Monday, March 20, 2017

Colombia: The True Cradle of Black Metal?

Yours truly in front of a Mayhem backdrop in the basement of Helvete (now Neseblod) in Oslo.

As we all know the world of Black Metal is filled with tall tales, rumors, gossip, and folklore, so take this post with a grain of salt the size of Oslo. I'm not an expert in Black Metal history, so some of this may be common knowledge or totally wrong. This account was compiled from conversations that I had with randoms, whose credibility should definitely be questioned. I didn't question it 'cuz their stories were awesome.



Colombia

I was in Colombia recently and, of course, visited all my favorite Metal record stores downtown Bogotá. For whatever reason a lot of the conversations with store employees, owners and other randoms centered around an infamous character in the Colombian Metal scene: Bull Metal. Bull (real name Mauricio Montoya) was a founding member of legendary Death Metal band Masacre. His own life, especially his last few years leading to his death in 2002 are the subject of a lot of speculation and myth. But, that is a topic for an entirely different post. What I want to talk about now is the link between early Colombian Proto-Black-Metal (I love that term), Bull Metal, and early Norwegian Black Metal, especially Euronymous and Mayhem. If you know the story of Mayhem you may think you know where this is going: 'Dawn of the Black Hearts.' Well, eventually, but what happened years before is what I want to discuss.

The story varies slightly on who tells it, but basically it goes like this: At some point in the 80s (some say as early as '84, some say as late as '87) Bull Metal and Euronymous started writing each other and trading tapes, as we used to do back then. I actually traded tapes with Bull myself in the early 90s. Anyway, I was told that Bull Metal sent Euronymous records from a few key Colombian bands. Namely, Parabellum, Blasfemia and Reencarnacion. These three bands, from the fuckhole that was Medellín (second largest city in Colombia) in the '80s, were the core of what was dubbed the "Ultra Metal" scene. In 1986 Mayhem were no more than a Venom cover band. If you've seen their show at Ski (below) you can see that Mayhem were far from the band that would record Deathcrush a year later. The widely accepted and (proudly) retold story in Colombia is that the records Bull Metal sent Euronymous were a major influence on Mayhem and shaped their new sound.



At first the whole thing sounded like the usual Colombian hyper-pride taken to the next level. These people were basically saying that bands from Colombia, although amazing in their own right, were responsible for the sound that defined the Black Metal genre. Is that possible? No way! Mayhem was influenced by Bathory, Venom and Celtic Frost, right? That's what I've always thought!

Could it be True?

First let's look at the timeline. Deathcrush was released in late 1987. Let's say they had been working on the songs and refining their style since early '87, and they listened to the Colombian records in '86. That's plausible, no? We know that the opposite wasn't true. The early Norwegian sound could not have influenced Colombian bands because they had already established their sound as far back as 1983. Parabellum, for example, had a cemented sound by 1984 when they recorded their demo (below).

If you listen to these three bands (clips below) you can hear a sound very similar to what Mayhem (and other early BM bands in Norway) would eventually develop. Parabellum's tempo changes, primal drum beats, scream vocals and raw energy definitely sound like they could have influenced a record like 'Deathcrush' more than Venom or Celtic Frost. Bathory is a little closer to the eventual Mayhem sound. Of course bands are influenced by all sorts of things, but the point is whether or not the Colombian bands had a significant influence on Mayhem's song writing and overall raw sound.




If you do a quick internet search you'll find tons of webpages (mostly Colombian) stating that the aforementioned influence is a fact. There's even an article about it in El Tiempo, Colombia's biggest newspaper. That would be like the Wall Street Journal having an article about Amon Amarth's dislike of the term "Viking Metal." This is a legit newspaper talking about metal tape trading in the early 80s! Fucking crazy! And the article isn't some sensationalist piece of shit talking about the Norwegian Black Metal soap opera and church burnings or something. Anyway, I digress. In the last couple of years, and no doubt fueled by these stories (true or not), the prices of original vinyl from these three Colombian bands (as well as some others) have gone through the fucking roof. A very fucking tall barrel vaulted roof. Some of the records are going for well over U$1000. One of the store owners I talked to in Bogotá told me he'd sold a mint copy Parabellum's "Mutación Por Radiación" 12" EP for U$5000 to some European dudes that had visited his shop last fall. Knowing the infamous Colombian gift for exaggeration (read any Gabriel Garcia Márquez novel) I calculate the actual sale at around U$2500. I have a few of these records myself and I'm not saying I could retire if I sold them, but I sure could take a nice vacation for a few weeks. Shit, I digress again.

So, of course with demand comes supply. Any recordings these bands did, from studio stuff, rehersal demos and shit live recordings are being reissued by labels far and wide. Dude, these live tapes... most of these live tapes are absolute garbage-fuck-ass-shit. Think about it: they were recorded in 1985, let's say, by some dude in a Sonkx boombox (in Colombia in the 80s no one could afford anything Sony) he borrowed from his parents, dubbing over dude's sister's Salsa tape. Dude had to use tape to cover the write-protect hole, 'cuz paper in the hole just falls off and then you have to fish it out of the thing. To make matters worse, dude is friends with the band, so he got a spot right in front of the PA. Dude (I'm tired of calling him 'dude,' let's call him Elias) steals his other sister's Menudo tape, puts tape over the write-protect hole and makes a copy of this horrible recording for the band. Elias keeps the "master." 31 years later, yeah, THIRTY-ONE YEARS LATER (that's a long fucking time) a record label from Greece or some other random county, contacts the band about a kick-ass re-issue of all their recordings. Problem is these bands never really recorded an LP's worth of stuff. Well, out come the demos and the live tape Elias did. The tape has been siting in a box this whole time. It's been thrown around in countless moves and absorbing hella-moisture in all types of basements and storage rooms. Now they are unearthed and sent to some poor asshole in Europe to "re-master." Fuck his life. See? These live tapes are shit. But, I cannot get enough of them. They are my favorite part of all these re-issues, even if some of them are pricey. When I was a young Metal shithead, I always thought of people with money as the enemy and something I never wanted to become. Now that I'm an old dude blessed with plenty of extra dough, I'm very happy to spend exorbitant amounts of money on some of these limited edition reissues so I can play Elias' live tape "remastered" on my overpriced turn table. There is a God! There is a God! And her name is "Real Job"!


