Today, as the world celebrates the birth of Christ, I thought it would be only appropriate to review a few bands that aren't too fond of him. Not all of these bands are explicitly Satanist or anti-Christian, but you get the idea.
Sothis - De Oppresso Liber (Candlelight Records, 2008)
Sothis proudly announce "available at all Hot Topic stores" on their MySpace page. They have a footwear endorsement. They released two live DVDs before their first album. At a recent opening slot for Watain, drummer Dross sat amidst a mechanical contraption that resembled a giant's orthodontic headgear more than a kit. Such is the spectacle of Sothis, a symphonic black metal band as slick and professional as Cradle of Filth clones come. All too appropriate that they hail from my hometown of Los Angeles, where two dimensions are more than enough to get by if you look awesome.
Personally, I've got no problem with a band this obvious peddling itself with similarly outsized marketing. This is not the kind of music intended to stay in the underground -- it's meant to lead hordes into battle. My issue is that De Oppresso Liber feels drunk on its own drama. Castlevania keyboards, booming toms and sweep-picked guitar solos rush by with self-seriousness and no self-awareness. Everything on this album is meant to impress in the moment, with little thought paid to what happens after we've absorbed the bombast into our bloodstream. Which makes for a pretty stale album. Great production though. And real nice footwear.
Bloodsworn - All Hyllest Til Satan (Agonia Records, 2008)
Thanks to the financial woes of two Norwegian black metal labels, it's taken nine years for Bloodsworn's debut LP All Hyllest Til Satan (All Hail Satan) to see release. If it came out in 1999 like it was supposed to, I could pass this off as a decent enough derivative of Norway's 2nd wave of black metal (same goes for Urgehal, with which Bloodsworn share at least one member). I probably wouldn't be listening to it a decade later, though.
A drum machine, barely audible synths and some mighty fine guitar solos differentiate Bloodsworn from the pre-millennial black metal pack but don't really exalt them. The mix plunges everything into a chaotic electrical stew, and not in a purposeful way, like Velvet Cacoon or Xasthur might. This one would benefit from some clarity. Then again, a clearer production would just highlight how pedestrian Bloodsworn's songwriting is. Nevermind. Keep it dirty and irritating. I'd rather be annoyed than bored.
Khold - Hundre Ar Gammal (Candlelight Records, 2008)
Black metal foursome Khold enshrines in music what horror movie directors have known forever: monsters are most fearsome when they're slow and indomitable. And speak Norwegian. Aside from Sverre Stokland's hoarse, low-pitched rasp, there's very little that connects Hundre Ar Gammal (Hundred Years Old) with the lightspeed black metal of Khold's Norwegian peers. Drums crunch like long-dead leaves and branches underfoot. Mid-tempo guitars pound formaldehyde riffs in the mud. And it's all delivered with merciless, dread-inducing 4/4 regularity. The cold, clear mix leaves nothing muffled. This shit hurts.
That Khold can deliver a record this simple and powerful without resorting to black metal clichés, and still remain defiantly black metal, speaks to the the uselessness of genre orthodoxy as a goal. Taken on its own, Hundre Ar Gammal is an eyebrow-raiser, a reminder that black metal still has punk in its DNA. In the context of the three other records in this roundup, the album's a minimalist mini-masterpiece.
Also worth checking out: Tulus, featuring two members of Khold.
Blackwinds - Flesh Inferno (Regain Records, 2008)
Alright Blackwinds, let me explain myself. Church burnings and murder are all part of black metal's past. These days, the worst crime a black metal band can commit is to be boring. You've got blastbeats and screechy vocals and coruscating guitars and Tim Burton synths and stuff, so it ought to be tough NOT to make an impact, right? RIGHT??? Isn't that right Blackwinds? WHY ARE YOU SO BORING???? I wasn't even expecting that much from you Blackwinds, since you're essentially a side project for drummer Alastor Mysteriis of Setherial, who are almost as dull and equally Swedish. And you still let me down. For shame.
Look, you guys talk a lot about Satan on Flesh Inferno, so you of all bands should understand: Satanism is all about individuality. God and man are images of each other, so the will of the individual is a holy thing and all that. Maybe it was your will to sound like Marduk with keyboards? Perhaps you wanted a distant mix that extinguished your blasphemous fire? You can do better -- you're all talented musicians, you just don't give me the bristly hair-on-end that I'm looking for. I wish you'd realize that you're preaching to the same choir as every other black metal band in Sweden. And the choir's getting tired and horny. There's nothing sexy about Flesh Inferno, even though the album title suggests otherwise.