Review by G. Lukes
France sometimes gets a bad rap. Sure, it has its drawbacks; but how about we forgive and forget? Let’s not dwell on the likes of Napoleon, Arsene Wenger, the Renault adverts with Nicole and Papa, William the Conqueror or the nation‘s general propensity for arrogance. I suggest we remember the good things, like fine cuisine, Gérard Depardieu, Parkour, René from “’Allo ‘Allo!” and, of course, the thriving black metal scene.
The Norwegians may have held a monopoly on black metal throughout the nineties, but the French have blazed a trail through the scene over the last ten years. From the abstruse turbulence of Deathspell Omega and the blistering malice of Antaeus to the shoe gazing, quixotic sound of Alcest, the nation has moved on from the primordial buzz of early Les Legions Noire and forged a reputation as one of the most enterprising nations in the genre.
And so the shadow of “777 – Sects(s)” looms heavy over the black metal underground and we are graced with the presence of the latest offering from the hydra-headed beast known as Blut aus Nord. One of the leaders of the French scene, the band started off in the nineties as a much more traditional black metal outfit before the turn of the millennium saw the horde develop a much more forward thinking vision.
Late last year, the band laid out their manifesto; to release a trilogy of albums throughout 2011, all under the title “777“. These albums would hark back to the discordant, frantic style of “The Work Which Transforms God”, an album of tangled, torturous beauty which discombobulated the black metal scene with its mix of industrial rhythms, alien guitar tones and moments of monumental ambiance. It was an album likened on a press releases to “Mayhem sodomizing Neurosis with a Godflesh joystick”.
Any fears that Blut Aus Nord might have shed some of the grotesque cacophony of the past are allayed immediately. “Epitome I” (of six) erupts suddenly from the speakers and immediately asphyxiates the listener with its claustrophobic wall of eddying riffage, off-kilter rhythms and pummelling, mechanised percussion. It’s as if this enigmatic French trio has jettisoned you into the far reaches of a black hole. Gravity begins to close in on itself and you start to choke on the vacuum of space as it forces the air from your gaping maw.
The blasts are frantic and the atonal wall of noise is accompanied by a hail of rasped vocals lower in the mix. The maelstrom is occasionally pierced by melodic, wavering leads but any soothing influence is fleeting, as soon the track returns to the violence of its chaotic noodling. Then, just as it seems the song is nearing meltdown, you emerge from the vortex; finding a crawlspace and floating through the backside of the cyclone as the album throws its first curveball and pitches the track into a dark dub beat, echoing from the depths of the crypt.
The following track, “Epitome II“, slows the pace to a crawl. Its martial percussion, sorrowful leads and cavernous vocals lending the feel of a black metal equivalent of extreme doom titans Esoteric. The juxtaposition between this track and the bedlam of its predecessor only adds to the gravity of the piece. This dichotomy is evident throughout the album, whose songs can be split between the more chaotic, harrowing black metal pieces and the vast, majestic, slower tracks.
“Epitome III” and “Epitome V” push the more frenetic style of BaN to the fore. The former is the shortest track on the album, featuring contorted guitars descending; spiralling into the pitch black depths of oblivion. The songs ends with twisted leads, swaying eerily; almost dancing a demented waltz. “Epitome V“, meanwhile, features more pummelling drumming with distorted, gurgled, reverberating screams and discordant guitar arpeggios.
“Epitome IV” is the longest track on the album. Starting out with a huge groove, the band progresses onward through the song’s duration; at one point moving into a riff approaching post-metal before transitioning into a crawl of staccato guitar and fading notes and then finishing with ghostly vocals wailing into the background. “Epitome VI” is a dirge of threnodic guitars and hammering, martial drumming. This song, once again, heavily reminiscent of Godflesh with its cadenced groove and pounding percussion. It later moves back to more familiar territory as the composition is molested by more warped fret work. The song climbs and climbs, but it never reaches the plateau. Instead, the album cuts to a sudden, jarring halt and the building menace is simply choked into silence..
It can certainly be suggested that this release showcases Blut aus Nord at their most concise. Not only does it draw heavily from “The Work Which Transforms God“, but it distils some of the best parts of the band’s other post-millennial work, especially “Mystical Beast of Rebellion”, and churns it through an industrial-size compactor.. The Godflesh influence has most certainly been amplified, mainly evident in the crushing bass lines and the pulverising percussion.
Despite this, it doesn’t always hit the highs of past albums. While this remains perhaps one of the band’s most consistent releases, it’s not quite up there with their best. However, it is a reminder that Blut aus Nord are still one of the most forward-thinking black metal bands on the planet right now. This is a worthy addition to their discography and perhaps a good place for those unacquainted with the group to begin.
The band have stated that the culmination of these three releases will be a side project, separate from Blut aus Nord, showcasing an entire band under the “777” moniker playing solely this very style of music. All this only goes to prove that there are far more bloodcurdling prospects bubbling up over the channel than a new Christopher Lambert movie, a Zinedine Zidane head butt to the sternum or a new series of Eurotrash.