During the past 5 to 10 years, American black metal has gained a lot of momentum as a musical force. This has given it a significant amount of press and attention, including various fights over genre purity, commercialism and its relationship to other music scenes (along with squabbles over fonts, blankets and ill-conceived philosophical papers). To the unobservant eye and ear, it would seem that American black metal had very little to say before the late aughts. But in truth, the scene goes back far into the days of the early 1990s. And like the European masters, much of the American scene grew out of death metal. Absu and Demoncy are good examples of this, as are the band in question here: Profanatica.
Iconoclastic, raw, deeply upsetting, the band originally spawned from founding members of death metal greats Incantation. Profanatica is not for the faint of heart or the easily shaken. The band’s menacing, hellish sound follows much the same path trod by Slayer, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Angelcorpse, but dives further into the darkness of black metal. Within their realm stirs the fear and horror that originally made the devil such a compelling subject for extreme music. In this regard, Profanatica is one of the last bands who can take this subject and still use it to great effect.
This is especially true on the band’s latest album, The Curling Flame of Blasphemy. It’s an extreme album in the most positive sense, in that it invokes terror and anti-Christian themes without resorting to just being gross or using provocative song titles (in contrast to Disgusting Blasphemies Against God). This allows the music to be taken much more seriously and gets to the heart of what extreme music is: an artistic expression of the dark, ugly side of existence (whether in this world or the next, if you believe in that sort of thing).
The key to Profanatica’s sound is the dueling guitar and bass approach. Rather than let the bass sit back as the foundation to the mix, the band cranks it up and lets the treble side of the instrument reach out at the listener. The bass plays in unison with the guitar in a devilishly heavy combination that make songs like “Ordained in Bile” and “Magic & Muhr” all the more devastating. This, combined with the war-march of the drums and the fiery, razor-blade vocals, creates a symphony of woe and destruction most bands struggle to create through entire careers.
And the song titles and subject matter, along with the cover art, provide the backdrop to every parishioner’s fear of hell, Satan and the defeat of all the angels and saints. It challenges the listener to think “why would anyone want this to happen?” instead of “well, I think I need to throw up now.” Again, the band achieves more through subtlety than could ever be achieved by stringing expletives together and calling it “extreme.”
Also, one cannot help but notice a tiny nod to Immolation’s Dawn of Possession on the album cover, though Profanatica goes a little more over the top, a break in the approach that otherwise makes for the band’s best album yet.
Favorite songs: “Ordained in Bile,” “Magic & Muhr,” “Host Over Cup,” “Rotten Scriptures”