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Posts Tagged ‘Striborg’

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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Hello, friends.  Things are a bit slow ’round here at Spinal Tapdance HQ this Friday, though the merciful drop in temperature is much appreciated, primarily because the greater Chicago area no longer feels like one giant humid ass.

Thanks a lot, global warming, for making this...

...feel like this.

A few points to toss out there before we all enjoy our long Labor Day weekend shenanigans:

1)  Kylesa.  I know I’ve been rambling on about this insanely rad band for a while now (it was just two days ago that I fell all over myself to the opening track from their upcoming album, Spiral Shadow).  Poking around the metallic nether-regions of the internet recently, however, I’ve come across some rather peculiar criticisms of Kylesa.  Now, I don’t particularly care if you don’t dig the same music I do, and I don’t even care if you engage in the most ruthlessly shame-faced ad hominem attacks to express those opinions.

After all, that’s why the internet was created.  I mean, sure, the DoD will tell you it was to protect vital infrastructure in the event of nuclear war, but for real, it was just so some guy at the DoD could spam everyone he knew about how Maggie Thatcher was such a great lay and that Nikita Kruschev had a penchant for intimacy with rodeo clowns.  I mean, frig it, DARPA probably actually stands for Douchebags And Really Pissy Assholes.

I’ve gotten off topic.  Ah, yes.  The criticism of Kylesa that I just cannot countenance is the argument that their two drummers should be doing more off-the-wall stuff.  (I’ve come across this opinion several times, but one of the more notable recent entrants to the field is this column from MetalSucks.)  I think this opinion is wrong-headed for two reasons:

– a.  First, it’s just wrong.  Take a listen to Kylesa, would you?  More specifically, take a listen to Kylesa in the following way: Give a listen to last year’s Static Tensions in your favorite pair of (non-shitty) headphones.  I find it a great pleasure to follow the mixing of the drums across stereo channels.  But fine, maybe this line of criticism has a point, in that Kylesa’s two drummers aren’t typically doing anything psychotic like trying to match a 4/4 rhythm on one kit with a 3/4 waltz beat on the second kit.

For my money, though, that’s not the point.  Instead, the fact that Kylesa have got two drummers is a crucial component of their overall SOUND.  These complaints, on the other hand, seem mostly directed against their SONGWRITING.  The fact that these two guys are usually mirroring one another on the drums, or maybe trading fills, is absolutely essential to the way Kylesa’s music sounds.  (I’ll be a music douche and throw ‘timbre’ out there.)  Sure, if they only had one drummer, the songs would be written in much the same way, but the execution would be noticeably different.

You see, having two drummers gives them that unique attribute of sounding both raw and polished, thick and somewhat brittle all at once.  Because when you have two drummers playing in a band, even if you ask them to play the exact same thing, there are ineffable human differences in the way those precise rhythms will be played that cannot (and, I am arguing, absolutely SHOULD NOT) be ironed out by technology.  The ear hears the same rhythm, but also hears that rhythm’s simultaneous echo.

– b.  Second, I’m fairly certain that if Kylesa’s two drummers WERE to bust out some insanely complicated polyrhythms, or if one of them were to spend an entire song doing NOTHING BUT TOM FILLS, the only complaint one would hear would be, “Ah, that two drummer thing is such a fucking gimmick.  They’re just playing an ol’ crazy shit they can think of; couldn’t they just play TOGETHER for once?”

Well, fuck that.  And fuck you, too (maybe).  We ARE on the internet, after all.

2)  Enslaved have posted the lead track from their upcoming album Axioma Ethica Odini on their MySpace page.  In my book, everything these Norwegians have done thus far has been stellar, but after hearing this track, I’m even more pumped for the upcoming album.  It’s a pretty epic track, but maintains a discernible structure and a chorus which, at first listen, seems quite catchy, but has some really bizarre melodic and chord progressions as is befitting a band of Enslaved’s recently-psychedelic ilk.  My favorite part is the supremely tasty guitar lead toward the end of the track, which is reminiscent of the searing leads in one of my all-time favorite Enslaved tunes, “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” from 2003’s Below the Lights.  Check it out, and get excited for the September 28th (American) release on Nuclear Blast.

