words, accompanied by mournful flute tones ("Beyond the mountain there was a blood-curdling sight...The generals Baazgor and Orkian leading a great army, which obscured both the sky and the earth"); one also gets to hear trombones preluding the assault on the citadel before the usual BM instrumentation kicks in and blasts everything into bits.
Similar things could be said of the rest of the CD as well, be it of the mostly melodic "Impetus Quartae Lunae Novae" which aurally paints an unusually positive, heroic picture of Men and Elves defending themselves, or of "Legio Draconorum Orkian", which features strings as well as atmospheric keyboard sounds (and yet neatly bulldozes the listener's face), or the almost nine minutes long epic "Solvitur Ad Elfmuth (Ante Bellum)" which really goes all-out and offers some of the grandest moment on the entire album: pretty much everything is right here, at no time does one even run the risk of getting bored. The playing time of about 46 minutes is just right and invariably leads to multiple listens.
In conclusion: "De Expugnatione Elfmuth" is the kind of Black Metal I couldn't possibly ask more of. Sometimes it's grimly pounding, sometimes ominous and malign, sometimes majestic and awe-inspiring, sometimes gentle and atmospheric. All of this is combined with high quality music and (although it does take some getting used to) vocals, excellent songwriting and a concept most listeners will be able to relate to much more easily than other subject matters typical for BM.
An absolute insider tip. (Online August 15, 2005)