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Posts Tagged ‘Nocturno Culto’

After last week’s 25 Honorable Mentions (in haiku!), Spinal Tapdance will now begin counting down the Top 30 Metal Albums of 2010 in three cheeky installments.

30.  Immolation, Majesty & Decay

A pitch-perfect production job (after two great albums somewhat marred by odd, muddy sound) casts the perfect spotlight on some of the sturdiest, most sideways riffs these New York death dealers have spewed forth in their entire career.  Further proof, perhaps, that the greatest heavy metal often comes from the sincerity and hardworking ethos of blue collar, down-to-earth dudes getting together and howling (or grunting, as appropriate) at the moon.  This is truly the sound of giants among us, and if you haven’t hopped on the Immolation train at this point, I’m not sure there’s much else we can say to each other.  Immolation’s craft is patient and deliberate, but will crush you beneath slabs of sparkling granite just the same.

29.  Shining, Blackjazz

Blackjazz was by far one of the gnarliest records of 2010, coming across like nothing less than an invasion by a hostile race of noise-mongering aliens.  2010 may have been a great year for saxophone in metal (Yakuza, Ihsahn, In Lingua Mortua – the latter two acts featuring guest turns by Shining’s own Jørgen Munkeby), but nowhere did that instrument come across as foreign and antisocial as on this album.  It’s not often that extreme metal finds areas of tonality and experimentalism previously unexplored, but Blackjazz may just be that year zero of a brand-new sound.  Open your mind to the cacophony, and bow down to your new woodwind overlords.

28.  Woe, Quietly, Undramatically


It took me a good while to come around to this album, but when it finally clicked – holy shit.  Melodically inventive, excellently structured black metal that frees itself from the generic strictures of its Scandinavian heritage, without needing to wander off into all sorts of widdly faux-avant-garde-isms.  Tack on to these superbly classy songs the satisfying tormented screams of frontman Chris Grigg, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for real excellence and innovation in American black metal.  “A Treatise On Control” is without question one of best songs to claw its way into the world of metal this year.

27.  Melechesh, The Epigenesis

I keep reading and hearing about how people are all sorts of disappointed with The Epigenesis, in response to which I can only assume that said grumblers have somehow misplaced their ears up their asses.  The masters of Eastern-influence thrashing black madness have queued up another disc full of caustic, biting riffage and esoteric tales of magick and doom.  The way that Melechesh grafts some of the traditionalism of black/thrash onto the less common rhythmic patterns of Turkish music is brilliant, and I am absolutely unashamed to report that I have found myself simultaneously belly-dancing and headbanging to this album.  If I hear you complain that it’s too slow, I will slap you in your ridiculous face with a sack of cantaloupes, and then turn up the record and play it over and over until you are forced to agree that the album is not about pure, unadulterated aggression, but about finding that perfect hypnotic groove, that devilish trancing sweet-spot.  You think, once they get you there, they’ll just let go?  Fuck off.

26.  Fukpig, Belief is the Death of Intelligence

If I were trying to be a pithy little asshole about it, I’d just call this Fukpig record Extreme Noise Nathrakh, and call it a day.  Thing is, that description’s not wrong, but if you’ve missed out on this severely pissed-off album of short, sharp blasts of nihilistic fury, then maybe I deserve to be a pithy little asshole at you.  Whatever – these filthy Britons take the grinding black melodicism of Anaal Nathrakh (with whom members are shared) and marry it to crusty, bulldozing grind in the tradition of Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death, old Bolt Thrower, and anything else you like.  Song titles like “Britain’s Got Fucking AIDS,” “Sadism in the Name of God,” and the classic “All of You are Cunts and I Hope You Die” should steer you in the right direction, which is, to whichever bastard record store would dare carry this.

25.  Ihsahn, After

Both of Ihsahn’s previous solo outings were excellent in their own terms, though each came off a bit hesitant.  And with good reason: sloughing off the tremendous mantle of “ex-Emperor” was assuredly no small task (perhaps complicated by Emperor’s reforming to do the festival circuit).  From the first melancholy note of “From Barren Lands,” though, After is all self-confidence, all the time, striking a riveting balance between the unshakable traces of black metal (understandable, as the dude’s got one of the most distinctive voices in extreme metal) and clear progressive intentions.  The guest spots by metal-saxophonist supreme Jørgen Munkeby are probably the easiest aspect to focus on, but the entire album flows smoothly from one triumphant riff to another.  As such, this is the first of Ihsahn’s solo albums to seem ballasted only by itself, freed of that imperial weight.

