2017.Cult.Supremacy: The Year In War Metal
“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the Judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”
In many ways, black metal seems to move in cycles with regards to which microgenre is in vogue at a given time. From 2007-2010, we had an explosion of atmospheric, "Cascadian" black metal; from 2011-2013, black 'n roll was in vogue, followed by blackened crust and blackened hardcore from 2014 until 2016*. Starting last year, however, the worm seems to have turned yet again with a resurgence of "war metal," that brain-pounding mixture of Beherit-style bestial black metal with whirling Incantation-style death metal and a pinch of power electronics/harsh noise cacophony. Though present since the glory days of Blasphemy, Order From Chaos, and the Ross Bay Cult in the late '80s and early '90s, war metal has, as with so many genres, expanded exponentially with the advent of the internet. A solid sub-underground fanbase has emerged for war metal, supported by high quality releases and reissues from labels like Nuclear War Now!, Hells Headbangers, Invictus, and Iron Bonehead. Equipped with a nihilistic image full of striking martial semiotics and making much hay from the curative yet egalitarian nature of Bandcamp, war metal has benefitted immensely from social media over the past few years, with a strong foundation becoming the core of a veritable legion of acolytes. Kim Kelly provided an excellent overview of war metal for Invisible Oranges back in 2012, which as a primer for the uninitiated and as a history of the microgenre as of 2012 is well worth your time.
Perhaps we will look at 2017 as "the year war metal broke through," similar to how stoner metal did in 2006. Or perhaps it's just another passing fad for hessians to gobble up for a hot minute and then move on from, like cascadian black metal or black 'n roll. Yet the fact that this genre has remained largely unaltered since 1993 would seem to speak to the former. That it is getting big now is simply the result of a superhumanly dedicated fanbase putting in the effort and labor to keep it aloft through over two decades of cultural trends. As Judge Holden might note, "before metal was, war metal waited for it." Or, as 'Pac might have it, "wars come and go, but my soldiers stay eternal." So pour yourself the blackest beer, put on your wraparounds and leather jacket, and prepare a blasphemous sacrifice for the gods of war!
2006-2009: Wolves in the Throne Room, Panopticon, Skagos, Krallice
2010-2013: Midnight, Watain, Dishammer, Promiscuity
2014-2016: No Zodiac, Young And In The Way, Horned, Our Place Of Worship Is Silence
20. Kapala – Infest Cesspool (Dunkelheit Productions, DE) [https://dunkelheitprod.bandcamp.com/album/infest-cesspool]
19. Archaic Tomb – Congregations for Ancient Rituals (Caligari Records, US) [https://archaictomb.bandcamp.com/releases]
18. Primordial Massacre – The Law of Club and Mace (Goat Vomits Productions, BO) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYR7R7XLjw4]
17. Venereal Baptism – Deviant Castigation Liturgy (Osmose Productions, FR) [https://venerealbaptism.bandcamp.com/album/deviant-castigation-liturgy]
16. Ziggurat – Ritual Miasma (Caligari Records, US) [https://caligarirecords.bandcamp.com/album/ritual-miasma]
15. Nexul – Paradigm of Chaos (Hells Headbangers Records, US) [https://nexul.bandcamp.com/album/paradigm-of-chaos]
14. Goatpenis – Anesthetic Vapor (Nuclear War Now! Productions, US) [https://nuclearwarnowproductions.bandcamp.com/album/anesthetic-vapor]
13. Atomic Grave – Wrath of Militaristic Barbarism (Self-Released, CA) [https://atomicgrave666.bandcamp.com/album/wrath-of-militaristic-barbarism]
12. Tetragrammacide– Primal Incinerators of Moral Matrix (Iron Bonehead, DE) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I0w86kF6lE]
11. Morbosidad– Corona de Epidemia (Nuclear War Now! Productions, US) [https://nuclearwarnowproductions.bandcamp.com/album/corona-de-epidemia]
(Vault of Dried Bones, US)
This album is fucking greasy. This is hoary, bestial Satanic war metal for listeners who think Archgoat isn't brutal enough. Riffs upon riffs upon riffs cascade over a solid but punishing percussion onslaught with no regard for sanity or tact whilst buoyed by excellent production that achieves the nigh-impossible task of blending clarity with grit. If Archgoat and Blasphemy make you want to participate in a nun-fucking ritual, this is the record for you.
