The scene: A small auditorium, somewhere on the East Coast. A “black metal symposium” event has brought the self-styled indie intelligentsia out in droves, packing the auditorium nearly to capacity. A scrawny, effeminate man with long hair approaches the podium. The man clears his throat and begins reading from his “manifesto,” proclaiming black metal as dead and stating that his own band is the savior of the genre. Suddenly, the double doors at the back of the auditorium fly open. A corpse-painted figure strides into the room from out of the shadows, cold winter air swirling about him. The figure is Hoest, multi-instrumentalist/mastermind of Norwegian black metallers Taake. Before anyone in the room can react, Hoest is on stage, stalking the scrawny man. Hoest grabs the man by the hair, pulls a large knife out of his belt and slits the man’s throat without so much as a pause. Blood spurts and pours everywhere, covering the podium, forming a massive plasma-slick on the stage. Another man, this one a so-called journalist that’s made a career out of dabbling in heavy metal for the amusement of the indie crowd, rushes on stage to the aid of his friend. As he kneels over the convulsing body, Hoest unsheathes a spiked club that was strapped to his back, bringing it down on the journalist’s head in one fluid motion, splitting his skull nearly in half. The crowd is in shock, unsure whether this is actually happening or merely part of the show. Without a word, Hoest jumps off stage and walks out the back of the auditorium from whence he came, taking care to shut the double doors behind him. He takes a padlock and chains from his belt, effectively shackling the doors together, trapping the audience inside. He then kicks over a large drum of gasoline, allowing it to seep through the cracks underneath the auditorium doors. Hoest lights a match, watching it flicker for a second before tossing it into the pool of petrol. The screams of those trapped inside lick at the frigid night sky along with the rising flames.
Whoah, hold it right there. Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. I DO NOT wish death or any sort of physical harm on the miniscule horde of hipsters trying to infiltrate black metal, nor do I think Hoest is a mass-murdering maniac. But you see, black metal tends to take my mind on some pretty goddamn dark flights of fancy, and the scenario above is exactly the sort of thing I envision when listening to Taake’s Noregs Vaapen. Try as I might to ignore those few that would attempt to turn black metal into a Philosophy 101 term paper, a fruit-bot modern art exhibition, or otherwise make a complete mockery of the genre, it is hard to do so when the internet metal hive is attempting to shove it down your throat on an almost daily basis. Noregs Vaapen serves as a much needed fist in the face, a potent reminder that black metal is about wildness and freedom for those that hold its darkness in their hearts and minds, not something to be neutered and trivialized by those that can never hope to comprehend it.
Having been involved in black metal since 1993, Hoest is one of the few prominent Norwegian BM musicians that has kept both his music and ideology pure. Noregs Vaapen is black metal to the core, and although it might not be particularly raw or lo-fi from a production standpoint, it nonetheless upholds black metal tradition with its icy, hypnotic tremolo riffs, rasped vocals, monochromatic cover art and malicious demeanor. It embodies the genre’s timelessly cult essence, while at the same time aknowledging the genre’s first wave roots (see Venom, early Bathory, etc) by not being afraid to embrace rock ‘n’ roll when the songs call for it. It is easy to forget that rock ‘n’ roll was considered wild and dangerous when it first appeared on the musical landscape, but the primal bloodline of early rock (and also punk) can be traced directly to black metal’s willingness to shock and provoke as well as its appeal to our lizard brains. Hoest is no stranger to provocation and controversy, having walked on stage in Essen, Germany with a swastika painted on his chest. Do I think that Hoest is a nazi? Of course not. Do I think that Hoest embraces the notion that artists have the power to subject us to ideas and symbols that we may find uncomfortable or downright offensive? Absolutely. Black metal musicians aren’t the first artists to do so, but they have integrated this idea of confrontational art on a level that is rarely encountered; black metal confronts us with subjects such as death, Satanism, nationalism, totalitarianism, domination and submission at almost every turn. Although I haven’t been able to find a full translation of Noregs Vaapen‘s lyrics, the song “Orkan” has recently come under fire for the line “To hell with Muhammad and the Mohammedans.” If attacking Islam isn’t confrontational in today’s social and political climate, then I don’t know what is. I do applaud Taake for being one of the few bands to recognize that Christianity isn’t the only religion that deserves contempt.
Back to the music, Noregs Vaapen is textbook black metal, but don’t let that description lead you to write it off as a rehash of genre cliches. On the contrary, the album proves that it is still possible to create interesting music within the traditional black metal framework. There is no one distinguishing characteristic, but rather something about the totality of Hoest’s approach to composition and playing that makes it a great album. The feeling that Hoest understands the genre implicitly, that it is as much a part of him as the most simplistic of human functions, is palpable throughout the duration of Noregs Vaapen. Of course, one much-discussed deviation from the black metal norm does occur on the song “Myr,” which sees guest musician Gjermund Fredheim (Syrach) laying down some seriously wicked banjo playing during the song’s final minutes. I’m not familiar enough with Norwegian culture outside of metal to know whether or not the banjo is a part of their musical tradition, but the instrument does give “Myr” a unique character that to these ears recalls American roots music, like the Oh Brother, Were Art Thou soundtrack gone straight to Hell. Several other guests pop up throughout Noregs Vaapen, including Nocturno Culto, Attila Csihar and Demonaz (if you don’t know who they are, what the hell are you doing reading this blog?), but their appearances don’t change the fact that this album is Hoest’s sole vision, and that Taake is a cult of personality in the tradition of Burzum, Ildjarn and other infamous one man black metal acts.
Noregs Vaapen is a statement of intent. That intent is to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that rumors of black metal’s death are greatly exaggerated, in spite of what faux-academics, “journalists,” or internet warriors (you know, the dudes with user names like “trvegoatlord666” who swear up and down that the genre was buried along with Dead and Euronymous), might have you believe. While I do think that some kind of paradigm shift is needed to move black metal into its next era of greatness, keeping the flame of tradition burning is every bit as important as innovating, and Taake is doing exactly that with Noregs Vaapen.