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The one saving grace of Odinist is that it sounds like Vindsval was at least trying to fix everything that was wrong with MoRT. There's a more distinct "black metal" feel in this overall (the industrial influence has been relegated to the presence it has on Work Which Transforms God, although this album still sounds slightly more mechanical than Work does in the riff melodies). The music is gradual, but rarely slows to the same dripping crawl that MoRT spent the majority of its runtime fucking around with. Repetition is emphasized in the riffs, but they also effectively bleed into one another. The "consonant dissonance" of Blut Aus Nord's trademark riffs is seen here with one of the most equal balances of opposing forces they have managed even to this day. Riffs do not start pleasant and end in turmoil, nor does beauty emerge out of a rough and ragged framework. Every riff simply maintains the tension it initially established, with only the abstract idea of "black metal riffs" being used as the base to hold the strange melodies together. All things considered, this is a very cohesive, complete album with a distinct and unique sound created by a professional, established artist. There's even a philosophical twist to the music, although something tells me most Blut Aus Nord fans don't pay a lot of attention to that stuff. I know I really don't--it's kind of difficult to get into the message behind the music when the band doesn't publish any of the lyrics. The music comes first, and this is well known even though a nuanced message lays behind the tones of the album, which is respectable.
Still, I just can't enjoy Odinist, and I'm not entirely sure why. It could be due to that fact that I got into Blut Aus Nord as a straight black metal fan with (very) occasional forays into industrial music. As such, I wasn't expecting as much multi-directional, acrobatic drum programming as there is in Blut Aus Nord's mid-career. With the way the riffs seamlessly flew at you out of nowhere on the earlier stuff, attempting to listen to the gradual pace and slow evolution of albums like this is much more taxing on one's patience. It kind of sucks when albums suffer due to the strength of the artist's back catalog, but that's the price you gotta pay for setting the bar so high in the first place. Even though this is a legitimate work, the other albums of Blut Aus Nord just hit so many sweet spots in me with their riffs in a way that Odinist doesn't. Even when I'm being generous, the only good thing I can really say about this is "well I guess it's better than MoRT".
The short version of why I don't like Vindsval's industrial era is "I like it when he does pretty stuff and not scary stuff", the problem being all of Blut Aus Nord's albums have a mix of those two things. As of the writing of this review, Blut Aus Nord's music can be broken down into four distinct categories. First, there are the three main phases the band evolved through in their career, starting off with the "90s BM" era. That one encompasses everything the band did up until Mystical Beast and permeates a little bit of Work as well. The "industrial era" showed its first signs of coming into existence on Work Which Transforms, but only really fully blossomed on Thematic Emanation. It is (finally) beginning to die off here on Odinist. The third "phase" is the 777 era, which I haven't fully sorted out my opinions on yet (soon...) and then there's a fourth sub-category within those three phases. The Memoria Vetusta series, while still falling within the parameters of the other three phases, has a distinct flavor to its releases that demand a categorization of their own. While explaining these "eras" of Blut Aus Nord doesn't really do much other than allow me to sort their albums properly in my CD racks, grouping their releases into clusters as I have done does sort of demonstrate why I just can't bring myself to enjoy Odinist. Though it has its own flavor and retains the professionalism and songwriting cohesion this band always has, even with more of an outward black metal appearance, Odinist still remains firmly within the "industrial era" stylistically. That era in particular is consistently brought down by the same shortcomings: a) songs develop at a snail's pace and it becomes hard to maintain interest, b) this effect is further exacerbated due to the inherent inaccessibility of the aesthetic, and c) the songwriting flows too seamlessly--everything sounds the same. C) in particular is one of the paradoxical faults of Vindsval's composition. While the tangled web of riffs separated themselves from one another through rich melody in the "90s BM" era, in turn masking any songwriting faults, the constantly dreary tone of the industrial era Blut Aus Nord albums doesn't have that luxury. As a result, even if there were meant to be any climactic releases in an album like Odinist, they're completely lost in the treacherous haze.
