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If you’ve experienced enough trilogies, you know the pattern. The first installment is awesome, the second one decent but disappointing and by the third installment barely anyone gives a damn. A few years ago Blut Aus Nord began the ambitious 777 trilogy. The series started out with the startling Sect(s), which combined knotted dissonant progressions with royal passages of melodious darkness, resulting in Blut Aus Nord’s best release since 2003’s The Work Which Transforms God. Part two, The Desanctification was less twisted and aggressive, and instead focused on melodies and atmosphere. Certainly a less adventurous album, but nonetheless a quality recording. As you might have inferred, the final chapter of the trilogy,Cosmosophy isn’t exactly a riveting conclusion to the series.
Cosmosophy consists of a number of sweeping, slowly developing pieces of atmospheric metal grounded in big, harmonic riffs. The leads are bright yet depressive, recalling goth rock acts such as Sisters of Mercy. The swerving, choppy patterns of drum machine are distinctly industrial. Referring to Cosmosophy as “black metal” would be more a product of habit then an accurate reflection of what Blut Aus Nord have created. Other than a small number of high pitched growls, there are no black metal elements on the Cosmosophy.
While most of the music is solid, the vocals are very poor. Vindsval pulls out all the stops here—singing, growling, chanting and even rapping. Regardless of the style Vindsval employs, the end result is bad. The clean vocals are flat and a little strained while the growls are excessively purple, sounding like ghouls and goblins from Saturday morning cartoons. The rap passage is especially embarrassing: Vindsval‘s flow is mechanical and clunky while the beat is lazy and clichéd.
Generally the music is nice, if unspectacular. Tracks like “Epitome XIV” and “Epitome XVII” create soothing atmospheres that slowly pass by like clouds being moved by a mild wind. “Epitome XVIII” contains a darker progression that is that is quite hypnotizing. However, in the same way that cloud watching can begin as a soothing pastime, but eventually become inundating, Cosmosophy tends to descend into stretches of completely anonymous ambiance. This is most obvious during the mediocre clean passages that open and close many of the songs but at times spills over into the metallic passages.
Sadly, the 777 trilogy has become less enthralling every step of the way. More pertinently, the excellence of Sect(s) is looking evermore like an aberration. Blut Aus Nord is proving itself to be like one of those directors who release enough standout movies to remain in the limelight but more often than not releases run of the mill films. We’ll all keep checking in with Blut Aus Nord, hoping for that next blockbuster, but based on the band’s track record, we should not be surprised when we get half-baked ideas like Cosmosophy.
Originally written for deafsparrow.com
When an artist positions himself at a movement’s forefront, he’s condemned to excel. His work is primarily based on an extremely fertile creativity that allows him to renew itself constantly, without ever becoming insipid or repetitive. This is a path that very few individuals are able to follow, as it is demanding. Yet it is the perilous route taken by Vindsval, leader of French band Blut Aus Nord. Their exceptional discography abounds in experiments, crosses and collages of all kinds, with a music located on the edge of madness, gathering countless influences in a twisted polyphonic and disturbing black metal. After several successful releases, detaining a solid fan base, the group started in 2011 an ambitious triptych called 777, a number with powerful esoteric connotations. After Sect (s) and The Desanctification, both published last year, the cycle ends with Cosmosophy.
First two albums adopted a new and unexpected stylistic trend, leading to almost complete denudated songs. These revolved around a handful of riffs and sounds, repeated in loops, slightly coated by keyboards and ambience effects. This approach is even more blatant 777 third and last part. Epitome XIV, which opens the album, comes down to a few guitar chords and echoed drumming. Atmosphere is quiet, restrained, and never releases any aggression. This is a frame that will be repeated throughout every following title.
However, I will be honest and transparent. I disliked this album. Its packaging is sumptuous and a few creativity flashes cross it, but it remains mostly linear and boring. It is a bitter fact for me, who appreciate the audacity of Blut Aus Nord first albums. This band was able to develop an extremely dense and unhealthy atmosphere, of which there is almost no trace on Cosmosophy. Rather, a title like Epitome XVII has much more similarities with new wave / age than black metal! And I admit that the long and grandiloquent Epitome XV’s recitative annoyed me to the point of skipping it every time I listened the album.
To create a full trilogy made of eighteen songs with a ridiculously short schedule was maybe too difficult to handle. Cosmosophy is struggling to keep listener’s interest throughout its forty minutes. In addition, band moves away from its black metal roots to move closer towards dark / ambient / electro, a path that I do not want to follow. Pity. 5/10
Originally written for Métal Obscur.
Blut Aus Nord has a way of synthesizing and revitalizing elements of past albums with each new release, as if it were a software upgrade. I used to think Memoria Vetusta II was the pinnacle of this phenomenon, reuniting the style of their early works with the relentless, lifeless (in a good way) industrial experimentation of the works which made them a household name in black metal.
