Live shows are definitely something I can’t get enough of, but unfortunately, black metal is not the most often done live in these parts. This is probably relative to the fact that I live in the Netherlands, where ‘rare’ has a much different meaning. Anyways, Barshasketh dropped by at the LittleDevil and that is definitely not one I’m going to skip.
Pictures by Herman Stehouwer (with kind permission)
Barshasketh is a project of Andrew Campbell, also known as Krigeist. I’m a fan of his work, particularly the project Bròn hugely appealed to me. Campbell originally is from New Zealand but has relocated to Scotland since. He’s been taking Barshasketh on the road now and it’s something I am very excited about. Little Devil is one of my favorite venues for shows like this. I do enjoy the fact that it is simply less crowded there. The new DJ booth does make the space even smaller though.
Opening act for tonight on this Little Devil Black Ritual night is the Finnish group DevouringStar, who are signed to TerraturPossessions. Like many of the bands on that label, their sound is dense, layered and complex. The performance, therefore, feels slightly static, with very little movement on the stage. They make it feel like the air is reverberating with ever so tiny movements and complexities. Their music is a tapestry, rich and thick with slight changes to immerse yourself in. The band did lack the meticulousness that they display on the album in a live setting, but there’s a limit to what three members can do. A great warm-up for the evening. Not too many visitors seem to show up, but the tiny venue feels full and appreciative of the bands. Something any big venue seems to lack these days.
Dysangelium is a different beast, with much more dynamics in their show. The band plays fiercely and seems to create a turbulence in the small venue. The group from Germany released one album three years ago, but by this live standard, a next one is wanted. They tap into a specific, vibrant branch of that occult black metal sound, with a lot of intensity and a lot of shifts in tempo and sound. I particularly liked these guys after the performance of Devouring Star for their more direct and raw approach. Highly enjoyable, these guys from Kiel!
But what I came for was definitely the final act of tonight. Barshasketh has a particular sound of violence to it. There’s a particular intensity to the delivery of Campbell himself, who really seems to drag up his vocals from his toes in a visceral, venomous bursts. Twisting and turning as if in agony he spits defiance at the onlooking crowd. Barshasketh sounds urgent and intense in a way that captivates as if you’re being grabbed by the throat and dragged along to hell. For me the whole center of that force is Campbell who as a frontman appears to be possessed. The band around him functions as part of a funnel around him and the group really gave it their best, making this a memorable night.
This show is over way too soon and I luckily did manage to show my Bròn shirt (ever the fanboy) and pick up some vinyl from the band. Awesome stuff.
Label: Gilead Media Band: Couch Slut Origin: United States
CouchSlut is an interesting band name, but it simply fits. You can almost sink into the rolling waves of sound like you do on a couch. This is useless information, but I’m trying to express how vast and full on the sound of this band is. The group from New York knows how to shock and hurt a crowd with their sound on Contempt.
Landing on the scene with a bang in 2014, their debut My Life As A Woman crushed. Not just the shocking artwork, but the whole sound of the band was mesmerizing. Somehow the gang sounds familiar, but also completely overwhelmingly new and free of any boundaries. This is grindjazznoise with fierce vocals for all I care, just listen to this amazing piece of music.
The music of Couch Slut often gets described as noise rock. I get that, but take it from me… that barely does justice to the ferocious hale storm of sound that assaults the listener who dares to just dip their toes in that maelstrom. Spiteful and abrasive, Couch Slut violently attacks with a saxophone blurting underneath a pile of pitch black noise on ‘Funeral Dyke’. The vocals of Megan Osztrosits are savage and full of fuming rage. It’s as if Converge is jamming with SkinnyPuppy at times, particularly on the battery that is titled ‘Company Picnic With Dust Off’. It has the intensity of grindcore and the bravado of punkrock, bringing a mixture of SonicYouth and Today is the Day to the table. I just try to give you a feel of what they are like here…
To me, the music of Couch Slut is a primitive piece of violence. The riffs are menacing, always offering anticipation that gets turned upside down in the end. The vocals are completely raw outbursts of emotion. They slap you in the face like cold water. Then suddenly there’s an almost militant rhythm to nod along to, like on ‘Summer Smiles’. The music sounds harsh and direct while retaining atmosphere and detail. The flagellating, distorted guitars build walls that crash into the listener. Are those fucking church bells on ‘Penalty Scar’?
