(This is the third installment in this week’s run of brief album reviews – or at least brief by our usual standards.)
Five days ago we posted a review of a forthcoming album by a long-running Polish death metal band called Hate. At roughly the same time as we were listening to that album, we were also listening to a new album by a band called Hat, which is the Norwegian word for . . . wait for it . . . hate. Actually, it’s the word for hatred, but close enough. So, you could say it was a hate-filled week at NCS, except what we’re feeling for the music of Hat is far from hatred.
The Norwegian word hat is pronounced like the English word “hot”, and that’s a good word for Hat’s forthcoming album, Vortex of Death: It’s hot. That is, if you like your black metal extremely old school and chilled down to the temperature of liquid nitrogen.
Hat is a two-man horde originally formed in 1993 by Nevresch and Undertrykker under the name Ravner. They were inactive from 1996 to 2006, and then reunited under that Norwegian name for hatred. They released a demo in 2008 called Livet Ebber ut (“life ebbs away”) and then a debut record in 2009 called The Demise of Mankind. Perhaps you’re beginning to get the sense that in the world of Hat, there is no sweetness and light. But the album has hooked us, and one unusual song in particular. (more after the jump, including a track . . .)
On Vortex of Death, Hat mainly uses the original playbook for its dark game: vocals that sound like cracked glass being pureed in a blender; repeating tremolo riffs in the treble end of the range; bass rhythms that are so pushed down in the mix as to be subterranean; and blasting drums that usually sound like they’re over in the next room, or maybe in the house at the end of the block, being played under a quilt — the sound of muffled mayhem, producing a creeping dread that your neighbor is eating another human being, with a hollow crash here and there.
As you might expect, the production is dialed back into the late 80s, presumably with intent, generating a primitive, analog, tape-deck kind of roughness. In other words, this knife has a dulled edge — but that doesn’t mean it won’t cut, because it does.
So, you may be asking, what sets Hat apart from dozens of other one- and two-man black-metal projects who seem intent on becoming facsimiles of First Wave progenitors? And the answer is that Vortex includes something more than endlessly repeating two- or three-chord tremolo haze, the non-stop rumble of muted blast-beats, and a cascade of acid-bath vocals — enough to maintain our interest and make Vortex worth writing about. For example:
The periodic appearance of droning, intoning, matter-of-fact, spoken vocals — the black mass recited solemnly — or layered wailing, to take the edge off all those nails-on-chalkboard, high-pitched screams of agony; the occasional sound of echoing bass verses, like a dark underlord proclaiming the end of all we know; in addition to those flensing guitar chords flaying flesh from your mental bones, the appearance of groaning, drop-key chords and bursts of what sound like distorted transformer faults; a solitary guitar interlude in “The Path To Immortality”; an isolated sweep of chords in “Tilintetgjorelsen”; the doomy clanging and ghostly sussurating in “Ultimate Evil”; and black ‘n roll rhythm shifts or almost tribal pounding that relieve the pressure of all that blasting.
And let’s not forget the spaces – the occasional easing of the drums and the frenzy of the guitars, to be replaced by melodic picking — the repetition, the frenzied melody, the building tension as the roller coaster climbs, and then the break and drop. But yes, always around the bend (or over the top), the tenor-heavy vibration of a blood-spurting tremolo arc lies in wait.
It’s true (or TRVE) that for the most part this album is curdled, oppressive, full of paint-stripper and no varnish. But it has still grabbed us — particularly one song, which most successfully pulls together the elements that make Vortex of Death worth some attention.
In this song, you find the onslaught and the melancholy pause, the demented vocals and the mournful wails, solitary pounding on what sounds like a timpani drum and an ancient horn at the end, and an ominous bass-end riff that’s so damned infectious it has drawn us back to this song a dozen times. The more we’ve listened, the stronger our conviction that this song isn’t just good, it’s brilliant. In English, the song title means “Annihilation”. But of course it does.
Vortex of Death will be released later this month on Abyss Records and is available for pre-order here.