Night of the Stormcrow
orn from the works of Tolkien, Crebain, the plural form of Craban, connotes the flat black crows—the spies of Sauron, the greatest enemy of elves and men. In the tradition of the surprisingly innumerable San Francisco Black Metal ensembles, Crebain is but one, namely Ancalagon the Black. Like Leviathan’s Wrest, Xasthur’s Malefic, and Draugar’s Hildolf, Crebain is merely the veil under which Ancalagon operates. And as the aforementioned, Ancalagon helms all instrumental duties—from vocals, to guitar, samples, and drum programming. Unlike his compatriots, however, Ancalagon’s output has been sparse: A “debut” CD-R, Night of the Stormcrow, released in 66 blood-spattered copies; a tUMUlt split with Leviathan, both of which are now out of print. Leave it to graphic guru and metal arbiter Andrew Hartwell of U.K. based label Aurora Borealis, and a magnificently produced picture disc of Crebain’s debut is now available; remastered, recontextualized in a sphere of brooding black and white, showcasing images of a Craban mid-flight, and Ancalagon himself, regaled in full SFBM attire: Spiked armbands, Leviathan t-shirt, ashen faced, brandishing a sledgehammer.
Of Stormcrow’s seven tracks, only one—“Darkness be my Bride,” creeps along; the remaining six are swarthy sprints which combine the rich harmony of Romanian folk music with the undeniable influence of early West Coast Thrash: Possessed, Exodus. Ancalagon reportedly started Crebain in homage to his influences: Vlad Tepes, Darkthrone, Nargoroth; while all three are excessively formidable, and paradigmatic of the genre, Ancalagon steps quite a ways outside of their realm. His guitar prowess is every bit Wrest’s equal, and empowers Crebain’s composition with multifaceted attack, as in “By Our Talons, Heaven Shall Fall,” classical filigree rides effortlessly with anthemic double-bass; layers of rhythm guitar charcoal chiaroscuro, as Scriabin’s tones tumbled over one another, going gray and then black; knocked out their light as the sun is by night.
“Cries of My Motherland” is perhaps Stormcrow’s finest piece. Sounding at once as a nation’s hymn intoned by flame holders from the wooden tables of E.U. beirhall and an alma mater’s sonic manifestation, Ancalagon uses aural symbol and repetition to great effect. Tenor titan Albert Ayler knew that his jazz would only atrophy if it held to de rigueur notions of atonality; going against the grain, Ayler stitched bits of folk melody, religious hymn, and campfire song into his compositions. The listener, once given something to hold onto, to whistle, to hum and even sing, would subconsciously incorporate the melody into their day-to-day; Ayler’s “Ghosts” would be no different than “Row, Row Your Boat.” So goes the same for “Cries of My Motherland,” a muscular piece culled from military choirboy, potato farmer, blood-letter, cave dwelling denizens of mystery cults. Culminating with an acapella rendering of the central melody, “Motherland” sounds—and feels—incantatory, magical, staying with the mind as voluminous eau de vie consumption hangs over the day, haunting, often unwanted.
Stormcrow concludes with “Winds of Fury,” whiplashed Thrash in the vein of Dark Angel with propulsive and extraordinarily nimble guitar lines. Ancalagon dictates scornfully over the top, treble heavy shrieks speaking of Satanism, misanthropy, murder, chaos. As the flipside image attests to, perhaps Ancalagon fancies himself a proponent of the Nietzschean will; the sledge does little to dispel notion of “How to Philosophize with a Hammer.” But where Nietzsche declared himself the end of all philosophy, forgetting the close-minded pap proffered by sub specie aeterni system-builders, Ancalagon celebrates the past, all while invoking new forms—new takes on Black Metal’s fundamental materials. Which is nothing new; as West Coasters continue to contribute mightily to what was once a purely European enterprise, USBM sheds its anomaly status, breathing fetid breath into one of music’s most intriguing genres.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2005-11-22