The band uses various instruments that are not completely traditional in this sort of sound, but perhaps that is exactly how they manage to create a sound unlike any other. Every cranny and nook is filled with squealing, buzzing and hammering music, while the frantic vocals of Ostrosits keep on coming. From start to end, this is a record of catharsis and punishing force. Both smartly done and with a brawn, Couch Slut leaves no contenders in violent music standing.
Label: An Out Recordings Band: Ragana Origin: United States
What attracted me to Ragana originally was their Lithuanian name. It means as much as a witch, though the concept of a witch is different in Lithuania. The duo behind this name is American and they define their style as ‘witch doom’. Maria and Nicole started out in Washington, but currently reside in Oakland and are very active in following their ideals. Taking inspiration from Wolves in the Throne Room, CatPower and Earth, they started a metal thing. Oh, and Julie Christmas.
Kim Kelly captured the band best in her article on Noisey. The duo is described as being anarcho-feminists and ‘You Take Nothing’ is an emotion laden, furious cry of protest. Though I can appreciate the politics behind the album, I think Kim’s article better expressed that. Let me just take you to the music. I have a ton of respect for the powerful way these ladies present their idea on a record that absolutely shatters everything in its raw directness.
Opener ‘Spare No Man’ has all the grim force of a post-black metal/post-hardcore hybrid. Crushing riffs, that spill out like gritty rubble of toppling buildings. The desperate screams and howls feel like a serrated knife to the heart in their forceful message. The way genres blend together into one powerful outlet, feels to me akin to when I first heard Converge or maybe even a little bit Deafheaven. It feels new, exciting and overwhelming. The sinister, creeping opener of ‘To Leave’ even puts some Brand New in the mix. The song is both fragile and beautiful, but also sad and mournful.
Though Ragana clearly taps into the black metal sound, they’re never really fully there. On ‘Winter’s Light’, we even go to a more dreamy, trickling sound. When the icy guitar kicks in, it’s clear and clean. You’ll find that typical blast beat and static riff combo indeed, but there’s a vulnerability to it, it’s so open and raw at times that you feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The way the vocals are delivered on the foreboding ‘Somewhere’ is tantalizing, it grabs you by the throat.
Ragana delivers an album, that is so powerful in its punkrock simplicity. It’s not trying to sell you concrete ideas but conveys a feeling, a message that otherwise remains misunderstood. You can feel your skin crawl during some tracks, during the odd passages of jagged guitars and submersion in the eerie atmosphere. When the haunting ‘You Take Nothing’, which is the endlessly repeated phrase that makes up the song, fades away… It leaves you with a cut you can’t heal.
I’m not sure how I picked up this record, perhaps through a dungeon synth group on Facebook. Menelglîr is a band from France… or like with most dungeon synth groups, it’s a one-man endeavor by Alderaan (the force is strong in this one) from the band Nazrak. This artist plays keys and sings in the black metal formation.
The act hails from the French Savoie. That’s about as much as I can tell you at this point. Nazrak seems to hold folklore close to their black metal, which is probably an element you can experience in this music as well by their keyboard player. It definitely has an otherworldly feeling to it when you hear it.
The sound of Menelglîr is big. Flowing, regal synth sounds make it feel like you approach amazing castles. Your eyes filled with awe, you look upon a world of grandeur and magic. The electronic chants remind me a little of the old Final Fantasy soundtracks as well. The simple way in which the sound of epic proportions is created is what makes this artist so attractive to me.
The music progresses slowly, gradually building up and then with big lumps comes at you. When the big, droning sounds pass, you get the gentle, trickling keys that ever so gently whisper of fantastic realms and magnificent nature. I particularly like how the sound is quite minimal on this record. There are not that many different layers to the music, it offers a very direct and effective delivery of sounds, which makes it so easily accessible. The downside of this record is that it’s really not very long. So I’m keen to hear the full thing.
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions Band: Urn Origin: Finland
Black thrashing shot of caffeine with Urn
Finland is still the source of some of the finest metal and anything black metal seems to find great soil in the northern nation. Urn has been around for a good 23 years. Though their production of records has not been as astonishing, the quality of their output is a steady show of force. After a silence of 9 years, they’ve just unleashed ‘The Burning’. A record that feels just right.
The explanation for the low production might also be the fact that the members play in various projects. Also, the group has had some personnel switches with only Sulphur (who started out in Barathrum at the very start of the black metal scene) remaining since 1994. The rest only joined in the past year. With new members who’ve earned their name in bands like Sacrilegious Impalement, Devastracktor, EvilAngel and various other acts, the fire is burning again.
