My early days in dark music

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It is funny how memory works. When somebody would ask me about my musical background I would start with something like the following. My father has a fairly big vinyl collection and a varried taste, so from an early age I encountered all kinds of different music. As a youngster I went to popfestivals and when I started to develop a musical taste of my own around the age of 12, I leaned towards more alternative music styles. Lateron my taste got a big ‘rougher’ with a Guns’n’Roses period slowly growing towards metal. When I had to double a year on highschool, I shared the class with a guy who listened to death metal. Unfamiliar with the style, I listened to a large part of his huge collection. There was not a whole lot that I liked. Deicide and Macabre were about it. Then we heard about the upcoming debut album of the Swiss black metal band Samael (“Worship Him” 1991) which was for me a more interesting style and for the class-mate a step towards even darker music.

In my memory I experienced the turbulent early years of the new wave of black metal, grew tired of it after a while and ‘moved on’. When I start to check years/dates, things are not so nicely linear as they are in my head. Especially not in what followed metal. So here comes a bit of ‘musical biography’ with a little bit of history that may interest you.

From alternative to metal

There was this group of friends on highschool that listened to not-too-mainstream music, mostly hardcore punk. I remember visiting a Pennywise show with them which ‘should’ be before my metal period, right? “True black metal” and all that. Pennywise’s debut album is from 1991, the year I plunged into the black metal underground. Not entirely impossible, but I do not remember the ‘shift’ being so sudden.
In any case, the Samael album may have been reviewed in the relatively big metal magazine Aardschok, it forced me and my school-mate further away from regular musical channels. The album was released by the French label Osmose Productions. As a matter of fact, it was their first release (not of Samael by the way, they had released a 7″ three years prior). Now Osmose cds could still be obtained in descent record stores (and I had one of those in the town I live in), but when you got something from Osmose yourself, the package would be filled up with flyers. These flyers were often announcements of released demos. In the early days, these demos were often self ‘dubbed’ cassette-tapes with photocopied inlays. A flyer would contain an amount of money and an address to send it to and after a while you would receive a package with the tape. Within the course of a few years I bought hundreds of these tapes. Some had crap sound and visual quality, others were better recorded with properly printed sleeves. Some were even released on labels, rather than by the bands themselves. Most of the demos that I have are from the period 1991 up until 1995. I have the debut demo of Cradle of Filth (“Total Fucking Darkness” 1993, I even got the long-sleeve shirt that I sold some unfortunate day), the debut demo of Hades (now: Hades Almighty) (“Alone Walkyng” 1993), just to name two. With some people I developped a correspondence (I still have all these letters). Sometimes I would get rough recordings not yet released, such as recordings of December Moon, a project of Robin Eaglestone, then of Cradle of Filth.
When I see how many letters I have left, how many tapes I have got, it is hard to imagine how much time I must have spent writing letters, etc. I know I enjoyed making good-looking letters in exotic fonts and with ornamental capitals. I bought cd-roms to get more and better-looking images all the time.

Black metal

The earlier mentioned flyers were not only for demo-tapes, they could also be for concerts, labels, or (not very often in these days) distros where you could get material from different labels, some also sold demos. Most labels were such distros simultaneously. Another French label was Adipocere who stayed off the path of typical Scandinavian style black metal or typical death metal. These two styles did not mingle much in the musical world I lived in at the time by the way. A more typical label would be No Fashion Records with classical releases such as the debuts of Fester (“Winter of Sin” 1992), Marduk (“Dark Endless” 1992), Bestial Summoning (“The Dark War Has Begun” 1992), Unanimated (“In The Forest of the Dreaming Dead” 1993), Katatonia (“Dance of December Souls” 1993) and Dissection (“The Somberlain” 1993). Not too typical in the early days. Bestial Summoning (from the Netherlands) were more ‘blackened trash’, Unanimated a black-like style of death metal and Katatonia played a dreamy and depressive kind of doom metal. Soon the popular style of black metal would be the Marduk/Dissection type of aggressive and fast black metal with high-pitched guitars and equally high vocals, the Scandinavian style of black metal. The most famous bands at the time were Mayhem (debut 1986) and Burzum (debut 1992). These two bands were also the controversial bands involved in the Scandinavian murder and church-burning activities that caught the attention of MTV and then other media. Other famous bands from Scandinavia were Emperor and Enslaved that both debuted in 1992. Of course there were more bands, also outside of Scandinavia, but I do not want to give a history of black metal.

