After the death of Euronymous and Varg’s subsequent incarceration, the Norwegian scene’s mystique collapsed on itself in a matter of months. Count Grishnack was now Varg, arrogant, delusional and strangely eloquent character with interesting viewpoints but serious issues. Fenriz became Uncle Fenriz, hilarious, knowledgeable and infinitely cool dude who lived for metal. Ihsahn was actually a guitar teacher and progressive rock nerd, Euronymous had been insecure an insecure teenager with delusions of grandeur and Nocturno Culto was a ***ing schoolteacher. The veil was lifted, and as nice as it was too see that these characters were actually people it was impossible not to feel as if something had been inevitably lost with this revelation.
The music remained, holy, beautiful and perfect, yet soon enough that too started to dissipate in both quality and focus, and the romantic vision of a cohesive assault on the modern world, which perhaps never existed to begin with, was entirely lost as all these people went to lead normal musical and personal lives.
Enter Les Legions Noires. Originally conceived as France’s answer to Helvete’s “Inner Circle,” LLN were a group of about twenty or so musicians who specialized in incestuous collaborations in the genre of black metal, and later dark ambient. They were an obscure and mysterious organization, about whom little is still known. They claimed to be dedicated entirely to the eradication and defilement of everything and anything human. “Vampires of Black Imperial Blood,” the debut full-length by the group’s most recognizable band, Mutiilation, remains their ultimate testament.
Now I’m sure none of these kids ever actually killed, maimed, mutilated, tortured or bombed anyone. However, I would not be so quick to dismiss their statements of misanthropic intent. For you see, the answer this group of Frenchmen found to what they saw as Norway’s turn towards the banal was to completely depersonalize black metal. Interviews were not given, pressings were small and extremely difficult to obtain, releases were often titled and sung in the group’s own fictional language, and real names were never released (as of now only one is known, William Roussel, that of Mutiilation’s own Lord Meyhna’ch, released after his expulsion from LLN). By driving black metal as far away from menial reality as possible, the bands in LLN sought to establish a stronger connection with the universe’s vast inexplicable blackness than any music before it.
And thus we arrive at the music, at the majestic opus that is “Vampires of Black Imperial Blood.” The whole package is undeniably derived from the classic Norwegian sound, particularly from Burzum and Darkthrone. Blasts are relentless, the guitars are distorted beyond recognition and devoid of drive or gain and the vocals are anguished shrieks and dire gurgles. However, “Vampires of Black Imperial Blood” takes these black metal conventions to the extreme. The typically lo-fi production aesthetic of black metal is taken verily to heart; the sound is hollow and distant, somehow vast and scary. The guitars inhabit the realms of creepy, slightly dissonant arpeggios and diatonic dyadic minor chord progressions, creating a marvelous balance between the evil and the romantic. For an example of how effective this juxtaposition can be look to the opening riffs of “Transylvania,” or the mid-section of “Eternal Empire of Majesty Death.”
The drums, tellingly performed by a machine, are usually either blasting away or locked tight into a triplet groove straight from Immortal’s “Pure Holocaust.” As derivative as it may all sound there is something in the sound and the performance that drives this album into another realm, the abandon in the execution perhaps, or the grime of the production. But most likely it’s something below the surface, the things that slowly reveal themselves only after repeated listens; the boundless emotion imbued in every riff and the uniqueness of the songwriting.
As easy and natural as it is to call this “black” it’s quite hard to call it “metal.” Not a single riff sounds like it cares a tad for the influence and ideas of Maiden, Priest, Metallica, or even Slayer for that matter. It truly sounds as if Lord Meyhna’ch’s musical journey had begun with “A Blaze in The Northern Sky.” The structures are so far removed from anything conventional in the field of rock music that at first they may sound like a mangle of jumbled riffs. However, once they’ve settled into the bloodstream, the labyrinthine constructions of tracks such as “Magical Shadows Of A Tragic Past” and “Tears of a Melancholic Vampire” reveal their own twisted logic, and the music’s magic truly comes alive. Rather than cycles and repetitions here there is only ebb and flow, and yet it doesn’t seem to culminate or lead in any particular direction; it rises only to collapse in on itself again and again, such as in the marvelous “Ravens Of My Funeral.”
The riffs are hateful, vile and angry of course, thanks to the frequent dissonance and the relentless right hand movement. The music feels almost entirely isolated from most any other style, exempting its direct influences, adding thus to the feeling of it being something alien, inhuman. Yet the underlying melancholy that could be heard in some of the Norwegian scene’s classic works is brought to the surface here; beneath the misanthropy and rage there is resignation and defeat, a deep sorrow made only greater by the delusions of its bearer.
For here I believe is the key to this album’s mystery, by completely depersonalizing the music, by driving it as far away as possible from the everyday, Mutiilation manage to make one of the purest most powerful works of contemporary music. William Roussel may be upset about his job, his parents, his girlfriend or any number of issues, issues whose idiocy he recognizes and despises, which only lead him to be further disgusted in himself at realizing how much they hurt him. But the sorrow Lord Meynah’ch screams of, the pain his music reflects does not have to be so banal. The album’s recurrent image of vampirism becomes relevant insofar as vampires are immortal creatures, thus entirely removed from human concerns. And yet they too suffer, they suffer more than anyone possibly could, for they are bound to watch the world around wither and decay as they linger, their ails have eternity itself to fester in their veins and to pollute their hearts, they love and they hate more intensely and vibrantly than any mortal could possibly conceive of doing.
Perhaps it’s nothing but an idiotic bourgeois teenager’s attempt at escapism, what kind of fool goes around painting his face and calling himself Lord Meynah’ch anyway? But this escapism, coupled with the intense sincerity and power of the music achieves a sort of trascendence; for the 54 minutes the record lasts the world and its pettiness lie abandoned and forgotten, true greatness is glimpsed at, the human form is overcome.
But why then express melancholy, why not rather an intense feeling of triumph at so insurmountable a victory? Because Lord Meynah’ch is no fool, he is still William Roussel after all, he knows that no riff will ever be pure enough, no blast relentless enough, no shriek harsh enough. The music will always be contaminated by his condition as a man; it will always be just on the point of perfection, yet never quite there. This knowledge, this terrible, infuriating, heartbreaking knowledge is the true feeling that lies beneath the rancid hate and the grandiose misanthropic gestures, the feeling that makes the music as powerful and moving as it is. Every time a blast beat breaks up into a beat feels like a collapse, a defeat, every desperate shriek a cry for death, the strange ebb of the songs becomes the rise and fall of illusions, a bloody and avid confrontation with reality itself. Hell is indeed other people, but mostly it is the fact that we belong to them, that we too are bound to be people, it is impossible to free ourselves from so disgusting a condition without becoming sterile, static or weak. But mostly, hell is knowing there is no way out of hell.