Cosmic Irrelevance: Astral Black Metal

Floating some 93 million miles away from the star that sustains us, six billion homo sapiens wage wars in the name of religion and fossil fuel, most none the wiser to their cosmic irrelevance. Our nearest star-neighbour, Proxima Centauri, resides over 240 million miles away. Our own star, the sun, is one of well over 200 billion in the Milky Way galaxy alone. Our position in this spiral structure stretching out over 100, 000 light years in diameter (there are around 60 million miles in every light year, so do the math) becomes an even greater sense of cosmic irrelevance. We reside on the edge of an arm, circumnavigating a vast abyssal blackness most people struggle to comprehend.

If you are struggling to comprehend the size of the Milky Way, it may be even more disquieting to hear that our mammoth galaxy is even more insignificant than our lonely star. Our nearest neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy, resides around 2,500,000 light years away. We see our sun straggling behind a vast swirling complex of stars in the Milky Way galaxy and we see our own galaxy lost in the abyssal nothingness of deep space. Our galaxy is no more unique, privileged or consequential than the 100 billion over gatherings of stars that spatter the cosmic canvas (ignoring distances so vast that even light has yet to travel from). That puts the number of stars in the universe at around one sextillion (10 to the power of 21) – yet man still clings to his self-proclaimed meaning like god given right.

The scope and nature of the cosmos represents such a consciousness-awakening panorama for all of mankind that interpretations have rightly been varied. Science has been branded nihilistic in its pursuits – truth still evades us and has little concern for the centrality of humanity in its doctrines. A lovecraftian sense of horror as we awaken to portions of eternity to great for the eye of man: “the most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

Others, most notably Carl Sagan, have birthed moments of sublime cosmic clarity. Our lack of meaning, direction or truth in the current picture of the universe is not something negative. It represents the thirst for us as conscious beings to seek understanding. How far must an organism come to negotiate its place in the cosmos! Meer smatterings of matter! The long journey of evolution glorifies us as what we truly are: a way for the cosmos to know itself:

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.”

Why then, does so little in way of the fine arts take inspiration from this cosmic journey? Our journey from the birth of exploding stars through all the ladders and building blocks that have enabled consciousness. This miraculous piecing together of nature that see’s us at long last in a position to develop theories on the beginning, and a possible end. Vast, stellar irrelevance so finely akin to the values and principals extended within black metal circles. The sublime, dawning realisation so at home in bands like Wolves In The Throne Room, Skagos and Judas Iscariot. Brutal blackness extended to infinitudes of our endless horizons. What exactly makes drawing inspiration from science such a taboo? Or why is all inspiration drawn from the cosmos limited to overburdened melodic, synth infested black metal and barely credible ambient?

“Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms.Nothing is “mere”. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part… What is the pattern or the meaning or thewhy?It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?” – Feynman.

The preponderance of the cosmos’ influence on music can be taken in terms of ambience, synth and industrial music. Why we would choose to represent the most fundamental elements of nature in terms of technologically synthetic audio elements is beyond me. Most of this music seems to fall into one of two categories: either subconsciously, mankind recognises that to explore the cosmos, integrating or advancing technology is essential. Sadly then, a majority would rather focus on the process of journeying to the stars than the actual stars themselves. Far more likely is the idea that we have no idea about the entire cosmos: its movements, evolution and sensory outputs remain completely closed off to our limited perception. Our association with haunting ambience stems instead from previous artistic outputs – movies (2001: A Space Odyssey), documentaries (Carl Sagan’s Cosmos) and tv programmes (Star Trek, etc).

It may be that music, as an art, is firmly rooted in emotive expression. Theorists on the aesthetics of music largely agree that music in itself does in some way represent components of our emotional character (see Kivy, P. ‘The Corded Shell’, Meyer, L. ‘Emotion and Meaning In Music’ and Matravers, D. ‘Art and Emotion’), they just disagree on how. Some of the most compelling music engaged with concepts of the universe are black metal projects. The immediate scientific observations of the cosmos fall deeply in line with those of black metal. They instil a strong sense of unease and existential nihilism. Equally, they empower and inspire us with awe. Our insignificance lay bare and open to the merciless forces of nature. Sublime. So why the fuck is good space black metal so hard to come across? Seriously, I can’t find many.

