Of Black Metal and Ben

A course of events began on my birthday that led to a crash course in extreme metal.  At the Exit, somewhere between fairly wasted and irresponsibly plastered, I met and talked with someone from France here on work-study who happened to be celebrating his birthday as well.  His name is Fabrice, and he is passionately interested in all things metal.  We talked for a bit about music and metal and a little about France, but my point of reference on extreme metal is fairly poor since I’d always kinda held death metal to be music for people who were tone deaf and extremely pissed off about it.

Now while I still hold that to be true in a good number of cases, I’ve branched out a bit since then and given a few Death metal bands a chance, notably Yakuza (chicago based death metal band with a sax) and Opeth (progressive death metal).  I actually liked Opeth enough to see them at the House of Blues with progressive black metal act Enslaved.  Since then I met up again with Fabrice over at Hopleaf, (we exchanged emails on our birthdays, which I barely remembered until I received an email) and I heard him talk more about Black Metal.  Susan always had more experience with that brand of music so she had more to talk about.  At the end of the evening he’d given us a list of some black metal acts to check out.

I started with Belphegor, an Austrian blackened death metal band.  While this brand of music is kinda an acquired taste, at least for people like me, I did find myself liking it.  It’s abrasive but the guitars still produced a melody I could get interested in.  In black metal or death metal the voice tends to be more ambient than a real instrument.  In the case of Belphegor the lead singer manages to produce an excellent mix of death metal growls and black metal rasps and the band makes some music that gives off a seriously evil vibe.  Following Belphegor I started to listen to a few others like Gorgoroth and Behemoth.  The bands I do end up liking seem to have at least some progressive or industrial leanings, but it is still a significant stretch for me.

The biggest problem with me and black metal is an ideological problem.  Other than the fact that a pre-requisite to be a black metal band seems to require you to either be an atheistic Satanist in the Anton Lavey vein or a theistic Satanist in the “I believe in Christianity, but decide to pick the side with the lake of fire and torture pits” vein, a goodly chunk of the famous black metal icons seem to be criminal, mentally ill, or sociopathic.  As someone who was kinda bred on Electro-Industrial and Industrial metal in high school, I’m familiar with angry music and violent imagery, but the difference is that while many Industrial bands utilize violent or intidating  imagery and dress , most are pacifistic in practice.   In contrast, the philosophy of black metal is much more closely tied to the practice of black metal.  Some of the big names of black metal have a history that boggles the mind.

Lets kick it off with Mayhem, one of the first and biggest names in Black Metal.  The original lead singer, “Dead”, kept a dead crow in a bag which he’d smell before going on stage in order to “have the stench of death in his nostrils.”  He would injure himself on stage and throw animal heads into the crowd.  This is a man who would bury his clothes in the ground and dig them up before the show so he’d smell of the grave.  Or at least he would do that until he was 22, at which point he would shoot himself in the head with a shotgun after penning a suicide note containing the words, “Please excuse all the blood.”  Now this would be bizarre enough even if the band hadn’t taken a picture of him after finding the body and made that one of their album covers, which they did.  Or collected pieces of the singers skull to give out to musicians they respected, which they also did.  Even if you could bring yourself to accept all that, you probably wouldn’t believe that the guitarist of that same band would be stabbed 23 times to death in his home by Varg Vikernes, another black metal musician who happened to be the guest guitarist on their breakthrough album.  This combination of events resulted in an album being released that contained the musical work of both murderer and victim on the same album, and it was released post-homicide.

And it goes on…. The drummer from black metal band Emperor stabbed a homosexual man to death in a park after he made sexual advances on him.  After which, he went to burn down churches with Varg Vikernes, the man who stabbed to death the aforementioned guitarist of Mayhem.  Varg was convicted for murder and burning down several old historical churches in Norway in 1994 and sentenced to 21 years in prison.  And if you are looking for more recent fuckedupedness, in 2006 the lead singer from Gorgoroth was found guilty and sentenced to 9 months in prison for assaulting and torturing someone in his living room who crashed his afterparty.

Weird, creepy stuff.  Well, history lesson aside, we went a little bit ago to Empty Bottle.  It’s a really cool little venue in Ukranian village.  You can hear some good indie rock and metal over there.  The beer is fairly cheap, the music is solid, and the atmosphere is gritty old school Chicago.  We wanted to show Fabrice a good Chicago venue, and I found this show with SkeletonWitch ( a black/thrash metal band from Ohio).  The musicians of Skeletonwitch and the other bands we saw that night don’t fall into the criminal/sociopath bracket I described above.  The night kicked off with a doom/death metal band called Black September who had a female vocalist that did a hell of a job belting out some seriously intimidating screams and growls.  Also interestingly enough, I know her and the guitarist from college.  Both were friends of my roommate, so I enjoyed listening to them and shot the shit with them after their set.  Raise the Red Lantern was mediocre at best.  Skeletonwitch, however, was fun.  They seemed to not really take themselves too seriously, which was cool.  A good deal of their songs had introductions to the effect of: “This is a song about when you’ve kicked all the ass there is to kick and now you are standing on ‘THE BODIES OF THE DEFEATED'” or “This is a song about when you use a black magic spell to summon a horde of zombies and make them KILL FOR YOU.”  I expected a little more out of the moshpit.  It was really mainly me and Fabrice sticking it out.  Most everyone else seemed content to simply watch the show and nod their head.  Anyhow, while Skeletonwitch may not really be my cup of tea, they put on a great show and I had a great time seeing them at Empty Bottle.

Here’s a little black metal sampler.  During my foray into some different black metal bands I’ve come across the inescapable conclusion that Mayhem’s music just sucks.  Sorry, diehard Mayhem fans, but its true.  Anyhow, for posterity they will be included.

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