At first glance, the worlds of black metal and electronic dance music do not seem to have very much in common. The former is characterised by an abrasive and lo-fi sound. Conversely, rave culture is known for its uplifting essence and hedonism, as well as its futuristic aesthetic and embrace of modern music technology. Where these genres find common ground is in the immersive emotional experience that they both provide and it’s at this seemingly unlikely intersection where Bliss Signal create their art.
The duo, comprised of James Kelly and Jack Adams, have a strong pedigree. Kelly is known for his work in the Irish black metal band Altar of Plagues and also for his alias WIFE, which he describes as ‘weird pop’. Adams is a DJ and producer who under the name Mumdance has created a spacious musique concrète-influenced hybrid of grime that he calls ‘weightless’.
Their diverse backgrounds put them in good stead to tackle the challenge of combining metal and dance music. The guitar work melds fluently with electronic washes to create an ambient and atmospheric sound that is more than the sum of its parts. The duo cite classic band Emperor as an influence but comparisons could perhaps better be made to Deafheaven, a more contemporary group who mix shoegaze with black metal. The blast beats typical of black metal are replaced with a propulsive 909 drum machine and the usual shrieked vocals are absent. The end result is a beautiful record that will appeal to many people who would not usually go anywhere near something associated with extreme metal music.
There are nonetheless some very heavy moments on this album, particularly the crushing opening to ‘Floodlight’ and the appropriately named ‘Surge.’ The latter is a personal highlight of the album and utilises fluttering handclaps in a stereo effect. Some black metal diehards will no doubt chafe at how this record diverges from the template set by the second wave Scandinavian bands of the 90s. All music must evolve, however, and they should remember that these very bands adapted the sound laid down by genre originators like Newcastle’s Venom. It is a pleasure to see this style of music manifest in new ways and Bliss Signal’s idiosyncratic take on black metal is as welcome as it is unexpected.