Top Ten Songs Over 10 Mins Before 2010: Australian Black Metal
Written by Alex Logan
Wave. It has several meanings, mostly referenced in science and nature as the movement of combined energies from one spot to another.
When used in reference to music, such as ‘first wave’ and ‘second wave’ – I’ve gathered it refers to the defined movement of a specific sound, aesthetic or ideal that progresses, develops and contributes to the versatility and growth of a particular genre or sub-genre. I’ve never really grasped the term. I prefer era. A particular musical era has captured my attention for over 15 years now - the 2000-2010 Australian black metal scene.
Before the millennium ticked over, the extreme metal scene in Australia established itself from the late 1980’s to early 1990’s, with a flurry of black-influenced thrash and death metal styled bands such as Abominator, Bestial Warlust, Destroyer 666, Gospel of The Horns and Sadistik Exekution. All of these groups did a stellar job in creating the reputational quality in the national market through a brutal and ferocious brand of extreme metal, attracting attention from abroad as international acts began to arrive on our distant shores.
It wasn’t until the mid to late 1990’s that another dimension of this extreme sound started to rumble from beneath the surface, influenced by the foreign establishment of an aesthetic ideal within the genre. Australia had yet to hear a local sound that preached the architypes and conventional ideals that represent black metal.
That was about to change.
While this by no means provides the comprehensive chronology this era truly deserves, it articulates a particular perspective by providing a holistic and versatile showcase of what audible delight it had to offer.
As acts started to carve this new soundscape out, namely Baalberith, Baltak, Horde, Lord Kaos, Nocturnal and Samain, it was Nazxul and their 1995 opus ‘Totem’ that is widely considered the sermon statement of ambition and intent. Featuring a pedigree of battlefield atmosphere, ear-splitting screams and darkened speed – its influence in setting the bar goes without saying.
Over the next few years, that rumbling broke the surface as a fresh flood of musicians emerged with foray of spiritual awakening, vampyric healings, depressive cascades, grandiose melancholy, pure hatred and anti-religious vitrol. Densely and geographically focused in Tasmania and the New South Wales South Coast, the woodwork started to empty.
The mail order and snail mail networks were reasonably well established with a high number of respected outlets, including but not limited to; Asphyxiate Recordings, Ruin Productions, Seance Records and Winterreich, ensuring a stable merchandise and collector economy for the fanbase, that partially funded the wider musical activity. Establishment of festivals such as Armageddon, Black Mass, Bloodlust and Recrucifying The Bastard and created a short-lived live scene, as stricter government, council and venue bylaws evaporated any extensive programme, despite other mainstream music genres experiencing a more favourable toss of the coin.
It’s clear a new era had dawned on the Australian underground. A second wave some may say.
It was always going to be a challenge to truly articulate, represent and capture this era. Having developed the three-dimensional filtering for this article, it was deemed the best way to showcase the genre through its strength in artistic integrity, versatility, identity and development.
The key ideal is not about quality of production – it’s the aesthetic within the sound. It can require a particular mental space to absorb and fully appreciate, however once found, the darkened therapeutic influence that will alter and pollute the emotional inertia is startling.
Unfortunately, there are some outstanding artists that have missed out on being included. Honourable mentions go to Abyssmal Sorrow, Astriaal, Baal Gadrial, Darklord, Forbidden Citadel of Spirits, Funeral Mourning, Inward Escape, Moon, Nekrasov, Orrery, Vrag and Woods of Desolation.
The collection below have been picked for a variety of reasons - style, aesthetic and personality but also their ability to stand out in some way. All chosen tracks have a charisma to them that with a trained ear illuminates and dampens everything. Whether it be that slightly off-timed riff, the hovering synth in the background, that odd tempo change or underlying melody – it becomes something that resonates strongly with the listener.
Ordered by release chronology, the top ten features:
Abyssic Hate– ‘Despondency’ (17:32)
One of the more controversial acts within this era, the one man opus from Melbourne made his mark with the 2000 release of ‘Suicidal Emotions’. With a focus on depressive and misanthropic themes, this four-track 49 minute full length is Shane Rout’s defining work. Initially conceived from the 1997 demo release under the same title and refined through re-writing and mixing over several years, the end result leaves final track ‘Despondency’ as the standout. Drawing on the strong influences of the 90’s Norwegian aesthetic, icy guitars engulf the audible scenery with lo-fi infused shrieks terrifically tempered by a consistent percussion tempo.