L to R: Parabellum, Blasfemia, Reencarnacion.

Anyway, the reason I brought up these reissues is because it's now in the best interest of these record labels to spread the word about Black Metal basically being born in Colombia, regardless of whether or not it's true. Who doesn't wanna own a part of Black Metal history, right? It's not only the labels, but the Colombian internet Metal community and anyone who owns anything by these bands, right? I guess that includes Elias and myself. But. here's the thing: I believe the story. 



Manheim

In 2016 Vice en Español made a documentary called "El Diablo Nació en Medellín" ("The Devil Was Born in Medellín") about the early Ultra Metal scene, mainly Parabellum. At some point during the documentary the topic turns to the subject of Colombian bands having a significant influence on the early Norwegian Black Metal sound. They interview Mayhem's founding member Manheim and he says, quote: "[the sound] came from the Colombian bands. It was a really raw sound. It was different, certainly different than European bands and it was pure rawness. It was very, very raw." He goes on, "... the most extreme bands came from Colombia. They were more avant-garde and experimental, which came closer to our hearts." Alex Oquendo, singer for Masacre (yeah, the same band Bull Metal played in) is also featured in the documentary and says (I'll have to paraphrase, since he says it in Spanish) that the "Norwegians" would tell them that they were tired of the scene in Oslo. That it was mostly skaters who listened to Anthrax and Metallica-type bands and that it wasn't real raw metal like in Medellín. Oquendo also says that the Norwegians had a special place in the Helvete basement* for Colombian bands.



An Aside

I have always found it to be hilarious that teenage boys in one of the richest countries in the world, with excellent social services, and no real crime would have the balls to call themselves 'extreme' in any way at all. Everything 'extreme,' 'scary' or 'evil' about Black Metal is brought on by the members of the scene themselves. Like the kids in rural Iowa who start getting guns and invent gangs in order to be become tough. Meanwhile, if you think about it, Medellín in the mid-80s was the most dangerous city in the world. Owned and run by the Medellín cartel, the city was a motherfucking war zone. Not suburban kids making up war, no, a real fucking war zone. Car bombs, gang violence, kidnappings, police brutality... The city was the epicenter of a civil war between the leftist Guerrillas financed by the Medellín Cartel, fucked up hyper-violent right-wing death commandos, the military controlled by a corrupt government and the local police who basically worked for whomever payed the best price. Kids were recruited or kidnapped at an early age by any of the sides, trained and some would be professional assassins by age 12. Fear, poverty, death, violence, hunger, abuse... dude, THAT is what inspires evil shit. Maybe that's why Oslo kids were skating and listening to "I Am the Law" while kids in Medellín were forming crazy anti-religion, anti-establishment, raw-as-shit bands. I've been to Oslo and Bergen. There is absolutely nothing scary about those towns. They are beautiful, filled with great restaurants and pubs and I really doubt it was very different in the mid 80s. But what the fuck do I know? The interesting part about this is that after years went by and Mayhem established itself as a true pioneer of Black Metal in the early 90s, Euronymous apparently told Bull Metal that his band, Masacre, was too political and its lyrics sounded like a Hardcore band. Masacre were and still are a Death Metal band that sing about how fucked up society is. They sing about poverty, police brutality, war... you know, REAL scary shit, not made up ghouls, ghosts and Harry Potter bullshit. However, I guess Bull agreed, and quit Masacre after he failed to convince the rest of the band to become evil or whatever. He started some BM band I've never cared enough to listen to and whose name I can't even remember. Oh, just to let you know, Medellín is a super safe city nowadays. Beautiful, too. Amazing weather and good looking ladies everywhere you look. Seriously. Worth the visit.


Dawn of the Black Hearts

Finally, just because it'd be weird not to mention it, it was Bull Metal's label. Warmaster Records, that put out the infamous 'Dawn of the Black Hearts' record, featuring Dead... well dead, on the cover. This was also a topic of conversation during my record store pilgrimage in Bogotá. I always heard that the picture had been stolen and used for the cover without permission and that Mayhem were not happy about it. Well. I heard there that since Dead and Bull Metal used to be close (as close as you can be when you live 5,715 miles (9,197km) from each other), Euronymous sent him a copy of the picture and a piece of Dead's skull. Furthermore, Euronymous knew about the record before it came out. Who fucking knows. And really... who fucking cares.

------
*  the basement of the Helvete record store in Oslo, is a mythical place where Mayhem used to practice and hang out. Many consider this basement as the place Black metal was born.


5 comments:

  1. Great article! Bull Metal's BM band was Typhon: https://youtu.be/l1rnRPmc5kc

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I knew that, I just wanted to sound a little more dramatic ;-) they are actually not half bad, except for the vocals. Ugh!

      Delete
  2. Excellent review, man. Good job, keep it up.

    ReplyDelete