Darkspace

Darkspace have become the hallmark when it comes to cosmic black metal, their barren, relentless assault on your senses most appropriate when contemplating the searing astral winds and incomprehensibly large blankets of cosmic darkness. The entire thematic of the album focus solely on the riff, dishevelled over a clever and subliminal use of synthesizers that never overtakes positions in proceedings.

Between the incalculable number of riffs and female fronted vocal deliveries, Darkspace provide subtle and engaging samples from a host of sci-fi and science themed films (most notably the sample on 1.2 from 2001: A Space Odyssey where the scientists discusses the H.A.L. 9000 computer – while you investigate these bands and geek yourself over the cosmos, Stanley Kubrick’s space epic is another complete necessity. I don’t even care that it’s a film and not music).

All Darkspace releases are packaged completely void of lyrics, track titles or any kind of humane touch. Emphasis is placed on the dehumanising aspect of their aesthetic, and ties in nicely with our current sobering view of the cosmos. You are left with long, directed pieces of music with little to no coherent vocals or direct human representation. The experience of listening to a Darkspace record is an engulfing one. Imagine the cosmic horizon continuing and unending as our small underplay of responses and interpretations take form in the almost mute synthesisers Darkspace employ. Majesty and the sublime go hand in hand.

They take a lot of structural queue’s from another LURKER favourite, Paysage d’hiver (unsurprising considering Tobias orchestrates both projects). Ambient passages are as long as the distorted sections of metal, brilliantly removing the man from the music – both projects feed of the virility of nature and the cosmos respectively. Everything about Darkspace excels. They have an immaculate aesthetic conveying nothing more or less than their name would suggest. Conceptually, from their website, release design and online representation – they all convey the nihil of space.

Over the course of the 11 years Darkspace has been in existence, they have upped the ante on each release. Their latest release, Dark Space III see’s the solitude of the lone riff present on the first two opuses annihilated in favour of a brilliant lead guitar. Occasionally the band do fall into a much deeper focus, furthered dramatically by the great improvements to the third albums production. You want highlights? Start off at the beginning, and ascend.

Thorns

Thorns are a Norweigan enterprise featuring a number of prominent players including Aldrahn of DHG, Snorre Ruch of Mayhem – as well as Satyr and Hellhammer on their eponymous debut. Thorns are the most coherent black metal band to integrate synth successfully on this list. Their self titled album from 2001 fosters more ties and respect for the Cosmos than any Darkspace record. A grand monument to scientific inquisition and human consciousness, great neglecter of religion and blind faith. The Thorns record stands up as one of the best in the last decade and a staple requirement for any true aficionado of black metal. Clinically blasting sections of black metal intertwined with brilliant industrial passages and truly inspired riffs that haunt the waking mind. They tether nexuses of metal and ambience with complete ease and tracks like ‘Shifting Channels’ show a compromise of these two worlds very few projects have ever successfully emulated.

Lyrically, Thorns permeate the greater questions that burden our minds when we ponder the cosmos. Whether worshipping at the altar of black holes: ‘My eye is the vortex from which nothing escapes. I am the dematerialisation of the self. I am the axis in the wheel of reincarnation. The endless singularity.’ Or acknowledging human insignificance in the grand scheme of things: ‘In somewhat greater perspective of time, You are practically non-existent. So reach through the angry crimson of this dawn to my eternal star field domain.’ Thorns lyrical extensions are brilliant at echoing human endeavour too. Take the triumph of mathematics and physics as they extend far beyond the predictions of faith and rationale of philosophy: ‘But in his paradise, logic come to visit. A mythic creature with beauty in its voice. And gave him instructions on how to prevail. And overcome the panic of his twisted reality.’ Even as far as existentialism and futility: ‘It clings to your mind like a phantasmal leech. Nesting itself deep within the substance of your soul. Demanding every second of your prying attention in the continual search for the methods to reveal the ultimate secrets of existence. It crawls along the surface of your reality’s cocoon. Impatiently awaiting the miracle of birth.’

