Exposition: Black Metal Is #Problematic
We argue about whether bands like Deafheaven are “black metal.” I listen to Sunbather and can’t get past the feeling that I’ve heard this before and don’t care whether loaded terms like black metal are used to describe music that essentially sounds like Explosions in the Sky and late-90s screamo (Orchid, Saetia). We argue about the merits of Burzum, about how we can listen to an album as musically inventive as Filosofem and remove ourselves three degrees mentally from a man who still prattles on about his problems with “Jews.” We argue about the futility or pointlessness (or humorousness) of “transcendental black metal” (LOL) and how Hunter Hunt-Hendrix is a privileged indie rocker who doesn’t understand the fundamental nature of the genre.
And yet, in an isolated part of Saskatchewan was a person (were people?) who quietly hacked away at the shackles of black metal for 10 years with no feverish level of adoration and nearly no praise.
Rising Action: Under the Sign of the Black Mark
I am, of course, referring to Wold, the recording moniker that’s been used for the work of hermits Fortress Crookedjaw and previously Obey. The project’s new album, Postsocial, is maybe the last in a decade-plus of occult-referencing albums — Screech Owl, Stratification, Freermasonry — and it focuses on the pentagram. The fact that Wold is so far removed from what many would describe as “trve kvlt black metal” and yet still invokes one of the genre’s classic tropes is uncanny. In the brief (and only) information provided about the album, Fortress Crookedjaw is only clear on one thing: each of its five songs represent a point on the inverted star. It’s natural at this point in the lineage of black metal that associated groups or artists would harness that particular symbol, considering that the initial wave of bands with which the term originated (Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, etc.) prominently advocated for Satan and made liberal use of any imagery or symbols that conveyed evil.
Symbolic Crisis: From The Pythagoreans to the The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
The pentagram’s roots suggest it was originally a symbol of logic and order. The Pythagoreans recognized it as a symbol of health. To the Knights Templars, each of the five points represented one of the wounds of Christ. In Arthurian legend, Sir Gawain bore it on his shield. The Wiccans use it as a representation of the five elements with its inversion meaning a supplanting of desire over acquiescence. Only in the last century have Christians argued that the inverted pentagram is derived from the shape of Baphomet, with the two upward points representing horns in an attack on heaven. But the actual stigmatization of the symbol came from an unlikely source: French occult author and “ceremonial magician” Eliphas Levi. Levi was the first to claim that the inverted pentagram was a representation of evil, the overturning of logic and order. Levi’s writings were an inspiration to a group of freemasons who founded The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the late 1800s, themselves practitioners of occult magick.
Falling Action: Shake Us Out of the Heavy Deep Sleep
Postsocial succeeds in adapting black metal, but only as a template or structure before draping it in noise and tape music until nearly unrecognizable. “Throwing Star” and “Inner Space Infirmary” judder and rattle like the rotten tape they’re accumulated from. Fortress Crookedjaw’s cartoonish witch screech yawns over the gaping mouth of the void in which these things exist. “Five Points” has actual psych-/blues-based soloing around the halfway point, mired in static and hidden beneath a thin veneer of Vaseline smear across the lens. “Sapphire Sect of Tubal Cain” is terse drone, the answer to Sunn O)))’s “Sin Nanna.” All of these facets to the album serve as a series of continual disruptions.
As evil and threatening as black metal may purport to be, we’ve hit a saturation point, where nearly no combination of blast beats and corpse paint is going to jar listeners from their comfort or dislodge them from their temporal location like the second-wave albums of Emperor, Darkthrone, and Burzum once did. This is not to discredit the plethora of bedroom practitioners or bands operating now as somehow inferior because they happened to be born in a different decade. There are plenty of new, equally brilliant albums still being released. There’s just so much more music in general now, so it requires a higher level of engagement to reach. And, sadly, it’s easier to settle into a self-created headspace of distraction and convenience, one in which nothing seems important because we make nothing important. Blaming this entirely on generational differences or conceiving this as a byproduct of modern technology is myopic. It is rather the culmination of a gradual change in listening that happened in the same way erosion often does: slowly, incrementally, and in a manner that’s hard to recognize/categorize while it’s occurring, but easy to pinpoint with hindsight. It now requires an almost impossible level of visceral transmission to shake us loose. But if we let it, Wold can be the sword in our cochlea.
Denouement: Top Three Things You Won’t Believe Are Not On This Black Metal Album.
01. Blast Beats
02. Corpse Paint
03. Appeals to Satan or Odin
01. Throwing Star
02. Inner Space Infirmary
03. Five Points
04. Spiral Star Inversion
05. Sapphire Sect of Tubal Cain