A couple albums I liked in 2011

It’s strange how used you get to dudes going by names like Nocturnal Grave Desecrator and Nuclear Hammer Jesus or whatever. I’m more surprised when metal dudes use their own names now, as these black metal super hero personas are so part of the play at this point, originating with Celtic Frost or Venom and perfected in Blasphemy, the kings of funny eeeevill names. I understand the point of some of the names– how for some, the titles help tap into something beyond themselves, fiction suits that alter their realities. Seems like simple stuff really—but it’s undeniably effective, the pomp of spikes and blood and corpse paint establish the rules of the game, the space for something to occur that conjures dangerous energy. Wrath from Averse Sefira has written rather eloquently about this on his blog http://aversesefira.blogspot.com/.But it’s hard not to see so many of these affects as shallow poses for so many of the bands now, when not verging on a sort of autistic genius… Caller of the Black Winds, indeed.

That said, one of my favorite lps of the year, Negative Plane’s Stained Glass Revelations, includes the somewhat puzzlingly named Nameless Void and Bestial Devotion in their ranks. If Stained Glass Revelations wasn’t such a unique example of modern black metal than maybe I would chock it up to yet more EEEVILLLL posturing. But there’s something altogether more creative and compelling residing in the grooves of SGR’s lp that sets it apart from the so-called blackened hordes (who isn’t tired of this cliché? Denizens of the Android’s Dungeon is probably more apt), and it’s not just the recorded in a sepulcher production. With the best black metal, there is a feeling of dread and claustrophobia, of a resonance that isn’t entirely explainable. Most of this lost in modern black metal, hidden behind half-assed satanic imagery, hackneyed riffs and interchangeable vokills. And while Negative Plane is certainly a black metal band, it’s safe to say that there hasn’t been one quite like them before. But like a lot of black metal, Stained Glass revelations is couched in a kind of mystery, a shroud of obscure reference and symbol — heavy in meaning and difficult to interpret, but sidestepping the hodgepodge of pseudo-occultism found in so much metal. Instead Negative Plane bleeds a kind of neurotic asceticism, which manifests itself in a cobwebbed sound as indebted to Klaus Fluoride as it is to the Possessed. Everything about the album seems to reach for some aspect of the antiquated, the ancient and forgotten. It wouldn’t be out of place playing in some antique shop; Negative Plane seem more at home in the refuse of the dead than at some show among raised fists, beer, and hair matted in sweat. And like anything of any worth, this takes work. It takes time and investment.

Toshimaru Nakamura’s Maruto on Erstwhile doesn’t have much in common aurally with Negative Plane, but it does share its clarity of vision. It’s by most accounts Nakamura’s most successful solo work. But I don’t really care where it falls in some pantheon. Because this music displays such absolute conviction, a tense and beautiful tightrope act of frequency and structure. As singular, hermetic and air tight as any of the best black metal, Maruto also displays a glistening intensity. The sounds moves like great blocks of electricity made audible, corralled into a twisting, sinuous construction. It’s not the loudest or harshest or softest I heard this year, but it’s the most well-defined. The sounds used here sound quintessentially Nakamura, but also as if he’s stretching out more than ever, exploring new vistas of electronic howl. It’s amazing it seems so lean, and uncontrived. It can get so damn tiring listening to improvisation that drawls, stretching a single idea into a masturbatory meaninglessness. And while Maruto loses none of improv’s immediacy, it sounds completely in control of where it’s heading.

Nothing is lost the more you listen. In fact, I find it more compelling as time passes, the shocks and quivers, the dynamic shifts playing tricks on my insides. The shape of it seems burnt into the side of mind like a cattle brand. Of all Erstwhile’s impressive releases in 2011, this one has left the most lasting impression. Try as I might to consider it’s legacy, I’m left only with the sound. And that’s more satisfying than anything else at this point.

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