Following on from Volume I, this series aims to uncover the more insular and secretive corners of the underground by discussing music with labels that remain hidden from the world at large.
There are countless small labels across the globe, all admirably enabling the dissemination and circulation of rare sounds to obsessive music fans everywhere. But what if this fathomless pool of gratification just didn’t cut it for you? Particularly in black metal, where the average fan can browse through endless streams of names, locations and reviews when all they want are pointers on what is genuinely a good listen. In this case, one enthusiast took a stance and started his own imprint, Germany’s None Shall Defy Records.
Founder Björn explained what influenced his decision: “I was playing with the idea of None Shall Defy probably one or two years prior to when I actually took the step in 2009. My main concern was that there were already more than enough labels in the underground, and although a lot of them manage to produce great releases with old and new bands, there are still a lot of labels that do nothing for me. So I intended to not overflow the underground with even more mass-produced CDs and instead start with some quality LPs in rather limited editions.”
Björn’s passion for black metal was ignited in 1994 when the second wave was in full swing. Relatively fresh to heavy metal as a whole at that time, there was something about the extreme yet sincere approach of the movement that he found intoxicating, thus the mythos and motifs set him down the Left-hand Path that would eventually lead him to None Shall Defy. “It was basically everything about black metal that sparked my interest: the music, the visuals, the whole obscurity and darkness surrounding the scene and its well-known deeds, the strength and elitism burning within that genre,” he said.
“Black metal seemed much more honest and true in its essence compared to other styles of metal. It simply transmitted a certain spirit and feeling immanent to it. If done right, it can transgress the boundaries and limitations of being just music. To me it’s a conceptual framework of thoughts and ideologies, it’s still art but with a stronger and more profound impact on those who embrace and understand it.”
With the music having such a lasting effect on him, the groundwork had already been laid for Björn to take the plunge into the world of record labels long ago. But it was one band that eventually pushed him over the edge, a little-known solo act from Germany called Die Toten kehren wieder mit dem Wind.
He explained: “There are a lot of demo tapes and albums on CD where I thought they would make a great LP. And one of the main reasons to finally take the step and start None Shall Defy was my fascination with the Am Ufer des Sees album by DTKWMDW. I liked how the sole member distributed the albums himself on very limited CD-Rs and tapes. I was and I still am very impressed by the high quality of those recordings and I could not understand why no label, with the exception of Christhunt Productions, made professional CD/vinyl releases of that band.
“Thus I got in contact with Bradhenr of DTKWMDW, and after some email conversations we agreed on releasing two of his old albums on vinyl and started working on Blut. In hindsight, I must say that it was very risky to produce such an extensive double LP by a rather unknown band, but luckily the response was very good in most cases.”
Björn’s obsession with this modest project is really well judged. It’s rare to come across an amateur and downscaled band like this one so deeply versed in the atmospheric requirements of black metal. Almost like Germany’s answer to early Blut Aus Nord, Die Toten kehren wieder mit dem Wind is one man, Bradhenr, invoking wild ancestral memories with just the tools available to him – guitars and a drum machine. Despite the obvious constraints of being a one-man show, Bradhenr really takes advantage of the limitations to create some of the most perfect and stirring underground black metal in existence.
As well as forging an alliance to give these gems a new lease of life, None Shall Defy has also attracted attention from some of the circle’s more influential names. Akitsa released their latest EP through the imprint earlier this year, and I Shalt Become is set to join the roster with a vinyl reissue of Requiem on licence from Moribund and Darker Than Black Records in the near future. Other notable artists involved with the label at this point are Animus Mortis, Horns, Deathgate Arkanum, Ungod and Mort.
Björn elaborated on what makes a band right for None Shall Defy: “My modus operandi is primarily based on my perception of what sincere black/death metal should be like, although I don’t claim a sovereign opinion on that. The whole package of music, lyrics and visual aesthetic should come together as a coherent concept in a non-pretentious form.
