Review: Boarhammer – II: Chemognosis
A dreamlike state of consciousness.
I was elated to learn that since I first told you about Boarhammer 2 years ago, network coverage throughout Germany must have increased greatly—I can’t imagine how else an electronic missive, penned by the mystical figures themselves and thus almost surely originating from the deepest depths of the woods, could have reached me late last year. Contained within were auditory hallucinogens of great potency, or, in other words, the band’s first full-length, entitled II: Chemognosis – A Shortcut to Mushrooms. I was further elated when it became clear that what I deemed the band’s “odd, homebrew charm” has not been diminished in the least, but rather shines all the more brightly here.
For those who missed (or—gasp!—forgot) their 2021 demo, Boarhammer can loosely be grouped with a number of bands that simultaneously care very much and very little about black metal. Acts like Funereal Presence or some of the bands from the Helvetic Underground Committee, for example, who clearly have great appreciation for the roots of the genre, but just as clearly don’t care much about anything that happened after murder and arson laid those roots bare for the world and certain people suddenly developed very narrow ideas of what black metal was allowed to sound like.
Over the years, the roots would morph into all sorts of things, from colorful, cross-pollinating flowers and mighty trees reaching up into the sky to unsightly brambles that would take pride in how close they remained to the ground and how many critters they could keep out. But the roots also stretched in the opposite direction; underground, unbothered, out of reach of gardeners and forest rangers, a fungal network grew wide and deep, occasionally sprouting fruit of various shapes in various places throughout the forest. Boarhammer are among the custodians of this network, tending its connection to the primordial growth by playing a style both strongly indebted to the first wave and uniquely their own. Therefore, while knowing the genealogy can deepen our reverence for the mushrooms this produces, there’s no need to become a full-fledged botanist to enjoy them here and now. Trust these druids to select the right ones for you. Take the shortcut!
Look at that, I’ve talked for so long that the sun is beginning to set. Only the sounds of nature accompany us as we are “Entering Forest Twylite,” making our way to the secret meeting place where we’re invited to partake in some kind of ceremony. Arriving at a bonfire in a clearing populated by hooded figures, we’re greeted with a grand speech from the head druid, but the cackling and cajoling following his order to “let the ritual begin” quickly establishes that this is not as solemn a ceremony as we may have thought. A wild dance to furious music kicks into high gear around us, and we are immediately pulled into the reel. But almost as soon as it starts, it stops again, and the clearing grows quiet for a moment as libations with an unfamiliar odor are passed around. Sipping from the proffered cup fully initiates us into this circle as its effects take hold and we embark on a hallucinogenic trip for the rest of the night.
Such is the atmosphere Boarhammer creates. With one song seamlessly connecting to the next, and each one prone to change direction on a whim, the album melds into a continuous experience, ebbing and flowing, joining in the merriment and self-abandon in one moment, cowering closer to the fire and casting uneasy glances at the dark trees in the next. Everything flowing together like this is often considered a negative for an album, but in this case, it’s clearly by design rather than a side effect of songs sounding too similar. While the overall effect can be disorienting on the first couple of spins, our benevolent guides do throw out some anchors here and there. “Behold Those Fell Candles” sticks to one tempo most consistently, while “Erdkaul” follows a pretty straightforward structure, making these the first songs I found easily recognizable.
In other places, repeated listens were necessary to notice that a song may, for example, have something that could be considered a chorus, but that doesn’t mean that the exact same phrases need to be repeated in exactly the same musical context. This framing and re-framing of a song’s elements contributes to the kaleidoscopic, unreal feeling of the record and merits attentive listening. I’m sure there’s a lot here that I haven’t discovered yet.
Speaking of lyrics and how they’re delivered, the vocal performance on Chemognosis realises the potential that was hinted at on the demo. Mixing and layering different vocal styles is something that Boarhammer already utilized back then, but is now used more extensively and effectively. Pairing a gruffly delivered spoken word passage with a ritualistic chant of the same words creates the impression of hearing a supernatural entity speak with two voices. Where the vocals diverge, one voice might repeat the other like a strange echo, or ambush you with screaming when you were just focussing on a grandiose declaration. “Extreme Unction” has a great moment like this (I think you’ll know it when you hear it), and the chatter accompanying the first verse in “Tree Transvection” is another favorite.
As much as songwriting and vocals contribute to the equally trippy and uneasy vibe of the record, none of it would work so well if it wasn’t for their unique sound. While the raw and noisy qualities of the demo are still very much intact on the album, they’ve clearly been through a refinement process. Everything feels more evenly weighted and evenly spaced, so that no element overshadows another and details can shine through the primitive first-wave muck.
It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album that so consistently and convincingly took me to a different place, and I hope I’ve made it somewhat clear how production, songwriting, and vocals combine into a singularly strange brew to create this effect. In any case, I would strongly urge you to join the forest festivities and experience the magick first-hand.
4.5 out ov 5 Bubbling Cauldrons Filled With Odd Concoctions
II: Chemognosis – A Shortcut to Mushrooms comes out on January 26.
*Proud owners of physical copies also get to hear Boarhammer’s take on the 1970 classic “The Witch.”