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The elusive French act Blut Aus Nord has had a long and diverse history. Vindsval has been the only constant member throughout the band's ever changing discography, taking in traditional black metal with a mystical edge (the debut, this album and its sequel), to heavily dissonant industrial influenced nightmare soundtracks (The Work Which Transforms God), pure old school death worship (the What Once Was series) and whatever terms you could apply to the idiosyncratic 777 series. While many of the albums are worthy efforts, some even groundbreaking, this one will always be my favourite.
I read in an interview a couple of years ago that Vindsval was only about 16 years old when he wrote/recorded this album. If that is true, then its an extremely impressive feat for something as accomplished and clearly envisioned as this album is. Fathers of the Icy Ages takes the same formula from the already impressive debut Ultima Thulee, and expands upon it considerably. This is definitely vintage mid 90s black metal through and through (with some epic Hammerheart era Bathory vibes here and there, as opposed to the quasi-gothic feel of parts of the debut), but it still has elements that place it ahead of its time and fresh even today in the face of modern imitators. These are mostly to be found in the brilliantly accomplished soloing and a great many unique riffs that you would just not expect to find on your average contemporary work. Vindsval also evidently had a great grasp of atmosphere at this early stage, and this entire album is drenched in a mystical essence that really fuels the imagination, conjuring images of auroras over vast snowy landscapes. Clearly he was working from quite a broad palette of influences then as now.
The production of Memoria Vetusta is perfectly suited to the music in hand. A little rough around the edges perhaps, but whatever. That's the way I like it. It was only their second album and I doubt there was much in the way of a budget going on. In spite of this, the spirit and power of the recording shines through as it should. A surprisingly thick and heavy guitar tone works to just about conceal the programmed drums to the point that they blend in to the mix and it doesn't matter, and in fact there are some quite good beats going on. Of note are the prominent and expressive bass parts from a guy playing six stringed fretless, again not something you hear on every classic black metal release where bass is largely relegated to being just another guitar. He stands out very well at times, and is ever-present beneath the heavy sheaths of guitars. The lead guitar playing is also highly accomplished with some beautiful, soaring solos going on in "Slaughterday" and "The Path of the Wolf..." and epic leads popping up during "Sons of Wisdom" and the title track that really give the music another level of power. Fantastically icy keyboards appear at choice moments to really reinforce the cold and mystical vibes. Above all of this, Vindsval's powerful vocals like a furious wind. The somewhat amateurish clean vocals are not without their charm, either.
The incredibly detailed and otherworldly artwork, a painting called Les Enfers by Baroque artist François de Nomé, lends additional intrigue to the aesthetics...that is, if you're lucky enough to own an original copy. I'm not, and instead I'm stuck with Candlelight's HIDEOUS alternate artwork consisting of CGI mountains and a bunch of runes, or something. I don't care to get the CD out to refresh my memory. How they could bastardize the visual side of the album like that is a little beyond me, but whatever. I was happy enough to just own this fantastic album in the first place. Strongly recommended to all fans of classic black metal with a unique twist.
Now that they got all their weird ideas out on the debut (which can still be considered a gorgeous album in its own right, of course), it's time to amp up the intensity. What was a background foundation on Ultima Thulee has been fleshed out in a much more overtly metallic manner, still being rather hale on the surface but throwing plenty of melodies into the mix sounding distinctly French; the shrill fury of the LLN lurks in the underbelly, but there's far too many pretty melodies and the production is far too clean for the resemblance to be considered outright worship. Blut Aus Nord has always been a little more nuanced and careful in their execution than something like Vlad Tepes and a little more ominously melodic and greater in content than something like Mutiilation; that's not to say the band can't venture into the same sort of spooky territories as Meyhna'ch. However, that's mostly to be seen on later albums. Fathers of the Icy Age is just riffs, riffs and did I mention riffs? More riffs than you'll be able to sink your teeth into, and the essence born on Ultima Thulee hasn't been lost. The theme has just been slightly tweaked this time around, but the results are no less captivating.
