Once upon a time, for a brief while, black metal was a conceptually rather clear genre. When the second wave, in other words black metal as we know it today, was established the rules were simple: satanist lyrics (and beliefs), or call your style something else. This basic principle was rather quickly abandoned, and for decades the genre has split and developed in ever more diverse directions. Nordic paganism was there almost from the start, even if bands like Enslaved had to call themselves something else back in those days. Depressive and suicidal themes, present already on tracks like Mayhem’s “Freezing Moon”, also spawned whole sub-genres. Starting with Burzum and continuing with much of Slavic Europe, a band or two has also been known to dabble in right-leaning politics.
All of these variations were, on some level, tied together by their absolute rejection of virtually everything most people accept as true, or at least moral, about society and reality. Whether worshiping ancient idols and/or the devil, romanticizing self-destruction through drugs or outright suicide, advocating genocide or just being really anti-social, black metal was long the absolute bad boy of alternative music genres. This is sometimes lost among the jokes about corpse paint and terrible lyrics – the fact is that polite society, or in fact any society regardless of politeness, has always been completely at odds with the fundamenta of black metal culture. “Punk” and “Hardcore” have always basically just reiterated the ideals of the post-war generation (though usually just as stupidly as black metal questioned them).
At some point this began to change, as black metal became more established as a “sound” and a genre. Some provocative extremism has always been retained – rabid hatred of Christianity is, for instance, almost completely uncontroversial in most North-Western European nations. However, many new bands fall far more into a more rock’n roll, or romantically, oriented category. Hipsters, and worse, have taken to preforming “black metal” to explain to the world how beautiful their middle class angst is. Now, while this general trend may have killed much of what was originally interesting about black metal, it has also made it possible for people with original ambitions to do original things within the framework of the genre. Sure, there has always been such examples, but back in the day they were fewer and further between.
France’s terribly named Sinlust is one example of a band taking the black metal sound, and filling it with odd content. Much like the the dungeon synth artists who invent their own worlds upon which to base their songs, this band’s lyrics take place on a Fantasy island, where conflicts and politics abound. Sinlust have taken this modus operandi to a whole other level, though. An entire Fantasy book, entitled Noire Neige, was published in tandem with their 2011 debut album Snow Black. The idea is really novel (yes, I went there), and apparently provides ample motivation for the band to create some quite impressive music.
Listening to this their second album, this reviewer immediately thinks of Obtained Enslavement and Old Man’s Child, but it would be wrong to reduce Sinlust to any such comparisons. There’s a hint of Swedish black metal, a hint of Norwegian black metal, and quite a few original riffs. Many songs, like the periodically almost fugue-like “Stream Attraction”, offer solid musical themes, developing and expressing themselves in different ways. A certain degree of schooling in musical theory seems to lie behind much of the composing work for Sea Black.
The overall tone is sometimes hauntingly beautiful, sometimes dark and somber, sometimes violent, sometimes more groovy. In “Sea of Trees” there are both pure rock’n roll elements and a heavy dose of progressive, Opeth style guitar work. Judging this album from a musical standpoint, fans of even slightly technical black metal can only be happy. The combination of conventional (in a good sense) black metal musical tropes with original musical ideas, original riffs and a few curve balls thrown in to keep everything interesting makes this album unproblematically awesome.
That being said, it is obvious that the lack of a conceptual “edge” may leave some people cold. Since this reviewer feels that cynicism is one of the worst maladies afflicting us these days, there will be no mocking those people in this review. A case could be made that music based on horrible or strange ideals is better than entertainment and escapism, though that case won’t be made here either. Rather, it should simply be said that Sinlust have produced another excellent piece of music.
Sea Black is released on April 28, and for further information you can check out the band’s Facebook page here.