Album Review: Blut Aus Nord - 'Hallucinogen'

23 September 2019 | 2:09 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

How did they make cosmic psychedelia boring?

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Hold onto your hats people, Blut Aus Nord (BAN) have released a new album and it’s... weird. Huh, fancy that. According to a post on the band’s Facebook, they were originally intending for a mid-October release, but due to the album leaking early, they've decided to undermine said leak by just releasing it to the public now. As shitty as leaks are, this works out for me, as I wanted to wrap my head around this thing ever since I heard that Blut Aus Nord's quite radically altered their sound.

For years now, ever since 'The Work Which Transforms God,' Blut Aus Nord's main sound has combined dissonant riffs with utterly miserable industrial atmospheres that belong in Victorian-era factories that are surely haunted by the ghosts of legions of armless children. Yet one thing that I didn’t realize until recently is that they made an effort to make their sound correspond with their aesthetics and themes, namely religion. The Work Which Transforms God and the amazing 777 trilogy all deal heavily with anti-religious themes - or “humanist” ideas, if you want to sound super-duper smart, which I always do. And what musical convention is better to convey anti-religion than dissonance, as the tritone, the archetypal dissonant sound, used to be banned for religious reasons and called “the devil in music”?

So Blut Aus Nord have made the conscious decision to move on from dissonant, industrial sounds to now grandiose, faintly psychedelic atmospheres, and they’ve changed their aesthetic in kind. That’s obvious from the title of their latest album, 'Hallucinogen.' But if you didn’t think that was quite heavy-handed enough, this album cover depicts some sort of entity that’s essentially a Transformer made out of morel mushrooms in front of a cosmic backdrop. Now, morel mushrooms aren’t psychedelic (don’t make any mistakes about mushroom descriptions or you’ll get those Terrence McKenna-fanboy mushroom people coming after you), but they look fuckin' cool. And when placed in front of a backdrop that looks like a nebula, anything can convey the feeling of mind-bending awe and wonder. (Sidenote: I should also add that I originally didn’t know what morel mushrooms were and just thought that it looked like the Amygdala from Bloodborne. Which is equally cool, if not more so.)

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Even though you could call BAN’s new sound “psychedelic black metal”, it’s not the same as other bands that fit the bill. They share very little with Oranssi Pazuzu, the Finnish band that do play black metal infused with surf rock and 60’s pastiche. Nor do they have much in common with Cult of Fire, whose psychedelic sounds come mostly from a weird obsession with Hindu mysticism, using chants, instruments like sitars, and going as far as calling themselves “vedic metal” on their Bandcamp page. Jesus Christ, talk about niche! Rather, BAN’s new brand of psychedelia is more epic in sound, bringing in choral clean vocal sections and synthesizers, although this doesn’t always work out well. The best example on the whole album is the first track, ‘Nomos Nebuleam’, which comes right out of the gate with a melodic, Uada-esque riff reinforced, but not overwhelmed, by synths. The worst examples is, well, we’ll get to that later.

The album also has some interesting progressive elements too. Pretty much every song on the album has a linear structure, ranging from winding, atmospheric tremolo-picked riffs to thrash metal-inspired palm-muted chugging. But the second track, ‘Nebeleste’, shows this off the best, moving on from one riff to another relatively seamlessly. Not only that, but the band even diverge into weirder time signatures from time to time too - like setting the beat over divisions of 11. The final track, ‘Cosma Procyiris’, uses a similarly odd time signature, sitting at either 14/8 or 14/16 If you can’t tell, I’m not a BIG music theory guy, and I can’t stand most progressive metal due to its often overwhelming technicality, but it’s reassuring that BAN don't get hung up on insane, virtuoso riffs.

Despite the band’s own Bandcamp page saying that BAN are ‘ending the cycle of clandestine industrialized dissonance’ (sounds like they’re struggling for a word count) in their sound, there are occasional moments that could fit right in with the 777 trilogy. For instance, ‘Cosma Procryiris’ begins with such a sound for the first few minutes or so. ‘Mahagma’ does as well, if only for a bar or two in the middle of the song, poking its head out like it’s up to no good. ‘Nomos Nebuleam’ has a guitar solo that sounds like something taken right from The Work Which Transforms God, but just the fact that this band is doing guitar solos is one way of breaking some new ground for them.

Unfortunately though, upon repeated listens, the spectacle of the band’s radical sonic departure begins to really wear off. On my first listen, I was awe-struck at how different this whole idea was for BAN, but on my second listen, literally only the first two songs stuck out in any way. After these songs, it sounds like the band ran out of ideas of how to make psychedelic black metal but still wanted to make a full-length album around that very concept rather than an EP. Despite being a solid idea, the album just doesn’t provide listeners with enough surprises to make future listens worthwhile.

One thing that I didn’t notice until my second listen, though, was that the band use an almost-identical palm-muted chugging riff about four times across the album. It first shows up on ‘Nebeleste’, the second track, but it’s on the third track, ‘Sybelius’, as well. In both these cases, the riff is part of a longer, progressive metal riff, but the fact that they could have played anything else, and chose to play the same chugging riff again one track after another is a glaring oversight, in my opinion. The riff, much like herpes, pops up again with no warning on ‘Mahagma’, and is equally unwelcome. On that track, it’s at least a little different in tone and pitch, but it’s essentially the same pattern again. I don’t know whether this was an intentional motif or a lazy repeat, but it has the same effect on me regardless.

The vocal style of BAN has also changed a lot on 'Hallucinogen,' but not necessarily for the better. Instead of your typical high-pitched black metal screams, the predominant vocals here are heavily reverberated and delayed clean singing, much like the vocals on 777 – Cosmosophy. Except with a key difference: on this album, they are placed extremely low in the mix. I don’t know why that is exactly, but it does not work in the slightest. Before the album came out, the band released ‘Nomos Nebuleam’ and I genuinely thought it was an instrumental track with sampled vocals the first time I heard it. That’s just how low the vocals are sitting in this mix. The same is true of the raspy, screamed vocals, wherever they may be in any given arrangement. On ‘Anthosmos’, the vocals seem like they’re supposed to play a major part, but instead, they’re utterly buried in the mix and practically worthless.

It’s unfortunate, but Blut Aus Nord's new album is just boring mostly. For me, the absolute last thing you want to be when you're on hallucinogens is bored shitless. Lest you be forced to mentally grapple with the fact that you’re a bad person and everyone around you knows you’re tripping in the middle of the day and all your friends secretly hate you. It definitely feels as though Blut Aus Nord wanted to experiment deeper with psychedelic sounds, but they didn’t necessarily have enough interesting material to make it work for an entire album here on 'Hallucinogen.' Which is a goddamn shame, because this French metal band is notorious for pushing hard and fast into weirder, experimental territory. This album really could've been something else, something better. And I would have loved to hear what they’re fully capable of after spending perhaps years writing a psychedelic album that would be worth people’s time. But this album ain't that by a long shot.

Nobos Nebuleam






Cosma Procyiris

'Hallucinogen' is out now: