We all have our metal comfort food, the genres we go to even when the performers aren’t doing anything too different from what’s been done for decades. And to be sure, a band doesn’t have to break any molds, or even chip them, to be worth hearing. Yet to varying degrees, we all have our antenna up for something that does break molds, but doesn’t simply leave you with a pile of shards, as if to proclaim nothing more than, “You see? We can break things!”
The demo you’re about to hear is indeed something that sounds very different from anything you’re probably accustomed to, and its ambitions go beyond the music itself. The explanation will take a few paragraphs, but I encourage you not to skip past them, because it’s a story that will explain and deepen the appreciation for what you’re about to hear.
And what you’re about to hear is 1: Gelige, traumatische zielsverrukking by the Dutch “post-black metal” band Grey Aura, along with the spoken recital of the first chapters of a book, in advance of its Bandcamp release tomorrow (July 12).
That book is De protodood in zwarte haren, a novel being written in Dutch by Grey Aura member Ruben Wijlacker. (The meaning of the title is difficult to convey in English, but could be understood as “proto-death in black hair”.) And the new demo (which I’ll abbreviate as GTZ) is the first installment of what will become a two-hour concept album (as yet untitled) that provides a musical expression of the story. As explained by the band:
“Both the upcoming album and the novel are about an early 20th century Spanish/Dutch painter named Pieter van der Laan (aka Pedro), who flees from his country after his family is brutally murdered by a German loanshark.
“Once Pedro arrives in France, he discovers modernist art and develops a rather unhealthy obsession with Kazimir Malevich’ Black Square: the absolute zero point of painting. Surrounding himself with black canvasses, wine bottles and editions of De Stijl, Pedro starts questioning the limits of physical reality and attempts to find true spiritual creativity by deconstructing his own surroundings.”
The new demo GTZ, (translated in English as “Yellowish, traumatic ecstasy”), which is the first of four demos that will eventually be re-recorded to make up the full-length album, deals with the first chapters of this novel about that painter who is slowly losing his mind:
“Pedro has just fled from his hometown of Jerez de la Frontera and meets a mysterious woman named Béatrice Charron, who takes him with her to Paris. They take a short break from their journey to visit the legendary Toledo Cathedral, which contains a work by El Greco (1541 – 1614); one of the precursors to modernist painting.”
The second demo will take place in Paris; the third and fourth demos will take place in Utrecht. Once Grey Aura have recorded and released all four demos, they will go into the studio to record the final album.
As noted earlier, the first demo includes not only the music, divided into six tracks, but also a reading of the novel’s first chapters (though the language, like the writing, is Dutch).
As also noted earlier, the music is unusual. Consider these details:
-The guitars and drums were mostly recorded live in the attic of a farmhouse, just outside of Odijk, Utrecht, with the live recording allowing the band to experiment with improvisation and dynamics (especially during the demo’s fourth track, “Dialoog & Improvisatie: Ontmoeting met het roofdier”).
-The striking vocals on the opening track “Martinete” were performed by Falu de Cádiz, one of the few authentic Spanish flamenco singers living in the Netherlands.
-A trombone (performed by a friend of the band, Menno de Groot) is used in four of the tracks, and Grey Aura member Tjebbe Broek plays flamenco guitar on “El Greco in Toledo” and “Bulería”.
-Inspired by old industrial bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten, Grey Aura used pans and other metal objects as percussion in some of the songs — and created all the sound effects themselves (and mixed it themselves as well).
-The harsh vocals on “Dialoog & Improvisatie” were performed by Johan van Hattum from the wonderful Dutch experimental black metal band Terzij de Horde.
-The voices in the recital of the chapters were performed by professional voice actors, including one (who portrays Pedro) who is coincidentally from Andalucia himself.
The resulting music, which of course includes far more than these very interesting nuances, isn’t the kind of experimental black metal that might just include scattered injections of unexpected moments in an otherwise familiar sound, or a few added textures that clash in calculated fashion with traditional black metal orthodoxy. In a way, the entire demo is one 22-minute skein of the unexpected. And I’m very happy to tell you that the experiment works — indeed, it’s wondrous (and frightening). And even if you didn’t already know, the music itself has a kind of narrative quality.
The opening track “Martinete” provides a remarkable beginning, thanks to Falu de Cádiz’s remarkable a cappella performance. And from there, you’re on your way through a fascinating but disturbing musical odyssey — through the pulse-pushing but harrowing and hallucinatory delirium of “Rookslierten, Flkessen“, to the even more nightmarish, rumbling, racing, dancing swirl of “Het schuimspoor van de ramp“.
That, in turn, is followed by that improvisational track “Dialoog & Improvisatie“, with spoken words from the narrative (and wrenching cries) laid over an ominous and tension-ratcheting scattering of drum beats and rhythms, groaning chords, and spectral, wittering notes… eventually exploding in a torrent of blasting drums and scathing guitar abrasion, and then collapsing into an unsettling sonic void.
With “El Greco in Toledo“, the band crank the energy up again, with a compulsive, pulsing drive and an exotic melodic undercurrent, thanks in part to the flamenco guitar. Yet, dynamics remain the hallmark of the music, as it transforms into an uneasy pall of unhinged gloom.
This installment of the longer narrative arc ends with “Buleria (Aftiteling)“, a vibrant flamenco guitar instrumental…
…and I for one can’t wait to hear what comes next.
Look for GTZ on July 12 at this Bandcamp address:
0:00 – Martinete
1:46 – Rookslierten, Flessen
5:09 – Het schuimspoor van de ramp
7:58 – Dialoog & Improvisatie: Ontmoeting met het roofdier
16:20 – El Greco in Toledo
21:04 – Bulería (Aftiteling)
22:21 – Audiobook (Dutch)
Tjebbe Broek – Guitar/Bass/Percussion/Foley/Vocals
Ruben Wijlacker – Guitar/Bass/Percussion/Foley/Vocals
Bas van der Perk – Drums/Percussion
Grey Aura on Facebook:
Grey Aura Debut Album on Bandcamp: