How does Black Metal, as a blanket term, keep having the veil pulled from its face by random exerimental one-offs which show the true versatility of this most otherwise-conventional genre? For every corpsepaint-donning traditionalist howling in front of an ice blast of tremolo-picked minor thirds, there is at least 1% of a person somewhere considering how to take BM (abbreviation used here out) to new locales. Unfortunately, this forward thinker is usually given the infernal inspiration while bussing tables in a mall somewhere, and so is divested of all KVLT credentials. Those who’ve sold their soul to the real world know that it is a pit of vipers way more luciferian than any Norwegian winter scene. The gods of commerce dictate a hoary punishment at the hands of demon customers for all who seek to Make Ends Meet. Do menial shit for them and act fulfilled or it’s back to square one with no super and no reference. And these people have never ever listened to Nattens Madrigal.
That said, if you’re wanting to hear black metal that’s a bit different, without listening to torture chamber-music or just dark ambient, it’s important to know about this album. Resplendent Grotesque was recorded by English BM band CODE (sometimes <CODE>) in 2009. When I first heard it i was cycling some ridiculous shit: Hungary’s Thy Catafalque; heaps of DØdheimsgard; Blut Aus Nord, Diamanda Galas and other under-appreciated, totally crackers avant-garde fare. Looking for weird shit that was good, when I should have been looking for good shit that was weird. Then I pirated this album. There is no British phlegm in CODE: their singer Kvohst (Mat McNerney) fronted DØD for Supervillain Outcast, and the venn-diagram coordinating CODE’s British and Northern European influences would overlap and disappear. But unlike, say, DØD who have a kitchen sink messiness, Resplendent Grotesque is free of gimmickry and propels itself along due to ferociously good songwriting and original musicianship.
Punchy and dynamic, incorporating better than any other BM album I’ve heard the melody/noise duality, there’s only eight tracks here but they all aim at the solar plexus. Forward thinking like a doomsday prepper but not afraid to take its hallucination on the road, the album has such kinetic energy like a rocket’s blast from behind while the captain sits in a Zazen. An album that has all the hidden, conversing layers of a mind stained with psychosis. It’s not as blustery or unpolished as much BM- more like a puzzle block that keeps solving back into its original form. Every tempo or timbre change should hit like going ’round an unbanked corner on a rollercoaster, but marvellously enough, after a listen to two, you lean into ’em naturally, like these songs are going to beat you up but you’re so exhausted and sick that the hands on you feel good.
This is a cerebral product that reaches Emperor-like stages of harmonic orchestration, even including some post-metal wonderment on “In the privacy of your own bones” and “Jesus fever”. It’s music that can’t not paint in your head. You’ll find it up there years later Extinguisher bombing your psyche in impressionist colours. This is a unique album, as far as ‘uniqueness’ is still a desirable quality. There is no homogenous sounding BM riffs a la some Immortal, and often, by letting the accelerator off, CODE get genuinely darker than most bands can with their cherished formula of breakbeats and Satanism.
Since this, their opus, CODE have broken up, changed members, reformed and redirected their attention elsewhere. They have released two other albums Augur Nox (2013) and Mut (2015) which show a band always growing and pushing their listeners to alienation. These albums have more originality than most music still, but it is Resplendent Grotesque that emerges from the filmy darkness, the low-priest to bless us with the disharmonic proportions of the underworld.
And they were nominated for a Spellemannprisen -or Norwegian grammy- for this album.