Saturday, May 22, 2010

Vrag - Demo, Fall 2001

Vrag - Demo, Fall 2001
Self-Release, date self-explanatory

Let's face it: sooner or later, if you are a fan of black metal, attracted to it naturally - bodily, heart and soul, feeling its claws deep inside you - and also a musician, or at least a hobbyist in music, you think about forming a black metal band. It's almost inevitable. Such is the appeal of the genre's DIY ethic, the ethos, also, of its inherent power - mixing despair's darkness with stirring rhythms and tempos - designed, almost, as the perfect inspirational form of music for the disenchanted of this age. Black metal was the punk of the '90s - I'm defnitely not the first person to say this - and the corollaries/affinities between the two movements are clear: the calls to action, to personal accountability, the urges for reform, the aggression, the outpouring of energy, etc. While punk could be seen as a 'positive' movement, lending itself very easily in the political arena to the Left, black metal is almost its complete opposite, and naturally aligns itself with reactionaries. It is not a coincidence that so much of this music looks towards the past - towards what has come before, towards resurrecting a 'golden age' eclipsed in history. Black metal, with its emphasis on the 'negative' emotions is, of course, deeply, irrevocably self-destructive. In fact I believe that the only thing that keeps such musicians from utter despair is (and you can see this as a paradox or not) the music itself - the planning of it, the expression, catharsis, and the conversion of destructive instincts into creativity. Black metal, then, has much of the same urgency and sense of 'armageddon' as's almost a last-ditch attempt, a final calling out, a scream, an act of bliss born of a turning away from life and a convinced concentration on death.

Vrag is an Australian band composed of two members, and they play black metal in a very traditional manner - almost a wholly 'reverent' fashion, without experimentation, concentrating on building primary structures here which they can later look back to in their explorations. This demo is comprised of four acts, one of which is a well thought-out, respectful cover of Mayhem's 'Deathcrush', slowed down here a little to further bleed/promote its dark atmosphere and brooding violence, but all-in-all reproduced very faithfully...the other three are originals: pieces, one would think, which are dedicated to or inspired (or which they at least seek to illustrate) directly by the emotions related in their titles: Hatred, Sorrow, and Lust. An interesting concept, and one that is rather obvious...a black metal manifesto, maybe?

'Hatred' is a raging slice of simple power chord manipulation and crashing drums, coated as all these songs are in a vitriolic sheen of distortion, a cloud of sable...starting off at a fast pace, slashing and ripping like prime Gorgoroth, and then later slowing to a doom crawl for a moment before returning to its initial idea(s). I like the shadowed, hollow guitar tones here, the effect of both the overdrive used and the raw production. The lyrics are probably the best part, however: to wit, the lines: 'Grind humanity to powder, filter it through time and pain, drain all reason and compassion - passion and all hope in vain.' A motto for misanthropists? These lines and the others are delivered in a familiar black metal snarl or groaning shout, as you would expect, in a way that really doesn't offer anything new to my ears, but it doesn't take anything away from the music either. Like I said above...perfectly traditional, perfectly complementary.

'Sorrow' is a more enthralling conception mainly because it is all acoustic guitar, and utilizes much more instrumental dynamics/variation than the electric pieces, even though it is really only centered around one musical theme - the repetition of which is bridged by clear, strong, full strumming of basic chord progressions.

The last song, then, is 'Lust', and one which shows a little more variation in theme and ideas than the two earlier tracks - but just barely so. Throughout the song Vrag keep a relaxed, mid-paced approach, crunching and bearing down hard on power chords for an effect that is almost similar to early Samael...throughout this tenebrous affair the buzzing guitars never deviate too far from their native melodies, the structure of this song, and the statement-and-repetition form of this exercise in primal theory. Once again, I think the lyrics are the best part: 'Shameless to invoke the Lord both in bed and prayer' and 'The Crystal Ship departs for hell through gates of skin and hair/De-con-struction Of moral codes and men' are two favorite segments. The vocals in the second half of the song are filtered through a demonic 'shifting' effect, and this further lends credence to the unholy atmosphere. As the title should tell you, this is a wolfpaean to the 'natural' animal instincts and, at the same time, a praising of soulless/blasphemous/transcendent sexuality. Or, at least, so it seems to me.

Ultimately, this demo is not really anything terribly out of the ordinary, as I have related already, but I also don't believe Vrag is really trying to be so at this point anyway. A good start, a solid foundation to build on, and a tape that would be welcome in the hands of fans of early-'90s/late-'80s protypical black metal: Bathory, Darkthrone, the aforementioned first Mayhem, etc. Let's see where Vrag goes in the future, and what they come up with...