When I would go out, I would often first go to some local alternative music cafe with my ‘alternative friends’ and later walk to the old Dynamo to continue the evening in the legendary metal cafe cellar. It is also from there that I drove to many concerts with a bunch of people. I had gotten my driver’s licence and my father did not mind me taking the car. A legendary show I visited was the first black metal performance in the Netherlands: Immortal, Rotting Christ and Blasphemy during their “Fuck Christ Tour” in Rotterdam at 23 December 1993. I saw many more bands in the same place (Baroeg). I remember the bassist of Marduk kicking somebody off the stage who wanted to stage-dive (“No Fun, No Core, No Mosh, No Trends”, right?) and a show of Impaled Nazarene.

After a while I grew weary of the music which all sounded the same (and the attitude of some people involved in the scene). Only the debut of Cradle of Filth (“The Principle of Evil made Flesh” 1993) was mind-blowing. So mind-blowing that us black metal heads managed to get it played in the Dynamo cafe and people unfamiliar with black metal started to like it. In my head, this is when the black metal craze really began. “Trendies” started to show up at concerts. The industry grew. Labels got bigger. A band would no longer release a demo, but just an album on some big label. Even regular record-stores would start to sell black metal.

Looking back, it seems like I had already started to explore other paths. I do not exactly remember how that went, but there sure were magazines that wrote about more than just “depressive Norwegian black metal”. One guy coming to the Dynamo metal cellar, for example, was involved in a magazine called Daemonium Aeternus. This magazine (of which I have issues 6 and 7 which must be from 1993/4 or so) would review metal, but just as well bands as varried as Relatives Menschsein, Sol Invictus, Operating Strategies, Front 242, Enya and Christian Wolz. There is even an interview with Blood Axis in #7. I remember I was interested in the non-metal content of the magazine, but did I know yet have a way of obtaining these releases until later. Did the magazine give me a head-start or was it just so that I remembered some names when I ran into other sources for music?

A fact is that that I also bought non-extreme material. The Swiss label Witchhunt had a sublabel called General Inquisitor Torquemado’s Releases. Both on the main and the sublabel other types of music were released. Depressive doom like Decorayah (“Wisdom Floats” 1993), more gothic tunes like those of Sadness (“Ames De Marbre” 1993, I also have their 1991 and 1992 demos), stranger things like Xerxes (“Beyond My Imagination” 1993) and later bands Die Verbannten Kinder Eva’s and Weltenbrand who would make a bridge to the ‘gothic scene’.

“Ritual music”

When it came to extreme metal, I had decided that I often enjoyed the intros and outros more than I did the metal itself. The good news was that there were people who made these intros and outros for metal bands, but also recorded just that kind of music for their own (side-)projects. In 1993/4 I seriously started to go around that part of the black metal scene. I knew Mortiis before he released his debut album on Malicious in 1994. Cernunnos’ Woods debuted in the same year. Equitant a year prior, but the 1994 demo “The Great Lands Of Minas Ithil” was the first that I got (it was released on the label of Cernunnos’ Woods). One such project (Equimanthorn) even had a descent album out in 1994 (“Nindinugga Nimshimshargal Enlillara”), a picture 12″ no less! There were projects such as Profane Grace (debut 1991), Darkness Enshroud (debut 1993), Shadowcaster (debut 1994) and Funerary Call (debut 1994). The styles were often similar. Dark, ritualistic music with spoken mythological and occult lyrics. “Ritual music” was an often used description. Looking through my demos, I also have quite a few of these “ritual” demos of projects that ‘did not make it’. Mournlord (I have a demo from 1996, the man behind this project did better with the metal band Mithotyn), Kabbal Karma and Sabatan (Thomas Karlsson left Tristania to focus on this project), for example.