(Caligari Records, US)
Huoripukki's name in Finnish translates to "Whore Puke," so you should know what you're getting into before you listen. If Weregoat are sleazy, Huoripukki are downright depraved, "A Serbian Film" to Weregoat's "Deep Throat." Huoripukki are raw, noisy, and utterly barbaric: lo-fidelity blast beats slash under simple, Hellhammering riffage, and the vocals sound like the bellows of an enraged bull in a slaughterhouse. Hateful, barbarous, and yet almost fun in that special, violent sort of way that only true barbarians can pull of, Voima on Oikeutta is essentially listening for heshers who think Sarcofago is too clean and refined for their tastes.
(Season of Mist, France)
There's a degree of uncertainty in the underground black metal community as to where "war metal" ends and "blackened death metal" begins. What is black/death metal, anyway? Is it blackened death metal, or deathened black metal, or war metal or what? Spanish bruisers Altarage inhabit this grim and gloomy hinterland: too punishing and aggro to be "murkcore" but too introspective and metaphysical to be "bestial black metal," Altarage are content to bring a droning yet technical assault on Endinghent, their sophomore release. The closest analogue I can would would be Portal...but Portal as channeled through Whitehouse, a black intelligence underscored by an insatiable hatred. Great drum sounds and a face-melting guitar tone, plus the mind-warping microtonal intro to "Rift," make this a release well worthy of the discerning warrior's time.
(Haftvad Records, US)
San Diego two piece wolfpack Wearg made their debut this year with Hæðen War Metal, and what a debut it was. Wearg take their lyrical inspiration from the folklore and legends of the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons, and in a way this release mirrors that influence. The production is muddy, the drums pounding, and the riffs are less "simple" than they are "primitive." Wearg seems to be channeling a spirit of atavism on Haeden War Metal, making harsh, crude music to serve as a backdrop to bloody pagan sacrifices and brutal Iron Age battles. So many "folk metal" and "viking metal" releases needlessly idealize European history as if it were a fantasy novel, but Wearg to me captures the essence of ancient warfare: chaotic, noisy ugly, maddening. And yet, there is still a glory to be had; not a chauvinistic glory, but the glory of true triumph over insurmountable odds.
Comprised of two members of heavyweight crust/grind acts Unsacred and Sacridose, Antichrist Siege Machine logically incorporate a searing hardcore edge to their Antichristian mechanical assault. Take the intro to "Suffer No More," for instance: clean up the recording quality a little and switch up the vocals and you might have a '90s Revelation Records-style straight edge intro. Of course, then the blasts start and we're back in the territory of nuklear baphogoats, but it's these little touches that set Antichrist Siege Machine apart from the pack. At times, it almost sounds like exceptionally violent powerviolence. Antichrist Siege Machine capture that punk rock sweet spot of being filthy and low-fidelity without descending into pure noise, a tricky feat that many war metal bands fail to achieve. The drum tone alone on this album gives me ASMR. Raw, uncompromising, and gritty, as all good metal should be.
(Dark Descent Records, US)
If Wearg sought to invoke the spirit of medieval warfare on their 2017 offering, New Zealand's Heresiarch invokes the inhuman brutality of World War I on Death Ordinance, their first full-length album. Think of Wearg as two shield walls hitting each other at full speed whereas Heresiarch is 20,000 men going over the top into a fucking meat grinder at Verdun. It's not as wild and feral as other releases: these songs are tight as a cable, with every change in tempo or riff meticulously calculated to the nth degree. There's a technical prowess to playing war metal that frequently gets overlooked in favor of its aesthetics and mood, but Heresiarch brings it to the forefront on Death Ordinance. As a result, their sound brings to mind the terror and sadism of modern industrial warfare, of man as machine and as part of machine. If such a thing as "technical war metal" could exist, it would be Heresiarch, and this prowess makes their message that much more effective.
