Artist: Bloodlet Throne
Album: The Blight Upon The Northern Land
Location: Morgantown, West Virginia, USA
Written by: Aaron Michael Kobes
Black Metal is largely a genre predicated on lore, in that a majority of acts draw inspiration from or pay homage to some kind of lore, such as Tolkien, Paganism, or even self-referentially once far enough removed. One man Black Metal project Bloodlet Throne is no different from many Black Metal acts in this regard. However, where Bloodlet Throne differs, interestingly so, is the origin of the lore from which the act draws inspiration, an action role-playing video game called Skyrim. Before diving into the music of the album, I feel it is both important and appropriate to take a moment to examine, not only the lore that surrounds the game, but the larger implication on the whole inside such a lore-based community with a widening scope of inspiration.
It is no secret that the public perception of video games is murky and ever shifting at the best of times, however, it does seem to be trending towards the positive overall. For instance, video games were often scoffed at as time wasters- a sign of the lazy or intellectually stunted. Thankfully, it seems even that has changed, if this year’s Grammys are any indication, with not only recognition being given, but artistic merit to the creation of this multimedia format. Given then that video games are a ubiquitous part of many contemporary cultures, it stands to reason that they begin to overlap over other forms of media, i.e. literature, films, and previous works of music, as a predominant form of influence on future artistic endeavors. Additionally, there is also the widespread supportive community at large to consider and which play an integral role, and are more than just passive “casual” players, and inject a new, although different form of life into the existing source material through content creation in various ways. These take the form of blogs, Youtube channels, and entire conventions devoted to the creation, launch and experience of these games, so that it rapidly turns some of them into lexicons or mainstays of certain portions of the gaming subculture that permeates into pop culture. This is the very same modality in how Tolkien lore came to be a monolith in not only High Fantasy culture but pop culture as well over the years, albeit on an accelerated scale. However, this does not necessarily mean that the potential source material for the next generation of Black Metal acts is derivative or without merit, far from it; with some games overly ripe with years of backstory and world-building to draw heavily from. Such is the case with the game Skyrim, the titular name of a land within the realm of Tamriel, which is the basis for six main releases and seven spin offs over the course of nearly thirty years, sourcing enough lore to keep even the most esoteric Black Metal creator overly busy.
The Blight Upon The Northern Land then focuses on a conflict arising within Skyrim between the Nords and southern aggressors who are of eleven decent, as referenced in the majority of the lyrical content. The Blight is concerned with the Nord viewpoint, referencing Sovngarde, the Nord afterlife which draws parallels to Valhalla of the Viking afterlife, and calls for the,
“Spill(ing) the blood of the meek”
while fiercely stating,
“We will never surrender
To these elvish oppressors”.
Matching this sort of aggressive tonality is the harsh sound of Raw Black Metal, delivered in all its Lo-Fi, DIY glory. The album begins with a standard Intro song, that is contemplative yet tinged with menace, with standalone guitar giving a simple gourd progression before being unified by a secondary and harmonized guitar with an undercut bass line, creating an illusory shadow of conflict- a sort gearing up for war. The album starts in earnest with the following titular track, which wastes no time in delivering its onslaught by way of blast beats, intense wall-of-sound guitar, and the gratingly harsh growlings of Malacath, or as it is known in throughout Elder Scrolls lore, God of Curses, Daedric Prince of the Bloody Oath and a half dozen other pretty metal names.
The Blight Upon The Northern Land continues on much like an elongated campaign that has a constantly shifting theater of war, which I suspect is the point of oth the album on the whole and track names like In The Flames of Never Ending Conflict. There are moments of respite and near rest such as the track Spilling Traitors Blood that are not without their moments of intensity or foregoing of the Raw Black Metal sound, that feel more like a display of the propaganda facet within war with lyrics like,
“Moving Amongst The Fields
Towards The Traitors
Who seek a worse world
For us all
Heed the call to war”.
The track being filled with menace and an air of oppression as it conjures up imagery of fantasy-like Word War II posters pitting a shining hero arrayed against an overtly vilified foe. There is also a subtly I would argue in other tracks such as The Calling of Swords and Battles wherein there is a sort of aggressively tired energy attributed to overly long fighting that takes place over years in the former and a more frenetic and unchecked energy of the fanatic in the latter, both displaying a sort of varied nuance to the effects of war. Additionally, there is a coda of sorts in the final track of Wuuthrad which echoes the beginning of the album, in that it is both an instrumental piece laden with implications of conflict through tonal tension. The main difference between the two is that, while the Intro feels more like a preparation as mentioned above, Wuuthard feels more like one being resigned to the readiness of conflict, as if it were a trait learned through the battle hardened entirety of the album, which in and of itself is a beautiful addition to a growing and capable catalog known as Bloodlet Throne
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