Instrumental passages never seem static as a sense of distance and disconnection sinks in, while the outro leaves a different taste as Rout hands the reigns over to a guest appearance by Swedish ambient entity Raison d'être. The sound it brought to the table left its mark.
Listen to "Despondency" by Abyssic Hate below:
Myrddraal – ‘Daughter of the Night’ (11:04)
This old school beauty comes straight out of the ACT. Technical in proficiency, Myrddraal’s hard hitting approach is always pleasurable listening. After originally being released in 2000’s split with German ghost Genorth titled ‘Cold Moon over Kaltenburg’, a refined and preferred version of ‘Daughter of the Night’ comes off 2001’s ‘Blood on the Mountain’.
Mixed to a production quality that surpassed most, the three piece have carried elements of their previous work and emboldened its blackened ethos. The reverberated vocal layering creeps chaos in the fray, as drummer The Serpent Inquisitor directs the madness from behind the kit.
Superb, sharp riffs from lead guitars carry the song strongly throughout as the uncompromising approach, without the standard frills, make this a headbanging must.
Listen to "Daughter of the Night" by Myrddraal below:
Pestilential Shadows – The Delusion Trail (10:07)
Off 2003’s cassette only ‘Putrify’ EP and featuring two of the most accomplished musicians in this era, Pestilential Shadows deliver an experience that is straight up, aesthetic black metal. ‘The Delusion Trail’ is no different. Balam and Meririm (alternate pseudonym for Azgorh) combine to create a soundscape compelled by a distinct groove, generating a bass driven depth throughout. Low-fi overarching vocals are delivered with a raw intensity while enticing riffs take more prominence. The identity remains strong throughout, as repetition and slight scale and tone change develop progressively.
Outro like intro – the fade in and away is timeless as this New South Wales South Coast cohort convey a successfully poisoned philosophy that has served them well still to this day.
Listen to "The Delusion Trail" by Pestilential Shadows below:
Forn Valdyrheim – Through the Reflection of Time (14:35)
The notion of being in some travel pod floating through various stages of time is the first impression you get from listening to ‘Through the Reflection of Time’. And it comes from an unlikely source.
Brisbane-based Forn Valdyrheim’s 2005 sleeper agent of an album ‘Reminisce Eternity’ showcases a full throttle approach to no nonsense anarchy. Dripping cosmic synthwave throughout in excellently positioned ambient codas, this track breaks down into a battalion of intense drumming and unrelenting vocals.
Interludes of interstellar travelling strike the ire as a very tight output allows the melodic character to shine through. The superb live strings recall to the Bay Area influence as the detailed lyrical content reverberates. Smartly crafted throughout – the unrelenting nature to the very end ensures maximum engagement through chaos reigning.
Listen to "Through the Reflection of Time" by Forn Valdyrheim below:
Elysian Blaze – Macabre Be Thy Blood (10:45)
Hailing from Adelaide, Elysian Blaze became a staple of the funeral and doom infused black metal style with 2006’s ‘Levitating The Carnal’.
Heavily undertoned with gothic thematics throughout, ‘Macabre Be Thy Blood’ is an occult original. From the outset – the shriek of the title kicks off an avalanche of mysterious melancholy. The feeling of dark procession resonates as celestial synth and eerie piano interludes extract a raw and true authenticity. Relatively unpredictable in its movement, it makes the right turn each time as transitions overlap into a slow and distant descent. Light the candles for this one.
Listen to "Macabre Be Thy Blood" by Elysian Blaze below:
Striborg – Solitude (15:00)
Sin Nanna is one of the most prolific artists in the Australian scene through this period, releasing two full length albums for five consecutive years. Living in true loneliness in central south Tasmania, the legend himself was famous for his isolation - only communicating through snail mail and orders through stocked distribution outlet Finsteris Productions. That was finally broken by VICE’s ‘One Man Band’ series in 2017, which this writer thought was a brilliant insight into the madness, method and motive for the music released in the preceding 20 years.
While it’s a far-cry from the superb improvised set with Pentemple, ‘Solitude’ is a terrific representation of Sin Nanna’s surroundings and perspective – released in 2007’s album of the same name. Traditionally low fi throughout, planetary and electronic ambient hauntingly echo through the reverbated and distorted vocals, as the track truly becomes asynchronous with misanthropy.
