Friday, May 21, 2010

Satans Blood - Christians to Ashes, Angels to Dust

Satans Blood - Christians to Ashes, Angels to Dust
2001, Sound Riot Records

Interesting. A German band playing Swedish black metal, signed to a Portuguese label, and now reviewed by an American magazine. Multicultural metal, at its finest...or rather, at its most typical I should say. It was difficult to listen to this release with anything resembling rapt concentration, not only because I have heard almost all of this music before (though probably not done better - arguably even by the bands who originated the style), but because I have never really been a great fan of Swedish black metal, in any of its forms, especially the patterns that were first set in stone and cast for the ages by Dark Funeral. 'The Secrets of the Black Arts' ('The Fire Eternal' is the only Dark Funeral song worth referring to, I dare anyone to argue the point), come to think of it, now has to be seen as a very important album, if only for the fact that so many musicians across the world (especially Western Europeans) have come under its spell and have found it difficult to escape that work's pernicious influence. Its style lingers on, echoing now from this side of Europe, coming to us in the form of a band that surely can hear these 'traits' in their own music. I hope they can. So, for small labels like Sound Riot, out of Brazil, an album that is very close to a famous work is not such a bad thing, at least it will sell, right? That seems to be the logic behind this band getting signed, or at least why they were first noticed. The only other reason (and maybe this is connected to the former) is that just maybe the head of this label actually likes this form of black metal, or can not really discern between the different forms, styles, and levels of 'darkness' in the genre. Many people can not. Many people can't even tell the difference between death and black metal, so who really knows what's going on in the heads of all the different label heads, across the world? What really motivates most of them? Are generalizations even possible?

Anyway, Satans Blood (yes, that name makes me cringe), who have seemingly forgotten an apostrophe or who do not understand that the proper noun 'Satan' will only come in the singular form, for all of time, until perhaps Lucifer finds a mirror worthy of eternally reflecting his noble visage, play a form of black metal that, as I referred to above, can only be labeled as 'Swedish' because it is so obviously influenced by that whole subgenre of speed-crazed smooth-toned Scandinavians. Let me make these distinctions a little more lucid for you: when I say 'like Dark Funeral' I am usually referring to the guitar work alone, despite what other elements the other instruments might bring into the equation. As with the Swedes, Satans Blood employ a very even, overproduced guitar sound that seems to float in the midrange of available frequencies, never bottoming out in the lows so easily available to those who reside on the sixth string (I'm guessing they employ nothing but barre chords), a sound that has been buffed and shined to what someone somewhere must obviously regard as perfection, a guitar mix equalized to the point of nullifying any real power the strings could have had. How much more powerful this would be if the guitars were allowed to breathe a little, and not be compressed, boxed, shuttered, fenced in, or tied down to vanilla sterility! When it comes to this kind of production, the axemen in this band might as well be playing keyboards - what's the point if the raw puissance of overdriven amps (the sawteeth of those Marshalls) is not allowed to express the chaos or madness that plays such an important part in this genre of music? Darkness is not communicated through melody alone, that much history has taught us...

Thinking it though logically, it seems to me that the only way this band would be worth seeking out is if they took these formulaic approaches and tweaked them in some way, adding certain idiosyncrasies that would intrigue the enthusiast, or if they in some sense appeared to our measured gaze as purposeful mockeries of the entire paradigm. I think we can safely rule out the latter, all unintentional humor aside. Sadly (some would say), I am still young enough to look at this release, listen to it, read through the lyrics (not that bad, actually, some good phrases in there), page through the band pictures and take this whole thing seriously, without any kind of internal corrosion/crisis of confidence that would express itself through repeated attempts to justify what these men are doing with their musical talent. I enjoy their music, if only at certain times (in correspondence with fleeting moods of my own, which could be brought on by anything) because of the atypically moving melodies that are written over the tired funeralisms going on beneath them, added into the songs as asides, comments, regrets, buffers, or some kind of parenthetical glossing. If I could just extract these additional melodies, have them transposed to piano or solo female voice, or maybe even acoustic guitar, and then just archive them in my collection of music I am saving for when I am old enough to give lugubrious dinner parties ala Huysmans, I would be firmly pleased. They are worth saving, that's what I'm trying to say...

Satans Blood, by releasing this, have placed themselves in a very wide field, perhaps the one with the least elbow room outside of the Darkthrone clones. Dark Funeral-influenced (once again, I am using the word 'influenced' kindly, apropos of other words I could definitely substitute here) bands are a dime a dozen now, and have been for the last five years at least. Most of them seem to actually come from Sweden itself, although if you pay attention and seek them out, they can be discovered hiding under the rocks in almost any country in the world. There are a lot in Germany. Why? I don't know. Didn't someone once say about the Germans that they take one's technology and make it better? Or was that the Japanese? What frightens me is the 'orderliness' and 'cleanliness' of the German temperament coming into contact with the Dark Funeral paradigm, as its sure to create some of the most sterile, pointless, utterly unmoving black metal ever put down on tape. Efficient German song structures cloaked in midrange Swedish banality? Shudder...

So let me just finish here by saying that I do consider this album worth listening to - especially for those of you who actually adore funeralisms - even though I have deep doubts as to the capability of these musicians to write original music. Then again, not everyone is concerned with originality, especially in a scene that is shrinking (finally) day by day, and seeing bands reverting once again to their prior status as death metal candidates...