The Work Which Transforms Black Metal: Fifteen Years Of Blut Aus Nord's Masterpiece


Written by: Apothecary
Published: 05.09.2018


The Work Which Transforms God, quite likely Blut Aus Nord's most influential and celebrated release, turns fifteen this year. Let's talk about that, shall we?

Without question, the French Blut Aus Nord have proven to be one of the most influential black metal bands of the past 20 years, with their ever changing, atypical injections of grinding industrial techniques into their larger black metal sound. Their 2003 album, The Work Which Transforms God, was really the album that saw them make a tremendous leap into more unconventional, forward thinking territory, in the process establishing a sound that would come to be explored even more with subsequent releases. In 2018, even with few bands in existence that really come close to nailing the "Blut Aus Nord sound," The Work still serves as a powerful example for younger, more daring black metal bands to take note on. Time should then be taken to discuss this monumental album's origins, content, and lasting impact all these years later.




BEFORE THE WORK: ROOTS OF THE SOUND

Although Blut Aus Nord have certainly acquired a massive reputation and left an enormous influence upon black metal unto themselves, like all artists they derived their approach at least partly from the work of their predecessors. I thus feel as though this article would be woefully incomplete without consideration of some earlier bands who quite likely served as sources of inspiration for Blut Aus Nord going more in the direction that ultimately yielded The Work. Surely some bands outside the realm of black metal were of influence, especially Swans and Godflesh, but for the sake of this article and shedding some light on more unknown artists, I'd like to focus specifically on the black metal bands that helped lay a foundational point of reference for The Work. Three in particular come to mind.

Ved Buens Ende




Ved Buens Ende are a perfect example of a black metal band who were pushing the sound of black metal into bizarre and nontraditional territory far before the experimentation that we see among bands today became more common. Emerging in Norway in 1994 at a time when many of their black metal contemporaries in the country were going for a much rawer and more evil sound, Ved Buens Ende threw the rule book completely out the window with their 1995 Written In Waters debut. It was definitely black metal, but of a new, extremely original variety, more midtempo and focused on an unusual sense of bounce and atonal dissonance. A hearty presence of clean vocals also made it quite unique for its time. Their obscurity notwithstanding, Ved Buens Ende have proved massively influential upon the development of so called "dissonant black metal" of the style bands like Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega would further develop in the 2000s. And of course, although they broke up, we thankfully now have the spiritual successor of sorts to the band in the form of front man Carl-Michael Eide's Virus.




Mysticum




Also from Norway, the trio behind Mysticum formed a little earlier than Ved Buens Ende, but ended up releasing their debut album one year later, in the form of 1996's In The Streams Of Inferno. Comparatively speaking this album was closer to what else was going on in the Scandinavian black metal scene at the time, and a lot less "out there" than the Ved Buens Ende debut, but it was still highly unusual for its time. Mysticum went in a considerably more industrial direction than their contemporaries with their music, and are one of the first genuine examples of "industrial black metal." In The Streams Of Inferno was raw, grinding, and mechanical sounding at a level that few if any other black metal bands at the time had really matched. Most importantly, the band made use of a drum machine with the album, an important technique that reinforced the industrial approach and which may have served as inspiration for Blut Aus Nord utilizing one themselves with their more industrialized releases in the future.




Woods Of Belial




Lastly we come to the band who I personally find to be the spiritual forefathers of Blut Aus Nord more so than any other: Finland's criminally overlooked Woods Of Belial. This bunch tapped into a level of genre bending that virtually no other bands of their time were reaching, fusing the black metal sound with elements of doom, industrial music, and truly nightmarish electronic effects. Admittedly the sound of Woods Of Belial ended up leaning much more to doom than to black metal, but their potential influence upon Blut Aus Nord and The Work should still not be dismissed, because when one listens to some of the band's late 90s demos such as Thy Unholy Pentagram and that unpronounceable one with lots of As and Xs and then compares it to Blut Aus Nord's more experimental releases, the similarity between the two becomes easy to notice.




