Underproduced lo-fi black metal – often referred to with any combination of the epithets “raw,” “trv,” “kvlt,” or “necro” – is one of those things that’s really run its course, but don’t tell that to its legion of true believers. And even if you do, it’s doubtful they’d even listen. There’s no way to tell just how many basement warriors have re-hashed Darkthrone’s ideas over and over again without adding anything new – some of this might be due to black metal’s deliberately occultist and anti-publicity nature, but I’m sure a lot if it is due to the fact that nobody has the strength to suffer through all of the angry-hornet-in-a-beer-can albums out there. Not even the people who made them.
A fresh twist on a well-established formula is always welcome, and that’s where Israeli black metal project Geist comes in. Every track on Der Ungeist, the first full-length from this artist, was recorded in a single live take. This is a double-edged sword, as first takes can either exhibit raw and unharnessed energy or simple sloppiness. Both are equally on display on Der Ungeist – the blast beats are hectic at best and painfully off-time at their worst. The riffs, however, are played much more passionately than they would have been the second, third, or fourth time around, and the vocals have a really unique vox clamantis in deserto mood about them. They sound like the final screams of a sacrificial victim in the middle of a brooding Baltic pine forest, and the fact that an Israeli musician can capture this mood is quite the achievement! It’s like how you would never have known Xasthur is from LA if all you’d heard was his music.
When you really get down to it, though, this is just another iteration of the same trv-nekkrø blækk metall that we’ve already become more than familiar with over the past two decades. While the experiment of first-take live recordings is able to breathe some life into the songs, they’re nevertheless dominated by repetitive and uninspired cutting-room-floor Darkthrone riffs. There’s a few doomier moments here and there that help to vary the pace of the album, and they hook my attention far more than the black metal segments do. But the tracks with a primarily black-metal focus, like “Northern Pride” or the title track, sound dated and stale even with the first-time magic that frontman Ratimus invokes.
This will probably catch your interest if you’re one of those orthodox purist black-metal diehards that needs a bit more life in your cold and desolate wintry landscapes. If you’re ready to acknowledge that black metal’s moved on, though, you’ll find far more enrichment elsewhere. There’s a reason that not even Darkthrone does this style of black metal anymore (THANK GOD), and that reason is because it’s dead. Der Ungeist is thus a very competent and bewitching display of rigor mortis.