Let us take a look at metal categorization, or "sub-genres" today. We've got death metal, black metal, thrash metal, doom metal, heavy metal, power metal, plastic metal, mental metal etc. These sub-genres also branch out, giving us things like technical death metal, symphonic black metal and postneowhalecore. In my opinion, too many bands try to play a certain musical style, instead of just bringing their ideas to life, thus shoe-horning themselves into a bland, faceless oblivion. Sure, there's nothing wrong with a band trying to play "DEATH FUCKING METAL" if they bring the riffs and get with the bludgeoning, but how many "innovative" or "fresh takes" on death metal do we see nowadays? Tributing the bands of old seems to have remained the only worthwhile solution for many artists, but few manage to recapture that ancient feeling, instead focusing more on aesthetical mimesis.
Enter Negative Plane. An American band signed on to the oh-so-entertaining Ajna Offensive which, after a couple of demos, released their first LP, "Et In Saecula Saeculorum" in 2006. These guys seem to like the '80s, that period in time "when music was good!" (Shamaatae), for they do a great job of capturing the spirit in which extreme metal was born. Just like Bathory or Mercyful Fate, they want to honor Satan, and rock out with their cocks out in the process. Instead of being a Venom copycat band, they take influences from a broad spectrum of Satan's musical penis. Let me use the first song as an example:
Religious chanting opens up this beast's tomb, followed by some chimes. You'd think you're in for a long ambient intro, when all of a sudden POW! The music explodes in your face, leaving your corpse on the church's floor, awaiting necromantical ressurection into the army of the Evil One. These guys sure want to tribute their childhood gods, Nameless Void (the vocalist) letting out a few Tom G. Warrior-esque "ughs" and "auuughs". After the introductory brutal riff tornado (a clear hail to Necrovore), the pace slows a bit down (but it's not doom-ish yet, it's more of a steady metal beat) to make way for a tributary Possessed section. A bit of reverb-heavy lead guitar section follows, the pace slows down even more (the riff weaving here reminds me of trad doom), and then the song ends with the same to-riff-nado it started with.
The album abounds in oldschool-ness, and there are more than a few Possessed worship moments. It's somewhat bugs me to hear people say that Negative Plane play "black metal", for it is much more than that. If they're talking about the proto-extreme metal of the early-to-mid '80s, then I guess they may be closer to the truth, though not spot-on. Their diversity is so awesome, it defies classification - and I'm also talking about instrumental diversity. There are two things that will stand out on a first listen: the church organ and the cowbell. The organ is mostly used solo (so as not to disturb the riffs) for intros, but it also gets a song of it's own. Track #6, "Trance of the Undead", is a creepy church organ solo. And the cowbell is, well, scattered throughout the songs. Keep your ears peeled. Seriously, more and more metal bands should use cowbells. They are awesome and METAL AS FUCK.
I guess that these two instruments represent the album's atmosphere the best: creepy, evil, old-school and METAL AS FUCK. Of course, one should not overlook the brilliance of the other instruments. There are like 246 riffs per second, ranging from thick proto-death worship, to Hellhammer-esque rockin', to malefic tremolo picking, and culminating with some cool traditional doom flourishes and lead work. And guess what, there's barely any filler! The bass is, surprsisingly, very present. Check out the Mayhem (well, Varg, I guess, since I'm talking about the song "Life Eternal" present on DMDS) tribute in the beginning of "A Church in Ruin" or the cool rambling in the doomy "Unhallowed Ground". Indeed, take note, but also watch out for the fantastic drumming. This guy is versatile as hell and uses lots of old-school techniques, to boot. There's plenty of cool cymbal work, tom fills and double bass to keep your interest, but I like the fact that the guy can hold back. He thrashes when appropriate, he rocks when it's rockin' and he dooms it up splendidly. Due to the highly varied and technically proficient nature of the album, I think it's as close as I ever got to "technical" black metal. So, we've established that these guys play like they somehow got their hands on the Pick of Destiny (and...uhm, the Drum Sticks of Destiny?). What about the vocals? Well, they fit the music at hand perfectly. They're somewhat of a snarl, but have a reverb effect on them, which makes it sound like the vocalist is an Arch-Daemon with seven mouths, here to sing us the Song that Ends the Earth. To top it all off, we've got the production - cavernous, grainy, but professional (each instrument is perfectly audible, and they do not overpower each other). The overall feeling is one of being isolated inside an old gothic cathedral's dungeon, your perception confined by the granite slabs that surround you, maliciously assisting to a rite of Necromansy, all with nihilistic nonchalance, providing a mirror for society's skewered views on the aesthetically acceptable and development of the Individual Self.
Given it's diversity, agression and atmosphere, I'm sure Negative Plane will be regarded as a classic by the metal community in a few years. They're one of the rare bands that pays homage to the Altar of the Metal Gods, yet manage to pull off their own sound, something of which I'd like to see more in this day and age. Oh, and anyone that says that USBM sucks after listening to this album deserves a beatdown with a sock full of batteries. (Note: this reveiw's word count is 999. Pretty blasphemic, huh?)