Late eighties – early nineties, Austria. Let me clarify the international context first: this was a period of exceptional creativity in the domain of extreme metal. These were the days before the internet, the days of real underground music, whose originality was deprecated by all existing official metal magazines, the days where small isolated regional scenes established contact among each other through tape-trading. While in Austria Disharmonic Orchestra or Pungent Stench were beginning to gain international recognition thanks to innovative releases through Nuclear Blast Records, in most parts of the country musicians and the public were still clinging to heavy, thrash or hardcore 5 years behind the times.
The burgeoning black metal movement was looked down upon. Abigor had only released demos so far, quite conventional ones, by the way. This was a time when Darkthrone were only known to a handful of people – Korova among them. Whether they saw in A Blaze in the Northern Sky the confirmation of their existing convictions regarding atmosphere over vacuous brutality will remain conjecture, but a fruitful one nevertheless: so far, violent music had been death metal exclusively, roughly in the form of two tendencies – the organic harshness of the Scandinavians, the technical brutality of the Americans.
All of this has to be kept in mind for any future judgement. I refuse to tolerate the amalgamation of Korova under the avant-garde movement that would soon develop out of black metal. The obvious references (Arcturus, Ved Buens Ende, what have you) have to be brushed aside – those came much later. What we have here, however, is a truly independent development.
The fact that their name was imposed on the group in its early days by a fan of Kubrick’s film version of Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange is not important at all. Nothing on this record points back to the early thrash/punk origins of the band. They are veterans of the Austrian extreme scene along with those cited above, with the only difference that their sound did not catch on immediately. Locally, however, the group had numerous opportunities to test their work in front of an audience long before the release of this first album (early 1995): the bulk of the work had been written as early as 1992.
The production may not do justice to the album (which partly may have been the reason for both the critics’ and public’s failure to grasp the importance of this release), with a limited amount of tracks alternating a multitude of instruments (the engineer who recorded the album in 1994 was not used to that particular sound and was confronted with a density he was unable to master), but the music still stands out today as well ahead of its time.
To combine such elaborate parts, both rhythmically and harmonically, with memorable phrases, riffs and melodies into immediately comprehensive structures and inventive instrumental textures was a visionary feat. The music is a torrent of harsh violence, complex and limpid at the same time, driven forward by an exceptional drummer who has since proven his versatility, and whose admission to the group one year prior to this recording had propelled them to a state of grace. The album features an extensive use of keyboards, acoustic instruments (timpani, mandolin, violin) and female vocals, long before those elements became a trend for backwards oriented copycats.
Korova’s main composer, a left-handed guitarist playing a right-handed guitar upside down (just like Atheist’s Rand Burkey), used this apparent anomaly to obtain inimitable chords. His compositional skills and idiosyncrasies outshine most of his contemporaries. His learned use of such diverse elements as dissonance (diminished or augmented chords on heavily distorted guitars were not heard much since Voivod) or troubadour music, or the invention of a unique guitar sound (have a listen at the opening riff of “Entlebt in tristem Morgenblut”), every single aspect of this work must be called pioneer.
At any rate, Korova’s legacy by far exceeds their official reputation. Take the whole tone scale riff that appears in “Lachrydeus Mittelgard” (02:14, 03:42), for example. Then listen to Misanthrope, Visionnaire (1997), track 6 (00:43, 01:27, 05:59, 06:44), then Ram-Zet, Pure Therapy (2000), track 3, opening riff. The alert listener will find other significant instances.
They were true originals. Numerous passages immediately recall other avant-garde metal bands; many pave the way for Written in Waters (carefully plough through “Awakening from Perpetual Contemplation”), yet all of it had been written years before Ved Buens Ende was formed and the world had heard about Arcturus, who were certainly not doing any bold stuff at that time, by any standards.
Korova’s frontman always delivered an unbelievable and unique stage show. Fellow Austrians Dornenreich would not be where they are today had they not had the chance to see Korova perform in concert – the early live antics of Dornenreich’s vocalist were a mere pale copy, and all his attempts at vocal experiments were suggested by Korova’s inventions.
Whether a concept album or not (maybe with the exception of tracks 7 and 9, which seem to have been added due to the need to release a full-length album that could be recorded quickly with the new line-up – track 9 was originally intended for an unreleased side-project), we are dealing with a very cohesive record. Korova managed to create a multiform, idiosyncratic universe, baroque, visceral, encompassing more than just the music – take a good look at the cover artwork or at the vocalist’s custom-carved guitar.
Any sort of reflection on the lyrics be left to the listener. Let it just be said that the images of primeval violence and declining beauty conjured up in those morbid tales of demise are of a much more interesting nature than what had been known so far through the aesthetics of death or doom metal or through what would soon become the standard mode of expression of the newly born Norwegian black metal scene. Long before the trend to write lyrics in the native tongue, Korova dared to draw on languages other than English. The riposte is easy against the convenient criticism regarding the use of too many languages as a preposterous display: there is a point! This is no mannerist toying around: on both the musical and textual level, a careful selection was applied to determine which parts were to be sung in which language. Italian in the operatic passages, Gothic and its barbaric sound for the evocation of an archaic heathen world (if not earlier, than at least simultaneously, but above all, independently of any similar Norwegian tendencies), Middle High German in an exalted homage to the heroic verse of Romance, yet the bulk of the album in German and English, and all of it tightly melded together into one florid, hyper-baroque and simultaneously revolutionary, radically modern language. To pick only one, the German text of “Entlebt in tristem Morgenblut” attests the craftsmanship of an original lyricist well versed in the art of poetry, who would move even further with the indispensable but still unreleased Echowelt.
And the voice! This voice, protean yet incredibly coherent, shifting from operatic chants to soaring barbaric screams, mastering all stages from growls to shrieks, at times sanguinary, solemn, or agonizing, with echoes of Celtic Frost or a King Diamond in a murderous frenzy, still seeks its peer today.
3 words: Akran – Riqis – Unþiuþ
01 – Intro: Der Weltenbrand / Das Kreuz Und Der Metzenapfel
02 – After The Fruits Of Ephemeral Pulchritude
03 – Lachrydeus Mittelgard (Slâhan Fôntagr Inn Awêþi)
04 – Entlebt In Tristem Morgenblut
05 – Intro: Im Teich Erlischt Ein Bächlein
06 – Awakening From Perpetual Contemplation (Yellow Mahogany Tomb I.)
07 – Latin Dreams In Turpentine
08 – Nordsciltim – In The Filth Where All Cull Perambulates Pain
09 – Sálømeh, Des Teufels Braut
10 – A Kiss In The Charnel Fields