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Is this actually... good? - 74%

Evil_Johnny_666, July 15th, 2009

Yeah, that's what I'm wondering. I mean I shouldn't like this, I hate Mütiilation and I really don't like Forest or similar repetitive or raw black metal bands. It's repetitive, real simplistic, straightforward, almost mindless and doesn't have the best of production values. I like Beherit though, but here, with Von, the former almost sound complex in comparison. Still I like it. As you probably know, you get to listen to a band for a first time, and you get to discover that band first. My introduction to Von happened not too long ago; I heard a lot of talk about that American second wave black metal band, and wanted to know for sure what the fuss was all about. So since Satanic Blood was Von's first demo and only release while they were active, I got to hear that 20 minutes of pure and unadulterated black metal minimalism and relentlessness first. As I wanted to get as much as possible from my first exposure, I put all my attention on absorbing every detail or frequency the music may express. And hell, that wasnt hard one bit, there isn't much information for your cortex to process at all: almost constant, relentless drums, a more varied guitar playing - let's not even talk about bass, if you can hear it, it won't change your perception of the demo at hand - and unintelligible distorted, reverbed and at times echoed harsh vocals. Firsts minutes in, I couldn't really make any sense of its interest, but it surprisingly didn't take much time for me to find some enjoyment, making Satanic Blood grow on me with time.

After additional listens, I've come to a conclusion as to why Von is good; its success rests on a fragile, balanced formula of minimal, ritualistic black metal. You're not being bored to death by too much repetition; the same relentless tempo, drum beat and minimalist riffing through the whole length as don't play too much slower parts almost more minimalist due to their more apparent simplicity, and don’t go in overtly catchy territory either. The formula is not perfect, you got to realize how much uneasy the balance is. Sometimes it's a little too repetitive, but when you listen to their follow up demo, Blood Angel, you see them changing it a bit making the songs and the release itself lacking consistency and not being as hypnotic, ritualistic.

The core, what you'll hear for the majority of the 20 minutes, is like what I talked of earlier; constant bass drum, snare and cymbal hits and tremolo riffing, consistent in pace, the drumming barely more varied than say, Marduk. Most songs follow that formula, but with those and slower songs, the song structures are different than the norm. It can barely be two riffs being alternated, several riffs be played without being repeated, having an intro or having actual choruses. All of this, with of course keeping a rigorous sense of minimalism, simplicity and straightforwardness. I'd call these three elements; The 3 Golden Rules of Von, elements that define the band. It's those golden elements that allow other characteristics of their sound to be formed, though those are the primordial ones, elements that don't cease to exist in the evolution of the recording's experienced frequencies. But back to those relentless songs; that characteristic, along with the coupling of their "Golden Rules", forge a certain edge to their song which has a certain particularity of being hypnotic. While it doesn't necessarily equal quality like some individuals seem to think, here, with the help of several rather good riffs - there are also those which makes you feel indifferent - make that element worthwhile. The overall sound, production and riffs also make the recording belong to ritualism's brand of hypnotic, in a way comparable - although rather different in nature - to Beherit's Drawing Down the Moon.

About the minority of playtime, what prevents the album from falling into the abyss of mediocrity; the slower, less relentless moments. The songwriting seem to be a lot better there, some of their more "typical" songs were good, others were mostly just there to fit, to create consistency. So those moments come in different variations, may it be an entire song, just a small part - as small as it may be - or just a spoken intro. They come in small doses, but enough to actually change something about Satanic Blood's quality. When some song may be draggin', the next one - "Watain" - may just be a brilliantly evil minimal guitar riffing and hits on the drumkit. While the question of such a part being more minimal than the more relentless ones is debatable, the lack of as much decibels gives the perception of increased minimalism. Then comes "Lamb" with its classic spoken intro:
"Upon chapel cross
Stab the lamb
Spinning in reverse
Kaleidoscope... artistic blood"
It's not that what Goat is saying is particularly interesting, but that the words' phonetic, along with an almost unhealthy dose of effects applied on his vocals and how he pronounces these words, create a certain... sense of catchiness on the mind of the listener, having as a consequence that part being stuck in your head and knowing it by heart. Who could have guessed such minimalist, not much accessible black metal band managed to incorporate such catchy elements? I’ll re-attend that catchiness question later. So going back where I was, the following track, "Veadtuck", starts in the exact same fashion as "Lamb" while not being any less catchy, but differs from the former by being an instrumental venturing in slow paced playing while showcasing more of that genuinely evil riffing.

That's mostly everything about Von varying their songwriting in Satanic Blood really, but let's go back at that shortly left behind talk about them showing glimpses of catchiness. So I had talked about "Lamb"s catchiness, and left other points unattended. While the song is mostly similar in design to the first two tracks, the beginning features a short exchange of their relentless and slower playing, all done - the transition from one state to the other - in a matter seconds being counted on less than a complete hand of fingers, giving it a kind of catchy edge, like it makes you want to "air guitar" or "air drum". Adding to that, it's their most interesting song of the type, the riffing is more interesting as the vocal delivery being catchy unlike pretty much everything else. "Veadtuck"s simplicity, evilness and songwriting also help adding it to that category as "Christ Fire"s similar beginning to "Lamb" with its transition to consistent pace keeping basically the same riffing. Small things, but important.

As for the production, well, (un)surprisingly enough, it sucks. The mix is wrongly done too, giving more upfront presence to the drum and vocals than guitars as well as obviously seeing bass as some kind of obligatory hindering paperwork to its completion. Hell, the bass drum is even as loud as the snare. But somehow, it works. Be it because of some kind of superior, supernatural or whatnot deity's interference or just pure luck, fact - well a fact in my opinion, obviously - remains, along with the shitty production that almost sounds good due to the notes played and mixing, it works. I tend to believe it to be pure luck as say most early death metal bands as most of those guys probably lacked any kind of professionalism to make every element deliberate. And a small thing I noticed that gives some interesting effect of preserved relentlessness, tempo, hypnotic and consistency, is not shitting around between songs and keeping anything different to a minimum. Another point I ignored to talk of until now - that you may have noticed on your own - is that the demo consists of eight tracks, all of which are under 3 minutes, totalling a length of 20 minutes. It is important to put that in perspective to make any sense of what babbling I bothered to write about relentlessness, repetitiveness, catchiness or rare pace changes.

All in all, whether Satanic Blood is a minutely calculated exercise of balancing a fragile formula, was unintentional, pure luck, a result of youthful spontaneity or enthusiasm, or any combination of the above is only subject to the listener's interpretation of it or what he wants it to be. Still, it is obvious that not only Von is a love or hate thing, but also that it is a hit or miss. While not hitting the bullseye, they managed to at least score a multiplier, it also makes you think of how boring the band could have end up - probably got the lesser multipliers - that it could have ended up as some kind of failed Hellhammer; uneventful and unremarkable. So, I recommend this to anyone who's interested in early second wave black metal - even more considering it is an American band and that some people even put them in the same boat as Venom, Bathory or Hellhammer - or any minimalist metal.