(On February 22nd Amor Fati Productions will release the second album by the multinational duo Bræ, and today we present the following review by Hope Gould.)
It would be easy to open and close this review with just naming the two prolific minds behind Bræ. For devotees to the obsidian underground, just the idea of Sweden’s one-man black metal factory Swartadauþuz, and Belgian ambient master Déhà, collaborating on a project is thrilling. And for those not yet acquainted, we could talk at length about their individual contributions and send you down a rabbit hole you won’t surface from for months. You should definitely still do that, but you should also know that Bræ’s new album stands on its own without the name-dropping. So, for now, let’s focus on what matters most – the music.
2021’s A Thousand Ways to End It All and the forthcoming Av Vålnader Bortom Allt follow the same formula: two tracks that each clock in around twenty epic minutes. Raw black metal is deconstructed into dark psychoactive ambience only Déhà could craft. Both releases are graced with spellbinding dungeon synth dripping in signature Swartadauþuz mysticism, which felt to me like the strongest parts of A Thousand Ways to End It All. The duo still brandishes an improvisational quality that won’t appeal to everyone, but they have a clearer grasp on direction in Av Vålnader Bortom Allt that keeps the soundscapes more immersive than the debut. There are also not one, not two, but eight very satisfying OUGH’s and if that doesn’t grab you, I’m afraid nothing will.
The opening track, “I Nattskrud Viska,” begins with biting fuzz-laden guitar. Bræ strike the balance that is not easily found in the realms of raw black metal with production that isn’t brittle nor threadbare. Each element remains decipherable, even under the cacophony of atonal guitar and the compressed drums that tumble the sweeping torrents forward. The refreshingly audible bass does a lot of work here, adding tension and wandering ominously beneath the blizzards of raw black hypnosis. It is hard to pin a feeling to the ambience, but I suspect that uncertainty is part and parcel to Bræ’s vision. The evocative vocals call to mind early Ufraust with a colourful blend of howls, shrieks, and ritualistic chanting. They become just another layer when the guitars really kick in, drifting in and out through the fog like an arcane Black Cilice. Bræ are tirelessly painting the tapestry with motifs that morph into cold and warm shades of grey. Those familiar with Portugal’s Aldebaran Circle or Swartadauþuz’s Summum project would feel at home in these haunted caverns.
If you’ve made it this far into the tempest, congratulations – at close to 12 minutes listeners are rewarded with the first taste of Swartadauþuz’s enchanting dungeon synth. While it’s true dungeon synth isn’t my forte and it often feels redundant to draw Burzum comparisons, the flute that that is woven into the minimalistic synth does feel quite “Tomhet.” The flute is then interchanged with acoustic guitar plucking reflectively over the twinkling synth, very reminiscent of the interludes in Satyricon’s Dark Medieval Times. (In fact, keen listeners will find love letters to black metal’s second wave beginnings in many of the dark nooks and crannies of Av Vålnader Bortom Allt.)
I really cannot stress how intoxicatingly beautiful this five-minute passage is. The acoustics build behind distant spectral cries and necromantic whispers before, all at once, the beauty is reduced to ashes. The full rhythm section slams back into gear behind a tortured howl, commanding you back from the dreamscape. Layers are constructed and deconstructed, and textures are painted and stripped, until the acoustic guitar fades into the Great Nothing.
An acoustic arpeggiated riff sets the unsettling tone for the second half of our journey. Layers begin to build as anxious synth pulses over the plucking, their mesmerizing repetition sending you to the coldest extremities of purgatory. Before you can say “Hvis lyset tar oss,” Bræ explode into poltergeist fury and a deliciously dissonant riff is introduced that become the backbone of the track. The interchange of complements between shimmering crescendos and dissonance here feels very Icelandic, but of course the atmosphere is thick with Bræ’s hallmark full-moon mysticism.
The aforementioned OUGH’s kickstart tempo changes as the backbone riff mutates but always returns to its original hideous form like a sick waltz. Wraith-like shrieks and ritualistic shouting transcend comprehension, materializing from the roaring thunder around them. The acoustic riff is back, but in your trance-like state you begin to wonder if it ever even left. There’s no resolution to the tension – just your soul’s submission to wander this dim purgatory for eternity.
To say Bræ don’t welcome casual listening would be a bit of an understatement. Your mind can wander if you’re not fully invested in the atmosphere, but Av Vålnader Bortom Allt is nothing short of captivating if you can take it on as whole. The sorcery between Swartadauþuz and Déhà is potent with old-school authenticity that will make new fans and delight existing ones.
Av Vålnader Bortom Allt comes out February 22nd via Amor Fati Productions and that rabbit hole you’re going down wouldn’t be complete without it.