The dichotomy of black metal is that despite pockets of cell-division spawning mutations of various strains, the genre prefers to spurn innovation and maintain its core of anti-religious suppurations. For every Solefald, Patria, or Ihsahn out there pushing black metal out from its comfort zone, there are legions of corpse paint-bedecked bands stoking the fires of tradition with coals of unimaginative blast-beats and stale iconoclasm. I love black metal, but that love tends to seek out bands who demonstrate innovation rather than those who peddle another tired take on Under a Funeral Moon. I crave something different and that thirst has lead me to Kara Ihlas. Drawing inspiration from the Quran, Kara Ihlas is the debut album from Germany-based Imha Tarikat, a two-man black metal band with Turkish roots. Eyebrow raised and interest piqued, I dived headlong into the unknown, hoping for a glimpse of something detached from the mundane.
It’s rare to see Islam get a toe-hold in metal, rarer still with black metal considering the nationalistic, white supremacist elements of a portion of the community. I wanted to hear how Imha Tarikat would incorporate the Quran into the record and how it might influence the overall package. At a first glance not much, at least judged on the monochromatic album cover and anonymous band photos, both a genre staple. The only real clue is that the band name and album and track titles are written in Turkish. Imha Tarikat translates to “destruction” whereas Kara Ihlas can be interpreted as “black purity.” It’s the kind of thing you expect to see washed up on black metal’s shores so if there are to be any surprises then it will have to manifest where it matters—the music.
That manifestation is in the form of a battle-scarred war hammer, swung with both hands at the face of the listener. “I-I: Çökmüş Mühür (The Broken Seal)” opens with a fight-or-flight inducing bellow and save for a lull or two, the record continues at a pace designed to dismantle your central nervous system. Ruhsuz Cellât (guitars, vocals) and Prowler (drums, vocals) play with relentless intensity, borrowing from the faster, meaner output of bands like Carpathian Forest, Darkthrone, and Enslaved. The duo are overflowing with talent, with Prowler’s percussion proclivities deserving particular mention. His skin pounding goes beyond mindless blast beats—although there’s still plenty of those—and incorporates complex fills and even off-kilter timing like the military tattoo midway through “II-I: Omninihai Çözümü (Omni-Final Solution).”
Save for the last song, the tracks on Kara Ihlas are grouped into pairs, suffixed as either part one or two. Part two starts in medias res, continuing the theme of the first part with a familiar composition that still retains its own character. The music is clean, precise and layered with complexity but still retains traces of the degenerative take on Motörhead that informed the early days of black metal. That is to say the record is a mediation of composed aggression but the music delivered makes no attempt to cross the border of its own ambition. There isn’t a single chord on Kara Ihlas that hasn’t been heard before, nothing to distinguish it from the sea of black metal albums out there save for the fact that Imha Tarikat do what they do quite well. But I didn’t sign up for just another decent black metal release. No, I signed up for something different. Odd compositions, obscure musical instruments making unfamiliar sounds—all absent and unaccounted for. Perhaps the lyrics shelter a glimpse of the unknown but the vocals are unintelligible and actually reading the lyrics only reveals gibberish spouting cosmic woo. Disappointing.
I don’t know what exactly I expected from a German/Turkish black metal band incorporating elements from the Quran; maybe some choral chants or a plectrum-plucked oud. I would have taken something, anything that represented a kink in the chord rather than what we got with Kara Ihlas—a record free of any unique traits to set it apart from the crowd. This is a painful conclusion to arrive at, in part because I wanted to take the opportunity to promote a minority voice in metal. The other reason for my frustration is that the album isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination and has many enjoyable moments, it’s just that those moments aren’t memorable. I can only hope that Imha Tarikat put their considerable talent to use in future and return with a sound that they can call their own, even if it means taking a considerable risk by producing something divisive. Without a display of radiant plumage, Imha Tarikat risk the fate of being just another skilled but forgettable black metal band swelling the ranks of an already over-represented genre.