“The bands on None Shall Defy Records present their own (more or less) unique vision of black metal but still have their roots deep in the pure old tradition. They don’t falsify the genre just for the sake of being different, following a current trend or to sell more. I try to avoid the current trends within underground metal and rather focus on bands with a different twist where there’s currently no big hype about.”
He refers to the exceptional Faustcoven, an unholy melding of traditional doom and black metal from Norway, who are releasing a new 7” EP through None Shall Defy next year. “What matters most is that I have the right ‘gut-feeling’ with certain bands and recordings,” he added.
LURKER asked if Björn could explain why None Shall Defy is a vinyl-only label, his thoughts on why it is valued so much by the metal community and its resurgence on the whole. He said: “If produced with the necessary care, vinyl can be superior to CD. Personally, vinyl is like an obsession for me, from the sound and feel of the vinyl itself to the large covers and the traditional, somewhat anti-modern spirit inherent in that format.
“Regarding CDs, I don’t really dislike them, I still buy CDs myself a lot and I can well imagine producing a CD one day. However, I’ve felt more confident so far creating vinyl versions of albums that have been available on CD before, as well as doing 7” EPs with new and exclusive material, instead of flooding the market with more bland digital discs. So, to a certain degree, producing vinyl is like an idealistic attitude for me.”
Although his interest in black metal was cast in the embers of the second wave, Björn’s view of the movement’s relevance in this day and age is relatively upbeat: “Of course the spirit of the early days cannot be replicated exactly as it was a different time, but there are still many bands that keep the black flame burning with true dedication and understanding of how to create black metal in a way that eludes itself from the masses of worthless, uninspired bands.
“There are also a lot of new bands mixing black metal with all kinds of new influences resulting in more and more bands getting labelled as black metal, though they can hardly be described as such. Also there are way too many bands that just seem to choose to play black metal to be cool or whatever, simply because they examine an ‘image’ through the media and copy it.
“It seems black metal to a certain degree has become a fashion for some people, easy for everybody to get into. Just apply the dress code, find out which bands and albums are ‘kvlt’, bash out stereotypical phrases without actually reflecting on what you say.
“I find bands the most appealing when their members remain in obscurity. And those people who truly seek will also find worthy and impressive bands nowadays. There have been a lot of bands appearing in the late nineties and during the new millennium that I wouldn’t want to miss. So, all in all, the current state of black metal may be different to how it was nearly two decades ago, but despite some flaws the real underground is still powerful in my opinion.”
Thankfully, Björn appears to be true of heart and vision, a formidable defence against the torrents of dismal and ineffectual black metal that have plagued the circle for years. With his steadfast mission backed by a sincere devotion to the music and an ever-growing roster of elite and powerful bands, it looks like None Shall Defy is on the brink of flourishing into a high-quality label that deserves respect and interest. Now, let us examine some of None Shall Defy’s releases past, present and future…
Die Toten kehren wieder mit dem Wind – Verarbeitung eines Schmerzes / Am Ufer des Sees / Blut
Rightly starting with the band that spurred Björn into founding the label, this clandestine German project exudes black metal mysticism like no other. As mentioned above, mastermind Bradhenr is beset by all the trappings of a one-man project, yet he still triumphs over these limitations with every album. Comprised of only the incendiary, crackling guitar tone, ghostly synths and a drum machine, it is within the emotive riffs, mournful melodies and despairing shrieks that an oppressive Northern spirit is summoned. The results are devastating at the hands of such A-grade song writing. The drum machine initially appears quite jarring on the debut record, but as soon as the listener allows themselves to be swept away by the inspired riffwork, everything comes together. It’s intelligently programmed too, quiet and restrained, allowing the delicate guitars plenty of space to invoke their blackened misanthropy and improving in sound across the discography. I can’t recommend these albums highly enough; it is a struggle figuring out whether to repeat every track, or to start each album over from the beginning.
