Depressive Black Metal, the Endless Ocean of Darkness

Written by: BreadGod
Published: 28.07.2010
Depressive Black Metal, the Endless Ocean of Darkness
by
Ethan "Insineratehymn" Mittel


You may laugh at me for saying this, but I am a huge fan of Depressive Black Metal. Its bleak tones and melancholic melodies entrance me in a way that most other metal sub-genres are unable to accomplish. It takes you across a vast expanse of churning waters filled with misery and loneliness, and when you step out of the boat, back on land, you walk away with a greater understanding of your own feelings. The reason why I write this article is because it has been pointed out on numerous occasions that the Depressive Black Metal scene is growing faster than Christian Weston Chandler's man-boobs. However, there is not yet a comprehensive article which explains the sub-genre in-depth. It is for this reason that I take it upon myself to write an article and enlighten the metal community about the dark wilderness of Depressive Black Metal.

Characteristics


Black Metal typically has a very fast to mid-paced tempo. Depressive Black Metal takes a cue from Funeral Doom Metal and slows down the tempo considerably. It also takes some lessons from Post Metal, as it places a lower emphasis on vocals and includes minimalist sections and clean guitars. Depressive Black Metal also places a greater emphasis on atmosphere through the use of amplifier distortion and dark ambient-inspired keyboards. Whereas the atmosphere of Black Metal can be imagined an ominous mist, the atmosphere of Depressive Black Metal is like a suffocating fog. The vocals, instead of being croaks or raspy shouts, consist of screams and howls with a prominent echo effect applied to them. The guitars are still tuned to the signature C# of Black Metal, but it may be tuned lower. The drums may implement blast beats at times, but for the most part, they consist of slow, simple beats.

History


The origin of Depressive Black Metal can be traced all the way back to Burzum. Whereas most bands of that era were focused on thrash metal-level tempos, sinister croaks, endless blast beats and unbelievably fast tremolo picking, Burzum's self-titled debut was defined by mid-paced tempos, echoed screams, simple drum beats, and a guitar tone that would soon become commonplace among Depressive Black Metal bands. In TV Tropes terms, Burzum would be considered the "Ur Example" of Depressive Black Metal. This means that he established the foundation of the genre even though Varg had no intention of doing so. Just by listening to the song "Black Spell Of Destruction", you can tell that many of the Depressive Black Metal bands that would be formed later down the road would use that very same formula in one of their own songs.

Following on the heels of Burzum was a tiny, obscure Norwegian band named Strid. In 1993, they released a demo entitled End Of Life. It consisted of only one song which was 11 minutes in length. One year later, they released a self-titled EP. It consisted of two songs which combined lasted for almost 14 minutes. They expound upon what Burzum created by making the tempo slower, introducing ambient elements through the use of a synthesizer and cloudy amplifier distortion, and a lower emphasis on vocals. When the vocals were present, they gave off a greater feeling of agony. Having not heard anything like this before, people described Strid as "Depressive Black Metal". Thus the stage was set for the creation of one of the fastest growing sub-genres of metal ever seen.

Around the turn of the new millennium, many bands were still working out the details of this newly created form of metal. Two such bands who were trying to unlock the secrets were Malvery from Canada and Silencer from Sweden. These two bands were quite different in terms of sound. The guitars of Malvery sound like Blackened Death Metal but they felt like Depressive Black Metal. The drums were more befitting a Technical Death Metal band, and the bass was more prominent in the mix than with other Black Metal bands. Silencer was quite different. The guitars sound closer to Black Metal, but they are interspersed with things such as clean guitar and piano interludes, which eventually cut back to the Black Metal parts again. The vocals of both bands are quite unique in their own right. Nattramn of Silencer sounds like an escaped mental patient who is being chased by a thousand lions that only he can see. Amer LeChâtier of Malvery sounds like he's being put through the most horrific torture session imaginable. When a musical genre is young, it goes through a period of experimentation where they try to figure out the best formula. Malvery and Silencer were definitely two of the most unique and interesting concoctions that were created during this time.

If you are asking where they are now, I'm afraid to say that they did not end well. Immediately after he recorded his vocal parts, Amer LeChâtier went home and committed suicide, and Malvery were forced to disband, thus their first and only full-length was released posthumously. In the case of Silencer, after their only full-length was released, Nattramn went out in public and started to swing an ax at two ladies. When the police arrived, he begged for them to kill him. Not knowing what to do, they admitted him to a mental hospital, and Silencer was disbanded on the spot. However, not all of the bands who were formed in this time met a tragic end. In 1995 and 1998, two bands were formed that would bring the sub-genre to the forefront of the Black Metal underground at the beginning of the new millennium. Their names were Xasthur and Leviathan.

In the year 2000, a Swedish band named Shining released their debut full-length entitled I - Within Deep Dark Chambers, and over the next few years, the Depressive Black Metal scene was changed forever. The album featured a tempo in between mid-paced and slow, the guitars have a melancholic tone to them, the vocals are a mix between a croak and a scream, and the blast beat sections and plodding sections were interspersed with clean guitars. Shining would later hone their hone their skills with each proceeding album and become one of the most famous Depressive Black Metal bands in the world, and their specific sound would soon become the formula that a majority of Depressive Black Metal bands around the world would follow.

