Friday 16 October 2015

Band Spotlight: Terzij de Horde - ‘Self’ (Album Review)

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 26/10/2015
Label: Burning World Records (LP),
Consouling Sounds (CD),
Tartarus Records (Cass.)

As someone who has been listening to black metal for nearly twenty years, I’m thankful that there are bands out there like Terzij de Horde challenging black metal’s standards, to keep it from losing what made it special to me in the first place. Beyond being one of this year’s finest albums, ‘Self’ is important because the beliefs and mindset that gave this album life are as purely black metal as it gets.

‘Self’ CD//LP//CS//DD track listing:

1. Absence
2. A Marriage of Flesh and Air
3. Averoas
4. Contre le Monde, Contre la Vie
5. Geryon – See Extinguished the Sight of Everything but the Monster
6. Sacrifice – A Final Paroxysm

Terzij de Horde is:

Joost | Vocals
Demian | Guitar
Richard | Drums
Johan | Bass
Jelle | Guitar

The Review:

Note: Based on being a fan of the band’s previous work for sometime and getting a chance to hear the album ahead of its release, I had the chance to ask the band some questions about the album and the mindset that went into making it. This should help shed some light on some of what went into making one of the year’s best albums. I’ll be including some of that insight from the band as my review goes on.

Despite longstanding slogans including the phrase “anti-human”, black metal is as human as music gets. The genre has never just been about its characteristic speed, compositional and lyrical obsession with darkness, or deeper lyrical inclinations toward blasphemy, hatred and violence. It’s also about the beliefs and attitudes of the musicians and fans that contribute to black metal in one way or another. In this way, black metal is just like any genre of music, or life as a whole, really.

You have your stalwart conservatives, ever yearning for the days of old, resistant to change or new ideas because the genre “got it right” a long time ago. You also have people who want to take the genre in new directions, broaden its horizons and, as a result, expand the audience to include different types of people. I’ll leave it to the rest of you to squawk in righteous indignation over which attitude is better, because I believe there’s something of value to be learned and enjoyed from both ends of the spectrum, and there are plenty of people who feel like I do too.

That’s where Terzij de Horde come in. They’re both rooted in black metal’s revered second peak in the 90s, and willing to take black metal into territory that makes a large portion of its fanbase uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean they’re throwing a little ‘gaze on it. There are plenty of others doing that already. Instead, the band is forging their own path on the necessarily-titled ‘Self’. The band’s bassist, Johan, offers a perspective about black metal as a whole that also sheds some light on the conviction behind the album:

“I personally think that black metal as a genre is too often seen as a purely musical standard to adhere to, while it encompasses far more than that. It is pure individuality; it is a hatred of standards and decency.”

It can certainly be argued that a genre born from a such a subversive mindset shouldn’t cling so tightly to its own traditions, yet on the other hand, there should be no argument that what we hear still needs to be musically identifiable, or else the music becomes a mere backdrop for a set of principles which, in my case, is an infinitely less interesting as a listener.

Self’ is immediately identifiable from the start. “Absence” begins with all of the ferocity of Borknagar’s self-titled debut and Impaled Nazarene’s ‘Suomi Finland Perkele’, with the drums blasting away amongst intense second wave black metal guitar riffs. There’s an instant, undeniable connection to black metal’s past, and it’s present throughout the album. Vocalist Joost Vervoort explains a bit about this particular element of the band’s sound:

“We all listen to a wide range of classic and newer black metal bands, and this influences our writing, but most of these bands aim for a different sound or feel – it might be diffuse and  hypnotic, or harsh, dead and icy; we aim to infuse our music with more life, aggression and fire. Within black metal, the vocabulary of the second wave bands is perhaps the most direct and fierce, which is why you pick it up in Terzij de Horde.”

For the first two and a half minutes of “Absence”, the intensity starts at a 9 and inches it way toward a meltdown by building on the opening riff until an octaved lead guitar part and Vervoort’s rabid vocals finally pushes things over the edge and the song collapses into near silence. Only a soft clean electric guitar is left strumming momentarily before Vervoort spits out, with all of the bile and vitriol a human being can muster:

“To crucify the sanctity of suffering forever”.