I Shalt Become – Requiem
The long-running solo act I Shalt Become, from Illinois, made a name for itself by creating depressive black metal free of the clichés that would eventually kill this stylistic variation. Now the third album, Requiem, is coming to None Shall Defy as a vinyl release. It’s a completely spell-binding record; a cold, grey miasma enshrouds each song, only thickened by the funereal pace of the proceedings. Clean guitars sparkle and shimmer in the foreground, like faint sunbeams bouncing off a fresh sheet of snow on the forest floor, while desperate, pained growls and heavily distorted riffs grumble away in the undergrowth. A masterpiece of hopelessness, fans should leap at the chance to add this LP to their collection. The new artwork is in progress but expect a vivid re-imagining.
Deathgate Arkanum – Seelen
Germany has always produced top-tier modern black metal, whether it’s Lunar Aurora, Luror, The Ruins of Beverast, Katharsis or Ascension. Although France seems to reap a lot of the praise for its contribution to the scene, Germany deserves its fair share too, especially when it comes to successfully reflecting what black metal is with honour and originality. Deathgate Arkanum are no different, another Teutonic one-man act with a starkly unique approach. Across four lengthy tracks, all entitled ‘Tremor’, sole member Lestahn traipses through soundscapes overflowing with sorrow, which gradually intensify in heaviness as the songs edge closer to their demise. A shrill guitar fades in and out throughout the record, adding in medieval tremolos and an upper level of melodic exploration. The emotional effect these tracks can have on the listener is incredible; ‘Tremor III’ in particular has left me a quivering wreck on several occasions. The electronics that make an appearance in the opening and closing pieces are also excellent. Now available as a co-release with Amor Fati Productions.
Horns – Dominvs Umbraes
For whatever reason, black metal from South America has always been among some of the most hideous, blasphemous and raw the style has to offer. Chile’s Horns proudly embraced this reputation with their self-released cassette debut in 2009, and now this lost relic is set to make a return as an LP through None Shall Defy. Recorded in 2000, Dominvs Umbraes is rooted in traditionalist values but really packs a punch in terms of aggression. The raw production tears your ears to shreds while primitive, catchy riffs grunt incessantly beneath the hissing inferno. Clattering drums and hoarse screams dominate the airspace, leaving a deep void where guitars swirl and wound themselves in pursuit of their sinister goal. It’s refreshing to hear something this evil and filthy in an age when many bigger acts have graduated to a much fuller sound. A real blast from the past, highly recommended for fans of only the most depraved satanic insanity.
Animus Mortis – Mysteriis Vox Divina
It seems strange then to return to Chile for this remarkably forward-thinking act, Animus Mortis, who represent a flipside to the rampant primitivism of their countrymen. I hadn’t come across the band at all prior to spinning Mysteriis Vox Divina and it’s got me yearning to hear more. Powerchords are in scarce supply throughout the 7” as Animus Mortis opt for a much more expansive sound, using precision-picked single notes with a deep resonance that reaches far into the cosmos. The riffs seem to flex and convulse under the battery of the rhythm section, jostled about in a sea of blast beats and struggling against the flow. Awash in reverb and delay, it’s bewildering at first. But on closer inspection, the melodies relinquish ornate detail and reveal the incredible talent of the musicians involved. Mysteriis Vox Divina bodes well for upcoming material – check this one out.
Akitsa – Auprès de la Mort, Triomphant!
Québécois warriors Akitsa need no introduction. Their haunting oeuvre consists of three wildly varying phases, which the band switches between at whim – wailing, hypnotic black metal, deranged punk and noisy ambience. Akitsa aren’t ones to dabble with their formula, and the new EP explores all these territories across three tracks. This persistence also makes Auprès de la Mort, Triomphant! one of the best 7” releases this year. First there’s the scathing atmospherics of ‘La grotte des anges dechus’, which carries an aura of occult intoxication more familiar to Urfaust. Then flip over to side B and the rousing punk number ‘Notre avant-guerre’ takes hold, shaking you out of your stupor with its pounding rhythms and sloppy defiance. This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it release is brought to an end by the instrumental title track, a cold mantra of inhuman synths and howling arctic winds. It’s over almost as quick as it begins, but it’s an incredible record that becomes more enjoyable with each listen, LURKER guarantee.
You can listen to samples from these releases here, but as Björn states: “If you need a sample [of Akitsa], you don’t need this!”