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You would think that black metal would be dead by now. You would think that it would have remained a strange anomoly from the early 90's, a sub-genre amongst sub-genres, forever remaining stuck in it's own singular conventions; an adherence to three chord nihilism stilting it's growth.
But that never happened. Upon further study, black metal was really just too weird, too unformed, to simply molder in the tomb. It's very existence suggests experimentation. It really was just a form of ambient music, at least when the Norwegians unleashed their formations upon the unsuspecting. And as a genre, it has been expanded upon and multiplied, sub genres forming out of sub genres, each mutation subtly altering the soundscape.
And over 20 years later, the Norwegians are still on the vangard, breathing new life into a form that has every right to be a rotting corspe. Take Dødsengel new album, Mirium Occultum, for instance. Currently the darlings of the underground, these necrofiends find new ground for their gravework. This is a dank, echoy scream from the crypt, a true demon conjuring.
The album recalls Mayhem at their best and also the new wave of American audio fiendry like Leviathan and Xasthur, but it really is hard to put your finger on what makes this album work. Perhaps it's how the raw production values lower your expectations. You really are getting a raw black metal experience, but one with so much subtle variety and layers. The guitars are layed on thick and bloody, with hints of gentleness in the quieter parts, the bass a distant rumble. The drums are a crisp racket, with much fine cymbal work. The vocalist is a evocotive screamer, applying a variety of shrieks, bellows, murmurs and even a few plaintive cries from the abyss. Evocation of Amezarak is the centerpiece of the album, a nearly 20 minutes musical invocation of darkness, that doesn't come across as a formless jam.
Also, the lyrics are a pleasant surprise, poetic and chilling, but not without humor. A Word To Conquer the Aeon contains this gem, delivered with an evil smirk:
"In the beginning was the word,
and the word was with god.
And the word was the word,
what a wonderfull word it was!"
"And the word is NIHIL"
This album is not all perfection, as the songs tend to blur into one another, almost too intense for a single listen. But for the most part, this is state of the art black metal, containing everything that is true and cvlt about the genre without decending into cliche.
Every now and then an album comes along that literally knocks me out. Despite all the nostalgic shite that's written about the good old days, Black metal is stronger than it has ever been, with more diversity and more quality than ever before. Admittedly, some of the sub-subgenres are suspect to say the least, but overall black metal is in a wonderfully healthy state.
But you won't find the true quality on big labels or in your local record store. Remember, this is underground music and - no matter how much certain individuals try to cash in on it - BM will always blossom in the nether regions of the UG. Those prepared to dig deepest will get the richest rewards. Bear in mind that if you read a review in Terrorizer or Zero Tolerance, chances are you are being mis-led. Pretty much every printed magazine has a reciprocal relationship with certain labels - "they take ads in our mag, we give their releases good reviews." It's pretty dishonest, actually (and one of the reasons why I hardly write anymore myself). Same applies to webzines - they send us free promos so we'll say they are fucking fantastic. The hype machine is in full swing and it's all PR drivel designed to shove the latest mainstream concoction down your throat. Well I say - shove it back up their asses!
The ONLY way you'll ever find truly great black metal is to trawl the underground for yourself. That way you'll come across bands like Onirik, Lunar Aurora, The Ruins of Beverast, Ride For Revenge and Dødsengel. Quality releases that are not advertised; music that speaks for itself; released on small labels with honest intent and integrity.
I have listened to thousands of albums over the past 20 years and I can honestly say I've never heard a better one than "Mirium Occultum". Take it from me: this is an absolute classic. It comes from nowhere and epitomises everything that's so special about this strain of extreme music. It's harsh, shrill, evil, nasty, creepy, menacing and perfectly executed. The production is absolutely perfect as it allows everything to breathe without being overly-polished and the songs themselves are masterpieces, each and every one.
This is black metal the way it should be and it is surely no coincidence that this foul entity rears its ugly head in Norway. Raw yet accessible, "Mirium Occultum" is as emotional and atmospheric as it is unnerving and downright filthy. The use of melody is genius as everything is washed away in a sea of dissonance and anger. This is an album that has everything from a band that has topped Deathspell Omega, Funeral Mist and Clandestine Blaze in one fell swoop. And, believe me, I do not pen these words lightly.
I almost feel guilty for exposing this hidden gem as the work of art it is. It's so good it deserves to remain lost in the underground forever. Probably the best album I own. If you only buy one more CD before topping yourself, make sure it's "Mirium Occultum". Nobody could regret owning this.