3)  I hadn’t really seen any word of this kicking around online until I was randomly browsing Crucial Blast’s webstore the other day, but Gnaw Their Tongues has just put out a new album on that label.  It’s called L’Arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante, and it’s officially out September 7th, but it’s up for purchase at Crucial Blast now.  I’ve just ordered my copy, and am thus eagerly awaiting another chance to defile my eardrums/soul with this latest missive of blackened, noisy filth from Mories.

Dude is another one of those probably-too-prolific-for-his-music’s-own-good kind of guys (Striborg, Hellveto, Xasthur, I’m looking at you, guys – don’t even get me started on that French dude whose ‘band’ name starts with a Z and looks like onomatopoeia for vomit), but the last two full-lengths have been mesmerizing in their single-minded pursuit of musical depravity.

Your grandmother would love it!

4)  Last, it’s Labor Day this Monday, which for most Americans means an extra day off work, one last chance to get shit-faced at the beach before winter (“Gather ye Hefeweizens while ye may,” goes the old poem), and an orgy of last-minute consumer spending on school supplies for the wee bastard children.  Thing is, Labor Day used to be, well, a celebration of the political aspirations and achievements (many still embryonic) of the American labor movement.  None of you out there will be unaware of the sorry state of the American (and, indeed, global) economy currently, but what we should also remember is that in times of economic crisis, it is often the forces of labor which are “asked” to sacrifice more for the health of capital.

I don’t have anything particularly more profound to add to that, other than to suggest that you take some time this Labor Day to appreciate the achievements of decades upon decades of labor struggles.

To that end, and as a sort of addendum to the column I did a little while back on Heavy Metal Cocktails, I offer this quick, simple recipe for the Worker’s Shandy:

Ingredients:
– 1 can or bottle of the lager of your choice.  Beautiful thing about this shandy is, it basically doesn’t matter how shitty the beer is, but you can also do it up fancy with any sort of $12 imported beer you like.
– 1/2 lemon
– Dash of salt
– Optional: A few dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters, or a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Directions:
Pour the fresh-squeezed juice of half a lemon into a pint glass.  Pour the beer into the pint glass.  Throw a dash of salt atop the beer.  The salt represents the sweat on the worker’s brow; the lemon, the bittersweet sense of labor’s achievement’s and subsequent retrenchments.  The beer, well, the beer’s just beer, which is scrumptious.  If this basic (and not particularly sweetened) shandy needs a bit more spice for your taste, give it a try with a few dashes of bitters of your choice, or even, if you’re feeling especially crushed by the relentless grind of the wheels of industry, a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  These additions can, if you like, symbolize the blood of the workers of the world, still waiting to unite.

Drink well-chilled, and at your own damn pace.  Don’t let anyone give you any shit.

Happy Labor Day.

d/Spinal Tapdance

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So, I must admit that I’m a complete sucker for the bizarre black metal ramblings of Tasmania’s own Sin Nanna, otherwise known as the one-man treblefest Striborg.  I own all of the official full-lengths, and several of the reissues which combine previously unreleased demos.  The sound quality varies from each release, careening from hideous, to god-awful, to subterranean, to wind tunnel, to tinnitus-inducing, and so forth.

Something about this guy’s single-minded devotion to the pursuit of black metal’s bleakest core really appeals to me; no doubt a great deal is added to the experience of the music (which can be quite surreal, particularly at either high volume, or, sometimes even more so, at volumes just low enough so that you can’t quite tell if the sounds are coming from your speakers, or are being whispered into a static ether by shades just beyond your ability to perceive them) by Sin Nanna’s deliberately reclusive persona, which suggests that he lives alone in a desolate forest in the midst of the Tasmanian wilderness with nothing but a 4-track to record his frequent and misanthropic outbursts.

All of this to say, really, that Striborg is fucking awesome, and epitomizes the monomaniacal need for extremity in black metal’s least accessible enclaves.  A somewhat less raw Ildjarn (minus the punkish influences, too) might be the best touchstone, but Striborg is, to these ears at least, infinitely more listenable.

