BMR: Virus Edition, Vol. 1 (BORKNAGAR, BLOOD COVEN, SACRAMENTUM)
BMR: So... here I was, in the midst of getting-used-to-new-job stress, lack of sleep, and finally joining the rest of the world in being swept away by viral hysteria (as well as being genuinely afraid of what the next weeks/months will bring), bemoaning the fact that my sparse, short-lived BMR season was in danger of dying a quick death...
...But then I had this epiphany a short time ago...
...Black Metal isn't just about the winter.
And then it all ran over and through me: This time we are living in now, in the midst of a pandemic, being uncertain about our futures (in all arenas: health, economic, mortality, etc), the threat of this apocalyptic undertone bringing out the worst in people (from hoarders to politicians to neighbors and everyone in between), to the way in which it is already making the landscape and everyday life more empty, to the loneliness of self-isolation, to the undeniable possibility that untold numbers of people will leave this earth in the next few months, finally mixed with all the nihilism, hopelessness, depression, cruelty and fear of the unknown these things bring along with them...well, can YOU think of a better state of life and mind that will both feed on and revel in all things Black Metal?
Neither can I.
So guess what?... As long as we are living in a world-encompassing, plague-ravaged landscape... the BMR isn't going ANYWHERE. I don't care it it's 90° in the middle of summer. As long as coronavirus is making our lives hell... we shall continue to revel in the music that seems specifically tailored to be the soundtrack to the darkness of the soul it has brought to us.
Anyway... I don't know about you, but I feel INVIGORATED
So, this particular Report will be the first of many columns dedicated to works by artists that I was very much looking forward to seeing in concert during the next (and past) few weeks... but thanks to COVID-19, the best laid plans have either been postponed indefinitely or faded altogether. So...
Scheduled performance date: Devastation on the Nation tour, The Sanctuary, Hamtramck, MI, March 29, 2020
The Devastation on the Nation tours have always consisted of unbelievably badass lineups, and I was looking forward to this year's with a vengeance. Not only because I would only have to drive 35 minutes (as opposed to four hours) to see it, but because the lineup included Rotting Christ, Abigail Williams... and Norway's BORKNAGAR. I was definitely looking forward to seeing them the most.
BORKNAGAR was touring to support their latest album, the critically-acclaimed "True North", but the one we are featuring today is their third record, "The Archaic Course" (1998).
When Oystein G. Brun started the band, they were definitely more in the TNBM vein, with shades of their various eclectic interests barely audible. I chose this album for today because this is the album on which the band really defined their sound. I used to say I prefered the ferocity of the more BM-influenced "Olden Domain", but this latest listen is causing me to do some rethinking. "The Archaic Course" shows BORKNAGAR arriving in a domain that was unmistakably theirs alone. The progressive elements were starting to assert themselves, and the melodic, folksy, "woodsy" sensibilities were in full swing. The album is perhaps most noteworthy because it marked the debut of lead vocalist Simen "Vortex" Hestnaes, who is best known (and recognizable) by FAR as the "clean" vocalist (and later, bass player) for Dimmu Borgir during their most popular (and really, best) era. It was probably thanks to Dimmu and Vortex that many people first discovered BORKNAGAR, and that's alright.
NOTE: The only other time I have seen BORKNAGAR live was during the touring cycle for this album, on which they were direct support on Emperor's only-ever full U.S. tour in the summer of 1999. (Witchery and Divine Empire were on the package as well.) Nick Barker was their touring drummer. I always have regretted not seeing much of their set... although the reason I missed it was because I was interviewing Emperor drummer Trym out in the parking lot of the Flying Machine (R.I.P.) in Lorain, OH. Guess I probably shouldn't complain, huh...
Artist: BLOOD COVEN
Scheduled performance date: New Dodge Lounge, Hamtramck, MI, May 9, 2020
I'm honestly not sure what is more painful; the cancelation/postponement of a big ol' national tour... or the evaporation of a one-off gathering of regional bands that was amazingly one-of-kind... so much so that who KNOWS when we might see even half of them in the same place again.
It may very well be the latter. Case in point is the show that was set to take place at the New Dodge Lounge in Hamtramck on Saturday, May 9th. Talk about a lineup to get stoked about: The legendary Nunslaughter is one of the best live bands in extreme metal (seen them three times). Ditto for Embalmer, who I have seen 4-5 times over the past 25+ years. My Michigan brothers in Centenary and Isenblast, both of whom I have seen more times than I can count, just keep getting more amazing every time I see them. I was stoked to hear Manic Impulse for the first time. And yet, the one I was most disappointed in having to miss was Akron, Ohio's BLOOD COVEN.
Amidst a slew of demos and compilation appearances, BLOOD COVEN has only released three (I think) full-length studio albums since their formation in 1993. As part of my pre-show psyche-up, I pulled out said CDs. But then... Yeah. I started with their first full-length, "Ashes of an Autumn Burning" (1998).
I don't know that I (or others) fully appreciated how top-notch this band was. Ratio-wise, there was probably a hair bit more death than black metal in their sound (although the grating, overpowering vocals definitely sound like the latter). The foreboding, reveling-in-the-occult songs are long, fearless and skillfully morphed between slower passages, rage-filled explosions, stopping for breaths amidst acoustic interludes, the list goes on. They run the gamut. Come to think of it, this record reminds me of the work of Vital Remains, in the best possible way. The production is nice and raw, with a low-end that may just blow out your speakers if you're not careful.
NOTE: Just in the past couple days, BLOOD COVEN posted the complete 93-minutes of their long-overdue new album (we're talking it's been 8 years). Do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in the abyss that is "To Ascend from Blackened Realms".
Scheduled Performance date: Maryland Death Fest, Baltimore, MD, Memorial Day Weekend, 2020
In all honesty, there is probably no bigger single coronavirus-caused disappointment to the United States metal community than the postponement of the Maryland Death Fest, which is by far the most outstanding event of its kind in this country, and has been for well over a decade.
Truth be told, although a pair of early-bird, 4-day passes were in my hands for a fleeting moment last year... my chances of attending MDF 2020 were pretty much at zero by the time the virus was unleashed upon us and the show got rescheduled. And who knows what will happen between now and next year?... Anyway, there is obviously an extensive list of bands I and thousands of others would have loved to see. And Sweden's SACRAMENTUM was pretty much at the top for me.
SACRAMENTUM only released three albums (all back in the mid-late 90s), but each album is excellent in its own right. As their brief career progressed, their sound became a bit thrashier, but their 1995 debut, "Far Away From the Sun", is a near-perfect mix of black and death metal. It's quite fitting that this came out within a few months of Dissection's godlike Storm of the Light's Bane album, for the bands' sounds are quite similar, ESPECIALLY on this release.
NOTE: Just as the record itself is not-often-discussed... the cover art by Kristian Wåhlin (Necrolord) is also not frequently mentioned when talking about his classic cover paintings (although honestly, I don't think he's ever done one that wasn't amazing). This painting is perfectly-suited to the album's subject matter, with its ruins, deep cliffs, dark storm clouds, and ancient castle (which may or may not be inhabited)...
ANOTHER NOTE: SACRAMENTUM was going to play this album live in its entirety at MDF 2020. Damn.
That's all for now. There will be another live-concert-in-memoriam BMR column in the near future. In the meantime, please stay safe, take care of yourselves and loved ones, support the musicans you love in any way you can, and for the love of Pete... stay home! And wash yer FUCKIN' goddamn hands! Because the less you do that, the longer it will be till we can all see our favorite bands in the flesh again. And that won't do. Not. One. BIT.