Feminazgûl and Sarah Louise release new albums

TOLKIEN-APPROVED: As Feminazgûl, Laura Beach, left, and Margaret Kiljoy turn the concept of black metal on its head. The duo's new album, 'No Dawn for Men' is out now alongside 'Earth and Its Contents,' an atmospheric folk album from Sarah Louise. Photo by Ross Jates

With live performances put on hold, many musical artists are releasing new albums as a means of creative expression and a way to foster the connection with listeners. Two very different Asheville acts — one specializing in a unique variant of black metal, the other exploring the cinematic qualities of acoustic folk — have made adjustments to their album release plans, debuting new music.

None more black, none more feminine

From its inception, Asheville-based atmospheric black metal duo Feminazgûl staked out its own distinct musical territory. The genre is known for its focus on punishing riffs, themes of violence and mayhem, and growling, bowels-of-hell vocalizing. And while Feminazgûl’s music displays all of those characteristics, its debut album, No Dawn for Men, adds two unusual elements to the mix: a feminist perspective and musical nuance.

The album was finished in February, and its release planned for later this year. But in light of the pandemic and quarantines — vocalist Laura Beach and instrumentalist Margaret Kiljoy live miles apart — Feminzagûl decided to release No Dawn for Men digitally in March, with a pay-what-you-can policy that acknowledges the financial strain facing potential buyers.

Beach says that she received “quite the extensive education in metal” during her six years as a radio DJ in Knoxville, Tenn. But she detected some characteristics that didn’t impress her: “I noticed the very male-dominated subculture.” And she found that many black metal artists tended to limit themselves to a fairly short list of topics. Feminzagûl aims to move beyond that. “We do talk about hate a lot,” Beach says with a chuckle. “But it’s a different kind of hate.”

“Metal is so male-dominated that it’s hard to find space for women in it,” says Kiljoy. “And I see very little active trans-inclusion.” Feminazgûl’s very existence represents a departure from that narrow perspective. “If we sing about goddesses, we’re going to sing about them with a different kind of reverence than men might,” she says.

Feminzagûl’s 2018 debut EP, The Age of Men Is Over, was a Kiljoy solo instrumental work. But even without Beach’s vocals, the release stood apart from standard-issue black metal. Kiljoy laughs as she recalls that one reviewer characterized it dismissively as “the most effeminate black metal that’s ever been made.” Kiljoy took that as a compliment.

“So as I began writing the music for No Dawn for Men, I really decided to just lean into that,” she says. Kiljoy challenged herself: “How can I express this darkness and anger while also still being effeminate?” The album answers that question by combining themes familiar to black metal fans (e.g., “I Pity the Immortal”) with lyrics that celebrate the feminine (“Illa, Mother of Death”).

Feminazgûl’s music also colors well outside black metal’s perceived lines by employing a wide instrumental palette. “I like to call us avant-garde atmospheric black metal,” Kiljoy says. “Because we use all sorts of interesting instruments like accordion and theremin.” Beach adds that the resulting sound “can be a lot more soothing” than other black metal, to which Kiljoy concurs: “It’s the most pleasant version of fast guitars and someone shrieking that you could possibly imagine.” feminazgul.bandcamp.com

Atmospheric Americana

Describing herself as “a musical omnivore,” Sarah Louise makes music that draws inspiration from seemingly unrelated styles. The prolific Asheville musician has released five albums since her 2015 debut — three of which have come out since early 2019. Her latest, Earth and Its Contents, finds Louise applying her talents to enhance the work of another creative artist.

Louise is already at work on her next record, but the lull in live activity brought on by the pandemic led her to release a project that she completed some time ago. “I had it on my computer for over a year,” she says, “and I didn’t [initially] know what to do with it.”

Part of that hesitation stems from her general solitary approach to making music, during which her voice and instrumentation find full expression. But for Earth and Its Contents, she set aside her lyrics and created atmospheric music designed to serve as the score for Fire Underground, a film by Nick Crockett. Louise was introduced to the Pittsburgh filmmaker by her sister, who “had a sense we would be good collaborators.”

“This was a really good match,” Louise says. “I don’t think I would say ‘yes’ to anything that didn’t feel like a very natural fit.” A blend of Appalachian and experimental music, Earth and Its Contents helps reinforce what Louise calls Crockett’s “almost surrealistic approach” to the film’s subject — the history of coal mining.

But the music stands well on its own, completely separate from the film. While it’s nominally folk-based, listeners may pick up traces of Indian ragas, the “Frippertronics” style of electric guitar playing developed by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, and even krautrock.

“From the very beginning — actually even with [2015 debut album] Field Guide — one of my biggest interests was the similarity between Appalachian and Indian music,” Louise says. The meditative qualities of both appeal to her as well, and that’s where the connection with the droning, repetitive rock of early ’70s Germany reveals itself. “The krautrock [artists] were, in many ways, exploring different states of consciousness,” Louise points out.

Earth and Its Contents is primarily instrumental, though Louise notes “there’s a little bit of singing to sort of honor the Appalachian singing styles.” And with her work for Crockett’s film behind her, the focus on vocals and lyrics is returning. “What I’m working on now is all songs,” she says. “I like to keep things wide open. Hopefully, I can keep doing whatever I want, when I want it.” sarahlouise.bandcamp.com


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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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