194 dB / BRYAN REED

 

No. 2: Quite excited

 

By Bryan Reed

 

I first saw Black Cobra (above)
about two years ago. They were opening for Pelican in a double-bill at Tremont Music Hall
in Charlotte.
What I remember most about the show was thinking that Black Cobra was
monumentally more captivating than Pelican – which put on a good set, just not as good – and feeling bummed about not
having enough cash for records. So to say I was excited when the Cobra’s third
record (first for Southern Lord), Chronomega arrived in the mail is a mild understatement: I was quite excited.

 

Having settled into Chronomega, the new jams fail to
disappoint. Opener is a blunt-force stomp indicative of the rest of the album –
sharp riffs, gruff grooves and a driving, sludgy feel somewhere between High on
Fire and early Mastodon. This is no kind of reinvention, but the collection
hits its mark without getting stale. I still prefer Bestial (Black Cobra’s 2006 debut), but I wouldn’t have even mentioned
Chronomega if I weren’t suggesting
it’s at least worth a listen.

 

Lately, though, I’ve found my
attention drawn elsewhere, to three albums, each playing within the black metal
spectrum, though not necessarily completely: Azaghal‘s Teraphim, Merrimack‘s Grey Rigorism and Mount Eerie‘s Wind’s Poem.

 

Azaghal’s latest, Teraphim, out Tuesday via Moribund Records, comes closest to the
sound of the Norwegian first-wave, putting chaotic blast beats behind expansive
guitar melodies. This corpsepainted quartet from Finland doesn’t stretch the
boundaries of what black metal is, but even as it colors inside the guidelines
the band adds shades of nuance by way of thrash riffs and – on the record’s
most divergent cut, – by way of synthesized orchestral arrangements that are
simultaneously cheesy, endearing and adeptly atmospheric. It’s telling that the
first three seconds of almost every track sounds the same – immediate blast
beat that gets ripped open with an introductory roar from vocalist Varjoherra.
It’s also telling that when it doesn’t, as is true of “Filosofi,” we can expect
a slight but important shift in approach as the song adopts a steady riff and a
strong chorus that reminds somewhat of Boris in its melody and vocal pairings.

 

 

The Merrimack record, also released by Moribund,
has been out for some time now, but has kept my attention because it doesn’t
seem to settle. Black Metal, for me anyway, is a dish best served with a
healthy portion of unrest, lest the waves of guitar become sedative white
noise. Like Texas’ Absu, or Illinois’
Nachtmystium, Merrimack (who, by the way, hail from France) relish elements from all
stripes of heavy metal: death metal’s bottomed-out groove, sludgy textures and
thrash urgency to scratch the surface. I’ve seen the term black ‘n’ roll used
when describing black metal bands that pack a Motörhead-style hook, and even
though I think the term sounds stupid, it fits Merrimack. Check out and notice how from the first notes it finds a
solid midtempo groove and rides it insistently, even as the guitars float in
like an ominous fog to wrap the song into a dark haze.

 

 

That haze is pretty much the only thing Mount Eerie’s
so-called black metal album shares with its European counterparts. This is less
br00tal, more br00ding, like Phil Elverum, the perennial indie-dude, discovered
a Xasthur record and informed his
entire picture of what “black metal” is from that. But – and this is a crucial
“but” – Elverum’s seemingly shallow venture into the kvlt realm serves this
project well, making an album that is good both as a lo-fi indie entry (hey,
this is Blurt, not Terrorizer) and as a metal entry. Folks
familiar with the plaintive, melancholy folk Elverum’s been peddling for years
might be startled at first by opener “Wind’s Dark Poem,” and its
harsh-if-muffled roar. But Elverum’s not donning corpsepaint or switching his
quiet croon to a strangled yelp, he’s appropriating textures from the insular,
claustrophobic and somehow broad-stroked bedroom black metal of Xasthur and
Leviathan, stretching their bleak sounds capes over his own mournful singing
and poetic songwriting. the
final word in Wind’s Poem, is not at
all unlike much of Elverum’s work, even as it sustains its chords like worn ,
grayed tulle behind him, and even when he recasts last year’s profoundly
intimate “Lost Wisdom” (here as “Lost Wisdom Pt. 2”) as a droning, blackened dirge,
it’s Elverum’s voice, the sad clarity of it, that grabs us even in the darker,
harsher environs he’s masterfully created for this effort. That, if you ask me,
is quite exciting.

 

ALSO IN ROTATION: Lightning Bolt – Earthly Pleasures (Load); Horseback – MILH IHVH (Turgid
Animal); Baroness – Blue Record (Relapse); Pyramids with Nadja – Pyramids
with Nadja
(Hydra Head); Chord – Flora (Neurot); Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye (Tee Pee); Landmine Marathon – Rusted
Eyes Awake
(Prosthetic, reissue); Title Fight – The Last Thing You Forget (Run For Cover)

 

***

 

Bryan Reed is from
North Carolina and, despite his best efforts, he still hasn’t grown out of the
racket that irritated his friends and family in high school, and continues to
irritate them in the present. Stalker-types should know that they can follow Bryan on Twitter
@subparrockstar.

 

 

[Photo Credits: Black Cobra, bu Shannon Corr; Merrimack, Vertigo; Mount
Eerie, Mount Eerie]

 

 

 

Leave a Reply