Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Black Noise 101: A History and Explanation

"[...]this isn't black metal and any tenuous connections with it should be ignored."

"Awful, and not entirely in a good way."

"Avoid this unless you love only the superficial “kvlt” aspects of black metal and ignore musical integrity."

After reading those quotes, one might think, "Wow, this is going to be one scathing article, I wonder what Jon hates," and, yes, these truly are some angry and hateful remarks...but I'm not here to hate on anything. No, these comments are all concerning the newly revitalized "noise black metal" scene, and I'm here to give you a little history lesson.

Now, to fully understand what this "black noise" phenomenon is, we must look back at the history of noise. Noise, as defined by ever-trusty Wikipedia, is "a term used to describe varieties of avant-garde music and sound art that may use elements such as cacophony,dissonanceatonalitynoiseindeterminacy, and repetition in their realization." (read more here). Having its roots with futurist Luigi Russolo and moving throughout the years with musique concrète and avant-garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, and eventually hitting the mainstream in the 80s and 90s with Masami Akita (who you might know as Japanese noisemonger Merzbow) and various "noise pop" bands, the most notable being The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Exmortes logo ca. 1988
It is unsure as to who FIRST decided to combine elements of noise in black metal, but it is generally accepted that black noise's earliest practician was a Dutch one-man project by the name of Exmortes, whose horrendously raw recordings shared similarities with the sounds of early Darkthrone albums being recorded into a microphone that happened to be covered by various blankets and pillows. From Exmortes came a much more recognizable name in most extreme metal circles, Abruptum, whose members share ties with albums the likes of Ophthalamia and the mighty Marduk. In their 16-year run, Abruptum experimented with more conventional "metal" practices as well as dark, terrifying soundscapes filled with anguished shrieks and sounds akin to glass grinding into rugged steel. Emit, from England, also took part in the early construction of "black noise," though their compositions concentrated more on the avant-garde and atmosphere, and, while sharing little with black metal whatsoever, are highly regarded in the modern "black noise" scene. German bands Alpha Drone and Black Tribe (they are related) are also attributed to the rise of black noise.

Abruptum Logo
Following Abruptum's end in 2005 (though they have a previously unreleased album being released sometime this month!), there was a period of silence in the black noise scene. That is, until the rise of the Funeral Stench blogspot in late 2009, because, as it turns out, people had been making "black noise" since before Abruptum and Emit even broke up! Ever since, we see labels such as Hospital Productions, Youth Attack!, Starlight Temple Society, Moribund Tree Records, Occult Contemporary, and even larger names like Crucial Blast and Southern Lord churning out "black noise" recordings to the public.

So, why the hate? Well, I mean, "black noise" is just what the genre says it is, it's black metal with elements of noise (or the other way around). Not many people can handle or really "get" noise OR black metal for that reason. This style of music's fierce, texture-oriented approach to a now-tired genre (which can be attributed to both sides) is a breath of fresh air, or smog, if you want to get technical. Yes, it is definitely a daunting and difficult listen, but, if you find enjoyment in experimentation and aren't one for production, black noise can be a rather rewarding listen.

Some "black noise" bands to look into, if you're interested:

Read as "Altars" - can you see it?
Altars, from Dayton, Ohio, are among the most popular of the new wave of "black noise", incorporating driving rhythms, and, if you can make them out, some pretty excellent riffs. Recently, in their split with Iran's Halla, we see this four-piece dropping the "super raw" production to reveal their proficiency at making fierce black metal.

Lonesummer, whose most recent effort, "Satisfaction Feels Like A Tomb," I reviewed here, incorporates not only the harshness of conservative noise in his music, but also elements of shoegaze the aforementioned "noise pop". Containing a much different, nostalgic atmosphere, Lonesummer is definitely a standalone act in "black noise." Be sure to check out the Lonesummer/Planning for Burial split that is now up for preorder AND the Lonesummer/Planning for Burial/Giles Corey show in Philadelphia this Saturday!

Yorkshire's White Medal
Yorkshire's White Medal, the solo effort of one George Proctor of Mutant Ape and head of the Turgid Animal and Legion Bloatan labels, is an interesting entity within itself. Priding himself on his location, Proctor writes all of White Medal's lyrics in Yorkshire dialect. Though not as raw and more riff-oriented than your standard "black noise" group, White Medal is normally uttered in the same breath as the genre. Catchy, punky, melodic, and, dare I say, "fun", White Medal is a force to be reckoned with in the "black noise" scene.

Dom Fernow performing as Prurient
And, of course, where would a "black noise" article be without Hospital Productions's Dom Fernow. Along with his work in popular noise act Prurient, powerviolence project Taylor Bow, and indie new wave darlings Cold Cave, Fernow is a key element to "black noise." Fernow takes part in Vegas Martyrs, a power electronics-infused black metal band, Devil's Dung, a raw, punky romp with Youth Attack!'s Mark McCoy (also of Ancestors, Haxan, and art-black metal Hallow), and BDSM-obsessed, now much cleaner, Ash Pool. Hospital Productions is a big supporter of "black noise" and the HP store in New York carries many rarities.

Pennsylvania's enigmatic T.O.M.B. is an entity all it's own in the genre. While others spend time crafting their horrible atmospheres in the studio, this anonymous musician trespasses onto various fabled haunted places and makes field recordings of himself drumming on various surfaces. Full of machine sounds, noise, metallic clanging, and other otherworldly sounds, T.O.M.B.'s music is just as haunted as the legends that surround his recording locations. A quick YouTube search will yield various self-made documentaries surrounding the creation of various releases - be sure to check them out. T.O.M.B.'s magnum opus "Macabre Noize Royale" was released on Todestrieb Records in 2008.

I've been meaning to do an essay-type thing for The Inarguable. This seems sort of fun.


EDITED March 29, 2011, T.O.M.B. added.


  1. I got quoted! I just hate listening to things that sound as though anyone could do it.

  2. not that easy mate i do it my self i haven't even finished it


  4. Thanks for the writeup! Very interesting genre.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...