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Somewhat unexpectedly, it took a while for Lustre’s ‘Night Spirit’ to grow on me, but once it had, those vines refused to loosen their grip around my captivated body. I’m a huge fan of ambient black metal and although I’ve never bought into the hype surrounding the entire career of Burzum, or Varg Vikernes, I do enjoy two of his full-length works, including ‘Filosofem’, the beginning of his venture into ambient soundscapes. Lustre, a one man band formed by Nachtzeit, a former member of Swedish heavyweights Hypothermia, are a band which combines the black metal styling’s of Burzum with the ambiance that began to tighten its grasp during ‘Filosofem’. Although my initial thoughts were that ‘Filosofem’ is a work of art, I have since gathered my bearings and as I’ve become more experienced with the sub-genre of ambient black metal, I have come to the conclusion that Varg’s journey into the world of ambient soundscapes doesn’t begin as perfectly as I imagined. For me, ambient black metal is a sub-genre that places a great burden on the musician/musicians who’re attempting to create the perfect picture of what the two should sound like when placed alongside one another.
Varg’s attempts, although creditable for starting a movement into the ambient world, did not do enough to quash the mounting doubts over the state of the genre. I often find that bands place too much emphasis on one aspect and, in doing so, neglect the other. Burzum’s ‘Filosofem’ managed to fabricate an iconic style of chaotic black metal juxtaposed against the calmer influence of the ambient instrumental songs. However, although the styles are individually creditable, together they make a bad couple, prone to arguments and unnecessary squabbling. As a visionary, Varg was probably ahead of his time and deserves plaudits for his influence on the black metal scene, but I always found the balance between the ambient and the metal on ‘Filosofem’ to be unfulfilling. Separately, they were masters of their own game, but collectively, they didn’t reflect well alongside one another. You may be wondering why I’m harping on about Burzum and the much loved ‘Filosofem’ when this is meant to be a review of Lustre’s full-length debut, ‘Night Spirit’, but the two are interconnected. ‘Night Spirit’ is almost a direct result of the questions ‘Filosofem’ asked of the genre way back in the 1990’s. Burzum’s influence on black metal has never died down and I daresay it never will, especially if Varg decides to continue his iconic career which has him hailed as one of the undergrounds biggest superstars.
Nachtzeit is obviously a fan of Burzum and perhaps other notable ambient black metal bands like the enigmatic Velvet Cacoon. In fact, ‘Night Spirit’ seems to join the ambient force of Burzum with a conjoined influence of Burzum’s black metal style, as well as Velvet Cacoon’s. The vocals tell you all you need to know in regards to the likelihood that this argument is true since they’re a direct comparison to the vocals supplied on Velvet Cacoon’s works. They’re hissed from out of the darkness that shrouds the records atmospherics in a mysticism that gradually builds during the two songs present on the full-length. With the taste of brooding darkness searing on our tongues, Nachtzeit develops two sounds within the same song. First, the boiling ambient textures spill over and into the foreground of our attention. I assume, just as Varg did, that Nachtzeit uses keyboards to create the timid ambiance that is juxtaposed with the black metal techniques. Unlike ‘Filosofem’, Nachtzeit chooses to have the ambiance and the metal atmospherics at the same time, producing a mystical affair which, oddly, both relaxes and sooths. Though the black metal techniques exist prominently within the structures, the production makes sure that the soothing ambiance is the key to the gate in unlocking the praise of critics and fans alike.
The guitars are present throughout and very repetitive, though they aren’t the main feature of this record so the monotonous styling’s don’t ever become a negative part of the record. In fact, the repetitious nature of the underbelly adds a different, unique texture to the background which is normally at the forefront of the songs, trying impatiently to gain the attention of the listener. The repetition provides a very nature base and makes the lyrical themes more vibrant by providing a sound for them. The overshadowing ambiance definitely serves a purpose by providing us with a mystical and very spiritual listening experience. Switching the roles of the guitars and keyboards is a smart move by Nachtzeit. It places more emphasis on the smoother textures which provides the most melody. The vocals are often omitted for long periods and as with the guitars, they normally fade into the background anyway, becoming a part of the furniture. I can’t say I’m disappointed about this fact because Nachtzeit utilises the atmospheric nature of the record very well. There is a healthy balance between the ambient and metal structures and though both sides provide a different sound to the songs, the feelings are the same. This record isn’t an ambient masterpiece, but it is good and I’m surprised at how overlooked Lustre have been. ‘Part II’ is the highlight and is exceedingly beautiful. This is a record that will grow more and more on you, provided you give it the time and patience it requires to be fully enjoyed.
Lustre is one of several projects from the Swedish musician Nachtzeit, who has played in Hypothermia. After releasing the Serenity EP last year, he has arrived with the project's first full-length. Nacthzeit performs all the instruments on this album, which consists of two 20-minute long tracks.
Night Spirit might have a limited appeal, as the material is extremely slow and repetetive. "Part 1" begins with the same riff it will maintain through almost 20 minutes of playtime...a doomish, simple wall of keyboard and guitar fuzz. Throughout the track, the grim vocals appear and disappear, and additional keyboards arrive to perform a few catchy, developing phrases which simmer in a subtle glory. Give in to the track's sparse charms, and you may feel a soaring sensation for as long as your attention can be held. There are some points which certain guitars cut out and the vocals sneer, or subtle variations at best, but ultimately the track grew wearisome.
"Part 2" is not unlike "Part 1", but the subtle context of the driving, glorious guitars was faster to sink in. In this track, there is a nice sequence where keyboards take over and then slowly progress forward, like a funeral for a mountain. Though I can't call it truly memorable, I found it more enjoyable than the first. The purpose here, is of course, not to 'enjoy' the music but to let its sad, droning endlessness consume your heart for 20 minutes. To that extent, it achieves a moderate level of success.
Night Spirit is decently raw but by no means inaccessible. The chords are simple and powerful, resounding alongside their synthesized companions. The keyboard melodies are graceful enough if you're able to become hypnotized by the composition. Of lyrics, there are few, and predictable. Fans of epic, minimalist ambient black metal (or perhaps funeral doom) might draw some inspiration from an album like this. Think Summoning, only stretched out in length. I didn't find the two tracks here impressive, but there are places where the album delivers an effective backdrop for the hidden sadness of the subconscious.