“Don’t Enter!” – Norway, Bloody Norway
“If you are a false, don’t entry!” And if you are a false, do enter, because the only rule of this weekly section, in which we present you three short blurbs on music we are currently listening to, is that we are under no circumstance allowed to press the enter key. All of these little reviews shall thus consist of one paragraph only. The more this rule renders the blurb illegible, the more the writer has failed. Check back every Friday for a fresh haul of Don’t Enter.
Norway by now has turned into that annoying uncle who once had a trial with a professional football team. Though this brief highlight in his would-be sporting career took place many years ago, it is all he will ever talk about. And the more years pass since that moment, the better he was. Similarly, Norway still has a reputation as a leading country in black metal because of what happened there a quarter of a century ago, but qualitatively the country’s output has dwindled ever since they caged the Wolf. At the hand of a number of greatly varying post-2000 releases, we put Norway’s reputation into context in this week’s rendition of Don’t Enter.
Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare | Norway, 2014
Seeing as reality television is becoming so decadent that a show like Climbing For Dollars is now a realistic perspective, allow me to pitch a new TV format that can effortlessly latch on to the dystopian entertainment bandwagon in its determined race to the bottom. We take a black metal band of considerable reputation, lock them in a studio without food or water and don’t open the door again until they’ve recorded a full-length album. If we were to conduct such a merry experiment, surely the ensuing record would sound a lot like Esoteric Warfare by Mayhem. Divisive though the band’s work may have been in the past, at least their music always displayed a desire to stand out for better or for worse. Esoteric Warfare, on the other hand, is cringingly middle-of-the-road in nearly everything it attempts to do. Attila Csihar’s vocals have gone from the disturbing off-key necrophiliac crooning to run-of-the-mill black metal vocals; the songs keep grinding on without ever reaching the point of climax; the lyrical theme of psychological warfare is stock as fuck, and as a result of all of this, the album leaves no lasting impression of any kind. On a technical level, everything is as fine and dandy as it ever was with Mayhem, but what with Esoteric Warfare being an album that possesses zero sense of urgency or inspiration, it might as well not have been recorded. The only purpose of this record is to give the band another excuse to tour, hence why the TV format described earlier may very well reflect the actual circumstances under which this album was recorded. |Degtyarov
Vemod – Vi er Natten | Norway, 2012
Much has been written of Vemod’s debut album Venter på Stormene and previous demo Vinterilden and rightly so; these two works comprise the majority of their live sets and are finely honed works of beauty reflecting the harsh pristine landscapes in which they were crafted. However, the band (who define themselves as ‘dark ethereal metal’, a far more fitting and boundless term for their music than ‘black metal’) recently displayed another side to their oeuvre, one which has always been hinted at throughout their nascent career through aesthetics and subtle additions to their sound. At 2014’s Inferno Festival Vemod emerged as a trio led by J. E. Åsli and performed (according to reports, as only thirty people were invited for attendance) solely with guitar, minimal percussion, wind chimes, cello, flute and harmonised vocals in the confines of the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo. Anyone with even a tenuous grasp of Norwegian art will appreciate that a mausoleum built by the artist to be his own resting place, covered in frescoes echoing those of the Sistine Chapel, would be a decidedly mystical and richly symbolic space, in which reports indicate Vemod created an intensely sacral mood. This brief review is not strictly about this performance, but rather about a single song the band contributed to Heathen Harvest’s Samhainwork I compilation, “Vi er Natten”, which reflects this ‘other side’ of Vemod’s world. No trace of ‘metal’ exists on this recording, and the intimate yet expansive, contemplative sound of Vemod is even stronger for it, built from timpani, undulant synths, horns and vocals of a rich and strident timbre. There is an icy, ethereal and almost liquid quality to the song which no amount of Paysage d’Hiver clones could ever hope to conjure, as if the notes were water beneath the frozen lake, or the borealis above the mountains. If ever there was a piece of music which represented the action of contemplating the night, the cosmos and the pristine icy beauty of the Sør-Trøndelag region, this is it. As an addition to the Vemod discography, it stands as pause for reflection, a chance for introspection along the wild frosted landscapes that make up Vemod’s musical Pilegrimsleden to Niðarós. Utterly enchanting, this must be heard to be understood. |MDL
The Kovenant – S.E.T.I. | Norway, 2003
The Kovenant was one of my favourite bands growing up, but as with many teenage musical heroes, much of the pleasure derived from listening to their music today would have to be classified under the ‘guilty’ label. Particularly Nexus Polaris (1998) is, in retrospect, a carnavalesque piece of music whose superb technical characteristics fail to cover up the fact that this is what it sounds like when a genre collectively runs out of ideas. Norway’s late nineties avant-garde metal scene is the musical equivalent of an empire in decline: with all attempts to restore forlorn glory having failed, the only option left is to plunge further into directionless decadence with all expression becoming inflated and grotesque in an effort to provide a sense of novelty to terminally ill ideas. To The Kovenant‘s credit, their 2003 full-length S.E.T.I. still holds up today because, contrary to what is suggested by the admittedly ridiculous promo shots, this release sees the band drop its mask of pretence, instead producing a more pop-structured album with a strong space rock influence. S.E.T.I. is themed around the relation between man and outer space, alluding to the idea that our origins ultimately lie therein: “From the stars we have come / And to the stars we shall return”. Aided by an infinite library of samples, bleeps, choirs and sound effects, the music has an industrial, cosmic feel to it, which helps the songs express the themes that stand at S.E.T.I.‘s core not only lyrically, but also musically. In this sense the album conveys an atmosphere similar to that of Kamaedzitca‘s Voiceless are your words, albeit in a far less poetic, multipolar way. In the end, not every track on S.E.T.I. turns out well – “Planet of the Apes” and “Acid Theater” are still tainted by the band’s cheesy tendencies – but overall The Kovenant provides a delightful piece of evidence for the idea that some bands are better off when they stop trying to play black metal altogether. |Degtyarov
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