Sunday, 21 February 2010

Blut Aus Nord - Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age (1996) 90/100.

This is my re-review of Blut Aus Nord’s ‘Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age’. It has been almost four years since I wrote the initial review and looking back on it, and the record itself, I think it deserves to be re-reviewed because of the influence it had on my listening habits back when I first discovered the mystical being that is Blut Aus Nord. Although it has not been looked upon so kindly with time, I still treasure the nostalgic feeling I get every time I put this colossal record on and become embedded into that soul crushing wall of noise. Endless oceans of melodies stream forth from the instrumentation that takes place on this record and as I’ve grown as a person, I’ve grown to appreciate the subtle forces behind the majesty of this piece. When I first heard it, I couldn’t handle the distortion or what impact it had upon the experimentation beneath the fragile surface of the material. Like a learner driver, I could handle the basics, but I wasn’t a pro and records like this were not second nature to me at that point in time. My initial high rating of this record does now seem misguided in hindsight, but that isn’t to say I don’t rate it highly in the present day because I do. I just feel that a 94% rating would suggest it’s moving towards my idea of perfection when, in actual fact, I feel this is simply a solid piece of music which juxtaposes two vastly different ideas; consuming melody and bleak, harsh distortion.

Now however, I feel, having benefited from listening to one too many black metal records, that I can finally say I’m adjusted to what this scene offers the individual and it is as an individual that one must cautiously tread upon these here majestic soundscapes as if it were a national heritage site and you’re weary of doing it any damage because beneath the harrowing distortion that cloaks the record, there is a hidden beauty that is waiting to be uncovered by the adventurer. Although my unfamiliarity with Blut Aus Nord’s entire discography still hampers me from making my final decision as to what is their definitive record, I still feel, even in these early stage, that I have found it in this piece, a wonderful work of art that has transformed the way in which I look upon the use of the wall of sound technique that so many black metal artists, such as Darkspace, have incorporated into their own music. I don’t herald Blut Aus Nord as being the originators of this sound, but this 1996 sophomore certainly does teach me that the wall of sound ploy does not have to be so straight forward and thus, it can be more expansive, allowing sublime melodies to sweep the listener from off of their feet and onwards, towards magical, mystical and vivid imaginary plains, a mesmerising feeling felt even during the introductory ambiance of ‘Slaughterday (The Heathen Blood of Ours)’ (though this ambiance does not last long as those hollow chants begin and the repetitious guitars pummel the listener in the face repeatedly).

Although I only call upon this record in times of reflection, I still find the title track to be amongst my favourite songs ever produced. Not only by the artists themselves, but in the entire music world, out of all the artists I’ve come across on my solitary journey’s of discovery. As I mentioned earlier, I find that this record tends to cleverly juxtapose two ideas. The first, consuming melody. Take the title track for example. Though there is a significant amount of distortion, the bass still remains audible and is highly melodic along the way. It doesn’t, unlike during many black metal records, work to support the guitars. Although it does do that, this isn’t its only job. The bass is more expansive than that and although the guitars obviously take precedence when creating those infectiously moving melodies, the bass still remains a key feature of the structures. The guitars have a conventional approach to black metal, which is where the second key feature comes into play -- distortion -- but given that Blut Aus Nord are regarded as a wall of sound band, they instantly move to address some of the problematic issues that arise from this technique by implementing a fine balance between experimentation and repetition.

Again, I look towards the title track to solve any queries that the reader may have. It takes a sublime main riff and places it beside a primitive second guitar, the one in which causes the overwhelming sense of powerful and destructive distortion. Though the distortion may be a key feature of each of the songs, the cleaner elements play a subtle, but equally key role in quashing any doubts that this is a typical, run-of-the-mill affair. Elements which don’t appear to be so key suddenly burst into life when the songs reach a more progressive state, as shown wonderfully throughout the record and, in particular, on songs such as ‘Day of Revenge (The Impure Blood of Theirs)’ where the bass entwines with the more expansive percussion elements and sparsely seductive keyboards to create a feeling of creative freedom and, unlike many similar bands, a sense that the distortion doesn’t dictate the entire record. With small changes to vocals, like harmonious chanting during songs like that brilliant title track and during songs like ‘The Forsaken Voices of the Ghostwood's Shadowy Realm‘, the record does slowly begin to feel more loose and not as rigid as the distortion may have it seem to be. The production terrifically masks the instrumentation in surprise, catching me off guard at several different points with different techniques of innovation. Time has taken this epic down a notch, but not very far. Still a classic.

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