Black metal and politics have become (and, perhaps, have always been) inseparable. If you scroll through any social media comment section regarding black metal for more than ten seconds, it would be practically impossible to have avoided some line of argument regarding whether or not Drudkh is racist, Taake is a perpetrator of hate or a victim of it, or if Deathspell Omega are party to fascist sympathies for employing the talents of an outspoken neo-Nazi. For some, this train of debate has been a long time coming, as hate-filled rhetoric has been a near-constant factor in the lyrical and philosophical content of some black metal artists since its inception. For others, this focus on politics and the public outcry surrounding the views of artists and their art is nothing more than the pained wailings of an overly sensitive group of individuals who are unable to separate art from its creator(s). I simplify these arguments, naturally, but you get the idea. Black metal finds itself in 2019 at many diverging paths, and all the while impassioned argumentation persists, the debate never ceasing its near-constant churn as black metal struggles to evolve with the alacrity of its metal brethren.
In my estimation, one of the principal (and simplest) reasons that these arguments persist with the level of intensity that they do is the inherent vagueness that exists between musical content and the intent of its creators. At times, the music being performed has little to do with the political affiliations of the people creating it, operating often from a philosophically nihilistic template that eschews the arguments most commonly associated with the artists political views, making for some muddy waters for both sides when it comes to justifying their arguments regarding the responsibility of an artist or consumer to art. This heightened level of ambiguity is present throughout all art forms, but seems particularly relevant to modern black metal. It’s a debate that’s hard to win, and a philosophical issue that warrants continued discussion.
Colorado/Washington black metal juggernauts Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze don’t have this particular problem, however. Mainly because their Bandcamp page clearly defines their agenda as “aggressively antifascist, antihierarchy, and anticapitalist.” Not a lot of room for interpretation here. In similar fashion to Dawn Ray’d, the band operates from a more explicitly political framework, has taken a particular side in the conflict, and wants to make sure you know and understand where they are coming from. Whether or not you fall on their particular side of the political fence, it is immensely refreshing for a band to so bluntly state what others in their art form have consistently (intentionally or otherwise) obscured. Which is all fine and good, but honestly who cares if the music isn’t excellent? All concerned with this last piece need not fear, as the band’s debut Offerings of Flesh and Gold is one of the best black metal releases to see the light of day in this the year of our lord 2019. If sonic and lyrical abrasion is your bag, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more meaningful and uniformly excellent record to pump your fists to.
Over three tracks and nearly 50 minutes, Offerings of Flesh and Gold delivers a strain of black metal that is equal parts atmosphere and violence. Opener “O! A Smile of Blood!” kicks off with a drums-in-the-deep vibe, building on a doomy-tribal percussive pattern by adding deep chanting that sets the tone for an album that is never short on atmosphere. But this prolonged intro is only a brief primer for the madness to come, as frantic blast beats and razor-sharp guitar work become the name of the game over the remainder of the track, highlighting BoABoB’s deeply ambitious approach to black metal songwriting. It’s also here that the band’s lyrical content comes to life in unique and categorically bold ways. “From the cacophonous roar, beauty springs / A blood-streaked rose rising from a pile of shit”, vocalist and lyricist Achaiera darkly intones before ascending to full-on screaming banshee mode, giving listeners a taste of the poetic intensity this band is possessed by. It’s a blistering opening statement that gives listeners just about everything they’ll need to know about the band’s political views and musical direction.
The remainder of the album’s tracks don’t dip in quality from its opening salvo. Sandwiched between two behemoths, “What Awaits Us (A Void Is An Open Mouth)” surges forward at a pace that jumps between moderated and incendiary with ease, displaying the particular talents of guitarist Athshean, who is lights-out fantastic throughout the entire record. The same should be said for drummer Yaeth, whose blasts are as powerful and crushing as any I’ve heard so far this year. All of these elements come together with the greatest amount of might in the record’s 22-minute title track and finale, where the band’s penchant for atmosphere, their intensity as musicians, and their skill as songwriters come together in absolutely epic fashion, capping off the record with their most balanced and intense musical statement. It’s an appropriately gargantuan end to an intensely ambitious record. That said, Offerings of Flesh and Gold is not without a few potential hiccups depending on your preference as a black metal listener. While towering in scope, there are a few spots on this record that could have used a trim. The album’s title track drags a bit in its latter section, and there are a few instances where the band could have cut a riff or two. But these quibbles are extremely minor and in no way diminish the magnitude and import of this record. Front to back, there’s little here that isn’t outstanding.
Regardless of your opinions on the band’s political stance, it would be nearly impossible to deny the quality of the music contained in Offerings of Flesh and Gold. This is premium black metal performed and written with passion, skill, and ambition, making it for those reasons alone a cause for celebration. The fact that the band presents its message as strongly and effectively as it does only adds further weight and context to the already fantastic music, making Offerings of Flesh and Gold a rare and particularly potent listening experience. It’s one of the most enjoyable listening experiences I’ve had this year, and one that makes me all the more ecstatic to see where this band takes us next. Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze are an electrifying new voice in black metal that is hopefully here to stay, and I’ll be making pilgrimages to this divine altar for years to come.
Offerings of Flesh and Gold is out now via Tridroid and A Moment of Clarity Records, and is available for purchase on the band’s Bandcamp page.