Greatsong(s) Tangent – 18:00+ Black Metal Edition

Black Metal can be long-winded, but it’s all about the journey. Carried forward on an ever-cresting blackened wave, the listener hears the outstretched branches of trees whipping past, sees dim firelights in the distance and feels the heavy looming of timeless, ineffable forces. It can take time to create these sensory tapestries, and thus many Black Metal artists write epics. Each of the following three songs is over 18 minutes long. Together, they could make up a full-length album. Each has its own distinct character and impact. Without further ado, here they are.

Weakling – Dead as Dreams (from Dead as Dreams)

“Dead as Dreams” begins with a growing feedback tone and a solo guitar introduction – a sort of overture before the day’s events. The intro is hardly peaceful or serene, carrying a crusty, lo-fi menace in its vaulted melodies. Drums and bass join for a time, marching along lugubriously. A distorted guitar riff echoes out, first in solo, then joined in chorus. In the midst of this dance a soot-spraying eruption echoes out – a blackened cough that rocks the entire poisoned landscape.

What follows is a long and desperate tour-de-force. With subtle expertise, Weakling conjure a disturbing horseback ride through a cataclysmic battle. Decrepit melodies and riffs sing of attacks and counterattacks, with moments of complete despair giving way to glimpses of hope and uplift. There are stops and starts, blastbeats, striking chord changes, noise assaults, black buzzes, deep rumbles, quiet moments, and atop it all, the frenzied howls, growls, screams, gurgles and wheezes of our narrator. He sees broken shields and bodies trod over by horse and human alike. Tattered standards flap raggedly from shattered pikes. You can hear our narrator’s mind slipping into sheer animal fright, his humanity holding to his core only by stretched and ragged sinews.

After an exhausting, compelling series of dramatic swings, there is a reprieve. A tom-thudding section hints at something like redemption – a break in the clouds perhaps – only to descend by degrees back into the abyss. A strange new ambient pulse is birthed, amplifying perceptibly until it swells its ponderous weight over and atop the scene – enveloping the battlefield in an otherworldly amber glow. By the end all evidence of human agency is dissipated, faded to corpse-grey entropy within the relentless oscillations of inevitability.

Wolves in the Throne Room – I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots (from Two Hunters)

“I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots” begins with a delicate but insistent guitar introduction, the plucked chords underpinned by whooshes of menacing ambience. From here, Wolves in the Throne Room launch into a fast and robust black roar. The bleakness leaps from the speakers. After a time they unveil The Riff – the central pillar of the song. The Riff is huge and sounds vaguely of the old-world Mediterranean. The word “Arcadian” comes to mind. The towering behemoth loses no potency with repetition, propelling the song into its runtime with ease.

Our narrator describes a post-apocalyptic dawn in which “The beast has done his work” and “Great fires rage outside of this wooded sanctuary”. “Bones” is actually a song of cleansing and rebirth, of nature, harmony and the search for peace. The vocals are excellent, balancing rasping misanthropy and wide-eyed urgency. When our narrator tells us that “The songs of birds fill the forest on this new morning” or prophesies the sun god being born anew, we are right there with him.

The middle section of “Bones” is a pummeling, blasting race over ash and bone, the layered guitar melodies creating a sense of dramatic unease. The passage thrums with a certain warmth, something organic and glowing. We can feel it pulling our narrator on – a resonance that throbs in sync with a frequency too subtle to be manmade.

When the Arcadian riff returns – introduced by a gentle classical guitar prelude – it feels like the return of an old friend. Wolves in the Throne Room slow and modify the riff, allowing it to stretch out grandiose over “Bones”’ last act, in which our narrator vows “I will lay down my bones among the rocks and roots of the deepest hollow next to the streambed”. It is a striking image, forceful in its unambiguous lyricism.

There is a coda in which a cooing female vocalist reiterates the themes of the song over diffuse guitar strums and other ambience. Accompanied by a sample of birdcalls, perhaps this ending is a little on-the-nose. But by this point, Wolves in the Throne Room have earned the right to end the song however they see fit. They have crafted a vision of apocalypse free of encumbering dogma and technology. “Bones” is a song of solitude and acceptance, a song of faith in the promise of renewal in face of complete destitution.

Skagos – Anarchic Side A (from Anarchic)

Where the other two artists are concerned about being metal first and melodic second, Skagos are the converse. “Anarchic Side A” begins with meandering feedback and guitar plucks, but soon gives way to mellow, melodic synthesizer pulses. Harmonic sung vocals and gentle guitar lines enter the picture. At this point it becomes very clear that Skagos are not out to give anyone nightmares or prove how depraved they are. They are just a couple of charmingly earnest young men who want to sing songs about the ineluctable power of the natural world.

Skagos eventually kick out a black metal squall, but theirs is definitively anthemic and verdant. There is an urgency to the chord progressions, but they always resolve in beauty and splendor. There are Black Metal rasps, but they are underpinned by sung undertones that hang and shimmer like mists over a sleeping forest. Layered guitar lines splash and swirl like aquamarine waves in a rocky cove. Loose, expressive blast beats find satisfaction in clattering imperfection.

“Anarchic” eventually settles into a push-and-pull repetition, declarative rasps alternating and intermingling with rising chants of “Await dawnrise”. The musical pendulum employed in this passage is exquisite, swinging with stirring efficacy between anxious unease and shining hope.

The sections and passages that follow use the same ingredients, and achieve similar successes. There is a strong sense of musical purpose and immutable feeling that endures throughout. “Anarchic” is a song of joy extracted from darkness, a paean to the acceptance of the forces of death, decay and rebirth. It is a shrewd and enthusiastic exercise in finding poignancy and uplift within the wearying and often destructive struggles – mythic, universal and personal – that make up the framework of our lives.

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