A Saga of Online Sales: A Twelve Album Journey (Part I)

Saturday, 31st August 2019

It should come as no surprise to anyone in this age of Amazon that online shopping can take you places you never intended to go and wind up with items you never expected to own. The eternal pursuit of The Deal, that thing that eludes common man and president alike, going back for as long as humanity has traded with one another. Of course, not every discounted item in retrospect can be considered worth it (regardless of how minimal the cost) and at times even free would fail to cover the cost of investment.

Be that as it may, yours truly found himself drawn into a sale by underground stalwarts Hells Headbangers Records (that, as of this writing, is still ongoing!). “$1.00 CDs!” the banner read and so with the label mascot leering at me I worked my way into the list, fully expecting an abyssal crawl through places esoteric and forgotten.

For better or worse, the reality wasn’t far off.

I’m a sucker for physical formats though and CDs have an inalienable place in my life (typically my car). So the embrace began.

Of my initial look at the releases available only one band stuck out as recognizable: October 31. Local traditional stalwarts that I know only by virtue of assorted vinyl collectors I follow on social media and their oft-wide spread interests. Further examination revealed common markers of association with most of the material: black metal, mid-aughts, released originally by BlackMetal.com. All pointing to a journey- a journey equal parts heroic and awful.

The catalyst for this event proved to be an album cover (which I’ll get to when that album’s turn pops up) and I answered the call: YES, adding the album to my cart. So began The Fall in classic terms and before I knew it I’d said yes to 12 misfit albums of dubious origin and unknowable quality. Now this journey to document my experience of those albums and provide, where possible, some background and historical context, is underway.

My thanks to Hells Headbangers for both being an underground pillar and making this experience possible.

Eikenskaden – There Is No Light At The End of The Tunnel (2006)
Eikenskaden was an energetic French take on the depressive black sound, being surprisingly spry in its work. The solo project (what appears to be one of many) of Stefan Kozak (…not of Red Bull fame) that dissolved quietly sometime after this album and continued on with a similarly named project before its figurehead gave himself to the void sometime in 2015. I was wholly unfamiliar with the band when they were contemporary and this was one of many new introductions with this experience.

As a listening experience the most surprising aspect is how alive it is, particularly in the bass playing. The album isn’t built on an exclusive blasty template (like many, past and present) but the variability in pacing doesn’t really equate to a memorable listening experience: There Is No Light At The End Of The Tunnel often sounds like eight variations of one idea. “I Left Tears In My Thoughts” is a standout because it bucks that trend, being a surprisingly complicated journey across its three minutes.

As a listening experience it’s thin: the vocals are buried beneath everything and the bass is surprisingly audible throughout and a frequent driving force behind the frail walls of guitar. And it wraps up quickly, just under 38 minutes across its 8 songs. An artifact from a bygone era but not a particularly memorable listening experience.

Worth $1 though? Absolutely.

Sykdom – Under Krigen (2006)
The first cover of something involving winter and the first band in this list hailing from Norway. Tradition. The liner notes indicate this album was recorded “…on the coldest days of December 2005…”. Yours truly was experiencing life after high school at that time and my first experience living away from home (a month in Louisville, where at the time the extent of my black metal experience was Twilight’s self-titled debut and Gorgoroth’s Twlight of the Idols). Under Krigen doesn’t share much in common with either of those albums.

That shouldn’t paint Under Krigen in a negative light- it’s a solid experience. It’s a frequently melodic, mid-paced journey under winter skies that is a common, effective template in blackened realms. Eponymous track “Sykdom” in the middle turns the dials up a bit and its both instrumental and features a turn toward the blasting but otherwise the album is a remarkably restrained experience, weighing in under 40 minutes and featuring nothing in excess or unnecessary.

There are no bells, no whistles, or tricks of any real kind present. Synth is present but in truth it feels like an effective take on the ‘bare aesthetic’ some bands mine today with varying degrees of success. The effectiveness here is less in purpose and more a natural consequence of the era. It’s not a lo-fi tornado but it won’t turn heads production-wise in either direction. It’s functional and that’s all it needs to be.

For the songwriter/instrumentalist credited as Herr Sykdom, whatever his musical journeys they do not appear to have continued long after Under Krigen, with a split following this in 2007 and a wash of silence in the years since. A shame considering the take here is a solid one, whether in the context of the era or listening now.

Definitely worth $1.

Gromm – Cold Old Thorns: Demo Anthology (2006)
The first real foray into the weird. My own experience with the Ukrainian black metal scene admittedly doesn’t go very far beyond Drudkh and the circle of bands its members populate. Similarly I often will only indulge demos for bands I’m really familiar with as they tend to give a less-than-stellar impression of a particular group, showcasing them at their most nascent. Still, Cold Old Thorns presented itself and I answered the call.

And…it’s exactly what you’d expect: lo-fi, drum machines jacked way up (on the first half, anyway) and a low-volume malevolent fog of sound. There are three releases packed onto this disc, the band’s first and second demos from 2002 and 2003, closed out with a single from 2006. Having no idea what this band would eventually grow into (their last release being an EP in 2013) it’s nevertheless curious to listen to the utmost in beginnings here. These are neither particularly varied nor particularly interesting takes on black metal templates: points of fury, points of stomp, all points of fuzzed out misanthropy. There is a tangible jump in quality and songwriting from the first demo to the second (and potentially a jump to real drums) but these remain barebones explorations and should be approached/appreciated as such.

A novel experience for the listener that wants to deep dive a very particular corner of the black metal world but most listeners outside of that niche will find little to enjoy here (and that definitely includes the cover of Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” that closes the experience out).

Worth $1? For those inclined to history or the band, yes. For anyone else, probably not.

Part II (and III and IV) will follow soon.

[fbcomments width="580"]