Written by Helena
“Be Warned: Here Be Hipster Black Metal”
In an almost daily thread of “What are you listening to today”, I posted a link to a band called Jute Gyte (in this instance, their album Birefringence). One user remarked: “This music scares me”. And when I showed the album to my mother (who was raised on a steady diet of classical chamber music), she said “this sounds wrong”. In this article, I will dive into why exactly this is, as well as provide my thoughts on this album.
Jute Gyte is the black metal project of one Adam Kalmbach, formerly of the dungeon synth projects Abandoned Places, Mystic Towers, and Erdstall. He is inspired by antifascist philosophy and the methods of the early 20th century composers; his lyrical themes (as Metal Archives lists them) are “Mortality, Philosophy, Nature, War, Psychology, Literature”. For the most part, Kalmbach’s music as Jute Gyte has all the hallmarks of traditional black metal: the blazing fast tremolo picking, shrieked vocals, a certain low fidelity, and blast beats. However, upon listening to Jute Gyte for the first time, I had a similar reaction to those mentioned above: it sounds wrong, like it’s out of tune. This is true to some extent; at least according to “Western” music standards and theory. Without getting too in-to-the-weeds and potentially alienating already tenuous listeners/readers, this is due to a concept called microtonality.
Microtonality is, simply put, an expression of music that includes intervals outside of those from Western tuning (12 equal divisions per octave). For example, when you play a stringed instrument such as a guitar, your scale is composed of a group of those twelve notes, depending on what key you’re playing. Fretting a note in a certain position will change the pitch of the note. The space between those notes is called an interval, and the smallest interval in Western tuning is a half-step. To extrapolate my point about microtonality, there are tones that are in between these half-steps. These notes can be achieved through bending, sliding, or using the whammy bar in exact places to achieve microtonality. But since they are outside of what is conventional in “Western” tuning, these notes end up sounding dissonant, or ugly, or (to use a favorite term of mine) “skronky”. The reasons for this are myriad, but can essentially be explained as being different from what we’ve come to expect from traditional Western music. A lot of it is also racism, but that’s a whole other digression. Microtonal music is traditionally found in what might be known as “Eastern” music, such as music from the Middle East, East Asia, and India, and was co-opted by late 19th- and early 20th-century composers such as Ligeti, Bartok, and Harry Partch. There are, however, examples of this outside of canonical and classical music; microtones can be found in blues, jazz, and (more recently) rock and metal, with artists like Radiohead, Secret Chiefs 3 (lead by Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle fame), and King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard. To name drop, Melinda wrote an impressive article on this very site about Victory Over the Sun, another microtonal black metal project that is fantastic and should be required listening to any fans of avant-garde and experimental black metal.
Microtonality is the mode that Kalmbach has chosen in which to compose his grandiose visions. His guitar is augmented into quarter tones, effectively doubling the amount of notes he can play at a given time. And with this understanding, we may begin our journey into the strangeness that is the microtonal black metal of Jute Gyte’s Mitrealität. The album was released in May of 2021 and Kalmbach’s words from the album’s liner notes may provide some insight into the artist’s intent:
“This album developed from an interest in making more comprehensive use of the different dimensions of musical/aural space – vertical, horizontal, dynamic, acoustic – and a search for forms that combine continuous and discrete change. The album opens and closes with lines from The Tunnel by William Gass, and is also indebted to Ernest Becker, William Blake, Cage, Camus, Cioran, M. J. Grant, Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome, Tom Johnson, Klee, D.H. Lawrence, György Lukács, Nietzsche, Éliane Radigue, Jerome Rothenberg’s translations of Mesopotamian poetry, Carl Stone, James Tenney, and John Williams. Lyrics and most music written 2017-2019, final mixes assembled throughout 2020.”
Kalmbach also speaks about his intent in a 2017 interview with Ben Handelman of Vice: “Metal listeners are already accustomed to music in which all 12 pitches of the chromatic scale are in regular circulation, with occasional microtones created through string-bending or other techniques. Incorporating additional pitches into that language is no greater a step than moving from the diatonic language of most popular music, where only seven pitches are in regular circulation, to the language of metal music.” I include this quote as salient to point to his obvious creativity and forward-thinking attitudes about what music is and can be.
Now onto the actual review; thank you for putting up with my inane ranting. Mitrealität clocks in at a little over 66 minutes and the five tracks included are all past eight minutes, with the longest being 18 minutes and 40 seconds. The album’s title (as far as this novice can tell) refers to a term Max Bense (a German philosopher) came up with to refer to the artistic process; stating that the art belongs to a different reality than the compositional process. Perhaps Kalmbach adopted this way of thinking to distance himself from conventional black metal tropes and signifiers by placing them in stark relief while simultaneously exploring new sonic territory. For example: let’s look at the last verse of the first track, The Griding Sword with Discontinuous Wound:
“In nature there is neither line nor color
This cosmic order, everlasting fire
The incommensurable magnitudes
The deepening red of that unconquered sun
Eternity is torn apart in time
The profanation of the mysteries
The highest values devalue themselves
Osiris-Antinous is born again
To you the conquerors and the pale saints
Music consumed in the very act of birth
The griding sword with discontinuous wound
The hawk is swallowed by the snake it’s caught”
Seems like pretty average black metal lyricism (although they are bangers), right? These feel like words and images you may hear on one of the more verbose records of Blut Aus Nord. Sonically, you have anxious, noisy riffs and harmonically complex, borderline symphonic note choices. The microtonal notes that Kalmbach plays are perfectly matched to the phrenetic and eloquent lyrics he has penned. I would posit that Kalmbach is trying to convey the entropic nature of the world and life. Much like many black metal, Kalmbach’s view of the world is not one of hope. He shrieks these lines with an air of dejection that is found in the realm of the existentialist philosophers that he lists above in the liner notes, namely Nietzsche and Camus.
Although Jute Gyte’s music is deeply existentialist and sorrowful, it is not nihilistic. He acknowledges there is suffering in the world and no omnipotent God controls the acts of others, just chaos and the cruelty of humanity. To him, the creative process provides small solace from the abject indifference of mankind. In the same Vice interview, Kalmbach states: “… I find it heartening to read music history and biographies of composers and other creative people. It seems that all artists, regardless of time or place, face similar problems, and reading about their struggles is both instructive and consoling, in the sense that it makes a sometimes lonely pursuit feel slightly less so.” I believe that he states this to avoid the outward nihilistic attitude that prevails in the black metal community, which can be… problematic to say the least. This philosophy enables horrible people to do horrible things to each other. It’s no big secret that the scene has a huge Nazi problem that is simply not worth going into in this dissection. It is worth saying Jute Gyte is an ardently antifascist project and Kalmbach uses his platform to provide mutual aid to the disenfranchised. All of his releases are “name your price”, allowing the listener who has found themselves this far into this obscure corner of the internet to either, as Bandcamp puts it, click the link and check out some great free music; or to support the artist in their endeavors to make the world a better place.
Favorite track: “Οφιούχος”
Least favorite track: N/A
FFO: Blut Aus Nord, Victory Over the Sun