Due to the emphasis on frenetically throwing riffs at you, there's a distinct focus not seen on Ultima Thulee. No one track is entirely composed of ambiance anymore, the keyboards instead being much more of an accent as opposed to a fully interwoven feature. Fathers of the Icy Age is an album much more comfortable in its own thematic headspace, not quite as comfortable with branching out now but still managing to be diverse and eccentric in its riff attack. The songwriting is much more grounded and though the riffs themselves aren't quite as conventionally black metal sounding as they were on the previous album, Fathers of the Icy Age is probably more likely to appeal to fans of more traditional extreme metal than its predecessor was. By being more comfortable and restrained in his songwriting, Vindsval wrote an album that isn't quite as flashy or immediately mindblowing as the debut was with all its little eccentricities; that being said, Fathers of the Icy Age still manages to hold your attention for the entirety of its duration if you happen to be a riff connoisseur, something I assume everyone reading this review would be.
Blut Aus Nord's style of melody definitively stands out even upon first listen, but articulating exactly what is giving idiosyncracy to this melody is near impossible. The only term I can come up with to barely describe what's going on in a given Blut Aus Nord riff is "consonant dissonance". A melody will begin as though it intended to be pleasurable and euphoric, but there's a strange, abrasive inflection dotting the end of every single riff. It'll drive you to insanity as you wonder why music that sounds so rich and inviting on the surface makes you more and more tense as it carries on. An album like Dialogue with the Stars is a little more overtly pleasant and doesn't have quite as many of those frayed ends on riffs as its sister in the Memoria Vetusta series does, one of the few main differentiating factors between the two albums thematically. On the other side of the spectrum, MoRT plunges much further into the eerie dissonance lining the underbelly of Fathers of the Icy Age. That being so, this album is probably the best album to pick up if you want to hear the most complete statement of what Blut Aus Nord's music is in essence. It synthesizes the two contrasting elements that make up their sound with the most fluency and in the most equal proportions. A connection to any other Blut Aus Nord album can be drawn to this one, however distant it may be.
The added touches of glamour that the keyboards and vocals provide seem much more novel due to their sparsity in use. Giving an abrasive and mystical body to the clearer and cleaner skeleton that the riffs are, Vindsval's rasps are a little easier to decipher the second time around, but still inevitably just come out as a shrill static blur that warbles and pulses in rhythm, buried deep beneath the storm. Clean vocals are even used with great tastefulness, gelling well with some of the more pleasant riffs and lending a triumphant sense of power to the music that gives the music a fresh new edge and flavor. "On the Path of Wolf..." has a couple of instances where the clean vocals are used, sometimes only for a couple of bars, but even that slight saccharine tinge makes everything much more well-rounded. There's a sort of "chaotic romanticism" that goes on in French black metal. Some bands explore the chaotic side of things, others more recently seem to be exploring the romantic side (to the extent that you can't fully call it black metal anymore), but Blut Aus Nord is the only band in this geographic scene that can express both of those mentalities in their music with such presence and conviction and it's the little touches on the greater picture of riffs seen on Fathers of the Icy Age helps to accomplish that.
It's probably not my personal favorite album by this band, but that's more a result of the astounding quality and depth of Blut Aus Nord's discography as opposed to any actual faults present in Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Age. Every song has something to it I can dig, and if you're not familiar with this yet, what's your goddamn excuse? You made it to the end of this review, now go listen to this album or download this band's discography or send Vindsval blank cheques with his name on them or something.
Blut Aus Nord’s abstruse style holds erratically on its own terms. To speak of preferences, Ultima Thulée and Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers Of The Icy Age (henceforth just called MV) are in a league of their own. MV constantly unfolds; it is a profound, modular maturation. To both succeed the debut and to have (then) concluded it musically leaves the two adorned in the annals of that era. These first two, much more in the style of straightforward, atmospheric black metal than the band’s more ventured path, are intense, introspective journeys. No dimension exists in which this album is second to another black metal album. With fervency crafted into seven sagas - intertwining melody and dauntlessness into a riveting, frozen outpour of music - MV is Blut Aus Nord’s crowning achievement.
