Monday, April 1, 2013

Into The Void: Moanin' At Midnight

I hope you're loving this journey as much as I am. The fact is that I've just barely scratched the surface, and I've already had to rethink a lot of what I though I knew about black metal. As I believe I mentioned at the beginning, I originally had no desire to cover the early years of Venom, Bathory, and Sodom, and had wanted to jump right into the 1990s. But my friend Dan Obstkrieg convinced me that if I wanted to do things right, then I needed to look further back than that. And he was absolutely right. I wouldn't be able to understand Darkthrone without understanding Venom and Celtic Frost.

But the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that I actually need to go further back. Venom is absolutely essential, not only because they coined the term "black metal," but for their unrelenting Satanism. But even Venom didn't exist in a vacuum, and as I've been researching and listening to albums, I've realized that there is one major influence that I've "missed" by setting an arbitrary start date of 1981. I've been busy writing reviews of new music for the site (seriously, be ready to snatch up Aosoth's IV on April 16!), and progress on this project has been slow enough, so I've been reluctant to go backward, but I've decided that the best way to make up for lost time is with "flashbacks." The way I'm going to do these is occasionally stick an older album in the flow of things, like I'm about to do now. Since there are obviously a lot fewer of these than there are albums going forward, by the time we hit 1992 (maybe 1993, depending on how often I bring you these features) we should be done with the older material, and able to go forward in a straight line like I originally intended. So without further ado, let's hit our first flashback.

Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' At Midnight (1958)
Born Chester Arthur Burnett, Wolf probably never imagined that he would influence a group of angry youngsters half a world away. But the truth is undeniable. One of the first men to put electric guitar to vinyl, Howlin' Wolf forged a path that would be trod by countless bands after him. Burnett was recordin radio-unfriendly music back in the late fifties and early sixties using a pseudonym and an anonymous band a quarter century before Quorthon formed Bathory. In fact, it's amazing just how much Wolf (a name that Kristian Vikernes would reference when he renamed himself "Varg" in 1993) foreshadowed Bathory. Using minor keys, lo-fi production, and distorted vocals, Howlin' Wolf produced music like no-one else was recording. He was more darker than T-Bone Walker, and more intensely emotional than Muddy Waters.

Wolf's short tracks had something else in common with Bathory and Venom. The majority of songs are about evil women. I'm not even kidding—"How Many More Years," "Baby How Long," "No Place to Go," "Asked For Water," the obviously titled "Evil"—this guy was more obsessed with wicked women than even Bulldozer with their huge Italian cocks. And, like Venom and Bathory, he defined a genre around him. Typically, he used just raw electric guitar with some drums and bass, but occasionally he added in American folk instrumentation, once again predicting a move that Quorthon would make thirty years later. And of course, the album was released exclusively on vinyl, aside from a limited run cassette release in Italy in 1987. What could be more KVLT? While Wolf went on to produce a number of well regarded songs in his field, I think that Moanin' At Midnight is his rawest and his best, and so deserves to be considered as the first truly black metal album.

Final Verdict: 6/10 - while the songwriting and vocals are stupendous, the drum work is fairly unoriginal and didn't push the genre far.

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