Since I had such a lark spinning through some of my favorite accounts bleakness from down Italy way, why not have another go of it? This time: Germany. Deutschland. Sounds ominous, no? Well, although we could draw further parallels between Italy and Germany (weren’t they both involved in some, shall we say, unpleasantness, this past century?), it is not the shared love of goosestepping but rather a similarly dark and twisted vein of black metal richness that draws me to both nations. So, allow me to present to you a choice smattering of tasty metal morsels from the only nation in Europe that could have produced the ‘no smiling allowed’ machine music of Kraftwerk and, um, Nena.
Klabautamann, Merkur (2009)
I’ve also got one of their previous albums, called something appropriately nature-y like Our Journey In The Woods (sorry, too lazy to look it up), which is also pretty good, but holy SSSSSSHIT this album nearly came out of nowhere. It’s progressive and angular without the obnoxious and pretentious connotations that those terms usually evoke. It’s aggressive and mental but still explores a pleasantly wide palette of sounds and colors. Some of the dudes are also in the band called Island, who have a newer self-titled record that I haven’t tracked down yet, but their previous EPs or demos or whatever shit came out a while ago called Orakel, which is well worth checking out.
Secrets Of The Moon, Carved In Stigmata Wounds (2004)
Don’t know what it is in the water, but there’s a powerful strain of German orthodoxy which seems to have little to do with the Swedish/French style (Ondskapt, Malign, Deathspell Omega, and on and on). This German orthodox black metal is a bit more measured in its approach, almost stately. I’m thinking here of Secrets of the Moon, obviously, but also Dark Fortress and, to a slightly lesser extent, some of mid- to late period Lunar Aurora. This is perhaps the pinnacle of serious, ‘no fun’ black metal, but this album absolutely KILLS it.
Drautran, Throne Of The Depths (2007)
There’s nothing terribly new going on here, but this album has got an awesome title, really cool cover art, and a masterful take on vaguely pagan-ish black metal. I know, I know, but before you run screaming in horror to throw on Killers or Defenders of the Faith, this ain’t no tin whistle face-painted bullshit. It’s essentially a slick take on that ineffable German orthodoxy, without the orthodoxy, while tossing in a whole bunch of classic Emperor-isms. This album is just all kinds of smooth, and I mean that in the best way possible.
Vinterriket, Der Letze Winter – Der Ewigkeit Entgegen (2005)
Much like Hellveto or Striborg or (until recently) Xasthur, the one dude behind Vinterriket suffers from a serious lack of self-restraint. If you try to keep up with the relentless onslaught of new albums, EPs, splits, and ‘Best Ofs’, you’ll run yourself straight into the ground. Plus, most of this dude’s stuff is, frankly, boring as shit dark ambient. This album, however, mixes that dark ambient with a furious blizzard of the coldest black metal. Kinda like Darkspace or Paysage d’Hiver, I guess, but less long-winded than the former, and FAR less eardrum-piercingly harsh than the latter. This album is fantastically paced and sequenced, and it’s just all kinds of excellent.
Desaster, 666 – Satan’s Soldiers Syndicate (2007)
Ah, finally. Some metal during which it is Okay To Smile. Seriously, you’ve got my permission. Enough of the dour ‘my lit teacher didn’t like my poetic homage to Edgar Allan Poe’ grumbling. This is ferocious, accurately sloppy black/thrash. Play it, then play it again only louder, and hell, why not drink some beers, too? Then toss on some Aura Noir, who are not German, but share this same sloppy fun metal approach. Go on. You deserve it.
The Ruins Of Beverast, Unlock the Shrine (2004)
Alright, now that you’ve thrashed and smiled to Desaster, Fun Time Is Over. Well, at least, if you’re going to have ‘fun’ with this album, it is a very SERIOUS kind of fun. Anyway, this is one dude who was the dude in the band Nagelfar which everyone who ever told you about was very careful to emphasize “No, really, it’s not the same as the Swedish Naglfar, y’know, the guys who are kind of like the kids in the grade just above Dimmu Borgir, who kinda tried to bully them and look tougher but were really just jealous that the young punks were more popular.” Whatever. This album kicks ass. It’s mostly black metal, I guess, but with a cinematic scope. Replete with non-stupid sampling and non-trite industrial aspects, this is a genuinely spooky affair. Th’Ruins’ other two records are also good, but this first one is the most finely honed AND experimental. Tasteful, tasty. Taste it.
Geist, Galeere (2009)
Honestly, the cover art kind of tells you everything you need to know about this album. The band logo tells you it’s at least vaguely black metal, and the creepy almost-capsizing ghost ship reveals a spooky nautical vibe. And yep, that’s pretty much how the music delivers. Excellent grim black metal in that Teutonic mold (see also Funeral Procession, I suppose, but definitely Inarborat, for more of this German not-quite-a-scene, not-quite-orthodoxy), but nicely evocative of a doomed seafaring voyage. Creaking timbers, washes of guitar like huge black waves in the night. Dive in and seal your watery fate.
Katharsis, VVorldVVithoutEnd (2006)
This one is also of a sort of orthodoxy, I guess, but more of the Ajna Offensive type than your Dark Fortresses and Secrets(es?) of the Moon. Anyway, a seriously ghoulish aesthetic, scorched earth sound, and insanely stretched out compositions reveal a demented group of individuals behind this caustic work of bleak black art. Yeah, the albums before this one were pretty good, and Fourth Reich wasn’t half-bad, either, but this is definitely where it’s AT for the Katharsis (anti-?)ethos.
I sort of forgot about the whole Prophecy Productions folk-ish scene (with, oh, what do you call ’em, Empyrium and ah, shit… Dornenreich, that’s who I’m thinking of), but maybe if you include them and the whole Lupus Lounge label/scene, I don’t know, does that count as a German scene or sound? Who cares. These are some excellent records. You can trust me; after all, I write a blog on the internet. Still, all of this goes to show that there’s plenty of blackness that ain’t anywhere near your Norways and Swedens.
It is literally taking ALL of my self-restraint not to exeunt this post with some sort of “something or other über alles” statement. Let’s call it quits there, before I embarrass us all. (Un)Happy listening.