Black metal offers many narrative possibilities for artists. While it’s true that they’ve mostly been exploited in favor of occult or satanic motifs, many have found other purposes for them. This is the case of Misanthropia, a Dutch black metal band that, avoiding the thematic clichés of the genre, use its narrative powers to talk about the Dutch and Belgian criminal underworld. And though black metal purists will argue that black metal must be about satanic themes (Morgan Steinmeyer of Marduk has been adamant on that point), what can be more black metal than breaking with conventions?
What is interesting about Convoy of Sickness is that many of the songs go through different “phases”, showcasing different influences and styles. Besides the (sometimes symphonic) black metal sound that predominates throughout the album, both in the music as well as in the singing (whether shrieking in “Silent War”, or the baritone singing in “Nicodemus Narcissus”) melodic elements (reminiscent of Catamenia), and even some prog elements, are also scattered throughout. This was a curious choice for the band, and it sometimes felt like they were trying to show-off. Of course, it’s always nice to hear a good guitar player doing some high quality soloing or noodling, but it also interrupts the mood created by the rest of the song (the solo in “Pathological War” is a good example of this).
As far as the lyrical content goes, Misanthropia really broke the mold here, not only by covering something outside of the normal sources, but also by covering a much lesser-known subject. In and of itself this was a fun choice since, with lyrics in hand, I got to spend some time on Google and Wikipedia looking for more information about the stories that inspired the songs. Whether it’s the murder of 28 people by the Brabant Killers, or the massive criminal enterprise of Dutch drug lord Klaas Bruinsma, the band certainly knew how to pick stories that made it possible for them to continue on their misanthropic path of aural destruction. After all, what better way to highlight the atrocities of man than to talk about the demons that live among us?
Convoy of Sickness is a fun album, and a good demonstration of the versatility of black metal as a narrative medium. It showcases the skills of the band, and demonstrates their ability to grab hold of the audience with powerful and aggressive songs. At the same time, however, while all of the songs are good, none of them are remarkable. No matter how many times I listened to the record, and even though I enjoyed the experience, none of the songs stood out, and I doubt I’ll be revisiting this album anytime soon. Perhaps the problem was that in their desire to show just how much they can do, Misanthropia missed an opportunity to focus on just one thing, and do it really, really well.