Dean Blunt’s version of Black Metal is not quite what you’d expect. The UK producer’s follow-up to 2013’s dense, sometimes inscrutable breakup album The Redeemer is a more frank, straightforward collection which frames Blunt’s emotional baritone exclamations within a pointed critique of black and white racial identity.
Blunt has said that the concept of Black Metal was based around the idea of “how in America, the black man uses existing white images and claims them as his as a form of empowerment”. The album and song titles reflect this, while completely eschewing any actual musical reference to the styles they’re named for. “HEAVY” is soothing and almost breezy. “PUNK” is carried mainly by its slow, dubby bass. “COUNTRY” is one of the album’s noisiest moments, a frenetic little instrumental on which you can audibly hear Blunt turn down the volume on his Macbook for some reason.
For its first half, Black Metal borrows the shambling, jangly guitars and hooky vocal styles of classic indie pop. Midway through however comes the epic sprawl of the 13-minute “Forever” and the 9-minute “X”. The two tracks careen their way through a cacophony of broken rhythms, heavy saxophone and dramatic piano. After that you can say goodbye to the sunny, buoyant samples of tha album’s first half. The rest of the album is much more menacing and genuinely metallic, with Blunt taking the vocals in a much more macho, “Rude Boy” direction.
Based on interviews with the man it kind of makes sense to view the album’s two halves as being sort of representative of two different forms of “blackness” to which a person could be categorized by whites: the first a more friendly version, sensitive and deferential to white culture and the second the frightening, aggressive inner city “thug”. I’d venture that the grandiose and difficult middle section could reflect the cognitive dissonance necessary to inhabit both of the aforementioned fictional people within your real, actual person.
The good news is, you don’t even have to know any of the philosophical context to enjoy this record. It’s a real grower. It draws the listener in to a very specific emotional place and you can’t ask for much more than that.
Black Metal is available now on Rough Trade.