Where’s the righteous rage paired with the credible threat of action gone from music? You know, the thing that hardcore had a claim on. Black metal, too, but in a different way. From today’s perspective, anyway, being anti-Christian seems pretty sane. Where have all the dangerous bands gone, and why have they disappeared? I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. I know there is still dangerousness left in some places, but what I see spreading like wildfire is rage paired with inertia. Apathy, sadness and a sense of helplessness seem to dominate musical expression, a pro-active element is rare. Often, and unsurprisingly, anger and aggression for lack of an aim seem to be directed against the self.
Blackgaze, or blackened shoegaze is the genre that to me better than any other musical subgenre reflects today’s widespread unspecified anger; unspecified, because it contains no hope of change towards the positive, and no suggestions towards solutions. Beautiful, sad, and sometimes benign and innocent-sounding tunes are paired with blast beat drumming and screamed, distorted vocals, which are usually mixed way into the background. The at times audible innocence together with the unintelligible lyrics give the likewise audible rage a distinctly innocuous character. To me, blackgaze is the perfect musical representation of a behaviour I see constantly spreading: We retract into our various cocoons, where we lament about the many symptoms of sickness in our society, but apart from that we don’t do much. And I’m not excluding myself here.
Falaise (French for “cliff”, or the thing to throw yourself off from) from Todi, in central Italy, consist of two members, and play blackgaze, similar to An Autumn for Crippled Children, Deafhaven, or even MØL. Their new album A Place I Don’t Belong To begins with aforementioned sad, melancholy, contemplative and sometimes innocent-sounding tunes played out on a piano or keyboard. The harmony and beauty, however, quickly take a turn towards the weird with the addition of synths or computer-generated sounds. On the second track, and rather abruptly, screamed vocals and blast beats are added to the mix. From then on and throughout the album, the music switches between contemplative beauty and self-destructive rage. Although the vocals do really sound mean at times, the beauty and occasional innocuousness of the music prevent a feeling of dangerousness arising. The evident rage does not appear threatening. Impressions and feelings that do arise are as complex and varied as the album’s soundscapes. Sometimes I’ve felt sympathy for another person’s suffering, at other times I could sense some nobleness in it. My favourite track is An Emptiness Full Of You, transmitting said nobleness in its high, spherical sounds.
Thematically, the album deals with the dehumanizing effects modern megalopolis’ have on the individuum and the wish to escape such surroundings. It’s the second album in less than a year dealing with that subject that I’ve personally reviewed, and I’m pretty sure that there are many more. It looks like the cities we have build for ourselves to live in, while formally having all the prerequisites to support human society, have become environments hostile to human life.
The album’s cover art features a personified vortex, or something that has been spinning around itself for quite some time. There is black smoke coming from the creature’s eyes, as if it was burning, or burned-out from within. It is a very fitting image for the album’s theme and music, and also a brilliant depiction of overthinking and self-destructive rage.
A Place I Don’t Belong To is melancholy, sad, depressive, and often quite beautiful at that. It’s accurate, too. But the inert rage primarily audible in the drums and the vocals tastes heavily of helplessness, and I can’t help but wish that it didn’t. I like black metal better without shoegaze, because it sounds dangerous and unpredictable, and there is something uplifting in that. You see, black metal will attack, when backed into a corner. Blackgaze sounds like it might turn against itself.