Future Prospects


With the Depressive Black Metal scene now filled with bands that all vie for the ears of anyone who finds them, you now ask if the scene will change significantly in the future. Judging by all the changes that have been witnessed in all of the other metal scenes, the answer to that question would be yes. Even as recently as last year, significant changes in the elements of the music have been witnessed. Here are some of the predictions about the changes that will occur in the genre over the next five years. Please remember that these predictions are speculation based upon the latest releases in the scene and are not a guarantee that they will happen.

Implementation of Clean Vocals


As a genre lives on through the years, people will begin to complain that the bands in the genre all sound exactly the same. Austere realized this and decided to implement a more progressive component in their music that would help them stand out: clean vocals. This element adds a different feeling to the music. Whereas the screams convey a tremendous amount of agony, the clean vocals are a more solemn display of those same emotions. The implementation of clean vocals worked out quite well for the band, as the album that featured them, To Lay Like Old Ashes, has been spread far across the Black Metal underground. Because new bands follow the tradition of copying what works, it is likely that any new Depressive Black Metal bands that form in the near future will likely include clean vocals in their work.

Inclusion of More Dark Ambient Elements


As was stated earlier, Depressive Black Metal has a much thicker atmosphere than regular Black Metal, which comes as no surprise that Depressive Black Metal bands also happen to incorporate pieces of dark ambient in their music in order to enhance this atmosphere. As the years go by, we will begin to see more dark ambient elements incorporated into the music. The most notable example of this development would be Eerie Sceneries, the full-length debut of the German band Impavida. True to the album's namesake, they use a synthesizer keyboard to create an eerie and unsettling atmosphere. Metal is a continually evolving organism, and when a new formula emerges, some people will tinker with it and see if it works for them. That same series of events will occur here, as many others shall pick up their keyboards and try to match that same level of atmosphere.

Harsher Distortion


In 2008, a recording called The Haunted House was released by a one-man band named Pyha (the Korean word for Ruined). According to information provided by the label that released it, the album was recorded back when the man was a young boy in the year of 2001. This claim is doubtful, but there is as of yet no evidence to prove otherwise. The most remarkable characteristic of the album was the amount of distortion. It was extremely distorted even by black metal standards, but with this distortion, Pyha inadvertently discovered a new way to express emotion. By increasing the level of distortion, it gave the feeling that the world was crumbling apart from hatred and despair. One of the most recognizable aspects of Black Metal back when it was started was the raw production, which was implemented as a revolt against the clean sounding metal production of the day. If this trend continues, we will begin to see scores of Depressive Black Metal bands intentionally using raw production as a response to their cleaner sounding brethren.

Bands and Albums Mentioned


Burzum - Burzum
Strid - End of Life
Strid - Strid
Malvery
Silencer
Xasthur
Leviathan
Shining
Austere - To Lay Like Old Ashes
Impavida - Eerie Sceneries
Pyha - The Haunted House


 
Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.




Comments

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Ozman - 28.07.2010 at 21:11  
No mention of Bethlehem or Deinonychus?
BreadGod - 28.07.2010 at 21:19  
Written by Ozman on 28.07.2010 at 21:11

No mention of Bethlehem or Deinonychus?

Yeah, I'm not quite familiar with those bands, so I forgot to include them.
Ozman - 28.07.2010 at 21:23  
Written by BreadGod on 28.07.2010 at 21:19

Written by Ozman on 28.07.2010 at 21:11

No mention of Bethlehem or Deinonychus?

Yeah, I'm not quite familiar with those bands, so I forgot to include them.


They were immensely important for the way the sound of dsbm evolved. Both band started in the early 90s.
Troy Killjoy - 28.07.2010 at 21:23  
No mention of a lot of bands, but this is still a nice intro article for dep-black metal newbies.
BreadGod - 28.07.2010 at 21:40  
Written by Troy Killjoy on 28.07.2010 at 21:23

No mention of a lot of bands, but this is still a nice intro article for dep-black metal newbies.

That was exactly my intention, to foster interest in the genre.
Puff - 04.08.2010 at 03:00  
I pretty much stopped looking for new bands within the genre.
Used to find lots of these bands original when I first got into it.
But considering the number of bands playing this type of BM now
most bands I started to explore turned out to sound pretty much
the same as the bands I already knew.
If ya got any recommendations to make I'd be pleased to check it out.

Pretty much the best music to listen to while on a mush or acid trip in the woods
or just for plain relaxing and getting lost in our own fucked up mind.
Mr. Doctor - 18.08.2010 at 11:41  
I'm sorry, I read it again and I can't like this article. Usually if I want to show a person a kind of music... I start with the beginnings, the bands that started the trend. Here I can only see Burzum, a band that just inspired... It's not DSBM imo.
Bloeddorst - 16.09.2010 at 16:42  
Trist? Hypothermia?
RobertNowhere - 18.09.2010 at 16:47  
Deinonychus \m/\m/!!!!!!!!
RobertNowhere - 18.09.2010 at 16:49  
But yeah...there are really a gazillion depressive black metal bands out there today...there's no way to listen to them all...and they all follow a basic template, so there is no need to....a few faves is enough...
Carl Berg - 27.09.2010 at 19:21  
Silencer!!!
hiddensamurai - 22.12.2010 at 19:37  
You should listen to EKOVE EFRITS
really good stuff
all the prediction that you mentioned this band tried and did it peferctly
suicidal rebirth 2007
coceptional horizon (very soon)
ekoveefrits.com

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