Listen to "Solitude" by Striborg below:
Austere – ‘Only The Wind Remembers’ (13:24)
Featuring two of the most accomplished and talented musicians within the era, Austere are the domestic kings of depressive black metal. The two-song release, an original 2008 split with UK outfit Lyrinx, was received so favourably that it was re-released as its own EP in the same year.
While a general consensus would have ‘Towards The Great Unknown’ as the pick, the alternate option evokes the emotional spectrum of everything and nothing at the same time. ‘Only The Wind Remembers’ breeds an intimate idealisation of natural end, combined with consequence, in a masterfully applied manner.
The dire headspace required to mentally heal and massage the worthlessness is unparalleled. The way Desolate and Sorrow have developed passages of resonated torment that drag focus to the darkest of emotional places while teasing rays of light are sublime, as the soul voyages through the cold connection with land.
Imagine the soundtrack to your eventual demise dictated by nature. This is it.
Listen to "Only the Wind Remembers" by Austere below:
Drowning The Light –‘The Weeping Moon’ (10:00)
One of the more active bands within the international scene, Drowning The Light are mainstays within this era. The master behind this and several other incarnations of black poison, Azgorh, has been widely active in many areas of the scene for over two decades, including running successful distribution outlet Dark Adversary Productions. Despite a vast array of potential material – 2008’s ‘The Weeping Moon’ EP’s title track is the pinnacle.
One of the cleaner outputs of the band’s sound, it’s brilliantly crafted from start to finish. Using the traditional live texture, Azgorh shrieks with a desired archaic clarity throughout as guest drummer Blackheart smashes the snare skins and symbols superbly.
Fashioned with vampyric integrity, ‘The Weeping Moon’ journeys a strong tale with a matured and cleansing soundscape that increases its intrigue until the very end.
Listen to "The Weeping Moon" by Drowning The Light below:
Midnight Odyssey – 'Spirit of the Winter Mountain' (10:50)
One of the unexpected gems in this list, ‘Spirit of the Winter Mountain’ comes off Midnight Odyssey’s first demo – 2008’s ‘The Forest Mourners’
Even today, the successful formula created speaks for itself. But to find something so elegant and intelligent on a demo was eye-opening.
A stunning majestic opening leads into a plethora of atmosphere – blasting double kick, aspirational synth and elegantly raw strings lead us into an outstanding mesh of blackened crusade. Forestry-infused soundscape is brilliantly worked on this, as elements of the forest truly shine bright throughout the epic in the form of various acoustic, pipe and wind instruments. The ability for it to journey your conscious to a mental oasis is somewhat mesmerising, as this one man machine from Brisbane delivers from inception.
Listen to "Spirit of the Winter Mountain" by Midnight Odyssey below:
Arkheth - Faint Whisps in the Heart of Orion (10:44)
The absolute apex of majestic atmospheric black metal during this era, Arkheth turned heads with 2010’s ‘IX & I: The Quintessence of Algaresh’. Hailing from the rural, western parts of New South Wales, this two part concept colossus utilises traces of symphonic and experimental rudiments – none better applied than ‘Faint Whisps in the Heart of Orion’.
This has everything – a distinct blackened rasp, rapid fire rumbling percussion, female vocals that tingle goosebumps and articulate melodic riffs that captivate.
Masterfully led by Tyrannos throughout, the audible storytelling is exquisite, as you are whisked away in a torrent of magnificent pandemonium. While the demo is now a lost treasure, this version is an expedition to the darkened oasis that you do not want to miss.
While this decade may be a currently undefined era – it’s clear that the scene during this period was nothing short of ground breaking and awe-inspiring in its ability to raise the benchmark for the next era of darkness. Through this decade, the progression in many aspects has been a combined effort of many energies. It showcased a number of gifted musicians with an indescribable ability to compose an audio art depicting life’s darkest spaces, alternate higher powers, nature’s well-being and personal depths of despair. It also established a group of like-minded musicians that would eventually establish international units such as Ordo Ater Anguis (also known as Order of the Black Serpent), while over time developing the identity of certain musical attributes, such as the use of acoustic interludes and experimental elements - which have become increasingly synonymous with the genre’s style nationally.
The pedigree provided has been crucial to the scene today, where new acts such as Blood Ritual, Carved Cross, Germ, Greytomb, Graveir, Remete and Temple Nightside thrive to push the boundaries even further.
When used in reference to music, I now know it refers to the defined movements of a specific sound, aesthetic or ideal that progresses, develops and contributes to the versatility and growth of a particular genre or sub-genre.
The second wave of Australian black metal.