Okay, I’m just going to come right out and say it. Black metal as a genre has stagnated and become very boring. While that inevitably happens to every musical genre (power metal has had it bad for about six years), with this particular style it seems far more pronounced and chronic. Although I’ve appreciated the scene and sound from its earliest origins (as a Bathory fan in the 80’s) and essentially grown up alongside the genre, the past year has seen things run into the creative wall and slowly slide into a morass of tedium and lethargy. Be it the symphonic or the raw and primitive, very few bands are doing anything new, interesting or compelling (even the new Agalloch felt samey and safe). While some solid albums surfaced in 2011,they feel increasingly rare and even those offered little in the way of innovation or originality. Obviously, of all the subgenres of metal, black metal is the most rigid, inflexible and laden with rules and expectations of scene orthodoxy. Throw a saxophone solo on a power metal album, it may be daring and ballsy. Try that on a black metal album and you’ll be burned in effigy across Norway (and parts of New York).
While Steel Druhm paid his dues in the orthodoxy camp, even he (I) now realizes the style is badly in need of a creativity transfusion. Its gotten to the point where I dread reviewing black metal albums. Naturally, I always want to give a band a full and fair hearing and be as objective as possible but with this one genre, lately it feels like an epic struggle to keep from rolling my eyes and just going with a 2.5 every time. So little variation, so little growth, I’ve come down with the dreaded Black Metal Weariness Syndrome.
Of course there are innovative black metal bands out there like Cobalt, Sigh and Enslaved but those are exceptions to the very general rule of sounding like Cradle of Filth or old Darkthrone. While no one expects every band to break new blackened ground, it feels like the entire scene is at that point where it needs to embrace boatloads of change or just go into some type of long wintry hibernation so we can start to miss it. I for one cannot bear to suffer through super-symphonic bombast fests or primitive, rote reflections on the first three Darkthrone albums any longer. I need some spark, some new blackened muse to make the whole style feel vibrant, rejuvenated and relevant again. Sadly, that muse isn’t out there right now. Maybe its right around the corner, maybe it isn’t. I can only hope, wait and complain.
So its come to this. Steel Druhm is officially throwing down an ice-cold gauntlet to the myriad black metal bands cackling and cavorting around the globe. Do something different with the core blackened style ASAP. Take it someplace unexpected, someplace we never went before. Make this style come alive again through progressive experimentation or flat-out weirdness. Do that, or continue piledriving the style into the frozen earth until corpse paint is as scary as Motley Crue‘s war paint. Steel Druhm will be frowning in the darkness, awaiting the new paradigm.