A lot of black metal records are scary because you think the screeching vocalist might be warning about an oncoming cataclysm wherein a ravaging pack of supernatural wolves bring civilization low. It’s spooky because you’re not sure. Spirit in Flames is spooky for a different reason. It’s spooky because you ARE sure.
A few years ago, when Patti Smith was in New York City promoting her last book, an audience member asked how people could build an underground community here the way Smith did back in the 60s. Smith told her, “You can’t. Not any more.” Smith told her the only way was to take it someplace else, “like Pittsburgh or Detroit.” Actually, I don’t know if she said Detroit, it might have been Poughkeepsie, but you get the idea.
As I was listening to Spirit in Flames, it occurred to me that the thing Smith was talking about doesn’t just apply to artists and entrepreneurs, it also applies to religious fanatics. There are lots of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs in New York, many of whom take their religion very seriously. But that’s about it. For reasons that are obvious if you live here, we’re pretty short on Pagans, Shamanists, Gnostics, Satanists and whatever you call it when you think the pyramids were built by aliens.
Sometimes this city makes me wonder if people are better at thinking about themselves than they are at thinking for themselves, but Spirit in Flames reminds me that it’s still possible to believe in something not because it makes you fit in, but just because that’s who you are. From what I’ve read, Lord Sardonyx, who is When Bitter Spring Sleeps, identifies as Heathen. He still refers to the narrative on Spirit in Flames as a “folktale,” but I think he may have forgotten that while he was singing it. Clean vocals or not, this is black metal.
That guy from Gorgoroth? He’s just doing it to sell records.
Lord Sardonyx, on the other hand? This guy definitely, definitely believes that avenging wolves are really going to rip an actual a portal to the netherworld underneath Manhattan with their moonstone claws, like, any day now. I could figure that out based on the conviction of his vocal performance alone, even if he wasn’t donating all of the real money he makes from the record to an actual conservation group in order to protect real, actual wolves. Which he is doing, by the way.
I’m not ready to convert yet, but there’s something I’ve got to say. Spirit in Flames isn’t just convincing me that Lord Sardonyx believes in the coming lupine apocalypse. He also makes it sound like it almost wouldn’t be such a bad idea. It’s not because of the charity, although that’s awesome. It’s not because he burned down any churches, which he didn’t. It’s not because he obviously took Patti Smith’s advice, someday, somewhere. It’s just because he sings like he’s about to be burned at the stake and no, he is not interested in repenting. Maybe metal has more to do with belief than I used to think.
Got four bucks? Follow this link to Bandcamp, get your Samhain season off to an appropriately black metal start, and save a wolf in process.