"some music was meant to stay underground..."

OpEd

Black Metal: The Shoegaze Wave

Photo of Burzum

Band Photo: Burzum (?)

Back in 2005, Alcest released a two song EP called “Le Secret,” a gem that eventually would cause a stir in the hornet nest that is the black metal community. If you didn't gather by the title, Alcest is a French band, and one masterminded by front-man Neige. With a strong pedigree in the French black metal scene, Neige was a musician who not only came forward in the 00s with multiple acts in Alcest and Amesoeurs, but also made contributions to essential French albums from the likes of Mortifera and Peste Noire. While Norway and the adjacent Scandinavian realms are often thought of as the wintery fortress of black metal, the French have long held their own with a melancholic and melodic take on the genre including the infamous Les Légions Noires whom you can read about in a previous Metal Underground Sunday Old School article.

So, what was so special about Neige’s little two song EP? Well for one it wasn’t little at all. It was nearly 30 minutes long and an infusion of 90s shoegaze, post-rock, and perfectly distilled black metal.


Of course the reason any of this is important now in 2011 is that we seem inundated with bands with this mix. Latest act to sign to Candlelight Records? Glasgow’s folk/post-rock mixup Falloch (and before that Altar of Plagues). Most hype of last year? Well if not for Burzum’s “Belus” it’d have to go straight to Agalloch’s “Marrow of the Spirit.” And I’ll be damned if the popularity of the once obscure Wolves In The Throne Room hasn’t exploded out of nowhere. Add to that the growing popularity of Fen, Lantlos, Krallice etc. and it’s obvious that many are riding another mini-wave in metal, one worthy of a discussion.

Way back the early 90s the now ludicrously infamous Varg Vikernes diverged his music from the violent and extreme beasts like Mayhem, expanding the raw chainsaw buzz of black metal and incorporating transcendental ambient offshoots. A bold move, but the dream-like atmosphere that replaced much of the music’s aggression with lighter aesthetics struck a chord with many; even surprised indie journalists embraced the new sound. All pretty common knowledge stuff right? Well that gets us half way through this history lesson.

The early 90s were also a time when a genre of music called shoegaze struck a high with bands like Ride, Slowdive, and (the poorly named but I assure you excellent) My Bloody Valentine cementing names for themselves in the big book of influential bands. Although short lived, at the time the washed out and psychedelic take on punk/rock was a hit. Perhaps more importantly, towards the end of the 90s saw post-rock bands like Mogwai, Sigur Ros, and Godspeed! You Black Emperor take shoegaze and indie music to the logical extreme: 15 minute long build ups, noise fuelled epics, and albums drowned in delay effects and crash symbols.

OK, so even ignoring Power Rangers and tribal tattoos that's an extremely simplified version of the fertile days of the 90s. The important thing is we arrive at the turn of the millennium and the now highly regarded album “Dead As Dreams” by the Californian band Weakling. The album was a progressive mix of post-rock, psychedelica and black metal that largely helped birth the “suicidal-depressive black metal” scene best associated with bands like Xasthur, Leviathan and Silencer. A sound that has a lot in common with the post-rock bands we’re hearing now.



Another critical force that emerged at this time was of course Agalloch. While too much of a chameleon over the years to pin as anything but a progenitor, Agalloch's lyrical themes, post-rock leanings, clean vocals and folk infusions have all had strong influences on many bands today. In the end when it comes to newer underground acts like Austere or Heretoir we get to a similar situation, normal fans throw some sort label on it and call it a day leaving nitpickers to fight down the pointless details.

But instead of me painfully picking these strands apart, let’s go back to the very distinctive sound of Alcest which is definitely being milked. The “Les Secret” sound (vs. Xasthur if you need a telling comparison) seems to be a truly telling sign that a band is riding the current shoegaze wave - hell, take a look at the logos from half of these acts and that’s enough to see the common thread of whispery hand written text, perhaps inspired by the other of Neige’s shoegaze projects, Amesoeurs. And could Falloch’s logo be any more Agalloch-y? The basic musical sound takes the intense build ups and soundscapes of the post-rock/shoegaze template and injects black metal staples - blast beats, distant screamed vocals, and those well-known necro punky chord changes. Arpeggiated clean guitars, ambient sections, and clean vocals are also common features of the music many of these bands tend to fall more on the post-rock side of the fence rather than metal.


