None More Black

Awhile back I went over my first introduction to extreme metal. Death metal has been a part of my music diet for a long time now, and many other things associated with extreme music are also in my collection.

But today I want to get into the other big movement in extreme music, the one that hit headlines in the early 1990’s and then stood as the one viable form of heavy metal in the later half of the decade. It remains today in many forms and has morphed and shifted into several different directions over the years. It is one of metal’s most controversial subgenres that captivates many but repulses others.

Black metal got its start in the 1980’s underground with acts like Venom, Celtic Frost and Bathory leading the pioneering efforts to establish the sound. The music came to the forefront in the 1990’s, due mainly to the influence of Norwegians Mayhem and a series of criminal acts that would conclude with the murder of Mayhem founder Euronymous at the hands of Varg Vikernes of Burzum.

It was after these insane events that black metal came to my attention. I read about the murder and the preceding church arsons in the underground ‘zines I was getting my death metal news from. Like many, I became transfixed on this absolute trainwreck of murder and music. I saw an advert for the Burzum album Hvis lyset tar oss, which was the first Burzum album released after Vikernes was imprisoned for the murder and arsons. I ordered the CD and anxiously awaited to hear the sound behind this crazy story.

I couldn’t stand that album. I played it a bit and tried to wrap my head around it, but the sound was so distant and unlike anything I was used to hearing. I wound up trading the CD off and I stayed away from black metal for a few years. The music behind the insanity didn’t do anything for me.

The first time I finally found something aligned with black metal that captured my ear was in 1996. Sweden’s Dissection released Storm Of The Light’s Bane, a much-heralded masterpiece that owed a fair bit of its sound to black metal without being purely that. I took to the album immediately and it stands today as one of my absolute favorites of all-time.

It wasn’t long after that I started poking back around the sounds of black metal proper. I wasn’t the only one around who was into extreme music and I quickly got one recommendation from several people – Emperor. I came to the band after their second proper studio release, Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk. The album would mark the transition to when I truly started taking the music seriously and wasn’t simply gaping at the tabloid trainwreck the scene had been.

This remains my favorite black metal work to this day. Of course there is a whole world of black metal out there almost 30 years since it grabbed headlines, but there is no substitute for the majesty of Emperor.

Other acts would soon enter my rotation – Satyricon, Immortal, Marduk, and more were sounds I was more than willing to enjoy. Something finally clicked with the music and it worked for me. Of course it didn’t hurt that the subgenre was already starting to take different forms.

Just as black metal came to the forefront of metal music in the mid-90’s, one band quickly gathered a lot of attention. England’s Cradle Of Filth retain an enduring legacy today but were very polarizing in the scene they entered a few decades ago. I personally loved them and still do, but it’s wasn’t (or isn’t) hard to find some tr00 black metal warriors who had, and have, nothing nice to say about CoF.

That was one part of the black metal movement that kept me from wading too far out – of any music scene I’ve been involved with, black metal is by far the most elitist, gatekeeping and cringe shit I’ve ever seen. Metal as a whole can attract gatekeeping posers who think their tastes should set arbitrary bounds of what is or isn’t worthy, but black metal is on a whole other scale. It’s still a part of black metal today, but that is fading some for reasons other than maturity.

I would go on to hear bands on prominent independent labels as well as good stuff from the true underground as years wore on. As bands like Darkthrone became elder statesmen to the genre, more and more new bands brought fresh takes on the music.

Black metal exists somewhat apart from other metal subgenres in that it works very well with other forms of music. Attempts have been made to marry heavy metal with everything from rap and country, with middling results at best. But black metal has some other artistic quality to it that lends itself to merging with other sonic expressions into a viable new form.

One such dark marriage is “blackgaze,” that of black metal and shoegaze. Both modes of expression are atmospheric and distant, and seem a perfect match for each other. The success of Alcest, Deafheaven and others stands as testament to this blessed, unholy union.

Today I am still listening to black metal, even if the bulk of my focus is on other movements. Black metal still offers some of metal’s most artistic sonic canvasses, even in the wake of sensational headlines and present-day issues of cultural standing. It took me some getting used to, and also to find the right bands to pique my interest, but it all finally clicked. Metal as a whole often encompasses a theme of misanthropy, and there is nothing more misanthropic than the world’s nastiest music.

