Montreal's Spectral Wound Bring New-School Politics to Old-School Black Metal
"You very rarely hear people saying you shouldn't listen to gospel music because the Catholic Church is a gold-plated pederasty temple"
Published Apr 15, 2021Montreal quintet Spectral Wound have steadily risen to the top of the Canadian black metal underground with one uncompromising, infectious rampage after another. Continuing the growth shown from 2015's Terra Nullius to 2018's Infernal Decadence, upcoming album A Diabolic Thirst, due for release on April 16, is already earning its place within the illustrious catalogue of Profound Lore Records.
It's very much black metal by the book, but that's hardly a slight to Spectral Wound in a scene that still worships at the altar of genre trailblazers Darkthrone and Mayhem. "Our interest in this band is creating the kind of black metal we want to listen to on a regular basis," a representative from Spectral Wound says during a phone interview with Exclaim! "We're driven to write fierce driving black metal."
Also in old-school black metal fashion, Spectral Wound downplay their personal identities. During the phone interview, the band member insisted on being credited as speaking on behalf of the band as an entity. Vocalist Jonah Campbell, guitarists Patrick McDowall and Sean Zumbusch, bassist Sam and drummer Illusory represent an intimidating nexus of raw talent, but their efforts to take the spotlight off of themselves serve to nullify the human element of Spectral Wound's obscure, unforgiving music. While the band own up to their straightforward approach to black metal, they hesitate to self-define as "raw."
"Now and then, people refer to what we play as 'raw black metal,' and we're like, 'Man, we've heard some pretty gnarly fucking songs,'" says the band's representative. "We're basically making pop music compared to that stuff."
While it's true that A Diabolic Thirst is way more listener-friendly than the likes of, say, Hail Satanas We Are the Black Legions, the album's artwork alone evokes the cold, stark atmosphere of classic albums like Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger. High-contrast black and white photos remain attached to black metal's aesthetic like screeching vocals and tremolo guitar riffs, but Spectral Wound draws a clear line between derivative nostalgia and creative inspiration.
"We wouldn't say we're actively trying to recall or reproduce something from that era. It's more that those were the bands that influenced us the most," say Spectral Wound's spokesmember. "We're not trying to push the boundaries of the genre in any way."
And yet, they are. Their familiar sound differs from the Métal Noir Québécois scene, which favours Frencophone songs about Quebec's province's history, culture and folklore. Rather, Spectral Wound's proximity to a regionally focused scene makes their fixation on black metal's universal core tenets stand out all the more.
While the band's collective identity results in some awkward quote attributions, it's also part of a nuanced balancing act. The band's spokesperson contrasts Spectral Wound with artists like Toronto trio Thantifaxath, who stay totally off the radar by performing in hoods and never revealing themselves, maintaining that their preferences do not stem from a "theatrical devotion to anonymity."
Unlike many old-schoolers, Spectral Wound don't wear corpse paint or, with the exception of Illusory, take pseudonyms — something they see as a double-edged sword. It may, at times, compromise black metal's "aura of menace, mystery and esotericism" to attribute performances to people with not-so-trve-kult names, but it also allows Spectral Wound to avoid the pretentiousness black metal is often lampooned for.
"We're serious about what we do, but we don't want to take ourselves too seriously in terms of the crafting of an image," says their representative.
Speaking of their image, it's well-known that bad faith actors harness black metal's extremity to spread targeted hatred, exemplified by the worldwide proliferation of National Socialist black metal, also known as NSBM. As the conversations regarding Neo-Nazis in corpse paint continue to intensify, Spectral Wound are happy to make their progressive politics known.
"There are definitely themes in our lyrics that are very clearly opposed to fascism and racist ideology," says their representative. "We are not without politics, but we do not feel the need to make a public statement about the politics of the band."
Despite making a point to spell their politics with a lower-case "p," Spectral Wound have become well-known in their scene as "not a right-wing band." This in turn broadens their appeal as black metal marauders minus the problematic ideologies often associated with the genre.
"A lot of people turn to us because we are a band that is playing the music they want to listen to, but won't let themselves listen to because so many of the bands who make it are sketchy," says the spokesperson.
Spectral Wound's unique vantage point speaks to what they call "musical ecumenicalism" in black metal — that many listeners seek great music, not ideological solidarity. Such sentiments can seem idealistic when many corners of the internet find peddlers of NSBM trading haymakers with the recent wave of acts under the far-left Red and Anarchist Black Metal (RABM) banner. Still, Spectral Wound's belief in the unifying power of solid riffs is far from unfounded.
"A lot of people would listen to an RABM band if that band was actually very good," Spectral Wound's representative says. "It takes a real psychotic zealot to only listen to NSBM. A band like Summoning, who are very leftist, didn't lose a lot of fans when that became publicly known."
Finding out that an acclaimed black metal band like Spectral Wound aren't crypto-fascist is the ultimate cherry on top. It's a welcome rebuke from a reality that every seasoned black metaller has had to contend with: that the band they just jammed harbours repugnant beliefs.
"The issue becomes easier to identify in black metal or Oi! for example, where right-wing politics are often a part of the public presentation of a band," says the spokesmember. "You very rarely hear people saying you shouldn't listen to gospel music because the Catholic Church is a gold-plated pederasty temple."
While their less-strident political stance as a band makes it unlikely they'll be added to any RABM compilations any time soon, their fit is badass black metal. A Diabolic Thirst more than speaks for itself in terms of well-crafted, memorable black metal made by people with evident respect for both the genre's legends and the bands carrying the tradition forward. The album lives up to its name, quenching the scene's continued desire for devilish riffs, punishing drums and wraith-like vocals.
"So long as that music can express something that feels resonant, people are going to persist in doing it," the spokesperson says.
In short: if it's good, it'll stick around. And Spectral Wound provide welcome musical traditionalism in an ever-changing genre. Even if a day comes where old-school black metal loses its dark flame, Spectral Wound will no doubt sign off the way their representative did our interview: "See you in hell, my friends."