For this week’s column I impulsively decided to write about two very different albums I’ve been looking forward to for a big part of the year. Why was the decision impulsive, you may ask?
Well, I’ve been sitting with the first one (by Blut Aus Nord) for months, and begin scribbling thoughts long ago, planning to time a review close to the release date — but some asshole leaked it and forced the label to release it prematurely. I then indefinitely deferred completing my review, knowing that fans of the band would already be well aware of its existence, and wondering what the point of a review would be if everyone could already freely listen to it and form their own impressions.
The second one (by Teitanblood) was hinted at back in the spring, officially announced on September 17th, and released late last week with no preview tracks. We received an advance copy of the album only a day or two before the release. Again, I wondered what the point would be in writing about it. Like the first band, the second one has a large and loyal following who would be well aware of the album’s existence and would be able to listen to it on their own.
And then I impulsively decided to stop over-thinking things. There are reasons to express opinions other than the goal of promoting music you enjoy, even if you don’t succeed in bringing even one new listener to the music. It seems that some people are interested in what we think even if they already have their own opinions. There is also pleasure (as well as agony) to be found in trying to explain why appealing music is appealing. And in the end, it also becomes payment of a debt of gratitude for experiences that make life richer.
BLUT AUS NORD: HALLUCINOGEN
Vindsval himself has characterized the creations of Blut Aus Nord as a “process of perpetual regeneration”. In introducing Hallucinogen, he observed: “Music is a fascinating quest without end… and it would be a mess to express the same range of emotions, a mess to remain frozen in the same aesthetic, the same energy, a mess to compose and release the same thing again and again… and again.”
As if those words wouldn’t sufficiently clue you in to the fact that changes were afoot in the BAN camp, Debemur Morti Productions characterized the album as the beginning of “a new era for Blut Aus Nord, ending the cycle of clandestine industrialized dissonance that culminated with previous transmission Deus Salutis Meæ.”
Vindsval’s journey of perpetual regeneration can be frustrating to some. There is no reason to expect fans of any one phase of the band’s growth to be happy fellow travelers into the next phase. But the process of discovery that’s always presented by a new BAN album is part of the band’s appeal — the intrigue and the anticipation present their own thrills, even if the payoff might not be satisfying to everyone’s tastes.
In the case of Hallucinogen, Vindsval has turned to psychedelia. That was foreshadowed by the album title and by Dehn Sora‘s artwork before the first notes were made public. But, unsurprisingly, that genre term has been defined in this music in Vindsval’s own way. It is mind-expanding for sure, and even a bit hallucinatory, but this isn’t a throw-back to the drug-induced conventions of the ’60s and ’70s, but rather a reformulation in a new aesthetic.
The storming surge unleashed through “Nomos Nebuleam” makes this clear. The thundering low end and the neck-snapping snare drive, the soaring melody and solemn choral voices (which also extravagantly soar) reach for a mind-expanding experience at heavenly elevations, while a foreboding eeriness comes through in the bass pulsations and Dionysian ecstasy floods from the shrieking guitar. Dreamlike sensations follow in the slow bowing and strumming of taught strings, creating a nebular vision that contrasts with the comet we were riding before.
The punchy physical thrust and rocking rhythms of the opening track are mainstays throughout the record, reaching zeniths in the hard jabbing and carnal swagger of “Nebeleste”, in the gut-punching riffs that emerge in “Sybelius”, in the slashing chord-work near the end of “Mahagma”, in the bruising central riff of “Haallucinählia”, in the massive head-banger that forms the finale of “Cosma Procyiris”.
“Anthosmos”, which is probably the darkest song on the album (the unnerving delirium of the opening movements of “Cosma Procyiris” is a close second), provides a rare eruption of percussive blasting and double-bass thunder, all the better to further whip that sonic cyclone to heights of violence and deranged anguish, and the magnificent “Mahagma” pairs torrential pummeling with slow cascades of celestial melody, but Vindsval picks his moments for such furies (and picks them well) rather than establishing them as a template.
The extravagant sky-bound melodies and choral voices frequently reappear as well, but the grand sweep of the music, which regularly reaches orchestral levels of enveloping power, is also leavened with crystalline guitar reverberations that ring in mystical tones, moods of creeping melancholy and oppressive gloom, downright glorious soloing, and further episodes of dreamlike classical strings and gilded guitar picking.
And so, the music actually is psychedelic, but not necessarily in all the ways that might be expected. It’s expansive and panoramic, as if reaching for the stars or diving into inward meditative visions. It’s also explosively powerful as well as dreamlike, ravaging as well as reverent. But it is nevertheless in keeping with one of the key defining aspects of all the variant forms of music that have been given that label — it takes you outside of yourself, perhaps even enables you to lose yourself and to achieve an awareness of other powers, other forces, other possibilities.
But I don’t want to promise you any personal epiphanies, nor go so far as to acclaim Hallucinogen as a life-changing experience. I’m content to say that it’s an absolute thrill to listen to it, and it doesn’t wear out its welcome. It’s a beautifully crafted album, with great dynamics, killer riffs, and punchy drumwork — as well as presenting visions of splendor, leavened with glimpses of the abyss.
If the album does indeed mark the beginning of a new era for Blut Aus Nord, I will continue to be a happy fellow traveler.
EU shop: bit.ly/blutausnordEU
US shop: bit.ly/blutausnordUS