The most recent release on Sin Nanna’s label Finsternis Productions is a “split” release between Striborg and Sin Nanna’s dark ambient alter ego, Veil Of Darkness.  This brand new release collects Striborg’s 1997 demo Cold Winter Moon and Veil Of Darkness’s 1997 full-length album In the Valley of the Shadow of Death (omitting the brief intro track from the original release) on one compact disc stuffed to the gills with good times for the whole family.

Striborg’s side of the split is more or less what we’ve all come to expect, albeit with a markedly less trebly sound than many of his other recordings.  Demented black metal ravings and overdriven, humid-sounding ambient interludes are the order of the day.  Veil Of Darkness ply a similar pitch of blackness, but drop the metal and amp up the ambient, producing something not too unlike some of the dark ambient experiments of the much-vaunted (and still somewhat ridiculous) French LLN (Les Legions Noires, or the Black Legions) scene (particularly Aäkon Këëtrëh or Amaka Hahina).

The closing track “Pure Black Energy,” however (apart from possibly recalling the two lengthy dark ambient pieces which closed out Ildjarn’s Strength & Anger, which were titled “Black Anger”), breaks from strictly creepy dark ambient strictures and layers feedback and looped drum noise in a way not dissimilar to a less mechanized Merzbow.

So, anyway, it’s pretty great – if you’ve never heard Striborg, I suppose it’s as good a place as any to start (though I might humbly recommend Mysterious Semblance, Trepidation, or Spiritual Catharsis as perfectly excellent starting points as well).  This CD reissue is limited to 500 hand-numbered copies, and while I can’t say they’ll go quite like hotcakes, I suspect there are enough similar-thinking maniacs out there in the world that you may want to snap one up while you can.

All of which brings me to my original point, which was, in fact, simply to be the juxtaposition of these two images:

Dark, spooky, altogether GRIM, right?

Dark, spooky, and altogether GRIM...WOMBATS?

This dark, spooky, and altogether grim split album of black metal and dark ambient musics arrived at my doorstep lovingly packaged in a padded envelope adorned with this charming Australian stamp featuring what I can only assume is meant to be a Momma Wombat and a widdle cutesy Baby Wombat.  Aw shucks, ain’t it so sweet?

The first thing that jumped out at me, of course, was the extremely ironic juxtaposition of this intentionally off-putting and anti-social music with this reminder that the primary reason the rest of the world loves Australia is that, beyond ridding us of some of our most troublesome prisoners, it is home to an abundance of super cuddly creatures.

This experience was more than a little reminiscent of the strange experience of ordering Xasthur’s latest (and, sadly, last) full-length album, Portal Of Sorrow, directly from Malefic (A.K.A. Scott Conner) himself via eBay.  Or, rather, the really jarring thing was, after receiving the album in the mail, finding Malefic’s promptly submitted ‘buyer feedback’, in which it was explained that I “made payment quickly, [and am an] honest and responsible e-bayer.”

If I were some black metal militant or ideologue, I suppose it would be easy to decry this intrusion of the modern world and its trappings of commerce and fuzzy marsupials, but instead, I think it serves as a nice reminder that no matter how much the extreme forms of music we seek out with great and fevered intent try to present themselves as cold, distant, alien (or at least alienating), there is no escaping the common world we share.  Frankly, I’m really glad to live in a world where both the harsh black noise of some secretive Tasmanian introvert can coexist with living, breathing, pouch-borne teddy bears.

In some ways, focusing on that shared world, with all its manifold evils and its frequent sweet succor, means that the extreme music we love and continue to support can continue to represent something extreme.  That is, if the world really was shit through and through (as so many of our paragons of metal insist), this music would cease to be an atavistic and artistic outlet worth pursuing, because it would merely be a pale mirror’s reflection of the dull gray cast of the world and all its miserable tenants.

Bring on the goddamn wombats, I say.

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Pyramids with Nadja, Pyramids with Nadja (2009)

Peace like a river

Released fairly late last-year on the frequently-excellent Hydra Head Records, this album is a collaborative effort that I never would have predicted, but which makes a good deal of sense now that it’s happened.  Most of the reviews that I’ve read of this album have come to the material with a lot of background in Nadja, but basically none in Pyramids; my experience is essentially the opposite.

