Pagan Hammer – Pagan Wolves

Pagan Hammer is perhaps the first artist I’ve reviewed where I’ve had nothing to say about their (or his, rather) contribution to the metal scene as a whole. Commenting on something that is not squarely focused on the music Pagan Hammer creates seems deeply inappropriate when faced with music of such purity of vision and delivery. In this spirit, I’ll not be referring to any pretentious evaluations on what Pagan Hammer ‘means’ on some political level, but rather, I will merely attempt to evaluate the strange, beautiful creature that ‘Pagan Wolves’ is.

The first demo of this artist is a stirring one on many levels. Playing a somewhat droning, ambient style of black metal, yet lacking the inherent pretense that many of such artists hold, Pagan Hammer’s style is not one to easily pin down. I would describe the music on ‘Pagan Wolves’ as a mixture of Canadian standby Bloodaxe, new Israeli sensation Animus, and little-known Polish artist Northland. Pagan Hammer possesses the drifting, tidelike rhythms and flow of the first, the droning qualities, repetitive drumming, and some of the melodic sense of the second, and an additional burst of melodic stylings and bass heaviness of the third. This combination results in a heavy yet quickly-moving piece of repetitive, melodic black metal that disengages almost entirely from the root genre. There’s essentially no resemblance to anything out of Norway or any traditional sonic qualities of black metal; it is indeed much like Animus’ style of what I call ‘black music’; black metal minus any trace of its heavy metal origins.

The guitars are by far the core of the music here. Presenting a sort of combination of the strings of Bloodaxe and the keyboards of Animus, the tone has a very indistinct, yet softly marbled quality to it, with gentle, rounded tones that move like water through the four tracks. Apart from a brief section of brilliant, crystalline tremolo in the beginning of ‘A Fallen Warrior’, the rhythms are completely indistinct, reducing picking down to droning chords sustained and gently changed over long measures and lines of music. A bass appears to be present; an extra dull, almost inaudible throb under the swirling majesty of the guitars, appearing unintentionally when played with extra volume. Seemingly programmed drums (apart from on the Burzum cover) are a blurring set of speedy, twinkling ride cymbal, low, rumbling bass drums, and very quiet snare, generally playing very simple rhythms, though not with quite the absolute minimalism of Animus. The drum sounds themselves are extremely pleasing, belying a sort of aesthetic concern that goes beyond that of the average black metal artist. Indeed, this demo is very pleasing to listen to, with its noiseless production, pulsing low end, and distinct instrumentation. The final piece added is that of vocals: in this case, infrequent, and when appearing, distorted beyond all recognition of the singer as human, not unlike Canadian stalwart It’s use of monstrously reborn whisperings. In this case, they sound like wind, or some other natural force similarly wintry and dancing, with reverb driving the voice into caverns of quiet before brutally erupting in a breathy, nearly wordless cry.

The atmosphere is strange; wintry, yes, but more water than snow, lacking the bite and viciousness of an artist like Immortal in favor of something more distant and beautiful. I would not describe the music as very harsh or raw, despite the naturally anti-egalitarian sounds of the recordings, and the atmosphere is in a way similar, like a distant view towards the water off Antarctica rather than freezing in a blizzard like Bloodaxe. It is desolately beautiful yet unfailingly intense and proud in its delivery, and the energetic hum indicates a spirit more inclined towards introspective reflection on nature than warfare, even though this is naturally violent music.

Of all the demos I’ve received, ‘Pagan Wolves’ is most certainly one of the best. With an incredible strength in both songwriting and atmosphere, I eagerly look forward to more music of such stark beauty as this. While it is certainly not for anyone, and is comfortable in its position as outsider art, it is most certainly a release to investigate for the greater musical community. The measure of what makes black metal great is in its ability to transport the listener to another realm far beyond ours. ‘Pagan Wolves’, if nothing else, certainly does that.

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~ by noktorn on August 25, 2007.

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