During the nineties some of my friends were super into old school black metal. They swore by Darkthrone, Immortal, Mayhem, Burzum and also ‘newer’ bands like Dark Funeral.
My stance on that kind of music was that I’d probably have liked it too if only the sound had been better. Much better, in most cases.
I often imagined the production process of those albums like this: the musicians were set up in the deep end of a giant cave, a single microphone was placed at the cave’s exit and a mono tape recorder was used to record it. Exaggerated, sure, but I find the mental image funny and some recordings were indeed that abysmal.
Seriously, listen to this, or this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty great music (if you like the genre, that is), but it sounds horrible to my ears. Of course this wasn’t just a result of low budget and/or inability of the sound engineers. I don’t know why, but somehow it had become an essential part of being a ‘true’ black metal band to have a sound like this.
For that reason I never really followed the genre too closely, and also didn’t take notice when those bands released new albums.
Release new albums they did though, and thankfully the sound evolved along the way. A while ago a good friend strongly recommended Dark Funeral’s latest album to me, Where Shadows Forever Reign. Since I know that I can usually follow his recommendations blindly (thanks buddy!) I bought it.
And boy, is this a great album! It has a good mix of full speed blast-beat and mid-tempo songs, great melodies and the variation/combination of screams and grunts adds another layer of variety.
The sound is the cherry on the cake though. It’s clear, crisp and powerful. You can clearly discern every single note, every drum and cymbal, every hushed voice. And yet, the dark, cold and sinister atmosphere needed for this kind of music hasn’t suffered in the slightest.
I think wanting to achieve this atmosphere at all costs was the main reason for the (to me) bad black metal sounds of the past. Technical possibilities and engineering skills have finally risen up to the challenge, it seems.