Asian Women On The Telephone Freedom As Mama Told Me Alien primitive triablish lengthy hypnotic psychedelic jams from Russia. Seems to be splitting the difference between Amon Düül and Godz. Weird fun, but holy shit these tracks meander semi-aimlessly for freaking ever. Sometimes that’s just what I’m up for, but I don’t know about this much of it all in one shot.
Wolves In The Throne Room Celestial Lineage 2011 was the year of the USBM backlash. By 2010, music nerds, always on the lookout for something fringe that their friends aren’t turned on to yet, had started digging into the dark world of black metal, and it caught on. Soon any extant band, especially stateside, working a strong black metal influence, was getting attention, and frequently slavering adoration, in places like Pitchfork, Stereogum, and NPR, thet is to say, “mainstream” outlets concerned with whatever’s trending, rather than being devoted specifically to metal. So naturally some time in the past year, the metal scene struck back, and, despite the fact that they’d already been at it for years, some Oregonians called Wolves In The Throne Room became, in the minds of certain die-hards, the acme of everything that was wrong with so-called “hipster black metal,” a movement accused of engaging with the genre on merely a superficial level, appropriating the sounds without understanding or properly buying into the ideas. It was 90’s punk rock all over again, and the pomposity of Liturgy only threw gas on the flames raging through blog comment threads everywhere.
In my opinion there are more appropriate targets of this derision. An overwhelming majority of metal sites acclaim this album and I hardly think all of them are being fooled at once. I really get the sense that Wolves’ engagement with the music and the mentality is about as sincere as is possible for a US band. I think their hearts are in the right place and rather than making music to hop on trends, they just try to make good music, and you can’t fault an artist for that motivation, though depending on the results, you can legitimately claim that they failed. An important part of Wolves’ ethic and mythos seems to have to do with nature and preservation of the environment and of old ways in the face of destructive modern threats, much as many Norwegian black metallers concerned themselves with preservation of what they saw as the authentic culture of their ancestral homeland against the threats of modern globalization historically rooted in the medieval imperialist spread of Christianity. Both perspectives are related to connection with the land, but this is of course going to seem shallower coming from Americans, a people occupying a land that is for them far less ancestral. Honestly I think if a really “true” American black metal is possible, it’s probably being made on the reservations. (Or it’s something like Ludicra’s excellent 2010 album The Tenant, substituting disconnection within the modern urban environment for connection with the primeval forest — but then there’s nothing specifically American about the city.)
Celestial Lineage is another ambitious work claiming to a unifying theme. In fact, it is reportedly the closing entry of a trilogy. It feels like a different kind of album from their earlier ones I’ve heard, though I’ve admittedly missed out on Black Cascade. One of the first sounds you hear on it is wind chimes. I mean really, wind chimes? To paraphrase John Darnielle (another prominent indie dude who’s been down with metal all along), wind chimes are extremely unbrutal; please keep it brutal.
Which is to say, laying aside “hipster black metal,” if this album is part of any current trends, it’s the one I’d call “pretty black metal.” Not that black metal hasn’t played with beauty before. The first time I listened to Celestial Lineage, I fell asleep. Which is not to say that it’s boring, so much as tranquil. It’s loud and epic-sounding, but moves magisterially — even when the drums are at full-on blastbeat (which isn’t a lot), the riffs and melodies are of a slower, drawn-out character, emphasizing that way that sufficiently fast playing can sound slow again (one of the few decent points that Liturgy guy made in his ponderous dissertation, but also something that just about any average slob who’s spent any amount of time listening to this kind of stuff could tell you). Other tracks and passages are at very slow tempos. The drums boom, and everything has that reverby symphonic feel; the out-front melodies, orchestral keyboard sounds, and Jessika Kenney’s operatic vocals all contribute to this feel. To be sure, Diadem Of 12 Stars sounded way more evil and scary.
It’s not all majesty, of course, these Wolves still bite (har har). There are still buzzsaw guitar tones and plenty of Nathan’s shrieking vocals, but it does feel somehow subdued and is tempered with all the sweet touches. I’m not sure it’s the amazing classic it’s being made out to be, but it’s quite good.
Krallice Diotima Another target of the aforementioned backlash was Krallice, the NYC group who in 2011 gave us Diotima. For whatever reason, extreme metal seems to gravitate towards extreme opinions. Any sufficiently interesting album, work, statement, has to be either life-changingly, mind-blowingly awesome, or to blame for the imminent eternal downfall of all that is heavy or cool. True to my style, I’m going to take the moderate path here and just say that Diotima is a fairly interesting album with some rewarding moments and some major annoyances.
Krallice’s style can sound exciting to people who are meeting this kind of thing for the first time. The intensity is impressive, even from the standpoint of technical endurance — holy shit they can tremolo-pick for twelve fucking minutes straight — but extended constant blasting can get monotonous real quick, which is where Krallice falls off for me. There’s often little in the way of dynamics or real moments, despite what seems like a mentally taxing level of complexity in compositional structure that sometimes seems like hyperactive riff-pasting, but occasionally does show some real attention to song development, especially on the title track.
Maybe it’s because I’m more of a doom guy or maybe it’s why I’m more of a doom guy but I like a riff that I can remember later. As it turns out, Krallice actually have a few of these on Diotima, just as they did on Dimensional Bleedthrough. The first half of the album indeed sounds a lot like more of the same kind of thing they did on the previous one. The second half works in slightly more old-school black metal feel. “Telluric Rings” even has a recognizable shreddy guitar solo. Unfortunately “Litany Of Regrets’ suffers from a terrible mix that causes each hit of the kick drum to rudely shove the guitars out of the frame, rendering the track nearly unlistenable.
Amebix Sonic Mass I think Amebix have always had epic ambitions, and it was only their modest means that kept them from being fully realized. I mean, on Arise you can hear the rust on the guitar strings. But you can hear in the songwriting that Amebix wanted to tell stories. Heroic stories. Even as godfathers of crust punk, Amebix were coming from a heavy metal mentality. On this comeback album with the drummer from STONE SOWAAAH the production values, and time allowed for focus and attention to detail, finally click with the vision. For a more thought-out perspective I defer to the good people at Trial By Ordeal.