OLD SATAN, NEW METAL
By Travis Jeppesen
As the drummer of Darkthrone, Fenriz is one of the most respected figures in Norway's modern black metal movement. Besides being an excellent musician, he's also something of an activist when it comes to preserving the original precepts of the devil's genre—keeping things Aryan-pure. In Corpsespeak, "pure" means cold, minimal and ugly as hell; like many black-metal purists, Fenriz wants nothing to do with the excessive instrumentation, Yannified keyboards and quasi-coloratura vocals that have marred the genre, and is virulently opposed to any tendencies that might even remotely be construed as progressive. As he stated in a recent interview, "Old school is attitude and feeling. Old school is not overproduced and commercially abused. Old school does not depend on sales, nor finely tuned musical skills. Old school does not have to be draped in sorrow and melancholic synth lines, with female opera vocals and twin guitar solos. Primitive, ugly and raw is what I crave."
Yes, the Dark Lord's a classicist at heart. And so it's heartening that Peaceville Records has given Fenriz the chance to offer a sort of Old-School Black Metal for Beginners class to the headbanging masses. Fenriz Presents…The Best of Old-School Black Metal is a classic best-of album. The selections are wholly rooted in Fenriz's idiosyncratic tastes, with some revelations along the way: While it's no surprise that Celtic Frost doesn't age well, we never get tired of hearing "Freezing Moon," especially when it's Dead croaking out the words. Nattefrost's "Sluts of Hell" proves that you don't have to fuck her with a knife in order to show her you hate her, while Tormentor's tribute to black-metal demi-goddess Elisabeth Bathory rates among the cheesiest goth-fag ballads ever recorded; one could easily imagine Tony Orlando doing a cover.
While black-metal bands Mayhem, Burzum and Aura Noir are included, it's a wonder why certain other bands from the so-called second wave (I'm thinking particularly of early Gorgoroth and Immortal), or some of the more experimental players of the now (such as Sweden's Abruptum), are excluded. Perhaps Professor Fenriz is saving these for a more advanced course.
Until then, this compilation is a useful intro and an exciting sentinel of what's to come; indeed, the release of Fenriz Presents is meant to coincide with the launching of Fenriz's own imprint, Tyrant Syndicate Productions, also on the Peaceville label. He's already released one album (by Norway's Aura Noir), and will use the imprint to promote the old-school sound that he's enthroned so well in his own dark outfit.
The latest album of Denmark's Exmortem was accompanied by loads of hype. As the band's first album for Earache's Wicked World imprint, Nihilistic Contentment lives up to the brutal standards set by label mates Decapitated and Hate Eternal, without contributing much to the art as a whole. Songs are played at super-speed and with a maniacal, almost masturbatory enthusiasm; production values are fetus crisp; the vocals are hate harsh, and yet I keep wishing there was a reason to remember this album. It's missing that certain Satanic-something that keeps me going back to albums like Nile's Black Seeds of Vengeance, Deicide's Legion, Decapitated's Nihility. In a word, it's not so jolting. As far as the guitar work is concerned—an essential aspect of any death metal—it's interesting frippery at first, but after a while the riffs become indistinguishable from track to track. Monotony is detrimental to any album, but in death metal, already a self-limiting genre of seemingly one-note volume and intensity, it's even more of a tragedy.
For sheer variety, Exmortem might look to labelmates Hate Eternal for guidance. Founded by ex–Morbid Angel guitarist Erik Rutan, Hate Eternal spewed onto the scene just a few years ago full of bile and bass. Along with Nile and perhaps just one or two others, Hate Eternal belongs to that elite squadron bent on pummeling the New Death Metal/reduxed 80s sound into the Scandinavian-socialist pavement. I, Monarch, to be released later this month on Earache, is perhaps one of the grandest undertakings ever attempted in death metal. Experimentalism's the key word here; spinning this baby on headphones over and over again, it continues to boggle the brains.
I, Monarch puts forth technicality that goes beyond technicality—completely messy and atonal, yet somehow perfectly orchestrated and executed. At times, it feels like some producer went up to these death-metal dudes, stuck instruments in their hands and then had them record a free jazz album. As the guitar riffs fluctuate between high-tech anti-precision and avant-garde virtuosity, Derek Roddy's drumming summons the furious intensity of a tornado desecrating a steelworks, though he ain't afraid to break the rules and mindfuck us by slowing down every now and again into something approximating swing. Frontman Rutan's growl is still intact, I'm happy to report, as was your little sister's virginity the last time he checked. All in all, this is the future, at least the death-metal version, and if you don't believe me, just try to remain skeptical after they play B.B. King's on June 26.