Sunday, October 6, 2019

Kaarmekristus - Venite Ad Me Satanas

Earlier this year I managed to have rekindled an interest in Kaarmekristus. I was unaware that Kaarmekristus had released new material because in the past Ophiuchus would simply mail me copies of his releases when he made them. While getting down to business and finally reviewing Kuolen Kusta Virta which he had sent me, I stumbled upon the new releases through the label he is now operating: Death Monument. Having followed the band since the first Demo, I didn't have to think twice about purchasing. I went ahead and bought the two new releases from Ophiuchus which I had not heard: Venite Ad Me Satanas and Spiritual War Alchemy. My concern going into the two releases is that it would show stagnation. Previous releases showed little progression of any sort. The raw, lo-fi black metal he had been pressing to tape was full of the stuff of black metal demos of past. The production was crumbly, the tape layouts simple, and the lack of connection to digital outlets refreshing and pure.

Venite Ad Me Satanas is the progression and shift I was waiting for. The release comes wrapped in a cloth bag, which spills out it's black metal contents - a lyric sheet, tape case with glued on labels, patch, and tape also with glued on labels (all DIY made) - in the manner a downtrodden artist who has reawakened dumps out his brushes frantically to capture some immediate revelation. For me, the feeling can be described as similar to being given an individualized gift on your birthday. The material on this tape is supreme black metal. Ophiuchus has achieved here what I have been laying in wait to experience from him. While the lo-fi qualities of the past have not slipped away into the past, the clarity and production emphasizes this homeliness into an atmosphere more than what it would present as simple tape-hiss-demo-feel. And yet, musically, much of this rekindles memories of previous releases.

The tape opens up with a long introductory track, much the same as Ajan Lopun Alku. An acoustic guitar strums a somber melody, supported with marching drums and drawn out distorted chords before sweeping quickly into "Pieyden Syuyyksiin", an immediate track that alters back and forth between a cold and dank hook melody in same fashion and feel as "Transylvanian Hunger." Ophiuchus' vocals are a combination of deep mournful bellows and scratchy throat scrapes in a high register. Unfortunately the lyrics are in Finnish and I can not translate but they are one of two songs whose lyrics are provided in the fold out. It is quick and decisive. An excellent opening track. It leads into "Portaat", the other track which has lyrics provided in the booklet. The track doesn't actually contain vocals. Slower, more reliant on the beating monotony of the kick drum, a hypnosis can be found in it's short length none-the-less.

Thus ends the first side of the tape or, what I think of as, the traditional side. The second side contains two official tracks and an untitled track which may actually be a cover. These tracks are brazen, touch upon some elements which Ophiuhcus never previously utilized. "Valon Kirkaauteen" opens in much the same style as the two tracks on side A, however mid-way through breaks into a more open, Cascadian theme. A shimmering guitar melody is included over the slower peaceful phrasing that drags out until the end of the track. It shows a melodic and emotional depth of writing which Ophiuchus had not previously touched upon. "Dvi" opens with terse acoustic chords before riding out the pastoral theme to the end of the song with distorted guitar chords accentuating underneath. The whole manner in which these last two songs shift into this more melodic and content emotional plane is something unique. To me, it sounds like the influence of an artist such as Empyrium, which is evidence of a higher plane of composition.

The final song offered on my tape starts out with a rumbling bass line and bursts into a combination of the two styles offered on the previous tracks. I originally thought it might be a demo track, or something unfinished, but it is my favorite song on the tape after the opening "Pieyden Syuyyksiin" and I now know it to be a version of "Poisonous Black Iron", a song from Spiritual War Alchemy. I honestly can't tell if it's the same version on tape or if it's a different version - the mix sounds a bit different to me, especially the vocals. It is also the longest track here at six minutes long. The final two minutes are more or less ringing of notes and strings with some subtle feedback at play and some cymbals being brushed or played with. I feel as though this track could have been something beyond what it was. Tightening up the opening, imbuing some minute structure to the song with the feedback and noise section opening back into the track somehow... I love it for what it could be, and not what it is. The tapes ends drifting in this ethereal noise, leaving one alone. This is the best release in Kaarmekristus' discography up to this point. Powerful emotive and cold lo-fi black metal in the Scandinavian Style with some nuance but a lot of tradition.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Boom Lake - Banff National Park

Boom Lake Trailhead. Before climbing in
altitude, the trail crosses Boom Creek, Boom
Lake's runoff, by this wooden bridge. The
trail before climbing also hosts species of
Mountain Laurel, Alder, and wildflowers.

