I always imagine splits as the musical equivalent of a pro wrestling cage match. Two bands locked in combat, duking it out for supremacy in an all-out slugfest; there is no escape, there must be a winner. No matter how great both bands may be, it is inevitable that the listener will find one more appealing than the other, essentially making him or her the “special guest referee.”
In the case of this split release between Louisiana’s Barghest and Minnesota’s False, we have two bands stepping into the ring with two very different takes on black metal, which ultimately makes it quite difficult to determine a clear-cut victor. Barghest brings the pain with two cuts of filthy and fucked BM which also feature a distinct old-school death metal influence, while False unleashes all of their considerable fury in one lengthy track of cinematic European-style darkness. Think of Barghest as a down ‘n’ dirty brawler ala “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, while False is a highly technical combatant in the tradition of Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Their approaches are poles apart, yet that contrast makes for excellent chemistry, which in turn results in a surprisingly varied listen.
Barghest opens the album with “Shifting Sands” and “Inhuman Hatred,” a pair of tracks that sound like they were lifted directly out of a Bayou graveyard that’s been completely overtaken by the swamp. It’s the kind of primitive and punk-damaged black metal that the US made its reputation on via early practitioners such as Profanatica and Thornspawn. Granted, Barghest are much more advanced in both playing and composition in comparison to the USBM forefathers, but their music is possessed by the same misanthropic attitude and desire for total devastation. As previously mentioned, there are also some death metal elements present that recall the sludgy, cavernous attack of bands like Vasaeleth, adding a doomy, suffocating quality to the proceedings. Of course, Louisiana is well-known for churning out merchants of metallic molasses (Eyehategod, Crowbar, Acid Bath, etc), and Barghest can throw down with the best of them when things downshift to a crawl. Indeed, Barghest’s ugly, blackened assault feels like slowly being drowned in a cesspool.
After Barghest delivers two extra-gnarly Stone Cold Stunners, False applies a Scandinavian-influenced, synth-laden black metal Sharpshooter with “Heavy as a Church Tower,” an epic USBM track if ever there was one. The Minneapolis-based sextet obviously knows a thing or two about dynamics, taking the template set down by Emperor and ratcheting up the intensity several notches, while still knowing when to back off and let the song breath with haunting atmospherics and a sense of deep melancholy. Although False clearly owe a great deal to Norway’s second wave, “Heavy as a Church Tower” is more than just Ihsahn-worship; when things reach a fever-pitch, the track possesses a gritty, violent streak that is distinctly American. When taken as a whole, the track is a nearly pitch-perfect black metal journey; all slicing, tremolo-picked guitars, eerie synths, thundering, slightly muffled drums, and vocals that positively seethe with acidic venom. “Heavy as a Church Tower” encompasses everything I want from a great black metal track in one fell seventeen minute swoop; it transports me from this mundane existence to a freezing-cold underworld where Mephistopheles sits regally upon a throne of ice.
So, who ultimately emerges victorious from this unholy USBM smackdown? Although both bands put in highly impressive performances, I have to give the slight edge to False. As much as I enjoy the oppressive, miasmic beatdown of Barghest, False have turned in the kind of lush yet frenzied black metal bad-assery that I’m an absolute sucker for. Regardless of who “wins,” this split serves as a great example of American black metal at its finest and most diverse, as well as an excellent starting point for exploring these two promising young bands.