Blonde Elvis hit the stage stomping and shimmering. The five-piece group fronted by Jesse James Laderoute (previously seen leading Young Mother or backing up Slim Twig) have trimmed the edges and shaved off the fuzz from their meticulously manicured rock ‘n’ roll timewarp. The songs of their debut EP, with its comedically self-aware title On Vanity, carry on the verbose and theatrical tradition of 1970s oddballs such as Sparks, Roxy Music, or The Man Who Sold The World-era Bowie.
“Lyrically the theme of this record reflects on examples of how vanity manifests itself in one’s daily lives in various ways,” says Laderoute. “In attempting to represent oneself as ideally as one hopes, people betray their unique human frailty and, indeed, a sort of vanity. I consider the entire mechanism of performative action inherently vain and ridiculous, so I like to consider my work an attempt to engage with these themes knowingly. It’s a sort of sarcastic comment on the nature of desiring an audience. Mocking it, but mocking it perhaps the way you would mock someone very close to you.”
When asked to list a selection of influences, Laderoute made an unexpected move and sent over 10 of his favourite extreme metal songs. This barrage of blackened sounds may not be immediately present in his own band’s music, but their psychic tension and high-wire drama could be lurking in the shadowy corners.
Windir – “Svartesmeden og Lundamyrstrollet”
This is one of the truly great black metal songs. Taken from the 1998 Windir record Arntor, this track is a perfect example of a band being at once brutal with their use of blasts and screeched vocals and pairing it with a genuinely beautiful, atmospheric blend of synthesizer and melodic, tremolo picked guitar. The singer Valfar tragically froze to death in the middle of a particularly fierce snowstorm while on a walk to his family home in Norway in January of 2004.
How evil are they? 7/10
The guy froze to death in a Norwegian blizzard so he gets seven points just for suffering the most black metal death of all time.
Necrophagist – “Mutilate the Stillborn”
I tend to mostly ignore the vocals on Necrophagist songs to focus on the compositional sophistication and instrumental virtuosity. Standard fare in terms of tech death lyrical subject matter, but what really matters is the playing, which is insane and beautiful!
How evil are they? 3/10
This band writes about disgusting things sort of half heartedly but it makes no difference to me because I’m specifically paying attention to the playing. I don’t care!
Dimmu Borgir – “Relinquishment of Spirit and Flesh”
This band tends to get a lot of grief for their recent output which is actually entirely justified. This track, however, taken from their second major release (while they were still using cheesy synths to fill out their symphonic arrangements instead of an actual orchestra: a good thing), stands out as the career high point for a band that would get much, much worse.
How evil are they? 2/10
Kind of a goofy joke now but at this point the joke was pretty good.
Nile – “Those Whom the Gods Detest”
These brutal Egypt-themed technical death metal gods have a long and storied career built on universal acclaim for their instrumental prowess and unique arrangements. On this record, the production finally fit the quality of the music. Absolutely crushing.
How evil are they? 5/10
This band sounds truly evil but they worship ancient gods, not Satan.
Gorgoroth – “Odeleggelse Og Undergang”
This track sounds like it was recorded with and on a garbage can and that is why I enjoy it. The recording quality may be harsh, but the melodic guitar lines balance out the outright aggression and noise perfectly. Gorgoroth are a legitimately evil and scary group of people and this record sounds like it.
How evil are they? 9/10
They believe in Satan the way the grass believes in the sun. They can’t exist without it and have performed forced bloodletting (and drinking) to prove it.
Belphegor – “Bleeding Salvation”
While relatively new to me, this band is exemplary blackened death metal. Combining the technical precision of death metal and thrash with the melody and atmosphere of black metal is nothing new, but this Austrian band do it more effectively than most. Behemoth are more popular but Belphegor are scarier both musically and actually, which is important to me.
How evil are they? 8/10
Recent festivalgoers were disappointed to find out that health regulations would prevent Belphegor from maintaining their practice of spraying the audience with real blood. Imagine that.
Meshuggah – “I”
I recently came across a Meshuggah video on YouTube which contained the comment, “this is what it would sound like if terminators made music.” Perfect. 21 minutes of inexplicable music.
How evil are they? 4/10
To Meshuggah all of mankind is evil, especially their technology. That’s good for a four.
Gorguts – “Obscura”
Along with Meshuggah this is without question the strangest track on this list, lapsing into extremely avant garde rhythms and textures. It fucking rules even as it confuses and I, for one, am proud that they’re Canadian.
How evil are they? 6/10
Anyone coming up with shit this wacky has to be tapped into some sort of unclean power.
Carcass – “Buried Dreams”
Beginning as more of a death sludge act, these guys emerged with Heartwork in 1993, stepping away from their more cacophonous genesis with something that sounded classic and (relatively) accessible on first listen. A masterclass in extreme metal songwriting.
How evil are they? 7/10
Their first record, titled Reek of Putrefaction, was almost banned for featuring a graphic collage of images from actual medical journals. John Peel called it his favourite record of the year, which means that he is also evil.
Dissection – “Soulreaper”
Full disclosure: the person responsible for this music is a murderous homophobe with an ideology not dissimilar to Norway’s most infamous church burner. Terrible people occasionally make great music, however, and this track is great music. Shame it was made by a piece of human garbage.
How evil are they? 10/10
The most evil and not in a way I enjoy. Listen to the music and think about how stupid all exceptionalist ideology is. That’s my strategy, anyway.