“That romantic disease, originality, all around we see the originality of incompetent idiots, they could draw nothing, paint nothing, just so the mess they make is original… Even two hundred years ago, who wanted to be original, to be original was to admit that you could not do a thing the right way, so you could only do it your own way.”
—Herr Koppel as quoted by Wyatt Gwyon, “The Recognitions”
In the early 90s, a group of young Norwegian men with more energy than judgement found themselves at odds with a group of young Swedish men. The Swedish men were playing death metal, a new style of brutal-sounding extreme metal that featured technical prowess, complex song structure, and high production recording. The Norwegians had no qualms with the brutality of the music, but were a little upset that these Swedes, who were singing about blood, death, and Satan were not such bad guys once you got to know them. At first blush, with their dressed-down appearance (t-shirts, sneakers, shorts) you wouldn’t know that the Swedes were evil at all.
Some of these* Norwegians set out to be the opposite of the Swedes, as people with lots of energy and little judgement might. They focused on “atmosphere” instead of music. They were fearsome in appearance, wearing black and white makeup, dressing in leather and pointy spikes, and performing ritual sacrifices to the dark lord during concerts, by self-harm, and festooning the stage with mutilated animals.
Some of them saw this as not enough, and took their evil to the people, burning churches, desecrating corpses of friends, kidnapping, and murdering. Their music was notably lo-fi, often recorded on four tracks through toy microphones, intentionally monotonous, and while including elements of brutality, also included elements of fantasy fiction (orcs) and National Socialism.
The music was original, but does it hold up out of context? (tldr; no.)
‘Transilvanian [sic] Hunger’ is the third of a series of black metal albums by Darkthrone**, following ‘Blaze in the Northern Sky’ and ‘Under a Funeral Moon’. All instrumental work is by Gilve “Fenriz” Nagel, with goblin style vocals by Ted “Nocturno Culto” Skjellum. It is considered the end of the development of a style of music pioneered by Darkthrone and a few others (Thorns, Burzum), and with this I agree. However, having developed from something intended as a refutation of excellence, this isn’t a good thing.
‘Transilvanian Hunger’ is a tribute to monotony. At least “Blaze in the Northern Sky” varies the tempo and time signature. On ‘Transilvanian Hunger’, every song is blast-beated at the same tempo, in 4/4. The bass is lost in the mix. Guitars are chords only, tremolo picked across the board, and riffs consist of 2-3 chords, repeated endlessly, until the listener is ready to embrace the grave. If the vocals are supposed to sound infernal, they invoke less of the prince of darkness, and more of antagonist from the movie “Troll”. In other words, the singer sounds more like a guy who is dangerous to goats attempting to cross a bridge, than the antichrist. This may be the purpose of the album, but why would this rank on the top 100?
Other bands would take this style and develop it, shape it, and blend it into compelling, beautiful music (See 95, “Sunbather” Deafheaven). The removal of any variation in rhythm or melody places the focus squarely on the interaction of notes in chords. With no formula, black metal is free to create bizarre interval combinations, with unexpected patterns of discordance and resolution. Darkthrone, by managing to stay out of jail, inherited the audience that would later go on to turn TKNBM into something worth listening to.
The Thing I Hate About Black Metal: You never know when there will be some Nazi shit involved. One of the leading figures of these young Norwegian men with little judgment was Varg Vikernes, who has the distinction of having burned down a nearly 900 year old stave church and murdered the architect of true Norwegian black metal, Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous of Mayhem). He was also WAY into orcs and called himself “Count Grishnackh”…the surname comes from Grishnakh, one of the few orcs with lines in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The honorific in Norwegian is “Greifi”, which forms an interesting and cute alliteration “Greifi Grishnackh”. Oh. Also, he is a Nazi.
Anyway, the lyrics for the last 4 songs, are credited to Greifi Grishnackh. One of these is a ballad to the ringwraiths. Another introduces the Norwegian word for bats which is the adorable “flittermice”. One of them is about how it sucks to be in prison.
*Others will be featured later in the Rolling Stones list.
**Their first two albums were considered death metal.