Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Infinity - The Birth of Death

Infinity - The Birth of Death
2003, Total Holocaust Records

How strange is it to discover yet another black metal band from Europe with basic problems of establishing their own identity? Perhaps...not very strange at all, maybe even a commonplace at this time, at this late date in our favorite genre's (lack of) evolution. So what do we have here, what visual and aural evidence is offered to us, what signs are broadcast for us to pick up on and either attract or repulse us? Common logo, center pentagram, outreaching alien serifs, pointed extensions from the letters f and t upwards to a star or point of light that perhaps signifies "infinite" aspirations. Cover art? Nothing too obtrusive or external to genre qualifications/clich├ęs, a shadowed forest cemetary scene with an overlaid bird skull...perhaps (hopefully, for the band's sake) a crow or raven head, in keeping with the "corvus corax" theme of their earlier demo and the song by that name included here ("corvus corax" is the scientific name for the raven, as most of you probably know). On the inside, on the tray card, we have a living raven or crow (I can't tell the difference), on the back of the tray card there's another bird in flight beneath the song titles. This would be, maybe, something of an identity ideal they could rally themselves around, except for the fact that Immortal already used the whole "raven" idea, linking them to Poe, other "dark" archetypes, etc. Speaking of Immortal, there is a definite influence from that band spread throughout the seven original tracks here, culminating in the last track on the release, a cover of "The Sun No Longer Rises". This cover version of a song from what must be one of this Dutch band's favorite idols/groups is unfortunate, not only because it makes the influence from Immortal that much more obvious, but it shadows their own original material and is, I believe, the best song on this CD. The fact that Immortal makes their presence known so strongly on this album without even (probably) being aware of this band's existence is not something calculated to spread confidence in Infinity's creative powers.

What else before we get to the music, in the realm of appearances and overt symbols? Let's not forget the corpsepaint the band uses, which is amusing (they at least try to do something original here), the pose of band member Quasar (I know) on the back of the tray card where he appears to be doing his best Blizzard Beasts impression, the center placing of member Balgradon among the three musician pictures, obviously because he's the most important person here - playing almost all the instruments and (I'm guessing) writing most, if not all, of the music. It also says in the lyric booklet that he managed the recording, production, lyrics, etc. We know who's in charge. So, Balgradon, why do you like Immortal so much? Smile. The artwork spread throughout the packaging here evokes a few common themes: satanism, diabolism, "astronomy" themes (i.e., the entire "Infinity" concept and perhaps a link, stylistically, to Abigor?), death, the raven once again, etc. The lyrics (which are thankfully included here) are nothing out of the ordinary, really, keeping this band firmly within the context/tradition of black metal, but they are at least well written, and imaginative in their own right. I'm not going to really comment on the "Black Metal Is Intolerance" or "Infinity supports Black Metal Mafia" texts on the tray card, these are just genre symbols or badges like anything else.

Now, to the music itself: as I alluded to above, Infinity seems to still be at a stylistic crossroads with their own musical ambitions. While they appear to have solidified certain extramusical symbols of identity and also give the impression of being firmly placed within an imaginative world that allows for an easy excrescence of lyrical subjects or ideas, this, so far, doesn't seem to reflect a corresponding security in their powers of establishing an original sound world. The references (what we would also call symbols of "influence", being kind) are just too strongly in evidence here, and where they do appear they are too instrumental in the song structures, too obvious to let a listener avoid the recognizable song forms absorbed from other bands. Now this is of course unavoidable within any form of music that is as traditional or conservative as black metal, one can only link the bands within this genre together (and thus allow labels of identity or categorization) by pointing to a common vocabulary of forms - however the best bands in this genre, or at least the ones who stand out the most, are the ones who are able to take this shared repository of song ideas, melodic forms, and production possibilities/allowances and still wrest something from the collective unconsciousness that resonates without being openly derivative. In a word: originality, or at least what passes for the truly novel and creative in such a tightly-controlled, oppressively, externally determined art form. Infinity should, in my humble opinion, take their own moniker a little more seriously, and starting reaching outward. If one is going to appeal to the cosmic, shouldn't one attempt to escape the mundane?

As for the influences on display here (and it's perhaps telling or disappointing that I discuss this album by just pointing to influences, but what can I do?) we have the aforementioned and reverently enshrined presence of Immortal here (just listen to the third song, "Back to the Source", and it all becomes clear), the folk melodies and acoustic guitars crossed/paired with electric ideas of Polish black metal, perhaps a Graveland nod or a tip of the hat to the collectives descending from Darken's shadow, the drone of Burzum (see the teasing nursery rhyme riff opening second song "Flames in Hunger") - which also gives off a distilled scent of mid-period Bathory, and reminds me (this one riff) of Judas Iscariot, although the 12-string guitars here are played well and are pleasing to the ear. There is a stylistic rift here as folk segments do not show up in later songs. Parts of "Frozen Cries" directly echo Dark Funeral. For the most part, however, this is high speed, raw, somewhat crude and simplistic conventional black metal, although a lot of the "simplicity" of the music just appears in the easy, unalloyed song forms used and should not lead one to believe this is two-chord Gorgoroth or Darkthrone worship ala Blodulv, labelmates of this band. Inverted root-fifths and minor chords abound in sliding progressions and charging, destructive runs. Things change momentarily in the fourth song, "Heart of Stone", as the band slows down and explores a more epic, relaxed, open series of riffs and structural ideas. The opening of the title track immediately leads one's brain towards the neural net created by "Hammerheart", but then a Swedish barre chord blizzard intrudes and mixes in with the Quorthonisms. Strange. I would like to hear more of this from them in the future. I also appreciate the way, in certain places, the production sound changes as riffs change. This is a result of digital editing, or cut and paste assembling, I am thinking. The drum sound makes me think, without a doubt, "analog recording" (maybe even a four-track, the drums seem to clip at certain points, on cymbal crashes), while other parts appear to be digital overdubs. Interesting. Typical stuff, as I have been saying, but it has its moments and keep a jaded enthusiast like myself engaged for short periods.

What else can one say? This is Infinity's third release, counting their demo, but according to the information on their website the band has been around, in one form or another, for 5 years now, spending some time, actually, as a solo project. They can only go upwards from here. I hope to see them exploring new horizons in their music in the future, and striving to replace the dominating influence of their favorite bands with a respect for their own possibilities/visions. Time will tell.