One could say that black metal and shoegaze have a fair bit in common. The genesis for both genres came in the 80’s before they were fully formed: the proto-black metal of Venom, Hellhammer, Bathory and sodom laying down the blueprint for what black metal became, with The Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins doing the same for shoegaze. In the early nineties both genres became fully formed, black metal mostly in Scandinavia with Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone and a raft of others, while it was in the UK that My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and the like became the leaders in the shoegaze scene. Both have an emphasis on distortion based tones and indecipherable vocals: black metal used scathingly trebly guitar tones and harsh screams to create cold and evil soundscapes, while shoegaze used distortion and many multiples of effects, and reverb on the vocals (though not in all cases). But apart from the fact they were a million miles away in terms of sound there’s another difference. While black metal is thriving with as many subgenres as one could care to name, the genre greats from the early nineties are for the most part all still going strong and it’s a scene that has huge variation and thousands of bands, with many bands releasing albums each year that can still surprise you – the same can’t really be said for shoegaze. My Bloody Valentine barring a few live shows disappeared for 22 years between 1991’s seminal Loveless and their comeback album MBV. Slowdive abandoned the shoegaze sound almost entirely with 1995’s ambient and post-rock hybrid Pygmalion before splitting up until their reformation in 2014. Ride, Chapterhouse, and Lush were also victims of the nineties, splitting up in their relatively early days. Now I’m not trying to pretend that the most famous bands in the scene didn’t influence a lot of other great bands that came about after or that the scene is entirely worthless, there are dozens of great shoegaze bands that came afterwards: Alison’s Halo, Lovesliescrushing and All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors to name just a few. But for every band that does something new and different there’s at least fifty bands that try to emulate either My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive, and ultimately end up as indie bands with a singer who can’t sing; playing boring four chord songs through a few pedals, or an electronica group with washes of guitar, and either way they just sound utterly derivative. Again I’m not disparaging the entire genre, but these eye-roll inducing wannabees are ten a penny. Black metal may have it’s share of bad bedroom black metal bands, but there it’s infinitely easier to find interesting new black metal bands than shoegaze ones, which are like looking for a needle in a haystack. In the nineties the two genres were a million miles apart in terms of sound, but maybe with the power of hindsight one could see that it’s inevitable that the two genres would inevitably converge, and did to great effect through Alcest, Deafheaven, Les Discrets and others around a decade ago. It’s not the first time the genre has had flirtations with metal, drone with Nadja and doom metal with The Angelic Proces having been established a few years, but the advent of blackgaze was by far the most interesting movement in shoegaze for a long time, and another page in the ever interesting book of black metal.
But why the lengthy beginners guide to black metal, and shoegaze history lessons in an album review for the latest album Anomie from Azerbaijani blackgaze band Violet Cold? Because the crux of the point is black metal has never become a stale genre in thirty years, whereas to an extent shoegaze did. The melding of the two into blackgaze barely a decade ago has yielded great bands, but already it has become as generic, stale and completely uninteresting as shoegaze has, and Violet Sound’s Anomie is the biggest sign of it and the worst album I’ve heard in the scene yet.
There is absolutely nothing interesting in this release whatsoever. There isn’t one moment that isn’t completely predictable, any riff that hasn’t been done a dozen times before or anything here that has any degree of originality. It’s bland, generic and contains nothing of any substance. If we take the first track (though they all sound similar, there is no need to differentiate) Violet Cold are treading on well-worn ground. The screams lost in reverb have no edge to them, nothing that makes them discernible from any other band in the scene. The sugary sweet tremolo picked melodic riffs with a trebly tone played high on the fretboard could be transposed easily into a Japanese pop song if you played it through a clean tone, especially with that simplistic clicky drum beat. There’s a few layers of synth and one gets the feeling they’re trying to go for an epic Windir sound and they fail spectacularly because it sounds like an amplified pop song. The bass is audible and just has an overly warm and light sound that sounds too sugary (as literally everything does on this release) It breaks down into oriental flutes, traditional percussion and but still keeps that same sugary air in these hippieish new age sections, while the saccharine guitar riff that comes in over the top has been done a million times by shoegaze bands across the globe. They play in simplistic chord patterns, while using layering to try and give the impression it’s complex, but one can see through it straight away. When the drums speed up those panflutes are so cheesy it’s unbearable to listen to over the other layers of equally sickening sugary toss. It’s a blessing when the first track ends, until the second She Spoke of Her Devastation begins with a delay pedal showing their best attempts to rip off Slowdive with none of the talent for song writing and atmosphere, and then just go into more generic forgettable blackgaze. The electronics on the sickeningly titled Lovegaze provide the intro to a bad M83 ripoff, and it’s not even worth going into the rest of the songs. They’re all equally long, and equally hard to listen to, some with female spoken word vocals in an orential sounding language which gets annoying fast mixed in with the generic blackgaze.
Maybe you’ll like the pretty melodies. Maybe you’ll like the combination of the prettiness with the screams and think it’s different and interesting. That’s fine, it certainly succeeds in being an unchallenging melodic and sugary listen, which might appeal to you. But this is an album where every element has been done a thousand times before in the shoegaze scene, they just happen to have extra distortion, boring black metal screams and occasional blastbeats, so just don’t think for a second that this is anything new. The problems that sprung up with the shoegaze scene with regards to a lack of originality and prevalence of worship acts, has now seeped into blackgaze, and this is the worst exponent of it. Alcest and Deafheaven were great bands who are still releasing interesting music; and while the more kvlt minded black metal fans may not like them for being too far away from the original black metal sound and atmosphere, they’d be begging to listen to them after hearing Anomie – this is the absolute nadir.