At a time when USBM is just as likely to be represented by respectable-looking chaps in check shirts playing heavy psychedelic prog, as angry blasphemers pushing the boundaries of hateful noise, Satanic Blood marks a welcome arrival. Indeed, it’s apt that as the US reinvents itself with a legion of more sophisticated bands that an ugly reminder of the country’s primitive past resurfaces, like a time capsule vomited back up from the earth.
Widely acknowledged as America’s first black metal band, Von formed in the late 80s and had such a profound impact upon the emerging European scene that they not only ended up being covered by the likes of Urgehal, Dark Funeral and Taake, but also gave Watain their name. Amazingly, all this was based on a single, raw-as-hell demo released in 1992. When the band reappeared a few years ago – one of the more unlikely extreme metal reformations yet – sceptics wondered how a group in the modern era could hope to capture the spirit of that searing but one-dimensional opus.
Today, bassist, co-writer and co-founder Jason ‘Venien’ Ventura steers the Von ship and his ambition is immediately obvious upon seeing the huge beast that is Satanic Blood. The size of an LP, the CD is packaged within a 12-inch booklet immaculately illustrated with detailed, otherworldly drawings by the frontman. As DIY an operation as it was 20 years ago, the dedication thankfully extends to the recording itself: clocking in at one hour, the album not only features re-recordings of the eight songs on the Satanic Blood demo, but those on the lesser known Satanic and Blood Angel demos as well as previously unheard material.
Though more expansive, there has been little attempt to redraft the compositions, which, on the whole, combine the frantic repetition of the most malevolent yet simple riffs imaginable with the multi-layered bellowed incantations of Venien (replacing the vocals of co-founder Goat, who departed two years ago). The ruthless pounding of the originals was about as one- dimensional as drumming could be, and even though the percussion here is handled by the talented Charlie Fell of Nachtmystium, most tracks essentially remain in perpetual blastbeat.
The real achievement here is that the album retains the incomparably primal spirit of the band while nonetheless offering a bigger and better realisation of the songs. While similarly bestial acts such as Black Witchery tend to drive their assault into low frequencies and swampy acoustics, Satanic Blood offers a relatively high-pitched ‘scooped’ sound, dominated by creepy high-end ‘lead’ guitars that essentially mirror the rhythm guitars save for an occasional solo. Moreover, though utterly brutal, the songs simply aren’t typical metal tunes, the riffs ignoring conventional scales like the plague, the bombardment almost abstract.
The whole affair is genuinely hypnotic, coloured by a sense of displacement. It sounds wrong; frankly put, it is wrong, and amazingly it still works brilliantly after all these years.