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Black Metal's Most Important Achievement - 100%

Nokturnal_Wrath, May 17th, 2014

As far as black metal is concerned, this may very well be the zenith. A bleak monochromatic soundscape set on a pedestal so high that only the select few will be able to envision. Under A Funeral Moon creates an album of such unrelenting darkness and nihilism that all other black metal albums seem light in comparison. Atmosphere will always be the key to success for a black metal band and Under A Funeral Moon delivers it in spades.

How does one go about creating atmosphere? This has always wondered me and I have spent many an hour debating this. There is no one way in which atmosphere can be created, but the end result is usually the same. Black metal strives to be dark, cold and misanthropic. Whether this is by a depressive black metal band creating an atmosphere of pure unrelenting agony, or an atmospheric band crafting long droning hymns to celebrate the winter, atmosphere in black metal (usually) comes across as cold and inhospitable. Needless to say there is always exceptions to the rule, with recent years showing an influx in the laughably named “good guy” black metal scene, with bands such as Altar of Plagues, Fen and Wolves in the Throne Room instantly coming to mind. However, one must realize that no other album has created the same unrelenting loneliness and emptiness that defines Under A Funeral Moon.

It can be said that Under A Funeral Moon serves as the counterweight to Transilvanian Hunger. Far away from said albums melodic sensibility, Under A Funeral Moon is dissonant, almost bordering on the outright atonal. Riffs seem to come and go in a random fashion, the songs defy conventional structure. Rhythms are strange and incoherent, with the seemingly random use of repetition making it even more off kilter and unconventional. The production makes this album all the more deranged, with the drums and bass being very distant whilst guitars and vocals are loud and piercingly thin.

Whilst many will pass this up in favor for Transilvanian Hunger, when looking at this album from a critical viewpoint it becomes clearer that Under A Funeral Moon is far more important in influencing the musical nature of black metal than Transilvanian Hunger which was far more important in cementing the genres primary aesthetics. Although Transilvanian Hunger is another flawless album, Under A Funeral Moon remains all the more compelling and intriguing. The bizarre nature of the songs coupled with the powerful vocals and perplexing riff changes makes for an album that is constantly challenging. There is really nothing accessible about this release, it is a black metal sound stream that is anything but therapeutic.

Similar to the ironically named Swans, Under A Funeral Moon is a prime example of beauty through ugliness. Each song, despite being uniformly dark has a strong sense of somber melody. The criticisms leveled at this album are entirely legit; it is essentially a sloppily played, minimalistic opus of droning black metal with very low fi production values. However, each criticism can easily be disapproved by saying it was all intentional. People who are focusing on superficial aspects only whilst ignoring the music as a whole are missing the entire point of the album. As an album that aimed to create an atmosphere of pure unrelenting darkness then you can’t do any better than this.

It comes clear that right from the start, with the introductory track Natassja in Eternal Sleep what Darkthrone aim to do. With jagged riffs lurching in strange patterns and vocals that sound like Nocturno Culto has risen from the grave, the sense of coldness embodies in the first track serves to foreshadow the dark and misanthropic journey the listener is about to depart on. There’s a very good sense of flow throughout this album, each track serves as a natural evolution of the ideas laid down by the former. Despite the unnatural nature of these compositions, the sound remains surprisingly natural and organic. Gone are the death metal elements of the bands past, the sound has been exorcised of all unnecessary elements. Gone is the powerful drumming that dominated the past albums, with Fenriz learning more about how black metal drumming should sound and thus toning it down.

Stripped down is an apt descriptor for this album and therefore can often be seen as a primary influence on the modern day bedroom black metal scene. The influence that Under A Funeral Moon has sown upon the black metal scene is undeniable and to this day, remains one of the most challenging yet rewarding albums in black metal history. Essential.