In comes the third and final installment of the 777 series, entitles Cosmosophy, which can be translated as the study or knowledge of the Universe. Now, concept aside, since I have little to no way of knowing what went through Vindsval's mind while planning, designing and ultimately recording and releasing this trilogy, I can imagine it revolves around the philosophical deconstruction of religion, particularly Christendom, not very much unlike their countrymates Deathspell Omega. But while the latter's approach to the subject tends to be much more muscular in the music department and cerebral in the lyrical department, BAN takes a much less literal, much more metaphorical and therefore ethereal approach to christian deconstruction. This is evidenced both in lyrics and in the music itself, which is what I'm here to discuss.
As hinted on the introductory paragraph, this album contains a bit of almost everything they've done so far. The clean melancholy of both Memoria Vetustas, the heavy industralisaton of their latter works, the juxtaposed guitars singing hymns of dissonance of MBOR and TWWTAG and the eerie, damp, melted and melting exosphere of MoRT and Odinist. But fear not, for this albums is more than a rehash of all the characteristics that make this one of the most intriguing bands in the metal scene, regardless of subgenre.
Out of the three volumes, this is arguably the eeriest; the strangest. Never before, not even with TWWTG or the sadly overlooked MoRT (although they sure come close), has BAN made such strange music. Because, sure, those albums I mentioned are strange. They were both very much revolutionary when they were released, but ultimately the very nature of the music, the instrumentation, the approach, were not exactly extraterrestrial. The case is the same here, except this album counts with the very, very effective element of surprise. In this album you won't really find the fiery prowess of MBOR or the first installment of this trilogy (in my opinion, the two best BAN albums if what you want is to be swarmed by a relentless collection of amazing, fast riffage and blastbeating madness), nor will you find the frankly alien, dissonant guitar and muddy, undead production and execution of MoRT or Odinist (the two best BAN albums if what you want is to have your conception of metal -of music- deconstructed, diluted in acid and thrown up on your face). You'll find something very similar to the previous installment, "The Desanctification": Slow, heavy, dragging and emotionally exhausting melodies backed by solemn keyboards.
But there's a twist.
What if I told you that, after a brief albeit slow and pondering riff, the first thing that greets you when you listen to this album is a cybernetic choir of clean, french vocals? What if I told you that the second track is introduced by electronic noise and holds electronic influences throughout the track, bordering on a very UK Garage-y vibe but with the guitars taking care of the melody, punctuated by what sounds to me like little samples forming a rhythmic pattern? The third, and second longest track brings back some of the dissonant uneasiness of yore, in a very mechanized and careless, emotionless fashion (again, that's not a bad thing), that reminds me of the slower, chugging moments of albums like Darkspace's "II". The musicianship is fantastic, because it never gets stale. They don't repeat any particular riff or rhythm long enough for it to become boring, yet there's absolutely no "math" wankery to be found. Possibly because the average tempo is too slow to allow such gimmicks.
The production is very much in the same vein as the first two volumes of the trilogy, as is to be expected, but with a slightly more sophisticated edge. I suppose they needed to adopt new strategies when dealing with the (at first) unsettling amount of "clean" vocals throughout the album (that is, clean vocals that have obviously been processed in a manner that wouldn't be out of place on a progressive house album, although thankfully they knew better than to ram them into the front; they're slightly scarce, and very much in tune with the music, which always takes the spotlight).
So there it is: The closer of this unholy trinity is not just a melting pot of the many flavours the band has offered over the years, but also an opportunity to bring new, perhaps a bit alienating, angles and ideas to the table, all in the name of pushing boundaries until they shatter. The clean-ish vocals and brief electronic elements might alienate some of the more tr00kvlt kiddies out there, but I can't help wondering why they keep listening to an explicitly experimental band if all they want is to hear yet another Transilvanian Hunger clone.
Once all is said and done, I feel something has to be said: This is not their most groundbreaking, mindblowig album to date. As is to be expected with trilogies, or any homogenous work that stretches over two or move volumes, this is both a continuation and a conclusion. You won't get caught with your guard down as long as you've been paying attention to the band's works, yet (as long as you're not completely disenchanted) you'll find enough moments to snap out of the trance-inducing groove to mutter "hey whoa". There's much to be un-expected from this peculiar, mostly instrumental and ambiance-drenched trilogy closer.
As a final note, this album will surely disappoint those who felt Desanctification sorely lacked the raw anger, energy and choleric riffing Sect(s) offered, but for those who are keen on musical exploration and sound experimentation will find reward in this, possibly the oddest BAN release since MoRT, in my humble opinion.