Tape Wyrm V: Cascadian Black Metal Tape Wyrm V: Cascadian Black Metal

Cascadian Black Metal: A Playlist

Cascadian black metal is the name of highly contested sub grouping of North American black metal. In fact, the grouping is sometimes too specific for people when North American black metal, USBM, black metal or even metal is perfectly fine. Geographic locations have played an enormous role in cultural development but have become less dominate in the current digital landscape. This is why I take interest when a particular region has a specific style, custom and even language which stands unique against the parent genre.

The Pacific Northwest is a region of North America and Canada which roughly includes Oregon, Washington and British Colombia. The area itself known for its dense wilderness and preserved ecology which includes the planet’s largest temperate rain forest. “Cascadia” is also the name of a political movement which, in the mid 00’s, started vying for economic and political secession from both the US and Canadian government. Despite any political motivations, the Cascadian region exits as a part of the United States and Canada but has shown the beginning of a cultural and social independence. This budding independence, most importantly has has a positive impact on the region’s metal scene. While still miles away from regional metal definitions such as parts of Scandinavia, Cascadian black metal has the possibility of becoming more a milestone rather than a contested sub grouping of black metal.

Stripped to its core, Cascadian black metal combines the length and drama of post rock with the intensity of second wave black metal. Words are screeched and shrieked and the percussion usually reaches the speed of light. The thematic structure of Cascadian black celebrates nature with deep reverence specifically focusing on transcendentalism, shamanism and animism. While the second wave of black metal centered itself around the Nordic mythology, Cascadian black metal has strong currents of druidism, neopaganism and even strands of Inuit and northwestern Native American spirituality. This combined with a wave of support among a non-metal fanbase has propelled Cascadian Black to a larger audience with both positive and negative receptions.

Cascadian black metal was discovered during a time when metal was receiving a strange wave of popularity. A genre that was concentrated within a small but loyal fanbase soon found themselves the centerpiece for discussion among non metal blogs. The positive reviews of Agalloch and Wolves In The Throne Room by Pitchfork and NPR brought a new wave of fans into black metal. A majority of concert goers now resemble bookish librarians rather than archetypal metal fans with darkthrone patches sewn on their leather jackets. The style of black metal has undergone more transformations than any other style of metal. From the first strangled cry of Venom and Bathroy to the psychedelic worshipings of Nachtmystium, black metal is an ever evolving musical style.

Below are a list of five records which can be thought of as a condensed history of Cascadian black metal. The style of post rock / black metal has been seen outside of this region most notably with the folk black metal act Drudkh and Irish newcomers Altar Of Plagues. While both of the previous bands are nothing short of spectacular, this list remains focused on acts within the Pacific Northwest region. It is of my opinion these five releases have come to define Cascadian black not only with its history but with its possibilities for the future.


Weakling – Dead As Dreams (2000)

Weakling is no longer around as their debut release Dead As Dreams would be the only release before dissolving into less known San Francisco area metal bands. Though Weakling is from Northern California and their songs primarily deal with battle and war themes, the undeniable impact to Cascadian black metal is apparent. At a staggering 76 minutes, Dead As Dreams boasts 5 songs with the shortest being a brief 10 minutes. Within the blistering black metal are ambient passages, interludes and openers which transform this little known Northern California band into legends. Weakling would stand as major influences for later Cascadian black metal bands including Wolves In The Throne Room.


Threnos – By Blood and By Earth (2004)

I swear I am getting to bands which stayed around for longer than an afternoon but only after Threnos. Threnos never got around to recording a full length. By Blood and by Earth was the name of their 45 minute demo which serves as the only record of the bands existence. The demo never saw a label release and has thus become scarce across the greater landscape of the internet. The album art is actually the only picture in record of the band occupying the same space. The two band members involved in Threnos would eventually form Fauna which stands as another solid member in the Cascadian black family. By Blood and by Earth, though a demo stands as an independent release form a band who never had the opportunity to fine tune their approach. As far as first tries goes, Threnos has nailed the audition. With the power of lo-fidelity and raw primitivism, Threnos conjured nature based lyrics into the template of black metal. If you can find a copy of this demo on the internet or shady tape dealer any black metal fan would not be disappointed.