The sound of Urn hits you immediately with its thrashy, boisterous swagger. Nothing like some blackened thrash to get you up in the morning. It’s like that first scalding hot cup of coffee with a bitter, sharp bite to it. On the other hand, there’s a vibrant sort of energy to the music of these Finnish mad men with a heavy metal sentiment on a song like ‘Celestial Light’. Soaring guitars and frantic energy are the driving force of their exciting sound.
This album breathes fire. Polished riffs, sharp hooks and a continuous burst of energy. Though obviously, the theme of the music is not a jolly one, Urn is most assuredly playing music that oozes fun. Even when there’s a more black-metal passage, like the Bathory -esque tune ‘Morbid Black Sorrow’ (I want this on my coffee mug) is laced with heavy metal riffing. Screaming guitars just make me feel happy, especially if they have that Nifelheim enthusiasm to them. That would be ‘Nocturnal Demons’ by the way.
Surely, Urn might not have the catchy, fancy threat to it that people dig in some of these other black thrash groups, but they’ve got a vibe of their own. This record is the cup of coffee you need. No sugar, just furious riffs.
After delivering a split with Misþyrming earlier this year, Sinmara drops another bomb with ‘Within The Weaves of Infinity’. A new obliterating bit of Icelandic black metal to come hit you in the ear-drums.
Sinmara actually has been around almost ten years, though at first under the moniker Chao. Their black metal is pretty much in line with the Icelandic sound of fury, fire, and ice and this new EP is definitely some of the finest.
The opening title track immediately unfolds a grim wave of interwoven guitar passages. There’s a soothing, wavering feel to the sound, while it also holds that furious abyssal rage in its thunderous riffing. The vocals are like hot coals clashing, while the words are spat out at you. The sound seems as full of conflict as its origin is fire and ice as much as calm and rage.
Sinmara clearly connects to the whole post-black metal scene in their sound, but retains that rumbling fire. This is very clear when the blasts and static guitar riffs of ‘Ormstunga’ hit you in the face like a frosty blast of wind. An eerie melody comes together in the composition, but the howls and barks offer a rough counterweight. The focus seems to be on the overall atmosphere, but that doesn’t stop the gents from relentlessly beating you with drums, guitars and words.
Sinmara is a challenging listen, but this is Icelandic black metal at its best. Both traditionally furious as well as melancholically melodic. A pleasure indeed.
I’ve been really picking up the pace and the pile of books appears to be dwindling at times. But there’s so much more to read. I enjoyed books by Mo Daviau, BruceChatwin, ErnestHemingway and NathanGray these past few weeks, so here’s a bit about those.
Mo Daviau – Every Anxious Wave
So imagine a setting where an ageing rocker of the nineties indie kind and his failed-at-life computer programmer buddy find a way to exploit a wormhole in the first one’s closet to send people back to the past. Only to see rock concerts though, because of a sense of morality concerning the past. Then the second one by accident gets send back in time to the island of Manhattan in 980 AD, where the means for traveling back don’t work. Well, that is the mistake Karl makes when his friend Wayne wants to stop the murder of John Lennon. So there’s the plot of this novel. Karl has to right his wrong (he forgot a number when plotting Wayne’s destination, so he finds an astrophysicist to help him. That would be Lena, who likes the Melvins. She also likes The Axis, which was Karl’s band. And then everything goes horribly wrong/right/what?.
Mo Daviau wrote this as a first novel and I for one am impressed by the way this novel unfolds. There’s romance, rock’n’roll (a lot of names get mentioned). I think Mo Daviau might have an Elliot Smith tattoo somewhere actually. Time travel, with all the moral questions that come with looking at such a concept in our time and age. The way Daviau writes is very matter-of-fact and the style feels so natural as if this was taken out of daily conversations. The eye for detail, including the unpleasant little bits that we deal with in daily life, makes the novel very lively and easy to become a part of as a reader. I like that the characters are very human, not picture perfect characters. They become very real and very tangible very soon for you as a reader and that makes this book so captivating. The time traveling is pretty cool too though.