This past week my wife and I took a trip to Jasper and Banff National Parks in Alberta, Canada. The trip predominantly focused on hiking some of the more known and trafficked trails in the two large parks such as the Sulfur Skyline, Larch Valley, Maligne Canyon, Valley of Five Lakes, and Plain of Six Glaciers. We found ourselves with an empty morning, however, one of the days we were near Banff, and took a gamble on a trail that didn't have as much notoriety: Boom Lake. This trail is not along the Icefields Parkway, the main road going between Banff and Jasper, instead off the highway which connects Banff and Kootenay National Park. The lesser awareness of this trail was evident from the rather empty parking lot at the trailhead. While other parking lots had at least ten vehicles or campers parked in the narrow spots, Boom Lake had a single truck parked.

After picking up some lunches at Storm Mountain Lodge on a whim - a very good whim - we pulled into the lot. The trail is a subalpine trail dominated by mountain trees such as Black Spruce, White Spruce, Douglass Fir, and Englemann Spruce. The occasional Lodgepole Pine also made itself known, throwing it's tightly bound cones across the trail. Lodgepole Pine is one of a handful of Pine species which require forest fire to open the cones and cause seed dispersal, similar to the eastern Pitch Pine species. Collecting Seeds from this species requires collected cones be dry-cooked on a stove top so that the cones will open and the seeds can be removed. In a natural setting, forest fires melt the outside of the cones, and the seeds get carried by ashen winds to the nutrient rich soil. The spruce and firs gave the majority of the trail a wintry Christmas-candle scented perfume.

The trail's vista is normally sub-alpine forest.
Thick spruce trees offer shade and a wind -
break. It's a comfortable hike.
This trail is approximately three miles to the lake, then three miles back over the same trail - known as an "out and back" trail. Boom Lake is, like most of the other lakes in the area, a glacial lake, formed as glaciers carved out the mountain and then receded, leaving a hole which was filled by the runoff from the melting mountain snow and glacier. The sediment in this runoff gives the lakes in Banff and Jasper particularly brilliant hues. Peyto Lake, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake are some of the brightest blues. Moraine Lake, while we were there, looked close to the color of a sapphire. Lake Louise and Peyto Lake were the color of turquoise. Boom Lake, though not quite as stunning as it's more famous neighbors still holds it's own luminescence; Boom Mountain in the background an impressive backdrop.

After an hour and a half hike, the shores of the lake appear without notice. The rocky shore is littered with large stones which offer plenty of spots to sit and relax while taking in the view. I took time to explore the old, alpine firs that had managed to grow in the rocky terrain. Stunted and twisted, they were often no more than four or five feet tall yet, since bearing cones, clearly over thirty to forty years old. The cones on firs are noteworthy for standing upright on the branches and disintegrating as they ripen to seed-bearing age. As they disintegrate, the seeds are spread. Upright central cone stalks left after cones had blown off were visible on many of the trees. We spent a solid hour and a half here, eating our delicious lodge-sandwiches. My wife spent time taking pictures and then napping somehow after finding two rocks that together formed a comfortable bench.