Agalloch – Ashes Against The Grain (2006)

Let us talk about Agalloch. Agalloch is perhaps on of the most important bands within the Cascadian black metal scene if nothing else for their consistent output across the decade. In 2002, the band released The Mantle which would be a more sober approach to the black / folk metal themes explored in earlier records. Aglloch also released The White which was entirely comprised of neofolk songs. I heard the band started all their shows with a quasi neopagan ritual and wasn’t surprised to see it actually happen during one of their concerts. I also wasn’t surprised to see their merch sold on an animal pelt. 2006’s Ashes Against the Grain not the first black metal record to incorporate post rock, ambient and black metal but it was one of the first to do it so well. You could throw a dart with eyes closed and hit an amazing dong on this record. “Limbs,” “Falling Snow,” “Our Fortress is Burning,” and the “Fire Above Ice Below” are all badges which Agalloch wears today. The band has also been mentioned recently with the release of 2010’s Marrow Of The Spirit which not only made it on to end of the year lists not only for metal but music in general. If two lesser known bands are not where you would live to start with Cascadian black metal, Agalloch is a perfect choice for tour guide.


Wolves In The Throne Room – Two Hunters (2007)

Wolves in the Throne room is perhaps the most popular black metal band from the Pacific Northwest. Two Hunters is a triumph as well as their 2006 release Diadem of 12 Stars. Currently the band is finishing their fourth record Celestial Lineage which is promising to be a new direction for the band, something their third record black Cascade moderately tired to do. Two Hunters has the same template as Diadem but just with a stronger finish and focus. At its core, Two Hunters is two and half songs stretched out across 46 minutes. The near 20 minute closer “I will Lay My Bones Down among the Rocks and Roots” waltzes itself into the pantheon of greatest metal songs ever made. For all its hype and negative backlash, two hunters is one of Cascadian black metals greatest prizes. It successfully incorporates black metals sound into a journey into broad new horizons. Run, climb and thrash your way through everything else to get this record.


Skagos – Ast (2009)

Skagos, compared to Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room is more raw with less merits to their name. The band is mostly a studio based project with few live shows in their history. Despite their lo fidelity and short list of references, Ast is nothing short than a triumphant battle call across a dense forest of conifers. Within the album are moments of acoustic bliss, vocal mantras and blistering dissonance all focused on a transcendental experience. The band boasts one of the most optimistic positions rooted in bleak mortal despair. “Blossoms With Spout From a Carcass” and “A Night That Ends, As All Nights End, When the Sun Rises” at first, confuses the listener with direction but then become obvious in its naturalistic sentiments. Things will die and things will come again. “Ást” in Icelandic literally means love a thought and emotion which is rarely present against the whole of black metal.


Recent Recommendations

Decapitated – Carnival is Forever

Since I spent all this time talking about black metal, I am going to allow the reader to pause and catch their breath before recommending a death metal band. Are you good? Do you want some water? Alright, lets get back to it. The name Decapitated would have happened eventually in the metal world and I am surprised it took till 1996 to be coined. The name Decapitated invokes a certain sense of balls out brutality with little room for remorse or reason. This is exactly what you get with the Polish band of the same name. Carnival is Forever is the band’s fifth album and promises nothing close to Ferris wheels and cotton candy. Instead, the listener is treated to a tilt a whirl of technical death metal which is spectacular as it is nausea inducing. Also you are given the album preview by Nuclear Blast which while only allowing bits and pieces of songs, it comes with hilariously moody pictures of the band.


Brotherhood Of Sleep – Dark As Light

I do not know many Greek metal bands. I know even less Greek stoner metal instrumental bands except for one. Brotherhood Of Sleep, by name, could be the indicative of a reverence to of the California based stoner doom band Sleep. Even more connection could be made to the post – Sleep instrumental doom band OM. Brotherhood Of Sleep though shines through comparisons by bringing heavy psychedelic odysseys with above average results. At 50 minutes these 4 songs rip through the listener like a massive bong hit laced with Persian mysticism.

Undead Creep – The Ever Burning Torch

Hahah holy shit. Dark Descent Records has been the topic of discussion recently with their releases of death metal dripping with punkish grime. In fact recent releases from Dark Descent have been re-releases of death/doom/d-beat demos packaged in the ultra hip format of cassette tapes. When entering into a Dark Descent release one must prepare themselves for a deep descent into …well… darkness. Undead Creep is an Italian death metal band that is could be the literal definition of “unpolished.” Though the production is phenomenal, Undead Creep’s lyrical themes of occultism and gore elevate this record to a special place reserved for reanimated corpses. Tear off the top layer of skin and jump into that giant pool of acid. Do you feel that horrible burning sensation? Yep. That’s natural.

One Response about “Tape Wyrm V: Cascadian Black Metal”

  • Charles says:

    I have friggin’ EVERY Wolves in the Throne Room release living on my computer and even when I forgive the Earth First! nu-terror nutbaggery I still can’t get with it. I know. I know. I fail metal every day.