Shoegaze black metal logos.

To be fair, I did invert the black and white for Onryo's logo


Another interesting commonality in the wave of newcomers is that of naturalism. Perhaps it only makes sense that bands choosing to eschew rigid black metal musical customs would also be accompanied with more liberal thematic topics. The new direction could also be attributed to a combination of the rise environmentalism over the 00s and the fact that pantheism, ecologicalism, feminism, and general “hippie shit meets black metal mysticism” is far more palatable to general audiences than the violent and satanic face of 90s black metal. Also, it doesn't take much for artistic types to revolt against a scene that had grown distinctly less “evil”, and a lot more comedically overblown with machismo and rockstardom as it rose to prominence.



...oh boy, where do I even start?


Of course, with the more palatable musical traits of shoegaze and post rock comes an extended fan-base. Initially all factions generally seemed happy enough to celebrate acts like Agalloch and Alcest, with many hailing them as success stories that metal could evolve new branches without bending over to the mainstream.

But as indie kids and metalheads go together like oil and water (and a probably a lighter), Alcest’s prominent explosion in popularity brought a good amount of elitist rage at the notion of socialist hipsters sipping their mild green tea in cardigans emblazoned with a Wolves In The Throne Room patch. Although contributing nowhere near as much as the Wolfmother ilk to the term “hipster metal,” that and other phrases such as “nigel hipster” (humorously coined by Nachtmystium frontman Blake Judd) have quickly become communal molotov cocktails all too easily flung by metalheads trying to distinguish friend from foe and defend the walls of metal from artistically bankrupt delay pedal bedroom bands.



"Nokturnal what? Hellhamm-who?"


So to the average Bathory emblazoned, Marduk blasting black metal fan, post-rock/shoegaze black metal may be an unacceptable step down of aggression and evil. But with the conjoined popularity of depressive black metal, the new guard has generally received a warm welcome over time; especially in comparison to the “we ride at dawn!” response to anything with a -core suffix got in the last decade.

So where to from here? Well I can only guess we are experiencing the heyday of this post-rock/shoegaze mini-wave. I’d expect to see another few bands make their bid to be among the roster of the larger labels, especially seeing the way many are struggling to sell anything that isn’t a current sound. Germany is definitely getting in on the deal with bands like Lantlos, Thränenkind, and Soliness staying true to the formula, and others such as Dopamine, Onryo, Les Discrets and Fen have popped up worldwide. On the other hand, with Caina and Ludicra already bowing out of the game, I would say the limelight will be brief. Final thoughts? Spinning Alcest's full length may or may not endanger you by attracting vapid hipsters, but fear not - blasting some Slayer will still send them scattering.

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26 Comments on "Black Metal: The Shoegaze Wave"

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Brucezombie's avatar

Member

1. Brucezombie writes:

Very good article. Nicely done. I believe Terrorizer just did a Post-Black Metal article, not too long ago. Although they did not get into the hipster part of it.

The problem I have with hipsters listening to it is that they just want to know more obscure bands or they're listening to it just to be part of a scene, which would be the wrong reasons to listen to it (obviously). Also, I wouldn't mind sharing the music with them, if they weren't so god damn annoying.

# Sep 14, 2011 @ 8:36 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
IrishMetal's avatar

Member

2. IrishMetal writes:

Sweet article Cynic, I remember a few forum posts along these lines a fair while back ;)

# Sep 14, 2011 @ 10:09 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Diamond Oz's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

3. Diamond Oz writes:

Great stuff Cynic! Informative and funny to boot. Nice one.

# Sep 14, 2011 @ 10:31 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Jenny's avatar

Member

4. Jenny writes:

Ah I see. I clicked play on the first song and thought those vocals sounded familiar, as I am an Amesoeurs fan. I'm very interested in Alcest now. Good good.

