Monday, May 21, 2012

Blåkulla - Darkened by an Occult Wisdom (2011)

Darkened by an Occult Wisdom is the premier recording from obscure French black metal project Blåkulla, the work of a single individual who goes by the handle of Surtr Blackmoon Emperor. Original released as a limited edition cassette last year on Cold Void Emanations, it has been picked up again for a reissue through Poland's True Underground Productions, who a few of you might recognize for releases by groups like Dark Fury or Thoth. I mention this connection primarily because the sound of the tape I'm reviewing is pretty common for the label, in that it represents the 'true black metal', primitive and highly aggressive and not really giving a fuck for the conventions of variation or accessibility for a wider audience. Blåkulla lives and dies on its hellish energy, a candle burning quickly on both ends with no pretensions of elegance or comfort, and while I might very well cite an  influence of early Darkthrone, Burzum or Mayhem, Darkened by an Occult Wisdom is quite determinedly sinister even by those primal standards.

That's not to say that there is no beauty involved in this music, because some of the streams of chords being slashed across the strings are downright glorious. Surtr has an admittedly regulation rasp for this genre, yet his timbre is enormous, a claustrophobic curtain of hissing serpents being drawn over the nocturnal atmosphere of the constantly thrusting guitars and blasting mechanical drums which rarely, if ever, let the ears rest from their callous bombardment. Bass lines don't really play much of a factor in the writing, everything is just combined into this central, blasted momentum and saturated by the harrowing vocals. Blåkulla also loves opening and closing its compositions with feedback from the guitars, which lends the tape a unified, raw clamor that should thrill purists. The entire lack of poppish, folk melodies or Gothic keyboard intros and outros, which have often pervaded this genre to mixed results, will certainly prove attractive to those who seek out only the most threadbare, hostile sounds in the field.

Three of the five tracks on the recording exceed the nine minute mark, which can prove exhausting when you're dealing with material at this level of unswerving intensity, but I have to admit that two of the better songs were its longest, "Miraculous Dark Mysteries" and "Victory & Glory or Death". The notation was the strongest, the barrage of tremolo picking and chords the most evocative and nostalgic, grips of ice that draw you screaming into some sunless Medieval reality where you're pursued and devoured by wolves. The others are certainly competent and comparable in rhythm and style, but I found the patterns of notes somewhat less compelling. Blåkulla's riffs, while often repetitive, are certainly harried sounding over the rush of the drums, and Surtr is not afraid to slice and shift about the frets to keep the ears affixed, and bleeding.

I doubt Surtr intended to rupture the mold cast by his forebears, but to some degree the lack of variation on the recording proves its greatest flaw. In many cases, traditional black metal artists will offer an alternation between the tremolo riffing, hyper madness and the dominant Sabbath/Hellhammer grooves that were adopted by the Scandinavian legends in the early 90s, but Blåkulla relies very heavily on the former. Those who demand a lot of rhythmic change-ups in between the blasted elements will not find much solace here, and I'd be lying if I felt that a frost of monotony did occasionally creep into my conscience. But that said, I feel that Darkened by an Occult Wisdom is ultimately terrifying enough in its delivery that it overcomes this shortcoming. It might not feel unique or dynamic, but it's incendiary enough to quell the sunlight and drown you in its thundering viscera. For one single guy handling all instruments, that's no simple task.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

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