The Mystical Masque of Rebellion: A Review of Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry
“Blut Aus Nord is an artistic concept. We don’t need to belong to a specific category of people to exist. If black metal is just this subversive feeling and not a basic musical style, then Blut Aus Nord is a black metal act. But if we have to be compared to all these childish satanic clowns, please let us work outwards [from] this pathetic circus. This form of art deserves something else than these mediocre bands and their old music composed 10 years before by someone else.”
Blut Aus Nord mainman Vindsval has zero interest with the norm. The norm is a place for many bands, but not for Blut Aus Nord. The norm is the current, the pulse of the art, the trend. The norm is inclusive, variable, and amorphous. The norm is the prevailing zeitgeist. It need not be a tangible scene or a self-aware movement aimed and executed in a certain direction. The norm is also the reaction to scenes and trends. The norm is the anti-trend. The norm is embracing the opposite. The norm is reactionary.
And (almost) all bands contribute to the norm and feed from the norm. It’s a predictable and trite cycle. Bands get heavy. Bands get soft. Bands go prog. Bands get technical. Bands go punk. Bands go back to their roots. Bands take it to a next level. Bands sell merchandise. Bands tour. Bands stay home. Bands breakup and bands reform. Bands love their fans. Bands hate their fans. Bands move forward and evolve. It all makes sense. Because bands are the norm. The norm is the face; it’s goal-oriented, specific, and a comfort zone. It is a place where your sound and your self are fully-fleshed, idealized, and worn as a mask.
But not always.
In the ballroom of the norm, Vindsval is the Red Death, and his masque is never obvious.
Few bands in heavy metal have achieved the parity, consistency, and quality of Blut Aus Nord. Up and down their discography—from the buzzing Nordic murk of Ultima Thulee, to the mechanical whirring of The Work Which Transforms God to the soaring melodious shine of Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars—one finds a consistently high level of quality, innovation, and—most saliently—a bipolar unpredictability. Blut Aus Nord is not progressive, and they do not evolve. This isn’t a band changing with the times, or reinventing themselves for their fans. There isn’t a predictable or logical ending. The band has forged a legacy of changes, broad influence, eclecticism, and of sounding the way you least expect them to sound. They move around, sound differently, and it is always good.
Enough with the bombast. How is Memoria Vetusta III?
In brief: Amazing. It’s everything you want in a follow-up to MVII, and more. It is one of the best albums released this year, and one of the greatest melodic black metal albums ever put out.
Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry finds Blut Aus Nord wearing their melodic and majestic hats. And those hats fit real good. Huge, soaring guitar melodies, tasteful keyboard interplay, a mix of clean and harsh vocals, and the band’s most holistic drumming performance ever combine to create an album rife with immediately memorable passages and a palpable atmosphere, and repeated listens will reveal nuggets of minutiae scattered about the album. The envy of all black metal locker rooms, this album is both a grower and a shower. You will be flattened by your first listen, and prepare to pick your haggard ass up from the floor upon each subsequent spin.
Saturnian Poetry is comprised of seven tracks and totals 47:19. This is a lean and mean album, expertly trimmed to its finished form by Vindsval and co. There is no fat and no excess. This album is all business. Aside from the short ambient prelude/intro that does well to settle you in and set the mood (I’m not a fan of intros of this sort, but this one is brief enough to not detract from the album), the other tracks range from about six and a half minutes to almost nine minutes in length. This relatively even distribution of music throughout the six main tracks of the album makes for a very balanced and digestible listen.
“Prelude” gives way to the first proper track, “Paien,” a grandiose track which hits immediately with massive and layered guitar melodies reminiscent of Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age. Though it draws influence from both of its predecessors, Saturnian Poetry has more in common with MVI than MVII. This album has more of Father of the Icy Age feel to it. Like that album, MVIII is driven primarily by strong and heavy guitar melodies, ditching a few layers from the MVII keyboard blanket. Though keyboards are still featured, they are not nearly as prominent in the mix as they were on MVII, and the layered guitars form the backbone of the melody. “Paien” offers a great example: as the track closes out, a stunning guitar lead erupts to the surface around the 7 minute mark. This is atmospheric and melodic black metal, and it is pure in its design, execution, and impression. This is possibly Vindsval’s greatest performance on the guitar.
“Paien” offers the listener the first glimpse of the musical feature that many will come to identify with this album: Vindsval’s most pronounced and unadulterated clean vocals to date. Though harsh vocals predominate in all their textured and vitriolic glory, cleans are used prominently in several tracks. And though they exist in stark contrast to Vindsval’s mercurial throat shredding, they are not a one trick pony. In some songs, they serve as soft breaks to the action, while in other tracks they are layered together in choral-esque chants that accentuate the majestic qualities of both the track and the album on the whole. In “Tellus Mater,” the shortest and possibly the most ferocious track on the album, clean chants appear around 3:30 in the song. Coupled with a few soft keyboard lines, this break gives the listener a much needed reprieve from the track’s relentlessness. The cleans work better than imagined. They never feel forced or out of place. They just fit.