I was in contact with several of these artists. Some were quite like me, rooted in metal, but open for other things. With a couple of them I started “tape trading”. I compiled my collection in an Excel list on which other people could see if there was something they would be interested in so I could ‘dub’ it. The other way around, when they had something that I did not yet know, tapes would be returned (and of course stamps were put glue on so they could be removed after they had been returned). This made that I no longer had to buy everything that I was (vaguely) interested in, I would suggest new bands and projects to people and generally got to know music from other scenes too.
Looking at these tapes, there are wonderfull combinations of bands. Kari Rueslåtten’s 1995 demo with Penitent. The promo for Vond’s (Mortiis project) “AIDS To The People” 10″ that was never released with Blood Axis and Atom Infant Incubator. Akhkharu with Endoki Forest. Lustmord, Laibach and Goethes Erben. Megaptera, Love Is Colder Than Death and Mephisto Walz. NON and Front Line Assembly. I was obviously broadening my musical spectrum! Too bad that the tapes are not dated. I have letters datum from 1992 until around 2000, but the peak laid around 1994 to 1998.

Dark Age Productions was the tape label of “Bard Algol Eriboas” of Cernunnos’ Woods. DAP released interesting music such as The Soil Bleeds Black (speaking of medieval music!), Akhkharu, Akrabu, Valor, Profane Grace (more the dark ritual type things) and not to forget Prosciptor, an Absu (USA) side-project of which DAP would release the vinyl version and Cold Meat Industry (see later) the cd. CMI ended up by doing both a cd and an lp already in 1995.

There were other such tape labels. Ishnigarrab Recordings, to name one, the label that liked to put two demos on one tape. It was this label that launched both Equimanthorn (demo 1992) and Absu (USA) (demo 1992) and who I got to know for projects such as Hexenhaus and TK Alumni, again probably around 1994 or so.

I must also have come in contact with the Lithuanian Dangus Productions around that time (and remained until around 2000). This label had both metal and other kinds of music, ambient and folky things like from Wejdas, Eirimé, Girnu Giesmes (by the way, Dangus released the debut of Romowe Rikoito).

And on

As you can see, there was a varried metal scene, which ‘on its ends’ ‘flowed over’ in other scenes, but it took a while before I managed to make a larger step.

Some of the “ritual” projects would have a bit of medieval-music-like elements that I liked and I started to see if there was more of such music. The collection of the local library acquainted me with Dead Can Dance, but more importantly, the local record store had this free alternative music leaflet called Dwarf and my eye fell on reviews of the “Nosce Te Ipsum” cd of Ataraxia (1991) and “Malleus Maleficarum” of Engelsstaub (1993). I asked if the store stocked these cds, but they did not and did not have a way of obtaining them. A hunt for new music started.

What I did not know at the time, is that I already had one leg in ‘that scene’. I had a very active correspondence with Mortiis who got in contact with the Swedish label Cold Meat Industry and so did I. I got their little and very well-printed catalogue filled with bands I never heard of and with descriptions of music that meant nothing to me.

This must have been in 1993. The Mortiis album “Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør” was still talked about and would only see the light in 1994. I must have ordered things like “Prospectus I” of Raison d’Être” (1993), “Spindrift” of Morthound (1992) and “Enter Now The World” by In Slaughter Natives (1992). I do not have the compilation “In The Butchers Backyard” (1993), so it was probably already sold out, but I do remember the release of the “Karmanik Collection” (1993), so somewhere in between must have been the time I ‘stepped in’.
Later followed releases of Deutsch Nepal, Ildfrost, Memorandum, Atomine Elektrine, Ordo Equilibrio, Aghast, etc., etc. I apparently stayed away from more noisy material such as that of Lille Roger, Maschinenzimmer 412 and Brighter Death Now for fear I would not like it. Perhaps I was tired of more extreme music, I no longer remember.

