Symphonic black metal was born out of the original Norwegian scene in the 90s. In the same years that Darkthrone and Immortal were making their most classic releases, Dimmu Borgir and Emperor were adding synths and keyboards to the black metal sound. The genre expanded and experienced a peak mainstream appeal in the 2000s with a handful of the surviving Norwegian bands as well as other legends like Cradle of Filth and Anorexia Nervosa leading the charge. Today, these records are often written off as too commercial and overly cheesy, remembered with a fond nostalgia at best and an urge to erase them from history at worse. Regardless of its arguable merit, the symphonic black metal sound barely thrives today. Rather than deal in dramatic orchestral arrangements, current black metal albums usually find new extremes in dissonance or break new ground by merging with more melodic genres like shoegaze and post-rock. Carach Angren brings black metal back to a more theatrical sound and has no problem with going over the top. But is the result something stomachable or anything close to the old classics?
It’s been a long road, but the sax is back, baby. For years the instrument, once employed lavishly upon all sorts of classic and progressive rock tracks through the 60s and 70s, became a revolting cliche and symbol of rock excess, softness, and melodrama. And, frankly, given how the instrument became abused and synonymous with the type of smooth jazz playing that would coat pop and rock ballads through the 80s into 90s with a sonic perfume strong enough to make you gag, it’s not surprising that it fell out of style. In many ways it went hand-in-hand with the back-to-basics mentality that ran through the punk, DIY, grunge, indie, and (to a different extent) metal movements of the 80s through the 90s and well into the turn of the century. Since then, though, the pendulum has slowly but steadily moved back into the other direction, and more bands and listeners view the sax and other woodwinds as viable and enticing flourishes or even centerpieces to give their music either a certain distinction or whiff of nostalgia. And though metal has perhaps resisted incorporating the instrument for longer than most other genres, there is now an utter wealth of examples of artists and bands using the instrument to (mostly) good effect, particularly in the more progressive black, death, and doom spheres, where bands like Wrvth, Aenaon, Dreadnought, and, of course, SHINING – Jorgen Munkeby probably more than anyone has made the idea of sax-heavy metal sound forward-thinking and “cool” – are releasing high-quality work that makes use of the instrument in a whole wide range of ways.
The bottom line is this: we want you to write for us. This is a clarion call for writers; this is the trumpet at dawn, signalling the march forward. This is us saying: “we know you have interesting ideas, we know you want to put them out there. Let’s do that together”. We’re looking for people who are as passionate as we are (and more so) about any genre of music but that have some contact with metal. We’re looking for people who like working in a team and are able to collaborate. We’re looking for people who want to put their passion into words and lots of words to boot. We’re looking for people who come from groups that are usually under represented or outright ignored in the metal/music community and who want to make their voices heard.
It’s been awhile since I knocked out a Best of British feature for you, the dedicated Heavy Blog reader. This isn’t because there has been a lack of quality content coming outta the island, actually far from it. Being “British” doesn’t really mean anything anymore though. You’ve got yer English bands and then there’s everything else. Because I feel like our two nations have been poorly under represented elsewhere, I now give you The Celtic Connection. I’m gonna rant and rave about the best music coming out of Scotland and Ireland, leaving England and Wales (sorry Wales) to the side, because they get plenty of coverage as is. This isn’t me being a nationalist or picking a fight, I’m just keeping it in the family. And who else is closer to us Scots than the proud, fighting Irish. Pour yourself a beverage of whatever variety you fancy and strap in for some hearty dispatches of ginger, pale skinned sounds.