24.  Darkthrone, Circle the Wagons

Modern-day Darkthrone records are a treasure and a gift to heavy metal at large, and the frequency and tossed-off nature of these recordings should not for one minute lead us to take Mssrs Culto and Fenriz for granted.  Metal gods of single-minded regression, they are, and with Circle The Wagons they’ve delivered up another collection of furiously catchy black/punk gems, this time borrowing even more heavily (or paying more reverent homage to, depending on one’s perspective) from traditional heavy metal.  “Those Treasures Will Never Befall You” and the title track are unparalleled sing-a-long nuggets, while “I Am The Graves of the 80s” will surely serve as a rallying cry to all denim-and-leather diehards who refuse to admit anything has happened since 1987.  And fucking good on ’em.

23.  Sabbath Assembly, Restored To One


The most brilliant thing about this Sabbath Assembly record is that one needn’t even know a thing about the bizarre cult-ish back story to get seriously creeped out and enthralled by the occult rock on display.  Jex Thoth’s vocals are mellow and just a little rough in all the right spots, with the band eventually sounding like we’ve taken some contemporary orthodox black metal fans and set them down in 1967 San Francisco to play praise songs.  This is one of those “This shouldn’t work but hot jumping shit does it ever!” kind of albums, and one that sounds like total rubbish when described, but is pure dark rock magic when heard.  “Hymn of Consecration” gives me goosebumps every single time.

22.  Black Breath, Heavy Breathing

2010 was a great year for all manner of that volatile cocktail of death metal, grindcore, crust, d-beat, and all other types of general nastiness.  Witness phenomenal albums from Early Graves, The Secret, Nails, and the like – still, none of them cut this particular listener quite as sharply as the debut full-length from Black Breath.  By far the most Stockholm sounding of the lot, the songwriting nevertheless remains a dangerously careening blend of teeth-gnashing d-beat and grind fury, yet with a sense of melody seen in all the best of black and death metal’s first waves.  Sort of like if Disfear and Entombed circa Clandestine had a kid, and fed that kid nothing but Murder City Devils and Doomriders.  I don’t know, fuck you – it doesn’t sound like any of that; instead, it sounds like it wants to hunt you down and drink your blood.  So let it, yeah?

21.  Krieg, The Isolationist


In which one of U.S. black metal’s long-running concerns returned after a lackluster (and supposedly final) album – Blue Miasma – only to dive headlong into even deeper waters of nihilistic howling and claustrophobic, psychedelic black metal droning.  This is a seriously impressive album, with perhaps no factor more welcome than Imperial’s devastatingly intense, gut-destroying vocals.  Leviathan’s Wrest sits in to provide some gloriously thick bass, and Woe’s Chris Grigg provides the drumming, so it’s really a family affair.  The Isolationist is both straight-forward and unconventional, with just enough flourishes of oppressive noise and ambient flirtations to keep the listener disoriented and humbled before the almighty hammer of an American band at the absolute top of its game.
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That’s it for the bottom third of Spinal Tapdance’s Top 30 of the year.  Be sure to stay tuned for the rest of the best, and be well, friends.

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Hot off the heels of last week’s inaugural entry into Spinal Tapdance’s ‘Listening Arc’ series, I was challenged to a new listening arc by all-around awesome dude Josh Haun of That’s How Kids Die.  The challenge: Get from Johnny Cash’s ass-walloping live album At San Quentin to Darkthrone’s third album, the ultra-grim Under A Funeral Moon.  As you’ll see in the comments section of that first arc, I was pretty confident I could make easy work of the challenge by way of Metallica’s St. Anger, owing to the fact that the video for the title track was filmed (unless I’m much mistaken) at the very same San Quentin Prison.

Two problems presented themselves, however: First, it made for a pretty easy out, generally bypassing the contortions necessary to get from outlaw country to black metal; and second, it would have required me to suggest that all you fine readers spend some 70-odd minutes of your life listening to St. Anger, and that shit just ain’t happening.  Thus, I present to you Spinal Tapdance’s Listening Arc #2: From Cash To Culto (in five moves) which completely disregards and papers over the Metallica Singularity.
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1. Johnny Cash, At San Quentin (1969)


The Man in Black has rarely been as imposing as on this rollicking live document from San Quentin Prison.  I constantly go back and forth as to whether I prefer this or the previous year’s At Folsom Prison, but basically, you can’t go wrong with either one.  Cash covers a wide range of styles on this album (for the record, the disc I’ve got is the so-called “Complete Live At San Quentin,” which cobbles together all 18 tracks, rather than the original 10 of the LP release), from crime and punishment barnburners to country-ish standards to straight-faced spirituals.  What I’m really going to pick up on here, however, to allow me to move forward with the listening arc, is the fact that the prison space itself becomes a crucial element in listening to this album.  That is to say, this is a fantastic album on most all counts – Cash is in fine form, tearing through his ‘hits’ at breakneck speed and letting loose deranged wolf howls when appropriate, his wife June Carter has a pitch-perfect sloppy Appalachian croon, and his backing band is on fire.