# Sep 14, 2011 @ 8:54 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
5. \DIMMU BORGIR/ writes:

KEYFIM YERINDE , degil
hic , cidden ama headbang

yapicak istek , te yok ,

burdaysaniz saylam

bir metal geceso

yapalim destlar

# Sep 15, 2011 @ 10:32 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

6. deathbringer writes:

Great article, BTW. I enjoy reading these in-depth pieces because I always learn something as well. I enjoyed that Weakling track as well.

# Sep 15, 2011 @ 11:01 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
7. goatwhore writes:

hipsters should stick to there Sevendust & Avenged sevenfold & quit tryin to listen to mayhem & hellhammer

# Sep 15, 2011 @ 11:18 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
8. hatemonkey writes:

that nurse gives me a woody ;)

# Sep 15, 2011 @ 11:20 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
R10's avatar

Member

9. R10 writes:

Well written and informative article,Cynic. I really like these op/ed pieces. While im not a massive fan of black metal,im pretty familar with a number of bands you talked about. I like the Alcests,Kralices,Agallochs much better than the Scandanavien stuff. Ive never gotten into the lo-fi style of it,wooden spoon/soup pot drum sound etc. And to be honest,the anti-christian shtick gets old quick. All in all,good write up.

# Sep 15, 2011 @ 11:44 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
10. Uli writes:

Great article there....what is it you're saying...some music was meant to stay underground..."

# Sep 16, 2011 @ 9:53 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
spiral_architect's avatar

Member

11. spiral_architect writes:

I DON'T NEED TO PRETEND I'M A HIPSTER. I'LL STICK TO SLAYER THANK YOU VERY MUCH........ALTHOUGH I DO LIKE THE MUSIC CLIPS POSTED HERE VERY MUCH.

# Sep 16, 2011 @ 11:03 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
12. yo writes:

you forgot to mention Deafheaven, probably the one gaining the most steam over the last 2 years

# Sep 16, 2011 @ 3:35 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
13. goatwhore writes:

f***IN SLAYER!!!!!

# Sep 16, 2011 @ 4:20 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Jay3730's avatar

Member

14. Jay3730 writes:

I dig that Alcest track. Gotta check them out some more
Great article.

# Sep 18, 2011 @ 11:21 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
15. BM B writes:

I approve of this article. I love the clausterphobic feel of BM and the walls of ambience that is similar to shoegaze. Bring on more delay!
LOL - wooden spoon/soup pot drum sound !!!!

# Sep 19, 2011 @ 6:19 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
GORECUNT's avatar

Member

16. GORECUNT writes:

I love this article and I gotta admit, though I love the aggression of old school Black/Death Metal I gotta say this new wave is respectable, as opposed to the -core sh**. Honestly, I'm glad to see this instead of -core

# Sep 22, 2011 @ 11:25 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

Member

17. Blindgreed1 writes:

Fvckin awesome piece Cynic. Turned me on to Weakling and Alcest too. Good form my friend! \m/\m/

# Sep 22, 2011 @ 1:05 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
GORECUNT's avatar

Member

18. GORECUNT writes:

I just saw Alcest live last night, the opened up for Enslaved at Jaxx in Springfield, VA. I also met Neige (who is really nice, even with the language barrier) along with the rest of the band and bought an Alcest t-shirt.

# Sep 24, 2011 @ 11:58 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
GORECUNT's avatar

Member

19. GORECUNT writes:

And oh yeah, Alcest is way more intense live. I really wish they played "Ecailles de Lune (Part II)", but the lineup was great otherwise.

# Sep 24, 2011 @ 12:01 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
R10's avatar

Member

20. R10 writes:

Awesome,Gore. Im seeing the same show monday. Will be interesting to see and hear how Alcest translates in a live envirement. Have seen Enslaved a few times,know what to expect. Was hoping to see Ghost,see first hand what the hype was about.

