Gnome
Under A Black Moon

This Japanese demo contains one of the coolest black metal songs you’ve never heard. There, that get your attention? Released in 1996, Under the Black Moon is one of a few demo releases from Gnome, aka Masanori ‘Wood,’ out of Osaka, Japan. Consisting of only two tracks, it’s essentially mid-paced atmospheric black metal with a heavy Burzum influence.

“La Foret I/II” is the draw here, a long, progressive composition split into two distinct movements across its 15 minutes. Part I opens with a moody, distorted guitar cycling beneath a somber organ melody and a wandering, echoey bassline. Generally, anytime an organ is thrown in, it sounds to me like cliched haunted house spookiness, but here it transcends that and the three elements succeed in creating a dreary, dreamlike mood.

About four minutes in, “La Foret” speeds up to a more insistent pace, and then the vocals come screeching in – vocals that can only be described as someone torturing Elmo from Sesame Street. No exaggeration, that’s what it sounds like. At first it was comedy gold, but I’ve grown to love it – it’s one of the most distinctive black metal vocals I’ve ever heard. Given that Gnome is a Japanese take on the genre, you kind of expect something fresh and different anyway.

“La Foret”‘s black metal mantra shifts through several stages (listen for the long aaaah screams, it’s either Bert or Ernie) and then eventually transitions into part II. Here, Gnome shows more of its progressive rock roots. The bassline becomes the star here, jazzy and nimble beneath crashing slabs of electric guitar. Once a fluid, dancing solo joins in and the track becomes a black metal jam session, you’ll wonder why Gnome/Wood didn’t find more acclaim – this is excellent, forward-thinking stuff.

The second track, “La Mer” (why does a Japanese release have French songtitles?), is a much more subdued affair – a funereal dirge that mostly consists of layered pipe organ. Eventually it switches over to what sounds like a synthesized contrabass, an underused instrument in black metal if there ever was one. “La Mer” is a decent composition, but it’s just mood music and nowhere near as attention-grabbing as “La Foret I/II”.

Tracking down a physical copy of Under the Black Moon (or the other two Gnome demos) is damn near impossible, but there are ways to hear it if you’re resourceful enough. It’s well worth the effort if you ever wished Orchid-era Opeth would cover Burzum, or vice-versa.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
May 13th, 2000

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