The Olympia, Washington-based black metal project Awenden expands black metal ferocity to include the touch of a wide sonic array on their new album Golden Hour. Heading into this record’s experience, the sounds feel less frigidly suffocating and more somberly immersive, like a trip to the outskirts of the most safely familiar parts of the territory covered by traditional black metal’s ferocious streaks of tremolo riffing and blast beat barrages — although those elements make an appearance on Golden Hour too.
Developing Golden Hour
Here, dynamics feature that range from captivatingly direct, somber melodies swinging through the melee to accompaniment from synths, flutes, and keys, among other pieces. Lengthy softer moments emerge as well.
“Golden Hour is about a lot of things, but cyclic change is the overarching theme,” Awenden mastermind Gudrik explains, zeroing in on the broadly based sonic unity in the music. “The album roughly outlines one day from pre-dawn to after sunset, as not so subtly indicated by the bookend tracks. As cliche as it might be, the idea of noticing the cycles ever occurring in all places at all scales as a way to gain perspective and peace through disruptive and destabilizing times resonated with me a lot in the period between the release of the self-titled album and now.”
The songs on Golden Hour often prove quite lengthy, but they’re packed with sonic elements well beyond the most traditional black metal palette, which support that feeling of perhaps startling but definitively present peace. In place of the grating nature of raw black metal and the theatrical bombast of the perhaps most traditional melodic black metal, Awenden settles on a strong, consistent thread of somber guitar performance that snakes through Golden Hour.
“I am pretty ignorant when it comes to trad black metal,” Gudrik explains. “It’s never been my thing. With the majority of my musical influences being outside of black metal, the development is sort of reversed to where I’m not starting from conservative black metal and pushing outward, but instead I’m trying to keep as narrow a focus as I can to cut back on elements that are stylistically superfluous. I have historically had a bad habit of throwing all my influences together in a song or album, and ending up with something that suffers from lack of focus. I like screamo/post-rock crescendos, I like hardcore chug parts, and I like prog metal time signatures — I don’t like the fact that they are not always appropriate.”
The Sounds of Golden Hour
Those crescendos, intricate constructions, and more each make appearances throughout Golden Hour, which Gudrik explains was the result of a lengthy DIY process.
“I just experiment until it sounds good,” they share. “But since the music is largely written and recorded by myself, I re-work, edit, delete, rearrange, add a layer, remove a section, change this part to synth, and so on so many times before a song is done. I suspect it’s amidst all of that chaos that the interesting bits creep in.”
Gudrik says that their friends who guest throughout the album also weighed in to help keep the album’s overall sound cohesive, noting that ultimately: “I think I did a better job staying in a lane with the self titled album, but that type of stylistic constraint just isn’t sustainable for me.”
After a few minutes of heavy, ferocious riffing on opening track “Dawn,” the music slows down and a brief but poignant flute segue even makes a first appearance, and eventually, keys also emerge amidst the intense but almost mournfully restrained mix. On that particular song, there’s a considerable amount of intense riffing overall, but even in those elements, there’s a sense of the melodies pushing out beyond their confines. The songs don’t remotely get bogged down; instead, their sounds careen ahead with a subtle soar as the smoothly gripping melodies proceed.
Ultimately, the dynamics on the latest album from Awenden swing all the way from synth segments on tracks like “Ritual Exile” to heavy, especially pummeling riffing at moments like track four, “Weapons of War / Bury ’em.” Gudrik notes that they’re a fan of “sonically dense music and the guitars alone weren’t cutting it” on “Ritual Exile,” so in came the synths for the song which they also say they wanted to spruce up with intensity to keep the album’s atmosphere engaging. Meanwhile, on “Weapons of War,” Gudrik explains that they wanted the song “to sound heavy to compliment the lyrics, which could be described as angry and mostly concern the necessary violence in liberation struggles, and the certainty of ever-escalating horrors as capitalism continues to lose stability and legitimacy, as well as the ubiquity of violence under Empire.”
Landing the Hits
Indeed — Gudrik aptly ties Awenden’s psychologically pressured black metal to wider concerns, although they’re rooted in Gudrik’s own vantage point.
“I can’t really separate my worldview from my music and wouldn’t want to,” they explain. “There is sort of a tension where I try hard to not preach to the choir about shit and come off cheesy, while at the same time I am irritated to no end by bands or artists who have a platform but spread the message of how unique and heavy their not-so unique and heavy band is, instead of seizing the opportunity to say shit that actually might matter to a listener. I have decided to err on the side of preaching to the choir in the future. Some but not all of the lyrics in Awenden directly draw from topics like anarchism, environmentalism, social justice, and the like. When I do write about those things, it’s less of a call to action and more about expressing my personal feelings or experiences around my politics.”
Gudrik’s personal experiences include the feeling that they’re “very lucky to live where I do, and have such easy access to what remains of the forest,” which they feel “comes through in the music somewhat automatically.” Yet, that’s not where the story ends, as they add — a humanist and generally natural world-protective orientation within black and extreme metal is not a given. Right-wingers obviously make other sorts of music as well, but black metal’s intensity spreads their vitriol.
“I have presented Awenden as anti-fascist metal or as RABM because I think it’s very important to normalize and represent basic decency within the cesspool of racist or nationalist garbage that is black metal,” Gudrik explains. It’s true — right-wing reactionaries all too frequently use the genre to spout angry nonsense, although of course, even just one such occasion of that unfortunate development would be “too frequent.”
“Although Awenden doesn’t play shows at the moment, repping RABM or whatever may reduce the frequency of those unhappy situations where some sketchballs show up to your show because they don’t know any better,” Gudrik notes. “Plus I like the idea of having a scene built around positive values.”
Moving Forward Amidst the Haze
The label that’s made physical copies of both releases from Awenden supports these values. The Boston-based Realm and Ritual produces small runs of cassette copies of black metal and dungeon synth, often sporting an explicitly anti-fascist stance.
“It’s just so easy to just include an RABM tag or whatever on Bandcamp,” Gudrik notes. “I want every metal band to do that until we don’t need to any more because it has become the standard. I want people to be shocked when they find a right-wing black metal band instead of being surprised to find an anarchist or Marxist band.”
There’s a considerable amount of left-oriented black and extreme metal currently available — standouts from one recent left-wing extreme metal compilation include Woe, Vile Creature, and False, but there are a ton more, including on that Riffs for Reproductive Justice comp from Black Flags Over Brooklyn itself (which is at this link).
Although Gudrik shares that they mostly listen to hardcore and notes that they doesn’t particularly see a “black metal community,” per se, they add: “I do, however, see that there are an increasing number of bands now who exist in part to counter the edgelord fascist bullshit that’s been so tightly boundup with black metal for too long. That is certainly a positive trend if taken at face value… I enjoy how black metal overall seems to be continuing to trend towards the ‘false.’ I really don’t like lowfi-scary-guy-praising-satan music, but really do like hearing all the unorthodox mashups and sideways approaches to songwriting, so keep that coming please.”
Listen to Golden Hour below! Gudrik shares that they’ve “read people referring to Awenden as ‘eco,’ ‘green,’ even ‘anarcho-primitivist’ without ever hearing from me on the issue,” and they quip: “So I guess there is something being communicated there. I must be a stereotypical Cascadian black metal person on some level, because I do often write about the magic of life on Earth and our civilization’s suicidal war against it.”