A Brief History of BLACKENED SKRAMZ

 

I’ve always thought that more black metal nerds should be into screamo, and vice versa. Black metal, as far as I can tell, is to metalheads as elite-tier skramz is to emo/hxc dorks like me. Shitty recording value, high-pitched shrieks, and an exceptionally desolate and bleak atmosphere are hallmarks of both, and you are way cooler if you have any of the bands’ recorded material on cassette (bow before me, for I own–or did at some point– both Three Days ‘Til Christmas and The Rope In Our Hands Stretches for Miles on cassette).

If you needed any further convincing that crossover between the two genres is a no-brainer, look no further than the fact that there is an entire subgenre of black metal known as Depressive Suicidal Black Metal, featuring artists like Make A Change… Kill Yourself, Consider Suicide, and I’m In A Coffin. These guys make Neglect and No Comment sound like Good Charlotte, let alone bands like I Have Dreams and Saetia. The current spate of screamo bands copping aesthetic and sonic influence from black metal makes perfect sense. Why didn’t anyone think of it before?

Well, the short answer is that it totally has been done before, just not necessarily in this streamlined of a way. Back in the mid-to-late 90s, there was a group of Canadian bands, including Human Greed, Drift, One Eyed God Prophecy, and Union of Uranus, that no one was quite sure how to categorize because they sounded equally at home in a large variety of scenes. These bands pulled together the vocals, dynamic build-ups, and melodies of 90s emo, the apocalyptic heaviness of crust, the drumming of grindcore, and the guitar work of the second-wave Norwegian black metal stuff to create a unique wall-of-sound effect that left people with bleeding ears and an expanded political consciousness.

The climax to this song is absolutely amazing– their vocalist sounds like he’s about to cough up blood.

Somewhere along the line I think these bands kind of got swallowed into that whole “emoviolence” thing that erupted in the late 90s and early 2000s– bands like pageninetynine, Jenny Piccolo, Usurp Synapse, To Dream of Autumn, Orchid, and stuff like that (who are basically all ripping off Floridia/South Carolina bands like In/Humanity, Reversal of Man, Combatwoundedveteran, Assfactor 4, and Palatka, but that’s another story). I think one of the big differences between these two sub-factions is that the emoviolence stuff knew it was ridiculous and so it always had a kind of self-aware streak of humor running through it, while the blackened Canadian stuff took itself incredibly seriously. Additionally, the emoviolence stuff leaned pretty heavily on the disorienting “discordant off-kilter clean guitar picking/THROAT-SHREDDING BURST OF NOISE AND BLAST BEATS” dichotomy, while the Canucks had some longer songs and more intricate structures. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of both, but they seem so clearly demarcated when looking back on it.

Of course, these bands seem a little safe and tame when you compare them to more modern iterations. This album by Celeste came out in 2006, and it’s pretty safe to say that it’s ground zero for the more modern iteration of this sound, although it’s less recognized due to the band being from France, so everyone forgets about newer bands and keeps fawning over out-of-print Anomie and Weep vinyl. Despite that, the album is actually really fantastic, and you can see how most of today’s bands can trace their sound back to them.

Another early band was the Bay Area outfit Bosse-De-Nage, who had a demo out as early as ’06 but didn’t really get popular until they did a split with blackgaze darlings Deafheaven. Most of the “hipper” kids in the scene consider them overrated, but I beg to differ. I’d argue that their blend of Drive Like Jehu and Darkthrone is much more interesting than anything Deafheaven has done, and I like Sunbather.

The church choir at the beginning of this LP is actually unsettling.

I’m really not sure when exactly We Came Out Like Tigers shifted their sound from a more straightforward screamo approach to the full-throated terror they were known for, but they were definitely the popularizers this sub-scene, seeing as they’ve been around since 2007 or so. What jumps out at me is the incestuous nature of the musical influence; whereas the Canadian bands seemed like they got their first tastes of black metal vis-a-vis the blackened crust scene, Tigers sound like they were skramz kids who accidentally started listening to hip USBM bands like Panopticon and Ash Borer, many of whom sound like they have a lot of hardcore influence themselves.

Check out the ending of this song from American black metal band Woe– fucking gang vocals? In a black metal song???

At some point a few years ago, the lines between crust, black metal, and screamo started blurring, leading to a sound that is in equal turns stridently politically outspoken as well as catastrophically punishing. For example, listen to this split. In it, we can hear black metal being incorporated into both Flesh Born’s high-pitched, defiantly minimalist, borderline grindcore sound as well as Cara Neir’s more carefully orchestrated (and conventionally melodic, just by a hair) post-hardcore. It’s worth noting that although none of the aggressively progressive kids in the band would admit it, both of them at times sound like an ADHD version of Burzum’s Filosofem (minus the keyboards and the undercurrent of white supremacism).

Both of the above bands hail from Texas, which seems to have an inordinately strong blackened screamo scene. Also from Texas are the absolutely crushing Amygdala, whose album Population Control is in contention for my favorite hardcore record of the year. It’s absolutely riveting feminist, anarchist, racially-conscious music that knows exactly what it wants to do from the opening sample (all these bands really like samples). The closing track, “Counteractive Activist,” combines an eerie intro with intelligent, savage lyrics and a devastating extended climax– the perfect way to close out an album that sounds in equal measures sad, furious, exhausted, and impassioned.

Although these are probably the most popular bands in blackened skramz right now (well, We Came Out Like Tigers broke up a while back, but they got pretty big), there is a surprising number of these bands, all of whom are worth checking out: Dawn Ray’d, which is more straightforwardly black metal but features ex-members of We Came Out Like Tigers; Madrid’s Eros + Massacre, who sound almost pissed off enough to be powerviolence but lack the tempo changes; Michigan’s recently-deceased Old Soul; and this band, which literally doesn’t have a name. There are many others, but I don’t have time to list every single one. Just know you ain’t shit if you’ve never seen any of them play at Saint Vitus.

This scene is surprisingly vibrant for such a microscopic niche. Only in hardcore could an aesthetic as inaccessible as “screamo mixed with black metal, but for radical leftists” could find as loyal and supportive an audience as it has. I personally am really, really digging this scene, and I advocate that you check the bands out and support them in any way you can. They truly deserve it; the kids in these groups are really some of the most passionate, dedicated, inventive musicians working in the DIY punk community today. Hella mass tight bros. Good dudes, backed hard.

BLACKENED SKRAMZ: PENNSYLVANIAN HUNGER

TWINKLY EMO BANDS STAY OUT

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2 thoughts on “A Brief History of BLACKENED SKRAMZ

  1. I haven’t been able to get enough of Dawn Ray’d. So excellent. I’d also definitely agree with you about Amygdala. Also I know they’re not really in the same boat but god damn I love Ostraca and they’re dark as fuck.

    Like

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