There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
In 1986, the French ensemble Shub Niggurath released Les Morts Vont Vite, a slab of dark avant-rock that transported listeners straight through the gates of hell. Combining the visceral drive of rock music with the intellectualism of postwar European classical music, the album became a cult classic. But the vast majority of its fans–to say nothing of the general public–were unaware that Shub Niggurath also created a powerful demo recording back in 1982. Until now, that demo was available only as a lo-fi cassette tape, but French label Soleil Zeuhl has remastered and reissued it as Introduction (available for purchase in the U.S. through Silver Spring’s Wayside Music). The term “demo” is misleading here: Introduction is every bit the accomplished, disturbing force that Les Morts Vont Vite was. Shub Niggurath augments the conventional guitar/bass/drums rock lineup with piano, trombone, and foreboding female vocals and uses an unusual compositional style that shares much in common with other French/Belgian avant-rock chamber ensembles like Univers Zero and Present. The closest Shub Niggurath gets to rock convention is the presence of electrifying guitar solos from axman Frank Fromy, but instead of guitar-hero or hair-metal histrionics, Fromy favors a more tortured brand of noise. Fromy’s vision is well-complemented by the rest of the band. Shub Niggurath’s most distinctive feature is its low end, held down by a combination of thunderous bass and long, doomy trombone notes. The lead track, “Yog Sototh” (which also appears on Les Morts Vont Vite in a slightly different form) is representative of the entire album: Starting with an almost imperceptible drone, the piece soon explodes into a slow bass groove accented by tinkling piano and a soaring, wordless vocal melody doubled by the trombone. The monstrous bass keeps things sinister, and is soon joined by a guitar that screeched like malfunctioning car brakes. By juxtaposing anthemic melodies with dissonant solos, long drones, and insistent bass ostinatos, Shub Niggurath creates a loping beast of an album that is both propulsive and unsettling, rock music that rocks but is never obvious. Shub Niggurath’s music, in many ways, ran parallel to doom metal, which was barely in its infancy at the time of Introduction’s recording. If the history of music had played out a little differently, Shub Niggurath could have kicked off an entire genre of slow, heavy, dark avant-rock, much the way bands like Saint Vitus and Pentagram did for doom. Now lovers of the evil stuff can explore what might have been.