But what really makes this record stand out is the atmosphere.  Obviously, Cash revels in playing to the audience of inmates – he provokes a wild chorus of boos anytime he mentions the guards or the warden, and he even penned a tune called “San Quentin,” which he runs through twice to rapturous reception (“San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell / May your walls fall, and may I live to tell,” etc.).  Listening closely to this album, then, reveals that the space itself is an instrument, and I’m not just talking about the typical aural component of a live album.  This is a live album played to prisoners, and you can literally feel the electricity running through the audience as Cash tears through these outlaw tunes.  The concert was also filmed and broadcast for television, and while I’ve never seen the visuals, I almost don’t need to.  The audience noise swells and falls, and at times, you can tell there’s some commotion going on out in the audience that’s essentially unconnected to what’s going on onstage.  It makes for a crackling, dangerous sound, but more than that, it communicates a sense of the prison as a lived space and a living space, which is precisely how we transition into the rest of the listening arc.

2. Set Fire To Flames, Sings Reign Rebuilder (2001)


Musically, this debut album from this collective composed of members of the Canadian post-rock elite (Godspeed You Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion, Hanged Up, etc., etc.) shares very little ground with Johnny Cash.  This is a generally sparse, experimental album, featuring found sound snippets, ambient space, and flashes of chamber-esque classicism.  Here’s the connection, though: This album was recorded in a dilapidated house, and you can literally hear the house itself contributing to the sounds of the album.  Floors creak, strings echo, snatches of conversation are caught through hallways and around corners, police sirens pass in the street.  This house becomes as much another musical instrument as the brushed drum kit or the keening violin.  This is desolate, desperate music for slow urban collapse, with only the faintest shred of hope blossoming.

3. The Gault, Even As All Before Us (2005)


Heartbreakingly, this is the only album The Gault ever produced, and it is probably one of the most criminally underrated albums in all of metal.   I’ve never heard anything that sounds quite like it, and the atmosphere of unpretentious sorrow it evokes is absolutely unparalleled.  So, not a cheerful album, this.  I suppose it’s somewhat generally in the style of drone-soaked doom, but the wailing vocals are entirely their own beast, and the slow trudging pace and increasingly epic scope of the songs throughout the album bespeak a sepia-hued Americana that may just as well be the fog-drenched London of late 19th century industrial blight.  This album takes the last few shreds of hope from Set Fire To Flames and, well, burns them on the pyre of its unrelenting realism.

4. Weakling, Dead As Dreams (2000)


The Gault was a project that eventually grew out of the demise of a previous San Francisco band, Weaking, who also – tragically – only ever produced one album.  But what an album it is. Dead As Dreams is a true landmark recording in American black metal, taking the speed and grim intensity of all them damn Scandinavians at face value, but shooting it through with a touch of avant-garde melodicism and structural experimentalism.  Or, let’s put it a different way, shall we?  Wolves In The Throne Room would straight-up NOT EXIST if it weren’t for this album.  And again, unlike the forest-dancing escapism of their Northern European ‘peers’, this album has a much grittier feel, a grounding in the real lived experience of a major American metropolis.  This album defines epic black metal in a way that most folk-besotted frotteurs can only grasp in their wettest of wet dreams, and it really signified that American black metal need not bow to the aesthetic conventions of the genre’s originators.