Perhaps it would help to clarify with an example. Let's examine the title track, shall we? It starts off with a haunting, eerie melody, drums slowly kick in, and then about a minute in the song showcases a riff that, on its own, is genuinely really good. Unfortunately, as good as the riff is, I didn't even notice how nice it sounded until maybe the second repetition of it. The riff that came before it just sounded way too similar for it to have any sort of punchy effect. I would expect music that is supposed to be emotionally jarring like this is to be much more abruptly paced, but unfortunately everything on this album is so deliberate that in turn, none of it is surprising. The worst part is that said riff about a minute into the title track is probably one of the best moments for me on the album. Any other standout moments such as that one are woven into the music so thoroughly that they get lost in the fabric and no longer stand out. You'd think someone who manages to put out music that varies so widely from album to album could manage to incorporate a sense of dynamics into oppressive black metal such as this, but those thoughts would be sadly mistaken. Even when you know the "big riffs" are coming, they still have very little impact.
Out of everything that makes up Blut Aus Nord's "industrial era", Odinist sounds the most conventionally black metal. In addition, it sounds the most complete and fully realized out of anything in said era. However, none of those things necessarily make for an album I'm going to get spontaneous desires to listen to. The only thing that the tight composition of Odinist makes me realize is that even if the whole "black metal in the halls of an abandoned mental institution" feel Blut Aus Nord is obviously going for is done the best it possibly can be, Vindsval still just isn't really that good at creating that sort of atmosphere at the end of the day.
It's a curious thing that, as one of my most-loved black metal bands, Blut Aus Nord crosses me as such an inconsistent band. I wouldn't say that I've ever heard music of theirs that repulsed me, but there stands a great gap between their excellent and masterful work, and the stuff that just barely passes the standard of quality. On "Odinist", we hear Blut Aus Nord pursuing a familiar sound, fusing unsettling guitar textures with coldly industrial rhythms and atmosphere. As the band's more recent work goes, it feels curiously regressive for their style. Unlike the monumental "The Work That Transforms God" or the "777" series that would later follow, Blut Aus Nord keep their sights focused on a single approach throughout. The music is given the same darkly experimental vibe I've come to expect from Blut Aus Nord's music, but as an album, it leaves a sense of incompletion. "Odinist" offers more of the same challenging dissonance, but it doesn't offer the same dynamism heard in their best work.
Compared to any traditional form of black metal, Blut Aus Nord's music comes as something of a system shock, and this is no different on "Odinist". Although the same black metal sound palette is retained, Blut Aus Nord never feel aggressive, or even emotional. Like much of their mid and latter era work, "Odinist" feels defined by the inherent lack of emotion. This may not necessarily impede a listener from feeling some sense of foreboding dread, but Blut Aus Nord's style evokes a sense of unfeeling humanity. It's as if the world went through a Dr. Strangelove-ordeal nuclear winter, and all that was left was a bitter superintelligent AI computer with a penchant for black metal. The guitars and drums each sound sterile and cold, although- as anyone who's experienced their unique atmosphere- this isn't necessarily a bad thing. As a sort of contrast, the vocals are garbled and indecipherable, sounding about as reserved as a diabolical rasp can get. Perhaps moreso than other Blut Aus Nord albums, "Odinist" emphasizes this 'cold' feeling. For music so mechanical, there's a monstrously profound malevolence in the atmosphere of "Odinist". Perhaps it gets across through the guitars- which sound perpetually out of tune and 'off'- but the atmosphere is certainly the highlight here. Sadly, this seems to be the only thing that Blut Aus Nord really excel at here.
Although there are several fantastic riffs here (the melodic motif on the title track really stands out), "Odinist" rarely conveys a sense of focus in its songwriting. The riffs are well-composed in of themselves, but they're tied together with little adhesive or flow. As if the industrial assembly line seeks to manufacture parts at random, Blut Aus Nord's composition feels noticeably lowered. The occasionally incompatible riff structure is a staple of Blut Aus Nord's music, but it is taken too far on "Odinist". Were it not for the brilliant industrial element, the album would have risked becoming incredibly boring within a few tracks. Blut Aus Nord's music is challenging, but even several listens in, there's never the sense that the songs have some secret code to crack. Paired with an intro and outro that feel largely disconnected with the rest of the album, "Odinist" suffers from a poor sense of structure and flow. It's one of the weaker records they've put out, but their inimitable style and atmosphere is here, and that's enough to warrant checking it out.