What lies herein is an effusion of riffs basked in the most frigid, expansive veneer I’ve ever heard in black metal. The icy riffs sound primordial and echoed, attacking like torrents in mammoth fashion. The opening / ending ambience – a few haunting notes at the core – is so jarring that it’s a passage of terror. After it opens this way, what follows is an onslaught of delectable, decimating riffs and harmonies. Vindsval’s compositional skills at such a young age blended impulsive aggression into sophisticated, stately epics. Each melody is tailored to a movement; each evocative chant is internally tied to an impious scream; each rupturing riff is supplementary to its leading harmony. This is an album of marveled interconnectivity, whether in scales of one song or on the gamut of the entire album.
MV’s got some odd characteristics which on the surface aren’t qualities that’d yield a classic album. It’s quite entry level in terms of black metal without reserving unyielding passion to suit another purpose. Vindsval’s screams are typical of the genre, with some distance given to its harshness. Drumming is punchy but I myself wouldn’t even consider it one of my favorite performances in terms of patterns or fills. With that said, any part I could even think of downplaying are tantalizing. What I crave out of black metal is satiated when I listen to this album. Moments like the bludgeoning riffs and glacial harmonies of “Sons Of Wisdom, Master Of Elements” is uplifting in perplexing ways. Its delivery is similar to waves amassed and colliding, but on an astronomical level.
Topping even that are the twin peaks of this album – “The Territory Of Witches” and “Fathers Of The Icy Age”. This is the limit of black metal - when it comes to the genre, I don’t think there is anything until the end of time that will beat these two. They are turbulent, grand songs with frenzied riffing and a vast scope. It’s here when a mention of the meaty bass is most important. The stance of the bass is exonerated and blubbery amid the sweltering, sharp guitar tone. For these two particular songs, the bass and guitars sound like roars and booms. The title track’s the best example of this; it’s opening riff like a distant, dreaded siren. Their tsunami-like endings are where black metal hits its vertex for their sheer enormity alone. The idyllic leads in “The Territory Of Witches,” softly helped by the keys, hits that outro lick and becomes one of the most devastating and alluring pieces of music I’ve ever heard. The title track does the same with its outro but for a longer period, employing a similar harmonic lick to conclude the album in the most emotional fashion (tagged with the same cryptic key-intro as the opening song).
Black metal’s moved on in several directions since this album’s release, as it should in order to explore and create quality music out of new frontiers. Black metal’s vivacity is one I prefer to death metal in several capacities, though without downplaying that genre I’d say the best works of both are masters of their domains. Nevertheless, Blut Aus Nord’s achievements have not gone unnoticed in their long career. They turned to a more industrial / experimental band unsuited for my tastes later, so the titanic, more common style of these first two is where my genuine adoration lies. MV’s catchy, highly atmospheric, and mystical qualities are unparalleled, so anyone wanting to find the same can expect nothing but the highest class in this.
Black metal tends to be a real mixed bag for me. Most of it seems pretty mediocre by following the same old formula that was perfected by the grim forefathers like Mayhem and Darkthrone. A hell of a lot of it rips off the less enjoyable (to me) commercial versions such as Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, and that really sucks. But then there's a little elite of the genre that manages to come across grim, yet musically enjoyable and competent. Emperor and Immortal come to mind. Blut Aus Nord is certainly one of those bands.
On later releases, BAN would really carve their own niche with a very distinct sound, but on here they're building on essentially an Immortal/Burzum inspired sound, with a couple hints of Viking-era Bathory lurking. It's really much the same formula as their excellent (though inferior) debut, Ultima Thule. Dense layers of tremolo picking and desolate melodies. There is less use of clean vocals, guitars and keyboards than on the debut, but they're better placed and used to great effect. The emphasis here is on excellent guitar work. The riffing itself is memorable, and there are even a few simple and choice guitar solos. There is also a reasonable amount of bottom end on here that was missing on the debut. The bass is also audible, quite rare for most black metal. It sounds finger picked as well, rather than a distorted "third guitar," which could put some people off. That and the drum machine...hell, even the drum machine is well composed!
There is no best song on here. Each song is expertly composed and has the elements that make this a great album. At the current moment, I really enjoy "The Territory of Witches-Guardians of the Dark Lake," with the excellent build up and recurring melodic theme. "Sons of Wisdom, Master of Elements" is very aggressive with some nearly thrash riffs coming in at times.
I really can't recommend this enough...Blut Aus Nord is black metal at it's finest.