Musically Thorns represent the last bastion of the second wave Norweigan scene experimenting with the somewhat-still-fresh concepts of Black Metal in new environments before the mesmerizing paradigms of depressive black metal and WITTResque metal set in. We are treated to palm muted sections, brilliant chords and straight forward power chord riffs played at speed. I miss this kind of black metal. Take Satyricon’s ‘Rebel Extravaganza’, minus the harsh sterility and throw in some completely unmissable sections and you might be getting a little bit close to Thorns. What comes recommended? The S/T of course.

Rahu

Long time Lurker’s will remember when I posted about Rahu during the birth of this site. Their unique brand of black metal is driving and epiphany provoking. Philosophically they may draw from the more acquitted realm of Vedic astrology and the mythos of Hinduism than blunt cosmic exploration – but with both demo’s recently getting a repress on to a single disc courtesy of Ahdistuksen Aihio Productions, there has never been a more relevant time to add this to your collection. Possessed vocals and cryptic lyrics lay the foundations of the scope of cosmic wonder Rahu are capable of instilling. Great arrangements backed up by inspired ideas all help to develop an aura of ancient/mystic wonder at the cosmos not dissimilar in feel from the latest Inquisition.

‘Caput Draconis’ was my introduction to Rahu, yet in truth either demo is top tier metal. Tracks are about six minutes in length and act as great introductory pieces to their unique brand of rousing ritual; the binary rhythms of ‘On Ketu’s Trail’ ascending somewhere between astral journeys and cosmic malevolence.  ‘Ride of the Eight Black Steeds’ is their latest demo. A little less lo-fi than their debut, combining heavily reverb-drenched black metal with gliding lead guitars, hypnotic rhythmic passages and delirious vocal patterns, Rahu build on ‘Caput Draconis’ brilliantly. Still waiting on a full length.

If you can recommend ’em, I’ll add ’em.
Soon to be added:
– Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With The Stars
– Vessel I – V#I# Infinity (Tour Demo)

You'll find me in the vast wilderness of British Columbia, talking metal at LURKER, or working in publishing and front-end web/eBook development.

31 Comments

  • Reply December 2, 2010

    Austin

    Oranssi Pazuzu definitely deserves a mention!

  • Reply December 2, 2010

    Rory

    No mention of Arcturus’ “Sideshow Symphonies”? While perhaps a lot more bombastic and warm than something like Darkspace, I think it’s a pretty quintessential “Astral Black Metal” release.

  • Reply December 2, 2010

    N.

    Ash Pool; “Big Bang Black Metal”, Axeman; “Kosmic Death”, Cosmic Church, …

  • Reply December 2, 2010

    Alex

    I never really gave Oranssi Pazuzu a true chance, I thought it was quite bland. That’s my problem with quite a few of these space releases – none really ‘excel’ at doing it. For example Cosmic Church, Ash Pool and Axeman may be astral black metal – but the majority of it is unoriginal and uninspired.

    I’ll be adding BaN’s Memoria Vetusta II to the list at some point. Relistening to the Arcturus release as well as Vessel I, who come recommended from Johan in Terzij de Horde.

  • Reply December 2, 2010

    JVC

    Abigor belongs to the list as well, they often evoke cosmic and mathematical infinity and singularity.

  • Reply December 2, 2010

    Rin

    I’d add Kataxu to the list as well.

    • Reply July 18, 2014

      Xsold outX

      absolutely, “hunger of elements” is excellent stuff.

      • Reply July 20, 2014

        Simon

        Speaking of Eastern European black metal I’ve noticed that the Russians in particular frequently use very complex imagery involving outer space and wild nature as metaphors for inner spiritual struggle in their lyrics… more so than other nationalities. Branikald, Evilwinged, Old Wainds and to some extent Pseudogod stand out as examples in particular. I wonder if it’s something particular to Russian literary and poetic traditions, since I’m not terribly familiar with Eastern European literature.

  • Reply December 2, 2010

    Kilgore Trout

    How bout’ Foudre Noir? I don’t know about the lyrics, but it certainly feels “cosmic”. Pretty sweet album! You guys might not like it though, if it has to be “original”..