With their now-legendary albums The Work Which Transforms God (2003) and MoRT (2006) under their belt and having crumbled the very foundations of black metal along with their consorts Deathspell Omega, the secluded French illuminati Blut Aus Nord rewrote, single-handedly, the physical and metaphysical aspects of this cathartic sub-genre just by those two albums alone; the rest not being dismissed of course because of their cold, icy atmosphere à-la Bathory and Enslaved up until The Mystical Beast of Rebellion (2001) where everything transmuted into a more chaotic and dissonant reincarnation of their sound which fascinated everyone in such a thoughtful, yet menacing manner.
A year after the musical black hole that transpired in MoRT, the trio wanted to return to a more traditional songwriting, while ascending forward at the same time. Odinist : The Destruction of Reason by Illumination – an album directly influenced by the wicked antics of British writer and occultist Aleister Crowley – was a great combination of both the albums mentioned above, while not entirely maintaining a solid, efficient ground for this revolutionary band. I had high expectations for this album. The album performs fairly well in its structure, but not in its shock factor.
Odinist starts things up with a gloomy, almost dispiriting one-minute and a half intro that opens the path to the dissonant journey that we all expect from Blut Aus Nord (the outro is the same, but only a tad bit longer). “An Element of Flesh” emerges as a sonic miasma, a colder one than their previous outings; i.e. a more distant and whispering range of vocals courtesy of the trio’s only recognizable voice, Vindsval, a revalorizing arsenal of melodic and mesmerizing riffs and of course, the usual absent display of bass lines and electronic, almost synthetic percussions, courtesy of GhÖst and W.D. Feld respectively. The chords are even higher than what we were used to with the bleak scenario of their previous albums. They are put in the forefront and have an almost Arabic texture to them that is quite soothing at times. With that being said, things are still entering in a complete dissonant world.
“A Few Shreds of Thoughts”, “Ellipsis” and “The Cycle of the Cycles” are the perfect examples of this statement because of their ethereal, almost empty traits. The riffs are as agonizing, the drums are as sharp and visceral and the vocals are as silent as before, although the third song I stated here ends with an excruciating approach vocal-wise and has a few blast beats along with it – an aspect never exploited in MoRT. It’s an astonishing rehash on their part. “A Few Shreds of Thoughts” distinguishes itself as well by its rapid, almost earth-pounding composition, drum and guitar-wise. “Ellipsis” is what you might call a rhythmic approach to the typical, mechanical misanthropy that Blut Aus Nord have created over the past nine years or so. On the other hand, you have songs like “The Sounds of the Universe”, “Odinist” and “Mystic Absolu” that are extremely well-adjusted to the otherworldly aspect of the band’s sound by being more melodic and somewhat harmonious. It’s a great approach, but every approach has its flaws.
The main flaw of this album is its lack of substance. Don’t get me wrong though. The artificiality of the band’s sound is well-preserved here, but it misses that devilish and industrial decay-like atmosphere that the band has so well demonstrated with The Work Which Transforms God and MoRT. Structure-wise, it’s an excellent album. Ambiance-wise, they could have done something more robust and vitriolic; it’s empty, plain empty, despite the more-than-satisfying production. The riffs are a little over-distant for me and the vocals, while being the most cogent of Vindsval up to date, don’t necessarily add up to anything. There is not a single change in his range of vocals.
Another flaw of this album that I mentioned earlier is the absence of the shock factor that I simply found remarkable when I listened to the metaphysical experience of the two albums that I spoke of again and again in this review. I will never deny its strength in its composition, but I will say that this is what you get as odds and ends, leftovers of a delicious meal.
This is what you might expect from a transition album though. The band confirmed it when they wanted to combine both artificiality and traditional songwriting more akin to their earlier albums. Mission accomplished. This is not a mediocre album, far from being the case. The creative musicianship displayed here is enough to make you appreciate the ideology behind this album. Still, you can’t help but feel that the band might have taken the right bus to musical commotion, not a hitchhiking trip for the heck of hitchhiking to this road.