DISSECTING THE WORK

Though all of the above mentioned bands had an influence upon Blut Aus Nord and the development of industrial black metal, 2003's The Work Which Transforms God raised the bar for the style to a level that it had undoubtedly never before been raised to. The album felt as though it had taken some of the ideas of bands like Ved Buens Ende, Mysticum, Woods Of Belial, and brought them out to their full potential, to a maturation that they had not previously seen. The Work was darker, colder, and meaner, and whereas earlier efforts at the industrial black metal approach had more or less resulted in either a more black metal heavy or a more industrial heavy sound, Blut Aus Nord really balanced out both sides of the coin with The Work in an entirely new way.

Take "The Choir Of The Dead" for example. It starts as a frenetic maelstrom of black metal, albeit of a very claustrophobic, mechanical variety, replete with the snarls and blasts typical of the sound. Eventually, however, it slows to a more plodding pace and the industrial aspect of the music takes over and worms its way into the larger black metal sound. "Our Blessed Frozen Cells" sees a similar approach, starting in a more midtempo black metal area, but slowly descending into the more dissonant, industrialized sound that Blut Aus Nord would later become more known for, especially during the magnificent climax of its second half. Elsewhere on the album, tracks go in the opposite direction, starting in a slower, more industrialized area and then gradually cranking the knob on the black metal presence as they progress.




And of course, there's the fantastic "Procession Of The Dead Clowns" as a closing track. Solemn and melancholic, it serves as the perfect finale to what has otherwise up to that point been a rather bleak and aggressive listening experience. More mellow, yet still haunting, the track is a powerful example of how sometimes in music much can be accomplished with very little. Featuring a repetitive melody composed of only three or four chords, the approach is nonetheless effective: this track is indeed the final, somber sendoff after listeners have already experienced the intensity of Blut Aus Nord's mechanical black metal apocalypse.

Most likely, The Work Which Transforms God did and still does represent Blut Aus Nord's fusion of the black metal and industrial dimensions of their sound at its absolute tightest. Here the ratio between the two was pretty 50/50, whereas with later efforts the band would go in directions that tapped more into one side of the equation than the other.





THE WORK'S LEGACY

The Work Which Transforms God was a watershed release, one that would prove important not only for younger bands looking to go after their own interpretations of the industrial black metal sound, but also for Blut Aus Nord themselves, as something of a reference point for exploring either more orthodox or more unconventional approaches from there. This has more or less been the case for the band with all of their post Work material: they have either moved in a more electronic direction (Thematic Emanation Of Very Long Title), a more ritualistic, industrial type one (the 777 trilogy), a more generic black metal one (Memoria Vetusta II and III), or a completely out of the box sound that you'd be hard pressed to label with any sort of accuracy (MoRT). Regardless of whether or not one prefers The Work to the albums that came after it for Blut Aus Nord, it is undeniable that the album served as the major transition point for the band that set the stage for nearly everything they have done since.

Today, 15 years after its release, it's still very difficult to find bands that actually replicate the sound of Blut Aus Nord and/or The Work to a T. For some reason or another, their sound is somehow much harder to reproduce for bands than that of their "siblings" in Deathspell Omega. Nevertheless, this certainly doesn't mean that they have not left a significant influence upon contemporary black metal with their work. In the 2010s in particular I think the most noticeable heirs to the "Blut Aus Nord sound" would be Throane, P.H.O.B.O.S., Terra Tenebrosa, and to a lesser extent the young Icelandic one manner Almyrkvi. It's interesting to note as well that of those four bands, not all are black metal, with P.H.O.B.O.S. going in a predominantly doom metal direction and Terra Tenebrosa spewing forth some puzzling, Avantgarde-ish blend of black, sludge, industrial, and dark ambient. What this means is that the influence of Blut Aus Nord and The Work is not merely confined to black metal anymore, extending into other areas of the metal spectrum and perhaps even into nonmetal genres as well.

