Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Long Hundred 017/100: Blackend: The Black Metal Compilation

...cosmic keys to my creation and times.

[This is part of a series of posts dedicated to 100 albums I feel lucky to have heard. The full list and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here.]

I first came across the term "black metal" in a Metal Hammer story titled, "Is Death Metal Dead?!" [Clickbait before clickbait, but it worked - I bought the magazine.] The article led me to believe that black metal was death metal's faster, more Satan-loving successor; as a 15 year-old, that rankled me - any camp that drew lines in such a way would have me on the death metal side. Beyond that, there wasn't much else for me to go on about this supposedly heavier, supposedly new type of music. I knew nothing about black metal beyond pictures of grown men wearing make-up and top hats.

That all changed the summer I stumbled upon the first Blackend compilation. For reasons that aren't clear to me, a little hole in the wall shop in Manila called CD Warehouse would infrequently stock hard to find metal CDs - one at a time, seemingly ordered at random. It was in that store that I found my copy of Entombed's Clandestine, and from then on I made it a point to return every week to see what other underground gems were hidden in its racks. At two discs for the price of one, Blackend was too good to pass up.

The comp was released by Death Records - a sub-label under Metal Blade that focused on more extreme bands (and, um, The Goo Goo Dolls). Ostensibly a beginner's guide to black metal, it contained most of the second wave's biggest names but notably excluded Burzum - Kristian Vikernes was persona non grata after being convicted for Euronymous' murder; his fascist proselytizing didn't help, though it didn't stop other companies from profiting from his infamy. Darkthrone was also left out, most likely due to politics between Peaceville Records and Metal Blade. Other than that, this was as good a crash course in Nineties black metal as a teenager could get.

Blackend Volume One leads with Emperor's signature anthem, "I Am The Black Wizard". With its grandiose riffing, ethereal keyboards and blitzkrieg speed, there was no better introduction to the genre - nor were there better representatives of Norwegian black metal at the time. The band shows up again on the second disc with the song "Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times"; even in 1995, it was clear that Emperor had become the standard bearers for black metal (despite having only a split and a full-length to their name).

Beyond Emperor (and the previously mentioned exclusions), the most prominent members of the Norwegian scene are accounted for: Mayhem, Satyricon, Enslaved, Immortal, and Gorgoroth. Blackened even included Fleurety (misnamed "Flevery" in the credits), representing the growing progressive/avant-garde faction that had taken root in an otherwise regressive scene.

The absence of Dissection is baffling (again, methinks label politics were to blame - though the band would be included in the series' second installment), but Marduk, Dark Funeral, Lord Belial, Throne of Ahaz, and Unanimated represent the Swedish side of the second wave more than capably.

Impaled Nazarene were the only band culled from the Finnish black metal scene, who were feuding with their Norwegian counterparts at the time. Thanks to their ludicrous speed and outlandish name (which I would faux-tattoo on my arm during math class), Impaled Nazarene quickly became one of my favourite bands on the compilation. In truth, they had as much in common with Anal Cunt and G.G. Allin as they did with any black metal band; despite their Satanic image, Impaled Nazarene were simply gleeful provocateurs who were more likely to raid a sex shop than burn a church.

Dispelling any notions that black metal was a uniquely Nordic phenomenon, the curators of Blackend made sure to include practitioners from around the world: Samael and Moonspell represented Continental Europe, while Japan's Sigh and Australia's Bestial Warlust showed that black metal had begun terraforming metal scenes throughout the Pacific.

As with all comps, there were bands that I overlooked - it wasn't until a decade later that I grew to appreciate Throne Of Ahaz (led by future Naglfar guitarist Vargher) and Unanimated (containing Dismember bassist Richard Cabeza, who crossed the DMZ between the death and black metal scenes). Likewise, Gorgoroth were overshadowed by the movers and shakers around them; frankly, if it wasn't for the internet-breaking antics of their singer Gaahl (who didn't join the band til their fourth album), Gorgoroth would be pretty forgettable.

If there was one major lesson to be learned from Blackend, it was that keyboards (which had fallen out of favor at the dawn of the thrash era) would become a major component of metal again. Not coincidentally, black metal always seemed to overlap with industrial and dark ambient music, and at least two major black metal figures - Ulver's Kristoffer Rigg and former Emperor bassist Mortiis - would eventually cross over into that world.

In retrospect, black metal wasn't the quantum leap in extremity that it was made out to be -honestly, there's only so much faster you can get than Napalm Death or Morbid Angel. Rather, the limited production budgets and excessive reverb that characterized those recordings gave the music an aura of mystery - even if you were lucky enough to find a CD, it still wasn't clear what these bands were playing. [The first time I listened to a second generation cassette of Marduk and Immortal, I likened the recording to a microphone placed inside a lawn mower. I was underwhelmed, to say the least.]

Soon after getting this comp, I was borrowing and recording black metal albums from my buddy Knut Nord (who was instrumental in letting me hear everything from Tiamat to Gehennah my senior year of high school). I spent my lunch breaks dubbing CDs in the school's photo darkroom - the perfect place to commune with this kind of music - and left for college with at least 2 dozen cassettes.

In truth, I wasn't sold on black metal until a few years after that when Knut, visiting me in New York, introduced me to Naglfar's Vittra. From that point on, I was investigating the genre in earnest; though navigating its politics was and remains a tricky business. Black metal draws pseudo-fascist neckbeards like flies to shit. But I'm grateful that Blackend reached me when it did, as well as for that summer spent headbanging to Emperor and drawing inverted crosses all over my arms. Hail Satan.

Lighters Are For Churches, Not Ballads:

Death...Is Just
The Beginning III