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Fine tapestry of BM, jazz and other music elements - 95%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, May 20th, 2007

Reissued in 2002 by Candlelight Records with revised artwork, this album was recorded in 1995 by past and future members of Arcturus, Satyricon, Virus and Dodheimsgard among other bands, and apparently it's not at all like the music made by these groups. Though the basic style of music is black metal, it's shot through with many influences from jazz, Norwegian folk and prog so in a sense you could call this post-rock BM or just post-BM. The delivery is clean apart from the noisy guitars with a clear production so you can hear the bass lines (which are often very different from the guitars so sometimes the bass plays rather like lead guitar) clearly and the singing is not only natural but sometimes also mannered and theatrical, as on tracks like "You, that may wither". Actual BM elements are present in the rhythms which are often so precise and impeccable in their timing that they are almost like death metal, and the overall ambience and the theme of the album, which on one level could be considered existentialist and on another level relates to regret mixed with nostalgia for things past and lost opportunities perhaps, stamp this recording as BM album as well.

The songs are all very strong - there are nine tracks that stretch for nearly an hour but there's hardly what I call "filler" though some tracks stand out more than others. The opening track "I sang for the swans" is a solid piece with a long intro, varied rhythms and somewhat off-key singing that gives the song a sea-shanty feel. "You, that may wither" is strongly rhythmic and urgent with very outstanding drumming. In fact, all the musicians are more than just competent at what they do and you can really hear them giving all they have to the music. "Den Saakaldte" also has a long intro in which drums and bass are at odds with the vibrato guitars before being overcome by multi-tracked singing; six minutes later, a cold blizzard blast of pure BM including harsh grim vocals finishes off the song.

Over the halfway point of the album, "Coiled in winds" features passages of splendid running music that jumps key and back again, and is the first of two consecutive songs to feature female backing vocals. The lyrics have vivid imagery and at the end, like a number of songs here, contain a parting line with a strong sting. The next track "Autumn Leaves" is the most folk-like and melodic song on the album with clean strummy guitars and a fresh cool ambience. "Remembrance of things past" is a mixture of moody ambient rock, angry and aggressive death metal blasts and dirgey near-operatic singing filled with sadness and longing, leading into a purely improvised section of psychotic stuttering piano, bleating instruments that sound like children's party toys and other noises. The outro "To swarm deserted away", sounding rather like the final acoustic section of "Remembrance ..." and perhaps an extension of that track, is very bleak and sad; the song is treated in a way that makes it distant and unreachable, reinforcing the desolate theme and closing off any further developments.

This is the only full-length album the trio ever made - unless of course they can be brib ... I mean of course, persuaded to reform to make another recording! - but I imagine VBE would've found it hard to continue on from "Written in Waters" unless they changed direction so radically they'd have to call themselves something else as the album conceptually is complete in itself and doesn't allow for a follow-up, plus the music is of a standard and variety that would be hard to top. Salty sea ditties, folk melodies, precise jazz-influenced drumming and rhythms and elements from BM, prog, improv and maybe death metal are all interwoven into a fine tapestry. The musicians are confident in their playing which is fluid and always spot-on no matter how fast they go or how many twists and turns they pack into the one song. Probably the one weak spot is the singing which gets a bit theatrical and which seems detached all the way through the work from the emotions and feelings evoked in the lyrics but you could argue that this detached-ness creates a fatalistic attitude necessary for the album's theme.

You'll certainly check out this record if you consider yourself open-minded and prepared to hear anything once ... and those party toys were useful for once!