September 2007 Archives
With the seasons turning very rapidly we sit here at the cusp of the equinox.
Today the thermometer registered that it was still above 10 degrees but it felt a hell of a lot colder, wind chill factor and all.
The past few weeks, perhaps in subconscious reaction to the coming cold months Astrid has been cooking soups, all have been good and I am glad to see her confidence flower in our own kitchen after she barely tried to cook in the previous rental place, mostly cause of her dislike of gas cooktops.
The soup courtesy of Astrid that I have most enjoyed is that slightly daggy yet great 80s classic French onion soup complete with good bread and melted cheese.
Come this weekend, I find myself with way too much time on my hands due to Astrid juggling a working weekend with a fair social schedule.
Last night I went solo to the opening night of Stardust, one of the rare examples where good fantasy gets properly translated to the screen..
Today I caught up with a gadget loving friend who has imported and hack an iPhone to work here, doubt we will see the real thing for a long time, we are an insignificant market who is already supersaturated by Nokia and Sony Ericsson.
Tonight, noticing the cold was biting more strongly - I kick-started the fire and proceeded to turn the mass of root vegetables I picked up at the town market today into my own trademark soup.
I like to make a rich and flavoursome soup with a base of pale aromatic vegetables kind of melding mirepoix and soffritto which usually features whichever I can obtain of the following: parsnip, fennel, onion, leek, swede, potato, celeriac. The vegetables must be sweated in a little oil or butter for quite a while, it is the key to bringing out all the flavour in the raw ingredients.
I perfected a rich and flavoursome version of this dish back in Oz, with a strong focus on celeriac, fennel and potato sweated generously then simmered in a pressure cooker till very soft then puréed. This was mixed with some fresh herbs, lemon juice and some white miso dissolved through before serving, producing a lovely creamy yet vegan vegetable soup that was bursting with flavour.
Not having access to good quality Fennel in Norway very often I have adapted this again using more of the root vegetable family to great success. This version had carrot, celeriac, potato, swede, parsnip, onion and chickpeas in it. Due to the addition of pulses I didn't bother to purée it. With a dash of white miso it was great and hearty.
With the weather has also come a shift musically, with Agalloch - Ashes Against the Grain featuring in the high rotation playlist for the first time in quite a while.
Earlier this evening I realised an odd sort of milestone, in that I published my six hundred and sixty sixth blog posting. Having discovered this was coming up at the same time as I was pulverising myself with the newest Deathspell Omega I knew instantly that my review of said album must form the body of that landmark of a sorts blog entry.
For those who doubt the coincidence of all of this, a screenshot from Movable Type follows.View image
With that out of the way, we return to our regularly unscheduled programming.
It was my discovery of the strong French scene, first through Blut Aus Nord and subsequently Deathspell Omega, three years back which really prompted a more thorough investigation of the Black Metal scene outside of Norway. In San Francisco on the hunt for interesting, forward looking Black Metal, I browsed through a fantastic hand-picked selection at Aquarius Records and settled on amongst other things Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice ("If you seek His monument, look around you."), which was garnering rave reviews for it's intellectual take on Satanism delivered as a juxtaposition of Gregorian chanting and solid mid-tempo Black Metal.
Three and a third years later, The second volume in their planned Satanic trilogy has arrived. The title translates as "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire" and is a reference to Matthew 25:41 from the King James bible. Never above using orthodox sources for their blasphemous theology, this album focuses on the fall of man to his true place alongside Satan. The lyrics are equal parts insightful, challenging and offensive. This is really powerful and deep stuff. Particularly because even if you don't share their satanic perspective you may be surprised to find by the end of the album you agree with much of what they outline in principle.
Initially, despite my significant exposure to the entire gamut of extreme metal, experimental and art music I must admit I found this album both refreshing and extremely challenging. It is an album that is truly exceptional. The first time I heard it, I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. The music was just consistently subtly atonal and lacking a traditional structure I could really grasp onto as an entry point to this quite crazy chaos.
Gone was the much more approachable structure of satanic Gregorian chanting in Latin interspersed with quality old school black metal. Something fundamental has evolved somewhere in the two odd hours of material released upon EPs, split singles and such between this album and the last.
