Monday, 6 December 2010

UK Black Metal Week

Regular readers may remember the One Man Black Metal Band Week I did in the summer. This week will be a similar event, of far greater proportion and scope.  The next five days will be entirely, without distraction, devoted to UK Black Metal bands; known henceforth as UKBM. All week I'll be introducing new and critical bands each day, then one more classic from someone who should really need no introduction (though I won't be able to help myself add a few words).  There will be interviews with several of the most distinguishable and provocative artists involved across this movement, including Cäina, Ghast, Sleeping Peonies, Hateful Abandon, A Forest of Stars, and Barad-Dur; but before we proceed any further, there's no more appropriate way for me to begin than by giving you the song that named the entire genre from the band that arguably began the whole movement, once upon a time in Newcastle:

Venom - Black Metal

lay down your soul to the gods rock `n' roll
metal ten fold through the deadly black hole
riding hells stallions bareback and free
taking our chances with raw energy

Over the last few years there has been a noticeable rise and revolution in the Black Metal being produced in the UK, a multitude of bands emerging from various places around the country with a variety of sounds.  One thread pulling several of these bands out of the underground into the light of visible media attention is a shared interest in environment and national heritage, yet there is also much more that is occuring further underground, that isn't receiving any greater attention but that is adding more grist to the old Satanic mills of the British Black Metal scene.  In this week I'm going to examine what's been going on and whether any of the bands involve see themselves as part of a unfiied movement, whether any shared consciousness is at work, or whether we're simply living in a time of coincidental talent in abundance.

The US Cascadian metal scene, inspired by the looser and more progressive Weakling, may be responsible for really igniting one of the flames within the genre over here, and certainly giving journalism a much easier handle with which to grasp a certain sound which has been developing. Musically the influence of the atmospheres, transcendental burst beat and progressive cosmic expanse of the likes of Xasthur, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Agalloch can be heard informing bands this side of the ocean such as Extinction, Wodensthrone, Winterfylleth and Fen, who continue similar themes with heavily British influences. In parallel to that is another strain of distinctly British influenced Black Metal that incorporates elements of cultural heritage from a much more recent history; post-punk, industrial, new-wave, and shoegaze are all appearing in the sounds of bands such as Cäina, Hateful Abandon, and Sleeping Peonies, all of which somehow manage to lash a whole new range of previously inconceivably sympathetic sounds onto an otherwise inhospitable blackened skeleton.

Black Metal in the UK is proving the genre to be as mutable as it is rigid. Whether there really are any true central tenets to it is a matter of considerable debate, and one which the UK is capriciously dismantling. Whether any of the bands in the country care whether anyone else is ploughing similar furrows or creating something else is again entirely subjective – much of the USBM discourse has revealed little evidence of conscious creative cohesion too, as Brandon Stousy's oral history of USBM is discovering. Anyone not rooted into the mid '90's aesthetic has an entire world of experimental noise, literary and sociological discourse to explore - for the kvlt purists, the UK will be a very unforgiving and alien landscape. A template for black metal certainly exists, and it is something that can almost instantly be discerned as soon as an image and sound are beheld, if not before. What, arguably, began as a movement involving fuzz tones, trance rhythms and occult themes has progressed over the years to become something of a musicological core capable of being embellished with any kind of individual ideological, environmental and cultural belief or eccentricities.

Fists ready at the face of God, mead horns up, minds open.

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