Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blut Aus Nord - The Work Which Transforms God

Blut Aus Nord - The Work Which Transforms God
2003, Appease Me Records

The zeitgeist of the end times runs throughout this material, blowing over the strings and out of the uneasy miasma of the discordant, dissonant feel of all of these songs. Enough "dis" prefixes for you? The "dis/Dis" however, as both in the literal meaning, "against", antipathetic, allied as an enemy, and the mythological meaning of a Hell, an underworld, apply equally to the distorted effect of this album on one's senses. If the Romantics believed that the artist [especially the contemporary poet] was an Aeolian harp letting the currents of the age, the spirit of the times, run through him/her and literally "inspire" [fill them with breath in order to sing or chant] their work, then dark romanticism is revived or summoned here with a series of tracks that evokes the images of modern industrial decay and lethargic ennui [the banality and oppressiveness of an ever present evil] as often as it does a sort of medieval, abstract, all-pervasive fear of the dark. The band classify their approach on this opus as "decadent purity". It fits. This album is as often traditional and comfortable [for black metal fans, that is] as it is groundbreaking and innovative. Interesting. The two dissimilar currents are blended, or rather: the old is used to comment upon and thrust forward the backward-looking, history-aware brethren and spawn of the new.

What noble and affecting creations can arise out of the decay of once-important artistic movements!

There is a massive Thorns influence at work here. Not just in the song structures, the use of dissonant, diminished or misaligned harmonic intervals [always just a half-step off in order to create a certain uneasiness in the listener, whose ears, weaned on classicism, cry out for major chords and clean 3rds], the inverted strumming or up-picked arpeggios [the entire central motif of Thorns, those ubiquitous reversed chords], or in the general melodic approach that strives to always keep both eyes on darkness and a view into the Abyss, it also appears in the entire progressive reach of this band, the way that they push general black metal paradigms into novel configurations in a search for a new [idiosyncratic, original, something they can call their own] style. The riffing is as much Burzum-like atonality as it is mirroring Thorns's clinical, detached coldness and cynicism. All of this from a French band who call themselves "Blut Aus Nord", which literally means in German "blood from the north" or "Northern Blood". As if their influences and objective weren't already clear! One will also notice the appearance of a few Corchado chords which can only be comments on The Chasm's place in metal, although that might just be a complete coincidence.

I wish the lyrics were in the CD insert here because it might enable me to draw further connections between the literary meanings in the songs and their titles, or between the words that Blut Aus Nord offer as a shroud over their beautiful style and the references the guitars are making. As it is I can not make out a single line of language on this album and that's just a shame. I have to calculate, interpret, and deduct only from the messages these melodies are sending to me. I might as well get my one complaint about this record out of the way here: the insert, artwork, and packaging on this release are just substandard. Framed in off-color monochrome tints the two-panel insert opens up to reveal a sort of forest path/stream scene which has been photographed and graphically inverted to appear like a negative of a winter landscape. The cover is a distorted and inadequate picture of the band's logo over another stained shadow backdrop or abstract color study. The entire thing is reproduced so poorly and at such a low resolution that it just reeks of amateurism. It was obviously done on a computer by someone who either was not skilled at graphic manipulation or who just didn't give a damn about the look of the final product. This is a shame because the mediocre packaging houses an amazing album, and I fear it might dissuade potential record buyers from at least giving it a listen. The record just deserves a better artistic/aesthetic treatment. On the back of the insert are the song titles and the name of the album, which are so badly tinted and buried by the botched printing job that I needed the promo advertising sheet to even learn the names of these tracks. Sad. Is this an attempt at being "obscure" or "underground"? Surely those ideas could have been offered to the listener by other methods of graphic manipulation? There are better methods of creating an impression of "obscurity" [mystery, profundity, power in darkness and the withdrawal from "obvious" reality] than just lazily rendering one's artwork in beclouded tones and bleared representations.

The album opens with a short ambient piece which is awash in distant murmurs and the echoing impact of factory metal on grating metal. After almost two minutes of this mood-setting introduction the first track proper, the excoriating "The Choir of the Dead" launches itself at your cerebral cortex with the subtlety of a shower room slowly filling with Zyklon B. What you will probably notice first are the ways in which the guitars do not pace through typical segmented, jointed, rock-based riffs so much as they ooze in serpentine waves out of the speakers in a poisonous gray fog that corrodes as it spreads, corrupting and rusting, eating away acidly at one's musical preconceptions and suffocating/choking one with their perverse originality. The basic motif is not the short sharp shock of the basic black metal riff, it's the drone of industrial music or power electronics, the echoing, slow creeping and changing black winds of Cold Meat Industry bands, the modern spirit of melodies that are so worn out and stifled by internal decay that they slush through the air and atmosphere and fall like a ashen chemical rain. It's also positively drenched in ghostly reverb to spread the attack across the inner horizon and make it appear to descend from all angles. When additional melodies are placed over this sea of cursed murkiness they are alien reverse arpeggios and perverse, eerie October harmonies.

