So! You’ve just been exposed to a band from Sweden called Watain, and it’s a heavier, darker type of metal that you might have heard before. Note how the vocals sound like the wind howling through a barren, wintry forest. Note how the heavily distorted guitars enhance the gloomy atmosphere, like sorrow made audible. Note how the drumbeats showcase a frantic sensation, crazed and unhinged.
Welcome to black metal, friends.
If anyone ever needed a perfect example of the Streisand effect, the cancellation of Watain’s gig yesterday would be it. Named after Barbra Streisand (yes, the famous singer), the term describes a phenomenon when an attempt to hide something amplifies its visibility. Streisand, in 2003, tried to suppress photos of her Malibu house from the press, which unwittingly drew even more attention to it.
The same now applies to Watain, the literally devil-worshipping band that was supposed to put on a show here last night. Typically, with any band that has a niche audience, Watain could have put on an awesomely heavy performance in a venue hidden in the industrial district of Tai Seng without any fuss, and the blissfully ignorant would remain blissfully ignorant.
But someone by the name of Rachel Chan just had to make it her personal crusade to ensure that the band would not play a single note in Singapore. She launched a petition that called on the government to ban Watain’s performance, mobilizing thousands of fellow conservative Singaporeans to make their voices heard. And it succeeded, with the Ministry of Home Affairs ordering the show to be canned just hours before it was scheduled to start.
In the process, Chan did something worthwhile. Sort of. Through the power of the press and social media, now the entire nation (including the youth that she wanted to protect) is aware of Watain and the existence of the black metal genre — bringing bigger exposure to it than what it would have been if Chan had decided not to act on her concerns.
So now that you’re just getting started in the deep, fascinating world of black metal (here’s a primer if you’re interested, courtesy of Bandwagon Asia), let us be your sherpa with a little starter kit. After all, if one wants to critique the genre, one needs to understand its subtleties and complex layers of construction and meaning. Here’re five other black metal bands worth noting.
Ah, where would black metal be without Mayhem (est. 1984). As one of the founders of the Norwegian black metal scene, the band built on the extreme metal sound crafted by earlier groups Venom, Slayer, and Bathory. Their early years were filled with notoriety — their singer blew his brains out (a picture of his corpse was used as an album cover) and they were also tied to a string of church burnings in Norway. Oh, and they played in Singapore in 2006.
Another prominent icon in the Norwegian black metal scene, the band was also linked to a series of church burnings, while their drummer Bard Guldvik “Faust” Eithun was convicted of stabbing a man to death in a forest in a brutal homophobic crime.
Let’s, uh, move on to a relatively lighter note. Polish band Behemoth used to play a traditional version of black metal, but switched to death metal in their later years (still very much blackened though). Known for themes involving the occult and Satanism, they still make damn good music — so much so that The Guardian gave their 2014 record The Satanist a full five stars out of five.
Okay, so maybe you’re not that into that intensely heavy sound. Turn your gaze towards Alcest, a French band that employs softly-sung vocals. They weren’t always like that, though — their first album is very much lo-fi and raw black metal, but their style evolved over time to infuse a wall-of-sound effect used by shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine. Calming stuff.
Deafheaven’s a Grammy-nominated band! Building on the sound of Alcest, the California outfit formed in 2010 and became the faces of a new wave of black metal following the release of the critically acclaimed record Sunbather — an album filled with soaring distorted guitars, screeching vocals, and genuine moments of instrumental beauty. Derided by old metalheads as a “hipster-metal” band, but an awesome gateway into the genre. Also, they were astoundingly good when they played here in 2014.