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2011 in Review: The Year in Black ‘n’ Roll

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While 2011 was an exciting year for metal in general, and for new subgenres in particular, it is arguable that the “black ‘n’ roll” subset of black metal saw more artistic progression than most other sub-genres. Black ‘n’ roll bands like Speedwolf, Promiscuity, Obsessor, and Midnight released new material, in the process allowing the genre to grow, increasing its heaviness and its large-scale accessibility, and helping black ‘n’ roll carve a more sharply defined image.

Before we proceed, however, just what is black ‘n’ roll? The answer that first comes to my mind would be some of the more commercially viable offshoots of black metal, which add a ’70s-style glam rock influence (looking squarely at Satyricon here). However, upon closer examination, this is not what I actively consider to be black ‘n’ roll. When I think of the term, I don’t picture gaunt, leather-clad figures with stringy hair rasping about decadence and Satanism. I’d prefer to picture Motörhead on steroids: big hairy men playing big hairy music, with a dose of alcoholism thrown in for good measure. Black ‘n’ roll bands are clearly influenced by first-wave black metal (Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Show No Mercy-era Slayer… you get the idea), but are unafraid to add other influences from similarly unpretentious genres to make their music tougher and meaner. Old-school punk, speed metal, ’90s crust, and thrash metal all get thrown into the mix to obtain the roughest sound possible. Despite their differing degrees of influences, these guys, like the best biker gang, have enough of a unity of sound and attitude to be considered a trend: the music by and large sounds like a first-wave black metal band recorded in a second-rate studio around 1984 (only low production values are real).

And what are the songs about, you may ask? Nothing fancy – just sex, drugs, booze, war, Satan, and fuckin’ rock ‘n’ roll. Black ‘n’ roll is the music of the progenitors transcribed through 20 years’ worth of beer goggles and blood orgies.

So, how did black ‘n’ roll do this year, on a curve with the myriad splinters of black metal? For the past few years black ‘n’ roll was a subgenre on the periphery, with the recent rise of “hipster” black metal; now, many BM bands have started to incorporate more straight-up rock (or rather, “RAWK”) into their sound, in order to prove themselves more ‘authentic’ (i.e. less pretentious), and more ‘brutal’. As a result, this stripped-down style appears to be gaining traction within the greater black metal scene – just look at the latest releases put out by Hells Headbangers. Out of the large number of black ‘n’ roll releases this year, however, there were seven in particular which are, I think, especially worthy of a place in the pantheon of blackened rock ‘n’ roll:

Promiscuity: Their raging demo, Infernal Rock N’ Roll, is a mammoth slab of Satanic-blackened rock – from Israel of all places – that took the Motörhead template, and accelerated it to a lethal velocity. These guys’ll fuckin’ kick your ass, and you’ll fuckin’ enjoy it.

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Promiscuity – “Infernal Rock ‘N’ Roll”

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Promiscuity – “Gybenhinnom”

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Read the Invisible Oranges review of Promiscuity’s Infernal Rock N’ Roll.

Obsessor: The Obsession EP proved Obsessor are able to nail the classic 1984 Bathory sound like no other band this year, yielding the right mix of lo-fi production and evocative album art with that classic, punk-inspired first-wave sound. Two songs were definitely not enough for this band to really satisfy the listener, and one hopes that a full-length release is soon in the works.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtQcgSEfXro

Obsessor – “Obsession”

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Read the Invisible Oranges review of Obsessor’s Obsession.

Ravencult: Morbid Blood is a record certainly more classically “black metal” than the other offerings on the list, but with enough d-beats and stylish half-time grooves to give them that outlaw rock ‘n’ roll edge. Rather than go the Bathory/Venom route, Ravencult instead choose to emulate the equally rockin’ (if slightly less perverse) Impaled Nazarene, bringing a crusty, punk rock-style nihilism to bear against any asshole posers who would stand in their path.

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Ravencult – “Sacrilege of Death”

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Ravencult – “Morbid Blood”

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Speedwolf: Their banging Ride with Death full-length shows that they may be more speed metal than black metal, but those growls and that dirty-grave guitar tone are black enough to please any hardened Venom fanatic. While it may not be black metal in the strictest sense, its aural brutality and uncompromising nihilism would surely do much to win over even the most discerning kvlt leather-wearer.

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Speedwolf – “Up All Night”

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Speedwolf – “Out On Bail”

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Read the Invisible Oranges review of Speedwolf’s Ride With Death.