Album Of The Week – December 6, 2021

This week it’s time to dust off an all-time metal classic. One of heavy metal’s most important bands and one of their most significant albums. I haven’t had the occasion yet to discuss Metallica besides in passing mention, now it’s time for my first exploration into a band who will certainly be discussed here more in the future.

Metallica – Ride The Lightning

Released July 27, 1984 via Megaforce Records

My Favorite Tracks – For Whom The Bell Tolls, Creeping Death, Fade To Black

The album had an immediate impact on the market, selling out of its original pressing in a few months and forcing the band’s move to a major label as they outgrew underground infrastructure. As Metallica entered a supernova period of growth, they gave rise to a heaver version of metal than what was being favored by radio and MTV.

But even as Metallica brought forth the ferocity that would be a hallmark of heavy metal to come, they also displayed a refined songwriting approach that would serve them in the future as they went from being one of metal’s biggest bands to the biggest band in the world. Their musical evolution would being on Ride The Lightning.

Books could, and likely have, been written about this record. I’ll not bother with too much exposition, instead I’ll go in to the 8 songs on Ride The Lightning track-by-track and get under the hood of one of metal’s greatest albums.

Fight Fire With Fire

The album opens with a short, melodic intro that belies the sheer force to come. Fight Fire With Fire is the song that connects this record to Metallica’s savage debut Kill ‘Em All. It is pummeling and unrelenting throughout its 4:44 runtime. This misanthropic plea for nuclear annihilation sets an image and tone that would be ever-present in the oft-pessimistic world of metal.

Ride The Lightning

The title track marks one of two writing contributions from former guitarist Dave Mustaine, he of subsequent Megadeth fame. The song chugs along to the lament of a convicted killer being executed by electrocution. (Shocking, I know). The track flies along in a precise, militant manner while James Hetfield executes some of his best early vocal work in the higher register, his screaming sounding like the pleading of a condemned man.

For Whom The Bell Tolls

It’s time now for one of Metallica’s most iconic and beloved songs. For Whom The Bell Tolls is a long-celebrated staple of the band’s live set and is always in the conversation when discussing the band’s best songs. The song was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the same name and depicts a particularly brutal sequence where a group of 5 soldiers die in an airstrike after capturing a hill.

Everything about this song is pure magic – Cliff Burton’s effect-drenched bass intro, the lyrics, the frenetic music. It all just works on a level few bands ever achieve.

I did read Hemingway’s book after hearing Metallica’s song. Hey, at least I like the song.

Fade To Black

Perhaps the most unique track on the album, Metallica have a go at a power ballad. For a band that had so heavily thrown the gauntlet into thrash metal, a subgenre they were helping invent, Fade To Black marks the first sign that more than savage heavy metal was to come from the group.

This song, like the preceding track, fires on all cylinders. The guitar work is gorgeous and perfectly suited to the morose subject matter. James Hetfield delivers haunting vocals that portray someone giving up on life. While such is common lyrical fare in metal music, very few acts execute it on this level.

Trapped Under Ice

Now for the first of two songs that are, at best, considered less than their fellows on Ride The Lightning. Trapped Under Ice is a perfectly fine thrasher that doesn’t break new ground or anything, but also isn’t a total stinker. It fits fine on the record, it’s sufficiently thrashy and I don’t feel it should be as maligned as it sometimes is. It might stick out a bit on an album with at least 3 of the band’s best-ever works, but in the end only a few songs can be the greatest. Not everything has to be best ever or worst ever, there’s plenty of room in the middle, and Trapped Under Ice fits just fine there.

Escape

The second, and the truest version of, what the hell were they thinking? Escape was apparently an attempt at a radio single that was apparently forced on them by the record label. James Hetfield supposedly hates the song, an opinion shared by a lot of Metallica fans. This song is the runt of the litter on the album, whereas the records before and after this tend to lack for a lesser track.

I honestly have no real problem with Escape. It’s still heavy enough, it has some attitude, and I never feel the need to skip it when I play the album. I’m used to it and I’m not that offended by it. No, it’s not great and it does ding the record, but it’s not that big of a deal in the end. It didn’t become a single and the 3 songs that needed to be singles did, so no harm no foul.

