Friday, August 8, 2008
Desecrating The Unholy Dogma: Black Metal’s Vicious New Killers
Desecrating The Unholy Dogma: Black Metal’s Vicious New Killers
*to be published in Unrestrained! Magazine
It’s a rainy night in Queens, and I’m standing on a dock overlooking the East River. The soft glow of the Manhattan skyline catches my gaze as the acrid scent of burning flesh wafts by, reminding me why I’m here. I turn to the vast abyss that looms behind me – an artist’s warehouse, hollow and empty save for boxes filled with wire and secrets, a smattering of solemn-faced people, and a fire pit, over which’s glowing embers two pigs are being roasted. An unlikely mélange of leather jackets, cheap beer, silver necklaces and ballerina flats populate this alien slice of the city; flanked by an upscale restaurant and a loading dock, this “venue” seems as out of place here as its temporary residents, and no one is quite certain of what to expect. Some of us – the longhairs and the bullet-belted - are here to see a metal show; others are drawn by their curiosity about this gathering of black-clad people, and about the spectacle to come. This city has a way of bringing strangers together in the strangest places, especially if the words “free” and “BYOB” happen to be involved.
As night fell, Krallice took the stage. If you haven’t yet heard about Brooklyn’s most talked-about black metal project, you’d fail to understand the sort of spell they cast over the audience, or how effortlessly they managed to fill that cavernous space up to its very rafters with a raging inferno of sound and chaos. Much like Wolves In The Throne Room or Watain, one must witness Krallice’s particular brand of BM live in order to fully appreciate it. There is no corpse paint, no inverted crosses or cow’s blood. There are no histrionics or posturing or pretensions towards grimness. The members of Krallice simply play their music with passion, with emotion, with determination and with feeling, and that is what makes it so compelling. They don’t need to invoke Satan or decorate their microphones stands with bones; as far as Krallice is concerned, the Devil’s in the details.
The band was formed in the summer of 2007 by Mick Barr and Colin Marston. According to guitarist Marston, Krallice was originally borne of a mutual desire to play together, bolstered by the rapport the two had built up over years of working in tandem on various musical endeavors. Barr had guested on several releases by Marston’s other bands, while in turn Marston has engineered several of Barr’s albums. Both of them boast extremely diverse, technical musical backgrounds, as Marston’s work in Dysrhythmia, Behold…The Arctopus, and Byla, and Barr’s participation/solo work (Othrelm, Ocrilim, Octis, and more) can attest. The lineup was rounded out by drummer LevWeinstein that fall, then solidified in April 2008 with the addition of bassist Nick McMaster. Krallice’s rhythm section are no slouches either. Weinstein pulls double-duty behind the kit in NYC avant-doom noiseniks Bloody Panda, and, in addition, McMaster holds down the low end in Astomatous, Sallah, and Hymn while Weinstein holds court behind the kit. With members that boast a veritable laundry list of projects under their collective belts yet participate in no black or even thrash metal bands to speak of, a throwaway description of Krallice as, “black metal played by non-black metal dudes” may indeed fit, if only on the most superficial of levels. As one might expect, Martson’s hackles raised a bit when faced with that particular analysis." If it means you have to be a Satanist and wear corpsepaint, then I suppose that statement is correct. But if you think that way, not only are you full of shit, you're just ignorant: Venom weren't Satanists, Enslaved never wore corpsepaint, and the list goes on.”
The man’s got a point. It’s 2008, not 1994, and the once colorless, grim face of black metal is changing, finally trying on new personas and expressions; it’s only fitting that the members of Krallice keep theirs bare. The widespread critical acclaim and mainstream (comparatively-speaking) acceptance of bands like Xasthur, Wolves in the Throne Room, Nachtmystium, and Withered has dragged the genre kicking and screaming out of its frozen lair and shone a spotlight on the emaciated corpses of Quorthon’s progeny. That doesn’t mean that they have to like it, though.
“To be fair, most of that sentiment probably comes from the fact that Mick and I are not known for making black metal, but believe it or not, it is possible for musicians to make different kinds of music throughout their lives (even multiple kinds at the same time!). Since this music is written by us, it's going to sound like us. If it didn't, it would be pretty false, right? I decided to play in a black metal band because it's a style that speaks to me and has for a long time. I've always been strongly attracted to music that appears to be cloaked or shrouded… music that suggests that there is more substance than may be immediately apparent or understandable. It is this attraction that has drawn me to very simplistic, noisy music as well as extremely complex composition.”
Substance is one thing that Krallice could never be accused of lacking; they manage to pack more riffs, ideas, and atmosphere into one song than many of their peers can manage to scrape together for an entire record. Graced by artwork from artist Karlynn Holland, their self-titled debut has racked up massive praise for its forward-thinking approach to the black metal aesthetic, and as has been mentioned previously, their live show seldom stops short of mesmerizing. Blackened drone passages recall a better-produced Xasthur or tranqued-out Deathspell Omega, with just enough menacing riffage to keep things at a steady death march. The dual guitarmonies of Barr and Marston lay a firm foundation of technical prowess, spiderwebbed by meandering pieces of ambience and viciously menacing hyperblasts (courtesy of the criminally-capable Weinstein). In short, it’s a hell of a record, one that would fit comfortably between “Dead As Dreams,” "Nattens Madrigal," “Diadem of the Twelve Stars,” and “The Eye of Every Storm” on your CD shelf (fitting, as Marston names Ulver, Weakling, and Neurosis amongst his main musical influences for Krallice).
Weakling worship and buzzsaws in the throne room characterize this new wave of American black metal, and with the release of their first longplayer, Krallice have already made their mark on the ever-evolving USBM scene. Recorded on 2” tape by Marston at his own Thousand Caves Studio in Brooklyn, the production is far from raw; rather, the instruments are given room to breathe, so that their individual sounds shine through the darkness. According to Marston, this was done intentionally. “We recorded every instrument separately. We tracked all the guitars next to the amps (for feedback and sustain), and I used distant mics (sometimes putting a mic in a, altogether different room from the sound source) on everything to give the record a cavernous depth. All the guitar parts were doubled or tripled with varying tones, again to thicken the texture. I refrained from using any simulated reverb, drum triggering, and hardly any compression to leave the band sounding open and organic. I also didn't master the album super loud for the same reason. People should learn how to operate a volume knob!”
As far as the end result goes, Martson is content. “I do feel like we achieved our goal of making an awesome record with a pretty unique voice. I also achieved a personal goal in terms of the production of the album. I've always wanted to make a record that sounds like this and was never allowed to (or it wasn't appropriate) in my other bands.”
Speaking of his “other bands,” one’s got to give it to Marston – he’s got a Ringling-worthy balancing act going on, and shows no signs of slowing down.
“We have a bunch of local shows scheduled, and maybe a tour if Fenriz decides to put together a live band and have us open for Isengard. Other than that we've been working on the next album since January whenever we have time. So far we have enough song structures for two new records, so we'll probably just pick around five of those for the next album and then have a jumpstart on the third.”
From his mouth to our ears. Planning three albums ahead ain’t nothin’ to musicians of this caliber; the hardest part will be waiting for the next breath of fresh, stagnant air that these black metal iconoclasts chose to unleash upon our sorry souls. You have been warned.