5. Demoncy, Joined In Darkness (1999)


As we’re just about wrapping up this listening arc, we’re going to keep it in the American family.  Demoncy are a decidedly less experimental outfit than Weakling, but Joined In Darkness is nevertheless another landmark recording in the annals of American black metal.  It’s regressive and atavistic in all those primally satisfying ways, and the thing blasts ahead like a great hulking beast dragging the bones of devoured animals down into the deepest recesses of a lightless cavern.  This is reverb used not to intensify and kick around the shrill howls of a vocalist, but rather to sound a great black lake.  While not quite as primitive as true American black metal instigators like Von or Havohej, Demoncy is, to these ears, infinitely more satisfying.  And, beyond the sound of a phantom bulldozer plowing through a field of ghostly birch trees, the reason this stacks up as the perfect transition into Darkthrone is due to a nice sequencing coincidence: the penultimate track on this Demoncy album, “The Dawn of Eternal Damnation,” follows the same basic model of the final track on Darkthrone’s Under A Funeral Moon, “Crossing the Triangle of Flames”: it starts out brisk and blasting, twists its way around some gnarled-root riffs, and then settles into a stubborn, plodding death march to close out the album in a true dark dirge.

6. Darkthrone, Under A Funeral Moon (1993)


From the brittle, vampiric opening shot of “Natassja In Eternal Sleep,” to the aforementioned infinite-march-toward-a-corroded-horizon of “Crossing the Triangle of Flames,” Under A Funeral Moon is a bona fide classic.  The fact that is maybe my least favorite of Darkthrone’s absolutely untouchable black metal quadrilogy (A Blaze in the Northern Sky through Panzerfaust) says less about the weakness of this album (of which there is none) than about the strength of those albums that surround it.  Nevertheless, this is probably Darkthrone at their most white-knuckled, wide-eyed straight-ahead black metal dogmatism.  Sure, Transilvanian Hunger is arguably more ‘straight-ahead’ in certain ways, but it accomplished that feeling through a far more peculiar, almost avant-garde sense of repetition and minimalist melody than Under A Funeral Moon is a better analogue for such early black metal classics as Bathory’s Under (coincidence?) The Sign Of The Black Mark.  The closing sludge of this album, featuring a tolling bell crumbling and collapsing in quarter-time, should draw your mind back to the closing of Demoncy’s album, and back through other American landmarks, with a quick detour up to the Frozen North, and then back down, screaming through aeons of memory and tradition, to the true American outlaw, the true Black of the sorely-missed Johnny Cash.
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Okay, friends.  The first Reader Challenge has been answered, but it’s up to you to let me know if it’s been answered successfully.  Did I lose the plot at any point throughout this Arc?  Feel like calling me on any bullshit choices?  Pipe up, then; it’s hard to hear you over all this racket.  Thanks to Josh for a very worthy Listening Arc challenge.

So, then, you – yeah, you out there, with the soft voice and big thoughts and eager fingers: What’s next?  What’s your Listening Arc challenge?  Bring it on, the lot of you.

Cheers,
DHOK

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It’s official: Spinal Tapdance is bringing down the Decision Hammer (patent pending) on an entire (and entirely overstuffed) genre to declare The Best Song In All Of Black Metal.

Play it loud and bang your goddamn head:

Darkthrone, “In The Shadow Of The Horns” (from A Blaze in the Northern Sky, 1992)

Perhaps you’ve got a different notion in your cobweb-addled brain as to what the Best Song In All Of Black Metal might be, but I submit to you the following: You are incorrect.  Mssrs Culto and Fenriz politely request that you sit on a crocodile.

I am willing to entertain the suggestion that there are objectively “better” songs out there, meaning more elegantly composed, aesthetically pure, rifftacularly creative, grimly atmospheric, and so forth.  Fine.  But frankly, none of your favored bullshit can hold a Transilvanian Hunger-candelabra to the maniacal dedication of this steamroller of a song.

The lineage is easily traceable, from Venom’s first two albums to Celtic Frost’s early work to Bathory’s genre-instantiating Under the Sign of the Black Mark to this, Darkthrone’s first black metal record.  But that’s just the thing: this one song, this seven minutes of cackling, unhinged black glory, is essentially the intensification – if not perfection – of all that made Venom, Celtic Frost, and Bathory great.

This tune spreads its hungering maw wide, blood-flecked spittle pooling around the wreckage of lesser ghosts; it leers and lurches and lunges and whispers, “Come in and welcome your doom.”

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Sure, there are other contenders from the vast Norse pantheon:

(Or, from the Swedish master himself…)

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Fantastic songs, all.  But gimme Fenriz’s relentless death-stomp of a tempo on “In The Shadow Of The Horns” any fucking day of the week.  Seriously.  And have Nocturno Culto’s vocals honestly ever been as full-throttle and ear-wreckingly hideous as towards the end of this song?

Black metal has ventured down myriad shoots and branches of this first rotted tree in subsequent years, but I’ve yet to hear a tune as corrosively brilliant as this, the Best Song In All Of Black Metal.

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