With Mortiis and Aghast, Cold Meat Industry (CMI) had created a link with the metal scene. Mortiis remained famous for his short carreer as bass-player in Emperor for many years after leaving. Andrea Haugen of Aghast used to have a link to Cradle of Filth. Even before that, Maschinenzimmer 412 had made metal-like photos of themselves with “corpspaint” and all. Later Puissance would be added to the roster, more metal heads on CMI. This way metalheads (like myself) who were up for something new learned about CMI and shops started to sell CMI-products filing them under “metal” riding the black metal wave. The black metal boom certainly was not bad for CMI.

Industrial

I am not sure, but it was probably a flyer I got from CMI of a German label then called “L.O.K.I.-Foundation”. I got their little list and on it was ‘medieval music’, hurray! The cd was “A New Soldier Follows The Path Of A New King” of The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud (1995). The list also had the previous two releases of this project. Contrary to my use of the time to buy the oldest albums first (lest they would sell out), I got “A New Soldier…” and it blew me away. This was not just medieval music, there was a pompous kind of electronic music as well, heroic and uplifting. The previous two albums proved to be less energetic and I am still glad that I did not start with the debut. Other albums that I got were “The Gospel Of Inhumanity” of Blood Axis (1995) and the debut lp of Turbund Sturmwerk that Loki released themselves (1995). It really looked like I had found a great new scene! Still I did not buy Loki’s entire back-catalogue. Did I have other sources for music too perhaps?

Again through Mortiis I came in contact with Itsemurrah Arts from Germany (later State-Art) because Marco would print a Mortiis shirt. The label would release a couple of true industrial classics such as material from Thorofon, Ex.Order, Predominance, Firsst Law and Söldnergeist. I was not much ‘into’ noisy industrial at the time so I did not buy all these 7″s (woe on me!). Of course I did get myself a copy of the Allerseelen / Blood Axis split 7″ (1998).

As a little sidestep I must mention the Cold Meat Industry festival in Erlangen (20 and 21 July 1996). I was excited to hear that Mortiis would play live so I went… with two people I knew from the Dynamo metal cellar. There I met more people that I knew from Dynamo, so apparently I was ‘in between scenes’.

And gothic

Unfortunately I do not remember how I got to know about Boogie CD Store from Belgium. Perhaps Dwarf again? Did Boogie have an add there or something perhaps? Perhaps it was a flyer or an add in another magazine. In any case, Boogie had a selling-list, more like a catalogue. It was a photo-copied A5-size booklet with a mind-boggling list of bands that I never heard of. Damn me, I had been in the dark music underground for a couple of years at the time and I hardly knew any band that was listed! The good news was that Boogie did have Ataraxia and Engelstaub, the ‘medieval’ cds that I had been looking for. I would later learn that the “gothic” and the “industrial” scene largely overlap and largely sprang from similar sources. I had discovered the ‘other side of the coin’, the massive world of “gothic” music. Again I had to find myself a way through descriptions of music that meant little to me, band- and label-names that I did not know. Man-o-man, where to start? I started with ‘medievalish’ bands such as Faith and The Muse and the earlier mentioned Ataraxia and Engelsstaub.

Oh, will you be surprised when I say that this must have been in the year 1994? Apparently this was a good year for musical discoveries!

Did I then, or did I earlier become acquainted with Sopor Aeternus? I think the first album I knew about was the 1995 album “Todeswunch”, so that is the time I talked about before. If ever I had heard moody, medievalish music, this was it! Piercing lyrics, another type of darkness in the music. I was hooked. Heck, I even interviewed the (wo)man (by mail) for the firth issue (2000) of the traditional metal magazine Battle Helm (the same guy who ran Dark Age Productions) which created a “goth pages” section. The interview has been on one of the many Sopor website for many years, but I can now only find it on a Russian website.