Through some sort of extended French kinship, DSO may be the first band to truly absorb and integrate the trailblazing technique laid out by Canadian death metal act Gorguts on their also quite impenetrable release Obscura. DSO have taken the riffing and adapted it to their blackened needs. In the process they have stripped the technique and idea back to it's most fundamentally raw underpinnings. Continuing the French influence, DSO inherit from Blut Aus Nord the use of an extremely wide dynamic range where the transition from near silent ambience to a meticulously structured wall of sound in an instant generates another level of dissonance in the listener. This technique obviously draws parallels to that used by classical scores from horror films which create and heighten tension in the audience. However the dynamic and intensity that DSO manage to generate transcends such literal comparisons.
As mentioned previously, what seems on first listen as completely unstructured and deliberately chaotic slowly becomes familiar with repeated exposure and reveals in actuality that the chaos is planned and orchestrated precisely in timing, timbre and structure to form a construct that may indeed be ritual in nature.
Production wise, the sound is amazing, whether barely audible or or a notch away from white noise, each instrument is always clearly discerned in the mix and seemingly cavernous yet not claustrophobic and with a perfect equilibrium between rawness and precision. Possibly prompted by subtle changes in band membership since Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice the drums have a more post punk feel. Whilst the bass is mixed more audibly and mostly comes across as a distinct and purposeful voice as opposed to most black metal where the bass is inaudible and follows the guitar line. The guitar work is gorgeous, balancing chaotic feedback and masterful use of effects with a subtly atonal yet insistent technique.
One of the few accessible anchor points into this artfully obtuse release are the subtle post rock influences and if these guys ever tire of blasting out black metal, they could make an absolutely solid career out of post rock. It is surprising how successfully the the post rock elements are integrated into DSO's work, they should feel so out of place but instead they feel so right. Overall, the melodic sections are absolutely fantastic, ranging from minimalist piano phrases to drawn out unstructured guitar riffs that somehow work.
As a unit, the mysterious members of DSO may have just, unbeknownst to the general metal world redefined the boundaries of what it is we term Metal. Already via their previous full length, they blew away the then mostly true supposition that metal lyrics were not truly intellectual. With Fas Itae, Maledicti in Ignem Aeternum, this intellectual and dare I say it truly post modern approach to metal has been matched musically.
All considered, I still think that this release has it's flaws, particularly in that the introduction and closing segments seem partly superfluous in their extended ambience. The same issue can be seen with Negura Bunget's Om, which overloads the front section of the release with atmospheric and ambient arrangements. I was originally going to list the shorter playing time as a deficiency but have realised this is in actuality an asset as a work this challenging could have been compromised by making it both un-listenable and extremely long.
Our plans of a big afterparty seemed dashed by Jens and his sudden realisation that he'd missed much of the very band he'd paid good money to see.
So instead the guys partook of a late night snag from the Bergen equivalent of Harry's Café de Wheels, which according to Bjørn had the best sausages he'd ever tasted. This seemed to cheer Jens up a bit.
Back at the accommodation, the extent of Jens' drunkenness started to become apparent after he manged to cut himself on the kitchen rangehood whilst pouring a glass of water. As with all head wounds it bled like crazy and I am sure the cleaning staff will have wondered what kind of weird and kinky stuff we were up to having left a pile of bloody towels and toilet paper behind!
The next day I couldn't sleep in and went for a long walk in the rain listening to the new Deathspell Omega, returning to the apartment very wet I didn't want to wake up the others so sat downstairs in the bar/cafe analysing the lyrics to this new DSO and drinking copious amounts of coffee to try and counteract the excesses of the previous night.
When the guys woke up they had a reportedly fantastic breakfast in the same cafe. We spent the day wandering Bergen in a hungover state. More sausages were consumed, and an almost not falafel roll for me. Crappy film decided on to kill some more time, and the sun appeared just as we were going into the darkened cinema.
Finally the time came for our departure from Bergen, via express boat to Stavanger, that still took 4 bloody hours and the boat did not agree with Bjørn or my alcohol punished stomach. Jens however finally achieved a blissfull state of relaxation by sleeping most of the way home.
Overall for me a great weekend, an a good chance to get to know Bjørn and Jens better. I'm disappointed by the organisers lack of respect for it's patrons in terms of the choice of such an overzealous security company. The difference between this and Inferno is amazing, with Inferno being a larger scale event with more bands and probably bigger attendance. Despite all of this, they had friendly and helpful security that did not get in your face at all.