The songs on Saturnian Poetry waste no time in getting themselves going. Every track explodes from the short between song silence that precedes it. Even the longest song on the album, the monumental “Forhist,” wastes no time, blasting ruthlessly out of the blocks. This is probably Blut Aus Nord’s most “immediate” album. It has a very steady and rapid pace. The album flies by—at almost 50 minutes of runtime, that’s a testament to how well-crafted it is. There is never a strain on the ear or patience; this is immediately satisfying and listenable metal.
Nearly nine minutes in length, “Forhist” scrawls a beautiful picture. Alternating between furious and melodious guitar lines and softer breaks of clean vocals and buzzing keyboard, the first two-thirds of this song builds a tangible tension. And then all Ragnarok breaks loose: a seriously rocking riff comes in at 6:38, followed by the most acidic and coarse vocals on the album. The duality of the album is glimpsed in no clearer a portrait than this song. When people say the ugliness of black metal can be beautiful, this is the type of stuff they are referencing. “Henosis,” the album’s fifth track, legitimately gave me goosebumps. When the huge and powerful clean vocals come in at 1:51, the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up. These are probably the best cleans on the entire album, and boy do they work. This song also features a drum break and repeated drum fills around 3:43, an original feature to Blut Aus Nord’s music. Qu’est-ce que c’est? Is that a human drummer showing off a little? Yessir. This isn’t your nightmarish alien overlord’s Blut Aus Nord with its mechanical mashing. This is Memoria Vetusta.
As you might be aware, this is the first Blut Aus Nord album with a new (and very human) drummer. Blut Aus Nord is well known and even recognizable by their trademark drum machine sound. Perhaps no other band in metal besides Godflesh has made better use of programmed drums. Blut Aus Nord took a risk to put a human behind the drum kit, but the risk paid off. This is an organic drum sound, and it perfectly complements the atmosphere evoked by the guitars and vocals. In stark contrast the alien machinations of The Work Which Transforms God or MorT, Saturnian Poetry feels like music made by humans and intended for human consumption.
The album closes with a pair of enormous 8-minute tracks, the apocalyptic and tense “Metaphor of the Moon,” and the amazing and hypnotic bookend “Clarissima Mundi Lumina.” “Metaphor…” opens with a frenetic and anxiety-provoking riff that seems to foreshadow some type of impending catastrophe, and it breaks this tension with a gorgeous guitar lead at 2:15. This lead helps expunge some of the worry ignited by the opening riff. But it doesn’t last. A whirlwind attack, “Metaphor of the Moon” drags the listener all over the place. This track utilizes keyboards more than any other track on the album, and as an element of contrast to the tension of the frantic guitars and grating vocals, they deliver . This is really beautiful stuff.
The most traditionally “black metal” moment on the album comes at the genesis of the final track. “Clarissima Mundi Lumina,” begins with an eerie tremolo riff that wouldn’t feel out of place on Under a Funeral Moon. This song is an appropriate closer—an immense and varied track with a little of everything from the rest of the album sprinkled about. Strained, frenzied, and weird clean vocals start at 1:30, and they repeat the same vocal melody twice before being interrupted by the harsh vocals. This same weird clean vocal melody is repeated again, and the song continues to up its tempo, getting faster and building tension. One of the best riffs on the album hits at 4:15—a seriously mammoth and memorable guitar line. At 5:35, the song climaxes, and a jarring, eagle-like screech rings out, drawing all attention to the closing that follows. A stunning riff repeats for the remainder of track, and the song—and album—fades out gradually over the last forty-five seconds.
Though I found nearly every second of this album delectable and satisfying, I foresee a few complaints resonating from those of a different taste or persuasion. I think those familiar with/and or smitten by Blut Aus Nord’s industrial sound and drum programming wizardry may find the human drummer disappointing. Though I quite enjoyed the distinctly human element to the drums, others may find them unappealing and lacking of the typical BAN drum sound. I also expect others to complain about a lack of nuance or variety in the album. There is definitely a “sameness” to a lot of the material on Memoria Vetusta III, and many of the songs have a similar feel, tempo, pacing, and sound to them. To me, this is not a problem, as I see this album as a “whole”—that is, as a larger sum of its parts—and in my opinion, the songs do in fact distinguish themselves enough from each other.
Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry is a monumental album, and is likely to appear at or near the top of many Album of the Year lists. It is an appropriate and satisfying continuation to both the Memoria Vetusta series and Blut Aus Nord’s discography. Never one to settle in one place or to progress with a single unified goal in mind, Vindsval is sailing Blut Aus Nord into exotic ports and back again. Blut Aus Nord is not a progression as much as it is an agitator. It exists nowhere on the scale of normal. The band never reinvents itself but always reimagines. The norm exists in the straits; Blut Aus Nord in the eddy.
Remove your masque and try not to sweat blood.
*Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry is out on CD and Vinyl October 10th, 2014 on the always excellent Debemur Morti Productions.
*Buy the album here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/32-blut-aus-nord-discography
*Stream the album here: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/blut-aus-nord-memoria-vetusta-iii-lp
*Special thanks to Debemur Morti Productions for the advanced copy of the album.* Merci!