It’s been a while since I first came across this wonderful music genre I will present to you today, it actually goes back to my first music crisis (see linked article). You know what? Hold on just a second, I’ll play some ABM in Spotify while I write this, it’s the proper way going forward when I write in this section. [Opens Spotify, plays “Ashen Eidolon” by Gallowbraid]
OK, now I’m set! 🙂 Also, if you noticed I mentioned “this section” so for you who are following the blog, the section is now called “Music Crisis” and I hope you enjoy it!
Winter is Coming
He, he, I’m sure you’re familiar with that phrase. While is not a requirement of the genre, the song themes in Atmospheric Black Metal (read + AB Folk Metal / + AB Pagan Metal) as designations vary often times relate to winter or take place during winter time. Again, there are examples in which this is not applicable, but it’s a trait strong enough that I chose that photo for my article.
And this could probably give us a hint on what the whole thing is about. ABM deals with emotional states, hence the atmospheric part since it introduces you to an atmosphere that is close to the composer’s feelings, like an emotional place the composer or the band wants to share with you (it’s not uncommon for the whole band to be a composer). Now if I were to find a basic set of words that could describe the genre, I’ll probably go with: cold, sadness, winter, paganism, beauty, death, love, despair, nature, forests, melancholy, sadness, winter landscapes. I’m sure I’m falling short but I hope you get the idea.
A Game of Contrasts
I believe a huge part of what makes this genre so emotional and beautiful is the fact that typically the composers are seeking a contrast between the despair and darkness in black metal (the voice is growling, the electric guitars and drums sound chaotic and pouring-rain-like on heavy riffs) but then that’s contrasted with prevalent acoustic sections where beautiful clean arpeggios set a melancholic tone, almost magical that makes you think of the forest, the trees and the spiritual ambients evoked by the contact with nature. Although I believe it’s much easier to appreciate for people used to the chaos and darkness of black metal, the compositions here can also be appealing to people who look for mellow folk music and sad tunes.
Right now, I’m listening to Oak and Aspen, by Gallowbraid, and it’s touching me quite a bit not only because the song is beautiful but also because this is the very first song from the genre I ever listened to. If you would like to listen to it, it album Ashen Eidolon is on Spotify (you don’t know how long I wanted this to happen, this music hasn’t been historically easy to find and typically was published only in acetate).
Bands I enjoy listening up to this day
So far I have only named Gallowbraid in this article, and it’s really because this is the first band I ever listened to from this genre and the one I’m listening to right now. Sadly, Gallowbraid has published only one record and I’m not sure if they will ever publish music again; so of course, after this powerful first impression, I had to start looking for more and more of this tantalizing, magical sound. I’ll add a list that is not exhaustive but contains what I’ve listened to the most:
Agalloch: This is the band I’ve listened to the most in this genre, with 5 studio albums and 5 EPs they are rather prolific in their production for this genre. The 5 albums are pure gold and I’m glad to say they are conceptually very different from each other, not at all boring, and a true pleasure to listen to. My favorite album from Agalloch is “Marrow of the Spirit“, the first time I listened to “Black Lake Niðstång” I was able to make contact with some of my most hidden, deepest feelings of pain and sorrow, and this was actually quite hard and quite healing for me.
Caladan Brood: This band is named after a character in “Malazan Book of the Fallen”, a novel series by Canadian author Steven Erikson. I have not read it, but I hope to do it someday as the disc they inspired is unique. Sadly, again, “Echoes of Battle” is the only album released by the band; the song “Wild Autumn Wind” has a special place in my heart, since it was the song of mourning I chose for the funeral of a friend of mine years ago.
