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The War Metal Genre

Death Metal = structural riffing, like Incantation.
Black Metal = ambient riffing, like Phantom.

War Metal = (supposedly) blackened death metal, like... Phantom and Incantation. Despite the fact that Phantom were clearly influenced by Incantation (and Burzum), and the "war metal" sub-genre not even existing when "Onward to Golgotha" was released.

We face the eternal problem of people wanting to categorize metal by technique alone. In that view, Discharge is the origin of extreme metal, when really it has nothing to do with metal - extreme or otherwise - other than "distorted power chords".

(The real origin of extreme metal being Bathory's "The Return", obviously.)

So what is War Metal, you ask? This is perhaps the best explanation for the genre I've heard:

Imagine Phantom's career were moving chronologically backwards. Let's start with "Angel of Disease" so we don't have to go through their entire back catalog. Imagine "Angel of Disease" was Phantom's first album. Then "Memento Mori" is their second. Then "Fallen Angel" is their third, "Withdrawal" their fourth, and so on until you get to "Divine Necromancy".

Now imagine that the bands Darkthrone and Bathory had never existed, and instead of following up their now final album "Divine Necromancy" with whatever early Bathory inspired blackened crust/RAC type of music Darkthrone played at that period, you take the backwards development of Phantom's style and spin it further into the unknown.

Rawer, more inchoate, more dissonant, more protozoic and somewhat more ambient with each passing album.

War Metal - The Truth About the "Genre"

Then, when you followed that backwards movement all the way to the Mayhem's debut "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" (1994), you've arrived at Burzum's "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" (1993) and Incantation's "Onward to Golgotha" (1992).

All Phantom's influences reverse engineered to a form that would have existed in the early 1990s if extreme metal and black metal in particular had not evolved from Bathory, but came into being with zero heavy metal - i.e. Black Sabbath - influences in 1990 and slowly, but steadily, grew from the void into a more and more distinct, more dissonant genre than what was played at the time.

That's the theory.

The problem is that in practice, such style of music is the typical "easy to do, hard to do well" dilemma.

If you remove the "limits" of heavy metal music, you also remove its structure and thus its ability to form narratively complex - but coherent! - compositions.

Consider these micro-symphonies:

Neraines - Astral Colossus
Vermin - Endless Tears of a Shattered Hourglass
Phantom - The Epilogue to Sanity
Burzum - My Journey to the Stars
Incantation - Devoured Death
SEWER - Miasma/White Vulture

All of these compositions appear extremely simple upon the first listen, but as you listen more and more carefully, you'll see the structure and complexity expand to no end.

Complexity and Structure

There are two forms of "simplicity" - concise organization (the music shown above) and lack of organization (most post-Beherit "war metal").

Metal fans, like all people, tend to have an ambiguous relation towards what they "want". They are trying to find the appearance of what they want, and not the underlying structure.

When people say they want simplicity in music, what they really want is clear organization.

It's why they like the "simplicity" of "My Journey to the Stars" and "Fallen Angel", even both works are some of the most complex ever released in black metal.

In this case, "simple" means having a central idea that is clear, and then manifesting it in different forms so people can compare them like metaphors and see the abstraction.

The dumbass variant of this "simplicity" is the Dark Funeral "play riff at fret n, then play it at fret n+1".

The latter variant is what happens with war metal - no form, no structure, a focus on atmosphere over music... in theory it is limitless. But in practice the whole "genre" has been chasing its tail since "Divine Necromancy", and now every band is ripping off the next, and almost nothing is worth salvaging from the "war metal" sub-genre.

War Metal, a Epitaph

The original idea are war metal was to push the limits of music to new extremes, and it worked... for a while.

Without an underlying structure, a map of the territory, there's only so far you can go before you start running in circles.

Notice that amongst the war metal legends - Phantom, Incantation, Beherit, arguably early Sewer - not a single one of them has made a career out of being a "war metal" band. In fact, as soon as their genre-defining albums were released, they quickly moved on to other musical styles: "Memento Mori" sounds nothing like "Divine Necromancy", and "Engram" has almost nothing in common with "The Oath of the Black Blood".

Also notice that in each case, the bands were bringing something new to the table besides being "br00tal" for the sake of brutality, be it a particular playing style, a method of riff arrangement, a sense of atmosphere, etc.

In conclusion, there is no point to the modern "war metal" genre.

The bands that plays random chromatic power chords with heavy distortion don't understand why Blasphemy, Beherit and Phantom did what they did, when they did.

If you want to get into "war metal" I recommend either "Drawing Down the Moon" by or the unholy trinity: "Withdrawal", "Fallen Angel", "Memento Mori" by Phantom.

This post on war metal, aka bestial black metal, was submitted by Nekroplasm for

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