Former Mayhem members burrow into an alternative history
When people speak of old-school black metal, what they generally mean is the scene that emerged from Oslo in the wake of Mayhem’s earliest efforts. Before that, of course, the tag was used widely and broadly, encompassing everything from Slayer and Celtic Frost to Devastation and Nunslaughter. And it is that transformative era in underground metal history that informs the monstrous music of Order. Formed by ex-Cadaver mastermind Anders Odden in 2013, what began as an exercise in nostalgia mutated into something far more destructive.
“The masterplan was to create a band consisting of the original dudes who played extreme metal in Norway before the whole ‘Norwegian black metal’ era took place,” Anders explains. “I’d written a synopsis for a fiction movie about the early days of the Norwegian scene and sold it to a film production company. To make genuine new music for the movie, I wanted to combine my old friends from the first Mayhem line-up, Manheim and Messiah, with my old pal Rene who played bass on the first Cadaver LP in 1990 [and who sadly passed away in 2014]. I thought, ‘What if we had started this band in 1987 when Manheim and Messiah left Mayhem? What would our own material sound like at that point in time?’”
The answer to that question is brutally hammered home on Order’s long-awaited debut album, Lex Amentiae. A furious, grotesque eruption of old-school riffing, it really does sound like some great, lost album from 1987, albeit with enough contemporary heft to allay fears that this is a purely wistful exercise. That said, Anders and his comrades plainly hold the glory days of metal’s mid-to-late 80s in the highest esteem.
“I think our generation was the last to truly identify our whole existence through music,” he says. “We were so into it nothing else mattered to us at all. Back then, all the bands sounded different from each other and new ways of doing things took people to new, interesting places all the time. I remember a compilation called Speed Kills I, which had a profound impact on me. I got into Exodus, Metallica, Slayer, Venom, Voivod, Celtic Frost, Destruction and Possessed at the same time! From that moment I knew this was my music and that it would be my life companion. It’s where all my inspiration comes from. It’s in our DNA.”
Despite significant commitments as live bassist with Satyricon, Anders insists that Order have grand plans to hit the road in the near future. A second album may emerge before touring starts in earnest, but having reconnected with the music that changed his life, this diehard purveyor of arcane extremity has no intention of stopping.
“This band is sacred to us. We are all veterans, but when we play it’s like nothing has changed. We answer to no one. We get inspiration from the idea of making music together – not other bands or current music trends. It’s kind of the same thing we did back in the day, but there is not much coming out now that we really like in metal. I guess that’s why we feel more free.”
Who are they?
Line-up: Eirik ‘Messiah’ Norheim (vocals), Kjetil Esten Haraldsson Manheim (drums), Anders Odden (guitar), Stu Manx (bass)
Hometown: Oslo, Norway
Sounds like: Frost-fuelled, insidiously atmosphere-drenched metal filth saluting black metal’s multifarious genesis.
For fans of: Celtic Frost, Mayhem, Bathory
Current release: Lex Amentiae (Listenable, 2017)
Spanish misanthropists hit negative mass
One of underground metal’s most enduring preoccupations is with the creation of music that somehow conjures new, darker shades of black. As death metal grinds inexorably forward, no one is making music as wilfully terrifying and sonically dense as Bilbao’s Altarage. Swiftly following up their remorselessly bleak 2016 debut Nihl with Endinghent, an even more devastating collection of hellish hypno-death, the Spaniards are clearly not here to spread peace and love.
“This world is going down the drain every new minute and you can do nothing,” says a nameless representative. “There’s no hope! Effectively, this is a purge. There is no good and evil, just a long walk to the end, along the monochromatic Eksis.”
Although motivated by dismay at the state of humanity and bereft of optimism, Altarage are doing some bold and exciting things with death metal. Endinghent shares as much DNA with Meshuggah’s polyrhythmic squall as they do with Portal or Ulcerate, and it’s within that blurring of subgenre boundaries that the true extremity and quasi-Lovecraftian surrealism of the band’s sound emerges.
“We didn’t have a masterplan. We aimed to do something we would be pleased with, moulding the songs until we got the end result. The sound is just us. There are flickers of dark light in the music for sure. Pitch-black, shitty albums are legion. Our language is more diverse than that, retaining the bizarre brutality intact.”
Their vision may be wholly misanthropic, but there is evidence in Altarage’s music that a positive energy is coursing through their veins. If it is possible to find true catharsis through heavy music, and liberation from life’s slow trudge towards the abyss, Altarage are far closer to unearthing it than most. With a third album already written, this journey through Hell is only just beginning. Be afraid, by all means, but be thrilled too.
“We hope to be going out there to spit this venom everywhere,” they avow. “To spread the plague wherever is possible.”
Who are they?
Line-up: Altarage, in enigmatically occult fashion, prefer to remain anonymous
Hometown: Bilbao, Spain
Sounds like: A swirling, claustrophobic vortex of angular, churning death metal
For fans of: Gorguts, Meshuggah, Ulcerate
Current release: Endinghent (Season Of Mist, 2017)
BIG | BRAVE
Canadian noise trio enjoys the silence
In a realm of reverb and distortion, silence is often far more powerful and deafening than sheer noise. Montreal-based three-piece Big | Brave have made this knowledge the core of their musical output. After forming in 2012, the band realised that a constant maximum of sound doesn’t equal a maximum of intensity. “A lot of the silence and reduction we use is about building tension,” explain the band collectively. “It’s great to try to captivate a listener and then suddenly startle them. Playing with these feelings is beyond aural, which makes the experience a multi-layered one.”
Creating a minimalistic yet intense sound that creeps around post-rock, alternative, sludge and noise, the outfit takes its brute force from dynamics and their own momentum. Playing with only basic reverb and overdrive effects, guitarists Robin Wattie and Mathieu Ball reel around their amps, translating their sound into movement and back into sound again. “What we strive for is using our instruments in ways that differ from what is usually done with them,” they say. “You don’t necessarily have to use new technologies to make new sounds and to have new ways of thinking about music, it just requires a little time and creativity with the tools that are already in your shed.”
Additionally to the constant feedback of churning guitars and sparse drums that eschew established musical patterns, Wattie’s voice adds another layer of urgency and feeling. “I approach vocals, lyrics and melodies the same way I do the guitar – as an instrument,” she states. With their new album, Ardor, the Canadians push their experimentations even further, testing their listeners’ perseverance with songs well over 10 minutes long. “While writing, we’ve gradually been more and more interested in constructing long, detailed narratives instead of straight-up band songs,” the members explain. “It’s great to be able to break out of the standard song structure that is imbedded in all of us.”
Who are they?
Line-up: Robin Wattie (vocals, guitar), Mathieu Ball (guitar), Louis-Alexandre Beauregard (drums)
Hometown: Montreal, Canada
Sounds like: Monolithic and haunting post-rock darkness for the post-apocalypse
For fans of: Boris, Fvnerals, Marriages, King Woman
Current release: Ardor (Southern Lord, 2017)