Back in Black
by Gary Spencer

I love the sound and vibe of second-wave black metal. Though most of it doesn’t come close to the commandeering my devotion the way Mayhem, Darkthrone, Dark Funeral, Burzum, Satyricon, and Immortal did in the ’90s, there’s lots of great black metal coming out in the modern millennium from both new and established artists.

Take Norwegian one-man band Taake, for example. Taake has been steadily dishing out its musically grim goods since the mid-90s and has never looked back. Unlike fellow countrymen Tsjuder, Taake’s music has gradually evolved over time, and each successive album brings a little something new to the table. Trying to compare Taake’s newest slab, Noregs Vaapen (Candlelight), against his entire catalog would be a long and tedious process, so I’ll stick to comparing and contrasting the new disc to 2009’s self-titled opus. Noregs Vaapen seems like the logical next step, sharing many similarities and a handful of differences, which in most instances are a good thing. Ulvhedin Høst still plays his brand of blinding, tremolo-picked melodies with a blurry precision and distinctive flavor. It’s to the point where nowadays I can hear a Taake song and know right away who it is, and this identifiable sound is a welcomed sound. Also still in good form are Høst’s thrashy drumwork and raspy banshee howl.

Noregs Vaapen’s differences lie in its somewhat compressed sound, which favors a mid-range cadence over the previous LP’s sharp treble and punchy drum production. The songs on Noregs Vaapen are streamlined compared to the often epic-length tracks on Taake, and are mostly devoid of the depressive slow parts found on that album. However, this time around Høst has a few unexpected tricks up his sleeve. Noregs Vaapen features cameos from Nocturno Culto (Darkthrone), Demonaz (Immortal) and Attila Csihar (Mayhem) that while brief do add something different to the proceedings. Then there’s some unusual (for Taake) instrument-related things going on. There are noticeable guitar solos, as well as instruments not usually present on most Taake records: keyboards, mellotron, and even a banjo solo. The banjo solo, in particular, is a neat and unexpected twist that works surprisingly well. While Noregs Vaapen isn’t Taake’s best musical moment, it’s another grim yet catchy jewel in Høst’s crown as arguably the man to follow in the modern Norwegian black metal scene.

While artists like Tsjuder and Taake are pretty well known even to metalheads not particularly into the black variance, Swedish ensemble Craft has been around since the mid-1990s, but for the majority of its time has remained under the radar. With their second full-length for Southern Lord, Void, their musical profile could very well be raised. Void is more of what those award of Craft have come to expect: blurry walls of tremolo-picked guitars, grinding bass work, thinly produced drums and reverb-heavy, snarling vocals. But the sum is greater when such parts are put together, as Void is high on atmosphere. Craft, in most parts, eschews blast-beating which adds to the bleakness. Even a cartoony, over-the-top song with lyrics like “I want to commit murder” sound convincing in Craft’s hands, and with much of black metal’s unintentional hilarity and self-mockery, the band deserves applause for creating an atmosphere in which such seething sentiments thrive. I get the impression that the guys in Craft are the type of black metallers who embrace and embody the art form within themselves, and based on the content of Void, it works to their advantage.

Finally, let’s take a look at Norwegian quartet Throne of Katarsis and its newest disc, Ved Graven (Candlelight). Of all these albums, Ved Graven is the one that bears the most similarity to those classic black metal records from the early 1990s. The first thing you’ll notice is the reverb-heavy and relatively lo-fi production values that pay homage to albums such as Panzerfaust by Darkthrone and Burzum’s self-titled album. I cannot stress enough how vital production is, especially when it comes to black metal, for creating a chilling sonic atmosphere, and the production on Ved Graven might be this disc’s number one weapon. However, Throne of Katarsis is not merely sonics over substance. The songs here alternate between noisy blasts of frosty aggression as well as grim riffing that slithers along at a creep, sucking the listener into the band’s musical world of despair. The vocals, while not the band’s foremost attribute, are more than serviceable throaty howls that totally suit the mood that the music has set forth. For the most part, the tunes are memorable and often recall the hypnotic nature of Transilvanian Hunger-era Darkthrone, and that’s hardly a bad thing. With any luck, Ved Graven will be the breakout record for which Throne of Katarsis has been waiting during its decade of existence and will help spread such gnarly retro black metal.