Recommended for fans of: Drudkh, Wolves In The Throne Room, Negură Bunget
While never as (in)famous or flush with accolades and acclaim as their more well-known peers (several of whom I’ve mentioned just above) Netherlands nomads Fluisteraars (“Whisperers”) are very much the connoisseur’s choice when it comes to atmospheric, naturalistic Black Metal which puts a premium on both mood and melody, yet doesn’t skimp on raw energy or riveting intensity in the process.
After producing two albums of immersive atmosphere and brooding fury in quick succession, the group reined in their activities for several years – producing just a short, two-track EP and a lengthy, single-track contribution to a split with Turia in this time – before blooming (pun intended) in their full glory once more with last year’s exceptional Bloem (easily one of the best albums of 2020).
Now operating as a duo, rather than a trio, but still clearly brimming with ideas and momentum, the band have wasted no time capitalising on the excitement and interest generated by their “comeback” (not that they ever entirely went away) and recently released their fourth album, Gegrepen door de Geest der Zielsontluiking, whose stark, simplistic artwork suggests a return to their roots might just be in the cards… but you’ll have to read the rest of the article to find out if that’s true or not.
DROMERS – 2014
The band’s debut may be “only” three songs, but still delivers a wealth of moody, morose material to sink your teeth into, due to the fact that its first two tracks are each over ten minutes long, while its third and final (and shortest) cut is still more than eight minutes.
Opener “De Doornen”, for example, actually runs to a whopping sixteen minutes but, due to some clever and engaging songwriting, never threatens to lose your attention or disappoint your expectations.
It begins with an instantly hypnotic, irresistibly headbangable display of prowling guitars and punchy drums which combines the earthen grit of Drudkh with the sinister groove of Satyricon, quickly establishing the band’s blackened bona fides in short order.
This is then succeeded, however, by a much more melodic and atmospheric sequence which builds from a stripped-down and subtly proggy arrangement of lilting guitars and fuzz-infused bass-lines into a grandiose display of gleaming notes and glistening tremolo lines which stress and strain between soaring majesty and earthbound melancholy.
Over the course of the next ten minutes or so the track then moves back into the more aggressive and predatory mode it displayed at the beginning – only this time with the aggression and antagonism ramped up even further – before slowly, drop by drop, transforming into something even moodier and more melodic as it winds and wends its way towards an electrifying, elemental climax.
“Kuddedier” is, understandably, not a million miles removed from its predecessor in either tone or timbre, but there’s an even greater sense of urgency, a sharper bite, to its ruggedly melodic riffs and a more haunting vibe to its scintillating atmospheric aura.
The vocals too, have an even harsher, darker tone to them, despite the fact that they don’t make their first appearance until just past the half-way point (first as a ghostly whisper, then as a bitter, blackened croak), but it’s the climactic transition from rippling acoustics to electrifying intensity which truly serves as the song’s defining moment, leaving its hypnotic final refrain echoing in your ears long after the music has finished.
Last, but by no means least, “Wortels van angst” closes the record with eight minutes of pulsing, pulsating Black Metal, whose wind-blown riffs and wandering bass lines weave together a dense, loamy tapestry of primal energy and primordial majesty which eventually terminates in a climactic eruption of tumultuous blasting and tongue-blistering shrieks.
LUWTE – 2015
Though it appeared only a year after their debut, the band’s second album clearly demonstrates how much they’ve grown and evolved even in such a short space of time, beginning with the heavier, darker, and more ominous strains of “De Laatste Verademing”, whose bigger, bolder, and more bombastic guitar work not only conjures a bleaker and more brooding sense of atmosphere, but also delivers an even more aggressive and abrasive assault upon the senses at the same time.
The sombre ambience created by the closing moments of “De Laatste Verademing” is swiftly shattered by the whip-crack snap of the snare drum which introduces “Angstvrees”, a song whose blend of lithe riffs and lush melodies, banshee howls and surging drums – interspersed here and there with dashes of more exotic and/or esoteric instrumentation – reminds me of the very best of Negură Bunget (RIP).
At just over fifteen minutes in length “Stille Wateren” is both the longest and, arguably, strongest, song on the entire album, using its extended run-time to take the listener on a veritable odyssey of atmospheric extremity, moving seamlessly from hair-raising snarls and heart-racing blasts to slow, reverb-drenched rhythms and spine-tingling tremolo melodies whose presence helps give the track a darker, almost doomier hue, one which is then further enhanced by the its gloomy ambient outro.
Closer “Alles Dat Niets Omvat” is by far the most menacing track on the album, exchanging the band’s early melancholy for a more moodily malevolent approach that, in many ways, has more in common with the early years of Black Metal at its rawest and most unrefined than it does any of the more self-consciously “Atmospheric” offshoots we’ve come to know and love (or loathe) since.