Nearly 25 years into their journey, Blut Aus Nord still serve as a powerful influence both within and beyond black metal, not merely for The Work, but perhaps primarily because of it. They are one of the few "older bands" within the genre that have demonstrated a remarkable degree of consistency across their discography and whom listeners can still get reasonably excited for new releases for. It's never quite clear what these shadowy, genre bending Frenchies have up their sleeves next for listeners, and at times it seems as though the number of ideas lurking in their hat is truly endless. If one thing is clear though, it's that for both themselves and other bands looking to further expand upon their legacy, The Work Which Transforms God still stands as the ultimate focal point. And it's certainly not without reason that it does.







 



Written on 05.09.2018 by Comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable since 2013.


Comments

Comments: 21   Visited by: 140 users
05.09.2018 - 17:52
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Colossal fucking album

Wish BaN were as popular as DsO at least
----
Professor Isak Borg: And the punishment?
The Examiner: I don't know. The usual, I suppose.
Professor Isak Borg: The usual?
The Examiner: Loneliness.
Professor Isak Borg: Loneliness?
The Examiner: Precisely.
Professor Isak: Is there no mercy?
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05.09.2018 - 17:54
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by RaduP on 05.09.2018 at 17:52

Colossal fucking album

Wish BaN were as popular as DsO at least

In some circles they are, I started a poll in that Secrets Of The Black Arts group on FB once actually between the two like "alright, let's settle it once and for all," and I was pleasantly surprised that BAN actually ended up with more votes.
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05.09.2018 - 17:55
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Apothecary on 05.09.2018 at 17:54

In some circles they are, I started a poll in that Secrets Of The Black Arts group on FB once actually between the two like "alright, let's settle it once and for all," and I was pleasantly surprised that BAN actually ended up with more votes.

I think I vaguely remember that. Surprising result. Too bad they banned me for posting memes from Black Metal Sad Posting.
----
Professor Isak Borg: And the punishment?
The Examiner: I don't know. The usual, I suppose.
Professor Isak Borg: The usual?
The Examiner: Loneliness.
Professor Isak Borg: Loneliness?
The Examiner: Precisely.
Professor Isak: Is there no mercy?
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06.09.2018 - 03:10
InnerSelf
proofread free
Magnificent article Che, you did this album justice, an album that deserves to be celebrated and examined, as it was truly a turning point for the genre.
Listening to Our Blessed Frozen Cells never ceases to amaze and inspire me and that's why I'm one of the people that fully stood behind the 777 Trilogy as it was the closest thing we've got to that glorious glorious sound.
----
He who is not bold enough
to be stared at from across the abyss
is not bold enough
to stare into it himself.
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06.09.2018 - 03:37
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by InnerSelf on 06.09.2018 at 03:10

Magnificent article Che, you did this album justice, an album that deserves to be celebrated and examined, as it was truly a turning point for the genre.
Listening to Our Blessed Frozen Cells never ceases to amaze and inspire me and that's why I'm one of the people that fully stood behind the 777 Trilogy as it was the closest thing we've got to that glorious glorious sound.

Thank you man! I was spinning TWWTG earlier this year from my music library and looked at the release year real quick.... I had actually never realized it was from 2003 before (thought a little later for some reason), but when the anniversary dawned on me I knew I had to do some writing about it

Agreed to by the way, definitely think the 777 trilogy has been an expansion upon that track's sound. The Desanctification is actually my favorite BAN album, probably.
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The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within
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06.09.2018 - 18:24
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Apothecary on 06.09.2018 at 03:37

Agreed to by the way, definitely think the 777 trilogy has been an expansion upon that track's sound. The Desanctification is actually my favorite BAN album, probably.

