Von - Early American Black Metal
Von, formed in the late 80's but only recording two EP's/demos, Satanic Blood and Blood Angel, both recorded in 1991, and one live show, recorded in 1991 as well. What's most fascinating about Von was that conceptually as well as musically they formed much of what was early black metal. Inspiring many different bands Von itself remains a cult band, a band that more people have heard of than heard, and those who do hear them either love them or despise them, with very few in a middle ground. The band has a definite mystery about them, with few even knowing who the members are, or anything about them. The idea that was Von was to create a hypnotic ritual atmosphere and music, simple, primitive and minimalistic. Most songs are only a handful of chords, and perhaps one or two riffs. To most tech metal heads this is probably something like a child would play, which, to most Von lovers, is exactly what the appeal is. Using simple things to create atmospheric results, the band did much with very little.
The lyrics to the bands records were mostly Satanic subjects, most often very simple and incantory. They were vomited forth by the vocalist with a semi-death metal grunt. The guitar riffs tended to be simple, but when they put together solos you realized that is was a put-on, and they obviously knew exactly what they were doing. Darkthrone would do the exact same thing around the same time, they deconstructed from tech death metal to primitive black metal and production for the atmosphere. And indeed their blue-print could easily have been taken from Von. The music of Von is mostly slower or mid-tempo, with a few songs which speed up to near blast beats. The drumming was mostly ambient, again a spectre of what black metal would come to be. The bass filled the low end, much like on Bathory records, creating a hellish bottom end for the guitar riffs.
Von succeed in one fashion that many of their peers and followers wouldn't be able to. Von remain a mystery even to their most ardent fans. The only tangible thing that one can find is that they were from the Bay Area in California, and they were despised by the scene around them. That is obvious to understand, for what they were creating was such a counter-movement away from the wanking of their death metal counterparts. Von rebelled against those bands, and taking from Bathory and Sarcofago created what I have described. In the process they also created a mystery and a strange atmosphere around the band itself, which all subsequent black metal bands would also attempt to do.
Of course their influence on the Norwegian scene is easy to see as well. Varg Vikerenes from Burzum was aparently a big fan of them and it is easy to see how they could have been influential upon bands like Darkthrone, Carpathian Forest and Gorgoroth. Swedes Dark Funeral released a split with their first EP and the Satanic Blood ep by Von in tribute to the band. Americans Krieg aparently cover at least one Von song at every live show. That Von were ahead of their time there is no doubt. Personally I've become a big fan of the CD which has all their material upon it, called Satanic Blood Angel I recommend picking it up wherever you can. Von are essential to any black metal fans collection, even if you end up not liking their music.