‘Tis the season of thankfulness for black metal

Four of my favorite regional black metal bands gathered at The Sidebar Tavern November 15 for what I’d like to call my own personal “kvltsgiving”. The show merged the tail end of the two-week “No Souls, No Minds” tour of Pittsburgh’s blackened avant-grinders Dendritic Arbor and Philadelphia’s ritualistic Haethen with Baltimore’s black metal practitioners Xeukatre and Frederick’s aggressors Dweller in the Valley. I call it a “kvltsgiving” because seeing all these people that I love in one place to play music that I love trumps any  meal-based “thanksgiving” I could imagine. This was a feast for my ears and my mind. And this is the month for giving thanks, is it not?

Black metal is an extreme subgenre of a genre of music that in itself is considered somewhat extreme. Few people understand black metal, or care to, and this is probably how it should be. Black metal is not for you. In fact it is against you. I don’t think that is the reason this musical style appeals to me so much, as I don’t really seek out things that are intrinsically obscure. I haven’t signed the hipster oath just yet. But I know what I like and I know what moves me, and this music, especially this particular line up of these bands, was not something I was going to miss.

Dweller in the Valley, an aggressive trio from Frederick with a drummer/vocalist, began the evening in usual ritual style. Drummer Dane Olds adorns his kit with a herd of horned animal skulls of various sizes. Their style is forthright and filled with agony.  I can’t understand Dane’s lyrics, but he sure looks pissed. The effect is very cathartic for me (and possibly for that drunk girl in the audience). I am looking forward to hearing their forthcoming recording of new music…..whenever that drops. You can download their demo for free—name your own price.


Of the four, I have been aware of Haethen the longest. They performed at Satan’s Unholy Abomination Fest I in December 2012, and I have followed them since. Their music is melodic, yet raw, anti-life, blast-beat driven ambient black metal. They are probably my favorite among the four, because they play the style of black metal my ear gravitates toward. (There are substyles of the subgenre! It never ends!!) Check out the video for a taste.

I heard about Dendritic Arbor earlier this year. They write songs with a pro-mother earth theme. Apparently, they used to perform shrouded in robes but I’ve never seen them play like that. Their music can best be described as certainly black metal but with definite experimental grindcore and avant garde underpinnings. Three of the four members are singing. It’s like a chorus of chaos. Dendritic Arbor is among the most challenging bands you are going to listen to as the music can be just as chaotic as the vocals. Most of their songs are short, except for the massive “Drifting,” which will fuck with your head after one listen.


Visually, Xeukatre  presents black metal the way it looked in the 90’s, complete with bullet belts and corpse paint. Musically, their style is raw and unpretentious,  a sort of what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach to black metal. I appreciate their aesthetic and am always entertained when they play. They will perform again next week with Demonic Christ at The Sidebar.

Black metal is alive and well, it would seem. It’s not what it was in the 80s or 90s, but because there is real evil in the material world, it seems to be evolving into something perhaps more brutal and sinister than its satan-worshipping roots. At my core, I find I need a means to express these themes and philosophies, and the presence of bands like these four is something to be thankful for.

View my gallery of photos below.

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