As I said above, the harmonizing effects of the two guitars balanced behind each other [or in the left and right channels] is not traditional or compositionally "correct" [laugh] by the rules of such precepts which might apply to a classical art like metal, so they appear to be misaligned, out of step, sick, disturbed, paranoid, uneasy, mentally unsound. To put it another way: it's "modern". The main rhythm riffs are ceaselessly being manipulated by being bent, pushed, pulled back, warped, and knocked out of place by the tremelos. They moan, complain, and scream like winter winds whipping through the trees, rushing down your chimney or swirling beneath your doors. Fascinating.

There are also additional rhythmic effects or samples...in this first song there's a coughing, hiccupping cadence whose source I can not locate. It might just be a vocal or beat segment repeated or some kind of guitar effect...I don't know. On the ninth sector, "The Howling of God" [that title describes this band's entire sound very well, not just the resonance of the guitars], there is a pulsing "dance" beat that drives forward a central riff. It's infectious...it works. In almost every song there are overlays and hidden whispers of sound that eddy and float behind the obvious action of the main instruments. You just have to listen to the album a number of times to pick them all out.

On the second song, "Axis", there are vocal effects and choral tracks under the guitars, seemingly launching themselves out of the spirit world and trying to cross the threshold between realities that the guitars form as a barrier. In this piece there is also a nice series of lead guitar tones that are mixed just above the brink of inaudibility and which dance and caparison like a diseased funeral procession behind the black drapes of the lamenting rhythm strings. "The Fall" is another despairing, fallen ambient piece. "Metamorphosis", the next track, is a slow, wearying exercise in blending obvious, open rhythm guitars with an entire world of swirling, echoing horrors behind them. One has to listen to this song on headphones to really get the full effect. As I mentioned above, treat the "obvious" song structure and riffing that appears as the "real" song as just a curtain to be pushed aside and forgotten...what's really interesting is often what appears behind/beneath these disguising obstructions to the evocative arcane. The twisted, wicked, seemingly amateurish six-string pushes and pulls here, the bizarre crumbs and fractured segments of crumbling melodies, are at the heart of Blut Aus Nord's entire distinctive approach to black metal. What they are saying, deep in the center of this important [to the structure of the entire album] track is that this group is not afraid to try anything if it expands their expressive reach in a constructive fashion. Their idea of what "doesn't fit" on a black metal album is much tighter and closely confined that almost any other band, they have controlled it. They surely must watch it continuously in order to keep from falling into clich├ęs, but that is the particular fate of the "progressive" band. In order to be a trend setter [or breaker] one has to be eternally vigilant...one has to watch one's self.

I especially like the slow bleating pinched harmonics which appear in the opening melodies of the lengthy "Our Blessed Frozen Cells", the grumbling voices of the dead and washes of chorus beneath them, and the totally original atonal riff first appearing at 1:01 with the industrial clashes behind it. However, there is just too much going on over the course of this album to attempt to label and catalogue every single thing they throw into the Blut Aus Nord manufacturing process. I could sit down and attempt to indicate and cross-reference every single sound and segment on this album, but I would rather have you listen to it for yourself. Believe me when I say that you have never heard another album like this.

When the completely time-honored, sentimental leads tones in the second half of "Our Blessed Frozen Cells" descend upon your startled senses it's like waking from a blurry nightmare. "Wait a second," you say, "this sounds like a conventional heavy metal band! Maybe even...Joy Division?" It's a mark of Blut Aus Nord's skill at composition that they place a stirring, soothingly emotional segment like this right at the middle of this war of discordance. It's an exercise in compare and contrast, a display of dynamics. It makes the traditional sound that much more soothing, and the "avant-garde" elements that much more bizarre. It's called song writing ability and album-building experience, ladies and gentlemen. There is a comparable [althought a little more complex] solo break in the climactic instrumental "Procession of the Dead Clown", which centers around hollow, cavernous guitar rhythms and a lead guitar that seems to be trying to sum up the entire experience of the album while it closes it and finishes it off.

I'm not even going to try to describe the rest of this experimental album. This is a genre-exploding and movement-defying release and it needs to be heard, not labeled and pigeonholed or filed away. Seek it out, listen to it, come to terms with it, learn from it. Enjoy it for what it is.

Highly recommended.