Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Story So Far - Blut Aus Nord #4

So, Blut Aus Nord are a long-standing, well-respected French Black Metal act - focused on main dude Vindsval. Throughout their nearly 20-years history, the band has incorporated electronical styles like ambient, drone, and especially industrial.

For the completely uninitiated, I'll also point out that BM can take some effort and repeated listening - preferably to really good albums in full. The trebly sonics, lo-fi production, and atypical structures can seem strange and off-putting at first. A background in punk or noise (or metal) helps, or just an open mind. Blut Aus Nord's genre-infusions might provide a bridge into this grim and frostbitten world.

If you prefer your Black Metal introduction more fun & thrashy than serious & experimental, stick around for #6.

Ultima Thulée
Fair warning: I am not a true Black Metal fanatic. I'm arriving late to the party, and am only a dabbler. The upside is concentrating on the cream of the crop (and hopefully being a decent introducer). The downside is that I don't own any of these earlier BAN records. So this exploration was as much for me as for you, the hypothetical reader of this post.

And since I have only a general idea of Blut Aus Nord's overall progression, I'm going to mine user reviews over at Encyclopædia Metallum for key themes as we go along. Let's start in the ancient mists of time... 1995.

"The Plain of Ida" from Ultima Thulée (1995)

About Blut Aus Nord's debut (96% avg rating), one Metallum reviewer mentioned:
a grim, wintery landscape - the winter theme - more of a heathen flavor - rawer sounding black metal - quieter ambiance featuring keyboards - black metal screech - like some epic wintry journey ... across the rocky mountainside during a blizzard - scenic bleakness and majesty.
Yep, that describes a lot of early Black Metal to a tee - with the prominance of keyboard ambiance already being taken further. Read about the concept of (Ultima) Thule - which clearly nods to the genre's Norway/Viking roots, as well as more metaphysical destinations.

"Sons of Wisdom, Master of Elements" from Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age (1996)

The progression of the early phase continues (94% avg rating). Reviewing many fans' overall favorite, one Metallum user talked about:
soul crushing wall of noise - Endless oceans of melodies - the harrowing distortion that cloaks the record - a hidden beauty - more expansive, allowing sublime melodies to sweep - the bass still remains audible - highly melodic - reach a more progressive state - harmonious chanting - The production terrifically masks the instrumentation in surprise.
Audible bass? That's progress. A vinyl edition is finally being released by Debemur Morti. You can listen to the entire album in one YouTube video.

"The Fall, Part V" from The Mystical Beast of Rebellion (2001)

Here's where things get dicey for some fans (78% avg rating), as BAN takes a large step away from more trad Black Metal. Thus, you encounter even the good Metallum reviews discussing:
mostly instrumental riff-based ... minimalism / drone - unusual guitar chord progessions - considerable repetition and monotony - half the guitars lurching up and down - a deep buzzing drone - passages of subsonic throbbing hum or murky ambience - Constant changes of key - a certain sinister majesty befitting a fallen angel - drowned in the maelstrom of guitar noise - mind-bending (and maybe vomit-inducing) - the riffing vecomes drawn out and drone-like - Atmospheric interludes.
That's no way to turn on a hardcore Black Metal audience. The track embedded above is apparently the most oustanding and appealing. There's a quite recent re-release with bonus materials, which I think I saw at Sound Exchange.

"Axis" from The Work Which Transforms God (2003)

I'm pretty sure "Our Blessed Frozen Cells" was my first exposure to Blut Aus Nord. Their 4th album raises widely divergent opinions (84% avg rating), high quality or beyond-the-pale. From Metallum reviews:
constantly active, rhythmic and complex percussive structures - a transcendental depth - evokes a gloomy, almost post-apocalyptic dimension - the guitar sound maybe somewhat indebted to early Cocteau Twins - dissonant guitar chords ... reminded of 'Daydream Nation' by Sonic Youth - almost shamanistic, and somewhat 'Tibetan' sounding background voices - constantly spiralling guitar chords ... complex blastbeats ... quick double bass ... rather odd syncopated rhythms - textured and harmonized guitars ... distantly reminded of the German band Neu - it is atavistic yet it is complex - humanized, ethereal and mechanical at the same time.
You had me at shamanistic, Cocteau Twins-, Daydream Nation-, Neu!-reminding Black Metal.

"Chapter VIII" from MoRT (2006)

Whereas The Work polarized listeners, MoRT just made them angry (62% avg rating). Let's listen to a very negative reviewer:
a dull, industrial corpse - painfully monochromatic album - uneven industrial drum beats - herky-jerky dissonant guitar noodling - always heavily processed with electronic overtones galore - vocals sound sloppy and muddy - like being on shrooms inside automobile factory - when the actual music so robotic - more than a mere disappointment - a historic bust - intolerable.

On the other hand, a generally positive review (85%) instructed that "The whole work is ugly, plodding, and mindbendingly weird... This is really fucking weird music. That cannot be understated." Hey! I like weird music.

"The Sounds of the Universe" from Odinist: The Destruction of Reason by Illumination (2007)

The tides start to turn back (78% avg rating), and Blut reassures the remaining fanbase with Odinist. Sayeth Metallum:
return to a more traditional songwriting - wicked antics of British occultist Aleister Crowley - a revalorizing arsenal of melodic and mesmerizing riffs - an almost Arabic texture - more melodic and somewhat harmonious - misses that devilish and industrial decay-like atmosphere - absence of the shock factor - a transition album though.
This is the one older BAN album that I almost never hear mentioned or opinionated upon. It's not a classic, or reviled... just transitional.

"The Cosmic Echoes of Non-Matter (Immaterial Voices of the Fathers)" from Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars (2009)

Now I appear on the scene, naming the sequel to Fathers of the Icy Age (1996) the #1 Metal Next 10, 2009. Although the previous album had backed away from the abyss of avant-electro-industrial "sonic miasma," MVII was widely hailed as a return to Blut Aus Nord's Black Metal roots (90% avg rating on Encyclopædia Metallum reviews).

Truly a massive, excellent double-album epic - ranging from really sweet quiet sections to explosive pummelling. Check out the whole thing!

"Chapter 1" from What Once Was... Liber I EP (2010)

This EP made it to my #16 overall for 2010. Vinyl-only, with no Liber II announced that I've heard of. The rawest BAN in a very long time - leaving EN reviewers to wonder at "filthy, furious death metal riff backed by thunderous, echoing drums" (74% avg rating).

Despite no follow-ups in that EP series, the first two parts of the 777 trilogy (???) came out in 2011. Unfortunately 777: Cosmosophy has been delayed beyond May 2012, but hopefully still this year.

In the next Top 10 installment, we'll talk about the #4 releases from Blut Aus Nord.

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