Growing up, it was exceedingly rare to experience something so bizarre it became a liminal event, especially in a small Southern town. When reality remains untouched by the world at large, rural suburbia becomes a kingdom of monotony. People and places stagnate into atrophy while you’re left with the intuitive itch that everywhere else is where interesting things are happening. That fact still remains, but the aughts built us a window into the unknown pleasures of those fabled other places.
The genesis of global internet culture was a jarring conflation of the best and worse parts of us all. Media depicting fascinating, wondrous, and sometimes inexplicable or disturbing events from around the world began to circulate, signaling a major paradigm shift for human beings with an internet connection. Like many other millennials, I sought out those bizarre things I felt I’d missed out on, and it was a transformative experience. Though just like anything else, the more common or accessible certain things become, the less they stir or shock you. Even the strangest intersections of what seem like completely disparate fragments of our world no longer hold the same weight once discovered. At least, that’s what I used to think.
I won’t bury the lede any further – By Chance is one of those experiences. I was one person before starting it, and am altogether someone else having heard it.
Mora Prokaza is a Belarusian duo helmed by guitarist and vocalist Farmakon (no relation to the defunct Finnish band of the same name) with supporting vocals by drummer, Hatestorm. The project began in 2013 as a traditional black metal outfit, releasing a handful of EPs and albums in the years following. Their last full length, Dark Universe, dropped in 2016 – and boy oh boy, how things have changed since then.
I am typically not a fan of traditional black metal. So when the lead single “Check It” was suggested to me, I was less than thrilled to see what looked like every other black metal artist. The title of the song, however, and the fact that it was released via the almighty Season of Mist Records, intrigued me enough to warrant a play. What happened for the next three minutes and thirty-six seconds is akin to what it must have been like for deep sea explorers to discover the anglerfish.
A sleighbell synth progression straight out of the Lil Jon playbook is joined by a clarinet, accordion, and tuba, all mischievously calling and answering different parts of the melody like Lock, Shock, and Barrel from The Nightmare Before Christmas. By the time you’ve processed what’s happening, Mora Prokaza sucker punches you with the unifying theme of the record, and you’re hit with a stark realization: this is trap in black metal cosplay.
A square 808 bass and rapped growls swirl among big room reverb typical of lofi black metal to an analog drum beat. The energy is strangely intoxicating, carrying on to feature just a sampling of overdriven guitar and a surprise sax solo later in the track, as if anything could be surprising by then. The official music video tells an even more baffling tale, with alternating shots of vocalist Farmakon petting and riding farm animals in a cowboy outfit, sitting on the toilet, taking a bath, and later, receiving fellatio a la Rammstein – all while cheesing through trademark inky black teeth. Farmakon delivers his vocals and performs for the camera with a crazed swagger befitting flamboyant modern rappers and their Soundcloud kin – indeed, Mora Prokaza has more in common with the likes of Young Thug or Crimewave than any black metal act past or present.
Where “Check It” acts as the perfect introduction, By Chance expands on its disparate elements in increasingly experimental and effective ways. “Im Not Yours” features tumbleweed-evoking train harmonica and a plucked lead straight out of the American southwest punctuated by 808 hits and whisper growls. Its eeriness gives way to a driving finale that sounds more like an extended breakdown than a passage of black metal in any traditional sense. Not to be written off, tracks like “Im A Human” showcase the duo’s old chops, with blast beats driving beneath an Unreqvited blackgaze riff, if only briefly before being dismantled by the chaos of their arrangements.
“I See It This Way” plays with a multitude of different instrumentation, from the Japanese shamisen to piano, turntables, symphonic hits, and downpitched, demonic vocals – an attempt that sounds more like Yoshimitsu rapping than contemporaries who employ the same effect such as Lil Ugly Mane or Tyler, the Creator. To some, that’s still objectively cool; though when you take as many shots as Mora Prokaza do with this record, there are bound to be a few that hit rim.
Aesthetically, the duo have taken a bold step forward. Gone are the days of faded corpse paint and studs; Mora Prokaza have opted instead for the Sleep Token school of thought, which is a… decision. Don’t get me wrong – hoods, masks, horns, and curb link necklaces are a move, but painting yourself black is not. Mora Prokaza have stated on their Facebook that they are “Black Lives Matter Metal,” but there seems to be a bit of a cultural, historical disconnect between America and seemingly socially progressive European metal bands. Shocking, I know. The unfortunate instances of blackface are intended to enhance the edgy, demonic aesthetic they’re hoping to achieve – further driving home the point that they should not be employing that visual tactic at all. You too, Gaerea. Cut it the fuck out.
By Chance is a lot of things, and can easily be written off by naysayers as simply too strange or ridiculous. Is it the theme music to Rocky and Bullwinkle villains Boris and Natasha if they were given a modern DCU-style gritty reboot? Probably. Is it Eastern European 100 gecs? I won’t say you’re wrong. Is it deathcore? Spiritually, I’d say absolutely; the holistic style and feel of By Chance is closer to Slaughter To Prevail than Darkthrone. Even after all that though, this is still, by definition, a black metal album, and it’s one that will likely, bafflingly, find its way onto my Album of the Year list – if for no other reason than the fact that I have never heard anything like it before, and may never hear another album like it again.
By Chance is out now via Season of Mist.