Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Judas Iscariot - Of Great Eternity

Judas Iscariot - Of Great Eternity
1997, 1999 (this version), Pussy God Records

I suppose that I have been a bit hesitant when it came to covering this band over the years, for whatever reasons - whether I was put off by Ahkenaten's 'totalitarian' speeches or his attempts at NSBM propoganda that were always just a shade to the right of what I always considered worthy of inclusion within political music. But make no mistake: Ahkenaten does not hide his hatred, neither in the music, in the lyrics, or in the support of his projects, and if one is to listen to his creations a decision has to be made...what is more important, the music itself and what it is saying or the words (unnecessary to me) in which Ahkenaten wraps it in? There are those who would say that to listen to music of this sort without being wholeheartedly behind its political/social commentary and motivational direction is to miss the message completely, but I don't agree with that in any way. After all, a man's message may change over the years, and what at the time may have seemed the very reason for existence, the source of a hate that was directly inspirational (here, for example, the disgust for Christianity or other factors), can change to an outmoded embarassment for its author...as long as one feels, in the abstract, the emotions that Ahkenaten draws on here (or with all his music) then I don't think there will be that wide a margin of error in feeling what the composer of this music wanted its listeners to feel. Such emotions can be summoned and drawn upon irrespective of their final target or ultimate source...Ahkenaten, for example, may hate in a much more virulent fashion than I do (and hate different things than I), but that doesn't change the fact that his hatred - purged here of its direct object(s) when I listen to these songs and when it is presented to me through the medium of music - blends satisfactorily into my own, and offers me a catharsis and expression that I don't feel is futile just because I don't share his particular emphases. Besides, a black metal musician without an object of hatred is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. Our social/political convictions (for me, the ones that I do have, in any case), are close enough to be complimentary except on the most literal (exacting) levels. I have never been a political person, and probably never will be, but this music means something to me irregardless. Why? While some aggressive music - a lot of death metal, for example - is merely a recording of artists unconsciously reflecting reality or externals, this album (and most of the earlier black metal that it references) is mainly the expression of an internal reality, the scream of an isolated individual reflecting the external after it had been transformed, through the medium of the individual psyche into something much more integral, something intensely personal. It is important because it carries such a weight of emotion...but I have said enough about this...

The most surprising thing about this music is that it is much better than I had been led to believe...and Ahkenaten, for all his faults as a multi-instrumentalist (he now seems to let drummers take care of the rhythm section, and concentrates on guitar) is a black metal guitarist of excellent ability. On this album he expertly encapsulates the Norwegian tradition of atonal melodicism with a few well-placed structural riffs - within the first song, 'The Heavens Drop With Human Gore' and the third, 'Then Mourns The Wanderer' we have a series of minor-chord melodies that evoke all that they are supposed to summon within the framework of traditional Norsk black metal...one can easily hear the influences: Mayhem, a little Burzum perhaps, and above all: Darkthrone. Now, any friend of Darkthrone is a friend of mine, and Ahkenaten, one can tell, has spent his fair share of time researching the roots of Norwegian darkness with Transilvanian Hunger. The fourth song on this album, the speedy 'For the Last Judgement Draweth Nigh', is called right out of the inspiration of Darkthrone's magnum opus, and really there aren't any attempts to hide the influence here at all...in fact, Ahkenaten's vocals on this and a few other songs (they change a bit, but for the most part center around a harsh clawing screech or rough screams) echo Nocturno Culto's perfectly.

One could ask: how is it that this act, which is placed at the top of everyone's lists when it comes to naming bands that stand at the 'head' of the US black metal scene...how is it that Judas Iscariot 'gets away' with being so obviously influenced by European models? At the time of this recording (1996-7), I don't think this was an issue yet at all for anyone...it may be now, when American bands are desperately trying to scratch out a square foot of originality for themselves in an over-saturated world scene, but back in 1996, after the collapse of the really creative years of Norwegian black metal and during the latter days of Poland's entries into the fray, one can not blame Ahkenaten (who seems to have always been on top of what was current within the world scene) of trying, no matter the cost or debt of influence shown, to just make a mark for American black metal bands (although I know he would disavow his allegiance to any kind of American scene, and this album's liner notes points out that the music was written in - and thus inspired by, I can't help feeling one is supposed to think - Germany) no matter the level of originality on what he produced. Original or not, this is just a very good collection of black metal songs - one that hits all the right notes, you could say. Besides, Judas Iscariot has actually been around for a long time now, releasing a great deal of material, and as one would expect, Ahkenaten's focus as a composer has changed over the years - reflecting, I believe, what he was listening to at the time or what he really wanted to mirror (praise, support) with his music. I would never place him among the ranks of the genre's true originators, but I know such a distinction is probably not at all important to him, as he shows through his composing. No, what we have here is basically several attempts to summon, once again, that feeling of 'obscurity' or 'oppressive darkness' that listening to older albums like Transilvanian Hunger or Under A Funeral Moon brings up within us, those emotions and sensations that many other bands (most unsuccessfully) have tried to capture over the years and reproduce - as a sort of tribute, really, to a time long past now...a memorial to a short period in time when a few bands in the far north were writing some of the darkest music imaginable. Judas Iscariot is admirable because it breathes this spirit almost effortlessly, and it doesn't sound awkward or 'forced' in its attempts to call back the grim zeitgeist of early-90s Norway. So what I feel in this music is mainly regret, a sort of indefinable nostalgia and sadness, paired with the anger and unleashing of violence that is always present in Ahkenaten's work, and this regret, the feeling of looking back so overwhelming in the guitar tones and in the slow unfolding of the melodies here, is what really moves me when I listen to this...