Based in the ironically sunny and cheerful locale of San Francisco, California, Von have been referred to as the very first black metal band in the United States. Formed in 1987, their first demos, Satanic (1990) and Satanic Blood (recorded 1991, released 1992) were significantly influential on the development of the Second Wave of Black Metal. After recording a third demo, Blood Angel (which was never released), Von disbanded in 1992.
Unlike many black metal bands in the late 80s and very early 90s, however, Von were no flash in the infernal pan. The spirit of the band remained restless. New material gradually appeared over the years: the Satanic Blood Angel compilation appeared in 2003 (and was re-released on vinyl in 2009), which included the never before released Blood Angel demo tracks; bootlegs would occasionally surface, including a split with Dark Funeral called Devil Pigs; and in 2010, an EP version of the Satanic Blood demo was released with entirely re-recorded and remixed tracks. The band officially reformed in 2010 to play a one-off show at Armageddon Fest in London, but by then the restless spirit of Von had fully returned. The band began recording new material and now, in 2012, they’re finally releasing their long-awaited debut full-length, also, maddeningly for archivists, called Satanic Blood [Not very original are they? – Steel Druhm].
Satanic Blood is a lot like stepping into a time machine. The production is fractured and raw, guilelessly rough and honest. The songs are minimalist to the point of being simplistic. Each track is based around a few primary chords. The riffs are delivered at a blistering pace and the drumming takes the form of unrelenting blast beats. The vocals are distorted to the point of being inhuman, and are generally delivered as short, guttural shouts. Sometimes the short barks are strung together and become a kind of unholy chant or mantra, giving tracks like “Goat Christ” a slightly more ritualistic feel. This is primitive black metal at its most basic, the very kernel of the genre; you can almost imagine it being performed by twisted homunculi.
Satanic Blood is particularly fascinating from an academic standpoint as a time capsule back to the nascent origins of the black metal genre in North America. While Von have twenty five years of musical history between their first demos and the release of this full-length, they have tried, and succeeded, to remain true to the original essence of their sound. As black metal has evolved into a rich, varied, hybridized and often experimental genre, a journey into the liminal space where it began it a terrific listen.
And yet, Satanic Blood existing as a full-length, easily accessible product does carry a wistful sense of regret with it as well. The original Von demos were something that collectors could spend years searching for; for years and years, so few people had even heard of, and the few tapes that existed were rarified items, whispered of with reverence. Having an readily accessible, brand-new recording with an official release takes some of that magic away. Which, of course, is absolute bullshit, because this is the goddamn future and information and media have changes irrevocably, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me a little mournful.
For collectors and students of the genre, Von‘s Satanic Blood is a fascinating glimpse into the past and the long-overdue change for a formative band to finally issue a definitive release. The world, however, has assed Von by in the mean time, and as such it is also an album doomed to be haunted by its own ghosts.