Alpine Fir Cone. Boom Lake in Background.
This tree was growing with several others on
top of a large flat slab of stone. It's roots ran
over and down below the rock impressively.
We walked back to the car in about an hour. The ascent to the lake was only about seven-hundred feet. Compared to hikes of two-thousand feet for the Larch Valley, and at nineteen hundred feet for Sulfur Skyline, this was barely difficult. Most of the steep hiking was frontloaded on the early sections of trail, which then maintained a mostly flat course the second half. The ground was mostly frozen, with little ice, so we didn't feel it necessary to wear any additional footwear other than hiking boots. For Plain of Six Glaciers and Larch Valley we wore microspikes. We hadn't purchased them for Sulfur Skyline, however we probably should have. While we made it down that icy and slick trail with no issues, another hiker wearing improper shoes - sneakers - took a bad tumble and clearly injured his shoulder. We learned later on that three hikers had to be air-lifted off Plain of Six Glaciers trail.

This is a very nice moderate difficulty trail and for a family or those getting into hiking and outdoor recreation. Other than the steep ascent early on, there is little to cause worry. The trail is clearly marked, maintained, and has bathrooms at the trailhead. I read that this trail can be muddy after rain and in spring, but can not verify this. I would recommend bringing waterproof shoes during this season. The fact that there aren't many people using this trail is nice for those looking to get out into a less touristy area in Banff than Lake Louise or Moraine Lake which can get very busy. Though we didn't see any large animals on the trail, we did see some squirrels, birds, and various tracks. We still carried bear spray, as we did on every trail, as black bear and grizzly bears are common throughout the park.

Regarding The Defense of Extreme Music Through Normalization

A lot has been said regarding the revelation that the Dayton Ohio shooter fronted a pornogrind band. What stood out to me was how most of the coverage I read online in articles surrounded trying to  explain to everyday people what something called 'pornogrind' is in a way which doesn't attack the genre or make pornogrind sound abominable. It is folly to think that in 2019 we are trying to talk nice and matter of factually about bands like Cock and Ball Torture while in 1985 Tipper Gore and the US Senate was chasing Dee Snider around for writing "We're Not Gonna Take It" claiming it would cause violence and anarchy. At least there are still some holdouts with this mindset out there to do the bidding of what was once the mission of pastors, priests, and clergy the world round. These holy men and women retain an interest in engaging their enemy, the Dark Lord, wherever he appears - in our case: extreme music. Oddly enough, while everyone that loves extreme music does their best to defend it by downplaying it's extremity, this contingent of the conservative right furthers the cause of extreme music by maintaining that extreme metal is in fact... well... extreme.

As critics of extreme music attempt to portray exactly how extreme it is - in both sound and content by honing in on specific cases - fans and supporters of the art are quick to dismiss outlier cases and examples. Compare this to the way in which 'journalism' often operates: news cycles latch onto and leech dry specific events that are not representative of the whole to push whatever agenda is in mind. If this is the professional norm, shouldn't we want this methodology to apply to metal as well? Now that I think about it, maybe I'm actually pointing out the problem with the current methodology of professional journalists here. Either way, shouldn't the agenda of extreme metal and extreme music be one of maintaining and pushing extremity, instead of accessibility? Please, don't confuse this with your perspectives on inclusion: extremity is not in conflict with but a proponent of the much heralded virtue of inclusion.

I can't help but feel it is all disingenuous. Why is it necessary to defend this extremity in a way that softens the genre as a whole? If extreme metal - and extreme music in general - is to exist on a plane which remains extreme it must be supported in a way that does not normalize it. Has anyone else noticed the preponderance of reaction videos on youtube to metal music videos and live footage where a reviewer not normally involved or knowledgeable with the genre does their best to raise their own credibility by critiquing 'obscure' metal bands? The underground is seeping forth into all avenues; the sewer has now become the one-foot section of road by the curb where runoff and wastewater is in full view of everyone. My mother asked me the other day, out of the blue, "Are there really white supremacist metal bands? I am reading a book and the character becomes involved in the white supremacist underground." It was interesting to have to explain that there are still places where dangerous viewpoints are openly harbored if not welcomed, but it was unnerving that a book-club book chosen by middle-aged women would be shining light on the dirty underbelly of something which shouldn't have light shown on it. My response, after a quick explanation of the pagan and nationalistic tendencies that simmer in the Eastern European Black Metal scene, amounted to "within Metal there are all the extreme viewpoints expressed globally as a whole, as the content is often a representation of the existing most extreme positions."

