If the pandemic restrictions (which sounds like the worst thrash band ever) have taught us anything, it's that we can't take anything for granted. But when live gigs started dropping like a house of cards in a hurricane, that's when the shit really hit the fan. Doubly so for the metal fan, whose prime escape from the mind-numbing mundanity of modern existence in sharing a room with a load of fellow misanthropes banging their heads to a stageful of similarly nihilistic noisemakers has now been replaced with the mind-numbing mundanity of homeworking, furlough and no gigs whatsoever to look forward to. Lockdown might have been an attractive prospect when dealing with the vast majority of the human race, but it's since become a hellish banality when it's imposed on us. With all the time in the world to discover new music, it's exposed that quite a lot of black metal is stuck in some sort of dark, Groundhog Day-esque recycled night, when all you need is the aural equivalent of a load of angry wasps trapped in a metal dustbin and a screaming toddler with a stick to bang on the bin, and hey presto, you have quite a lot of black metal. Of course, that's a bit of an unfair thing to say. There's often another toddler arrhythmically beating sofa cushions as well.
Burial, on the other hand, has proved to be an exceptionally bright point in all of this. Back in May, the Manchester trio dropped the 'Satanic Upheaval' album, giving us hope that the black metal scene can still pump out bands that hail back to the first wave of Bathory and Hellhammer without seeming like a hollow relic, or just plain boring. It's an absolute stormer of black gnarled metal, bleak and unpretentious. Released a month after lockdown and with gig schedules swallowed up in restrictions, bassist/vocalist Dez is understandably rueful. “[At the] end of last year, we were starting to slow it down booking gig wise, because we wanted to get the new album and do a really big push to push the album. Not like an anniversary set gig, but we have been going 15 years, so we've wanted to really enjoy ourselves as a band. But obviously it's all been taken away, it's hard. I think the hardest thing is not seeing my bandmates, I've not seen them for two, three months now or however long it's been since lockdown.”
You can only imagine the frustration as the likes of slots at Incineration went up in flames, and instead Dez, guitarist Rick and drummer Dave were stuck indoors, like all of us, left wallowing in misery, making the nihilistic lyrical themes of 'Satanic Upheaval' all the more timely, inspired by: “Family deaths and stress in life, just like we seem to be getting on a roll or something, something horrible happening in our lives then everything will just get put on hold and when we get back to writing and recording, it's just made us angrier really. I mean, everyone goes through heartache and stress and mental health every day, but it sort of bled into the lyrics this time.” Even black metallers have a heart it seems. “It sounds weird and cheesy, but it has been a release,”Dez says. “It must have been hard on my bandmates, even though we been together 15 years. They've helped me, been patient with us, and just being there as mates and as a band as well, so it's been good.” From a scene where the one-man project is king, it's heart-warming to see such great mates. Although drummer abuse is still prevalent: “I think our drummer might kill us one day, we've pushed him to the limits, me and Rick,” Dez chuckles. “We drove him sober now, he's been sober for four years. We was on tour with Infernal Sea, me and Rick were just partying all day, all night getting up early, and the drummer cannot handle early starts, and two fat, pissed, bald-headed bastards trying to shag him in bed! He's alright since he's gone sober, he seems a lot happier so...it's all good.”
It certainly is good, and the black metal on display on 'Satanic Upheaval' is so old school every blastbeat comes with a free caning, ably captured in glorious full necro-colour by a cracking mastering job by Chris Fielding. “We really took our time with this album, making sure we did it with a click track for a change,” Dez reveals. “You can tell - it makes everything sound tighter and heavier to a click…got better instruments and the studio's got better amplifiers to use. I like the grim frostbitten recorded-in-a-dustbin stuff, but I also like produced, ’cos now you can hear everything.” And there's plenty in the mix rather than some rehashed tremolo treble tripe.
“We've always been into punk and stuff but that didn't really reflect through the music for years until the past couple of albums really. We like all the old hardcore stuff,” Dez says, “we were just doing the same sort of music we wanna listen to really.” It's certainly what everyone else has been wanting to listen to. In lieu of being not being able to play gigs to spread the black gospel, the band used social media to push the release, and he couldn't be happier: “It's been really positive, we've had great reviews off websites and magazines, just friends and other bands we've played with in general have been emailing us and saying you've pushed yourselves, and real happy with what you've come out with,” he beams with justifiable pride. “So that's been really nice, getting really positive reviews and I'm just gutted that we can't gig and push the album. Just doing everything online while I've been working all the way through this lockdown, and obviously the other lads have been working from home. In one way it's been good because we've spent more time on social media so we've been pushing it.”
Indeed, it's a darkly fertile scene the UK black metal finds itself in according to Dez. “At the moment there's no gigs happening, but I think it's the best it's been in many years, there's a lot of great bands going on for a while that've brought out great albums; Winterfylleth are still banging out some great albums, you get bands like Wode that are doing really well for themselves, Necronautical...” And those are just bands from the North West that are doing the rounds. Although at the time of this writing, restrictions are being gradually lifted and the closest thing we've had to optimism in months is starting to have a higher infection rate, the impact on grassroots venues is less clear as the situation changes every day; two of Manchester's most iconic venues in Gorilla and Deaf Institute were under risk of closure before finding new owners after a tense few days, a situation sure to have been repeated up and down the country with less happy results. For Dez, he's not counting on anything, with nothing planned – so far. “Who's gonna say gigs are gonna start back up this year? I know people have been starting to book gigs for the end of the year, but I can sort of see a good few months yet until gigs come back, I think they'll be very last thing to come back to normality, but even then it's gonna be strange. You know like a venue is 100 capacity, but you're only allowed 20,” he argues. “I mean that's a normal Burial gig, that. We do have one or two gigs at the end of the year what we did have but they've not been announced yet, so we're just waiting on them really.”
And while we're twiddling thumbs and Satan knows what else to pass the time, including banging on dustbins on the off-chance there's a wasp's nest in there for some petty amusement while we wait for normal service to resume in ever-changing times, you can be rest assured that Burial's next move isn't towards the twee: “I don't think we're going to be going down the corpse paint route or keyboard route or owt like that,” Dez says of Burial's future direction. “I think we'll just stick with hitting the bass, guitars and drums as hard as we can!”
'Satanic Upheaval' is out now via Apocalyptic Witchcraft