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Microgenres: War Metal – A Primer

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This idea for this series was spawned during a casual conversation I had with IO’s editor, Mike Nelson. As I chiseled away at my first draft for this piece, we agreed that, for all its annoying tendencies and sloppy usage, the über-specific subgenre is a pretty handy device. So, keeping the inherent absurdity of the concept of a ‘microgenre’ firmly in mind, allow me to draw your attention to one of the most Lilliputian semi-genres of all, both so ultra-specific in sound and with borders so hazily blurred that its very definition is a battleground. A sound so ruthlessly copied that its true purveyors can be counted upon one hand (two, if you’re missing a few fingers). A sound so hard to pin down that even in the discussion of this very piece, our dear editor was at a loss for words once I told him that no, Bolt Thrower don’t count, and neither does that Cobalt album.

Of course, we’re talking about war metal.

The term is bandied about almost carelessly, used as a blanket descriptor for everything from Teitanblood to Turisas (“battle metal”? Really, dudes?), and, according to some, “war metal” as a concept was born and died with Conqueror. “Bestial black/death metal” is its closest relative (if not its alter ego). Depending on the definition you like best, bands like Diocletian, Bestial Warlust, and Proclamation are either solid examples – or terrible ones. Bestiality’s in the eye of the beholder. But what is it, exactly?

In the most basic terms, war metal is a blasphemous, violent black/death metal hybrid so extremely fast, raw, and chaotic that it often borders upon grind – “black/grind”, even. Beyond that, it’s mostly a matter of perspective. As Bestial Warlust terrorized Australia and Brazil’s GoatPenis hellbanged away in atavistic slaughter, 1992 saw the creation of the granddaddies of it all, western Canada’s Conqueror, who later on morphed into Revenge, with the addition of Order From Chaos helmsman Pete Helmkamp. The infamous Ross Bay Cult, Blasphemy, were already on the scene, belching out ultra-primal Satanic black filth from 1984 onwards. Though more purely black metal than anything else, Blasphemy’s image, intensity, and imitators warrant them a mention.

From there, other Canadian bands like Axis of Advance and Rites of Thy Degringolade pushed the boundaries of black/death even further. A (slightly) more recent wave of hateful metal maniacs has emerged – Embrace of Thorns, Morbosidad, Black Witchery. In even more recent times, Adversarial and Antediluvian have been flying the Canadian banner, joined by far-flung comrades Manticore, Diocletian, Proclamation, Bestial Raids, Sadomator, Blasphemophagher, Grave Desecrator… the list continues. Are all these bands “war metal”? Yes, no, maybe. Labels like Nuclear War Now! Productions, Invictus Productions, Hell’s Headbangers, Osmose, and Iron Bonehead are stalwart carriers of the plague, alongside countless distros/labels, and a steady stream of reissues (the newest edition of Conqueror’s immortal War Cult Supremacy is a gem) and sporadic live shows keep the old guard’s influence alive and well.

As always, the devil’s in the detail. In some ways, war metal’s aesthetic is almost as crucial as the music. Visions of apocalypse and conflict, gas masks and bullet belts, nuclear Baphomets and goats laden with bandoliers – war metal’s schtick revolves around the blasphemous, the irradiated, the anti-life and war-hungry. Refer to Blasphemy’s black hoods and shaved heads, Revenge’s acres of ammunition, Blasphemophagher’s nuclear fixation, Conqueror’s menacing barbed wire and skulls, or GoatPenis being “GoatPenis”: all extreme metal staples, but, when combined, a cohesive image: Hate.Intolerance.Intimidation.

Whether one takes that image seriously or snickers at the sight of musclebound billygoats… well, that’s on you. Ultimately, so is the definition of this ephemeral microgenre (that is, if you even accept its existence in the first place). The only true definition is hatred, manifested in sound on steel and string.

Domitor invictus.

— Kim Kelly

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Essential listening…

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Goatpenis – “Jesus Coward”

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Bestial Warlust – “Hammering Down the Law of the New Gods/Holocaust Wolves of the Apocalypse”

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Conqueror – “Hammer of Antichrist”

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Revenge – “Genocide Conquest”

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Axis of Advance – “New World Ruin”

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Proclamation – “Baptism in Fire”

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Sadomator – “Chainsaw Goatsfuck”

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