Oaken Throne/Blood, Fire, Death
hose who missed out on the MisnathropicNecroBlasphemy and/or the Shadows of No Light demos from Bay Area one-man Black Metal War Machine, Wrest (AKA Leviathan), act very quickly: Oaken Throne zine, in conjunction with the Blood, Fire, Death imprint have pooled their resources and unleashed an edition of 500 pro-printed audio cassettes. This cassette contains the wealth of the Leviathan demos, which is to say two; this will be the “last” time they are released. Again: Act now.
This is the type of urgency that’s projected onto Leviathan releases; perhaps the overriding imperative is slightly curious, especially considering Leviathan’s rate of production: Nine CD-Rs; six cassettes; two splits, and three full-lengths, including critically lauded, The Tenth Level of Suicide, and the latest, Tentacles of Whorror. Expanding the scope to include the wealth the sun-soaked state has to offer induces gleeful wonder: There’s more than one quality Black Metal outfit operating within earshot of the wheezy “eureka” intoned from the broken throats of past ghosts.
Bay Area claims are large, with Leviathan, Xasthur, Draugar, and Crebain counted amongst the grim wealth held within her black coffers. How?—It’s rather easy to let teleology dictate design, proffer purpose. It’s even easier to crack conditionals, all the more so when the California winters shake no snow from the skies. Frozen precip is the favorite armchair opine for qualifying the Norwegian musics malevolent; this is the consensus of those searching for some sort of palpable relationship extant between the practitioners of the genre and the determinant conditions that compel one to practice the genre in the first place.
Chris Campion’s excellent February 2005 article in UK publication The Observer made careful and cogent deductions in this regard. When speaking with Gorgoroth frontman Gaahl, Campion managed to show a compelling humanist side to Black Metal, one that decontextualized the music from murder and black ritual, and placed it within the role of the conservationist.
“Gaahl’s extremist outlook is undoubtedly influenced by his surroundings,” wrote Campion; “he lives on a farm three hours outside of Bergen, isolated from the mass of humanity.” Gaahl extrapolated on the importance of pantheism, and how one’s love of nature is an important—and mostly overlooked—facet of the ideology that informs and empowers Black Metal.
“It’s easy to feel isolated in nature,” Gaahl told Campion. “Solitude and distance from everyone else is very important to us.” Indeed. Gaahl’s family owns three mountains in Norway; they’re apparently as far from the Western notion of “ownership” as one can get: In Gaahl’s eyes, a mountain is a geologic end-in-itself, not the locus for ski resorts or sky-high condos. The Scandinavians saw—and still see—these land masses as the bones of prime being: Ymir. The Eddas aren’t some primitive exegesis; they’re words honored and held to—a poetic credo that stands in staunch defiance to the “Royal Initiative” that ripped the Norseman’s pagan roots from the earth and attempted to anesthetize instinct’s wound with the tonic of Christ.
Scandinavia’s roots have once again grown strong: The neo-pagan religion “Asatru” AKA “Nordisk sed”—the ancient way, tradition, or custom—has been on a steady climb since the early ‘70s, when Icelandic poet Gothi Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson convinced his country to recognize Asatru as a legitimate religion. Credit this to history’s cyclic inclination; looking Westward, the state of things isn’t so drastic; if anything, the U.S. has only just begun to revisit her past, with short skips back to the paranoiac prevalence of McCarthyism, and a fervent embrace of Hegelian historicity that’s got the see-saw of pomp & circumstance on equal measure.
The gritty zeitgeist embodied by HBO’s Deadwood is all the exhibit needed; wax up the ears in order to deafen oneself to indignation derived from man and government failing to heed history; failing to perspire from the exercise of principles. Critique fits California as Simpson’s gloves. And one needn’t go back to the miners who slaughtered Native Americans for sport, engaged “lynch law,” and erased indigenous people—along with their languages and customs—as a development firm would clear-cut for a new super mall.
Old West is too quaint; it only lives in texts, tears, and the creative cursing demonstrated in Deadwood’s dialogue. There are more timely bummers; those that were hewed from the Haight—those who were making songs to sing over Tony Bennett’s palpitating paean. It wasn’t ventricle and valve, however; it was young and pretty and hopelessly naïve. When the Summer of Love began to turn the corner to fall’s carrion promise, the sirens weren’t sounded. But signs are an easy eschatology—even The Dead’s Jerry Garcia picked up on them as they came through the typeset of a ComCo bulletin. Something about a sixteen year-old, Bay Area bourgeois, hiking to the Haight to freak over the show that was steadily losing its quotient of bona fide freaks. Of course, a street-wise hustler picks her up, and eager to please she ends up becoming a pincushion for alley-peddled speed. She hungers, so street hustler stuffs 3000 mikes of LSD down her throat and then hawks her off to the highest bid. The girl ends up getting gang-raped by every Head in the Haight; word goes out, and the news drops the High Times like a 1000-pound anvil. Garcia knew the scene couldn’t survive with this kind of shit in it, and he was right: Not long after the bummers began to wear off, tents were broken down and taken inside, where pulsating lights and music more akin to arterial thuds was moving out of the Petri dish and into the national consciousness.
Karmic transference aside, shit as heavy as this does not go away: It continues to stink, even if we’ve failed to notice the buzzing diadem of flies that crowns the let-down with fundamental indefatigability. And people wonder how California can boast Black Metal sans snow. Forget those that cry for music to be considered on its own terms, as if it was created in a vacuum where culture had no claw in song’s skin. While personal intent and/or inclination have not truly been asked of Wrest, that doesn’t mean that purpose isn’t palpable: Leviathan continues to produce a lot of extremely powerful, and misanthropic music. Wrest’s prolific yield makes viewing Demos 2000 as juvenilia difficult: With so many recordings either available or in the can in such a short time span, a critical retrospective is hardly called for. That being said, Demos 2000 displays a highly intriguing side of Wrest.
“Intro/Give War a Chance” has way more to do with Sir Lord Baltimore than it does any sort of Pro Satanica stance: This is riff heavy rock-‘n’-roll that would find itself at home in any sudsy roadhouse, made all the more odd when considering the whole piece, with its “Intro” that tips an ambient cap to Pennsylvania warlock, Vrolok. Other notables include “Thy Lacerations,” and “Sodomize the Golden,” both animated with the same blood drawn by Leviathan’s latest, Tentacles of Whorror. “Lacerations” and “Sodomize” share the same bees-in-a-bucket guitars, churning percussion, and malefic vocals. Consider these as bonus tracks to Tentacles, or as stand-on-their-own-merits; the real reap is to be taken from Wrest’s six-string prowess. Chalk it up to the cassette’s brevity, or the mix, but Demos 2000 shows Wrest to be quite a shredder, with strong, tasteful lines that needn’t be buried ‘neath layers of fuzz, showing quite a counterpoint to the drunken gamelan guitar sound of Xasthur, or the reedy saw blade strumming of Draugar. Which is to say that this comes recommended—and not available for long.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2005-06-10