- In the world of heavy music, black metal is the reprobate genre, dogged by its controversial history and a general philosophy that ranges from frightening to laughable. Though it's been the foundation for some of metal's most inventive music, its classic era in Norway was fraught with church burnings, murders and racism, and its reprehensible track record is too often glossed over by apologists or those otherwise eager to separate the music from its sources. On Why Do The Heathen Rage, Drew Daniel, an English literature professor and one half of Matmos, plays devil's advocate, setting out to reconcile his love for black metal with his left-leaning politics, and more personally, his sexuality. Putting his zany electronic spin on a handful of genre classics, Daniel has crafted a very strange record that is both a hilarious critical evaluation and a loving tribute to black metal.
Why Do The Heathen Rage begins with a sinister spoken word reading of Arthur Evans' Witchcraft And The Gay Counterculture from Daniel and Antony Hegarty, and ends by mashing up Rihanna's "We Found Love" with harsh squalls of noise. In between, Daniel picks apart black metal classics, exposing the inherent silliness of the genre and even teasing out its pop potential. The most fully-realized example of this is his cover of An's "Let There Be Ebola Frost," which he turns into a breaks-laced banger with soulful diva vocals courtesy of Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner. It's hard to tell which is aspect more uncomfortable—hearing Wasner sing lines like "Let there be Ebola virus / Final gift to the human species" with such pizzazz, or just that it sounds so damn good to begin with. The latter part is thanks to Daniel's detailed production, which is as overstuffed and unpredictable as an Autechre record.
In spite of the record's dance leanings, few of the tracks on Why Do The Heathen Rage could fit in a standard DJ set. They're prone to sudden tempo changes or hiccups in rhythm. You can find some Detroit electro influence in his cover of Darkthrone's "Beholding The Throne Of Might," but just barely. "Sadomatic Rites" by Beherit is a swaggery trap jam full of wonky synths, but it sounds like it can barely hold itself together. The singed IDM of "Satanic Black Devotion" makes a pitch-perfect black metal tune on its own, vaguely recalling electronic-oriented acts like Thorns or Ulver, and showing that Daniel's aesthetics might not be too far from his source material in the first place.
Everything about Why Do The Heathen Rage feels carefully calculated, which isn't surprising coming from an academic like Daniel. He makes Venom's straightforward "Black Metal" disarmingly literal, adding sounds from bareback gay porn for the line "riding hell's stallions bareback and free." He takes the laughable male power fantasy of Sarcofago's "Ready To Fuck" ("stand up to see my penetrator hammer") and turns it into something resembling sensual house, anchored again by Jenn Wasner's powerful vocals. But even at these moments, Daniel never seems to be making fun of the music so much as poking holes in it.
Which isn't to say Why Do The Heathen Rage is lighthearted. It's Daniel's personal mission to justify his love of a music full of unforgivable crime and hatred. Dedicated in part to Magne Andreassen, a gay man murdered by a member of the band Emperor, the LP is a defiant attempt to reclaim this music from the horrifying worldview that birthed it, while remaining aware of its danger. The striking concept alone is enough to make this album worth a listen. That it turned out to be so inspiring is a happy byproduct of the whole experiment.
01. Invocation for Strength
02. Black Metal
03. Sadomatic Rites
04. Ready to Fuck
05. Satanic Black Devotion
06. Beholding the Throne of Might
07. Let There Be Ebola Frost
08. Buried by Time and Dust
10. Grim and Frostbitten Gay Bar