While Pop-culture leeches, youtube stars, mainstream authors, and Antifa and their black-scarved doppleganger groups do their best to raise a ruckus, they're systematically proving that Heavy Metal is truly one of the few holdouts of open dialogue and spread of ideas - of all types - there is. By my reasoning, this is now the most extreme aspect of the genre; there has not been a major stylistic increase in extremity in decades. As an example of just how extreme the content can be, even in metal there is a contingent of metal fans that feel that there must be some universally acknowledged rule set which governs what is acceptable to sing about or write about or base a band around. There are those fearful of other people intellectually confronting and engaging with controversial, racist, or taboo content which is already available to be digested and investigated at large. Who are they protecting anyway?  And how? The attempt to boycott bands, the attempt to drive promoters hosting bands into hiding, the attempt to cause financial harm to clubs is the manner in which mainstreamers are actually normalizing extreme music. These tactics serve only those whose music is superficially extreme and thus removes one of the few defining extreme elements which separates underground extreme metal from mainstream rock groups. In a short while, we will only be able to go see bands who sing love songs. It'll be like the 1950's except with blastbeats and HM2 pedals. How extreme would a bunch of bands singing love songs over death metal music be? I want to be able to go to a controversial show, experience the band, and then determine my perspective on what I am hearing. I grow stronger with intellectual conflict and do not want a filter on information.

What happens when the accepted conventions of thought swing the other way and it is now unspeakable to defend those of the LGBTQ community, or promote the importance of climate change science, or civil and human rights for minorities across the globe? Extremity goes both ways, whether you are Napalm Death singing about the monstrosity of corporate greed and other generally left-leaning perspectives or Iced Earth imbuing albums with a decisively patriotic and conservative flair. Listening to Orphaned Land recently, I can't help but think that they are a perfect example of a band which exemplifies the importance of free flow of thought in the genre; an Israeli band tackling a number of religious and spiritual topics, playing metal in a region not accepting of it, and espousing opinions on the political quagmire that is the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. The extreme stances held in situations like this foster discussion and, potentially, resolutions between peoples and the self.

I for one would rather have an open market for the trade of perspectives, theories, and ideas. I am capable to confront ideas myself and take responsibility for my viewpoints on them. The intellectually capable should not remain passive about relying on someone else to determine what information they can receive. Perhaps an argument can be made that there are people out there who can't decide for themselves how to interpret information. This is true and there are those who aren't intellectually strong enough to deal with sensitive topics - we have all heard of someone being 'triggered' by something, haven't we? I can't help but find it ironic, though. Imagine an army of anemic unhealthy individuals regulating how much weight bodybuilders, weightlifters, athletes, and our soldiers across the country could exercise with because they were 'triggered' by the physique of these powerful men and women. Ultimately, this would reduce the overall strength and health of the population, would it not? Isn't the same true of content? We must exercise our morality, intellect, and reason by coming into confrontation with information and concepts which force us to exercise our minds. Extreme metal is a 'benchpress' for the mind, if you are looking for an analogy. The people that can't rationally deal with information interpretation on a personal level shouldn't be the ones to determine what content can be disseminated on a societal scale. The lowest common denominator will only ever dip lower and lower under these circumstances.

And so we must continue to defend extreme Metal and extreme music in a way which does not water down the content which exists - even the most reprehensible, vulgar, and morally unacceptable. We must protect the creative opportunities for terrible people to create terrible content so that we, the intellectually stable, astute, and capable, can feed on this conflicting material and grow stronger in our defense of what is right. I am fearful of what I am seeing on a daily basis on the internet: watered down articles and click bait leading to desensitization towards extreme content and an apparent defense of extremity via explaining how something isn't really extreme. I think a lot of this was already a sketch deep in my brain somewhere, lines and shapes formed from an increasing concern and dissatisfaction with the direction technology is taking society, and I couldn't quite get the right proportions. Sometimes it takes a mass shooting and a killer who played guitar in a pornogrind band to act as paintbrush.