In Switzerland, scientists from around the globe, working with the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have completed construction on the Large Hadron Collider. It sends protons colliding into each other in the hopes of finding what the universe is made of, or something. Fire away with enough power and speed at anything and it will crack: the sound barrier, time, space, eardrums. And as science gets closer to breaking the subatomic code, music has followed suit—the utter decisiveness and destruction of Gorgoroth’s Antichrist comes to mind. Yes, 15 years ago, certain naughty Norwegians burned churches and stabbed each other, but there’s actually much more to be frightened of.
“Wretched Wisdom”, the opening track on Krallice’s debut album, approaches like a malevolent monolith from another galaxy, with guitarists Colin Marston and Mick Barr at the helm. The standard high-speed repetitive drumming then arrives, followed by a high level of technical guitar work that should come as no surprise to those aware of the fretboard acrobatics that exemplify Marston and Barr’s other Brooklyn projects: Behold . . . the Arctopus and Orthrelm, respectively. As the dissonant, demented, Doctor Who–like refrain echoes through “Molec Codices,” two things become clear: This is the theme music for black-metal science fiction, and falling through wormholes is maybe not so much fun.
It’s Saturday night, and Krallice are performing at Death by Audio in Williamsburg. It’s loud and unprocessed, with the more detailed passages barely discernible. There is no stage. The small room is packed to the walls with curious yet cautious hipsters, many of whom seem awkward and uncertain as to how to handle things. Most look at each other as if deciding that, just for tonight, they will hesitantly embrace the darkness.
After the show, standing around the corner from the venue, Krallice field the inevitable question about New York’s lukewarm metal scene. “I will say that it seems to me, from being on tour, that the metal scene in New York is not nearly as full as you think it would be,” Marston says.
Black metal here has become an art-gallery curiosity, overwhelmed by controversy and sensationalism, then sterilized and sold to the highest bidder by Banks Violette. Few remember the worldwide musical innovations by groups of outsiders that initially formed the black-metal sound: Before skinny Norwegians took off their shirts to get photographed standing in the snow with swords, Brazilians like Sarcofago had already created a form of proto–black metal. Thankfully, such historical innovation doesn’t seem lost on the Canadian-based label Profound Lore, which has embraced a wide range of metal interpretations by signing, in addition to Krallice, such diverse acts as France’s ALCEST, Canada’s Wold, and Texas’s Cobalt. As with many of their labelmates, the question of whether Krallice are a traditional black-metal band seems irrelevant.
“It’s influenced by the musical aspects of black metal,” explains Barr, though he adds: “It’s not about Satanism.”
So what is it about? “What are some other black-metal concepts?” he asks Marston.
“Racism?” comes the joking reply.
“It’s not racism,” Barr counters. “It’s stream-of-consciousness. Gnosticism. Sci-fi.” Not the plotted geekiness of a lost Star Trek episode, but the cold, sublime horror of the cosmos; an immeasurable nothingness hinted at in titles like “Timehusk” and “Energy Chasms.”
Depending on when you’re reading this, the Hadron Collider has either destroyed Earth by opening a planet-sucking black hole (as some feared it would), or science is not so evil after all. For now, black metal can only approximate what such planetary destruction might feel like. But remember, it wasn’t men with guitars who unlocked the doors to human annihilation: That sinister gift came from scientists.