Bruce Chatwin – In Patagonia
I don’t know how, but reading the book by AndreaWulf about Alexander Von Humboldt has triggered a wish to read more books about travels. Pretty soon the book ‘In Patagonia’ came up. Bruce Chatwin tells the story of his youth, where his grandmother had a piece of ‘Brontosaurus skin’ that she received from cousin Charles Milward. Milward was a captain that had sailed to South-America and found the remains of a Mylodon. Later Chatwin met with architect and furniture designer Eilleen Gray, who has a map of Patagonia. He tells her he always wanted to go there. So did she, but at 93 years of age it’s a bit late for that, so she asks him to go instead of her. So a miraculous story starts from there.
Chatwin travels but doesn’t just describe his experiences, but stories from Patagonia of other bold travelers who went there like Butch Cassidy and Charly Milward himself. Through these stories, bits of history and anecdotes from people he meets, he paints a remarkable picture of the realm. Patagonia becomes one of the last places of true and thorough mistery and wildness. A place where the world is still wild and untamed. From the atrocities against the Indians to their violent revolts to missionaries and daring criminals, Chatwin puts them together in a remarkable book. Even the story of the book is remarkable and daring. Chatwin is a master storyteller and this book will make you yearn for the untamed places in the world.
Nathan Gray – Until The Darkness Takes Us
The boysetsfire frontman Nathan Gray has had an interesting life and one well worth documenting in writing. Also, the restless soul of this converted Satanist is eager to explore new forms of expression. And so this biography was unleashed together with new steps in his artistic life; the Nathan Gray Collective (live review here). The story of Gray starts in a strongly religious community, which shaped him with the doom and gloom outlook. From that departure point, Gray takes us through is life. Finding liberation outside of the community, struggling with the self and eventually finding punkrock music.
Eventually Gray finds himself amidst failed relations, years of party life, creating meaningful music and shouting defiance at God, government, and fate. About struggling as artists to find their way and looking for new creative outlets. Gray ends his story with the discovery of Satanism. He attempts to explain this, but notes that misunderstanding is always there. He expressed this also in the project I AM HERESY. Gray has an interesting writing style, rich with words and expressions with an almost academic or theological tone at times. I guess it’s the poet in Gray that shines through in the pages. Gray writes noteworthily vague sections about very personal issues. The phrasing gets to an almost prophetic doomsayers rantings at times, filled with quotes, and lyrics. It makes for a daunting read with clear personal struggles, but also a great insight into the process of this fascinating artist becoming himself and offering that wisdom to you as a fan. This book is brave writing, if you enjoyed the music of Nathan Gray as I do, check it out.
Ernest Hemingway – The White Snows of Kilimanjaro
Mind, this is not a well-known bundle of work by Hemingway. It’s a Russian readers collection (English with Russian annotations), that I picked up in Vilnius. In this book, the reader receives the stories that taek take place in Africa. They are set during safari’s or otherwise in these wild and untamed lands where Hemingway went in the thirties. The title refers to one of the stories in this little bundle. This is not the first book of short stories by Hemingway that I’ve read, but definitely not the one I enjoyed most. Perhaps because I find the whole business of a safari harder to relate to. That makes sense. Regardless of the fact that they are merely the setting for the sparse narratives of Hemingway, this is a thing we simply no longer appreciate in western society.
What I love about the work of Hemingway, particularly this one, is the sense of suspense it leaves you with. The fact that a lot of the story is somehow omitted is the art. This makes it even more impressive and captivating, due to the mental engagement in the writing. On the other hand, Hemingway throws images at you in rapid succession, drawing upon your imagination to shape and color the story to the max. It’s a joyous experience, but it also makes that reading the stories in succession might be a bit tiresome. Every story reads as a good film and that is the absolute charm of this fabulous author.
For my birthday, my lovely wife gave me a trip to copenhagen as a gift. I had been to Denmark very long ago, back in 1992 (starting my long affinity with Danish football as well), but not to the capital. I enjoyed my time here, though it’s a pricy place.
This was also the first time we used AirBnB, where you get to sleep in a persons house. Our host was a stewardess for a major flying company and gladly hosted us in her neat apppartment. Added bonus is that she owned a great coffee shop, where we could have breakfast. Extra super bonus is that this was a vegan/health shop, so we had the breakfast of dreams at the Coffee Queen.
Kristiania and Nyhavn
When you go to Copenhagen, you need to visit Kristiania. I was amazed at the long line of weed vendors, selling their wares on top of old oil barrels. Seriously, there was a liberty and randomness to it that made me feel that being Dutch was not at all what I thought it was compared to this place. I can’t say the rest of Kristiania was as impressive as the legends that precede it. It looked like a dump on most parts and others where highly commercialised.
