2004, Regimental Records
Of all the different takes on basic black metal that have sprung full grown from the rapidly cooling corpse of the '90s scene, war metal is at least interesting to me in that it is so conflicted in its heart, trying to be both innovative and completely traditional at the same time. It's novel in that it is seeking to grow out of black metal's fundamental aesthetics (simple, dark, anthem-like chord progressions, harsh screaming, blast speeds, attempts at representing "chaos" in the music, etc.) and then both reach ahead of that conventional view/reflection and still stay closely linked to what has come before, squatting vulpine over whatever it can salvage from the fading aesthetics of the last decade's black bands - extracting the "essence" of the destructive ability of the most effective bands and seeking to exaggerate it, to push it to new limits. "War metal", then, in its most extreme instances (Revenge, Conqueror, Axis of Advance - one can see the Canadian legacy already growing, which this band continues) is a deliberate flaunting of pure black metal aesthetics (problematic in that this judgment on my part and the use of the ambiguous word "pure" is subjective), or black metal stripped to the bone yet again and made to embrace its own beginnings (symbolized here by OWM including a Bathory cover), its simplest elements. In its primal state, however, war metal seems to only promulgate an aggressiveness of sound and violence/chaos both in production standards and riffing styles, everything else can be laid by the side. Is there a "generic" sound to war metal, an archetype, a riffing pattern, a set series of melodies? As of right now, at this point...not at all. War metal seems to be at that very beginning point in the history of a genre where simple aesthetic themes, modes, or artist beliefs are first isolated and identified...separated in order to later be combined in different expressive forms. What can be noticed is only, as I said above, the deliberate concentration on utterly conservative, traditional themes and lyrical subject matter: war, battles, bloodshed, the inclement nature of grim struggles between states. This crowning "evolution" in aesthetics, then, is only (once again) a return to one of the most basic motifs in metal...something that had been explored since the first days of Black Sabbath ("War Pigs", "Iron Man", etc.). Is metal one of the most obvious proponents in the musical sphere - consistently - of this back-to-basics approach, this "evolution in regression"? I don't know. I do recognize that this ethic seems to renew it claim to ascendency/legitimacy every few years, however, just when certain segments or subgenres in the scene seem to be about to collapse beneath their own weight of overwrought elaboration and arabesque detail. The last few times it was still able to inject new energy, drive, and enthusiasm into the creative effort - perhaps with the newest "war metal" bands it will be successful once again.
Operation Winter Mist seems to be the most successful, as far as I can tell, mainly in creating a concept and lyrical subject of concentration that is obviously inspiring to them - something that they can collectively focus on at this point and use to build their own style, their own original series of essential messages/communications. As musical collaborators they are not now at the point where their aesthetic sense has been able to penetrate into the substance and basic melodic identity of their material, although in terms of their lyrical concepts and the strong, cohesive personality of the band, they seem to have an advantage in working towards this. The lyrics are excellent, appearing as long, detailed accounts of historical struggles interlaced with personal exhortation and a series of attempts to bring the "atmosphere" of war efforts (battlefield ethics and the like) into the present, into the world that each song creates. It's interesting how they seem to mix the "standard" of battle fetishism with a concentration on winter themes - melding, once again, two (at this point) completely traditional black metal topics into one realm or subject which they can then base their imagery and identity upon. This band, one is led to believe, would not exist if it wasn't for Conqueror or Blasphemy, but then there is the concentration on December tones that comes from northern European black metal (in "Blood on Ice" they flagrantly steal a riff from Darkthrone) as well - in the pictures in the lyric booklet here OWM appears both in corpse paint and wearing war regalia - in this sense they are a fusion of two conflicting strands within black metal. German references might be taken from the ideas surrounding Marduk's deliberate "Panzer Division Marduk", or they might not. These ideas (in themselves) are also completely traditional - metal's fascination with the "blood and iron" of Bismarck has a storied past. I tend not to concentrate on "fashion" when I am thinking about music, but these overt, deliberate signs of identity are interesting. As with other types of fashion within underground metal (or "imagery") these things appear as animated symbols or signs of the band's underlying lyrical concepts - or at least they are supposed to.
This presentation of "Winter Warfare II" is not a sequel album, as its title might lead one to believe, it is simply a collection of this band's releases to this point summarized and presented together in order to make a strong aesthetic statement...or at least a more "professional" one, I am thinking, than their earlier offerings. It features two EPs, Winter Warfare I and II (II being created expressly for this CD, I believe) with bonus live versions of songs from both sections. I do not know why the band didn't just concentrate on writing a complete record and releasing that...perhaps they meant this initial salvo to establish their place in the scene and open the way for later appearances. In any case these are not ancient creations, WW I was recorded in February of 2002 and the second EP exactly a year later. It is intriguing that the later material wasn't placed first here...in this way the listener is forced to trace the band's progression, to follow along beside their creative endeavor and see how they built upon their first songs. The two EPs are separate collections in themselves and do not dovetail, as the fourth track here is an intro to WW II (which does mirror the beginning of the first track) and separates the second "release" from the first.
Anyway, if it seems like I am hesitating in this reviewing and halting just short of some kind of "definitive" statement or judgment on the music, it is only because I actually do not have any strong opinions regarding what I find here. Why? I have nothing to really react to. As I said above, OWM do not, at this point in time, have a cohesive identity within their music...what they do present is simply a pastiche, melange, or oversimplification of their strongest influences. The concept of the band has yet to bear fruit within the music...although it has already suffused the band's imagery, lyrics, language, and (one would think) their entire view of themselves. One can only give it time, and see what the future will bring. Certain elements in the newest material here (especially on "At All Cost" from WW II) definitely show promise, but I think this band just needs to concentrate on their songwriting at this point and try to build a more original vehicle for their obsessions...hopefully they will.