Weirdness is a trait that’s not found often enough in the metal world. Too often, things are taken way too seriously, and even a hint of fun or frivolity is seen as a sign of weakness or that one’s art might not be genuine. At least I think that’s how some people perceive it. But being a little off the wall can be a good thing.
I grew up a huge fan of Helloween, whose energetic, sometimes goofy power metal made for some really fun listening and really strange images in my head. Faith No More always were doing things that were anything but normal, and wouldn’t you know it, the stranger they got, the less the population at large were willing to accept their quarks. Even a band like Overkill, who are pretty straight-up thrash metal, did some crazy shit, have a helium-voiced singer, and have a skull with bat wings as a logo. Weird, but always memorable.
Germany’s Porta Nigra seem to have no issues with their bizarre nature, and their debut record “Fin de Siecle” (which sort of means to create new forms of extreme art) is one that’ll cause more than a few raised eyebrows. Their bio material is imaginative, to say the least, as they envision being artists at the turn of the 20th century in the oft-occupied Prussian province of Coblence (or Koblenz), staring at an age of world wars, dictatorships, mass poisonings, and a decaying art scene and deciding to turn their powers to the darkness to combat such dissolution. Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing and hopefully understanding their visions, and if I am, one could say their themes match today’s societies. I mean, here in America, pop culture art is deceased and rotting.
Right after reading their bio and taking an initial, cursory listen to their album, I immediately thought of UK avant-garde metal dreamers A Forest of Stars and their cavalcade of madness. The sound is similar, as is the drama, and underneath both bands’ stories are deeper messages that transcend the ages. Calling Porta Nigra a black metal band would not be entirely accurate, though those strains are here, but there is so much more going on — power metal, gothic rock, death, folk — that the dark metal title is more applicable.
Porta Nigra is made up of only two members, which is astonishing considered how full-bodied and realized the music is. Then again, the modern era doesn’t require a lot of hands to make big sounds. Gilles de Rais (yes, named after the infamous child killer and French knight who was a companion to Joan of Arc) handles all guitar and bass, and he penned the lyrics to the record between 2010 and 2011. O handles drums and vocals, and his passionate, frenzied cries and catchy clean singing add a ton of personality to the music. I know the term “castle metal” is already out there, but I’d throw this in with that distinction as well. I realize we’re not focused on themes or sounds of the Middle Ages or anything, but something about the drama and violence here makes me think of kings, queens, guillotines, swords, armories, you name it. Maybe that’s just me.
Anyhow, “Dekadente Nachte” opens the record on an eerie note, with some warbling choral parts via O (I assume), female moaning (a recurring item) and a swirl of sound before it breaks open with wild shrieks and proggy guitars. “Megalomaniac” is a should-be hit. If there remained a viable medium for showing music videos on TV, this could make the rotation on an extreme metal show and have all kinds of idiots like me singing along. Savage verses, awesomely sung choruses, and a whole lot of interesting things going on. “Der Spiegel” follows on a down note, however, delving way too far into nu-metal-style groove and other unseemly ’90-poking musical elements. Luckily, it’s merely an aberration.
“Absinthfee” is a weird, murky instrumental interlude that trickles into “Aas der Meere,” a nine-minute trip toward doomsday, with spoken verses and howled choruses, a frenzied environment, and horns that seem to indicate the world may be ending soon. This also is the finest example of a song that makes you envision running through a castle while your walls are being assaulted. The title cut is more atmospheric and gothic in nature, one of the more melodic songs of the bunch (and there’s a ton of melody going on to begin with), but there also are thrashy and shoegazey moments as well. Closer “Tod Meiner Lust” runs 10 minutes, contains whirring keyboards and female choral parts, German dialog, weirdly effected vocals, and other dramatic thunder that brings the record to a dynamic finish.
Porta Nigra certainly make some bizarre, unconventional music, but they do so with a sense of fun and adventure even amid closing darkness. They make memorable compositions, embrace hooks, and combine carnage with melody, so there’s a little bit for each extreme listener. “Fin de Siecle” is a fine, moving album that’ll stick with you not only because it’s so bizarre but also because it’s a damn good listen.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/PortaNigraBand
To buy the album, go here: http://www.eitrin.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/default.php