Friday, May 21, 2010

Sargeist - Satanic Black Devotion

Sargeist - Satanic Black Devotion
2003, Moribund Records

"Sargeist was born during the summer of diabolical holocaust 1999 as a clandestine solo project of Shatraug. First offering was captured at the Ruins of Cachtice entirely performed by Shatraug himself. In the year 2000 Lord Volos, the ex-drummer of BLUTRACHE, joined Shatraug and the first ritual was re-assembled. Both manifestations were released on Shatraug´s label Warmoon Records in a limited edition of 111 copies. In 2001 SARGEIST was enforced with Gorsedd Marter and Makha Karn, both of them later turning out traitors… With this line-up the "Tyranny Returns" tape LP saw it´s ignition and creation, at the Ruins of Cachtice again, and led everything towards the union assembled of the brotherhood that had formed with Shatraug and Torog. In late 2001 Moribund Cult signed SARGEIST to curse this world with their depression. It was soon to be learned that SARGEIST stand timeless, entering the Heinous Path with full-hearted and soul-woven art. In 2002 SARGEIST recorded and released the songs "Reaping With Curses & Plague", "The Rebirth of a Cursed Existence" and a re-recording of "Sinister Glow of the Funeral Torches" on a split 7"EP with French terrorists, and label mates, MERRIMACK and two compilations out on Woodcut Records ("Jatkosota" compilation CD) and Black Arts Productions ("…And Jesus Wept" compilation tape). Although the material was ready since 2001 it took until February 2003 that SARGEIST had finished the recordings for their debut CD release "Satanic Black Devotion". With this album we have set up a course returning to misery & comfort…"

So much for the internet biography on Moribund's website. The bio that came with this promo on the information sheet was a little different, mainly in points of grammar and sentence structure; it was obviously rewritten from the web bio, but I don't know why. I also don't know what "a course returning to misery and comfort" means, unless "comfort" is supposed to be "discomfort", but that still doesn't make much sense as one wouldn't normally apply two terms in a sentence like that where the first term is worse in a matter of degree than the second. Strange. The fact that it's the title of the last song on the Sargeist album doesn't make it any better...I guess misery is comfort, or something? There is a certain satisfaction in returning to misery? Maybe.

I'm also really not looking forward to the approaching trend of black metal bands and their labels using the word "terrorist", or rather, overusing it. Actually, I hope this trend is already over and I'm just behind the times in noticing it now. Please?

So yes, Sargeist is the project of Horna's Shatraug, who was one of the founders of that earlier band, one of the longest running and most respected "true" black metal groups from Finland, who are mainly noteworthy because they have released ten years worth of material without advancing/progressing stylistically one single inch.

I'm kidding.

I have always liked Horna, not because of their political stance [?] or their imagery [which is nice, admittedly] but because they don't seem to care about what's happening in the rest of the scene and they just go about creating the same album, over and over. I admire that. I am also being a little facetious here...any real Horna fan knows that there have been small changes in their sound, style, etc. over the years, but when one takes a step back and looks at it with a clear eye, unbiased, one sees that they have been dedicated to recreating a certain era of black metal, not in advancing their style or exploring what black metal could give them if they used it to express their ambitions. They are in love with the past. That is fine. Over the last few years in Europe that has been determined to be the true modus operandi of the "pure" black metal bands, aligned against the progressive, symphonic, forward-looking elements. All of these ideas and motivations will change, of course, they always do. I am boring you...

I should add that Horna's new website [they finally obtained a good working one] is designed by the same person who built the Moribund site, an entity who seems to work for Moribund in some capacity. I don't know if Sargeist will ever have a website as this band is dedicated to being "obscure" and on the Moribund homepage it says "no interviews, no contact" or some other nonsense. In the black metal scene these days the best promotion is the pretended absence of all promotion, and a nod towards obscurity and an absence of information, even as one [the reviewer] is being force-fed an information sheet in a promotion package. At this time, though, with the internet and the speed at which rumor and other underground transmissions spread, one has to work very hard to stay obscure. Obscurity is a positive outreaching action on the part of bands or labels, caused by a spreading of disinformation...whereas before, only ten years ago, where "obscurity" was caused by an unwillingness to talk to press sources and the faulty sources themselves - which never agreed on anything - now one must battle the forces of impersonal internet curiosity with savage efficacy or every single thing will be known about you and will be stretched across the world on a hundred message boards. In this sense obscurity, in 2003, is as much an illusion as it ever was before...only now it is seen through immediately and only serves as a symbol of certain scene ambitions, instead of a cover which they could run beneath.

