Astarte - _Doomed Dark Years_
(Black Lotus Records, 1998)
by: Steve Hoeltzel (
This is fast and forlorn black metal, fusing stark melodies in the chilly style of early Emperor with freezing riffing reminiscent of Mayhem's _De Mysteriis_. And you'd never know it from the way this sounds -- including the anguished, throaty vocal rasps -- but this band is composed entirely of women! If I'm not mistaken, that's a black metal first. Not that it's evident from appearances: there's face paint; spikes and bullets; long, stringy hair, parted down the middle... So Astarte look just like the typical black metal gents -- but then the guys don't exactly come across as paragons of traditional masculinity when the makeup's on and the skinny limbs are posing up a storm, eh? Anyway, musically, _Doomed Dark Years_ definitely delivers. Astarte has an early-90s-Norse-style sound, pleasingly thick and abrasive in tone, pleasingly basic in style and structure. It's also a bit repetitive in the early 90s way -- though this can be a plus when you're in the right mood. There's a drum machine in use, but it sounds solid as these things go: lots of sharp fills and so on. The production is fairly crisp and dense, not too bright or bouncy. While hardly original, this band's sound is extremely well-realized, occasionally quite haunting, and overall very faithful to the inspiration of some of the pioneers of the second wave -- not watered-down, polished-up, or played-out in the manner of so many recent releases in this genre. And speaking of this genre, I wonder how Astarte shall be received... Which reminds me, in a roundabout way, of a gripe I've got -- not about Astarte, but about 'scene'-type stuff. What many of us really like about black metal is the music's cryptic, spectral, alien feeling (enhanced by the costumes -- sometimes). But that essential, unearthly vibe is often spoiled when the genre becomes a platform for politics -- especially in the form of intolerant whining and cliched threats. I'm all in favor of intelligent, -informed- critiques of mainstream religion and commercialism. But a lot of this trendy 'underground' race-bashing and religious intolerance is closed-minded and muddled with ludicrous old stereotypes, hence: lame. But hey, I'm not the thought police; I'm just stating my own view. Anyway, this Astarte album really rips.
(article published 6/7/1998)
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