What a coincidence. The 777 trilogy is my fav too, yet im not that sure which of the three
----
Professor Isak Borg: And the punishment?
The Examiner: I don't know. The usual, I suppose.
Professor Isak Borg: The usual?
The Examiner: Loneliness.
Professor Isak Borg: Loneliness?
The Examiner: Precisely.
Professor Isak: Is there no mercy?
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06.09.2018 - 18:38
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by RaduP on 06.09.2018 at 18:24

What a coincidence. The 777 trilogy is my fav too, yet im not that sure which of the three

I'd probably rank em as Desanctification, then Sect(s), then Cosmosophy. Cosmosophy felt a little underwhelming to me upon its release and I still kind of get that impression. It's not a bad album and I'd still probably score it somewhere like high 7, low 8 territory but I think what sort of created that effect, at least for me, is that the music is a lot more layered and grandiose than the previous two albums in the trilogy. Layering and really multidimensional music is something I always welcome, but after Sect(s) and Desanctification, which were a lot more monolithic, repetitive, and ritualistic, Cosmosphy just felt a bit out of place with its added complexity. If that makes any sense
----
This is the water, and this is the well
Drink full and descend
The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within
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06.09.2018 - 18:52
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Apothecary on 06.09.2018 at 18:38

I'd probably rank em as Desanctification, then Sect(s), then Cosmosophy. Cosmosophy felt a little underwhelming to me upon its release and I still kind of get that impression. It's not a bad album and I'd still probably score it somewhere like high 7, low 8 territory but I think what sort of created that effect, at least for me, is that the music is a lot more layered and grandiose than the previous two albums in the trilogy. Layering and really multidimensional music is something I always welcome, but after Sect(s) and Desanctification, which were a lot more monolithic, repetitive, and ritualistic, Cosmosphy just felt a bit out of place with its added complexity. If that makes any sense

You feel like it's inconsistent in the context of the trilogy
----
Professor Isak Borg: And the punishment?
The Examiner: I don't know. The usual, I suppose.
Professor Isak Borg: The usual?
The Examiner: Loneliness.
Professor Isak Borg: Loneliness?
The Examiner: Precisely.
Professor Isak: Is there no mercy?
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06.09.2018 - 18:56
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by RaduP on 06.09.2018 at 18:52

You feel like it's inconsistent in the context of the trilogy

A little, yes, but it's still a pretty enjoyable listening experience. Epitomes XIV and XVI are particularly good
----
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Drink full and descend
The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within
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06.09.2018 - 19:00
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Apothecary on 06.09.2018 at 18:56

Written by RaduP on 06.09.2018 at 18:52

You feel like it's inconsistent in the context of the trilogy

A little, yes, but it's still a pretty enjoyable listening experience. Epitomes XIV and XVI are particularly good

Blut Aus Nord seems to have a think for trilogies, they got three of them. But The Work seems to be the only non-trilogy one getting enough attention. Don't see much of Ultima Thulee, Odinist, Mort or Mystical beast being mentioned. And I'm sure DSM would've gotten more attention if it was part I of something
----
Professor Isak Borg: And the punishment?
The Examiner: I don't know. The usual, I suppose.
Professor Isak Borg: The usual?
The Examiner: Loneliness.
Professor Isak Borg: Loneliness?
The Examiner: Precisely.
Professor Isak: Is there no mercy?
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06.09.2018 - 19:04
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by RaduP on 06.09.2018 at 19:00

Blut Aus Nord seems to have a think for trilogies, they got three of them. But The Work seems to be the only non-trilogy one getting enough attention. Don't see much of Ultima Thulee, Odinist, Mort or Mystical beast being mentioned. And I'm sure DSM would've gotten more attention if it was part I of something

If by "three of them" you mean 777, Liber, and Memoria Vetusta, I think the latter of those is about to not be a trilogy anymore... remember something announced on their FB not too long ago about an MV IV in the works. To me that's completely unnecessary and I don't see it being anything but redundant but, hey.... guess you can respect the band for not going merely in a batshit, industrial BM direction all the time.

You're right that few of their "standalone" albums get as much attention as The Work. MoRT I'd say is the one exception though, it's still an incredibly polarizing release but again, depends on the circles you're in and the kind of fans in them. I know a good number of people who regard it as the band's best album
----
This is the water, and this is the well
Drink full and descend
The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within
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06.09.2018 - 19:10
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Written by Apothecary on 06.09.2018 at 19:04

If by "three of them" you mean 777, Liber, and Memoria Vetusta, I think the latter of those is about to not be a trilogy anymore... remember something announced on their FB not too long ago about an MV IV in the works. To me that's completely unnecessary and I don't see it being anything but redundant but, hey.... guess you can respect the band for not going merely in a batshit, industrial BM direction all the time.

