This morning I was listening to the old Scandinavian bands, and thinking about what a sad place black metal has become. American hipsters have tried to justify their attempted takeover of the genre in terms of saving it from itself: "We need to break free from the narrowminded purist mentality, it's an artistic dead end! We need to help black metal progress!" And yet, the USBM kids have something important in common with the boring "kvlt" bands they criticize: both think of the genre's possibilities almost exclusively in terms of Burzum and Darkthrone, and the waves of imitators spawned by both bands.
Now, Burzum and Darkthrone are both awesome, but there's a lot more to the Second Wave. The black metal sound that represents the genre's pinnacle (and means the most to me) has gone unexplored since it fizzled out in the late 90s. In fact, it has been virtually forgotten. This is because it's really really hard to make, and because it inhabits an emotional territory so wild and vast that it makes people uncomfortable. People still remember Emperor and Enslaved, largely because of their horrible latter-day output, but nobody is actually influenced by the Hordanes Land split or Vikingligr Veldi.
Basically, I think the best black metal WAS made in Scandinavia between 1991 and 1997. I think the best bands were either lost in the mists of time or dismissed offhand by anxious scenesters as "pretentious." Sorry dudes, THIS is what black metal was--and should be--about. I've posted amazing tracks by three of my all-time favorite bands, along with brief comments.
Listen for the sublime moment at 0:52. It's preceded by a bass break--something you'd NEVER hear today--and then the whole band comes sweeping in like a symphony of ghosts. It's so elegant, so aggressive, and so fucking beautiful. Kvist sound totally Nordic, in a Grieg sort of way, but without any of Emperor's dated "spooky" riffs (which I consider part of their charm, but whatever). Listen to how the song unfolds. Kvist is perfect, and their music hasn't aged.
This is how to do "epic." Listen for the brief, achingly gorgeous swell in the music at 3:09. Don't worry, it returns later in the song too. Also listen for 3:45, where O.E. bring in a fucking Zeppelin riff over blastbeats! It works perfectly, conjuring up images of rugged mountains and rushing streams. Finally, the glorious ascent at 4:54. On Centuries of Sorrow, every single riff is good enough to be the crowning achievement of a lesser band.
Probably my favorite black metal song. Of these three bands, Sorhin is the most straightforward and vicious, but also the most unique in terms of melodies and harmonies. You will never hear music like this anywhere else. My comrade Marcus put it well: Sorhin sounds like "some ancient pagan artifact." Listen for the convoluted, pulsing riff that strikes at 0:21. This is warrior music. Fell deeds awake!
Anyway, look out for Part 2 and maybe Part 3 in the next week. And at some point in the future I will definitely do long-form album reviews of the aforementioned bands and others like them. I just worry that I'd have a hard time doing them justice...