Creeping Death

It’s back to business in full for Metallica on the last vocal track of the record. Creeping Death is an epic headbanger about the biblical story of plagues in Egypt. This is thrash at its finest as the band shreds through verse and chorus in true Old Testament style (not to be confused with Testament the band).

The song’s mid section offers a breakdown that translates to one of music’s iconic live moments, with thousands of people screaming “Die!” along with the band. Sunday school at church was never as badass as Metallica.

The Call Of Ktulu

The record closes with a great instrumental piece that fits with the album musically and provides an interesting listen, something that some instrumentals find hard to do. The song would mark the end of leftover Dave Mustaine riffs for Metallica, something I’m sure they were happy to move on from just as Mustaine was about to start his own legacy.

Ride The Lightning is one of heavy metal’s all-time classic albums. It bridged a few gaps between their raw beginning and the polished sound to come, but also offered its own weight in thrash metal gold. Metallica would go on to become a massive band in the 80’s without the benefit of radio play, an effort owing to the force of their music.

It’s long been argued that some old-school die hards have a problem with recognizing anything beyond Metallica’s first four albums. Plenty of those arguments can be had another time but, for the sake of the albums themselves, just listen to them and then ask yourself why people wouldn’t be hung up on them. They are high points of heavy metal and lie on the summit of the genre.

Spotify Wrapped 2021

I was shuffling around my next few posts a bit and had a bit of a hang-up as I tried to figure out what to do for today. As luck would have it, Spotify would drop some quick and easy content in my lap in the form of their Wrapped end of year data dump.

For those unaware, Spotify provides a rundown of a user’s most-played songs, genres and artists for the year every December. It’s a neat little thing that provides a bit of info and can also be fun and silly. For me and the purposes of this blog, it’s a great way to get some content with just some screenshots and a few words. Let’s have at it.

This is the total minutes I spent listening on Spotify this year. This is by far the most I’ve used the service in a year. For the biggest part of 2021 I had a job where I could play music all day and I’d alternate between Spotify and the digital music collection on my phone. It’s over 450 hours, which is a fair bit of time when considering I didn’t use it all the time.

This tidbit did shock me a little. I don’t really know how Spotify does genres, I haven’t looked at the least how deep they get. I don’t feel like I listened to 35 different genres of music but I’ll take their word for it. If symphonic blackened britpop deathcore counts as 4 separate genres then I can see it. Not sure if I heard any whale sounds in the past year…

Here are the top 5 genres. Shoegaze sticks out a bit on the list but it’s not surprising since I just got into it this year. I did way more exploring of it than I did of anything else. Nothing else is a real shock. I did listen to what I guess is a lot of hard rock this year though I figure some of that might actually be indie rock or some offshoot of that. Again, who knows how Spotify genrefies things.

My most-played song of the year is no surprise at all. I played the ever living shit of this right after I heard it. In truth I’ve played it way more than that because I eventually got a digital copy on my phone and I’ve also played the YouTube video countless times. I’ve probably doubled the Spotify play count. I’ve literally been bitched at for how much I’ve played this song.

One bit of a shocker here. I didn’t realize I’d played Muse that much. I honestly only started listening to them in earnest this year. I wouldn’t have thought they’d rank that high or that Hysteria would be the song that did. The rest are all reasonable – I played LoG a lot because I didn’t own Ashes Of The Wake on any format until a few weeks back. I played the Iron Maiden lead single multiple times a day until Senjutsu released and then I played the CDs or vinyl.

This is absolutely no surprise at all. Emma Ruth Rundle was easily my most-played artist of the year, and I only truly began listening to her about halfway through the year. According to Spotify I spent a total of 3,682 minutes playing her songs in the span of about 5 months. That’s over 61 hours playing the same artist. Yeah, I dig her stuff that much. And this also doesn’t account for when I eventually got her albums on vinyl, which provided digital download copies as well.

Being in the top 0.1% of listeners is really cool, I have never seen that before. I’ll put that on my resume.