Electro

At some point I would receive a flyer of the “Darkness” cd of In Absentia (1995) which mentioned both “gothic” and “EBM”. EBM? The album proved to contain very danceable music. A bit too ‘happy’ for me, but enjoyable.
Somehow I had heard of Staalplaat, a label, distro and shop at the time still located at the Staalkade in Amsterdam. I would visit Amsterdam every once in a while and drop in at the Staalplaat shop. In my eyes they mostly stocked the fringe of the industrial scene. I knew close to nothing that they sold, but the music was experimental, electronic and sometimes dark nonetheless. Some day after getting to know In Absentia I noticed a line of cds behind a label saying “EBM”. I picked the meanest-looking album and listened to it. Boy, what a brutal kind of dance-music! This was “Music From A Slaughtering Tribe” of :Wumpscut:. It was harscher than the kind of industrial that I listened to (later dubbed “martial industrial”), but not so noisy that I could not bear it. I bought the cd and it grew on me. “EBM” and “electro” became new fields to discover. More part of the gothic scene than the industrial scene I found out.

A sidenote. Amsterdam had another source for alternative music: Boudisque. Whereas Bullit in Eindhoven had a lot of metal and a bit of the ‘related’ things like those of CMI (and a lot of techno), Boudisque was a serious player in all kinds of things weird and wonderfull. It was there that I bought the “Dark Rose” 7″ of Strength Through Joy from 1994, but probably not in that year. I visited Boudisque regularly. They may not have had everything that I wanted to listen to, but a lot, lot more than any other recordstore that I knew.
An then there was the enormous Sounds shop in Amsterdam. They did not have the stock of Boudisque bit I did find Devil Doll’s “The Girl Who Was Death…” (1989) there. I had had a copy of that album for a while, but no idea how to buy it. After buying the cd I had the address of the Devil Doll fanclub and Hurdy Gurdy Records so I finally had a way to obtain most material of this magnificent band.

Back to the story. The Belgian gothic scene was thriving in these days and the Netherlands did not do very bad either. It was mostly “electro” that was popular. Terminal Choice was a big name in these days (with their metal-like shows). Terminal Choice debuted in 1993, I think I got to know them in early 1995. I attended many concerts, but no longer with the people I knew from Dynamo. (However there are weekends that I visited a metal show on Friday and an electro show on Saturday both in the Baroeg.) I became a bit of a loner with as extra problem that I was not somebody to easily make new friends. In writing I was probably a blast, a walking and growing encyclopedia or underground music, but as soon as I would meet somebody who I had corresponded with, I would chicken out. Still I would get to know a handfull of people.

There were two ‘magazines’ (A5 photocopied booklets) that helped ‘socially’. “Goth Magazine” (started in 1995, my first issue is #2 of March 96, my ‘goth’ and electro magazines all ‘start’ in that year) was a magazine of Boogie CD Store and the Black Cave concert organisers from Belgium. Through this magazine I got on contact with a girl with whom I would go to my first Wave Gotik Treffen, the 9th edition of 2000 where bands like Death In June, Ostara and Von Thronstahl would play.
The other magazine was Electronic Diseases from the Netherlands, operated by the same people who organised the electro concerts at the Baroeg. For a while I would write reviews for Electronic Diseases. The people behind this magazine knew mostly about electro, synthpop, etc., so I could write about strange music such as the Nebula/Tristan split 7″, The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud, etc. My last copy of Goth Magazine is of 1996, my last Electronic Diseases from 1999.

However not as much as in the metal scene, the gothic and electro scene(s) also had a flyer-circuit, an underground within the underground so to say. I mentioned In Absentia before, but I also have demos of Belgian electro outfit IC434, industrial acts such as Blackshout and Eisengrau and a gothic band like Morbus Kitahara. Let me not forget the small circle around Asrai Music / Beton Tapes with as most interesting band Lore Of Asmoday who also played at the 2000 edition of the Wave Gotik Treffen.
There was this odd, Norwegian tape label called Dunkel Prod (founded 1992) of which I have tapes from 1994 and 1995.
The now pretty popular danceable industrial outfit from Belgium Hypnoskull released tapes on a label called Escape 3 Organisation of which I have tapes from 1994 and 1995.
I have two very gothic and very good demos of the Belgian band Gestalt, a titleless debut (1995) and “Adamas” from 1997.

