Black metal may be the only strain of extreme music which is, two decades later, still as surprising as it was at its inception. Even more impressive is that the current leading lights (Deafhaven, Altar of Plagues, Inter Arma) still retain the bleak ferocity which made the genre so initially compelling.
In an exceptional year for releases there’s still scope for excellence, albeit one that’s completely leftfield.
Finally managing to nail black metal’s fascination with psychedelia, Oranssi Pazuzu are naturally comparable with Nachtmystium’s effects-heavy approach; however, where the latter are unwaveringly harsh, there’s a warmth to the former which develops their atmosphere without threatening to diminish the throat-ruining vitriol.
‘Vintage’ is an problematic journalist term and Oranssi Pazuzu invite themselves (perhaps unintentionally) to be considered alongside Uncle Acid, The Devil’s Blood and Purson by merit of their psychedelic leanings. Their Hawkwind/ Pink Floyd influence is certainly worn firmly on their sleeves, every track being layered thickly with background noise and soundscape-like textures, though their compositions are much less tangential than their progressive forebears. Anyone left cold by the perceived affectations of modern bands with a huge crush on anything paisley will be surprised by how genuine Valonielu sounds; it’s certainly black metal made by people who love and understand it, just a skewed version of it.
Building to the titanic Ympyrä On Viiva Tomussa, the album grinds itself along with a heavy reliance on rhythmic undercurrents rather than speed, the abstinence rendering singer Jun-His’s vocals even creepier and more ominous. Certainly the tribal Tyhjä Temppeli achieves an unsettling height, the tension shattered on the following doom/ drone Uraanisula. It’s in the less intense moments where the soundscape-like background hum is most present and the most rewarding for subsequent listens. An early climax is reached with Olen Aukaissut Uuden Silmän, blastbeats exploding before giving way to a focussed space-y section. Their grasp of tension and release is exceptional, a reminder that black metal can be surprising and architectural without any sacrifice of form or substance.
There’s something of an Isis-like compositional philosophy at work where tight songwriting is disguised as being loose and ethereal with noise and experimentation. There’s an element of Cult of Luna’s warmth too, but this don’t have the feel of a band consciously trying to adopt post metal influence. Rather, this is an experiment in different moods for black metal; instrumental creepiness, forlornness without a reliance on invasive riffs and atmospheric sections that somehow suggest malevolence. The experimentation requires complete attention but is completely rewarding.
Those looking for black metal with more depth than first-wave releases but unwilling to stomach an adoption of a progressive rock mindset would do well to look to this record as middle ground; it occupies its own space too and to brush the album off as self-indulgence is a terrible misconception.
Sadly underrated in a year flooded with high profile releases, a happy 2014 would see these guys as much-deserved support on major extreme metal tours.