One has to at least make a feeble motion towards being "obscure" or the masses of eager fanatics out there who are just waiting for the next pseudo-mystery will see right through you. What an absurd creation of this once-viable music movement! How interesting it is to see once-viable ideas turned into trends and clichés! "Obscurity" in metal has lost all of the meaning it once had, it if ever had any...

Anyway, Sargeist want to be obscure. Fine. Album cover completely in black, man [Shatraug?] dressed totally in black, a rope around his waist, holding a skull, corpsepainted, making faces, trying not to look at the camera. Acknowledging the camera [and thus you, the observer, the fan] is just not elite, you know.

Totally typical, completely clichéd, utterly unoriginal. Is this...grim? I don't know anymore.

What about the music, you ask?

Sargeist are from Finland, and lately I haven't been that impressed by Finnish bands. I don't really know why exactly, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that so many of them seem to be content to just comment on what Swedish or Norwegian bands were doing 6-10 years ago...and there has never really been a "national" identity or cohesive style to this country's output. No one learned from Beherit! That is a good thing in one sense as it means there aren't as many "controls" on the individual musician's attempts at expression, but it also means that there isn't a widely-available musical language to make composing and creating easier. Each artist has to begin from the first process of attempting a novel conception, ratifying their own ingenuity, experimenting, trying to come up with a viable, working sound, etc. It takes a great deal of time. I think most bands just get tired of the entire individual sojourn, the creative "journey", and give up. I also don't know if there is any kind of unified collective, scene or structured fusion of musicians in Finland that would advise and inspire each other. Everyone seems to be completely isolated in that bleak country. In any case, what these things have meant for the past 5 years at least is: a few good bands, original, trying something new, working from their own internal/personal inspiration, creating their own effective solipsistic languages, and then a befuddled legion of other copycat bands who, like I said above, are satisfied with just xeroxing Darkthrone once again.

I don't pick up on a lot of Darkthrone on this record [good!]...what is strange is I actually hear Gorgoroth, which is interesting in that I don't come across that many bands that reference [or who admit the influence of] that primal, insane unit. The guitar sound, the sedately-paced riffs, the stab at rousing anthem-like melodies, the song structures, etc. all remind me of Infernus's contribution to the Norwegian black lexicon. The guitar sound, which might be from "Pentagram" or "Antichrist", only smoothed out and compressed, is slightly atypical for a black metal band. The distortion has been rolled back and the result is more jangling, clear, disjointed, crass, loose, simple. I'm tempted to reference a few British pop groups but I'll refrain from embarrassing both of us. The riffing itself is completely standardized, archetypal [some would say "classic"], traditional, and yet is highly effective because it both works on its own, from its own merits, and it is constantly consulting older works which you have heard and which you still have dark emotional ties to. Every little corner and slice of this record will awaken in your brain those decade-old memories of hearing the Norwegians for the first time, etc. The music is evocative and structured well, almost expertly. The melodies [here I mean their own individual identities, aside from what past they refer to] are not exactly exciting and moving - but they are mildly stirring, they cause a certain quickening of the pulse. There's something there. The guitar sound and the main motifs of the songs also seem to radiate a morbid French Black Legions influence and that's always welcome. Then there's the main "folk" melody throughout the eighth track, "Sargeist", which is just bizarre. Could Sargeist by trying to draw another line from their style to...the Polish or Russian bands? Gasp!

While the hype typed/propped up by Moribund calls this an overwhelmingly "cold" album I never really interpret/feel it that way. Sure, the guitars sound chilly [boost the treble and reverb, hollow out the midrange, it's always the same] but the music in itself, the melodies, are almost happy at times [heresy!]...they are always sentimental or mawkishly nostalgic. Strange. In fact there are many parts on this album where...if the segments were just played with acoustic guitars you would be excused for thinking Sargeist was a wailing country band. I like it.

The best songs for me on this record are the first, the title track, which is so much like a blood-rousing anthem that it could be this band's "Transilvanian Hunger" [and is in my opinion the best song this band will ever write], the fourth, "Frowning, Existing", which might not be this band's work as it has a star next to the title on the back of the promo, although there isn't a footnote below to explain [it also sounds unlike the other songs, it's very catchy and pop-like, almost a punk tune], and then the last two tracks, the aforementioned eponymous eighth and then the ninth and final, which I referred to in the beginning of this review. Eight songs, four standout tracks, one intro that starts out well but then is mired in senselessness by an echoing scream that sounds like a bird having its feathers pulled out, and a little more than half an hour of entirely conventional black metal. Such is Sargeist's "Satanic Black Devotion". Enjoy.