Thursday, 4 February 2010

Nargaroth - Jahreszeiten (2009) 92/100.

A lot has been made of Kanwulf and his exploits. It would seem a lot of people are unhappy with his behaviour both in regards to how he acts outside of the studio, and what he creates within it. Personally, I don’t pay much attention to musicians’ lives unless they come into direct contact with my own. Since I don’t know Kanwulf personally, I don’t particularly care how he acts, or what he says. As long as I’m still enjoying his music, I have no problems. In regards to his entire discography with legendary German band Nargaroth, I have mixed opinions about his career as a whole, though I can certainly pinpoint areas I both like and dislike with relative ease. Looking back over the years, Nargaroth’s pivotal records came in the early stages. I say this with a few records, in particular, springing to mind. First and foremost we have the introductory full-length, ‘Herbstleyd’. Next up we have the similar ‘Geliebte des Regens’. In between these two epics, we have the impressive best of/compilation ‘Amarok’. Besides those few, Nargaroth’s career has been a bit stop-start. The dedication monument that was ‘Black Metal Ist Krieg’ was mostly a joke gone wrong and after 2003, Kanwulf went missing in action.

Skip forward a few years and plenty of uninspired moments and we have arguably his best work to date, ‘Jahreszeiten’, a piece of music which reads like an epic poem which has gone on to inspire millions of would-be writers, if only they possessed an ounce of the talent that poetical releases like this have. As I understand, a lot of people are becoming increasingly disgruntled with Kanwulf’s studio records, despite a visionary depiction of the seasons. Some say he’s lost the plot, whilst others claim he is back with a vengeance. Personally, I believe the latter to be true and ‘Jahreszeiten’ to be a signal that black metal is very much alive and kicking in the modern era. Yes, this sort of concept record is not new and has been done before, but not exactly to the same affect, in my eyes. Take the reception that ‘Frühling’ got, as an example. Some were outraged, whilst others pleasantly surprised that this joke of a man could produce a classic, albeit upbeat, black metal story through one song.

Yes, ‘Frühling’ is indeed upbeat and this very fact has caused people to cry out in disbelief, “An upbeat black metal songs goes against the traditions of the genre!”. Well, perhaps this isn’t a traditional record? In order to survive, one must evolve with the times and this is precisely what Nargaroth are doing. No longer are the public pleased by his incessant jokes and descriptions about how black metal died many years ago. So, instead, why not try something far more productive? Personally, I think songs like ‘Frühling’ are a breath of fresh air to black metal. Bands like Alcest were criticised also for putting a rather romantic spin on the genre, but what’s wrong with that? It isn’t exactly what the genre first had in mind all those moons ago, but things change, including musical genres. Evolution is necessary to survive today and Nargaroth are doing that. ‘Frühling’ takes the season of Spring and gives it a jovial, but cautious voice. The song begins tremendously with the most upbeat black metal riff you’ll ever hear once the opening exchanges have calmed down to allow Spring to bloom and blossom as it does in real life.

People must remember that Spring is the season of new life and when miracles are born each and every day. The song represents this perfectly, playing an upbeat riff over the top of repetitious bass and Kanwulf’s classic vocal styling. His vocals haven’t altered much from day one, so expect much the same in this department. His tormented voice tells the magic of rebirth with a cautious tone and this is also highlighted in how the song alters instrumentally towards the middle when the guitars take a firmer stance on conception. It’s not a game, kids! As Jim’s dad said in American Pie, it’s like bouncing a ball - it can be fun, but you need a partner to play with. Do you want a partner? The levels of repetition can be high in phases of each and every song on the record, but there is still enough variation to discredit the claims that Nargaroth are a one-trick pony. This feeling is extended into all other songs, too, not just the opening season of Spring.

I enjoy the brief samples that begin and end every song. From singing birds, to classic storms, each sample plays its own individual part at heightening the sense of that particular season. Winter is especially effective. With songs like Summer, Kanwulf does an expert job at making the atmosphere sound dense through repetition and spirally guitar riffs which remind me of the sweltering heat throughout both the day and the humid nights. Areas like the bass aren’t exactly stand out areas, but it still manages to affectively back-up the atmosphere created by the guitars. Songs like ‘Sommer’ have thick bass lines during the middle of long riffs to exercise the power of imagery within the listener, who is imagining arid conditions, baking heat and long summer days with beautiful sunsets. The imagery has a habit of changing, as one would expect, as the record progresses through the seasons and on songs like ‘Winter’, the fast paced percussion, which features heavy use of double bass blasts and the tremolo based riffs of the guitars establish a bleak, cold wintry feeling and incoming emotional depression as the days get darker sooner and the weather turns to adverse conditions like ice and snow.

Songs like ‘Winter’ are typically bleak and depict a different sense of emotion to the upbeat beginnings of the record. Kanwulf has put all his experience into this record, using his knowledge to affectively write songs and evoke imagery that throws up connotations of the respective seasons. Each season has its part to play and is emotionally draining. In regards to the song lengths, yes, perhaps they’re a bit too long, but the seasons take a lot of time and effort to depict, especially seasons such as Autumn, as shown on the song here. ‘Herbst’ is especially beautiful, though in a completely different way to the other seasons. Accompanying the lone guitar is another string instrument which perfectly depicts decaying life as the leaves change their colours and slowly die. The samples are also put into good use as the rain falls and thunder draws closer. I myself consider this to be Kanwulf’s finest moment as he inspirationally depicts each season with grace and poise. A wonderful ode to nature.

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