Friday, March 8, 2013

Into the Void: Early EPs Part 2

Let's talk for a minute about what black metal is, and why I have the balls to say that bands like Celtic Frost and Venom aren't black metal. To me, "black metal" has a very recognizable and distinctive sound that was mostly defined by the Norwegians in the early 90s. As Fenriz said in 2003, "In the beginning we [the Helvete crew] were a music police, and could freeze out bands. We were so few in the scene that if we did not like a new band, then we could have a general opinion about them. If we thought they sucked, it would be a hard time for them to get through."

Obviously, this "first wave" of black metal are the bands that influnced Mayhem and Darkthrone, etc, because those bands couldn't just spring out of nowhere. And Fenriz, at the least, has always been adament that the music they make is a continuation of real 80s metal. Shagrath says that "black metal is...bands like Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost. That is true black metal...." Then on the other hand, you have guys like Tom G. Warrior who don't care about those kind of labels at all. And Lemmy says that Motorhead isn't metal. So, I mean, at one level, it's all semantics and labels applied by critics vs. bands (see this video on whether Rush is heavy metal or not). I choose to go with a more modern and critically applied label. I think that artists are sometimes the worst people to allow to define music. They ought to stick to creating it, and whatever they want to call it, that's fine with me. 

Celtic Frost - Morbid Tales EP (Oct 1984)

Tom G. Warrior didn't waste any time between the end of Hellhammer and the start of Celtic Frost, as Morbid Tales was released in the same year as Apocalyptic Raids. Now, I've listened to Morbid Tales more than any other Celtic Frost release, and, Shagrath not withstanding, I don't think it's black metal. I don't think that any other band really sounds like Celtic Frost, and I understand why they've been called "avant garde" before. I think it's a bit misleading to call them "ahead of the curve," though, because nobody ever followed that curve to catch up with them.

So what did black metal get from Celtic Frost that they couldn't get from Bathory? Well, for one thing, the drums are much more active than in Bathory, including double bass drum lines. "Danse Macabre" has a horror movie atmosphere that certainly shows up again later in the movement. The spoken female line in "Return to the Eve" makes me think of Cradle of Filth, honestly, but that's something that we'll take up later. Frankly, I think that Morbid Tales has more to offer doom metal than black metal. The bass is extremely prominent on this album, which makes sense considering Warrior's own views on music (I read in an interview that he gave Guitar World magazine back in 2006 that he originally wanted to be a bass player).

Final Verdict: I love Morbid Tales. I think it's a great EP. I don't think it has nearly as much direct influence on the sound as Bathory or Sodom, so I'm not going to score it.

Destruction - Sentence of Death EP (Nov 1984)

Here's a new trend developing—the retarded spoken intro. If you have some grim shit to spit, I've found that playing it back slowly usually makes it sound hilarious, not sinister. That said, the rest of the EP definitely is starting to show that black metal sound. Another German trio that will go on to make some great thrash music, Destruction had plenty of Satan to shout about in 1984. Schmier almost has that snarl that Quothon had demonstrated, and his lyrics are certainly more intelligeble than Angel Ripper's on In the Sign of Evil. But he sounds like he has a massive tongue stud, and that he's lisping because he can't move his tongue enough.

The band recorded the EP with an extremly dry guitar sound, but the drums have the huge reverby splash that was much more typical of the thrash movement. This is certainly a thrash EP, and far from the "necro sound" that Bathory demonstrated. That said, the galloping guitars of thrash as executed here are definitely pointing in the direction of the tremolo guitars that will come to define black metal. It might help you to understand a bit more why I could say this if you listen to Infernal Overkill, Destruction's first full-length album that they released about six months after this EP. It just doens't have the same sound as "Total Desaster."

Final Verdict: 4/10 - Not nearly as black metal as Sodom, but has that madcap energy to it that bands like Destoyer 666 will exploit well

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