Dark Funeral - "The Secrets of the Black Arts"

Dark Funeral – “The Secrets of the Black Arts”

Dark Funeral - "The Secrets of the Black Arts"

Dark Funeral – “The Secrets of the Black Arts”

Dark Funeral playing black metal is something that inherently requires a sort of suspension of disbelief, given that its main founder and current frontman “Lord” Ahriman is mostly known for being a male escort in Stockholm. I’m sure his clients call him “Lord” while mounting him from behind, ffs.

You could point to the precedent set by Gaahl, but I’d like to emphasis the difference between merely being homosexual – having a sexual preference for people of the same sex – and being a literal “sub” that dresses up in the most cartoonish DBSM attire that makes even DBSM practitioners cringe. I mean, Ahriman is already ridiculous cosplaying as a medieval “anti-cosmic” devil worshiper that somehow manages to be more homoerotic than the Village People and catholic priests combined, can you imagine what it would be without labels and band mates pressuring him to “keep it in line”?

Am I the only one who noticed a shift in black metal demographics that occurred approximately after Dimmu Borgir went mainstream with “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant“? Pretty much every one involved in the Norwegian Inner Circle was relatively normal, maybe even higher than average on a IQ scale. Dead excluded, but even including Dead, there’s a difference between simply being suicidal and what came afterwards – via bands like Gorgoroth, Watain, Dark Funeral, Antekhrist and Deathspell Omega. How do you go from intellectually sharp and cognitively well-adjusted individuals like Fenriz, Hellhammer, Nocturno Culto, Samoth, Satyr, hell even Ihsahn, who’s clearly the most nerdish of the cast, and let’s not even mention Varg, who was fluent in like five languages at fifteen – just listen to some of their interviews, and keep in mind English is often their second, sometimes third, or more language – to male escorts who believe their purpose in life is to hold “satanic rituals” and who take “devil worship” – what amounted to Varg and Euronymous making a joke, mocking a gullible journalist interviewing them – seriously, as an actual, literal, religious dogma? How retarded has “black metal” become?

Anyway, the problem with Dark Funeral’s music, is that even at its most measured, it’s a style that thrives off the sort of musical melodrama that would put many off. In fact, the droning, ambient, variationless tremolo-wankery of this band is guaranteed to repel actual fans of black metal music.

There is just too much antagonism between something like “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” which aimed to remove everything superfluous and focus solely on the most essential, most critical components of atmospheric music, and something like “The Secrets of the Black Arts” which is 99% gimmick, merchandising, superficial black metal aesthetics, style over substance and image over sound.

That being said, bands like Demonecromancy, early Carpathian Forest, Goatmoon and Taake are pretty easy to deal with since they have such powerful music to back up the inherent sort of ridiculousness of their style. But then there’s other bands, primarily spearheaded in my mind by Ahriman and the late Blackmoon, whose musical talents are tertiary to the sort of message-based, imagistic music of bands like Dark Funeral and Necrophobic.

“The Secrets of the Black Arts” in particular is an example of the style totally overwhelming the content of an album. Like all of Ahriman/Blackmoon’s music – I don’t know which one influenced the other, but they both suck and one even ended up committing suicide – Dark Funeral doesn’t exactly thrive on an excess of musical activity within the songs. Hell, it almost seems to thrive off the exact opposite: endurance tests supposedly designed to build “atmosphere” but in my mind are more about self-indulgent exercises in posing.

“The Secrets of the Black Arts” is composed of a few blasting, minimal “black” metal tracks broken up by riffless open chord strumming over vocally-led cadences, closer to post-rock than to anything from Darkthrone, Phantom or Burzum.

They’re sort of a scam, the sort of post-rock turd that like Cinderella, magically morphs into a black metal album – via vocals, distortion, tremolo strums and blasting drum machines, i.e. by superficial aesthetics only – to make it seem more immediately relevant and important than it actually is, and unsurprisingly, a lot of people think that, despite how naturally incongruous and completely meaningless Dark Funeral’s music is, all it takes is for Ahriman or another Dark Funeral member to rope in a vocalist or drummer from a third-rate Marduk clone – which they do periodically, often before announcing a new album – to generate interest, and unsurprisingly it works perfectly, as people/suckers start discussing how “with this moves, it signifies Dark Funeral going back to their black metal roots” despite them not having any black metal roots at all (even Reinkaos is more black metal than anything by Dark Funeral), and essentially releasing the same album over and over again throughout their career. No matter how many times the same trick is pulled by the same band, to the same (moronic) audience, its fans/suckers keep falling for it with metronomic precision. Face it, black metal fans aren’t the sharpest tools in the box. Not by a long shot.

Of course, “The Secrets of the Black Arts” isn’t actually a black metal album (apart from the vocals and imagery). It’s a pretty boring, static ambient punk rock album with unusually clanging sound effects and a distinct lack of riffs. Just how similar this is to Necrophobic’s “The Nocturnal Silence” both in construction and execution is pretty incredible, actually. Both albums by both bands feature songs composed of about two actual riffs each, swathed in murky, reverb-drenched production, and mostly require the non-existent “atmosphere” to carry them as nothing noteworthy happens for nearly 50 minutes at times. Unfortunately, I’ve always believed that atmosphere is something generated by the music itself, not something you dollop on top of otherwise plain music like a condiment, and that’s exactly what Dark Funeral and Necrophobic attempt – and fail – on their respective debuts.

A typical black metal track on “The Secrets of the Black Arts”. Six minutes long (this means it’s epic) composed of buzzing tremolo riffs and blast beats/double bass or “spooky” harmonic minor passages of chugging and war toms pounding away, and occasionally some harmonized leads (always in harmonic minor) overhead. The songs never actually progress anywhere; they’re designed to sound “spooky”, like the soundtrack of a Twilight movie, but just a static element of each of those rather than a narrative piece that actually proceeds anywhere.

Frankly, Dark Funeral’s music is so empty and hollow that the album could probably feature a blank CD and come across in exactly the same manner. Fans of this band aren’t paying for the “music” anyway, they want to be part of a clique, to show they are “occult” as they know of the “secrets of the black arts”. Truly frightening, not the type of people you want to mess with, amirite? Well, unless you agree to pay Ahriman a few hundred euros, then you can “mess” with him for the night. It’s his job, after all.

I’ll never tire of repeating what Ahriman has admitted to himself in multiple interviews: he is a male escort, i.e. a gay hooker. I mean it’s called the oldest professions for a reason. Prostitution, heterosexual or homosexual, has always existed. I would maybe be surprised to learn that my favourite musician is engaged in it, but I certainly wouldn’t be “shocked” or in denial the way Dark Funeral fans are when Ahriman’s own statements are repeated.

But they constructed such an elaborate mental image of their “satanic hero” battling the evil forces of Christianity in the name of Satan’s “secret black arts” that they can’t accept the reality of Ahriman taking it up the ass, likely by Christians too (you wouldn’t believe how hypocritical they are when it comes to both homosexuality and extra-marital affairs). “Black arts” indeed.

There’s a lot of good Swedish black metal (Demonecromancy, Marduk, Reiklos, Sacramentum, first Dissection only), but there’s also a lot of terrible shit from that scene too, and “The Secrets of the Black Arts” is a pretty distinct entry into that latter category. Devoid of character, content, artistry, or anything but an empty sense of stylized aesthetics, it’s the sort of thing you think defines you as a “serious black metal satanist” and “devout devil worshiper” when you’re thirteen years old. After that, I can’t think of a reason to listen to this.

Go listen to “Locked up in Hell” for some truly blasphemous black metal.

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