Friday, May 21, 2010

Northstream - Time of Triumphal Cleanliness

Northstream - Time of Triumphal Cleanliness
2004 (?), Total Holocaust Records

Unmitigated, unapologetic Darkthrone worship is what we have from this primitive, poorly-recorded, hopelessly obscure Russian project band. Two musicians pour out this work, and are credited accordingly in the lyric booklet, a "Thorn" who is responsible for the drum machine (or are they computer drums in a recording package?), lyrics and "ideological conception" (something you will never witness as the band chose to include a series of winter landscape photos in the booklet instead of texts, and the vocal style of the other member makes it almost impossible to catch anything but the slightest hint of an "ideology" if there is in fact one being illustrated here), and a "Scald" (as in "singer"?) who handles everything else and writes the music as well. So in essence what we seem to have here is a solo project of Scald's with Thorn appearing mainly to create some kind of human link in the rhythm section, to hover over the proceedings and contribute what he may through the agency of his digital percussion and "ideological concepts". I'm tempted to say "interesting" here, but that would be a lie. This is a completely unoriginal, typical band configuration. That doesn't matter, though.

How is the music? Surprisingly, given the small number of elements Northstream allows themselves and the shallow, bland palette they seek to draw their inspiration or methods of execution from, it isn't that bad at all. This is mainly because the simplistic, repetitive structures are familiar to my ear, being first offered by the Norwegians 10 years ago, and this paucity of form allows me to concentrate on the evocative, often enchantingly primitive melodies/guitar riffs on display without being lost in profitless speculations as to songwriting problems on Northstream's part. Take the vocal sound of Nocturno Culto on Darkthrone's "Panzerfaust" (that forced, redline, harsh croaking, shouting-hoarse roar), and then drape beneath it a clicking ride cymbal and kick and snare drums that are almost indistinguishable from each other, a creeping, pale, spectral mono wash of reverberating guitar, and song patterns that try to squeeze the most atmosphere out of the least material possible. This minimalist aesthetic works to Northstream's advantage in that it blends together to create a synthetic presentation in one's mind with the (frankly) beautiful packaging of the album itself (marred only by the album title actually being misspelled on the sides of the tray card), the aforementioned absence of physical or cohesive group details, the photographs of twisted trees and mist, etc. that are suitably (read: winningly, seductively, or other positive adverbs) suggestive and dream-like - enough so that Northstream's deliberate obfuscation and lust for obscurity (again, completely traditional) overcomes their lack of originality - at least in this case, on this album - and makes for an attractive release. Highlights are few, but when they appear they are entrancing. For example, consider the overtly emotional/nostalgic main riff in the fourth song, "New North", which the band knows is golden...so they return to it again and again throughout the song. It is constructed in such a way that it fully makes use of the strange guitar sound and recording aesthetic employed here to maximize the band's elaboration of wistful, melancholy atmospheres. I hope to hear more from this band in the future. As this is only 25 minutes long, however, I think they may have shortchanged an interested listener who comes to this release expecting to daydream for a good amount of time.