Martial industrial and neofolk

I have mentioned The Moon Lay Hidden a couple of times. I have seen them live two times. Rumour had that there would be a sideproject and on a TMLHBAC show in Waregem I bought the debut 12″ of Der Blutharsch (1996). The lp had a card that you could use to order a 7″, but there were obviously less 7″s than there were 12″s. In this way I would get most early material of Der Blutharsch until my money to get the 7″ set “Der Sieg Des Lichtes Ist Des Lebens Heil!” (1998) got lost and I already had the feeling that Der Blutharsch kept making the same ‘martial’ ambient tunes. Only when I bought the cd-version of “Der Sieg…” I learned that Der Blutharsch had moved (back) to the more pompous style of the “A New Soldier…” album of TMLHBAC and the new style was truely brilliant.
The style of the band raised problems and the 28 September 2004 show in Leiden almost had to be cancelled because the local government was made aware that Nazis would be on stage by an antifascist group.

But I am already too far ahead in time. However I had known Ataraxia for a while (and seen a few times) and got my anything that a band like The Soil Bleeds Black (who released an album on Cold Meat (alright, Cruel Moon International) in 1996), a new ‘medieval’ band came to me in the form of Orplid for whose nameless debut of 1998 I got a flyer (or something). I got in contact with the label that released the album (Eis und Licht Tonträger), bought it and loved it. It is by and far not medieval. The album contains fairly simple folk-like music with vocals and accoustic guitars, but Orplid managed to give me that heroic feeling that some martial industrial albums did.

I did not yet know that Orplid continued a style that had been around since bands like Death In June, Current 93 or Sol Invictus started to make it (“neo-folk”), but I must have heard these names before. It was only a short search that made me run into the World Serpent label before its demise. Most of this music came nowhere near Orplid to me though.

Eis und Licht continued and released vinyls of Forseti, Leger des Heils, Sonne Hagal, Of The Wand And The Moon, Scivias, Dies Natalis, Ostara, etc. and the neofolk-boom set off. Neofolk and martial industrial proved to be kindred scenes (or even the same) and the imaginary of both started to make problems with authorities.

Like what happend with black metal, all these “neofolk” bands started to sound the same, all the “martial industrial” projects tried to sound like Der Blutharsch and it all became fairly boring. Time to move along.

Wrapping up

Looking back, around 1995 and a bit later, I seem to have been interested and involved in a variety of ‘scenes’. Also later things ran more parallel that I had in my head. Perhaps the above gives you an idea of how ‘underground music’ ‘worked’ in the days before MP3.com, Myspace and nowadays Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify and Deezer. I bought (or had copied) everything that seemed interesting. Most came in by mail. Sometimes the material would be relatively groundbreaking, sometimes taboo-breaking. My musical taste lead me to some strange situations as you can read in my ‘music with a brown edge‘ article of a couple of years ago. In that text I could have mentioned the problems at the 2000 edition of the Wave Gotik Treffen in which the major of Leipzig forbid the performance of Death In June and Von Thronstahl only played their debut 10″ or the 2007 edition of the Wave Gotik Treffen when left-wing protestors prevented me from entering the UT Connewitz to see Stormfagel because this CMI project linked to a website about the Armanen-runes. Obviously not everybody sees irony in dark and provocative music.

Funny enough, since those days I have grown grown to like a much larger part of the industrial scene. Things that used to be way off my ‘liking-map’ are now my favourite projects, Ex.Order to name one. I still do not like the unstructured and brutal type of “power electronics”, but I did see projects such as Genocide Organ, Sutcliffe Jugend and The Grey Wolves live in recent years. Also, a reason for me to write this little text is that I am ‘working my way backwards’ with industrial music. After reading books like “Assimilate“, “Industrial Evolution” and currently “England’s Hidden Reverse”, I found out that industrial and provocative music has been around much longer than I consciously experienced and extreme electronic music has been around as long as I myself. People who experienced these early days started to document it and I find that rather interesting. I myself am too young to have been there during these days, but I was there in the early days of the second black metal wave and the upcoming of the (neo-)”neofolk” and “martial industrial” scene. Are these experiences interesting enough to put to virtual paper? You just read it, so you tell me.

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