(Nuclear War Now! Productions, US)
Yes, this record was technically released in late 2016, but it falls within Invisible Oranges's "December to December" rubric, so I'm including it here. Death Worship is a war metal supergroup comprised of Ryan "Deathlord of Abomination and War Apocalypse" Forster (Blasphemy, Conqueror), Gerry "Nocturnal Grave Desecrator and Black Winds" Buhl (Blasphemy), and James Read (Revenge, Axis of Advance). Needless to say, it provides the most "orthodox" war metal sound of any release this year: J. Read's signature tumbling drum style blends effortlessly with Forster's sliding, slashing Blasphemic Nuklearriffage, and Black Winds has lost none of the power of his breathy, blast radius delivery since Fallen Angel of Doom. The production is crisp and perfectly balanced, allowing every blast hit to register and every chord change to punch through, but in a way that sounds organic and powerful. This album is war metal perfection, and I'd even go so far to say is best viewed as a companion piece to Conqueror's legendary War.Cult.Supremacy. Ross Bay Cult Eternal!
(Invictus Productions, Ireland)
Formed from the wreckage of the uncompromising Warpvomit after the ultimely demise of Clayton "Misanthrofuhrer, the Architect of Extinction" Vargo in 2016, Crurifragium blasted onto the war metal scene in 2017 with Beasts of the Temple of Satan. This album is as bestial as the bizarre, Satanik lion-skull-vulture chimera on its cover: off-kilter production, deep guttual vocals, and drums that don't so much "pound" as truly "bludgeon" belie a distinct Beherit influence. But Crurifragium are every bit their own beast: there's a distinctly gonzo machismo to their music and a particular kind of madness that other war metal bands lack. Shredding solos with a distinctly Try Azagthoth bent slip in and out of songs at weird places; church bells ring where you least expect them. Weregoat captured the essence of obscure rituals this year, but Crurifragium captured the sound of Hell itself: all uproarious darkness and demonic perversity. This one gets my vote for "best album to clandestinely listen to when you've been dragged to church by your family for Christmas" of 2017.
(Invictus Productions, Ireland)
Ululatum Tollunt's 2017 offering, Quantum Noose of Usurpation, is essentially an updated version of their superb 2016 demo Order of the Morningstars. This fairly new band is unique stylistically among their war metal brethren in that they blend their murky, seething black/death with the sort of space age aura that was used to the hilt last year by such bands as Blood Incantation or Chthe'ilist. Don't let the cosmic trappings fool you, though, this is still war metal, as fierce and occluded as beyond an event horizon. And unlike many of their peers, Ululatum Tollunt know when to drop into a breakdown or a half-time stomp ("groove" is not the word I would use), especially on "Serpentine Despoilers." This is the sound of watching your body stretched by the inescapable gravity of a black hole until your individual atoms decouple.
(Godz ov War Productions, Poland)
In this year of crushing war metal releases, Pig's Blood's self-titled debut stood boot and fist above the rest, for two main reasons. Their music, obviously, is unfuckwithable, essentially Antichrist Siege Machine's punk-inflected war metal imbued with death metal technicality and riffing. The production is as clean as war metal gets, but natural, flowing, never giving in to compression or an uncomfortably clean mix. What also sets Pig's Blood apart is their message: so many war metal bands get caught up in such extremes of Satanism or martial posturing that their attempts at presenting a super-serious image can come across as cartoonish. Pig's Blood, however, are deathly serious: their influences are serial killers and misanthropes, not demons or cosmic beasts. Look at their song titles: "The First Step In Making Things Right," "Rats (This World Is A Sewer)." Altarage channelled a cruel intelligence through a haptic void, but Pig's Blood ARE that cruel intelligence. Listening to this album strikes me as being similar to entering Carl Panzram's mind: nothing but rage, hate, and malice, viewed through the all-too-real prism of human consciousness. Pig's Blood is fucking devastating in every sense, and as such more than deserve the top war metal (dis)honors for MMXVII.