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Is this the sound of modern DSBM? - 58%

ConorFynes, June 27th, 2015

It has been a crowded, rewarding year for black metal. While it's long past its potential to shock the extremophilic mainstream, it's excited me as a musician and listener to see people exploring every potential stylistic mutation. Keeping in mind this used to be a sort of music with very strict rules on what was, and was not considered true; fast forward to the present, and black metal has expanded to encompass a wild variety. Such that it is, it's probably the most sonically diverse type of music 'neath the metal umbrella. I may not like some of its recent deviations (read: blackgaze) but I'm nonetheless impressed that there's such dissent and willingness to experiment in a genre that, in human terms, will be hitting up middle-age in a few short years.

Now here is Total Negation, a German one-piece that has shifted from its original MO of weird DSBM, to a more polished incarnation in the neighbourhood of Sweden's Shining. Listening to the latest album, Zeitzeuge, I've come to realize how abundant experimentation really is in this genre. Were it not, I'm sure I should feel more stirred by the weird anomalies Total Negation inject into their music. There are weird instrumental spots that sound ripped from an avant-garde catalogue. There are atonal harmonies, sophisticated arrangements, surreal cover art, even a vibraphone. And yet I'm finding myself underwhelmed by Total Negation, at least moreso than I'd expect from a band that dares to get so weird with their sound.

Is it necessarily because the current popularity of 'weirdness' in black metal has desensitized the actual impact of weirdness? I don't think so. With Total Negation, I believe the issue actually lies with the part of their sound that isn't weird. I've mentioned that their sound bears strong comparison with Shining. If you've heard anything from Kvarforth and the gang, you should know what to expect: angry, well-enunciated vocals, an emphasis on rhythm guitar, with leads painted in tritones. The vocals (in German for this one) are remarkably well-enunciated for the genre, although every bit as disgruntled. Most significant (and potentially damning) of all however, is the pace of the music: a near-homogenous, mid-pace. Add to that a crystal clear production, and you've got a very restrained, middle-of-the-road formula. While I think Shining managed to make it work by the strength of their songwriting and 'weirder side', a lot of the bands that have tried to follow their footsteps have fallen short.

It seems to me Total Negation are one such band. Multi-instrumentalist Wiedergaenger proves that he's capable of so much more than that however. The musicianship is solid, the production well-balanced, and the encroaching avant-garde shows a lot of potential, if only if it was given room to breathe. Zeitzeuge's fault lies with its style, not the vision, nor the way it was brought to life. The way he tackles multi-levelled arrangements demonstrates Wiedergaenger is a good composer. Possibly great, but with the restrictions he's imposed upon himself here, it's a little hard to tell.

I frankly don't understand why the current trend in DSBM has been to incorporate elements of 'black n' roll'. Is it because of the notoriety and influence Shining have been able to impress upon their weepy peers? Forgotten Tomb tried to follow Shining's path, and they failed miserably. I think Total Negation is leagues better than the recent rubbish from Forgotten Tomb, but I still get the feeling that Wiedergaenger may have missed the point when he decided to restrict his expression to shades of mid-tempo.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical