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Metal Urbane
by Andee Connors

Some of the most avant-garde sounds of the last decade just happen to have been heavy metal. So now you can brag about those years of eating lunch in high school, all by yourself, in the parking lot listening to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Almost.

Vondur, Stridsyfirlysing (Necropolis)
True outsider-art metal. A Swedish duo, It and All (oh yeah, It happens to be a dwarf), performing a sort of homage to the "The Dark Side of the Force" (Yes, THAT Force). In case there was any doubt, the sleeve is decorated entirely with images of Darth Vader and the Death Star. Buzzing, speedy, droney black metal, with alien-insect vocals, sung in Icelandic, of course.

Thorns vs. Emperor (Moonfog)
A remarkable instance of electronic blackness. This collaboration between Norwegian legends Emperor and equally legendary but way more obscure outfit Thorns resulted in this magnificent album Abruptum --click to enlarge of computer-assisted darkness. Like a gothic, black metal soundtrack that's been given a John Oswald-style Plunderphonic treatment.

Abruptum, In Umbra Malitiae Ambulabo in Aeturnum in Triumpho Tenebraum (Deathlike Silence)
As it says on the sleeve, "the audial essence of pure black evil." Super-retarded, stumbling, primitive black metal. Sounds like it was recorded in a huge cave. Featuring the tortured cries (as well as maniacal laughter, sputtering coughs and grunts) of infamous black metal dwarf It (who supposedly engaged in brutal self-flagellation to achieve the desired level of anguish).

In Extremo, Weckt Die Toten (Metal Blade)
Take the sound of Immortal --click to enlargeold Iron Maiden and Judas Priest; add fire eaters, jugglers, glass walkers, self-designed historically correct costumes, 15th century Latin texts and a trio of bagpipers. Unique medieval fire-breathing, costume-wearing, bagpipe-wielding folk, like a crazed cross between Rammstein, Comus, and Accept. Electric guitar riffs borrowed from Sabbath meet flutes, lutes and Latin lyrics sung by a musclebound brute, who sounds remarkably like Popeye.

Morbid Angel, Love of Lava EP (Earache)
Possibly the most metal record ever. An EP, which consists entirely of screechy, squiggly guitar leads (outtakes from their 1998 Formulas Fatal to the Flesh masterpiece). If people hadn't known this was Morbid Angel and it had been released on some obscure Japanese label, guitar freaks would have been drooling all over this slab of out guitar avant-skronk.

Viking Crown, Unorthodox Steps of Ritual (Baphomet)
One-man, four-track, black metal band. Completely twisted and demented, lo-fi home-recorded evil. Super-primitive and raw, blasting black metal, interspersed with dark and rumbling drone-scapes. Also notable for the fact that this one-man band just happens to be Phil Anselmo from Pantera. Arcturus, And the Deception Circus: Disguised Masters (Jester/Voices of Wonder) This black metal supergroup, featuring members of gfxlcd26/Vondur --click to enlargeUlver, Mayhem, Covenant, Borknagar and Ved Buens Ende, took their already bizarre carnival-flecked metal sound and remixed it, adding beats, industrial soundscapes, drum 'n' bass and, of course, gangsta rap!

Mistigo Varggoth Darkestra, Key to the Gates of Apocalypses (The End)
Primitive Russian black metal one-man band. One 70-minute hypnotic dirge. Fuzzy vacuum cleaner guitars, distorted shrieking and mournful wails dissolve into dark ambient rumbles, while all along wolves growl and sheep bleat.

Nocturnal Mortem, NeChrist (The End)
Imagine the Charlie Daniels Band jammin' with Emperor. Or rather, playing at the same time in adjoining practice rooms - Tulus --click to enlargeout in the forest. The ancient forests of the Ukraine, to be precise. Raw and roaring black metal, combined with the pipes and fiddles and "yee-haws" of folk/country music, Ukrainian style. The best part? Occasionally, the music will stop and the middle part of a track will be occupied only by the croaking of frogs and the chirping of birds!

Sigh, Scenario IV -- Dread Dreams (Cacophonous)
Perhaps the strangest, most schizophrenic black metal of all comes not from Scandinavia, but from Japan. Sigh veer from old-school Satan riffs la Venom into Schoenbergian classical chamber music, weird sort-of-funk and even country & western, in what is meant to be an avant-metal soundtrack to a nightmare. It's like Venom sitting in with Bernard Herrmann to score a horror flick. One guy in the band is credited with, among other things of course, playing the triangle!

Benighted Leams, Astral Tenebrion (Supernal Music)
Possibly the most inept, ridiculous and completely amazing black metal ever. A pseudocerebral space-metal epic with "amazing" song titles like "Aurora of Despondence on Valles Marineris," "Hermetically Leering As Frigid Blores Obumber" and "Sinister Demurral Estranged the Seductive Looming." Seemingly produced at home by someone probably not entirely familiar with how to work Demoniac --click to enlargehis four-track, and definitely not sure how to operate his drum machine! Totally captivating in its "purity" of vision.

Burzum, Filosefem (Feral House/Misanthropy)
Black metal's homicidal answer to Aphex Twin. This is the record that made it okay for corpse-painted killers to get a little sensitive. A totally depressing, eerie, fuzzed-out pagan metal/ambient electronica masterpiece. A dire suite of metal-derived, folk-inspired electronic sadness. He may be in jail for murdering his one-time best friend, he may have burned down several churches, and he may have become a neo-Nazi in prison, but one listen to the nearly eternal four-note ambient psalm that closes the record, makes it a little easier to forget about all that and immerse yourself in this sad pool of musical despair.#

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