Thursday, September 4, 2014

Stigma Diabolicum

Changed named to Thorns

Stigma Diabolicum - Luna de Nocturnus
Self-Released, 1989
Genre: Black Metal

1. Mare Frigoris
2. Into the Promised Land
3. Lacus de Luna

Here we have to spend some time with history. I feel like this is where a lot of the problems start in Black Metal. This project is almost entirely long forgotten, except for those that followed Thorns in the mid-90's and I came to the Black Metal scene a little late and naturally missed out on all these late 80's and early 90's demo tapes that were traded around Norway. But if you really want to see where the modern incarnation of Black Metal started, its truly here. Due to how unknown this project was at the time people see the genre start with Mayhem... but I've tended to argue against this for many years. Furthermore, some Music Historian wrote a book in the early 2000's talking about "waves" and now everyone talks about these Thrash Metal bands that played Black Metal. This confuses me, because when you listen to bands like Bathory's first album, it sounds so much more related to Thrash than anything Black Metal attempts to achieve musically. You can chalk all this up to opinion, naturally, but after listening to this genre for twenty some-odd years I feel quite strongly about this assessment. I feel a little more vindicated on this now, since Fenriz seems to corroborate the fact that It was Ruche plus Euronymous that invented the style. In the early days of Mayhem's work with releases like "Pure Fucking Armageddon" and "Deathcrush" I think they were more closely related to what Venom initially envisioned Black Metal to be. It was more closely related to the Speed/Thrash style of the times with a Punk edge and listening to that today you really hear how different those songs sound, regardless of how legendary they are. They certainly don't have the atmospheric edge of "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas" and Mayhem's shift feels extremely sudden in many respects. Now, I don't know who wrote what when and I'm focusing just on when material was released, but after 1987 Mayhem was pretty silent in the releasing music department.

In between the release of Deathcrush and when Mayhem appears to have started writing again Snorre Ruch put together the Stigma Diabolicum project, on which he performed guitar and bass. This is, undoubtedly an entirely different approach to anything we've heard prior in the metal scene. This, to me, is truly what changed history and where a new genre came into being. There is no denying the fact that it was Euronymous that really made the movement happen, but as far as the sound of the genre, it happens here. Even if Mayhem's rehearsal from 1990 with "Freezing Moon" was written prior to Stigma Diabolicum, I can find no evidence of this. However, I do know that Stigma Diabolicum originally started in about 1988 or so, so it's likely the Stigma Diabolicum material was around first, seeing as how Mayhem was restructuring itself at the time.

Now this brings us to the shift in thinking. "Lunas de Nocturnus" starts with some eerie organ styled keyboard, which is nothing all that new. The demo's first song is "Into the Promised Land", which only lasts a little over two minutes, but the guitar riffs are very good. The opening riff has a Thrash feel to it, which is sort of expected coming from that genre originally. But from here the song delves into a tremolo picked scale riff and then a slow and eerie riff, before returning to the faster Thrash riff. In all of this, it is undeniable that a very specific atmosphere is being created. It just sounds so much darker and sinister than anything else before this. This point is driven home even further with the next song "Lacus de Luna". Just listen to how disturbing that song sounds. It's heavily rhythmic, but it plays with dissonance in such a way that it really makes the atmosphere all the more tangible. This is the grand shift in the concept of Black Metal, atmosphere. It's a very different way to engage the listener and it feels very different from listening to Death Metal or Thrash Metal. From here, to me, Euronymous took that approach and then amped them up with a faster approach, as we initially saw on the "Pure Fucking Armageddon" demo and we see that Mayhem releases a rehearsal tape in 1990 with "Freezing Moon", which has a very similar atmosphere to the Stigma Diabolicum material. It's really the blending of these two approaches that gives birth to the genre as a whole.

This new approach to writing is really where a truly different genre is born. This is why I get so worked up about people talking about the genre with respect to "waves", because back then there were no waves. There was just Black Metal being made. What Venom initially intended with the style got morphed and after this there was too much momentum to take back that definition. Since this genre has been going strong for over twenty years, I think people need to accept the fact that Black Metal really started with this shift in writing approach with Stigma Diabolicum and Euronymous (post 1989). It creates so much confusion in the scene to see bands like Hellhammer labeled as "Black Metal" and even Slayer's first four albums... which I've actually seen people label as Black Metal. I actually don't care what the original genre intent was at the time... that's not what it ended up becoming. I think this is why we have two very different ideas of what that genre began as today.


  1. Not sure who was first, who second, if it matters at all... but surely Stigma Diabolicum / Thorns were exceptional and pioneering bands and today not many people remember about that!

  2. I think it sort of matters, because I see too many people say Venom is Black Metal. That sound is really not the route the genre took, same with Bathory, in my opinion. I really think it was a combination of Euronymous' fast chord picking and Ruch's brooding and dark atmosphere. Together they really solidified the sound and style that was very different from Thrash or Death Metal.

  3. actually the FIRST black metal bands were all about content- that is why a diverse groups of bands like Slayer , King Diamond , Venom , Morbid Angel and so on were considered to be black metal due to their lyrical content- then the "genre" became all about a certain sound and image - like bands like Burzum , Emperor , Enslaved , Satyricon - it was a scene on dark ,evil , satanic , murder , demons etc stuff - then went by the way of the sound and image

  4. And, I mostly disagree with that claim by a lot of people today. Speed/Thrash Metal with different lyrical content doesn't make you a different genre if all you play is Thrash Metal. What I'm pointing out is that the chord structuring and atmosphere that actually spawned a new musical genre happened more closely around here, not by Slayer or anything like that.