Monday 9 January 2023

Blut aus Nord - Lovecraftian Echoes (2022)

Country: France
Style: Atmospheric Black Metal/Dark Ambient
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 20 May 2022
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I don't believe I've heard Blut aus Nord before, but I'm fascinated now, because this is unlike what I expected to hear from something labeled atmospheric black metal. Stereogum ranked this as the Best Metal Album of 2022, while Pop Matters and Invisible Oranges included the same band's new album for 2022, Disharmonium: Undreamable Abysses, in their end of year lists too. I checked that out and it's quite the sonic experience, but decided to review this one because of that number one status and because it's not the typical album in almost any regard.

For a start, it's not their new album because it's a compilation, but not of tracks previously issued on a variety of back catalogue items, as you might expect. The six tracks on offer are all relatively new, the oldest dating back to April 2021 and the newest from February 2022, so it's definitely last year's scope, and they were previously released to a subscriber-only forum called Order of Outer Sounds, so haven't been widely heard. Not that an album this unusual is going to be widely heard anyway, but you get the point. So, disclaimers aside, it's a new album in almost every sense, even if it isn't "the new Blut aus Nord" album, which is worth me diving into it.

This is definitely sourced in black metal, that recognisable wall of sound pivotal to the black metal experience, and it's dripping with atmosphere, but this is a long way from the typical atmospheric black metal bands out there, like Saor or Wolves in the Throne Room. It's dark and haunting and I find it easy to imagine as ambient but not of our dimension. To play into the Lovecraftian themes I see riddled throughout their work, this is the music of the spheres when they're occupied by elder gods. It's vast but it's claustrophobic and it pulls at our sanity. It's dangerously beautiful stuff, an enticing nightmare conjured out of sound.

As you might imagine, it's highly unorthodox and worthy of comparison to dark ambient designers of sound like Coil, Lustmord and Current 93 just as to anything in the black metal genre, even if we shimmy way over to the edge to avant-garde outfits like Oranssi Pazuzu or Neptunian Maximalism. As these are clearly soundscapes more than they are songs, with any vocals submerged so deeply that they might be something else entirely, it wouldn't be unfair to throw out comparisons to such powerelectronics legends as Merzbow either. It's clearly music to read about in both Kerrang! and Wire and that's always the most interesting music.

Nyarlathotep opens things up in uncompromising fashion and it's a complex and fascinating track that washes over us like a waterfall of tentacles with razorblade suckers, but Hypnos, which keeps on in the same vein, adds another level. Suddenly, we've become the waterfall and the six minute descent is not simply through air. There are undefinable creatures sharing this space with us and they're shrugging o our presence because we aren't worthy of their notice. This is a majestic piece of music and an evocative one, but it's also one I'm wary of visualising because I think it would give me motion sickness, especially late on when things get more frantic and jazzy.

These six tracks progress in such a consistent fashion, one flowing into the next, so it's difficult to see this in any way other than a single thirty-five minute composition, Maybe there's more in the way of guttural churning in The Tomb or The Abyss Between the Stars, but I lost track. I threw this on headphones because my speakers simply weren't doing it justice and let the album flood over me. After a couple of times through and a revisit to a couple of tracks to try to discern what they'd provide in isolation, I actually took a break to come to terms with the enormity of this music.

It's absolutely not going to be for everyone. This would sound awful on FM radio. It requires a slice of dedicated time, a good pair of headphones and an open mind. Switching the lights off ought to help too. If you have all of that ready, give this a go and see if it'll blow your mind too.

And, if it does, like me, you can dive into what else the band has been up to over the years, as they aren't remotely new. Blut aus Nord was formed back in 1994 in Normandy, France, initially as a one man project for Vindsval, still their vocalist and guitarist. W. D. Feld joined on drums and a variety of electronic contributions, not just keyboards, a year later and Ghöst added bass in 2003. Unless I miscounted, this comes after their fourteenth studio album as a kinda sorta fifteenth, and I see an array of EPs in there too. The've been busy and, based on these two 2022 albums, I'm eager to see where this easy listening for elder gods sound came from.

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