Third-wave ‘Orthodox’ black metal (Deathspell Omega, Ignis Haereticum, etc) is often a horrible failure. The reason is largely due to the fact that the music is often used simply as a pedestal for the lyrics, rather than composition taking top priority. Because of this, the work suffers tremendously and is reduced to a backdrop of wallpaper music coupled with self-indulgence.
This particular style of black metal is bloated to the point of ailment with Deathspell Omega and Watain clones that only have “me too!” to say. It even rivals war metal in regards to hitting the maximum capacity (and then some) of vacuous worship bands. However, the Orthodox essence works most effectively when it conveys an emotional experience of terror that is comparatively unique to most black metal, third-wave or otherwise. Aosoth from France is the textbook band for that mission.
While Aosoth’s debut self-titled album was fairly hollow and resembled a weary Antaeus, their sophomore effort Ashes of Angels although similar to its predecessor, planted the seeds of what was to come. The first two tracks followed a pretty familiar formula, but starting with the third song, Path of Twisted Light, they demonstrated something different. The element of terror, that something-in-a-dark-corner-that-I-can’t-quite-make-out feeling isn’t wholly unique to black metal, but it seems to be explicitly highlighted in this case. Aosoth transports you to an immensely long and dark corridor with flickering lights that illuminate a moderate span in front of you. As you walk, the flickering lights reveal a shadowed form temporarily before absorbing back into the darkness. It’s the precise focus on that dread that makes Ashes of Angels stand out when compared to other metal artists.
Lance Viggiano, who has contributed content for this blog in the past, had somewhat recently published an article on Death Metal Underground titled The Mythic and the Mystic which makes an important distinction between in-the-moment and storytelling compositional perspectives. Aosoth definitely falls into the former; they aren’t narrating an epic legend, they’re presenting a direct experience of fear and trepidation.
In 2011, Aosoth released their fully-realized album, III: Violence and Variations. This is the first album from Aosoth that doesn’t feel like a black metal album. The surface components are there, but internally, it’s something different. This piece of work is viscerally more in tune with the music of early Swans; the unease felt as a creeping, otherworldly form approaches with mysterious intentions. Where black metal has a tendency to ponder and to say “this darkness is beautiful and I desire to explore it”, Aosoth assumes a different attitude and nervously utters “this darkness is darkness, and it is threatening”. The lyrics relay the experience of a protagonist being possessed and overcome by his “darker self” eventually leading to his death. This is expressed musically through skulking and unnerving riffs that seem to carry an oppressive, yet seductive weight that allures our protagonist to his doom as he realizes that the point of no return has been crossed and it is too late.
III: Violence and Variations is what the Orthodox movement has the potential to be, but it tends to instead prefer vacant mimicry. Aosoth is the only entity within the movement that I would consider great; it is clearly concentrated on what it wants to express, doesn’t put lyrics at the top priority, and doesn’t devolve into the post-rock trappings or Watain-worship that we are constantly bombarded with when it comes to this particular wave. III: Violence and Variations is the invocation of fight-or-flight, the gazelle spotting the lion in the tall grass, and it is the best manifestation of the Orthodox voice to date.