It’s still thrillingly, chillingly, immersive song though, no question, just one that doesn’t rely on tricks and tropes to grab your attention or capture your imagination… because it doesn’t need to.
BLOEM – 2020
The band’s third (and, in my opinion, best) album, Bloem, immediately differentiates itself from its predecessors in a number of clear ways… and I’m not just talking about the bright and effervescent cover artwork (though it’s undeniably a striking image, whose impact is only enhanced by how uncharacteristic it is in this particular genre).
Look past the cover and check out the tracklisting though. What do you see? At five tracks it might initially appear that this is going to be the longest Fluisteraars album yet, however the songs themselves are noticeably shorter and more concise on average, with none of the fifteen-to-sixteen minute epics which were found on the group’s first two albums, making this actually – at a crisp 33:39 in total – the band’s shortest record so far.
But what it might lack in length it more than makes up for in depth, with each song condensing the same amount of verdant atmosphere and visceral emotion into a more compact, but no less effective, package, where the brightness of the artwork is reflected in the more vibrant and vital lead tones and the general sense of blooming energy which propels each track into motion.
There’s also more than a hint of trippy psychedelia to the band’s folk-ish melodies this time around, which serves as a compelling counterpoint to their more feral and furious Black Metal side without losing or lessening the aggressive impact of the music.
Opener “Tere Muur”, for example, is a riot of writhing riffs and driving drums, whose savage delivery conceals a seething undercurrent of subtle hypnotic hooks, while “Nasleep” tempers its torrential blackened assault with a touch of unusual, brassy instrumentation and a dash of glitchy madness, all building towards a gorgeously gloomy finale of chiming lead guitar and twinkling piano notes.
“Eeuwige Ram” recalls (as others before me have noted) the hauntingly heroic vibe of early Solstafir and/or Primordial, its imperious vocals and irresistible melodic refrain(s) ensuring that the song will quickly become stuck in your head and impossible to dislodge, but it’s “Vlek” that truly represents the absolute peak of what Bloem has to offer, equal parts bitterness and beauty, with a sharper bite and a darker vibe, as well as an even more bewitching sense of atmosphere, especially during its utterly spellbinding second half.
Concluding with the scintillating strains of “Maanruïne”, whose blend of spiteful fury and subtly psychedelic melody echoes the proggy grandeur of Enslaved at their most majestic (particularly during the chanted cleans which infuse the song’s drifting, dream-like finale), it’s clear to me that there are no weak (or even weak-er) songs here, just varying degrees of excellence.
GEGREPEN DOOR DE GEEST DER ZIELSONTLUIKING – 2021
Prolific creativity can be a double-edged sword – sure it keeps the hungry fans happy (at least for a while), but it also doesn’t necessarily leave bands much time to reflect and grow between albums.
Thankfully, however, in the same way that Luwte wasn’t a carbon-copy of Dromers, Gegrepen… is far from simply a repeat of Bloem, despite how little time has passed between the two albums.
The differences between the two records are stark and immediately recognisable, not just in the reversion to a more “classic” style of black and white artwork (albeit one which still privileges nature over nihilism) but in the shift back to a more brittle and cold sound that stands in stark contrast to the richer and warmer tones of Bloem.
That being said, the bass still retains a pleasing prominence (opener “Het overvleugelen der meute” wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective without it, in my opinion, as its pronounced presence serves to ground the more enigmatic and atmospheric guitar work much more firmly in the here and now), and the drums still splash and clatter with an impressive amount of raw, unrefined force.
It’s also worth noting that while Gegrepen… represents somewhat of a return to the band’s roots in one sense, it also builds upon the more psychedelic, psychoactive ambitions of its predecessor too, whether that’s via the trippy, ritualistic drumming that whirls around your skull during the brooding finale of “Het overvleugelen der meute”, or the ominous and oppressive mid-section of titanic closer “Verscheuring In De Schemering”, whose unsettling ambience reminds me of Ben Wheatley’s recent Folk-Horror endeavour, In the Earth, in the sense that it seeks to connect and commune with something primal and primordial beneath our more civilised surface.
Between these two songs, of course, is the pure black(ened) magic of “Brand woedt in mijn graf”, which I would say is both the strongest and most straightforward track on the album, both electrifying and illuminating in equal measure, and more than a match for anything off, for example, the new Wolves In The Throne Room album.
I can’t close the review, however, without saying a little more about “Verscheuring In De Schemering”, the longest and most ambitious song of the band’s career thus far.
Interestingly enough, it actually does retain some of the brightness and warmth of Bloem (unless my ears are deceiving me) but marries this to a bleaker sense of atmosphere, which, again seeks to channel and capture something elemental (and fundamental) about our connection, and relation, to the natural world around us.
It’s a fascinating piece of work on its own, let alone as part of an album whose first two tracks are just as good in their own way, and suggests that Fluisteraars have not yet finished evolving and expanding their sound.