Noise Pollution #21: Norway in September
It’s just coincidental that this column is out a few days after the invitation to Fenriz’s ice skating party was sent out. I don’t really have a strong opinion either way on the cover, outside of appreciating the Panzerfaust backpatch. At this point we should all be aware that Darkthrone is mostly about Fenriz’s record collection or hiking, peppered with a million references to “old metal,” so none of this should come as a surprise. Besides, anyone upset that Darkthrone isn’t “evil” anymore was probably in diapers when Transvilanian Hunger came out or is shitting in them currently.
The last few weeks I’ve been rediscovering some records from the past, mostly Norwegian black metal, spurred on by the change in season and revisiting Forgotten Woods after Olav’s passing. It got me thinking about some of these bands and my relationship with their music, how the rest of their discographies stayed with me or where I jumped ship. I also ran across Alan from Primordial’s podcast where he brought up a few of the lesser appreciated records from the era and while he thinks I’m a fat cunt, I have to agree with some of his choices. He would also be thrilled to know my first car accident happened while I was listening to Primordial’s demo but less enthused that I walked away with just a few bruises.
So as the season (supposedly) grows a little colder, I wanted to go over a few records from the “good old days” of Norwegian black metal that don’t seem to get passed around as much these days or that I’ve kind of let collect dust due to whatever reason I’ll go into further later.
Gorgoroth – Pentagram
This record has been playing nonstop in my car for about three weeks now. I’d forgotten how darkly triumphant this record was and how much of an impact it had on me when I was first writing black metal that’s subtly stayed with me decades later. I played the fuck out of this and the excellent Antichrist EP when I first got them in 1996. Thanks mostly to the “Blackened” compilation (and the first “World Domination” before it) I was discovering a world of bands outside of Darkthrone/Mayhem/Emperor with Gorgoroth being near the head of the pack. Just a super riff-heavy record with a lot of cool production tricks that layer into the experience. I did enjoy Under the Sign of Hell and remember taking it in as a production reference when Krieg was recording but it hasn’t really stuck with me. Anything after just never did anything for me and I eventually forgot my earlier enjoyment. And after recently rediscovering them I figured out why and it’s the same reason why I stopped paying much attention to Immortal after Battles in the North: the fucking media circus surrounding the ridiculous cult of personalities behind the bands (that and I think Blizzard Beasts is crap, an opinion few seem to share). These bands all became whatever dumb shit antics they were involved in (Gaahl and Abbath) and then the feuds between members turning into legal battles just turned these bands to jokes in my eyes. I’ve been better about overcoming and pushing the last two decades of history out of my mind and have been greatly enjoying these records.
In the Woods – Isle of Men
The first black metal demo I ever purchased was Isle of Men from the Relapse catalog in 1995. I bought it simply based on the description, as I was apt to do when I was younger, and was fucking blown away. Discordant, methodically plodding with shrill vocals which conflicted greatly with the more blasting approach of their peers that I was into at the time. It was unlike almost anything I had heard until then. These days that approach is a dime a dozen and In the Woods is mostly known for their later prog work but back then this demo (and the follow up full length Heart of the Ages) stood out. This is a recording that is worth revisiting if you haven’t listened to it in awhile or if you’re unfamiliar. Excellent Norwegian weirdness akin to Forgotten Woods.
Carpathian Full Moon – Serenades in Blood Minor
There were a lot of one offs that were coming and going in Norway in the 90s and it seems like Avantgarde Music caught a lot of them which caused me to start buying anything the label released, something I did for several years since I could usually count on them to be quality or, at the very least, interesting. Carpathian Full Moon started for me as the former and eventually became the latter. A short lived black/doom hybrid (doom in the English death variety) that only did an EP and this full length they were very much a product of the time and a band that’s been mostly forgotten in the decades since. And that’s a shame since they wrote and recorded some pretty killer songs, especially if you were into the early work of Anathema, etc. While this will never be considered “classic” it definitely scratches that itch and is an interesting document of the time.
Mortem – Slow Death
Sure it’s more death than black but Mortem did eventually shift into Arcturus and reformed under the Mortem banner a few years ago (releasing the killer Ravnsvart) so that’s enough adjacency to warrant their inclusion here. I’m not going to write too much about it other than that Marius Void’s vocals on this are fucking insane and if you’ve never listened to this then you need to rectify that immediately. Peaceville has recently reissued this with all kinds of extras going over the history of the band and I can’t think of a more deserving recording for that kind of treatment.
Carpathian Forest – Black Shining Leather
It was a toss up between this and Pure Holocaust, both of which I’m sure have some of you scratching your heads because I’d mentioned “under appreciated” earlier but hear me out. Whenever Immortal is brought up in conversation it’s generally around the Nuclear Blast era or Abbath eating a hot dog. The older folks will bring up Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism but for my money (and nostalgia) nothing beats Pure Holocaust. For Carpathian Forest you mostly will hear about whatever antics Nattefrost is up to, the fat naked guy playing bass or that time Greg Anderson decided to take a picture with Nattefrost’s ass. It kind of takes the seriousness out of the band, and considering the impact Black Shining Leather made when it came out and how it’s still, almost twenty five years later, forward thinking and fresh. There were a lot of bands doing the retro thrash schtick around the time but hardly anyone doing a “black n roll” approach or taking a serious lyrical deviation from the “master Satan” themes of the day. Plus the Cure cover, especially at a time where admitting nonmetal influences was still somewhat looked down upon. There’s just plenty of reasons why this is an important record and just as many as to why it’s an excellent one. It just feels like the subsequent years have muddled this album's legacy.
And honestly, it feels like that with a lot of bands. What causes this is hard to pin down. Maybe it’s how different bands evolve and present themselves later in life. Or maybe it’s because of some controversy that just deflates everything surrounding them. Or maybe it’s because they’ve become fucking cartoons or bought too heavily into the rock n’roll lifestyle. Whatever the reason there’s still these documents of greatness that far too easily get overlooked for some hunk of shit you’re going to pay too much for on Discogs.
Next column will be the first foray into the spooky season with a piece I hinted at back in the winter. See you in two.