Von’s Satanic Blood: Black Black Black Black No. 1
There may be no American band more thoroughly black metal than Von. They were doing their thing right alongside Darkthrone, Mayhem, Emperor, and Burzum (whose Varg Vikernes brought the band attention by confirming the spelling of their name during a phone interview by saying “VICTORY ORGASM NAZI”; of course being indirectly and unintentionally called a Nazi by Varg Vikernes gets one some unwanted negative press) instead of stumbling on it a few years afterward like everyone else on this side of the pond. Hell, they’re one of the most respected and influential American black metal bands, and they released nothing but a smattering of very badly recorded demos before they broke up. And only now, 20 years after they originally stopped being a band, do they finally get around to putting out their first full-length. Even the original masters of the genre couldn’t manage anything that underground and obscure; they just resorted to killing eachother. And the comically-long gestating Satanic Blood sounds surprisingly fresh and relevant, retaining the band’s primordial power while packing on some appropriate production value. It seems hard to believe that even the genres most ardent haters finding anything “false” or disingenuous about this.
The first thing to note about Satanic Blood is just how fucking evil it is. The production, as mentioned before, is pretty solidly handled, with a fine drench of reverb bouncing off of everything, making most of the songs into impenetrable ash clouds until they just sort of stop. And they’re not afraid to clip something off before it wears out its welcome, and subsequently, more than half of the album’s songs hover around or under the two-minute mark. Compared to the sprints of Frost-anchored bands like Satyricon or 1349 or blackened grind like Anaal Nathrakh, the album is fairly mid-paced. But Von make up for that by producing something more present and uncomfortable, with the guitars rattling in a trebly dog cage in the forms of mini-dervishes of chords and wailing leads, all while the bass—noticeably present throughout—hums and throbs root notes to keep the songs tethered to something constructed. And the vocals… goddamn, they’re unsettling. Though black metal is more known for rasping and shrieking, founding member/vocalist/bassist Venien provides a gruff death metal roar, often double-tracked or multi-layered and arranged in percussive, chant-like phrasing. Von don’t sound quite right, and that’s exactly the point: there aren’t a lot of other bands so accurately documenting a shadowy corner of hell like them.
Mind you, this isn’t Enslaved- or Lantlôs-style forward-thinking black metal where other genres are folded in. This is pure, elemental shit. And because of that, there isn’t a ton of variance; Satanic Blood is basically a dozen-and-a-half variations of the same song. But like the best of the second wave of black metal — see: Hunger, Transylvanian or Dom Sathanas, De Mysteriis — there’s a hypnotic quality to it. In theory, that makes Satanic Blood a fine historical document: you hear why they were so respected and namechecked by their Norwegian overlords, and the legacy of American black metal — from Weakling to the pocked-mortar wall of guitars of Leviathan (whose Wrest once played drums in Von side project Von Goat) to even the crusty darkness of that great new Nachtmystium record — flowering from what may be the genre’s ground zero. In fact, the band have resurrected their sound and intent perfectly from amber, and it comes off just as dark and unnerving as it would have had the band gotten a proper full length together when Bill Clinton was running for president. Satanic Blood is a chronicle of the birth and death of true American black metal. The band are said to be working on new material, but honestly, I think it’d be best if they didn’t try to improve on this.