Memoria Vetusta I – Fathers of the Icy Age, well this is the last great CD released by Blut aus Nord, the rest pale in comparison to this and Ultima Thulée, that is not to say the other ones are bad, but this is the best of Blut aus Nord's discography. An epic concept CD clocking in at forty-five minutes with seven lengthy tracks, this CD never ceases to amaze me.
The atmosphere and production seem to go hand and hand here, the production is typical “grim” production with shit sound but it does not detract from the atmosphere of the CD, in fact it aids it, a good example of this is all of the track “The Territory of Witches / Guardians of the Dark Lake” in which everything blends together to create an astounding song.
The instruments and vocals are nothing to mind blowing here, just used exactly how they should be, except the bass, which doesn't fit in with the CD at all. The bass is a minor pet peeve, but I really wish they would have changed the sound of it to fit the overall sound of the CD. The guitar does some pretty awesome riffs and some minor leads. The drumming is amazing throughout the CD, it just holds everything together, they can sound frantic as hell, and then just go back to keeping beat with the guitar and bass. Vindsval's vocals are razor sharp and just add another layer of atmosphere here.
I would recommend buying this CD to any fan of black metal
Standout tracks: 0189. The Territory of Witches / Guardians of the Dark Lake and Fathers of the Icy Age
In the liner notes of my Candlelight re-release it speaks of a sequel to this CD, I hope it gets released
Memoria Vetusta I - Fathers Of The Icy Age is by far best Blust Aus Nord album and that says a lot as I honestly believe that this band have released top notch albums only.
The atmosphere of this album is one of a kind and I believe that this is because of the low tuned guitars and six stringed bass, the bass if up in front is some parts as a lead instrument. How often do you hear that in black metal!?! Another great thing is the mix between clean vocals and more typica black metal screams which is executed with brilliance. The ever present keyboards is something that usually makes me very uncomfortable but when it comes to thios band it dosen´t because they are there for a reason and it is a damn good reason. The tempo of the album shifts between slow/mid-tempo and fast parts but it never goes overboard in any direction. It never gets too slow and it never gets too fast(hello Dark Funeral) either.
Conclusion: This is the most intelligent(in search for better word) black metal album I have ever heard. Everything is there for a reason and no detail is left behind. If you want an album to throw on when having a beer with your friends I suggest that you buy something else but if you want an album that you really can LISTEN to then this is the perfect catch!!
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.
This french outfit has released a few solid albums over the years, but this particular release stands out as their finest moment.
The french BM scene is renowned for having spawned the "Black Legions", a group of Black Metal bands who stay true to the "grim" side of the genre so to say. While Mutiilation and Vlad Tepes are excellant groups, their music is not nearly as refined and thought out as Blut Aus Nord's.
Here is found a cold, yet very melodic sound that is not unlike some "At the Heart of Winter" era Immortal, as well as blending in some sounds only to be heard in the Black Legions. The result is a very grim album, but far more friendly to the casual BM listener, a fact that is surely appreciated by many.
Epic tones are heard throughout, yet the songs never strecth out to what seems like forever. There is a definate catchiness to the songs as they are well constructed and present us with many melodies within the context of one song. They sought to impress the crowd with their multifarious sound, and have succeeded in doing so.
The production is more or less typical BM fare. High on treble, low on bass. But this is not nearly as drastic as the aforementionned Black Legion bands' production. Instrumentation remains clear and the mix seems to favour a wide scope of sounds.
With all that in mind, this album is easily reccomendable for fans of any type of BM.
This was my introduction to the mighty Blut Aus Nord. I didn't expect such brilliant and refreshing black metal when I first downloaded "The day of revenge" (which prompted me to get the album). Blut Aus Nord create majestic and beautiful black metal. With this album they capture a distant sorrowful feeling most black metal bands can only acheive with music saturated by keyboards. While Vindsval uses them scarely(perfectly, too)there are also many other elements alot of BM bands lack these days. IE; the use of clean vocals and excellent lead work. The production is quite thick for an album of this nature, but still maintains a raw, grinding sound within the guitars. Listening to this in full puts ones mind into a trance, where you must concentrate fully to acheive maximum satisfaction. The sad, melodic riffing is truely captivating. A must for all.