More than any other genre of music, metal has the strongest international underground. No matter what country you’re in, it’s nearly impossible to not come across at least one metal band. Even war torn and impoverished countries still have a few groups of teens spending what little money they have on equipment and recording time so they can make their voices heard to the metal underworld, and if you are fortunate enough to have been born in a first world country then you know that you can literally create a band in a day with a guitar and a strong internet connection. These various standards of living, cultural backgrounds, and political upbringings have drastically affected what styles of music come from which countries. In our modern age of advanced communication, the barriers restricting each genre to the country from whence it originated have been torn down and, moreso than at any point in history, we now have bands from every style errupting from every land on earth. However, even with the wonders of the world wide web, we still have been struggling to plant seeds of interest in black metal in America, until very recently.
It truly is an exciting time to be an American black metal fan, because we are finally finding a voice that is respected by other black metal scenes. It’s no secret that black metal’s American genesis is upon us with bands like Nachtmystium, Goatwhore and Wolves in the Throne Room leading the charge, but the question I find myself asking is, why after almost 3 decades of existence, has it taken my favorite form of music so long to truly take hold in my homeland? Furthermore why is that hold up suddenly over?
The answers to these and other questions concerning this subject can be found in black metal’s controversial history, tracing it back to the very beginning. Initially, black metal was a pure musical incarnation; bands such as Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost and Mercyful Fate lent their influence in both lyrical content and sound, but they weren’t really activists. You could think of them as making thrash
that had satanic or viking lyrics and imagery, but they were still just bands making music. Now, before you trve kvlt elitists start writing hate mail, keep in mind I’m not slamming these bands in anyway; I’m just establishing the clear difference between the second and first wave of black metal. This idea of activism shifted to the forefront when in the early 90’s a bunch of Norwegian teenagers got fed up with their abrasive Christian upbringing and decided to rebel by making hate filled music inspired by these early proto black metal bands, eventually taking the idea to the next step and making it unquestionably clear that they were serious about their message by stock piling weapons, desecrating graves, and most infamously burning down dozens of churches.
To a person unfamiliar with this style of music, especially those from a more conservative background, this may sound extreme, but that’s pretty much the idea. These people felt as though they were unheard in their protests against living the life that their parents had laid before them, causing a violent reaction. When you rebel against an institution, the quickest way to get your voice heard is to very publically do the exact opposite course of action of which that institution represents. In this case, a predominately protestant nation begat a satanic black metal movement.
If you follow bands and the trends of metal music deep within the metal underground, it’s easy to see that black metal most often finds its beginnings in an area through need of reaction. Sarcofago was one of the earliest blackened thrash bands, hailing from Brazil, the same country that spawned 3rd world heavy metal legends Sepultura (though not black metal), both of which were an expression of aggression against an oppressive time. Poland has become a bleak abyss from which the most hate filled and blasphemous of black metal bands such as Mgla, Behemoth and Hate arise, and it is of no coincidence that Poland is ruled by the catholic church.
I firmly believe that if you want to know what sort of religious and political injustices are going on in a country, you need to look no further than the themes and influences of that country’s black metal scene; which brings me back to America. My country is developing a strong black metal foundation out of necessity, and I have pride in it. The generation I belong to is one seeking change in the twisted wreckage that has developed because of the generations beforehand. I see it everyday living on the edge of the OSU campus, driving past protests and hearing the emphasis on buying locally to take support away from the major corporations that have gained control on our society. Is it any wonder with issues like the Stop Online Piracy Act that we are exploring alternative ways of survival without the pushy over priced help of large companies and big government?
I apologize for the minor detour away from music, and it should be understood that I am in no way showing my personal beliefs or political alignment. I’m simply explaining the elements that have helped forge our current black metal scene. In a more eco-concious society, I believe a band like Wolves in the Throne room would have ultimately come into existence no matter what, and their gaining of popularity is of no surprise to me. WITTR is a reaction to failing economy, sprawling urban environments and capitalism, just as Burzum was a reaction to not only the oppression of the christian church but a delayed reaction to the world-wide religious genocide of the crusades. You may be surprised at how many black metal bands have admitted to that line of thinking.
Although there are a handfull of acts from the US, such as Absu and Judas Iscariot, that have been around since the early 90’s, their influence is insignificant in comparison to the waves of quality bands that are produced by Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, Italy, Japan, Canada… etc. It really wasn’t until post-2000 that our scene truly began to breed, nurture and develop into a noteworthy force, with its own unique take on the genre.
Just as every country’s BM underground has it’s own causes for existence and unique actions as a result of these causes, they also sonically have a unique perspective. The Norwegian bands are predominantly raw and minimilized in technical abilities, forgoing flashy musicianship for a simplified “wall of sound” approach which establishes a primitive evil atmosphere. Swedish bands infuse the technical aspects that the norwegians abandoned, featuring excellent production and uniform melo-death harmonies, along with an almost regal or imperial atmosphere. France’s only binding similarities from band to band is a complete and total lack of consistency; featuring bands so bizzare and avant-garde, they lack categorization, while bolstering the intellectual and philosophical aspect of the music.
So what is the Kvlt Americana sound? It is a combination of the intelligent properties reminiscent of the French scene with a dense atmosphere of noise and drone that evokes the doominess of Southern Lord giants Sunn O))). Primarily west coast in origin, American black metal is multifaceted and typically has a blue-collar work ethic, exemplified once again by WITTR who own their own PA system allowing them to play at un-incorporated venues. We also have one of the strongest suicidal black metal scenes, featuring trendsetting DSBM and post-black bands like Xasthur, Leviathan and Twilight– once again displaying that our underground loves atmosphere first and foremost.
The most exciting prospect of the burgeoning american BM underground, is that it is still very young. Most of the other countries have at least 10 years on us developmentally, and in that decade, their respective scenes have pioneered so much new ground. It is not only plausible but completely inevitible that the American scene will forge all new kinds of black metal that we have not even fathomed yet. Just like how 10 years ago we didn’t have psychadelic black metal, then along comes Nachtmystium releasing “Instinct: Decay” which primary songwriter Blake Judd admitted was designed to be a black metal album you could “trip” to. This really makes one wonder what new and strange adjectives artists will be putting in front of the phrase “black metal” in the near future. As I stated earlier, it is truly an exciting time to be an American black metal fan.