Again, Muse is throwing me a bit. I mean, I’m not one to argue with statistics, but still. I would’ve thought Lorna Shore had the number 2 spot in the bag, but I guess I really, really liked Muse earlier in the year. None of the others are huge shocks. I got Rage’s stuff on vinyl about halfway through the year but I was blasting them a lot in the first part of 2021.

I don’t know what the hell this is but I guess I’m bold and wistful, based on my musical tastes of sad indie rock and deathcore. I don’t know, whatever. I’m not really all that bold I don’t think. Wistful is probably right. I don’t how much of my personality I’m going to analyze from a damn music streaming app.

That’s a wrap for the Spotify Wrap 2021. I didn’t listen to Taylor Swift for over 200,000 hours like some people but hey, I did listen to something. We’ll see what the next year brings as Spotify remains more a vehicle for discovery for me instead of what I use to listen to my favorite stuff.

A Story And A Song, Vol. One

This will be a new series with a bit of discussion of a song and a story, just as the title says. It’s a way to just talk about something for a bit that’s funny, sad, or whatever. Sometimes the connection might be deep, others tenuous, it’ll be what it’ll be. It should in time be the regular feature on Wednesdays as I start shuffling a few things around.

For the first installment I’m going back to the well with Oasis, a band I’ve already covered a lot here. I have a bit more to go too, but this story came out over the weekend and just fit the theme for this new series all too well.

The Song

Oasis – Acquiesce

This is one of the band’s more famous B-sides, originally released as the other side to Some Might Say in 1995. The song quickly entered the band’s live set, as demonstrated here being the second song performed at the historic Knebworth gig. It would go on to appear on the group’s 1998 B-sides compilation The Masterplan, often touted as the band’s second- or third-best album despite not really being one.

The song is a nice contrast study – Liam belts out the hard rocking verses, while Noel offers a softer and higher chorus with a sentimental message. The song is reportedly about the relationship between the brothers Gallagher, which was not quite as bad in 1995 as it is at the end of 2021. Of course, the song could fit any sort of family, friend or romantic relationship.

I have no particular connection to this song – I didn’t own the singles or The Masterplan back in the day. I really only came into their B-sides when I got back into Oasis in the mid 2010’s. It’s a wonderful song and one I’d most likely include on a list of their top 15 or however many songs, should I ever get to such an exercise.

So what is the story with this song, if I myself have no real attachment to it? Well, you might need each other and believe in one another, especially if you’re stuck with 60 or so people in an English pub for 3 days.

The Story

Here is one of many media reports about the incident, this from Consequence. Over the past weekend a group of 60 or so people went to a Yorkshire pub to have a few pints and catch Oasis tribute band Noasis. Unlucky for the pub goers, a ton of snow fell in the area as Noasis played and the group was stuck in the pub. It would not be until Monday morning, a full three days, before the bulk of attendees were able to leave.

The story quickly made social media rounds, with many getting a chuckle and others thinking the scenario was heaven or hell, depending on one’s view of Oasis. I’d wind up with a snow-in of my own, getting messages and posts about the story plastered all over my social media. The event ended with no casualties and seemingly great spirits among the attendees and pub staff, so all’s well that ends well.

And I’ll be real – I’d love to be stuck in a pub for 3 days. Hell, I’d do it even if the tribute band was for someone I didn’t like, say Dave Matthews. Or, even better, if there was no band. But add in a tribute band to one of my favorites like Oasis and hell yeah, I’m down to be stuck in a place with beer and bar food for days on end. I guess the worst issue was that the place ran out of sausage. I could make do, I’m sure.

A bit about the tribute band – Noasis formed in 2006 and have over 1,100 gigs under their belts. They’ve gone nearly as long as the band they are paying homage to at this point. People might want to argue about the merit of tribute bands but hey, if you can make a living playing music, go for it. Or even if someone just wants to do it as a hobby, have at it. I’d surmise that it’s more than a hobby after 1,100 gigs and 15 years for these guys.

Of course this isn’t much of a story with any grand lesson or anything like that. It’s just a fun bit of trivia from across the pond that involves a band I talk about a fair bit and catch a fair bit of shit for liking, as I went over a few weeks ago. But hey, if anyone wants to lock me in a bar with a bunch of booze and all the Oasis songs I can handle listening to, hook me up.

Here is Noasis with their rendition of Acquiesce.