2001, Breath of Night/Merciless
All of this band's attempts at 'secrecy', 'mystery' or 'cult status' aside (I really don't care about a manufactured 'image' in relation to the scene at large), they write some very traditional, very pleasing music, firmly rooted in the grand Norwegian black metal tradition, with obvious references to the Big Three of NBM (Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone) all over the place...but really, not done in such a way as to be distracting, or to make you feel like the wool is being pulled over your eyes. With this entire 'backwards looking', nostalgic gestalt coming into play in black metal now (now that all forward momentum has been halted in NBM in the wake of Moonfog's wholesale leave-taking of tradition, and the last Mayhem album) with the work of Nargaroth (yes, postmodern in its self-referential absurdities and winking collusion with the listener in 'building' a tactile nostalgia from remnants of other bands' sounds), it seems to be common these days for BM adherents to completely give up on any kind of progression in their own music, citing the decay of NBM's aesthetics as proof positive that traditionalism is the only way to maintain the BM 'feel' or 'spirit'. Nonsense. However, a group like Godless North, who can assemble an entire project out of different pieces of other bands (they wouldn't be the first, eh?), are really par for the course in today's scene. They are at the forefront of evolution because they stand against every form of stylistic evolution all together. A delicious irony, isn't it?
I don't really care though, because this form of music was excellent when it was first offered to us 7-8 years ago by other bands, and its entire aesthetic/style/scheme of emotional references is still as valid to me as it ever was. Besides, in this age of mass rumor-mongering and the internet's rapid transaction of information (whether grounded in reality or not), one has to create an 'image' before it is created for you. I hail the groups who have the intelligence to recognize this and who manipulate these tendencies of their audience well in advance - if you want to somehow free yourself from this vicious cycle, this kangaroo court of public opinion, you have to block all avenues of capricious 'exploration' of image by the dilettantes in the 'scene', and Godless North have thankfully done this already. Much like Cryptic Winds, they refuse to offer anything to anyone, and information about their status, their motivations or history, has been nailed down before the internet even had a chance to get ahold of them. Of course at this point this kind of 'elite' misanthropic disappearing act is just another image in itself, but, like I was trying to get at above, if one is going to have an image handed to you soiled by the adolescent curiosity of a thousand black metal clones and trend-worshippers, you might as well create a vacuum of information and let their imaginations run away with themselves. Who cares, really? Let's concentrate on the music.
Isolationist, cold, misanthropic black metal is still valid because its powers were never adequately explored - both Burzum and Darkthrone fled its realm before the ground rules could be put down in recordings for future generations, and so that door that was opened (and which few bands have entered even now - Abyssic Hate, maybe, but how many others?) and it remains open, although the aperture seems to be shrinking as time flies by us. Godless North are there, they've heard the master works, they imbibed the chilling essence of 'Transilvanian Hunger' and 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' with the rest of us, and somewhere deep inside them the black blood of those releases froze their musical aspirations in just the right direction, pointed North, across the Ocean perhaps, but in such a rictus, a channel of inspiration, that their own life blood now flows upwards towards the past..towards What Has Come Before, and that is what is being released as they pick up their instruments and lose themselves in the aura of another age - one that, perhaps, never even existed when its originators were trying to put down on tape what was possessing them. Oh well.
The zeitgeist of black metal legitimacy may have fled in horror from Norway, but its language has been left, like a Decalogue, among the ruins, and certain bands still have the inner fortitude (sorry, I couldn't resist that) to pick up the runes and start all over again. Godless North play a timeless, beautiful form of hate-filled, simplistic, darker-than-black metal, and I, for one, while hoping I am aware of all the strange maneuverings of stylistic affiliations and convictions going on behind the scenes, can not but love this kind of aural exploration because I loved it in its original form, and I, like the musicians in this band, am still possessed by the spirit of that time in music. May it never be otherwise. The production, guitar sound...everything on this work just screams out 'nostalgia', and that's fine. For those of you who mainly look towards the past when considering listening to black metal, you can't do much better than this album.
Excellent, bracing, violent, excoriating, soul-pleasing music.