Saturday, April 16, 2011
Review: Ravengod - Battle Metal
This is the first of many posts on obscure or underappreciated Scandinavian black metal from the 90s. The well-known bands from the Second Wave are famous for a reason, no doubt about it, but if you dig deeper you'll find that there are a ton of amazing albums by one-off projects, garage bands, and more established outfits who were making music too uncompromising or weird to get the attention they deserved. Very little of it fits what has become the stereotypical "second wave sound," which is really just a combination of the least interesting parts of Darkthrone and Burzum. We would do well to listen and learn.
Many black metal albums fortify the sense of self. Battle Metal annhilates it. Ravengod leads us down a deer-path into the heart of the woods, where the berserker steps from the world of men into the realm of beasts and spirits. The guitars resound like the ram's horn, whipping us into a frenzy where forms and boundaries dissolve. There's a reason these tracks are untitled.
I have no way of knowing this for sure, but Ravengod sounds a lot like a Scandinavian response to Graveland, injecting "Thousand Swords" with extreme speed and some really dissonant riffing. It's totally Second Wave, but doesn't sound like anything else I've ever heard. If anything, it anticipates Hate Forest by several years.
You know they mean business because the album starts with a breakdown. Not a "chugga chugga" breakdown, but a slamming, syncopated power-chord riff over rolling, roiling drums. It opens out into a highly melodic theme over fierce blasting, and this alternates with the first part for a while. Throughout, there's one guitar droning on the root note, and it gives the song a strange harmonic color...every note is pushing and pulling against the drone. This reminds me of old, old folk music, adding to the deeply pagan atmosphere. At 2:55, everything cuts out, and we hear the sick riff they've been saving for the end. It's simultaneously consonant and dissonant, in the style of bands like Immortal and Sorhin. This mastery of harmony sets Ravengod apart from most other bands creating self-consciously raw black metal...the riffs are always compelling and surreal.
That first track pretty much sets you up for the rest of the demo, which is, if anything, faster and more extreme. The vocals are retching raven croaks in the vein of Abbath and Darken that sound like they really hurt to produce. They occasionally break out into weird chanting and spontaneous hardcore-like yells. The production is extremely buzzy and thin, but not excessively trebly. You can hear the bass, and it's important to the music.
You will be missing something if you listen to this with headphones at your computer. The mix is very quiet, so it sounds best when you turn it up loud and let it expand to fill a real physical space. Also, stand up. Bang your head, flail around, raise the mighty Claw to the moon. Ravengod wants you to give yourself over to the soul-slaying power of Odin. Who are you to refuse the call?
Now that I've told you about the actual music, I'll tell you that it's the one-man side project of Taake's Hoest, dating back to 1996. It seems he needed an outlet for some totally gonzo shit that didn't really fit with his main band's melodic and stately vibe. I've never really understood Taake. I think Hoest should've stuck with Ravengod instead.
Buy this album on Amazon