On the Rise: A Glance at Vanguard Productions

Vanguard Productions

Black metal as it stands in 2014 is a slightly strange place to be. As information spreads quickly through the internet, the “underground” is often only a few calculated keystrokes away. With this accessibility, we also find a strong divide in fans of black metal, not along genre lines, but along ideological lines. While controversial and extreme personalities have always been a part of our culture, I feel like the polarization in views has never been quite as pronounced as it is now. With this in mind, it’s a bold move for a young label like Vanguard Productions to include a message of complete neutrality and indifference in its brief, yet clear “about” section. To the best of my knowledge, none of the artists I’m featuring today have anything resembling a hateful or bigoted message, but to ensure that nobody wants my head on a stick over this, I’ll advise my readers that some of the acts in this article may be of a different ideological background from your own. If you are willing to hear the music and learn my thoughts about it, read on. If not, I assure you that my next article will be far tamer and I’ll see you there. I’ll also say that I feel it is important for art to deal with things that are uncomfortable, unexplored, and sometimes truly inappropriate. If we do not examine the ugliness, it is easier for it to exist silently while we all turn a blind eye toward it. While this blog is not a place for me to share my own personal beliefs, it should be quite clear that I am against hatred and cruelty.

Now that Vanguard Productions is ten releases deep, I feel the time has come for me to share my thoughts on some of the label’s output. While I don’t have all of the tapes, I’ve been doing my best to keep up. Among the label’s earliest releases was the magnificent debut from Equinox, Of Blade and Graal, which I have already reviewed here. Building from there, the label released a massive batch of tapes all at once. This batch of releases is what I will be sharing with you, my friends, along with a few updates about the label’s future.

king ov antichrists

I’ll admit that Vanguard’s first and third tapes eluded my grasp, so I cannot comment on them. As Equinox was VP02, we’ll begin our reviews for the day with VP04, the debut from King ov Antichrists, entitled WAR. This tape, as all other Vanguard tapes I’ve received to date, has a simple layout, straight and to the point, with high contrast photographs of the artist himself and song titles. The black cassette itself has no indication of the content within, allowing the primary focus to be on the music. While nothing groundbreaking, WAR is everything I’d want from a traditional sounding black metal album. From the song titles and imagery to the melancholy guitars and pained vocals, King ov Antichrists is among the finest and most ferocious. The tape itself is dubbed at a very low volume, but the music itself is on point once turned up enough. From the meandering introductory track onward, this isn’t necessarily violent and aggressive black metal, but is instead a catalog of a weary journey taken at any cost. This is the satisfaction of conquering one’s enemies just as much as it is the soundtrack to the ultimate loss. I’ll admit I was surprised by the degree of melancholy considering the name and image associated with this cassette, but it’s a good thing. Rarely does something grip me as depressive without being tedious and pathetic. This is somber in the finest way, yet with the edge of a desperate creature that has been backed into a corner.

bacchanal

While most of the Vanguard catalog can easily be defined, VP05 showcases the label’s least predictable (and consequently, possibly most exciting) artist, Bacchanal. This tape, Purity Through Darkness is a massive display of misanthropic electronics, both welcoming and unsettling in its many forms. With songs that stretch over the spectrum of electronic music from drone-infused trance pieces to harsher industrial music, this lengthy cassette from S.L. Jarson (Equinox) and friends is far more focused than one would imagine. From the downright meditative intensity of “The Shells of Yggdrasil” to the hypnotic beat-driven “Sigil of Baphomet,” this tape’s diversity of sound serves as a journey through many different aspects of the same concept rather than a disparate collection of unrelated songs. Even more interesting to me is that this was initially two separate EPs, yet they flow together so well as a unified cassette. This is not for the black metal purists out there, but those who are dedicated to quality music will find this fulfilling. If you easily followed Ulver from their forest-dwelling black metal days into the cold streets of Perdition City, this will make perfect sense as a counterbalance to the natural atmospheres of Equinox.

solarthrone

VP06 marks the debut of Solarthrone, a primarily acoustic endeavor entitled The Light We Follow. While many artists are turning their eyes skyward, whether in hopes of learning from the cosmos or other deity, Solarthrone is grounded and focused on the earthly. Softly sung songs and sparse arrangements are perfect for simply closing your eyes, taking deep breaths, and envisioning a quieter place, untouched by human hands. The beauty of the moment and the world around is all that can be relied upon, and Solarthrone does a wonderful job of keeping the listener in a state of reflection and reverence.  While I’m unable to leave the confines of modern society, I feel that momentary excursions into other states are vital for mental wellness, and The Light We Follow is a hidden place worth visiting regularly

vald

The final review of today’s post is a return to blazing black metal, with VP07, Vald’s  Demo MMXII.  While clearly recorded a while ago, this release is as relevant and exciting as it would’ve been two years ago. As a member of the Antilight Collective, Vald is inherently committed to creating timeless and mighty black metal. As with King ov Antichrists, this is in no way reinventing the genre or even adding a new twist, but it’s damn consistent and a pitch-perfect interpretation of the classic sound. Unlike King ov Antichrists, this is more of a fast-paced, head bobbing affair.  The drums crash and the cymbals shimmer rather than leaving resonant tones, an indication of the fuzzed out production that sits so nicely with me. Little information exists, although the Antilight page for Vald includes a photograph of two individuals, so I can only hope this is an act that performs live.

 

So, with these releases, it would be easy to leave this post as is, but there are four exciting tapes worth mentioning that are either now out (but I don’t have yet) or impending.  First off, let’s talk about the new compilation, Indivisible Beneath the Banner. This tape is a five way split between End All, Bacchanal, Solarthrone, Thestral, and Intolerant. I haven’t yet heard it but my familiarity with most of these groups tells me it’s well worth checking out. Click here for a brief promotional video. In addition to their involvement on the aforementioned compilation, the mighty Thestral is soon releasing their debut full-length album, Y Canu BrudThis group has long been worthy of more attention than they’ve received. I imagine 2014 will be the year they truly gain the attention of the metal underground now that they are releasing a proper album. Also, a strong addition off the compilation (and this post in general) is the new Bacchanal release, Air Trees Water Animals, which is already available for purchase. Don’t sleep on it.

Finally, this post will likely serve as the official announcement for the fact that the unsung classic self-titled EP from Deceiverion is being reissued on cassette by Vanguard Productions in the near future. This 2002 release features the legendary Cazz Grant on drums, notable for his insane personal discography, including time spent with USBM heavyweights Grand Belial’s Key. This release is one that I’ll admit even I had overlooked and never heard about, but the teaser track provided below should be enough incentive for most of us to give this a proper look. Thanks for taking the time to sit through this relatively lengthy post. I hope you will all find something you enjoy here.