PARABELLUM - An Ode To Black Metal's Forgotten Fathers
The history of extreme metal is always going to be hotly debated, especially while a lot of the people who started it are still alive. However every once in a while a band turns up who seem to turn the whole scene on its head and suggest that maybe they came first. The band I'm talking about today is of course Parabellum. Though in recent years they've started to get a bit of minor acclaim (Most notably in a 2009 article in Terrorizer) it's hardly that which a band like Mantas has received, and as I dig deeper I can't help but think that Parabellum might very well be the original progenitors of black metal slaughter.
Now I'm hesitant to claim that this was 'the first black metal band' even if their 1984 rehearsal demo definitely seems to suggest as much. When this article posts I'm sure that someone in the comments will manage to find an even earlier band playing music that is identifiable as black metal (And no, Venom don't really count). That being said – I think that Parabellum are definitely an act that we need to be paying more attention to. Euronymous didn't list them as a major early influence on Mayhem for nothing! (In the same interview Euronymous also mentioned Parabellum's peers in Réenarcnacion but that's a story for a different time) Hell – Parabellum were so good that their debut EP Sacrilegio which came out the same year as Deathcrush is widely viewed as the superior record and despite this, this is a band who somehow passed far under the radar.
The reasons for this seem be largely due to geography. The band received little mention in the few tape trader zines we still have access to these days and it's impossible to piece together a history that is simply not there, at least not in English. It seems that by and large the members of the band moved on to other projects after their breakup in 1988 and their guitarist Jhon Jairo Martinez was brutally murdered in 1998, precluding any possibility of a reunion. It seems that more and more the other members have dropped off the metal map in recent years with only one member, La Bruja joining a band that even bothered with a Facebook page, Organismos, a band that hasn't updated their page in more than three years.
But I'm not really here to tell the tale of a band whose story is pretty much indecipherable. I mean, we can read between the lines and imagine that these young men who started the bands when they were pretty much all in their late teens saw the harsh world around them and wanted to rebel. Presumably someone in their circle of friends picked up a Venom record and away they went. The one live video we have is more than thirty years old but seems to suggest that Parabellum were one hell of a live act, resplendent with all of the black metal fury that made the genre so great in the first place.
What really gets me about Parabellum though is how god damn different they were. In Mantas, as great as the band was you could still hear a lot of thrash metal and hardcore coming out in the sound and Chuck's pubescent voice hadn't full grasped the level of madness required for truly extreme metal. Parabellum's 1984 rehearsal demo seems light years ahead of what anybody else was doing at the time. Hell, there are even moments here and there that seem almost reminiscent of early Immortal, and those dudes almost certainly knew about Parabellum back in the Old Funeral and Amputation days. As you delve into Parabellum's discography it starts to feel like this band was the missing link in black metals evolutionary chain.
Don't get me wrong, there is definitely a lot of thrash metal and hardcore that finds its way into the Parabellum sound, but they, more than anyone else in the early 80s had the general shape of black metal to come down. They understood where the bleakness of the genre came from. Listen to a song like Engendro 666 and tell me that that isn't black metal in a very stripped down form. Even today you have kids putting out black metal demos that don't sound to far off from what Parabellum were doing 32 years ago. It speaks to the eternal power of black metal and how forward thinking Parabellum were in their day and age.
We've always known that South America has long been a breeding ground for exciting and forward thinking extreme metal, but I would definitely argue that Parabellum are a special highlight, even for that brilliant continent. I'm not saying the band was particularly good, and I kind of doubt that they fully understood just how revolutionary that they were at the time, or to what extent their influence has actually manifested itself (Although considering that they were an influence on Mayhem I think that most black metal bands would find Parabellum somewhere in their lineage) but I can certainly say that they stand as a fascinating cultural artifact.
To circle back to the beginning, I think that Parabellum are a beautiful metaphor for the fascinating history of black metal over the ages. That a band who may very well have been the ones to change everything, and might just be the first true extreme metal band, could have come up from a crime infested country to create music that still resonates four decades on is insane. It suggests that there really is something greater here than just long haired dudes banging on guitars. Parabellum came out of nowhere creating a sound that mattered and were godfathers to a genre that is only just now getting the attention it deserved. As one YouTube commenter aptly put it, “Columbian Extreme Metal made European Extreme Metal look like a joke.”