I’m Just In It for the Riffs, Man: The Sacred Son Edition
If you are truly, madly, deeply into [insert favorite metal subgenre here–although who are we kidding, it’s Black] metal and you are quite willing to give financial support to all manner of cretins, including documented werenazis, in order to obtain those sweet, sweet riffs that you cannot get anywhere else–not because you yourself are a cretin or a werenazi, rather because you don’t care about politics or ideology and you are perfectly capable of separating the art from the artist–then put your money where your mouth is and get a load of this: the debut album from UK independent onemanblackmetalband Sacred Son.
Originally, I did not have much to say about this album. I mean, sure, I felt vaguely compelled to write a few hundred or thousand words about that cover art in the context of black metal. But that would have required more stamina than I have these days. And I had too many other interesting promos vying for what little attention I could spare. And I haven’t been in the mood for this particular sort of black metal lately. So I was just gonna boil my thoughts on this thing down to a mini-review and leave it at that.
I was probably going to write a review of my tap water instead.
And then, while I was procrastinating, something happened which compelled me to play the cynic for once and write about something which actually interests other people way more than it interests me.
In the short five or six hours since this album–more precisely, this album’s cover art–came to the attention of The Internet, a veritable kerfuffle has reached critical mass. Everyone in our little corner of the blogosphere (i.e., 10-15 people) is losing their shit over this cover. Some people are pissed; others are delighted; still others just don’t get it (or, the sane reaction: they just don’t care). Is there really anything to get?
Well, yes. Because cover art means more to metalheads than to any other genre-enthusiast. We obsess over it privately. We discuss it publicly (and at flabbergasting length). The most puerile among us probably even masturbate to it when it features that
edgy badass sexy classy fucked-out genre trope: naked breasts. And even though tricks like this one here have already been pulled, releasing a black metal album with a cover like this is an audacious shot across the bow of everything that has (until recently) always made the music what it is.
The most famous–and therefore effective–example of cover art that had black metal purists pissing their chainmail comes from Deafheaven‘s
, an album of loud and pretty sounds which found their perfect visual reflection in that loud and pretty pink cover. Black metal’s favorite color is black–it’s right there in the title. And pink is pretty much the emotional opposite of black. So, want to cause a big to-do in the black metal world? Easy: Put out an album with an all pink cover. It is without a doubt that Dane Cross, the man behind Sacred Son, is aware of what Deafheaven did, why they did it, and why it was successful. It is also without a doubt that Cross would not have slapped this sun-dappled, un-black image on the cover of his album if Deafheaven hadn’t made so many waves by doing something similar first.
The difference being that, while the music of Sacred Son is loud, it is not pretty. Well, there’s like one pretty interlude which nods openly toward the whole blackgaze thing, but that’s it, I swear. Otherwise the album is a fairly straightforward onslaught of the usual suspects: mid-paced blasts, blurry-handed riffing and throat-rending shrieks. The production strikes up a nice treaty between clarity and bite. And there’s an ample helping of atmosphere which at times reminds me of a heavily simplified take on early Emperor.
While Second Son doesn’t make the slightest move toward reinventing the wheel in terms of style, there is more than one way to reinvent a wheel–and aesthetic presentation is one of them. Ultimately, is this cover a more bold move than the one from Deafheaven which surely inspired it? Though Deafheaven’s transgression will always feel greater by virtue of primacy, I’d still argue yes. But is the music packaged in that cover a more bold move than the stylistic expansion which constitutes Sunbather? No. Which is why genre purists or really anyone who digs a well-executed black metal tune should be eating this up and licking the plate clean. Despite what the cover art so brazenly suggests, there’s nothing flashy here, nothing shoegazy, nothing ostentatiously un-grim. And if you’re sitting there grimacing at your corpse-painted reflection in your computer screen and thinking “But I don’t hear any sweet, sweet riffs,” that is because you’re too busy listening to the cover image. You are guilty of the exact same foul that detractors of racism and nazism make when they judge certain black metal music on the moral disposition of its creators alone. Except of course that bigotry is horse shit and there is nothing even remotely morally dubious about slapping a photo of a handsome, short-haired dude on the front of a black metal record. But still.
It is 2017. Black metal needs to get over itself. It needs to move out of its mom’s basement, get a job folding menswear at Dillards, and let go of its pithy, childish pretensions of keeping metal dangerous. Even Five Finger Death Punch sounds dangerous to people who don’t like loud music, so . . . maybe certain subgenres are overcompensating?
To be clear, I’m not advocating for the replacement of all black metal’s dark or gothic or satanic imagery with beaches and headshots of Forever 21 models. I’m just calling for a little perspective, and perhaps a smidge of self-deprecation. If the riffs are truly all that matters, then the presence of short hair and Wayfarer sunglasses and smiles and a Brooklyn zip code should not factor into one’s enjoyment of said riffs any more than it does when the riff-writer is an outspoken, card-carrying werenazi. Rather less so–that is, if you don’t currently hold the title of Lord of the Edge.
SACRED SON’S DEBUT ALBUM IS OUT NOW