Production is one of the things that can make or break a band, especially in black metal. There are bands out there that believe the worse the production is the more “kvlt” the album and the band are. The rawer the sound, the edgier the band’s image. It worked for the likes of Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum, and most of the bands from the Finnish scene but aside from them, I can’t see it really paying off. Even the rawer bands these days have some level of production that distinguishes them from noise bands. Not that there’s anything wrong with noise bands (I happen to love me some Ninhursag). There is a difference between raw production and lazy, bad production. However, it seems the line between them is almost microscopic. I’ve heard far too many bands that have essentially no production that nearly ruined the album, and thereby the band, for me. While I’m more an epic and atmospheric black metal fan, I know what sounds good when it comes to raw black metal. I’m by no means an expert, but I’m far from a layman. I know the difference between rough and poor. I appreciate attempts to have the same raw sound black metal had in the early days of the second wave but I don’t think we can achieve that sort of atmosphere anymore. Noise bands at least have the fact that they are noise bands and can thrive on the narrative of the chaos to create some sort of structure. Black metal doesn’t have that, it can be chaotic yes, but it must have a structure, it must have an atmosphere of darkness and (I might choke saying this) evil. Bad production does not create that atmosphere.
Blood and Chaos, the latest full length album from UK one man band Plagis, is a bit of a mess. I can tell there is some good black metal underneath the raw production. In fact it’s not really raw so much as it’s just… meh. I won’t go so far as to call it poor or lazy, but there is a lot of form lacking in the music. As I said, I can tell there is some good riffs underneath the fuzzy chaos but it’s hard to appreciate it. There’s some talent here, clearly the man behind the band knows how to play the guitar and structure a riff, the problem, I think, lies in the inability to present that riff while still sounding raw. It’s not great but the album isn’t a lost cause. Not by a long shot. Perhaps if he purposefully incorporated noise elements from bands such as the aforementioned Ninhursag, he might be able to round out his sound, going in the opposite direction, went for a more ambient black metal approach, building a gloomy, spectral atmosphere.
That brings me to the one aspect of the album I truly didn’t like but another thing I think can be fixed: the vocals. Many of the vocals on Blood and Chaos were performed by guest vocalists (most notably Karhmul of Abandoned by Light) and about half are performed by Plagues himself. None of them really grab me. I’m harshest on vocals, that’s been well established by now I’m sure, so take some of this consideration with a grain of salt. There were times that the vocals took me completely out of the music. At times, I felt the vocals were strained and forced, the effort to make them harsh was literally killing any of the intensity they may have had. I’ve encountered that problem in the days of my misspent youth. If you must create a different vocal sound, do it, it’s not worth sacrificing the power the vocals are meant to have. The music wasn’t bad without the vocals, with better production I think the music could exist without vocals. A raw black metal band that’s solely instrumental is rare, something that could work in Plagis’ favor.
In the end, I felt like this album was an experiment. It was an experiment that yielded some promising elements and some things that need immediate attention. Bands like Plagis pop up all the time, they release a few ultra-raw releases and disappear without making so much as a mark on the scene at large (or small). Learn from the errors here and move forward. Get better. Grow. Progress. Find what sound works and what really makes your project stand out. Don’t make another so-so album that no one remembers once it’s finished. I believe Plagis is a band that can do that, I hope they wil.
Highlights: Mercy, Onslaught
For Fans Of: Ninhursag, Abandoned by Light, The Unchaining
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- Blood and Chaos Ft. Karhmul
- No Future
- War Torture Ft. Hadeus Faustus
- Year Zero (Ghost Cover)
- Drowning in Silence Ft. Karhmul
- Χ Ξ Σ (Rotting Christ Cover)
- Agony Ft. FrostVeil
Blood and Chaos was released independently through Bandcamp on May 20th, 2017