Chinese black metal has to be some of the most entertaining stuff I’ve found in the last year or so now. It has elements that are common to all black metal but there is so much cultural richness embedded into every note and melody. It stands on its own. It stands apart. There is a musical history in the Far East that we often either ignore or know nothing about. We are exposed to it every so often but never really enough to get a grasp on the kind of storytelling abilities the music has. Even I have not done enough research in the musical history to truly appreciate the emotional background. What I will endeavor to do with Chinese black metal albums is understand the history that they represent, both nationally and culturally. What kind of stories can they tell that others can’t? What can they add to stories we already know? How can they blend with other forms of music? What makes it unique? These will be the questions that run through my mind as I try to analyze and understand them. Up first? Demogorgon, a super group of sorts with members from Zuriaake (a damn good band I’ve already covered) and HolyArrow, that blend epic black metal with dark ambient and dungeon synth. Dilemma. Revenge. Snow. might just be the perfect album. Blending all of my favorites into one album? In just two songs? How can it be done?
The album is conceptually based on a wuxia story called Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain, a story about an ancient feud that results in several families embroidered in plot and counterplot that ultimately could lead to their demise. It’s a story of dilemma, revenge, and snow. I know my account of the story is well, not even an account but that’s because I’ve not actually read the story yet (after listening to this album though it’s on my list). I would be a horrible writer if I gave a summary of something I haven’t read to people that actually trust me to give them correct information. The has been adapted and translated several times. I haven’t been able to at least watch a version for this review (maybe I can mark this analysis as one to come back to) but I imagine that given the emotional spectrum of Demogorgon’s album, that the films have a lot to live up to. The story, for a full understanding of the music of the album, is paramount. I’m even hesitant to write a review before reading the story. But I’ve listened to and reviewed things that had literary counterparts that I still haven’t read so this shouldn’t be any different.
Back to the music of the album itself, blending any two genres together would be relatively easy, it’s done all the time. But all three, and making it sound cohesive and good? That’s something that’s going to take talent. Demogorgon has that talent, spoiler alert. They divide the genres up, the first track is a black metal masterpiece at hits just over fourteen minutes that combines the best of Zuriaake and the incredibly epic atmosphere that they produce on all their songs with heavy doses of dark ambient, fuzzy SunnO))) drones and smoky environments. With a song that’s fourteen plus minutes and successful, you need one of two things: a long slow riff that you can repeat over and over and over again or you need to have several different movements within the song. Demogorgon goes with the latter and I think that makes the song work perfectly in their favor. There is so much more story involved, layers of characters and traditions, and history. Having never really experienced Chinese traditional music, the world of Chinese black metal is a completely different beast from the European stuff I love so much. Melodies are constructed and played differently. Each note from the first song is emblazoned with historical significance.
The black metal is harsh but sonically beautiful, a lot of the atmosphere reminds me of epic black metal bands like Summoning, creating an almost medieval sound. This is the soundtrack to an epic tale, a story full of bloodshed, violence, beauty, and discovery. This single song has more story telling prowess than so many other bands that I’ve heard. The melodies are soaring, making sure the music encompasses everything. As I writer I can tell you I take (far too much) time to create a background and (far too much) details even though they might not be immediately recognizable. The attention to detail always pays off though, in literature as well as music. As the story progresses these details become important because they formed the foundation of that world. The story cannot exist without these sorts of details. There are wonderful fusions of genres within that fourteen minutes, from straight up black metal to something the resembles folk metal to something akin to power metal (maybe?) and all over their own vocal styles to blend with the music. Normally I would consider such a variety of genre in a single song a disaster, and I still will with the exception of this song. The song is long enough and the changes are gradual enough with the foundation of dark ambient distortions that each genre acts like a different character or a different character’s perspective. In short, it works for the current situation and the current story but I am still not convinced it would work anywhere else.
The next song is my favorite. I know there are only two songs but whatever. Sadness Moon is the dungeon synth portion of the album and it is grand. You all know I love dungeon synth for its atmosphere, powers of nostalgia, storytelling, and cultural richness. This song is no different. This was my first encounter with Far East dungeon synth but if this is typical of artists from there then I need a full album of dungeon synth. I don’t know how many dungeon synth artists there are from the area, my instinct tells me not many if any more than Demogorgon, but I do hope a movement sparks here. This is everything that I love about dungeon synth with the analogue, 16 bit feel, adventurous spirit, and beautiful harmonies with what I have loved about the traditional melodies I’ve gleaned over the years. The sound is an ancient one, it feels as though it was composed a long time ago and only now has been found and played. The song tracks at ten and a half minutes, about, but it feels much longer. The melodies are slow to form and flower but at the same time they don’t last long enough. I need a full on dungeon synth album from Demogorgon. They have the talent, that’s more than obvious, but do they have the desire? I can only hope so.
This is an album that I’m going to come back to. Once I have listened to enough Chinese black metal and I understand the cultural stances better, once I have read Fox Volant of the Snowy Mountain, I think I will be able to write a more well-rounded thesis but for now I believe this will suffice. Dilemma. Revenge. Snow. is a damn good album for just two songs. The people involved were at the top of their game and the resulting brew is amazing. If you haven’t heard any Chinese black metal before, this is a damn good place to start.
Highlights: Sadness Moon
If you enjoyed this try: Nan Morlith, Summoning, Argonath, Zuriaake
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