Saturday, May 15, 2010

Armagedda - Only True Believers

Armagedda - Only True Believers
2003, Agonia Records

If I remember correctly, the thing that impressed me the most about Armagedda's first album was just the production, or to be even more specific, the guitar sound itself. While that release fell into my lap at about the same time I had started to investigate other Darkthrone-derivative bands like Craft or the latest wave of suicidal black metal coming off of the Selbstmord label, it didn't turn my head and catch my attention through a major contrast with the former or some kind of additional energy which the latter lacked. It fit firmly in the middle and so also sat at the heart of, at the time, what was a profound indifference on my part. This was not entirely Armagedda's fault, I had become increasingly disillusioned by that time with the black metal scene and the black metal genre (taken in the abstract, as a single style) as a whole and so wasn't favorably predisposed to accept with polite reverence the sort of songs that Armagedda were selling. Things have changed.

It is something of an unremarkable truism, or annoying cliché (depending on one's point of view) that bands should always lead off their albums with their best song from that novel, bright new selection. Of course the idea of a "best song" is in itself problematic, and a band is not always the best judge of their own material. Leaving that can of worms aside I think it is a strategic advantage in favor of a group to at least begin an album with a song that is representative of the record as a whole (if they play a type of music where such a thing is possible), or at least one that has a few nominally well-placed, well-written, or otherwise impressive hooks to draw a listener further into the material's clutches. Everyone knows how listeners (especially ones new to the band) start their history of judging a band: they put the CD in their stereo and press play. The first song they hear forms the first impression. How many people open a new CD or download a collection of mp3s from off an album and then start listening to it with the second or third song? No, the first song is the grand hook itself, the lure.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a band that is as traditional as Armagedda (they do not really have an original bone in their bodies) construct an album in a completely conventional way. The first song here ("Refuse the Blood of Jesus") is, in my feeble judgment, quite easily the catchiest and most moving track on the entire record. Why?

Armagedda stay close to a very simple formula for writing songs, the truly archetypal verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-etc. form that has built rock and roll like a giant wall of well-hewn bricks since the 1950s. Because of this they only really have one chance to catch one's attention and display their musical skill, and that is in their choice of riffs. If a song only has four, five, or (at the most) six individual riffs - and this is counting the transition segments - then their basic individual selection becomes something of the utmost importance. In this style of rock-referencing Bathory and Darkthrone-influenced black metal the most important riffs in a song are the single verse riff and the chorus riff, one can leave the bridge section aside (even though it usually is where the most interesting playing is taking place) for the moment because the meat of the song, most of its running time, is taken up by these two riffs. The first song here simply has the most engaging, moving, evocative verse and chorus riffs. They are certainly the most representative of the rest of the album's ideas. Therefore it is the "best" song.

It also happens to have the most emotionally appealing bridge section, though, with a truly beautiful evocative riff that the group falls under the spell of and continues until the end of the piece.

Of course my subjective, personal definitions of just what exactly is "moving" or "engaging" are also problematic, but my most abstract conception of these musical effects can only appear, upon close analysis, as something of a nexus between the power of this subgenre's inherited stylistic legacy and the individual power of the riff in itself. That is, the best riffs in this genre echo the past, or what has come before, while also expressing enough of the band's own integrity and identity to merit an emotional response and more than a casual interest.

From what I have said above I think it should be clear what kind of music this is. In case it's not: think Nocturno Culto from Darkthrone's voice off of the second, third, and fourth albums lying over a more ethereal, ambient-textured rock-based black metal attack that is more upbeat and "positive" than Gorgoroth while using that band's own vocabulary of riff references. A band like this is a child of latter-day simplistic Darkthrone, to be sure, but they pull off the style with grace and wit, and with (on this album) a steadily improving sense of songwriting. Better than average.