Black Metal is supposed to be scary. It is hostile, ominous music, gloomy and portentous. It is the sound of black fingers stretching overhead, of morbid windows opening both in the night sky and in our own contemptible hearts - portals to brackish and benighted worlds of misery, conflict, abnegation and loss. So what happens when an artist comes along and decides that their Black Metal is going to be big and bright, a symphony heralding the feathery fingers of dawn and its inimitable gradients, the sound of darkly shaded hope and wonder, a music far more sweet than bitter?
Some would say that art is not about following the rules, but about breaking them with grace. Judging by the wild popularity and acclaim garnered by the likes of Deafheaven, there is demand for this kind of reverse revolution - transgressing the transgressor by allowing some warm, bright sun rays to peek past the Nightside Eclipse.
Enter Vallendusk, an Indonesian four-piece who have artfully fused the panoramic, soaring optimism of 2000s Post-Rock with the speed and fervor of Black Metal. The band´s 2012 EP Vallendusk found the young hopefuls roaring forth fully-formed, unleashing a defiantly beauteous three-song summation of their aesthetic.
"Antimatter" begins with a gently plucked guitar introduction. Folksy and delicate, it is like a gentle rain before the Black Metal storm that ensues. Guitarists V. Mithos and Danang S. unfurl chords of the same hopeful but slightly melancholic stripe that kept bands like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky in demand throughout the 2000s. Vocalist Rizky sounds surprisingly depraved, wild-eyed and somehow seething and howling at the same time. His low, misanthropic vocal sound is an important foil to the guitars, keeping the music from becoming too easy and pleasant. Drummer Derick P. knows his way around a Black Metal blastbeat, but he is also quite the adept at double bass runs. By alternating these patterns, he effects bracing, dynamic ebbs and flows at crucial moments in the music.
In the later stages of "Antimatter," the grandiosity reaches a state of grace. The melodic progressions, rhythmic and loud/soft dynamics and folk interlude have done their work. The last 90 seconds are sweet payoff, with sheer adventure in the guitar lines and total rapture in the vocals. Vallendusk announce themselves not in trepidation or fumble-fingered experimentalism, but in full-throated triumph, owners of their own unique sound.
"Foghymn" establishes one great motif and reincarnates it in a parade of slightly different forms, each fresh and invigorating. Initially, the song consists of a buildup. Rizky howls and howls, and the rest of the of the band deploy their brilliant capacity for building up tension in a melodic line, then dropping the bottom out of it with a chord change and drum pattern switch. The winning motif is a slightly carnival-esque six-note melody that adapts itself to changing rhythms and emotional swings, carrying the listener forward through rustic dances and raging seas, a moment of celebration for all the fruitful cross-pollination of Black Metal across the globe.
Vallendusk complete the cycle with "The Wooden Sphere," which mostly follows the successful formulas established by the first two songs - excepting a divertingly groovy break late in the onslaught. Taken in total, Vallendusk is one of those debuts that is head-turning in its exhibition of skill, and perfect in length. Every note contributes to the whole, and there is not a wasted moment.
While Black Metal was originally conceived out of the misanthropic misery of certain Norwegians, once the form went international, something changed. While many practitioners are content to wallow in morbidity, a good many can barely contain their joy at having this new form with which to express themselves. There is a sense of global community and sharing involved in customizing Black Metal’s hallmarks to one’s own regional music and life experiences. This is easy to hear in Vallendusk, who have given us something that is instantly recognizable, and yet wholly unique.
01 - Antimatter
02 - Foghymn
03 - The Wooden Sphere