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Image from Dawnbringer's Into the Lair of the Sun God CD cover (2012)

Surrender to all Life Beyond Form

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It’s evident that Profound Lore’s artists are challenging, unconventional and, in the case of Leviathan’s 2011 album True Traitor, True Whore, divisive and controversial. However, for all the extremity of the label’s roster, substantial artistic forethought lurks behind the noise. Let’s be clear, pushing the boundaries is crucial to the rationale of many of these bands. But Bruni’s vision for the label clearly doesn’t undervalue the intelligence of metal fans, or dismiss their need to be challenged in a variety of ways.


Extremity in metal comes wrapped in different sized parcels—not all of which are measured in decibels alone. One of the key factors in Profound Lore’s success has been the diversity of its roster. Some artists may be more genteel than others, but that doesn’t imply their material is less palpable or visceral. As a result, the label’s fans often see no contradiction in listening to both the subtle and the slaughtering.


Take the case of some of 2011’s releases. The refinements of SubRosa (No Help for the Mighty Ones) nestled alongside the gut-wrenching doom of Loss (Despond). The psychedelic sludge of The Atlas Moth ( An Ache for the Distance) met the thuggish death metal of Disma (Towards the Megalith). Yob returned with its most deeply spiritual album (Atma), while death metal acts Mitochondrion (Parasignosis) and Antediluvian (Through the Cervix of Hawaah) trawled the depths of arcane mysticism.


Every one of those albums represents an entirely different strain of underground metal. Some are raw, pustulating ulcers of filth. Others are experimental, fragile or pensive, while some combine textures from throughout the metal spectrum. However, the label’s diversification hasn’t come at the expense of the needs of its audience, quite the opposite. Once, a rigid sense of self-identity may have held fans back from indulging in both the evocative minimalism of Profound Lore’s Worm Ouroboros and avowedly satanic labelmate Avichi. But the label’s credibility has helped broaden the cultural characteristics of metal. 




Obviously, Profound Lore is not alone in broadening metal’s scope. Its roster has both mirrored and fostered wider developments in the scene. (Non-metal attributes are integrated throughout metal in a variety of ingenious ways, while conversely, many bands have pared metal back to its malicious root.) The key to Profound Lore’s ability to encompass that broad range of metal and yet remain a cohesive, trustworthy label, comes down to one fundamental factor—its intransigent ethos.
 
Profound Lore has shown a dogged commitment to nurturing artists of unique vision. However, no matter how musically or lyrically distant they are from one another, the label’s artists have a common disposition that binds them—all are uncompromising in their artistic endeavors. It’s a testament to Bruni’s ironclad philosophy that so many differing, ingenious artists can collectively be gathered under a single banner. Obviously, not everything the label’s released has been universally adored, but if you’re going to hate something, why not hate the best?


Profound Lore’s modus operandi has always been one of carefully paced evolution, rather than a frenzy of slap-dash signings. Many of the label’s artists have been recommended by musicians Bruni respects—those he’s worked with in the past, or those contacting him about possible future ventures. From 2009 to 2011 the label released a raft of albums that represented pinnacle achievements for many bands (at least until we hear from them again). Yet, continued growth and broadening perspective haven’t caused Profound Lore to lose touch with the metal underground.


Some folks took exception to Profound Lore artists working with Scion, seeing it as a sign of unforgiveable corporate intermingling. I’m sure some folk were also appalled when Bruni had the audacity to release anything but vinyl, but that’s the metal fraternity—passionate opinions abound. In substantive terms, however, in an arena where the briefest hint of recognition often sees the term ‘sell-out’ thrown about, the label’s ability to balance credibility with expansion is to be much admired.


Already, in 2012, that credibility has been reaffirmed by a series of outstanding releases. 


Into the Cryosphere


In February this year doom outfit Pallbearer released the extraordinary Sorrow and Execution—a masterful display of songwriting acumen. The album’s gigantic and fuzz-laden riffs combined with Brett Campbell’s evocative vocals to make it a top contender for doom metal album of the year. In March, things took a diaphanous turn as Worm Ouroboros released its hauntingly ethereal Come the Thaw, and the split Locrian and Mamiffer album Bless Them That Curse You tackled gorgeously crestfallen terrain.


Come April, it was the turn of Occultation to deliver Three and Seven. A bone-chilling occult rock album that avoided any trace of pastiche, delving deep into spheres of unadulterated and sincere devilry.


May presented a bumper crop. Aldebaran’s Embracing the Lightless Depths was a magnificently reeling and desolate doomscape. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Black’s Dawnbringer project released the phenomenal conceptual feast Into the Lair of the Sun God (tick the box for traditional metal album of the year contender). And, as if that weren’t enough, two limited edition rereleases appeared from the enigmatic Black Twilight Circle scene, with Odz Manouk’s self-titled album and Tukaaria’s Raw to the Rapine.


In June, Profound Lore made things even more complicated by releasing the bluesy, windswept might of Witch Mountain’s Cauldron of the Wild, clearly another contender for doom album of the year. The soulful, often operatic vocals of Uta Plotkin were paramount to the album’s success, but the expressive, sweeping riffs oozed poignancy and gritty Southern charm. The inscrutable entity Bosse-De-Nage arrived late in the month with its third album, III. Its unrestrained collision of minimalist black metal and Slint-like post-rock is made all the more mysterious by the band members’ refusal to participate in any promotional activities whatsoever.


That brings us to the present. Early in the month of July we can look forward to the menacing supernaturalism of The Howling Wind reappearing with Of Babalon. The crowning 100th release arrives at the end of July, with the highly anticipated new Evoken album, Atra Mars, set to pulverize any likely adversaries with a colossally heavy broadside of pitch-black, guttural doom. 




Marrow of the Spirit


Profound Lore is not the only metal label with an unyielding aesthetic or a dedication to releasing consistently thought-provoking and challenging work—far from it. You’ll find exactly the same temperament exhibited by labels such as Seventh Rule, Dark Descent, Broken Limbs, Handmade Birds, The Flenser, Gilead Media, Nuclear War Now, Ajna, Hydra Head, and stalwarts Southern Lord (along with myriad others). 


What defines Profound Lore’s integrity, however, is the respect it has shown for its audience. It has never betrayed its core vision, and never underestimated its fans’ capacity to appreciate vast varieties of nuanced noise. Over the past eight years the label has built a roster of imaginative and individual artists, leading fans to trust its judgment implicitly. You know exactly what you’re getting with a Profound Lore release: unconditional artistic freedom encased in unbridled creativity.


Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.


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