Saturday, May 22, 2010

Vukodlak - Blackest Autumn

Vukodlak - Blackest Autumn
2001, Realms of Darkness

I feel like I'm in a fairly good position to review this material now, as I have been listening to this group's music since the very beginning of their blackened career, and I have been watching, out of the corner of my eye, as they have slowly started to gather more acclaim from the underground, stretching out their reach, spreading their influence, converting sensibilities to their particular convictions...in any case, this is the first release on CD for this band, and the first offering from this label, a natural outgrowth of the magazine and distro. of the same name. So what exactly does this disc submit for your darkling listening pleasure, your grim enjoyment? Let's get straight to that...

First of all, this mini-album is a collection of three different recordings, and the sound quality differs from track to track. This may be distracting to some, but since this is not a band that would claim any kind of pretensions to grand 'symphonic' composing or 'major-label' appeal, it is a positive instead of a negative...that is: in my opinion (and doubtlessly the opinion of the band, they could have easily afforded a 'better' production than this) this is the perfect sound for this kind of music, and it only serves to darken the mood, draw the veils over the commonplaces in the music, and highlight the 'archaic' feel of this material. At certain points you can actually hear the source tape hissing, crackling, and popping, as if you were listening to a record of an old New Orleans blues band from the early part of this century, and for me, this only enhances the 'ancient' feel of this music...believe it or not, I enjoy these things on black metal recordings. A cleaner production would leave too much space to breath for this particular outpouring of blasphemy, and it would founder in its own simplicity...a claustrophobic, close, lightless, utterly necro (let's be honest, it's almost monotone, like an AM radio broadcast) sound makes you come to it, seeking the 'feel' (the emotions) of the musicians involved, falling downward into their embraces, and as Vukodlak flail back and forth in a pit of Pennsylvanian isolation ('swallowed in darkness', to quote their lyrics) you can be sure they wouldn't appreciate the sort of 'light' a sparkling production would bring them, blinding their eyes, burning their ears...I am sure that this band's everyday existence is as mundane as the rest of ours, but listening to this at a loud volume with your eyes closed, it is as if you had stumbled, lost, full of fears, through a dead landscape and fallen into a chasm where the ghosts of the past were being summoned...

The opener 'Ol Zodameta' starts things off in fine form with an Acheron-influenced keyboard collage and a left and right-panned series of moans and groans...and then 'Burnt Horizon' comes blasting in, straight from of the spirit of 'Under a Funeral Moon', its one and a half minute running time serving only to let you know where this band stands in terms of its influences: 1993, and no later. Like a paean or homage to Darkthrone and Bathory, this barbaric, grinding, crashing slice of primitive black metal is one of Vukodlak's oldest songs, and it has aged without a hint of wear...it sounds as good as it ever did, and slices to the bone as a sort of 'manifesto' of intent, a 'first strike' to gouge away your preconceptions of what this band is offering...

Next up is 'Twilight', a much more morose and caustic track, which combines the brutality of 'Burnt Horizon' with slower, doom-filled riffing, letting the music breathe a little, opening it up...but not too far. Much like the song before it, this is all about creating a space where the spirits of the past - all the music that has come before, all the darkest moments of the last decade's black metal - can awake, rising, opening their eyes, claw and crawl their way through the soil...

For the most part, the other songs on this disc follow in the same vein: all atavistic, grinding hatred, all perverse lashings of blasphemy and evil intent screamed to the sky, all the passion of musicians who react to the meaningless of life with a self-destructive misanthropy and seek to drown out the endless language of modernity with gallons upon gallons of black blood, poured out in deafening waves of corrosive distortion...

I especially like the title track here, 'Blackest Autumn', as it blends Vukodlak's 'traditional' style with a guitar sound and approach that effortlessly evoke early Sodom and Destruction...it would be interesting if they followed along this path in the future...

In any case, this album is yet another reason to think that the 'true' spirit of black metal - that of primitive, pure hatred and harsh, clashing, stripped-down, primeval forms - has left the European lands and taken up residence here in the States. I, for one, know about the isolation, the dim, gray, wearying environment of Pennsylvania, the beautiful forests of that part of this country, the influence of nature and the call of the dark (or of the grave) that floats through that region's cold nights...I would love to see Vukodlak turn even farther into their subjective abyss, seeking out more personal and introspective influences or urgings, carving and painting Pennsylvania, in monochrome, into the bleak history of black metal...

I wish this band luck in their future endeavors, and I hope to hear more material from them soon...