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Various Artists

Fenriz Presents: The Best of Old School Black Metal

Review by Mike Korn

They say that rock and roll is the devil's music. Well, there are those definitely agree and who do their level best to make tunes that Old Nick would be proud of. Such music has been dubbed "black metal", and it has grown into a genuine underground phenomena, a symbol of darkness and blasphemy where unholy lyrics meet sinister music. It's the type of rock that causes preachers to burn records and gullible journalists to quake in fear.

Few would be better qualified to construct a tribute to such music than Fenriz, corpse-painted member of Norway's chillingly primitive Darkthrone. In recent years, black metal has added a lot of melody and symphonic bombast to its arsenal, as glimpses at bands like Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir would demonstrate. But Fenriz would say these bands have lost the crude feeling of true evil that made old school black metal so threatening. Style has overtaken substance.

Therefore, he has put together this rousing tribute to metallic hell-raising, featuring 16 bands that helped shape the genre and whose primtive skull-crushing lacks the overproduced aura of today's bands. The great legends are all here: Venom (the true progenitors of the movement), Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Celtic Frost and even the pre-Frost Hellhammer. There's also room for some dark horses like Brazil's Sarcofago, Italy's Bulldozer and the creators of the first wave of Norwegian black metal, Burzum, who's mastermind Count Grishnakh still languishes in prison on a murder charge. It's chilling, harsh music and a very welcome reminder of black metal's raw. vicious past. Many hails to Fenriz for assembling it!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Blasphemy - Winds of the Black Godz:
A pretty odd way to set the stage, this is a brief instrumental that sounds both soothing and creepy at the same time. It resembles something on a old vinyl record played backwards. It's definitely out of character for Blasphemy, one of the most berserk and noisy black metal bands.
Sarcofago - Satanic Lust:
This is more what is thought of as black metal, though having a Brazillian band really kick things off is another surprise. You can tell Fenriz hasn't cleaned up the production on these cuts at all, as this sounds very under-produced by today's standards. Nevertheless, its a fast and nasty riff-fest that sounds a lot like a combo of Sodom and old Sepultura.
Celtic Frost - Dawn of Megiddo
 This band needs no introduction to 80's metal fans. This is one of the doomiest cuts from the classic "Morbid Tales" release. It's genuinely eerie with its booming drums and haunting horn-like noise accentuating crushing, slow riffs and rough bellows from Tom Warrior - absolutely classic Celtic Frost!
Nattefrost - Sluts of Hell
This is a contemporary black metal band hailing from Norway, but on this cut, they show they really know what made the old school tick. It's fast and "rocking", with catchy, evil riffs and the archetypal raspy "troll vocals" of the Norwegian bands.
Mercyful Fate - Evil
Some might question the inclusion of this cut, but you have to remember in the 80's, black metal was basically any metal band that dealt with Satanic themes. And that's what you get here. Damn, this is still awesome stuff. Hank Sherman and Michael Denner are guitar gods. If you doubt it, just listen to the inventive solos flying all over the place at the end of this track. Even King Diamond's vocals, always an acquired taste, excel. This is a real blast from the past.
Sodom - Burst Command 'til War
Sodom's English really sucked back in the day and it's only a little better now. This is an odd choice from them but appealing because it's a rarely mentioned track. The cut is thrashing and simple, the key to the success of old school black metal, and Angelripper's harsh vocals sound cool when they are augmented by studio effects.

Tormentor - Elisabeth Bathory
Fenriz feels these guys are essential, but I would have preferred this space to go to Possessed or Artillery. Tormentor is a cult Hungarian band who featured singer Attila Csihar, later to achieve fame with Mayhem and Aborym. This cut is an uneven mixture of melodic guitar over harsh riffs. There's some good material here, but the track is very inconsistent.
Aura Noir - Blood Unity
This is another newer band that favors an "old school" style. Production is suitably crude, and the cut sandwiches a blazing Bathory-like section between two slower bookends. It's not bad, but not the greatest, either.
Destruction - Curse the Gods
The German thrash masters were most definitely black metal on their first few releases, mixing their unique thrash sound with a very evil feel. After a strange intro, this builds into a complex number that purists would claim is more thrash than black metal. Once again, though, evil lyrics merit its inclusion.

Samael - Into the Pentagram
On their first three records, this Swiss band was genuinely putting something unique into black metal. Namely, they created an absolutely oppressive feeling of doom with slow, creeping riffs and hellish, gargling voices. "Blood Ritual": was the pinnacle of their art, but this lengthy cut demonstrates very well their form of "black doom metal". What a shame they are now almost a Gothic dance band.

Bulldozer - Whisky Time
These nutty Italians were often laughed at, but they had their moments. This is a strange choice to be included here. The song starts with a drum solo and then explodes into a crude but almost happy sounding riff. I dig the rough vocals yelling "It's f@#$in' whisky time!" I thought their track "Insurrection of the Living Damned" would have fit better here...that was an all time black metal classic!

Mayhem - The Freezing Moon
Along with Burzum and Emperor, Mayhem initiated the Norwegian black metal sound that came to define the 90's. This cut is mostly on the slow side and appropriately features a "cold" feel to it. Attila, formerly of Tormentor, croaks gloomily on the vocals. It's strange that a lot of kids today consider Mayhem "old school". To me, that's more like Venom and Sodom.

Hellhammer - The Third of the Storms
Once called the "worst band in the universe" by Metal Forces magazine, this incredibly primitive unit later became Celtic Frost. Time has proven the strength of their approach. Almost childishly simple riffs droned out with maximum distortion coupled with unwavering beats and ape-like vocals typify Hellhammer's style. This song is unbelievably crude, but still potent because of that.

Burzum - Ea, Lord of the Deeps
Count Grishnacht, aka Varg Vikernes, now sits in a Norwegian prison on murder charges. Seems the good Count got a little jealous of Mayhem's Euronymous and decided to snuff him. That was the incident that started the black metal revival of the early 90's. Grishnacht's band Burzum remains perhaps the coldest sounding and most hypnotic of the early Norwegian bands. The constant repetition of the treble-soaked riff here worms its way into your brain and the Count's agonized shrieks add a further layer of unease.

Venom - Warhead
Well, what can you say about these guys? Without them, there would be no black metal, past or present. In many ways, their intense but "rocking" brutality is still the best. "Warhead" is one of their signature tunes, based around pounding drums, thundering slow riffs and the tortured, gruff vocals of Cronos. I might have picked "Witching Hour" or even "Leave Me In Hell", but "Warhead" still kills.

Bathory - Dies Irae
With the death of Bathory mastermind Quorthon earlier this year, this has an added poignancy. From the senses-shattering "Blood Fire Death" album, this is an insane assault of super-fast, war-like metal. When it switches to a slower, evilly majestic mode in the second half, the transition is breath-taking. Quorthon was following in Venom's footsteps, but he intensified and amplified that music to another level. He shall be missed!

 
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