SCENE: A slick, leather-appointed office on the 13th floor of an imposing building. The room is furnished with hellish trophies and framed photos of sobbing individuals. Faint wailing can be heard from the floors below.
[Mond enters the room and spies O’Brien lounging in his chair. O’Brien is staring out from the office window, observing the lost souls as they thrash in the scalding sulphur pits.]
MOND: I have a new candidate ready for Fate Reassignment.
O’BRIEN: Oh? Who’s the unlucky bugger this time?
MOND: It’s a band, actually. From Germany.
O’BRIEN: Germany, eh? What style of music do they play?
MOND: Black metal. Might have what it takes to carve out a successful career.
O’BRIEN: Short of bending Mephistopheles’ ear I don’t see that happening. No, no, I have something else in mind for them.
MOND: Another “O’Brien special”?
O’BRIEN: [Grinning] You know me all too well. Okay, let’s start with re-tooling the band name: It has to be ugly but forgettable. The kind of name that slips from your memory the moment you hear it. I’m thinking… Grabak.
MOND: Come again?
MOND: Nope, sorry. In one ear and out the other. That name again?
O’BRIEN: [Enunciating each syllable] Gra. Bak.
MOND: Gra… Ah! Grabak. Yes, that’s a name destined to be ignored. What’s next?
O’BRIEN: I say a healthy re-writing of their history is in order. Do you have their file?
MOND: [Slides a manila folder across the table] Here you go.
O’BRIEN: Hmmm… Let’s have them toil away in obscurity for a spell, releasing a handful of albums as far back as the late 90s to little fanfare.
MOND: But eventually they’ll build a groundswell of support?
O’BRIEN: More or less, enough to secure a record deal with Twilight Vertrieb in 2011. Until…
O’BRIEN: The label goes bankrupt.
MOND: Oh dear. At least during those trying times the band could draw strength from its members, individuals who have stuck together through thick and thin, right?
O’BRIEN: Actually, let’s engineer it so that Grabak goes through extensive line-up changes.
MOND: You’re a ghoul.
O’BRIEN: I won’t deny it. Alright, we’ve shuffled the deck enough regarding the band’s past. Let’s focus on the here and now. [Picking through the documents splayed out on the desk in front of him] I see they’ve produced a new album. You’ve listened to it, Mond?
O’BRIEN: Give me a summary then.
MOND: It’s called Bloodline Divine. The title is bland enough that we can probably keep it as is.
O’BRIEN: Fair call. Go on.
MOND: I mentioned earlier they’re a black metal band which means a fast and aggressive sound. In GRABAK’s case they draw inspiration not only from the second-wave but also from earlier in the scene, namely Bathory.
O’BRIEN: Bathory… Wasn’t that the band from that Quorthon chappie? He had a pact with one of our other departments. I seem to recall that he had his contract terminated early.
MOND: Yes, well, all that talent has to come at a price.
O’BRIEN: The devil’s in the details. Sorry to derail. You were saying?
MOND: Bloodline Divine. Black metal. It’s all very intense – pounding drums, tremolo picking, that sort of thing. The track “Via Dolorosa” is a great example of this with its searing lead work and tight riffs. Reminds me of Immortal and Taake at times. “Oblivion” is another good one, leaning on some impressive dual guitar passages. What makes the music stand out is the interweaving of Viking death metal that gives it real heft, an emboldened sonic approach that sweeps you up in the moment.
O’BRIEN: You like it then?
MOND: Quite. “Phoenix” is the jewel in the crown. Opting for a slower pace, the track is a smouldering morass of mid-tempo chords that oozes atmosphere. I had to close the door to my office to stop the lesser demons from sniggering at my involuntary head-nodding.
O’BRIEN: Little buggers.
MOND: Can we let this album succeed? Is it too much to ask that we give the band a victory, no matter how small?
O’BRIEN: Sentimentality, from you of all people? You’ve gone soft, Mond.
MOND: Look, the album’s hardly perfect. While the songs are great the clinical, German nature of the music stifles variety a tad. But still, it deserves a chance.
O’BRIEN: I’d love to accommodate you on this one, old bean, but we’ve a standard to maintain. I tell you what, in exchange for a plastic-looking, bare-breasted woman being crucified upside down on the album cover, I’ll allow Bloodline Divine to feature one of the best sounding productions from any record this year.
MOND: [standing up, agitated] But with cover art so awfully kitschy no one in their right mind would think that a quality album lurks within! They’re doomed to ignominy!
O’BRIEN: [laconically] Then you better hope that a discerning metal site sees through the glamour and takes the album under their wing.
MOND: [Sighing] I’m not optimistic.
O’BRIEN: Oh, don’t get too dejected. Pub?