I’ll stop short of trying to analyze the line’s meaning, and instead I’ll focus on what it is sonically. It’s an opportunity to hear, without the album’s prevailing cacophony, just how viciously Vervoort treats his vocal chords as he delivers his lyrics. His delivery has undergone some changes over the years, relying less and less on higher-pitched shrieks and opting for more variety. His strongest focus these days is more of a full-throated yelling, often done with a sort of harsh rhythmic punctuation. Vervoort elaborates on these vocal changes and how they take shape on ‘Self’:

Over the years I’ve aimed for more diverse vocals to fit the changed range of the music,
moving away from a constant shrieking pitch of intensity. The album’s lyrics, as they explore different ways of engaging with the notion of ‘self’, cover a wide range of emotional and mental states. There are parts of ‘Averoas’ and ‘Geryon’ that were especially perfect for me to use deeper vocals. Johan also provides some excellent high-pitched and distant background howls in a few of the album’s quieter moments, adding another dimension.”

“Geryon - See Extinguished the Light of Everything But the Monster” also happens to be one of the more hypnotic songs Johan referred to earlier. The guitars moan and writhe musically, building from the initial theme but still evolving a little bit more as time goes on, making for an especially engrossing listen so late in an album already teeming with highlights. The drums play into the mesmerizing nature of this song as well, the first five-and-a-half minutes being an unflinching, deliberately-paced blast beat. The tempo resembles Darkthrone’sNatassja In Eternal Sleep”, which also makes use of hypnotic guitar work. When the blasting is finally broken up, the song eventually reaches near-doom tempos, allowing the purposefully deep, damp snare to bludgeon its way to the foreground amidst the bleak, ringing guitars.

That snare sound is admittedly something that most listeners aren’t going to pay attention to on any album, unless it’s particularly awful, as with Metallica’sSt. Anger’. But on ‘Self’, details like that matter because everything on the album matters. Drummer Richard Japenga provides some insight regarding his drum sound:

“Drums are so often over-triggered. I wanted to keep the drum sound as natural as possible, because this best fits the organic feel of the overall music, and the fullness we were aiming for, creating depth without losing power. I feel that drums should always be in service of the music.”

Much like the way Japenga’s drumming choices on “Geryon” were in service of the song’s overall feel, every piece of ‘Self’ as an album is carried out with a contextual reason behind it.  It all fits together nicely without ever seeming programmed or over-planned, like an obnoxious relative’s vacation itinerary. ‘Self’ is very much alive, with the same emotional peaks and valleys of any human life. It’s also got a level of thought put into it that few black metal albums have or will have this year. It’s a nice counterweight to the similarly brilliant, but much more conventional black metal of bands that draw their influence purely from the established and “acceptable” canon.

That’s part of the beauty of black metal. It’s so much more varied and multifaceted than critics of the genre will give it credit for, or than traditionalists would like it to be. As I mentioned at the start of this review, we can learn from and enjoy both ends of the spectrum. Darkthrone, just as an example, took the seeds than Celtic Frost and Bathory planted in the 80s and turned it into something else. Darkthrone in the 90s was indebted to the past, but still looking forward in its own way, for its time. If black metal loses the individuality that Johan mentioned before, it will have lost its way altogether. In relation to how that need for individualism affects his own band, Johan expanded a bit on that critical point from earlier:

“What Terzij de Horde plays is a reflection of what we, individually, love and hate. That takes a long time, as everyone of us feels that the music should reflect exactly that which that person is and does.”

As someone who has been listening to black metal for nearly twenty years, I’m thankful that there are bands out there like Terzij de Horde challenging black metal’s standards, to keep it from losing what made it special to me in the first place. Beyond being one of this year’s finest albums, ‘Self’ is important because the beliefs and mindset that gave this album life are as purely black metal as it gets.

You can pre-order an LP copy here, a CD copy here, and a tape or digital copy here.

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