Black Metal exists in a paradoxical state. On the one hand, it represents the furthest out extreme of an already extreme genre. BM is metal gone off the deep end – into complete aural chaos and spiritual depravity. The barriers to entry are manifold – the noisy, ugly discordant sound, the harsh vocals, the general misanthropic, evil subject matter. On the other hand, BM’s basic musical ingredients are so simple[i] and well documented that – like punk rock – anyone with the time and the inclination can create it at home. It can practically be assembled from a kit in a bedroom, as dozens of one-man projects have shown.
The result of the latter is that Black Metal is essentially open-source. Freed from social and commercial expectations, BM tinkerers are constantly refining and expanding the genre, using the base sound as a springboard to launch not just Black Metal, but heavy music itself into strange and unexpected places.
One avenue more than a few BMers have followed is that old 70’ Progressive Rock pastime of assimilating completely unrelated genres of music into their milieu. BM is so bleak and uncompromising that shocks must necessarily come in reverse. That is, BM artists wishing to challenge their listeners and provoke controversy must do so by flirting with melody and optimism – a section of clean singing and acoustic guitar here, a jazzy part there, use of horns in the bridge, an optimistic chord sequence, life-affirming lyrics. It is a sort of reclamation project, and a risky one, backtracking into some semblance of membership in the human community, often by circuitous, unorthodox pathways.
The Finnish Black Metal band Oranssi Pazuzu, by and large, have done a wonderful job of blending disparate genres into their satisfyingly phantasmagoric body of work. Two of their songs in particular stand out for their genre-bending audacity, and the quality of the Finnished[ii] products.
The first is “Dub Kuolleen Porton Muistolle”[iii]. The “Dub” portion of the title is no accident. The song is an actual collision of brooding Psychedelic Black Metal and dark Jamaican-style Dub. The song begins with the eerie liltings of some detuned instrument (or synthesizer), a groovy bassline, and insistent, ride-heavy drumming. There is a tropical vibe here, but a dark one, full of voodoo and ancient hatreds, decay and revelry, humidity and madness. Lead singer Jun-His rasps out over the torch-lit beach from a nearby spirit realm, by turns agitated and appeased – familiar and MC of the ceremony for the dearly departed harlot of the title. A playful variety of delay-drenched guitar chords color “Dub Kuolleen” throughout, building an atmosphere of intrigue and keeping the vibe squarely in the Caribbean.
To be honest, “Dub Kuolleen” is more Dub than Metal, which in my opinion is pretty fucking cool. The only thing missing is the characteristic Dub snare echo, which is excusable. One can simply zone out and float, borne by the sounds. Oranssi Pazuzu have culled expertly from two completely different subgenres to create something really one-of-a-kind.
To be fair, punk bands have long pulled influence from Jamaican Reggae, resulting in the completely detestable, utterly worthless subgenre of Ska[iv]. Perhaps Oranssi Pazuzu are following in that tradition, but they have pulled from something darker and more uncompromising on both ends of the spectrum, resulting in atmosphere so thick you can feel it – a dark and deep molasses, viscous and totally absorbing.
The second song is “Ole Muukalainen”[v], a surf-infused black metal rave-up of considerable power. The song begins with ominous, spacy noises shuddering and howling out in the dark. These coalesce into a section of robust, noisy Black Metal fury, but with a distinctive, almost plaintive surf-rock twang dancing along top of the barreling train. This upper-lower relationship continues into the verse, the rugged, driving metal riffs grounding the more whimsical surf-rock overtones. In the refrain sections however, there is a shift toward explicit drive-in theater, Twilight Zone kookiness, as a Theremin emerges from nowhere to gleefully shout “Surf’s Up!” However, as Jun-His’ raspy, impassioned howls remind us, this is dread surf, churning with darkness and danger, and full of sinister undercurrents. There is a long guitar interplay-showcasing interlude in the middle section, which frankly does not have the same charisma as the other parts, but does build anticipation for the return of the initial Black Metal roar.
There is something great about Oranssi Pazuzu’s sound. The generous raw footprint given to each instrument creates an aural aether, a rich bath of frequency information that although not strictly necessary, gives the music great warmth and depth. On a song like “Ole Muukalainen”, the dynamics of the song push and pull this mass of aether, making song’s shifts seem all-encompassing. Listening is like crouching low in the shallows of the ocean, feeling the strength of each incoming and outgoing wave, along with the awe-inspiring might of the expansive body of water itself.
There is also something weirdly triumphant and dramatic about this deeply inscrutable “Ole Muukalainen”. Rasped in the driest Finnish, decked out in weird genre-experimentation, the song, on paper, seems destined to be kitsch. Yet somehow, there is an emotional power here, emphasized by the interplay between ringing guitar, Theremin, and passionate howls in the refrains. Like all great metal bands, Oranssi Pazuzu play things straight, and trust the old truism that if it’s heavy and delivered with a pure (ly evil) heart, it will almost certainly sound good. Sounds good to me.
[i] Fast tremolo guitar picking, sustained blastbeat drumming, raspy evil vocals.
[ii] Pun Intended!
[iii] Which apparently translates to “Dub to the Memory of a Dead Whore (of Babylon)” The song appears on the album “Muukalainen Puhuu” or “Alien Speaks”.
[iv] In my humble opinion.
[v] “Is No Stranger To” from Oranssi Pazuzu’s split with Candy Cane.