Midnight: Satanic Royalty was their first ever full-length studio album, with their discography to date consisting of 7-inches, EPs, live cuts, and compilations. However, this new change in format did nothing to alter the wild abandon of their sound. Evoking the gods of first-wave black metal, Midnight lived up to their past successes with a rollicking, fist-fight worthy album of FWBM replete with both atmosphere and surprising melodicism.

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Midnight – “Satanic Royalty”

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlMPJe5biVU

Midnight – “You Can’t Stop Steel”

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Venom: You talk about black ‘n’ roll, you gotta include Venom, no matter what. Was their latest album, Fallen Angels their best? No. Was it still a sign of the times that even Venom, who at their lowest were widely spurned as a joke band, were able to have enough fan support to justify churning out another album? I would say so. Are they still laying down their souls to the twin gods Rock and Roll? No fuckin’ doubt.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKhBgOIElOI

Venom – “Damnation of Souls”

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Venom – “Punk’s Not Dead”

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Nunslaughter: Like Venom, Nunslaughter are a veritable institution within punky, rock-influenced old-school black metal, and it’s a sure bet that, by the end of each year, they’ve released another record or five to join their large discography.With their latest releases, a series of splits with Nekrofilth, Abigail, Sabbat, and fellow institution Agathocles, the contents of which are best viewed as one unit of release, Nunslaughter provided little that was new or innovative, but made good on their status as stalwarts of black ‘n’ roll, a workmanlike group of war metal drinkers who are both consistent and a force to be reckoned with in laying claim to any sort of scene legitimacy.

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Nunslaughter – “God”

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Nunslaughter – “Hellchild” (Venom)

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On its own, this list is significant, but not trend-worthy. However, when one adds the releases of 2010 to this list, a trend can be observed. Think about the sheer volume of rough-hewn, burly, hard-rock-aping black metal released in the past few years: Dishammer, Vomitor, Maax, Syphilitic Lust, Darkthrone, Perversor, Astrum, Children of Technology, Gospel of the Horns, War Ripper, Nattefrost (in particular his half of the Engangsgrill split), and Abigail. Even Goatwhore have adopted a rock ‘n’ roll-style swing to their music of late, adding groove, rhythm, and a nihilistic punk rock attitude to the full-bore blast of their previous records.

D-beats are back in style again, and constant blasting is often tempered with a mid-tempo lurch more commonly found in hardcore, or a chugging gallop that would make Father Lemmy proud. Let’s put it this way: of all of the black ‘n’ roll type tracks I have in my music library (roughly 250, give or take; this ain’t an exact science, bub), well over half were released within the last four years or so, and roughly two-thirds of recent tracks were released within the last 15 months. While some of these releases may not be technically counted as “black metal” by critics, they can be linked together simply in terms of attitude. Black ‘n’ rollers lack the cerebral nature of other black metal bands: rather than alienate or brood, these bands fucking rock. There’s no overarching attempt to philosophize, to explore the limits of black metal: there is only rock, or rock not.

These releases, and the success of more traditional black/death labels like Hells Headbangers or Nuclear War Now!, suggest a return to this low-fi, rhythm-oriented old school sound. However, with the end of 2011 in sight, it seems fitting to ask: Will this trend continue? In underground metal, honestly, few things don’t continue: even if a movement or attitude loses traction in the metal world, you can be certain that in 15 to 20 years or so, it will make a return: ’70s doom in the ’90s, the retro-thrash scene of the mid-aughts, the OSDM craze of recent years. Obviously, one can make the argument that black ‘n’ roll is a revival of this sort, returning Venom-style first-wave black metal to its former position in the metallic hierarchy, and that upon this fad’s demise it will, this time, be gone for good. However, the relative diversity of sound would suggest a greater chance for black ‘n’ roll to grow as a style, rather than the uniform, often boring nature of, say, retro-thrash (where only a few choice bands stand out against a glut of similarity).

As it stands, black ‘n’ roll as a style is more varied from band to band than many other contemporary revivalist movements, and thus stands a better chance at sticking around, and evolving. And, of course, there’s always that argument for longevity born out of simply being too awesome to die. No-one’s ever going to accuse Motörhead or Venom of being out-of-date, after all, at least not if they wanna keep their teeth. For now, however, all this is speculation. In the meantime, we have our current batch of black ‘n’ roll, and who am I to argue with that? So, this New Year’s, pop open a cold one, spin some of these records, and prepare to rock, because for now, to paraphrase the Leningrad Cowboys, “black ‘n’ roll is here to stay.”

— Rhys Williams

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