To put it bluntly, I’ve always found Nadja to be rather alienating.  I feel like I really started to hear a lot about them around the time Body Cage came out, and I remember enjoying that album a fair amount, but the sheer volume of material this experimental drone/shoegaze duo have released since then is astounding.  Seems like a churlish thing to complain about, but they’re one of those bands that I can’t help but think is in desperate need of an editor.  You know the ones I’m talking about: Hellveto, Xasthur, Striborg, I’m looking at you.  I really enjoy all of those bands, in fact, but the overwhelming quantity of their music makes the task of differentiating them based on their quality a challenge that I typically don’t care enough to confront.

Pyramids, on the other hand, are a young band, with just their 2008 self-titled album released thus far.  That album, which included a second disc of remixed tracks from the impressive likes of Blut Aus Nord (a key touchstone, as I’ll explain in a bit), Justin Broadrick, and James Plotkin, among others, was absolutely astounding.  The most astonishing thing about their ghostly, unsettling, and otherwordly sound was just how fully formed it seemed, particularly for a debut album.

Incorporating bits of post-rock, ambient, electronic musics, and black metal into their swirling vision, the best way I’ve come up with for describing the sound of Pyramids is as basically the polar opposite of Blut Aus Nord’s excellent MoRT album.  That is, where MoRT took the accumulated traditions of black metal and shoved them through a pitch-black prism, Pyramids’ debut album takes those same traditions, grafts onto it a heap of other inspirations, and refracts the whole mess through a prism of shimmering light.

This collaboration with Nadja, then, stretches out their given format (most of the songs on the debut album only hit around the three-minute mark or so), and encases their weirdnesses in swaths of ambience, warm, shoegaze-y drones, and slowly shifting, highly textured feedback patterns.  The track “Another War,” in fact, was more reminiscent of post-rock scions A Silver Mt. Zion than anything in the world of metal; specifically, the echoing vocals and distant, treated piano recall A Silver Mt. Zion’s Pretty Little Lightning Paw EP, with that quintessential Pyramids drum treatment running in the background.  The album, as a whole, continuously flirts with all varieties of the ambient/post-rock/found sound scene, at times even dipping into glorious washes of noise more akin to Tim Hecker’s recent work (particularly Harmony in Ultraviolet).

“Sound of Ice and Grass” gets pretty metal, as these things go, bringing in some Sunn O)))-esque droning riffs about midway through, but these molten lava riffs are overlaid with jangly drone-leads on top, sounding very much inspired by (but not quite like) Blut Aus Nord.  As far as collaborative records go, this one is quite impressive for combining aspects of both bands into a whole which comes across as generally new, rather than sounding like “Oh, this track is a Nadja-penned track, and that one over there’s the Pyramids’ shtick,” etc (*cough* Kingdom of Sorrow *cough*).

Most impressive, to my ears, about what (I imagine) Pyramids brought to the show is a sense of some of heavy metal’s classic signifiers turned around and deconstructed.  For example, where there are drums on this record (even when they are programmed drums blast-beating away), they rarely function as drums, by which I mean providing a rhythmic backbone for whatever else is going on.  Instead, the drums, as was the case on Pyramids’ debut, are presented as simply another textural element in the overall sound-collage.

The closing track, “An Angel Was Heard to Cry over the City of Rome,” is probably the standout here.  It is both uplifting and weighty, in the best Jesu tradition.  But actually, more than Jesu (which is a bit of a too-easy comparison here), this song recalls “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” from Enslaved’s Below the Lights album, in the way the listener’s focus is glued to the ongoing tension between the driving pulsations of harsh noise and blastbeats, on the one hand, and a soaring, searingly melodic guitar figure on the other hand.

If it were up to me, these folks could ride out that blissful groove for hours, but the song ends at just a shade over the ten-minute mark, meaning that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and leaves the listener craving more of this very unique, highly textured collaboration.  I suppose it seems doubtful that we’ll see another full-length collaboration between these two groups, but the evidence on offer here suggests that there must have been some real lightning bursts of cooperative songwriting the first go-around.

It ought to go without saying that open-minded metalheads only need apply, but anyone with more than a passing interest in the various avant-garde strains of electronic, ambient, and post-rock musics would certainly find a lot in which to revel.  Plug in and drone out.

Overall rating: 84%.  The best part is, you can’t really tell if this is a drone-ier Pyramids, or a janglier Nadja.

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