You're right that few of their "standalone" albums get as much attention as The Work. MoRT I'd say is the one exception though, it's still an incredibly polarizing release but again, depends on the circles you're in and the kind of fans in them. I know a good number of people who regard it as the band's best album

MV is also their longest running series, which has remained quite a constant in the band's history, though I wouldn't have expected MV IV to come that soon. All other trilogies have been released quite all at a time instead.
----
Professor Isak Borg: And the punishment?
The Examiner: I don't know. The usual, I suppose.
Professor Isak Borg: The usual?
The Examiner: Loneliness.
Professor Isak Borg: Loneliness?
The Examiner: Precisely.
Professor Isak: Is there no mercy?
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06.09.2018 - 19:14
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by RaduP on 06.09.2018 at 19:10

I wouldn't have expected MV IV to come that soon. All other trilogies have been released quite all at a time instead.

They definitely need to make some sort of announcement clearing up the question of future plans, last year or maybe even the year before like 3 or 4 albums were announced for the future on the Blut Aus Nord Facebook page and there's been no word on them since, other than Deus Salutis Meae. It was that album, MV IV, a Liber IV too I think, and then some collaborative thing Vindsval's doing with some other people called Yerusalem

I guess we should be thankful they delivered on at least one of those with DSM though
----
This is the water, and this is the well
Drink full and descend
The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within
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07.09.2018 - 12:18
Bad English
Masterchief
I never have been fan of Blus aus nord , but those pre bands you listened, I know then, well musscally I might bitch somehow, not much, because its good music still even not abm what I like, but song tittles and atmosphere, idea and philosophy behind, kick ass st. ann bands as taake, tjurden , marduk, and other boring BM bands, but later there can be many more bands what can be listed. BM has involved in mamny ways in last 10 years. Some bands went boring, some bands went away from roots but still sounds great. Varg said BM is like blues what never changes... well BM has future. metal has future, even 80's metal lopvers will say I am sick in my head because metal is dead. No it is not.
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Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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07.09.2018 - 12:46
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by Bad English on 07.09.2018 at 12:18

I never have been fan of Blus aus nord , but those pre bands you listened, I know then, well musscally I might bitch somehow, not much, because its good music still even not abm what I like, but song tittles and atmosphere, idea and philosophy behind, kick ass st.

Well glad you got something out of it man. Woods Of Belial are especially awesome, they've for sure become a favorite of mine lately for that 90s experimental black metal
----
This is the water, and this is the well
Drink full and descend
The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within
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09.09.2018 - 18:32
VIG
Esoteric Zachism
The fact that the band shared this on Facebook probably means they find this to be a good assessment of their influences for the album and what it has inspired since, which is great.

Honestly, I prefer VBE to BAN (even though they are as much different as similar), just because I feel like its a bit more accessible. But I feel as though without The Work there wouldn't be so much dissonant bm today. It would've just trailed off and wouldn't be as popuar. Now we have DsO, Terra Tenebrosa, and P.H.O.B.O.S. and many others thanks to Vindsval and his minions
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09.09.2018 - 18:36
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by VIG on 09.09.2018 at 18:32

The fact that the band shared this on Facebook probably means they find this to be a good assessment of their influences for the album and what it has inspired since, which is great.