Note : 75/100
Standout tracks : An Element of Flesh, The Sounds of the Universe, Odinist and A Few Shreds of Thoughts
If you were looking for a band that can use dissonance to it's advantage, welcome to the world of Blut Aus Nord. Odd time signatures, sporatic drum beats, odd guitar riffs, and an overall creepy atmosphere are the culmination of the release.
This band does a great job of incorporating lots of industrial elements, strange sampled sounds, and the guitar sound is very synthesized sounding as well. The strangest aspect of the guitar playing for me, is the band's ability to take away almost all "chunky" effects out of their guitar riffs. There is a very nice flow, if one could call it that, mainly because the guitars and background synthesis flow effortlessly, and without interruption (unless it was meant by the band).
It is, however a difficult listen. The oddity of this album is very trying on the ears, as there is no discernable beginning, middle and end of each song. They seem to flow into one another. Also, there are no aspects that stand out. It is more of an all-encompassing thing; all the parts working together to create a cohesive unit. For example, the vocals are right in line with the guitars, and atmospheric synth, so nothing stands out more than the other. Also, the drums are quite fuzzy, and are not very crisp, blending them somewhat into the rest of the instrumentation.
Be that as it may, this album is indeed interesting, and provides an interesting listen. Each song has similarities in song structure, but the riffs are far from boring. Aside from the dark ambient intro, this album progresses along a steadily meandering course, and the overall speed of the album doesn't change much.
I definitely put this up there with Deathspell Omega's "Fas-" in regards to overall strangeness and uneasiness that one may feel while listening to it. This isn't an album that I would particularly play on repeat for days on end, but it does have it's charm.
Industrial Black Metal is a phrase that has become more and more relevant in todays Metal scene. From the raving madness of ABORYM to the electronic beats of DØDHEIMSGARD, the term seems to go hand in hand with the new wave of European Black Metal bands. The French group BLUT AUS NORD are by no means jumping on the bandwagon though, as they have been Black Metal pioneers since their debut in 1995, leaving an impressive body of work in their trail.
While their last albums have definitely been rich with industrial touches, "Odinist: The Destruction Of Reason By Illumination", never ventures as far into the genre-mixing as its many genre counterparts. Even though the music is Black Metal to the roots, a drum machine provides the Industrial touch that sets them apart from similar projects. Yes, you read that correctly, this is a drum machine that actually doesn't suck! Instead of utilizing the typical mechanical blastbeats that fly all over the place and makes everything sound synthetic, BLUT AUS NORD have been able to successfully use the slow rhythms played by their virtual drummer to strongly empower their music.
Surprisingly, there are several occasions during the course of "Odinist" album where I find myself thinking about how great the riffs are. These guys don't seem to be in any kind of hurry to play through their material, which gives the listener time to fully appreciates all the nuances and details of the good and somewhat trippy music and production. Take the title track, for example, which features both a fantastic melody and a very heavy atmosphere. It's perfect for some slow rhythmic headbanging, and an instant classic, right there. There are also some excellent build-ups of tension throughout the album, most notably in "Ellipsis". Unfortunately the climaxing of these songs are a bit lacking, since the music never breaks out from its slow pacing. This is not always the case though, as made evident on "The Cycle Of The Cycles". Here the pace is intensified, and while it never explodes it's good to hear that not all bands have to rely on epic choruses or catchy hooks in order to be heavy.
As the beast that is BLUT AUS NORD comes crashing down on you, there is nothing to do but stand there in awe as it closes in, one step at a time, like a giant mechanical behemoth. Speedfreaks will probably be bored after a while, but if it's any consolation the entire affair only goes on for 37 minutes, and will be over just when you've started to long for something more brutal. If "Odinist: The Destruction Of Reason By Illumination" had been 40 minutes longer I can imagine that it might have been a drag, and therefore the somewhat short running time is a stroke of perfect timing. Do yourself a favor and check out this album if you like your Metal Black, gargantuan, and with a touch of heavy machinery.
(Online January 10, 2008)
Written for the Metal Observer