  • Reply December 3, 2010

    dschalek

    Fantastic, thanks.

  • Reply December 3, 2010

    hevy blevy

    While having a totally different aesthetic and interpretation of black metal as it relates to the cosmos, I think Limbonic Art’s “Moonlight in the Scorpio” and Odium’s “The Sad Realms of Stars” definitely emobody the spirit…blasts from the past indeed.

  • Reply December 3, 2010

    DoomBlack

    Doesn’t a lot of Mütiilation deal with astral projection(Sorrow galaxies perhaps?)

    And maybe some Xasthur (portals of sorrow)deals with astral projection as well ?

  • Reply December 3, 2010

    blacklight

    I think the riffs on Enslaved’s Blodhemn is what being in the middle of a supernova would sound like

  • Reply December 4, 2010

    wolv

    Musically this may not quite fit neatly with other artists here, but thematically and conceptually I think it might:

    super-void.com

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  • Reply December 5, 2010

    Alex

    @Blacklight, really? Enslaved conjures feelings of pure, unabated winter!

    @Doomblack – Sorrow Galaxies is a great album, I’ll have to relisten to see how apt it might be for the list. Portal of Sorrows was such a massive let done – as was every Xasthur album after Nocturnal Poisoning…

    Anyone heard of Schlaflos?

  • Reply December 6, 2010

    Olaf Myfriendsaregay

    When I read the title of the piece, Darkspace was the first thing that came to mind. The absolutely blackest of the black.

    Can’t say I share the same affinity for Thorns, though. Something about it just didn’t sit right with me.

    Anyway, a space-themed ambient album I highly, HIGHLY recommend to everyone, is Nordvargr – Interstellar. If there’s one ambient record that could be described as dark, sinister and crushing, that would be it. Also great to fall asleep to!

  • Reply December 6, 2010

    Alex

    Someone recommended Sear Bliss’ An Arcane Odyssey through Twitter. So far I’m impressed with the minimal use of synth and extra instruments (trumpets, horns!).

  • Reply December 8, 2010

    DoomBlack

    @Alex no ive never listened to Schlaflos… ill have to check them out, but the metal archives gave their demo a review of Zero. Is the split or 2010 demo where I should start?

  • Reply December 11, 2010

    Rob

    Awesome post – thanks man.

    I’d recommend Spuolus’ ‘Beyond the Event Horizon’, although it’s really more Funeral Doom than BM. Great album. Expect a post on it from me in the next few hours…

  • […] shifting between haunting, colossal melody and dark discord. Anyone who needs reminding of their utter irrelevance in an inconceivably large universe need look no further. The four tracks capture a sense of the […]

  • Reply December 23, 2010

    Ian

    You should try Carcharoth Λ.V.’s two most recent albums, or Cold Empty Universe’s Constantly Creating Myself in the Space of Life album.

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    Marko

    Vassafor is an essential in this one for me.
    In terms of cosmic irrelevance.. maybe.
    In terms of cosmic devil worship.. Definitely!
    Especially ‘Archeonaut’s Return’ off Demo II, and ‘Black Winds Victoryant’ off Vassafor.

    Be sure to check them out!

  • Reply January 26, 2011

    Marko

    PS. Awesome article!

  • Reply February 4, 2011

    Leone Songer

    People who have ended up on astral travel are considered to be consciously aware of almost everything they encounter while these are separate from their actual bodies. Some share which they feel a sensation of floating while in the sky, while others see their physical bodies at a different perspective.

  • Reply February 16, 2011

    Josh

    I only just saw this article.

    Did you give Trist’s Hin-Fort? a chance?

  • Reply February 23, 2011

    brett

    http://www.spaceblackmetal.blogspot.com has got this arena pretty well covered for all interested in finding more.

  • […] from Terzij de Horde came to my rescue as I was pleading for Space themed black metal outfits (see the article). Self described as Anarcho-Nihilist Post-Black Metal from Southern California, Vessel I sound […]

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  • Reply September 10, 2012

    Anonymous

  • […] true these absurd preoccupations have shaped the way LURKER appreciates art, and the same paralysing mind trap hasn’t been lost on […]

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