Honestly, I prefer VBE to BAN (even though they are as much different as similar), just because I feel like its a bit more accessible. But I feel as though without The Work there wouldn't be so much dissonant bm today. It would've just trailed off and wouldn't be as popuar. Now we have DsO, Terra Tenebrosa, and P.H.O.B.O.S. and many others thanks to Vindsval and his minions

Indeed, it was an incredible honor that they did that and I couldn't be happier that Vindsval and whoever else involved who may have been reading felt my analysis was on point

I'm not sure I'd say we wouldn't have so much dissonant BM today without BAN, because ultimately I think Deathspell Omega have been more of an influence there than they have, or at least, the DsO-alikes in black metal today are a lot more noticeable than the true BAN-alikes. I think it's best to say that the weirder side of the style wouldn't be there without BaN, as they definitely pushed it in a much stranger and more deconstructive direction than DsO ever did in my book, even if the two were more or less contemporaries of each other
----
This is the water, and this is the well
Drink full and descend
The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within
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09.09.2018 - 19:38
Gesualdo
Thank yoy for this, Apothecary. Extreme metal evolution in this century is a truly fascinating thing to get into, and this BAN album is one of the pilars of all that. Deep and clever articles like this are really neccesary.

I agree with most of all of you wrote here. Blut Aus Nord´s eclecticism and variety are very important to emphasize, as well as the way in which they contribute to the dissolution of the borders between different musical styles, (as you have commented with the industrial and black metal).

But I think we should highlight the importance that the band gives the atmosphere (something in which TWWTG stands out). I think this opens, in extreme metal, a way of focusing on compositions where riffs and structure are important as always, but where the atmosphere is determinant in the final result, and not just an accessory or secondary element. This would be similar to the aesthetic approach of Lovecraft's literature.

I think bands like Aevangelist sound like BAN in this sense and I think it's a very interesting approach.
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09.09.2018 - 20:00
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
Written by Gesualdo on 09.09.2018 at 19:38

I think we should highlight the importance that the band gives the atmosphere (something in which TWWTG stands out). I think this opens, in extreme metal, a way of focusing on compositions where riffs and structure are important as always, but where the atmosphere is determinant in the final result, and not just an accessory or secondary element. This would be similar to the aesthetic approach of Lovecraft's literature.

Thanks for sharing and that's a very interesting analysis. I agree with you that the band, Blut Aus Nord that is, sort of set that precedent for where the mood created by the sound is more important than the specific ways in which the sound is delivered, indeed. They weren't necessarily the first band to do that for black metal I don't think, but probably were the first to do so in the way that they did with that odd, industrialized, and microtonal sense of dissonance.

Also cool how you compare that technique to similar things that can be done elsewhere in the arts with the "mood over structure" type angle. Lovecraft is definitely an example of that and I'd say the films of Mamoru Oshii are as well, if you've ever gotten into the first two Ghost In The Shells, Avalon, or any of that.
----
This is the water, and this is the well
Drink full and descend
The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within
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18.09.2018 - 21:16
Gesualdo
Written by Apothecary on 09.09.2018 at 20:00

Written by Gesualdo on 09.09.2018 at 19:38

I think we should highlight the importance that the band gives the atmosphere (something in which TWWTG stands out). I think this opens, in extreme metal, a way of focusing on compositions where riffs and structure are important as always, but where the atmosphere is determinant in the final result, and not just an accessory or secondary element. This would be similar to the aesthetic approach of Lovecraft's literature.

Thanks for sharing and that's a very interesting analysis. I agree with you that the band, Blut Aus Nord that is, sort of set that precedent for where the mood created by the sound is more important than the specific ways in which the sound is delivered, indeed. They weren't necessarily the first band to do that for black metal I don't think, but probably were the first to do so in the way that they did with that odd, industrialized, and microtonal sense of dissonance.

Also cool how you compare that technique to similar things that can be done elsewhere in the arts with the "mood over structure" type angle. Lovecraft is definitely an example of that and I'd say the films of Mamoru Oshii are as well, if you've ever gotten into the first two Ghost In The Shells, Avalon, or any of that.


(Sorry for the delay)

That´s what I wanted to say, but you explained it better. Thank you.

It´s been a long time since I Watched Ghost in the Shell, but I can see what you mean.

I would like to go deeper in this topic with all of you. I wish I can find the time.

Cheers!
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22.09.2018 - 02:50
CroneZone
This was a fascinating article. I made an account to say I appreciate it as it educated me on the history of experimental black metal. I need to check out BAN and the other related bands in the opening paragraph.
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