“That’s not black metal!” is a response that is often mocked, associated as it is with the kind of fan who desperately clings to the past, unwilling to accept innovation or change. Most of the time, it is a useless sentiment, saying more about the speaker than the music they’re leveling the accusation at. Yet whilst listening to Anomie, the latest album from Azerbijani band Violet Cold, I find myself understanding and sympathising with the sentiment. The one-man act have a considerable discography that touches upon a multitude of genres, yet Anomie is being presented by much of the media and labels involved as an atmospheric black metal album; and whilst that’s one aspect of Anomie, it is far from the whole story. To approach the album as you would any other black metal album, with all the weight of expectation that brings, would be to do yourself, and it, a disservice. And just because it isn’t necessarily black metal, doesn’t mean that it isn’t any good.
The music on Anomie has, at many points, much in common with atmospheric and post-black metal – extended song lengths, repetitive guitar movements and lingering melodies, all presented in a manner that makes it clear that the overall aura of the song – rather than specific riffs or movements – is what is of paramount importance. Yet there’s more than enough divergence here that calling it black metal feels rather wrong. The melodies are, on the whole, bright and full of life, especially when native folk instruments are used (as on the opening title track), and their structures are clearly indebted to shoegaze to an even greater extent than the likes of Deafheaven or Alcest are. On tracks such as ‘Violet Girl’, airy synths give the tracks a dreamy, soft feel that persists even when they are joined by tremolo-picked guitars. To describe the music as pretty would, in many places, feel like an understatement – there is something romantic and sensual about Anomie, and this feeling is only enhanced by the moments of contrast when the black metal aspects come to the fore. When closing track ‘No Escape From Dreamland’ shifts from its relatively harsh opener in to oh-so-soft and tender flute-led section around the three minute mark, the contrast is remarkable and greatly effective.
Yet it’s impossible to deny that, even if the black metal guitars are present throughout much of the album, they are rarely the focus of what Anomie creates. Instead, the album is one that focuses on the soft, and as an exercise in creating a warm, comforting musical embrace, it is a success. And it’s because of this that I feel that approaching it as a black metal album in any sense would be a mistake. Black metal is not a genre about comfort, or relaxing, or brightness. The movements and techniques that, in large part, define the style as a musical entity are inherently opposed to such feelings. As much as I hate to sound like some kind of genre purist, I don’t feel that Anomie can be described as black metal with any real degree or conviction or validity. It is too warm, too approachable, too welcoming. There’s points where it even feels like it wants to be on in the background whilst you get intimate with your significant other (the first post-black metal sex album? There’s a thought that will inspire rage on the Nuclear War Now! forums). There’s even a song called ‘Lovegaze’, for crying out loud! If Liturgy marked the start of a movement towards positive black metal, this surely marks as close to a realisation of that goal as is likely to happen – and it’s worth keeping in mind that this is the most black metal infused of Violet Cold’s records to date (hell, some early singles consisted of the kind of electronica that belonged on The Matrix soundtrack or a 90’s Warp Records compilation; I say this not to criticize, but to add context).
One thing Anomie is not, though, is bad. It is wonderfully stirring, deeply emotional, and possessed of a remarkable creativity. The artistic vision and talent to create something that so effectively pulls from such diverse sources and to have it be a success cannot be understated. It should be highlighted that whilst previous records, such as Desperate Dreams, married black metal aspects to other styles (such as electronica and shoegaze), their combination on Anomie is more effective and successful than in the past. Yet to think of it as a black metal album still feels inaccurate and misleading. Approach it instead as a harsh shoegaze album; or maybe as something for which no term has yet been comfortably defined; but for both your sake and that of the album, avoid approaching it as black metal, because that would only lead to disappointment.