A Feverish, Red Dream of the Heroes of The Wand, Grim Stones, a Cult and a Pact with the Ol’ Nick
Rabbit holes are beautiful this time of the year.
The first I ran afoul of the Old Nick was at the age of 16, following in the footsteps of Pekka Ervast, in the cave in Mellunmäki, where he had led his followers in rituals of widely misunderstood kind. That story though, has nothing to do with the first time I ran afoul of Old Nick, Grimestone Records, a label run by their vocalist, and their “Say no to NSBM” policy, which I don’t factually recall. See, I would’ve been confident in making the claim this happened last August when Grimestone dropped a split between Old Nick and Sauvan Sankari, but then I came across the cover art for The Vanitous Specter and knew I’d gazed upon that lolbuttz before.
Lolbuttz isn’t an inaccurate term to describe Old Nick’s take on raw black metal either. Technically it’s all there: the freezing-ass riffs, the over-the-top synth cheesefests and potatoes for recording equipment. But the band has a take on the sound that can only be described as intentionally cartoonish, like a parody of raw black metal from a group of people who like, but not love, the genre. Deep enough not to draw attention from outsiders, but so heavy-handed as to repel almost all of the genre’s fandom, placing Old Nick so deep up itself they’ve created their own niche.
Though the music is kind of terrible actually, there are enough good bits in there that I find myself drawn to a few songs as a fairly refreshing curiosity. I can’t help but hope they’ll start taking their own music seriously instead of treating it as the joke it practically is, so my enjoyment might grow to genuine interest in the music, but since they’re likely already are doing just that, and it’s just not coming through, I’m not holding my breath.
I do, however, have a genuine interest in Sauvan Sankari, on a purely musical level, though not restricted to it. As a split-mate, they’re very much spot on for Old Nick. Likewise, a raw and sloppy take on the genre, though more serious in nature. Kind of. Sauvan Sankari has a fantasy world of their own in which all/most of their tales take place and as names like “Maitoritari” (The Milk Knight), “Missä lienetkään muistojeni Mordor” (Where art thou, Mordor of mine memories) and “Suomen kuninkaan örkit (Narnian tuhkalla ruokitut)” (The Orcs of the King of Finland (Fed in the Ashes of Narnia)) might imply it’s a “little difficult” to tell if they’re being serious or not, but I’ve enough common acquaintances with messieur Sankari himself to have been led to believe the dude is approximately 110% serious with this shit.* Which is what led me to believe Old Nick might be as well.
MISSÄ LIENETKÄÄN MUISTOJEEEENI MOOO ORR DORR
MISSÄ OLET RUHTINAANI SAA AU RONNN
Sauvan Sankari’s riffs aren’t as freezing, or, for the most part, as memorable as Old Nick’s, which is not to say that the memorable bit in Old Nick would be the riffs either, but I digress, a lot and often, theirs (Sauvan Sankari’s) isn’t covered in as much crap of all kinds either, which makes the music more discernible, though no less raw. The strain of melodies is folkloric, for lack of a better word, and echoes of Lugubrum can be heard by attentive ears.
Clean vocals trail between wailing chants and something akin to demo tracks for acoustic pop rock songs(?), which, incidentally, is not an insult here, I think. I’m getting a little confused myself. The synths are also used more deliberately than by their split partner. Still in a cheesy fantasy manner, but not as cartoonish, all-encompassing or ill-fitting against the backdrop of their music. Although the more I listen to Old Nick the more I’m beginning to enjoy them, and help me, this isn’t a rabbit hole I wanted to end up in.
And what should await at the other end of the rabbit hole? Sweet relief? One might believe as in this possibility as messieur Sauvan Sankari’s solo project Kulttimaa‘s dungeon synth begins to play. But soon the simple synths are joined by the grim orcish growls of messieur Sankari (here known as Musta Synkeä Pylväs (the black gloomy pillar)) and occasionally harmonized with cleans that are somehow simultaneously ethereal, drunken and sloppy. The effect is extremely disturbing and I think I could hear my psyche crack just now. The last of the three songs on the project’s first demo, Tornimailla, also features some programmed percussion and has to be the most fucked up and twisted cover of a radio pop/rock song I’ve ever heard. I miss the time when Anssi Kela was safe and milksop.
The demo was later expanded into the full-length Tornimaista Mustaan Hän Käveli ja Katosi Metsän Synkkään Huokaukseen, of which no digital version is available in full, and perhaps ’tis good this way. The second demo, Punainen Uni Vuotaa Sikojen Luolaan, explores “the shadowy recesses of meat processing technology, wavering death-wishes of the bleak sado-eroticism and—the idea of radical anti-consciousness as perceived through the filter of vampyric mythopoesis.” People, psychosis is a fact. This music is Dungeon Synth and Dark/Coldwave with a driving percussive force and vocals as often croaked as they are sung, shaking hands and waving flabby flaps at me, and the demo dives into two, lengthy pieces of dark ambient as the world ray vomits itself unto itself and hangs from the cold shades of the night and I would really, really like to go home now.
But there is no going, and there is no home. From the distance like a limpid, filthy light they beckon, the lands of Am’Khollen, I reckon. Its national anthem rings from the distance, shattering my ears, in the form of mythical, folkloric black metal. Melodic and armed with a symphonic flair unlike anyone else’s, lost in a fantasy world of their own design, Octus, Viskimestari Kathral and their companion, Morthum have made a Faustian Pact and in return have been given the vision and the voice, as well as the means to realize them.
For a decade they slumbered, known only to few, the happy few, while the latter two tested their mettle in Lord Fist, and Kathral held the chair in Hans’ favourite combat grinders, Sonic Poison, while Ocultus bid his time and prepared to sink deeper into the world borne by his industrious mind. Though each of these journeys still continues, the time came for the pact to be realized and in the shadows of strange towers, Outojen Tornien Varjoissa was born.
Though the style is altogether different, apart from being black metal and generously aided by keyboards, the singular approach and the unique nature of their work draws comparisons, in my mind, to one band only, …And Oceans*. Though the lyrics concern this fantasy world of their own concoction, likewise, there are few, if any, who would do the same thing. Their sound is instantly recognizable and though largely composed of familiar parts, it’s inimitable in its genius, and besides aided by a few such quirks as are not often, or at all, heard in black metal otherwise.
The things that separate them are those which bind them. Spoken word segments, suddenly appearing female vocals and such sounds that no one in their right mind would put in black metal ensure a cheese-fest of the grandest order, and Outojen Tornien Valossa is all the better for it. There is little, if anything, that could challenge the amount of excited quivering and moments of childlike wonder I have had with this record since its February release**, and its charm still keeps growing. There may be no escape from this rabbit hole, but there is nowhere I’d rather be.
*Well, I lied. Serves you right for taking my word at face value. They also remind me of Bal-Sagoth’s cheesy fantasy-superfest black metal, with their ambition, although the sounds might diverge even more so than between Faustian Pact and …And Oceans.