European vs. American black metal: 3 heavy differences

Mystic Texas metal outfit Absu. Their black metal is American.

Mystic Texas metal outfit Absu. Their black metal is American.

Black metal was born in Scandinavia, and the music remains distinctly evocative of its origins: cold, harsh, not a whole lot of bikinis.

But while this particularly virulent strain of heavy metal nihilism may have been pioneered by Sweden’s Bathory in the early ‘80s and then gotten a blasphemy boost from Norway’s Mayhem shortly thereafter, Americans have been in the game for some time now.

Take Texas’ Absu, who’ve been raging hard since ’89. The band’s progressive, quasi-psychedelic black metal may be indebted to the frostbitten catalogs of the aforementioned acts, but it’s also distinct from the genre’s origins.

In honor of Absu’s upcoming stop at Triple Rock on Tuesday, we thought we’d spell out some of the differences between European and American black metal.

Hipster quotient

There’s nothing cool about Old World black metal, unless you count the chill emanating from the icy stares of the dudes in Gorgoroth when the Starbucks barista crafts a smiley face in the foam of their cinnamon lattes.

This is music that’s not meant to be liked — by anyone.

Seriously, what other genre boasts lovelies like, say, Norway’s Carpathian Forest, who actively encourage anyone listening to kill themselves on karaoke staple “Shut Up, There’s No Excuse to Live” and long to smear you in puke and poo on grandma’s favorite, “Bloody Fucking Nekro Hell.”

Stateside, though, a certain segment of bands on the more adventurous fringes of the scene are crossing over and finding favor with both critics and non-metal audiences alike. Or, as the dudes in Sweden’s Dark Funeral refer to these types: posers.

Here, groups like Deafheaven, Liturgy, and Panopticon (Minnesota-ish connection!) have won the approval of non-bullet-belt-sporting hipsters by blending some of the genre’s core traits — harsh, polyp-courting vocals, terse rhythms, abrupt fits of speed — with from everything from shoegazer-worthy walls of guitar to Appalachian folk flourishes.

Absu’s not quite in this crowd, though they do often veer from black metal orthodoxy, and they have earned kudos from de riguer music snob website Pitchfork, who gave the band’s self-titled 2009 LP a glowing 8.2 out of 10 rating.

Meanwhile, the only pitchfork that the dudes in Finland’s Satanic Warmaster care about is the one Beelzebub’s currently using to jab Nancy Reagan in the arse.

Lord Angelslayer vs. some dude named Dave

There are no Louies in European black metal. There’s nary a Kip, not even a stray Steve or a lonely Ralph.

Instead, these dudes favor sweet, sacrilicious stage names like Hellbutcher, K.K Warslut, and Demonaz Doom Occulta.

High up on this impressive list of nun-punching nom de plumes is Finland’s Beherit, whose members include Nuclear Holocausto, Sodomatic Slaughter, and Ancient Corpse Desekrator. Black Jesus? He left the band years ago.

These fellas’ American counterparts, however, are way more pedestrian when it comes to unholy handles. Yeah, the one-man Leviathan is masterminded by a chap named Wrest (real name: Jeff. Yawn.) and Florida’s Kult ov Azazel at least had the decency to once recruit a dude who called himself Hellspawn. 

But for the most part, U.S. bands are blasé on the blasphemous nicknames: Louisiana’s blackened bad asses Goatwhore are fronted by a fellow named Ben; Arizona’s Abigail Williams boasts both a Jeff and a Ken in their ranks; Washington’s Wolves in the Throne revolves around a pair of brothers, Nathan and Aaron, whose names are less suggestive of satanic slaughter than the kids you played soccer with in the third grade — the ones with the cool mom who brought everyone orange slices.

Absu, however, splits the difference.

Their longtime singer-drummer dubs himself Proscriptor McGovern. OK, that’s kinda cool, but what about that surname, guy? C’mon, man, there’s a reason the Dark Lord spares us his family name.

Lucifer Goodman just doesn’t have the same ring to it, ya know?

Self-mutilation. Yay or nay?

Those Euros sure do take their black metal seriously — burning down churches, murdering folks, raiding mom’s Max Factor stash to stencil inverted crosses and such all over their faces.

Certain acts, like Sweden’s Shining and Norway’s Nattefrost (who also fronts Carpathian Forest), also advocate self-mutilation, slicing themselves open on stage from time to time as a sign of their general contempt for all life — including their own.

Here in America, black metal bands are decidedly less dogmatic and generally skip on the corpse paint and bloodshed, though North Carolina’s Young and in the Way did manage to cause a home state brewpub to close for several days last year after they drenched the place in pig’s blood during a gig (safe to say it was their last show at the venue in question).

Hell, we even have a one-man Christian black metal band, Georgia’s Erlosung, who went so far as to release a Christmas album back in 2009 (Working title: Holy Crap.)

Likewise, Absu favors the mystical over pure misanthropy, penning odes to ancient Mesopotamian gods and coming with plenty of lyrical allusions to the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Consider "In the Name of Auebothiabathabaithobeuee,” which was in steady rotation for weeks on Radio Disney — or maybe it was the house P.A. in the burning depths of hell we’re thinking of. Easy to confuse the two. 


With: False, Graveslave, Treasons.

When: 8 p.m. Tue., April 19. 

Where: Triple Rock Social Club.

Tickets: $12-$15; more info here