Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Funeral Mist - Salvation

Funeral Mist - Salvation
2003, Norma Evangelium Diaboli/Ajna Offensive

The news page on NED's website says, as of today, " Funeral Mist's 'Salvation' has been received as it deserved: this is no less than the new paradigm in Black Metal". This is mainly interesting to me because it might actually be true. Not that Funeral Mist have actually created a "new" style or that they have forged some new amazing form of black metal out of thin air, out of the invisible elements, because all hype aside...that's simply not true. What they have done is take the most effective/best parts of disparate forms of black metal and merged them together in their own take on black metal tradition. That is the way paradigms appear in the black scene now, in its decline: as "original" takes on what has come before, as references that try, with a measure of effort commensurate with their founder's ambitions, to comment effectively and with meaning on what has come before. Why? Black metal is dead, and seemingly nothing new is going to come out of it in the future. All we have left now are [hopefully] distinctive forms of appraising, dissecting, and combining elements of the past. Bands are no longer judged on what they have come up with that breaks with tradition, but what they can say that has any kind of pertinence as they reflect back on the bands that have come before. Originality of personal expression is just simply not allowed in the black metal scene, the stifling genre characteristics that hold everything together as a musical movement are too strong.

The restriction have always been simple, but utterly damning: how can one reach too far towards originality when the limitations of the genre are so clearly set? If one tries to be too original the music escapes black metal's conservative dimensions, and the process defeats itself. There is no such thing, anymore, as an original black metal band. All the genre boundaries and tools of expression were discovered and set in stone ten years ago. All that bands do today is pick up these mechanisms, habits, patterns, and clichés and try to use them in some way that might be "meaningful" to somebody, anybody. In the meantime they sit and wait for a new band to come along to smash the scene's conservatism and allow experimentation beneath the banner of black metal again. They await their creative messiah.

Where is black metal's saviour?

Funeral Mist are from Sweden, and if you went purely by "nationalistic" methods of determining style before you had heard them you would be excused in thinking they would probably reference other Swedish bands...Setherial, maybe, or Marduk. They don't. Naglfar? No. They are conscious enough of their original take on tradition to have published the above quote, and they are haughty/proud enough to not stoop to merely referencing fellow countrymen. Funeral Mist wants to be its own band, it wants to carve out its own particular style of darkness. Of course they are mired from the start in a decade and a half of clichés, and they are not powerful enough [who is anymore?] to escape the conservative tradition of black metal themselves. It's impossible to label yourself as a certain type of band and then try to escape that label's stylistic definitions. Why even apply labels? I suppose it makes the process of identification and allegiance easier.

Nevermind.

The guitar sound is startlingly cold and lifeless, sort of a modern update of the six string flow from Mayhem's "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" opus, filtered through Darkthrone's "Transilvanian Hunger" but boosted and compressed, made both more powerful and then limited in its expressive range. It is clear, clean, tight, very Swedish - it reminded me immediately of Dark Funeral's guitar tone. And the way in which this band employs barre chords to cycle through short little motifs and pieces of riffs also reminds me of the protypically Swedish form of black metal, although Funeral Mist also references Immortal in the way these bland riffs can be launched in bursts of aggression towards the listener at times. I've always disliked the Swedish guitar sound, its hollowness and lack of dynamics, the way it just sort of sits there without any weight or body and forms song segments as an afterthought. So many Swedish bands just write material that is completely sterile, without any kind of emotional impact at all, like abstract mathematical exercises [but so simple, nothing challenging!] , and their ultra-compressed, smooth-as-marble guitar sound doesn't help anything. While I'm sure at first they were going for a sort of laconic, impassive, freezing arrogance and misanthropic imperturbability in the sound of their strings, a dead infertility or barrenness that would supposedly evoke images of ice-blasted landscapes and lifeless wastelands in the mind of the listener, all this really translates to when the material the guitar sound frames can't interest or hold one's attention is an appearance of musical aphasia. In other words: nothing to say, nothing to add, nothing to contribute, nothing to stir one's emotions, and nothing to build upon. How many Dark Funeral riffs can you recall?

The drum sound here is warmer, the skinwork simple and straightforward. It reminds me both of the basic rock rhythms on Secrets of the Moon's last album and, at times, some of the catchy give-and-take bumping and grinding on Virgin Black's second release. Nothing out of the ordinary here, and all is well. Nothing to complain about, and a fair amount to praise.

