Home Books USBM: A Revolution of Identity in American Black Metal: by Daniel Lake

USBM: A Revolution of Identity in American Black Metal: by Daniel Lake

United States black metal – a term that still rustles some jimmies in certain underground circles. For some, the term USBM is synonymous with “norsecore,” badly played, inauthentic black metal. For others, it represents a growth spurt for the genre that continues to this day. Daniel Lake has undertaken the task of giving USBM the recognition it deserves – a historical analysis to contend with the countless coffee table books about the sensationalized Norwegian scene. Chock-full of archival photographs and interesting interviews, USBM: A Revolution of Identity in American Black Metal is a necessary tome covering an oft-misunderstood movement in extreme metal.

The forward by Tom Warrior (Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Tryptikon) suggests the latent appreciation USBM now receives from its European counterpart. It goes to show the timeliness of this book, as does the disclaimer about problematic behavior within the scene. Much like Dayal Patterson did with 2013’s Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult, Lake doesn’t shy away from recognizing racism, homophobia and other bigotries where they exist in the scene.

This decision sent the black metal elitists into a panicked rage, but Lake’s approach to these issues carries as much nuance as it does firmness. He never implies that anyone should feel ashamed or afraid of listening to music made by disreputable people, choosing instead to highlight the necessity of critical thinking when approaching USBM. Whether it be the rampant antisemitism of a band like GBK or Corvus Corax’s use of Nazi imagery, Lake never delegitimizes a band due to their disagreeable actions. He gives credit where it’s due, and lets his extensive interview content give both sides of the story, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about a band.

Most of the book’s chapters center on specific bands, balancing music-centered insight and commentary with interpersonal behind-the-scenes stuff. Lake didn’t score interviews with a few white whales, notably Weakling, which obviously lessens the inside look. In any case, the author’s love of this music shines through to keep things engaging and thought-provoking. He knows when to drop in mini reviews of certain landmark albums, and sometimes respectfully disagrees with artists’ perspective on their work (like Agalloch, who apparently dislikes most of its illustrious discography).

Lake avoids a simplistic chronology, with several of the book’s eight sections centering on regional scenes. This not only shakes up the narrative flow, but highlights how certain people changed the game in their respective necks of the woods. Of special interest are the spotlights on labels like Aquarius Records in the Bay Area and Gilead Media in New York, which clarify how certain cities became creative hotspots.

Elaborating on specific regions also proves how diverse USBM has become. Lake contrasts the East Coast’s hyper-technical experimenters with the Pacific Northwest’s atmospheric Cascadian black metallers, showing how each micro-genre grows the USBM concept. Still, his most enlightening work centers on the formative USBM bands.

The book’s coverage of Von, the Hawaiian/San Franciscan trailblazers, encapsulates the research that went into covering the earliest ripples of USBM. Even the most ardent fans will learn something from these chapters. For more infamous bands like Judas Iscariot, Xasthur and Leviathan, Lake doesn’t settle for what’s already been said countless times. He also includes plenty of band-to-band praise, showing how the legends appreciate what’s happening now and vice versa.

Lake provides some of the most inspiring content ever produced about Hunter Hunt-Hendrix and her band Liturgy. Having just come out as trans, Hunt-Hendrix sheds light on her struggles with gender identity within a less-than welcoming scene. Her’s is a powerful story of self-discovery against the odds, both personally and musically. Similarly, Lake’s exposé on the obscure Black Twilight Circle shows how a ragtag collective of trve kvlt warriors saved the So-Cal black metal youth from a fixation on national socialist bands, by using raw black metal to explore central American and pre-Columbian mythology.

Lake set out to write an exhaustive document of USBM, and the scene should thank him for it. It’s about time people drop the “not bad for Americans” attitude and accept these bands within the black metal lexicon. Those who remain on the fence about corpse-painted bands from the States need look no further than USBM: A Revolution of Identity in American Black Metal.

Chock-full of archival photographs and interesting interviews, USBM is a necessary tome of an oft-misunderstood movement in extreme metal.
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