Ghost Bath: This is a rather different band from the ones formerly mentioned, nonetheless an awesome one and not without a degree of controversy. The band’s name makes reference to suicide by drowning and initially, the band was marketed as being Chinese which was quite unusual, turned out they’re from North Dakota but were first published by a Chinese label, not sure why this happened nor do I care, LOL, as their music is awesome. In any case, Ghost Bath departs a bit from the winter/folk traits present in the other mentioned bands, and at least in my opinion, it’s darker in themes and musically as well. The record I’ve listened to the most is Moonlover and the song “Golden Number” continues to creep me out up to this day since it somehow contrasts a “happy melody” that feels like it doesn’t belong there, with desperate screaming and rather chaotic drums and guitars that sound like a terrible storm.
Summoning: OK so fans of the genre would probably argue that the last band on my list should have been the first on my list! The thing is, Summoning is probably the forefather of the AB metal blended with folk and epic elements. As it’s the case with Agalloch, Summoning has been quite prolific in their production with 8 studio albums which are amazing news because there’s a lot of material to enjoy from this amazing band. Out of those, Summoning is probably the one I’ve listened to the most, and this band is very particular about war and fantasy themes, so for y’all RPG, LOTR and in general epic fantasy literature/art lovers/nerds of all sorts, it’s probably a band you’ll love.
So this was actually longer to write than I anticipated and it was totally worth it! This is a genre I love and as I said, the list is not exhaustive, I actually wanted to give Alcest from France an honorary mention, although this band is a bit more experimental so not entirely in the genre (but related enough to be mentioned here).
This is the official end of the music part of this article, but given the topics present in the lyrics of some of these bands, I would like to speak to you in case you’re struggling with depression or mental health.
A quick note on mental health
You’ve probably noticed it if you follow my blog, but I’m very open to speaking about mental health, emotional struggle, and mental disorders. I’ve had my fair share of these in my life (long story, I’ll eventually feel comfortable talking about it more in-depth).
I believe music is powerful, and art, in general, can really connect to us at deep levels. A lot of bands in this genre will deal very openly with topics such as despair and suicide, probably a lot of these composers have experienced these struggles in their lives and found in music a release and a way to express them more constructively than hurting themselves.
If you’re going through depression or mental distress, I want to tell you a few things, that come straight from my personal experience:
You matter. Even if you feel no one cares, you matter. Inside of you is the capacity to love and be loved, and this alone is life-changing and a lot you can add to this complex and often hurting world.
You’re not alone. Even if you are physically alone and your current situation seems overwhelming, mental health struggles are probably more common than you think, and many brilliant people have dealt and deal with them every day. Many people have gone through these difficulties and were able to come out stronger, filled with purpose and wanting to help others. Please become one of them, we need people like these, we need you!
This too shall pass. I’m a fairly adult guy now (I’m 35), but when I was 17 I attempted suicide. I was just a kid at that time and a very broken and sad one, I realize I was not in my senses when I attempted this, and I have forgiven myself and others that contributed to that decision. This was a very close-to-death experience for me with about a 50/50 chance of making it alive, and I did. After many dark years following this event, I came to realize that my being alive was a true opportunity, that I wanted to make every day count and give the best of me every day, and I do believe I live up to that code to this date and my life, I tell you honestly, is filled with beauty and love.
I will be honest, and I know a lot of people have personal difficulties with this subject (maybe contributing to their depression, even?), but I happen to believe there’s a loving God who designed me and you, and that God happens to know why you’re here and how you can overcome your current situation. This blog is probably the last place you expected to hear about Jesus Christ but I’m telling you, the only way I was able to come out of many years of chronic depression and mental disease was when I decided to give Him a chance to fix me, and what an amazing experience it has been! It could be for you as well, my best advice above all is to seek Him, not church, not religion, only Jesus, he’s waiting for you.
But I’m also respectful, and I understand this is not something everybody wants to do (I resisted it for years!). Regardless of your position concerning God, I love you and care for you, and I ask you from the bottom of my heart: please seek help now! I know sometimes people around us (relatives, colleagues, acquaintances), even if they care for us, don’t understand what we’re going through. Don’t be ashamed to find a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a support group, you don’t have to be alone in this and you can overcome this, it’s possible to live a better life.