The same you could say about Nyhavn, the hip, go-to center of the city with the colorfull houses. It looks great, contrary to Kristiania, but hardly offers the complexity and fascinating aspects of the squat settlement. The center of the Danish capital is beautiful though and you would love to be in the cyclist friendly city with excellent public transport (the trams are even fully automatic it seems). I spend an excellent first day exploring these parts , just wandering around and enjoying the surroundings.
Exploring the city
Copenhagen is a city with wide streets, winding roads and a lot of old buildings. Just wandering around those is a joy. Obviously you want to visit the little mermaid statue. Perhaps you even get a glimpse through the hordes of tourists that stop their with full busloads. The harbor is obviously a nice part of the city to visit, since a lot of live was around these parts in the past and old buildings, statues and pretty parks will surprise you.
What is well worth visiting is the national history museum. You can literally spend a day here, soaking up the history from the ancient days all the way to the present century. The museum has a vast collection and some surprisingly impressive items, such as some of the well preserved bodies found in bogs. Not saying this to be morbid, but to be able to see a person froma different age is something particularly special.
I went to see the cool Northern Discomfort Fest as well in Copenhagen, which took place at the Ungdomshuset, an old squat commune where often bands play. The cool thing was the atmosphere and the affordable drinks and food. I really enjoyed this festival, which had some great acts and truly no bad shows going on. You can read more about that here and here. Again, public transport is your friend, though it does stop driving at some point and then an hours walk is not so bad through the streets of Copenhagen actually.
Noteworthy acts I saw were for example Alaric, the English post-punk infused band with melodic and melancholic vocals. Another one I liked particularly is Cult of Occult.
Denmark has a very peculiar music culture. It really is baffling to know that hooligans interact and work together with the police. For some reason the Danish league is considered small and teams fuse, merge and fold a lot. Current champion FC Copenhagen only has been around for about 1,5 decade. I have always had affinity for football in Denmark. My parents took me there on holiday back in 1992, just after the European Championship.
So I went down to Telia Parken to see the local FC Copenhagen play Lyngby, one of their historic competitors. My tickets were not for the nice seats, but right in with the hardcore fans. It was great to join in with the chanting during the game with the passionate FC Co fans. After 45 minutes the score is 0-0. A few minutes into the second half Pavlovic, the Serbian striker of Copenhagen, scores a beautiful goal. The fans explode and fireworks are lit. Pavlovic continues to score three goals and the chanting never stops. A great experience.
Label: Independent Band: Hair of the Dog Origin: Scotland
During Roadburn, you sometimes just wander into a place to see a band you didn’t know before. So I stumbled into Extase. It was very late and little people were there, but the band on stage was bare chested and completely rocking out, pushing out the most glorious hard rock sounds. I was sold at that moment to the charm of Scottish rockers Hair of the Dog. They simply rocked with raw passion.
This is the third full length of the Scottish trio from Edinburgh. Clearly getting more groove and intensity to their sound as they go. I guess the skateboarding connection also has something to do with it, because they are on a roll (pun intended)! The laid back flow and catchiness of the music is great and it is a complete pleasure to hear their tunes.
What I enjoy about Hair of the Dog is that they make essential, bare chested, ballsy rock music. Sure, when the title track launches you immediately detect the stoner and sludge influences. The group reshaped it backward in rock history to the classic hard rock vibe and feel of Led Zeppelin and Mountain. My favorite tune of the Scots is ‘Keeping Watch over the Night’, where singer and guitar player Adam Holt is truly capturing hearts in minds with his passionate delivery and the all over hugeness of the sound. What a trip!
‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete’ takes us in a way different direction. While it holds it’s bluesy progression, the vocals are much more crooning and hold a completely different vibe. It’s remarkable how the threesome makes music that feels simple and direct, but also holds a big stadium vibe. Clean and poppy enough for your mom to enjoy, but rough enough to still make you feel cool while driving. Every note is spun out and used for it’s maximal potential, to create that wall of sound that makes them so strong sounding. For example, on ‘In Death’s Hands’ the music seems to just drift along and the notes just flow out.
On ‘4AM’ the boys show us they have quite a bit of soul as well. On the track they pour out their hearts and even the bass and drums ooze passion and feeling. This band takes it back to its essence and all I can say is that they’re simply amazing. Hair of the Dog makes me want to puff my chest, pump my fists and gently wave a lighter (yes, smartphones then) around, all in the span of one album. That makes them awesome.