The songs themselves are lengthy "medieval" conceptual pieces that pace through different versions of tried-and-true black metal themes. We have high-flying, heaven-reaching grasps towards Demonaz-strumming barre chord ascendancy, riffs flying overhead like witches on their winding way towards a Sabbath, the shouting vocals below cursing, anathematizing, yelling dramatically, dogmatically. Icy winds swirl and course through rocky outcroppings and over Alpine gatherings of demonic forces: all is launched outwards against God. Drawn out dramatic segments illustrate lyrics of viperine blasphemy and the band's searing conviction of damnation and possession. "Holy Poison", which rocks with a rigid proletarian beat halfway through its shivering length and at its climax, is a virtual call for Satan to use the vocalist as a corroding acid to attack mankind. The screeches and groans bear witness: "Shine through me Satan/Yes, live now through this tool of yours/Live through me/O seditious star, and like a thousand suns shall I spread thy light/Like a thousand plagues/A thousand wars"; afterwards there is the summing "Original serpent/Hear me...see me/Enslave and use me". It's a prayer to the split-hoofed one, inviting destruction. Latin merging with the English prepares a sort of Dark Ages atmosphere. The next song, "Sun of Hope", begins and ends with the flagellant/Dies Irae scene from Ingmar Bergman's "Seventh Seal", which Abigor sampled earlier on their first album. Where the Austrian collective used that as a simple ambient set piece to introduce and press upon the mind a medieval "point of view", Funeral Mist treat the listener to an extended sampling of the scene that leaves one agonized. The song itself, as one might guess, is about Armageddon and the "purification" of total death.

"Perdition's Light" actually lets the band turn over a new leaf and injects guitar melody into the proceedings, something that had been missing before. The closing anthem/sentimental melody of this song, first launching its theme out of the thick sonic morass at 1:08, disappearing, and then reprised with attendant variations to bring the composition to a close, is very nice, probably the best riff on the album. It creates a memory, let's just say that. Throughout this song the vocals are rumbling back and forth through different effects and engage one from different directions, sort of the way in which Gorgoroth used them on "Destroyer" to create a feeling of randomness or chaos, or a contrasting/confusing reference to "modernity" as they echoed through distortion. This song is also a prayer to Satan. Surprise!

At this point things break wide open and Funeral Mist decide to use every trick they have gathered in their career [since '93 says the bio!] to create an impression on the listener. While the flowing riffs of the preceding four songs seem to mainly be shifting simplistic shrugs in scale up one or two frets on the strings the guitar playing in "Across the Qliphoth" almost sounds like death metal in that the fast slides and flickering fingerings set in motion lightspeed micro-rhythms. What? Fast pulsing guitar rhythms in black metal? Blasphemy! I also appreciate the use of morbid minor or inverted chord progressions here, which suggest in their eeriness early '90s Norwegian splendor and open up a new chapter on this band's ability to comment on what has come before them. Great song, completely confused in its delivery and structure, but very powerful nonetheless. I adore the way the ending scream that crowns this misanthropic/Gnostic enterprise drowns in its own blood, or under dark water...the cry that opens the next song's vocals then resurfaces from the same gargling sorcerer-sinking. Backward masking closes it. Immaculate heretical craftmanship.

Later, clean vocals are added, if you are interested...and the attention-grabbing use of samples continues. I can not identify most of them. I think the barking dogs that introduce and frame the rushing first riffs of the second song, "Breathing Wounds", might be from "The Omen", but I'm probably wrong. The samples also seem to draw this entire thing together into a thematic whole...but I'm not really able to put the "how" of that into words at this point. They all come from disparate sources and yet seem to circle around similar feelings or moods. The last song on this album is a very bizarre piece whose origin I can not locate...if it's not a sample it's the best best thing this band has ever written. If it is a sample then once again whoever chose the additions on this LP did a masterful job as it closes the entire thing admirably. I am not going to even attempt to describe how strange and oddly affecting it is.

All in all, this is a moderately creative work. Funeral Mist have at least attempted something original in that they haven't just settled for copying Darkthrone or aping some other glamour band of the moment, whatever this month's flavor is in the black metal scene. Give them points for that. If they could not reach farther, like I was saying above, it's probably just because they are still trying to play black metal and are confining themselves to stay within that genre. Admittedly, they do a good job of it...not just the self-limiting part, but also the part where they use almost every tool that is open to them in the tradition's chest of illusions and seductions short of just openly sampling Mayhem and Burzum. Smile.

I will definitely pay attention to what this band does in the future.