Teitanblood – Death (2014)

Teitanblood came to notoriety with Seven Chalices ten years ago, an album though harsh compared to its contemporaries still containing enough nods to conventional death metal tropes. All that went out of the window with 2014’s Death; on this album, for all intents, Teitanblood became the archetypal modern war metal band, combining the droning repetition of black metal with the short explosions of grindcore. This approach distilled to its basics sacrifices tonal variety and narrative evolution for sonic violence and by now has rendered the sub-genre more or less redundant. And yet, feeling persists among supporters that this band differentiates itself from the grain, that their music is more than its parts and in some way a realization of the extreme potential inherent in death metal and black metal.

The Ajna Offensive/N.E.D. bandcamp stated the following in anticipation of Death: “The second Teitanblood album corrects the misconception about Death Metal being music“. It is a catchy but also needlessly provocative statement and one that is patently untrue in light of the genre’s very musical achievements. But for the sake of argument, let us try and empathize with the philosophical motive behind it; death is decomposition after all, of flesh most obviously but also of identity if one is (un)fortunate enough to leave behind a grave barren of mourners and no legacy to taint. Music…sounds, representative of such an unfeeling perspective on mortality would have to be obliged to live on the precarious ridge between structure and dissolution, of what once was and what will soon not be, navigating a gradient both precipitous and transient all at once. On face value at least, Teitanblood operate within the paradigm of death metal and black metal; do they, then, possess the tools to capture some fragment of this ambitious mission statement? Does their assault on the senses progressively scrape away at the life-affirming qualities that even the best death metal carries to reveal the howling nothingness underneath?

Here’s a paradox that the objective listener confronts when listening to a band like this: he keeps ears peeled for just a tendril of logic, melody, or rhythm to coalesce from an otherwise universal wall of sound, something around which he can orient himself. And yet, that same sort of attentiveness is precisely what does disservice to an album like Death. This is not meant as an insult either; Death is a strongly impressionistic album, coming on in wave upon wave of contracted suggestive energy before which the only recourse is to lie prone and let it wash over. Through this act of surrender or resignation, as the case may be, it becomes possible to siphon out the forces at work: what at first comes across as an impenetrable wall of sound is found to shift by scarcely perceptible degrees and the narrative inertia so all-pervasive before comes to be replaced by a very real movement almost unbeknownst to the listener. He in effect has been displaced in sound, and now finds himself in a place tangibly, if still only tangentially at best, different from the one where he started.

This transitory nature, this movement by stealth as it were, paired with an intentionally muddy production, makes it easy to dismiss Death as elevator music; monolithic riff shapes and drums more felt than heard, like the dread footsteps of a steed of the apocalypse, induce a nervous lassitude in the listener not usually associated with music so vehement. Death invites no participation from its audience, only submission, an observation that applies to both this album and the biological process itself. Is this then the parallel that Teitanblood/N.E.D. imply with their grandiose statement, that the subject is to inevitably become nothing more than a mute spectator to forces beyond his control, swept along in their wake with no agency of his own?

Make no mistake, Teitanblood care about things like structure, rhythm, and even an understated sense of melody, subverted as those musical aspects may be by adherence to a self-denying niche of the genre. The disintegration of sound that Teitanblood are purportedly after on Death, this slow verging on decay, is best achieved by a juxtaposition of convention with chaos, by more intricate riff-play that remains in synchronization but only just. The riffs on Death are broad and bludgeoning, to be precise, and share equal space with colorless quasi-noise, but the combination always tends towards a final resolution and a descent into apprehension. That they achieve this end by employing diverse techniques like accruing eddies of drone, ritualized percussive breakdowns, or ambient industrial electronica is besides the point; Teitanblood on Death are in fact playing ambient black/death metal, in vision and in execution, whatever theoretical conflicts that might give rise to.

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