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Romanian Metal Masterpiece

10 years before, these guys made an album called Maiastru Sfetnic.  Then, in 2010, they remade it and called it Maiestritt.  This may be the greatest album that Romanian black metallers Negura Bunget have ever made.  Layered, searingly beautiful, majestic. Not a note wasted; just brilliant.

Negură Bunget - Măiestrit

The almost classical compositions, the heartfelt roaring (I almost don’t want to call it screaming because it never seems pathetic, if you know what I mean), the creative instrumentation and refined power of this album make me return to it time and again. Maiestritt is masterful. 

Black Perfection

I’ve heard Deathspell Omega before, and wasn’t as impressed as perhaps I should have been.  But Paracletus is a different story.  This is a furious work of art.  A perfect combination of teeth-grinding apocalypse and sad musicality. This is what makes black metal so different, to my ears, to other metal subgenres.  There is honest creativity here.  Not technical virtuosity, not pompousness, not “I can thrash faster than you”, but creativity.  I like where they take me.

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Riding To War Under A Black Silk Pennant

You know, if you listen to Darkestrah there is little evidence that their lead singer is female.  Admittedly, this is easier with black metal than with death metal, as the growling in the black variety is higher-pitched anyway: like the growl of a small panther rather than the roar of the Lion King.  But there it is. She calls herself Kriegtalith, and in full black-metal regalia she’s almost indistinguishable from her male counterparts:

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But I digress.  Darkestrah hail from Kyrgyzstan, and they’ve been around for over a decade. I haven’t heard all their music, but there is a trend towards greater quality through the years.  Their latest album, The Great Silk Road, is quite possibly their best.  I love their pagan black sound.  It is rich and evocative without being cliched, and, like all black metal, it is also comfortingly forlorn. (You can worry about the contradiction if you want; I just enjoy it.)

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Urfaust want you to repent in leisure

Imagine travelling in a jet-black, filigreed gondola down the River Styx. Everything is dark, except for a faint oily sheen on the water and the ultraviolet inner-mouth glare of your gondolier, as he scream-sings to you with aching soulfulness of the fate awaiting you in Hades.

Urfaust are something new. There is such an extreme blending of heartfelt beauty and horror in their work that I find it impossible to stop listening to them.  The album in question is Der Freiwillige Bettler (as you probably know, one needs to be very specific about which album to rave about when it comes to metal bands), and no black-metal album in recent memory comes close to the density and detail of atmosphere that this 2010 album evokes.

Their metal has been described as pagan, black and doom – I think these adjectives all apply to Der Frewillige Bettler – that is, if you can describe echoey wailing as “pagan”.  (Don’t get me wrong, they do the echoey wailing superbly : – )

The singing sounds as if a squad of Prussian foot soldiers had been banished to Hell, and it is now 300 years later and they are still gnashing their teeth in agony and screaming penitently for all the raping and pillaging they had done while alive.  Sorry, I know it sounds like I’m having fun at their expense; but black metal is nothing if not melodramatic.  But as with all good art, everything is larger than life in black metal (or is that larger than death?), so you must expect this kind of … plumminess.  With worms in, of course.

Seriously, though, these guys are incredibly good.  They are not only aesthetically powerful (self-effacingly overwhelming, is another way to put it), but also sincere.  I dare you not to be carried away by their heart-searing music.

Too Much Metal For One Land

Years ago you would have put a “heavy” in front of it, but today it’s more accurate simply to call this breed of music “metal”. After all, it has forked into so many subgenres since the halcyon days of Black Sabbath – those crusty pioneers may have been the original heavy metallers, but today you also get metal of the Viking, oriental, symphonic, folk, black, progressive, groove, death, technical death, power, drone, glam, rap, thrash, sludge, stoner, doom, trance (I kid you not), industrial, avant-garde and post-varieties. Not to mention nu metal, metalcore, deathcore, grindcore and mathcore. Don’t be surprised if a few more subgenres have sprouted up by the time you finish reading this article. Metal is booming, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Storming the World

But this isn’t an article about metal’s mutant-octopus family tree. What really interests me about this unabashedly loud music form is the fact that it’s being created and consumed in ever more countries – and wherever it is found, it takes on the colour of its surroundings, acquiring the unique cultural qualities of its host country while still retaining its proudly anti-authoritarian stance. So not only is metal one of the most prolific genres in the history of music, it is probably also the most adaptable. Of course, you may not be surprised to learn that most of the metal produced in the past 40 years is absolute fertilizer. Thanks to the insane volume of metal being produced, though, there is a lot that’s worth hearing. Some of it is even wonderful. The table below offers a taste of present-day metal confections that are both geographically diverse and genuinely worth listening to.

NAME GENRE COUNTRY GRIMACE FACTOR
Alcest Post-metal France 12% – very pretty, with a few harsh bits; metal for sad romantics
Behemoth Blackened Death Metal Poland 89% – monstrous, merciless, nasty – delightful, in short
Darkestrah Epic Black Metal Kyrgyzstan 30% – pretty with a steel backbone, very more-ish
Eluveitie Celtic Metal Switzerland 25% – catchy, bouncy folk-type metal with some growling
Grand Magus Retro Heavy Metal Sweden 20% – clean, hard, retro metal; time to mosh!
Ihsahn Post-Metal Norway 70% – abstract but still fun; much high-pitched growling
KOBUS! Extreme Metal South Africa 65% – lekker & bitter. Do not play this during huisbesoek
Mar de Grises Doom Metal Chile 45% – psychedelic, slow, fascinating; some growling
Melechesh Black Metal Israel 78% – exotic, melodic and violent “Mesopotamian” metal
Moonsorrow Pagan Metal Finland 60% – epic, powerful, catchy and addictive; love it
Myrath Progressive Metal Tunisia 35% – lovely, mostly in Arabic, tough but melodic
Negura Bunget Black/Folk Metal Romania 65% – harsh, but also atmospheric and alluring
The Dillinger Escape Plan Mathcore USA 98% – very discordant, lots of screaming, yet fantastic

Metal is even starting to take off in countries such as Brazil and China. Africa is not left in the dark either; there are some surprisingly good metal bands in Botswana, including Crackdust, Wrust and Skinflint. Metal’s growing popularity is however not always welcome; concerts in Iran and Malaysia have been subject to government crackdowns. For a fascinating pair of documentaries on the social dimensions of metal around the world, take a look at Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal, presented by Canadian anthropologist Sam Dunn.

A Visceral Reaction to Greatness

How do you know when a metal track is great? Your body tells you: You want to jump, shout and head-butt the air. More importantly, your hand can’t help but do this:

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Older than metal itself, this sign was popularised among metalheads by Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath’s second vocalist after Ozzy Osbourne. His Italian grandmother had taught it to him as a traditional sign to ward off evil. In American deaf sign language, it means “I love you”.

 

Too Much Metal for One Hand

And how do you know when a metal track is truly awesome? Well, that’s when there’s simply too much metal for one hand:

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From Black Metal, a 2-part graphic novel by Rick Spears and Chuck BB

On the surface, the metal produced in each country often has stylistic differences – this enriches the genre. But dig deeper and you’ll find that metal everywhere has one thing in common: a spirit of discontent, of rebellion. Perhaps the biggest reason why metal is so popular worldwide is because it gives voice to discontent, and energy to rebellion.

Good or bad, metal is a force of nature.

The one thing that causes rape, guaranteed

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This Just In … Communication Received from the Animal Kingdom

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