BLUT AUS NORD PROVE THEY’RE THE GREATEST FRENCHMEN SINCE HENRY IV ON MEMORIA VETUSTA II
Blut aus Nord’s 2003 post-black metal touchstone – The Work Which Transforms God – was a lot like a David Lynch movie: I wanted to like it more than I actually did. Taken on a song by song basis, the album is striking (even if being in the right mood is still necessary). But as a whole, the album is indigestible, a jagged, abstract chunk of atonal Godflesh-via-Burzum avant-garde metal. I respected the hell out of it, but when pressed, I couldn’t say when I listened to it. And even though I’ve maligned clean singing when unnecessary (hell, I’ve done it numerous times on this very website), TWWTG was a little too rough even for my liking. The French kvltists’ latest, Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars, seems to have taken my concerns to heart, eschewing the slow industrial trudge of their last few records and indulging in some melody and atmosphere, focusing less on being obscure. It’s to The Work Which Transforms God‘s difficult credit that Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars can be seen as a lightening up despite being a broad, inventive, and fucking brilliant black metal record that makes all the right moves, pushes all the right envelopes, and never tries to hard. Easily an early contender for black metal record of the year, the album is another chapter in the band’s mission to redefine black metal, even if doing it by easier-to-swallow means.
This is not to say that this isn’t a black metal record, because it most certainly is. All the basic elements are there: the raspy vocals, tremolo picking, minor keys, poetic titles, keyboards, blastbeats. But their mere presence is greatly tweaked, let alone their surroundings. Much like how guys like David Cronenberg and the aforementioned David Lynch can ably make an excellent straightfoward movie (A History of Violence for the former, Elephant Man or The Straight Story for the latter), Blut aus Nord can make a relatively straight up black metal record as opposed to their harder-to-access fare and still do it better than 9/10 of their frosty contemporaries. Memoria Vetusta II is the sort of soul shakingly excellent black metal record that makes you remember why you like the genre so much despite its silliness and unholier than thou attitude. It drips with emotion and atmosphere but still upholds a chilly distance; it’s raw in the right places and smooth in others; its keyboards are there to provide a subtle mist as opposed to the overbearing faux classical theatrics that mar most sub par black metal. But what makes Memoria Vetusta II more than just an adequate record is what it adds as well as what it does right. Blut aus Nord manage to keep their feet firmly on the ground while their minds are off in clearly more ambitious places. It’s black metal with a forward momentum with its eye constantly on the rearview mirror.
The differences make Memoria Vetusta II, and it manages to stand out even in a time when “different” black metal – the blackened prog rock of Enslaved, the Floyd-by-way-of-Darkthrone of Nachtmystium, the long-winded black metalgaze of Wolves in the Throne Room – is becoming the norm (much to the dismay of corpsepainted dudes setting off their mom’s fire alarm with their candelabra). The guitars howl and moan instead of grumbling and buzzing. But instead of evoking Pink Floyd, as do many of black metal’s best looking to expand their base, they instead seem to channel The Cure’s and Joy Division’s penchant for oceans of reverb and space (though the solos on the record are still straight up David Gilmour). The vocals, though still banshee-with-strep grade, are low in the mix, putting the focus more on the instrumentation than the indecipherable lyrics (which was also the M.O. on The Work Which Transforms God). The drums still occasionally evoke Godflesh’s clinical, programmed march, but the guitars over them are remarkably human instead of remarkably not. And though the songs often stretch past 8 or 9 minutes, they’re all enthralling, milking every second for all its worth. There is a beauty on Memoria Vetusta II, but it’s intangible. It’s not labored or obvious, but it’s still present. And for Blut aus Nord’s chilly and unconventional approach, a vague beauty serves them well.
Obviously the “II” in Memoria Vetusta II denotes that it’s the second part (or the very un-black metal term “sequel”) of something. Memoria Vetusa‘s first installment was released roughly 13 years ago, and follows the same sort of idea – typical black metal tropes reimagined – but is not executed as well as its successor. Much like The Godfather: Part II and The Empire Strikes Back, Memoria Vetusta‘s second installment does justice to its predecessor while managing to be a better work overall. But this is not to say that it doesn’t stand on its own; the album is a brilliantly crafted, expertly executed piece of black metal. Its haunting nature will stick with you, and cause you to hate Hot Topic black metal more than you did before you were aware of its existence. You’ll hear Blut aus Nord mentioned as one of the best black metal bands out there today; Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars is a good example of why.
(4 ½ out of 5 horns)