Hate is a Strong word…
There’s a type of reviewer that I detest, to the point that I decided to push back and take Clean and Sober Stoner seriously. Believe it or not, there are YouTube channels and writers who deliberately criticize genre’s that they don’t like, and then give bands in that genre negative reviews. I know, crazy, right?
I hate gatekeepers: the guardians of “good taste” who make a living telling other people what sucks and should be avoided. And no, I’m not naming names- the last thing I want to do is increase their traffic.
Why I don’t Review Black Metal
I don’t review Black Metal because I don’t “get” Black Metal. I’ve tried, many many times. That’s not the same thing as writing that it sucks, because it doesn’t suck. Black Metal simply doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t get it, and I certainly don’t have a clue as to what makes any particular Black Metal band “good or bad.” I love the atmosphere and art of it, and I deeply love windswept forests in the dead of Winter. But it kinda all sounds the same to me…
So when Indonesian Black Metal legends Barzakh reached out to me to help promote the remastered and restored version of In a Meaning a Note, I politely refused. It’s not fair at all, that I take a stab at something I don’t understand. Still, it kept nagging at me to the point that I bought the album and listened to it.
Thankfully, my favorite YouTube channel deals with Black Metal. And…whatever else Jan has on his mind. He’s even gotten me to buy Black Metal, an act I may never forgive. Here’s the number 1 reason I turn to Jan and Miseryhymns for all things Black Metal:
Jan graciously agreed to help the Clean and Sober Stoner crew out and review Barzakh’s In a Meaning a Note. An hopefully explain to me all the things I didn’t understand. Which is all the things. Now I need to do a YouTube video to explain what he explained…
Black metal has two major branches of sound: bands who favor death and thrash metal and bands who favor doom. Each one has its own soul. For brevity’s sake, I’ll just refer to the former as death, die mad about it thrashers. Which team a band plays for comes down to the genre influences of each musician and how those influences bounce off those of others’, meaning that solely because of the exponential nature of those numbers, this two-street look on it is very simplified. Still, it’s distinct enough to be made. Especially for those with synesthesia, like myself, this division can be even clearer because of the vastly different listening experiences!
Music like Felvum, Bathory’s black metal phase, and early Darkthrone share the fuzzy and gritty instrumentals commonly found in death. The music is layered, with the instruments often maxed out to the point of unifying as one auditory blob and the vocals just as nasty. This is the type of welcoming, warm chaos that makes the silence outside your headphones vacuous and hateful.
Meanwhile, the likes of Marduk, Beherit, and Helleruin feature clearly defined instruments, usually more distinct vocals, and a cool, industrial edge. (And I mean cool as in, like, it’s blue and purple. I can’t explain it either, man.) You will find the cleanest-cut and highest pitched music black metal has to offer within this category.
Barzakh’s Black Metal
Barzakh, the actual subject of this rambling, seems to be of the death breed. For the customary comparison with an established band, I would go with Bathory. On an album to album level, it’s very reminiscent of Under the Sign of the Black Mark. The instrumentals are rough and unkempt, the kind that’ll remind you of old amps and garage bands. (Very kvlt.) There is no clean singing to be found here, but Agni’s vocals do ring truer to the latter category, just as Quorthon’s did. However, Barzakh uses the iconic deathlike combo of both deep and normal pitched growling.
Where these two vocal styles are used strategically, though, the instruments often struggle against one another. In the first track, the drums die amidst the other instruments, only to come back fighting in the fourth. Probably, the poor guy was trying to be heard over the other instruments… and the sheer aggression of it sounds like he isn’t too happy about it! In all seriousness, the balance improves as the album progresses and each subsequent track feels more confident.
The seeming lack of comfort within the blending is notable throughout the album, and each song seems to have an element that sticks out amongst the rest of it. This isn’t necessarily a sign of bad quality, merely of experimentation, and we’ll talk about it more in a second. Right now, let’s discuss some specific tracks.
She’s Not Honoured features one of my favorite types of groove in black metal. It must have a technical name, but I can’t be arsed to call it anything besides “The Lifelover Progression.” Fans will probably recognize it, whether they think it’s a notable piece of the band’s style or not — as for Scott and the rest of you, just trust me or go listen to the song M/s salmonella. It also features what sounds to be throat singing, something a few black metal bands do dip into and certainly an addition with potential for Bazrakh’s own sound. Either that, or the vocalist was just straining their voice. As much as I wish it were, my musical expertise is not Mongolian throat singing, and this is a rather early album for the band being only their third.
This progression is a common theme that shines even more in The Valley of Unrest, yet another incredibly strong track. There is something about its meat that rings the bells of old school American country music and those openhearted songs about a traveling man’s woes. Usually those are whiskey and women. Another pseudonym I’ve given this progression is a “traveling progression.” It evokes a sense of movement and energy that is difficult to describe in less abstract terms.
A Little Bit Country
At first, any country music and black metal is a very odd comparison to make. But when considering black metal’s family tree, this makes perfect sense, especially when we think about Bazrakh in terms of being death-inspired. After all, metal is a cousin of blues! To grossly over-simplify the evolutionary line, blues birthed rock birthed (heavy) metal birthed death and thrash metal birthed black metal.
For anyone who is pattern-orientated, the lingering influences are always fun to spot. For more examples of this specific progression in black metal, take the songs In League With Satan by Venom and Funeral Fog by Mayhem. When you also factor in that these are two influential first wave black metal bands, it’s no wonder that this beat can be found in subgenre songs over thirty years later.
All this to say, it’s an emotionally provocative — and insanely groovy — progression that makes my ears very happy. While it’s excellent in this song, I would say it is at its best in The Satanic Space. It’s blended well with the rest of the song so that it isn’t jarring, but it’s also given the proper solo treatment and you feel the full effect of it. I quite enjoyed that the experience of listening to this song was so fluid and yet still changed, an ebb rather than a tidal wave. It’s one of those songs that feels like a journey rather than a stationary thing.
In a riveting eleventh hour plot twist, A Place For To Pray introduces some guitar work reminiscent of technical death metal, which can also be felt in the final track, Halutination Of Psycho. There, however, it is married much better with the rest of the song. Similarly, that groove you might expect from black’n’roll (a fusion of black metal and rock’n’roll) more than black metal is much more present, and it’s got more of a hold on the overall sound in this track.
Circling back to the discomfort I noted before, we come away from In A Meaning The Note with a throat singing cameo in track 2; random, even if enjoyable, derails from expected sound in tracks 3, 5, and 7; and an almost cautious air hovering around the necks of the first few tracks before the real potential of the album is reached for. This all comes across as a band that has not yet found their sound or, at least, a way to smoothly combine each members’ unique contributions and taste.
That said, it’s not a bad experience to experiment alongside Barzakh. All bands have to experiment, sometimes more than once, to find that particular space. More often than not, the results of their mad scientist-ry is still a great listen, even if the album ends up lacking some cohesion as a result. If you find that you always enjoy “the early stuff” the most, give this album a shot! My favorite tracks are The Satanic Space and Halutination of Psycho. (I love black metal song titles.)-Jan from Miseryhymns