At Hole in the Sky, I was warned off taking pictures with my crappy cameraphone, wheras at Inferno they happily let me use my Prosumer SLR-like digicam to take high quality pics.
At Inferno they let a seriously inebriated 19 year old who was staying in the same hostel room as me into the venue without any issue. Yet at Hole in the Sky, Jens was ejected when he was clearly far more in control of his faculties than the guy at Inferno.
My general experience is that unless there are patrons on harder drugs than alcohol in the crowd, Metal gigs are generally friendly and the aggression inherent in the mosh is more about a safe release than trying to hurt each other.
I've had the harrowing experience of having been in a crowd when someone in the audience was crushed near to death and subsequently died. The main blame factors that evening were poor scheduling which created a mix of worked up aggressive men vying with very young mostly female teenagers for the same space and an idiot behind the microphone who antagonised the crowd rather than carefully worked it.
With that in mind, I found the Hole in the Sky crowd well behaved and quite safe. There was simply no need for the overzealous efforts of the security staff.
The weather was typical of that which we have endured all through this sham of a summer, such a contrast to the beautiful warm sunny evening spent drinking overpriced Norwegian beer outside the venue last year.
Speaking of the it, somewhere before 8pm we wandered off to to find the venue, which I only vaguely remembered how to find (as I had been given a lift there the previous year by my now in-laws). My recollection was mostly right, although it was a bit further along the waterfront than I expected.
We arrived just in time to see an Oz band, Destroyer 666 who ironically I had never bothered to check out in Oz. I kind of enjoyed them, especially from the perspective that this evening was supposed to be mostly all about getting back to the roots of blackened thrash metal.
Next up were Sabbat, who I enjoyed but were not to the taste of my friends at all. I wonder if they knew that Andy Sneap who was having a great time thrashing away on his guitar had been responsible for the production or mixing on some of their favourite recent metal platters.
I did some merch shopping and purchased the new album by Deathspell Omega, which I'd already had on solid rotation on my iPod for a couple of weeks.
Then came the band that had tipped the scales on whether I was going to go to this year's Hole in the Sky or not - Kreator. As almost anyone who grew up listening to thrash in the 80s knows, Kreator were one of the most influential acts from that period. I've always loved the intelligent, thought provoking lyrics of Kreator which have only got better as the band have matured.
To my mind they were fantastic, Petrozza is a great frontman and the sound was pretty good. I was right up the front, dead centre and my only dislike of the show was the realisation that some of the security gurards were seriously overstepping their mark. One guy would stand on some kind of step right in front of me and try to get the attention of people in the mosh who he thought were misbehaving and then stand there and stare them down, a "I'm watching you, don't fuck with me" kind of thing. Really ruined the mood for me every time they did this, and it was a well behaved crowd (as most metal crowds usually are).
Afterwards we chilled at the bar and chatted to various strangers, declining beers from Jens who seemed to have got a lot more friendly, which was a sure sign he was close to having drunk enough.
Bjørn led the way into Immortal, as he and Jens were both dead keen to finally see these Bergen legends live. Due to the chaos of a crowd all intent on the same thing I rapidly lost track of both Bjørn and jens, but found Bjørn again shortly. Immortal's set began and they blew even me away - the improvement since I had seen them in April was astounding. The sound, stage setup, pyrotechnics and of course the actual music were all pretty much as close to perfect as one could desire.
My enjoyment was distracted slightly as I'd texted Jens our location and was surprised when he kept on ringing me, but I couldn't hear a thing over Immortal. Eventually I went to find where he was, and ended up finding him arguing with another security guard. Jens had been ejected because he was too drunk (by my definition he was at the friendly and talkative stage, nowhere near too drunk). I tried to reassure them that he was with us and I would keep an eye on him, but they would not let him back in. Jens did not help by arguing with the guy in Norsk and not letting me, the more sober and rational one sort it out.
So I ended up going back in again, to enjoy the rest of the show. Suddenly Jens appeared next to me, no idea how long he had been standing there before I noticed him, but it was most likely at the beginning of the three song encore. So in the end even Jens got to see some of one of the best Black Metal performances I have ever seen.