It is just over a year ago that an interview was published on thequietus.com with Wolves In The Throne Room – a metal band rooted in punk ethics from Olympia, Washington, whose departure from society and communal nature-boy attitude not infrequently earned them the reputation of a so-called tree-hugger band. They are considered one of the most important representatives of the substantial reassessment of black metal that has been going on for years, especially in the U.S.
At the conclusion of this interview, the author Brad Sanders ascertains that, when it comes to intellectual engagement, metal is currently in its golden age. A few lines earlier, WITTR's Aaron Weaver had described the genre as the discipline of either very intelligent or extremely limited actors. Specifically, he says, "It’s something that every metalhead struggles with because it does give metal a bad name and makes it appear somewhat ridiculous to people who don’t understand the genre the way we do. It’s a bit of a shame. But at the same time, I think there’s a good deal of very worthwhile dialogue that goes on around heavy metal, and black metal specifically. (…) It is still addressing issues, feelings, and a certain sort of world spirit that defines our age, that defines the spirit of this time that we’re in right now".
And so it is. Be it the controversy surrounding Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the head of the band Liturgy, who in the eyes of the scene-police is a most disloyal hipster kid with a philosophy degree that has the audacity to devote an entire manifesto to the ideological revision of the genre, entitled "Transcendental Black Metal", or the academic appropriation of the issue by the already repeatedly held "Black Metal Theory Symposium", or the connected blog at blackmetaltheory.blogspot.com, or the fact that metal can be found more frequently than ever in broadsheet feature articles and high-profile intellectual media such as The Wire magazine, the subject at hand has been taken out of its inner circle and brought to new segments of public discourse, beyond the mosh pit to the lecture halls, places where heads not only bang, but also work. A scene that sees its subject as a flaming purgatory for everything ordered, sensible, rational, conventional, and civil will of course have a highly allergic reaction to such attempts at infiltration. The fact that it had to come to this type of discourse sooner or later is just as obvious however. Hardly any other genre is so interwoven with schools of thought such as existentialism, metaphysics, Satanism, nihilism, or of anthropocentrism, as is black metal, and this will inevitably fascinate hermeneuticists outside of the genre.
This situation brings a new reading of main theme of the upcoming CTM festival –The Golden Age – into play. The consideration as to whether this era of crumbling barriers, the brutal diversity of options, growth, and divergence is actually golden and desired, or whether the existential needs of its actors, meaning people, are not already hopelessly overwhelmed, joins the less provocative image of the golden age of a niche culture, which is now looking behind the scenes of its primordial, impulsive theatre with a willingness for debate and serious criticism. It is the golden age of a niche culture, which, in its antithesis to popularly affirmed digital acceleration, and in taking stock of itself or nature and its apocalyptic notions, simply addresses a sub-zeitgeist.
Two Berlin-based acts performing at this year's CTM festival can be positioned in exactly this tension between passionate genre devotion and reflection.
Firstly, there is Sun Worship, a relatively new band, founded in 2009. So far only a two-song demo tape and a split tape with Earth Chaos have appeared. A 12" EP and a debut album are due to follow in the coming months. Like so much of what has been sewn in the post-black metal patch in recent years, the Sun Worship sound is a distant formal aesthetic homage to the era that first allowed for a spiritual experience of the genre, when the spirits of black metal were more or less effectively summoned for the first time, and were not gotten rid of for a long time. We are talking here about the Scandinavian and particularly Norwegian black metal from the first half of the 90s. Since then they have been importing hypnotically fast tremolo guitar parts, blast beats, chaotic commotion, and perfidious croaking. Sun Worship’s revisionist aspect can be found more in the subtext, in warmth-seeking textures that serve as a kind of contrast to the lo-fi coldness of the source material, but also to the sound of extreme post-black metal solitaires like Xasthur, Gnaw Their Tongues, or Leviathan. It takes place where hopelessness is not only celebrated in the sound excess, but also through a veil of tears while posing the question of how the light might look like at the end of the road. This border-defying aesthetic stance places them in the vicinity of bands such as Liturgy, which has dedicated itself to the transcendence of black metal, toward a positive interpretation. Their band name and an onstage image that rejects any kind of dress-code insignia do the rest. It is an unconventional attitude that they themselves do not wish to be misunderstood as a method or even as an affront: "We have no mission, and we definitely do not see ourselves as part of any movement. The whole 'post-black-metal' thing has long been on its way to becoming a separate scene with its own superficial conventions, if it isn't already. And of course, our band name is not a coincidence. And of course, we are pursuing certain ideas, though in part we are still far away from implementing them. Perhaps some things will crystallize out of the coming releases and shows, or perhaps not." (Sun Worship)
The current evolutionary status of Sun Worship will leave the foundations of Stattbad Wedding shaking on 02 February. They will play as part of the PURGE/#gHashtag evening alongside the likes of EAN, ︻╦╤─ ƱZ ─╤╦︻ , Necro Deathmort, Gatekeeper, Alec Empire, and Mykki Blanco.
The PURGE/#gHashtag link leads directly to the second band to be discussed here – Reliq – as this band’s drummer, Brandon Rosenbluth aka xorzyzt, can also be found exorcizing the shadow cultures of Berlin's nightlife of its dogmas (watch out!) as one of the promoters and creators of the PURGE/#gHashtag crew.
The influence of black metal on the Reliq sound is evident, but it is merely one of many. Reliq makes use of bold interdisciplinary hooks. Current and past members have been or are art students, and the band itself developed out of the A/V performance art collective dev01ded in 2010. Accordingly Reliq’s influences are read together, in a carefree manner and with no regard for the dictates of the scene. For example, post-core bands like Isis or Converge are mentioned, as are the expressive validity of Butoh icon Kazuo Ohno and the industrial inclinations of Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten. The Cassandra-esque singing of vocalist grayl is inspired by both the vocal eccentricities of Diamanda Galas, and the recent work of goth chanteuses such as Zola Jesus or Chelsea Wolfe. Drummer xorzyzt, and guitarist NiKo Lfo invoke Swans, Ben Frost, and, indeed, Liturgy and Wolves In The Throne Room as influences.
With this thoroughly honest citing of references and the general approach of the band, as well as with the ideas currently propagated in the adjacent sub-environment of bringing different scenes together, it's merely a matter of time before some frustrated pundit will decide to play the "well-poisoner" card – or even the even clunkier "hipster" card. But Reliq may as well care less; the intensity of the sound stream they manage to compress from so many black spirits from the abyss of shoegaze, black metal, noise, and ambient during their live performances has so far converted any doubters.
Reliq will play their first show after a year's break on 31.01 in the Berghain Kantine with Iceage, Oneirogen and Wife. By their own admission, this hiatus is comparable with the calm of a volcano on the verge of spitting a fire more fierce and devastating than ever before. Consequently, Reliq have announced a brand new and even more epic and ambitious set than has previously been experienced from them. It is bound to have been worth the wait.
Andreas Richter is managing music editor for the German edition of VICE magazine and noisey.com, and is working as a freelance writer and journalist in Berlin.
Translated from German by Alex Paulick Thiel.