# Sep 24, 2011 @ 12:06 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
psythe's avatar

Writer, Reviewer

21. psythe writes:

"We ride at dawn!" hahahahahah :D

# Sep 25, 2011 @ 5:06 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
GORECUNT's avatar

Member

22. GORECUNT writes:

Bump for great justice! And what I'm about to say is probably not gonna make any sense. Sorry.

Before I knew what Metal was, I grew up with my mom blasting The Cure, Crowded House, and other mostly obscure coffee shop bands that I'm now learning have hipster followings. Of course, as a kid you only like what your parents listen to since your parents are only gonna play what they listen to. I didn't find out about Metal til I was 14. Thats when the differences really started to show in the household and I got the "This stuff is just noise...He's not even singing...How do you know what he's saying? Its all just growling." Yeah, my dad got into Sentenced when he heard it, but even they were toned down since their later stuff was depressive and melodic. My parents will never get into anything like Nile, Behemoth or Mayhem. Its beyond their comprehension (because once again, if they can't hear someone actually singing out the words, they don't care).

That said, I never thought me and my mom would ever end up at this whole 'coming full circle' moment since what she likes/listened to growing up NEVER coincided with Metal. And no, I'm not counting the Glam/Power ballads my parents grew up on because there's a difference in growing up on something and liking it for Nostalgia's sake as opposed to growing up on something and liking it because it actuallly spoke to you.

For the most part, my experience with hipsters has usually been two or three really pretentious c***s who think that the obscure bands they listen to are the best and most influential bands ever, and to not like those bands is the same as refuting fact. Obviously, I wasn't feeling the whole hipster faction after just trying to have a couple beers as some flamboyantly gay dude was getting into an argument with his friend about how she was a stupid b**** for not thinking My Bloody Valentine was the greatest band ever. But again, I still think this is what can keep metal alive, gain some new following without succumbing to being trendy. It was weird when my mom overheard Alcest playing. Then she started talking about growing up to My Bloody Valentine and then we went on to the weird similarities. I guess I'm also realizing in retrospect, with the liking obscure bands no one's heard of, this makes my mom a hipster :P But at least now there's some common ground that Metalheads and Hipsters can possibly stand on, provided no one brings that lighter Cynic talked about...

# Sep 29, 2011 @ 4:33 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
R10's avatar

Member

23. R10 writes:

Hmm,interesting take Gore. Does anyone really care what the hipster thinks? The hipster to me is that underemployed,horn rimmed glasses wearing jackoff with full sleeves,neck tattoes,that comments negitively on your cd choices at the record store. Ive never been one to give a sh** what people think of what i listen to. Scoff at my Helloween or Hammerfall purchase Mr. Hipster,he's still only making 8 bucks an hour critiquing what "uncool" sh** i listen to!

# Sep 29, 2011 @ 4:51 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
GORECUNT's avatar

Member

24. GORECUNT writes:

R10, I never understood those indie record store hipsters. Of course, since none of them listened to Metal they never had anything to say to me. That, and I was always into obscure underground acts no one ever heard of.

Honestly, now that I think of it, there's really no difference between the hipster and the metal elitist, apart from genres. The mentality is the same: "Everything you like sucks, everything I like is awesome because its obscure/underground/tr00 and you've never heard of it."

I guess it makes more sense that it came full circle. This new post-metal wave pretty much put two communities together that both pride themselves on not being mainstream.

# Sep 29, 2011 @ 7:49 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
R10's avatar

Member

25. R10 writes:

sh** Gore,you ought to write for this or some other metal site! You definately have a way with words,and you know your sh** about the genre i love! Im just a working stiff,love metal,have my own way of expressing it. I really dont care whats "in",never have. So the whole hipster thing means little to me! Ive always listened to what sounded good to my ears,regardless of who likes it.

# Sep 29, 2011 @ 8:05 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
GORECUNT's avatar

Member

26. GORECUNT writes:

Actually R10, i toyed with the idea of submitting some of my thoughts to MU and cracked.com. But I hit a writer's block sort of thing on something I really wanted to write about.

# Oct 1, 2011 @ 5:12 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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