“If you are a false, don’t entry!” And if you are a false, do enter, because the only rule of this weekly section, in which we present you three short blurbs on music we are currently listening to, is that we are under no circumstance allowed to press the enter key. All of these little reviews shall thus consist of one paragraph only. The more this rule renders the blurb illegible, the more the writer has failed. Check back every Friday for a fresh haul of Don’t Enter.
In the common perception, the Middle Ages were a period of stagnation and ignorance. The rampant chronocentrism on which this perspective is based has also lead us to believe that we are the pinnacle of human evolution and culture; behold us honourable grease tubs, the final product of those glorious Enlightenment ideals, vegetating on the peak of the pyramid of civilisation. Until it collapses, at least. Sadly, comfort doth not a Man make, which is why the joyride that is modern life is so pleasurable, even though we are on a highway to hell. Our fate has been sealed, and all that is left to do now is delving into various odes to medieval times to give us a small taste of the joy of smashing the enemy’s skull open with a mace, like those stagnated and ignorant barbarians of yore. Enjoy your weekend, sinner.
Satyricon – Dark Medieval Times | Norway, 1994
In Dark Medieval Times, Satyricon drag the listener into a dreaded, impenetrable forest the likes of which this world has never seen – because it is a thing of myth rather than fact. Tireless descriptions of its wintry horror and white vastness inspire visions of the Great North, of Hyperborean dreamlands, of the Narnian landscape under the rule of the Witch-Queen; mundane objects become portals to the beyond, the natural world becomes supernatural. Swirling, primal melodies encompass the narrative like the wind whistling through the trees and whipping up the snow banks, invoking images of ghastly, untouchable coldness. The rhythm is present but restrained, allowing a sparseness of atmosphere to garner a further frost, impressing upon the soundscape a stronger sensation of polar immenseness and cosmic infinity. Structurally the songwriting is dynamic but premature; lean, powerful motifs are moulded into swift phrasing that nevertheless expire unresolved into a dialectical cul-de-sac. Satyricon‘s first album is in several ways the inferior sibling of Enslaved‘s first album, their magnum opus Vikingligr Veldi (both albums were released in 1994), namely in that the latter completes the former’s primitive songwriting and enthused folkiness into a finished product that is at once supremely organized and reminiscent of a Scandinavian epic poem. As it is, Dark Medieval Times successfully testifies to the frigid, immortal beauty of nature in the honest and organic manner of the European bard, and is deserving of remembrance even in the year of black metal’s zenith when it might be overshadowed by so many others. |Maximus
Obsequiae – Suspended in the Brume of Eos | United States, 2011
We have all witnessed this scene somewhere. A group of people are arguing about a subject which they know nothing about, each one laying their derivative and ill-informed opinions on the table as if it were original, making huge noises to cover their own lack of knowledge on the topic. A cough comes from the outskirts and a well mannered chap leans forward and begins ‘Well, actually….’, delivering such an eloquent and knowledgeable repost that the others are left speechless and rightly shut the fuck up. Thus, Obsequiae delivers their sublimely well crafted debut album Suspended in the Brume of Eos. Thematically medieval, the level of musicianship and quality that shines through each note puts a terminal boot up the arses of all the ‘medieval metal’ bands and those BM groups who shove ‘medieval’ into a title expecting it to be ‘all castley and grim’. Oh no, this is not Obsequiae’s bag at all. Rather than dark chambers, forests of hate and ‘my face is so full of pain and lemon juice’ posturing (aka Elffor), tapestries are brought to mind, as the warm production allows the music to breath and unfold. Every legend from Medieval literature strides out of the speakers, each jongler and troubadour channel themselves through Tanner Anderson’s musicianship (also shown through his participation as a rather fine dulcimer wielder in Blood & Sun’s White Storms Fall). Finely honed polyphonic melodies ring out and unfurl through the songs, interspersed with some very fine classical guitar. Rather like the members’ other projects (OtO and Celestiial amongst others) there is a sense of grandeur and space (in a quantative rather than cosmological sense) that gives each instrument the possibility to realise its potential within the songs, and repeated listens reveal some extremely complex playing and song structures which have more in common with their Early Music counterparts than one might consider on first listen. Within an interview the members joked that ‘if you don’t like castles, then you are probably a dick.’ Whilst I subscribe to this view wholeheartedly, there is a serious point underlying what seems like a throwaway comment. The castle is an inherently noble building, housing an elite which, at the height of the medieval (and first true) renaissance of literature, culture and art, subscribed at least in theory to the chivalric orders and principles laid down on courtly romances and Christian theology. Therefore to reject such a building as ‘old’, ‘boring’ or even more dubiously ‘irrelevant to my life today’ is to reject a cornerstone of Western history, culture, society and even economics which still echoes in our current imagination and (as Europeans) self identity. Similarly, Suspended… is impressive enough during a first listen, however when one considers the work which it represents, the research and application of polyphonic and modal melodies, the sensibilities which were invested into its artwork (tapestries and antiquarian shots of castles from Britain, including a very fine one of Broughton castle – no vampires and demons here thank you), and the imaginative stimulation that any fan of the Middle Ages will receive, then you’ll keep coming back to this album again and again to drink from its wells. Rather as Summoning demonstrate absolute mastery of a style and put all others to shame, Obsequiae provide the only example of medieval-themed metal you will ever need (with the possible exception of Sühnopfer and elements of Peste Noire’s oeuvre). Having made its point in such an elegantly chivalrous way, and displayed its proficiency in the subject, Obsequiae then retreats to rescue the maiden from the tower, leaving lesser groups to squabble and touch themselves in deluded fantasies of heroism. |MDL
Aorlhac – La cité des vents | France, 2010
One of the reasons why the French
indie rock black metal scene is so successful is that France has a rich medieval history which can be used as inspiration for the lyrical themes and overall aesthetic of black metal. Mind that the word ‘rich’ here is not gratuitous, as it refers to the fact that medieval France was a tapestry of cultures, languages, customs and histories that may have been (closely) related, but were strong enough to survive on their own. While France was transformed into a rigidly singular cultural entity across the 19th Century, the historical impact of this medieval ‘regionalism’ is still visible in the form of countless castles, archaic customs and dying languages. Consequently, when black metal bands from France use medieval themes in their music, these themes are often imbued with a sense of locality; this historical heritage is still tangible for many a Frenchman. As far as Western Europe is concerned, the Middle Ages represent the last period in history in which reality and myth were still allowed to intermingle, which is exactly the sort of ambiguity black metal thrives on, as it possesses a natural tendency towards the mysterious. Such mystery only works, however, when there are reference points in reality, which is the case with Aorlhac‘s La cité des vents. Lyrically drawing upon medieval events and legends from their native Auvergne region (Aorlhac is Occitan for Aurillac, the Auvergnian city where part of the band is from), Aorlhac offers a more folkloric take on the traditional Norwegian sound. Folkloric not in the sense of dressing up as RPG characters, but in that this side of the music evokes the honest, straightforward joy of the many popular feasts held in rural France. One of those events where the air is filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread, as the healthy buzz courtesy of local wine guides you into the clear summer night. A rustic celebration rooted in local history, that is what rural France is all about. And French black metal, if you care to throw in some distortion and darkness. |Dèguetyarof