It’s really quite remarkable how a music genre, normally considered rather “off-limits” for a certain audience, can become accepted by it, if introductions are handled by a recognizable and trusted (by the particular audience) artist. In the case of experimental avant-garde rock, the Trojan horse in question, responsible to a large degree for its acceptance by the black metal audience, is one of the most congenial members of the Norwegian extreme music scene, namely Carl-Michael Eide, or Czral as far as his Virus persona is concerned.
He was certainly not the only one responsible for the embrace of unconventional (for the scene) music by a large part of the scene’s fans; remember that during the years around the millennium’s turn Norway teemed with experimentation. Still, Carl-Michael, firstly with the short-lived but ultra-influential Ved Buens Ende, and afterwards with Virus, managed, with an almost extraordinary casualness, to engraft the mind of a seemingly stiff audience with components that on a first level appeared incompatible with it. What is more, he managed that without losing any of the listeners’ respect, most probably due to his simultaneous participation in more traditional acts.
Thirteen years after their debut, Virus return with Memento Collider, their fourth album, sailing steadily on an admirably enchanting (though rather turbulent, if one takes into account the group mastermind’s past hardships) course, which makes a lot of progressive bands seem rather rigid, musically speaking. Their latest realease showcases the creative crescendo of a tightly bonded band. Without evidence of pressure or compulsion, Memento Collider is first and foremost an album well past any genre limits.
The first thing evident is probably the pronounced and dominant bass guitar, sort of an agile magma that sculpts the album’s terrain, while at the same time proclaiming its deeply artistic essence. From the hypnotic galloping of “Afield’s” middle part to “Phantom Oil Slick’s” distinguished accompaniment, the bass is a malleable mass, acting as raw material for the compositions’ formation. However, the fact that it is the album’s main building block does not prevent it from flawlessly executing imaginative pirouettes of an art-rock hue.
Guitars, a bit further back in the mix, diffuse as brushstrokes upon the main body, coloring it with distorted riffs, jazz-, progressive- and even surf-influenced (for the latter, check “Gravity Seeker”), emitting a pleasant dissonance – never letting us forget that the band’s core composer was once responsible for Ved Buens Ende’s disharmonic opuses.
On the whole, the album’s disposition is whimsy and playful, far from the sullenness of the past: There are moments in which the listener feels like riding a speeding roller coaster. Czral’s vocals draw from the well of a semi-narrative tradition, parts of which are Bauhaus (“Of Lillies & Remains” popped immediately into mind) and Velvet Underground (“The Box”).
The album is a mesmerizing, flowing-yet-solid whole, which unfolds into labyrinthine tracks of jazz attitude, tracks that dissolve and restructure themselves with a protean ease and grace. This fluctuating character does not make the album tiresome, as would be the case in lesser bands, but on the contrary captivates its listener with an almost summery felicity – quite a paradox if you think of its density and diversity. The keys to the album’s brilliance seem to be the absence of solemnity (pretentious or otherwise), Czral’s compositional genius, and the amazing chemistry between the band’s members. The result is something oscillating between the liquid and solid states of being, a physical paradox brought to life before the listener.
Time will show if this is the band’s greatest moment. Until then, Memento Collider is certainly Virus’s most ample and feel-good creation.
The Greek version of this review was first published in Avopolis Music Network on the 14th of June, 2016. Memento Collider is available now and it can be ordered here or here. A full album stream is available below.
And for those within striking distance of Athens in late October, Virus will be performing at a Dark Essence / Karisma Records two-night show, along with Hail Spirit Noir in their first gigs ever and Agnes Vein (see the poster below).