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For years, American black metal acts were a rarity. Something about the fast-and-blurry genre, which emerged from Norway in the early ’90s, seemed specific to Northern Europe. Perhaps it was just too hard to imagine, say, a Texan singing about cold climates and sylvan living. But lately, some Americans have found a way to make the music their own. One-man black metal acts such as Leviathan and Xasthur pioneered the genre’s use of drum machine. And full-fledged bands like Nachtmystium, Krallice, and Wolves in the Throne Room play up the proggier aspects of the style. Now, another domestic black metal act called Castevet—presumably a reference to the antagonists in Rosemary’s Baby—has distinguished itself with a debut that is unmistakably American. Perhaps the most obvious innovation on Mounds of Ash is in the vocal department. Whereas most black metal singers adopt a rasp that complements the genre’s tremolo-picked guitars and wall-of-sound blast beats, guitarist Andrew Hock barks as if trying, in his overly hoarse way, to evoke early D.C. hardcore. Lyrics come in short, sharp bursts, and most of it, aside from the occasional “wicked” and “dead,” is undecipherable. That the vocals are treated almost like percussion is made explicit when, on the track “Grey Matter,” the words and floor tom work in tandem to create one of the album’s best hooks. Other memorable moments, of which there are plenty, tend to come in the form of guitar riffs. Hock has mastered black metal’s machine-gun riffing. But his affinity for Kentuckian post-punk is just as pronounced. Like Louisville’s Bastro and Rodan, Castevet favors angular passages followed by melodic straightaways. One such transition happens at the end of the album, when, after several minutes of labyrinthine, waltz-time guitar (“Wreathed in Smoke”), Hock steps on the distortion pedal and leads the band into a churning, double kick-filled anthem (“Harvester”). These two tracks are linked by another black metal rarity: brass. Evoking the minimalist classical tradition (think: Steve Reich and John Adams), the band uses multitracking to create layers of sustained horn lines. The brass augmentation, which hints at a melody without ever arriving at one, works for two reasons. First, it’s decidedly American. And second, the drone-like qualities of American minimalism have a lot in common with the buzzsaw essence of black metal. Scandinavians may have invented the genre, but, if Mounds of Ash is any indication, Americans are making the most progress in it.
Castevet performs with Salome, Altar of Plagues, and Velnias on July 30 at the Black Cat.