Friday, October 26, 2012

13 Days of Halloween, 13 Wicked Albums: Day 9

Black Metal (1982)
Do you believe in god?
He's chained up like a dog
And every hour he screams,
"Satan rules supreme!"

Before there was Slayer, Possessed, Mayhem, or any of the other 'devil-worshiping' bands that forged their own infernal genres, there was Venom. In 1981 they burst onto the scene with Welcome to Hell, an album full of raucous music with the most blasphemous, Satanic lyrics the world had yet to see. The follow-up record, Black Metal, amped up the darkness and irreverence and has become a classic in extreme metal, inspiring countless musicians since its release, and even being inducted into Robert Dimery's list of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

I would have to classify Black Metal as one of those albums that's so shamelessly bad that it's good. The songs are raw and simplistic, the musicianship is sloppy, and the lyrics are so ridiculously over-the-top with the Satanism gimmick that it almost comes across as a parody of itself. Mantas uses his guitar more as a weapon than an instrument as he fires off noisy and imprecise riffs through a murky, reverb-coated tone. Cronos belts out the vocals with an unmistakable, acidic, and gravelly voice, while hammering away on his distorted bass as if it's another guitar. Abaddon haphazardly assaults his drums like he's trying to bash in the skull of an angel. Furthermore, despite the album name, Venom plays music that's more like speed metal or NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal). With the typical lo-fi production of black metal, plus the blistering aggression of the songs, flaws are easily overlooked. But imagine a slightly out of tune, occasionally off time rendition of Judas Priest, cranked up in speed and featuring a vocalist who doesn't really sing as much as he yells... and then you'll begin to get the picture.

If Venom had taken themselves seriously, this album probably would have been little more than a laughable footnote in history. What makes this work is the fact that the band is clearly quite aware of how they sound, and it seems to have been their intention all along to do something shocking, controversial, and downright ugly in so many senses of the word. How else would the devil's music sound, anyway? The strength of Black Metal is its confidently defiant attitude. The energy and atmosphere don't make it easy to ignore the flaws, but actually make you appreciate the flaws. The unrestrained intensity of the music practically guarantees that flubs will be part of the process. Those who say chaos is beautiful do not mean that it's orderly or perfect. Rather, to borrow the common phrase, it's only perfect in its imperfection.

The songs on Black Metal are infectious, great for headbanging, and absurdly fun. The best known track is the fantastically catchy "Countess Bathory," written about the Hungarian noblewoman who was rumored to have tortured and murdered young girls, bathing in their blood to preserve her beauty (the 'bloody countess' has been the subject of many metal songs and albums over the years). "Buried Alive" is like a lumbering zombie, quietly awakening at first, breaking out of the grave, and plodding along into the next song, "Raise the Dead," which is an upbeat ode to necromancy. As one might expect, "Sacrifice" details a story of virgin sacrifice to the dark lord, and "Don't Burn the Witch" is about... well, sparing witches from persecution. By far the oddest track is "Teacher's Pet" - a nice and vulgar little fantasy that makes Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" seem like gospel music.

I must confess: Venom is one of my favorite bands and Black Metal is one of my favorite albums. I can't pretend to be unbiased, and perhaps my background has influenced my strange love for defiantly blasphemous things, but since this is a list of the most wicked horror-themed albums, I think the bias is no impediment. Black Metal will get your blood pumping, your head banging, your hand raising the horns, and your Christian friends and family will be screaming and convulsing on the floor as the mighty power of His Satanic Majesty overcomes them. Well, ok, maybe not that last bit, but if you're looking for evil and darkness for Halloween, you can't go wrong with this classic metal album.

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