Valby Hallen, Copenhagen, DEN - 26/4
Written by: AP on 25/02/2016 10:45:30
To say that black metal as a genre has drifted off somewhat from its feared and misunderstood origins in the 1980s would be a gross understatement. Such has been the degree of its assimilation from the dark recesses of extreme music into common parlance over the past few years, that even its most shocking innovations (exchanging singing for ever more horrifying forms of growls, shrieks and snarls, distorting classic guitar solos into cascades of infernal shredding, and promoting a nihilistic, sometimes satanic worldview) no longer deter the trend setting organic coffee shop crowd. But while the most devout connoisseurs of black metal no doubt reject the advances made by contemporary U.S. groups like Deafheaven, Liturgy and Wolves in the Throne Room, most others concur that the genre was in dire need of new thinking, an element of surprise, lest it collapse under the weight of its own self-worship. And among the least predictable representatives of this ‘post-black metal’ movement is Oranssi Pazuzu (named so after a demon in ancient Babylonian mythology, and the main antagonist in William P. Blatty’s The Exorcist), whose deft mixing of the style with psychedelia and krautrock earned them something of a cult status when they emerged from the Finnish underground seven years ago with their first LP, “Muukalainen puhuu”.
Since then, the five musicians that comprise the band — known only by their pseudonyms Jun-His (guitar, vocals), Moit (guitar), Ontto (bass), Korjak (drums) and EviL (keyboards, percussion) — have ridden a surge of critical acclaim propelled by the likewise revered “Kosmonument” (2011) and “Valonielu” (2013), nurturing their followers by consistently delivering the unexpected, and never compromising on their desire to push and enrich their ambitious ideas. Ironically, the group’s wanton strays into other genres on this latest opus “Värähtelijä” give rise to atmosphere that is far more deranged and unsettling than your average black metal units. The subdued, hypnotically looping bass line and accompanying guitar riff, coupled with tribal drumming, strange bell chimes and Jun-His’ diabolical snarls, for instance, makes “Lahja” sound so eerie — like some nefarious séance designed to summon… well, Pazuzu? And while on the surface, lead single “Hypnotisoitu viharukous” spells apocalypse with a more traditionally constructed black metal approach of icy, crashing chords, it becomes much more disturbing when suddenly, Jun-His’ shrill screams and demented yells cease, and a rather uplifting vibraphone solo drills through, like the inevitable music box in classic horror flicks that is never very assuring.
Yet the presence of a black metal influence is perpetual only in the vocal department, and the brunt of “Värähtelijä”’s allure comes from keeping the listener on her/his toes by constantly shifting the dynamics. Opening track “Saturaatio”, for example, transitions from an initial, ISIS-style post-metal groove into a proggy section halfway, with EviL laying down swathes of organ in best Jon Lord manner onto a foundation of Dream Theater-esque chord progressions and a trippy wah-wah solo by Jun-His and Moit, respectively. “Vasemman käden hierarkia”, meanwhile, draws you in with trudging and immersive, blackened doom before things get weird again just before the nine-minute mark, the shower of spacey electronic sounds and an ominous, pitch-shifting rumble combining to generate what sounds like the very fabric of the universe being stretched. Then, after three minutes, Korjak, Moit and Jun-His rejoin the fray with an even slower, heavier rendition of the song’s initial third all the while those cosmic transmissions continue to echo in the background to ghastly effect. In the wake of such a jaunting endeavour, it is only natural that “Havuluu” then grapples the reins again, though the outcome is no less chilling. Intense and claustrophobic, the track’s deployment of blastbeats and distressing slide riffs is black metal to the bone, and despite its tranquil beginning and massive Opeth-style crescendo at the end, no real forays are made into strange waters during its nigh ten-minute running length.
Paradoxically, the extremity of that song is somehow relieving, as overall “Värähtelijä” is one of those records that sound cool and unusual the moment you hear it, but offers little by way of traditional lasting value. You will not be singing along or asserting yourself much in the pit at one of their concerts, but more likely than not, you will be struck with awe, courtesy of the accomplished songwriting and obsessive attention to detail, the dance between contrasts, and quite simply the breathtaking complexity and novelty of Oranssi Pazuzu’s music. Whether in solitude or live surrounded by others, this is music that needs to be experienced — not merely listened to. As such, an ideal soundtrack for social gatherings though “Värähtelijä” may not be, it represents the kind of forward-thinking attitude vital for the continued development and, ultimately, survival of the metal genre.
Download: Saturaatio, Lahja, Hypnotisoitu viharukous, Havuluu
For the fans of: A Forest of Stars, Aluk Todolo, Circle, Nachtmystium
Release date 26.02.2016