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Ved Buens Ende a band that very few people in my experience are aware of, yet this band are the archetype for 'avante-garde' black metal, following this band's release, the avant-garde style became popular amongst many of the Norwegian 2nd wavers and as such masterpieces by bands such as Borknagar and Arcturus where issued forth. In some ways similar to Mysticum, a band that people seem to be conscious of, whilst also not knowing In the Streams of Inferno which paved the way for industrial black metal as a sub-genre in later years.
Written in Waters was released in 1995 and was a collaboration between a 'who's who' of prominent and highly influential members of the Norwegian scene, the most prominent and in my opinion most influential musically - Carl-Michael Eide; who would go onto be part of bands that have helped revolutionise black metal in different aspects; Aura Noir (a progenitor of heavily thrash oriented black) and Dødheimsgard (an excellent industrial black metal band, that helped define and give strength to the genre far beyond Mysticum's initial spark). You may have heard of him through his current band Virus, which is very much like Ved Buens Ende minus some blasts and black vocals; Virus is another brilliant band, stylistically more akin to post-rock than black however it is still possible to find the correlation between the musical influences/genres of his past endeavours, particularly so when a band like Ved Buens Ende is used as an intermediary between the genres.
Incidentally 'Written in Waters' is in my top black metal debuts of all time (along with Thorns' self-titled & Ascension's Consolamentum), it is an album that even after a very short time of black metal existing as a pure genre; when black metal had started to develop into it's own easily identified style as opposed to the prototypical aspects recognised from death, thrash, doom, etc., that 'Written in Waters' completely changed the field on how black metal could be perceived sonically. The name 'Ved Buens Ende' translates to 'at the end of the rainbow', this phrase makes reference to the Bifröst bridge in Norse mythology, connecting the different worlds of Asgard and Midgard; just the name should raise a few eyebrows - when this was released so many people were obsessed with grimness and filth, Ved Buens Ende is at a polar opposite to that idea, who the fuck would associate rainbows with black metal, regardless of any esoteric connotations? Even on an aesthetic level the cover is extremely surrealist and colourful, at complete odds with album art that up to this point had been very dark, fantastical or mildy 'blasphemous/heretical'.
'Written in Waters' is very strange, it is full of jazzy drumming, weird dissonant riffs, extremely odd time signatures, song progressions and vocals styles. Admittedly when I first heard it, there was something I liked about it but it took several intense listens to really appreciate it and the intricacies involved within. The songs often go on long winding journeys, many miles from where they started, almost similar in ways that Opeth can unfold a song before you and carry you away from where the song started off and yet still leave you feeling extremely satisfied. The musicianship is highly intricate and detailed, each instrument has an integral part to play in the composition of the songs, with each instrument doing something vastly different from the others, yet still managing to gel seamlessly; something that illustrates the true artistry of the composers. The guitars use a nice jangly, jazzy sound with little distortion, utilising lots of strange chord shapes and classic black metal tremolo pieces few and far between. The bass is beautiful, it has lovely long, meandering lines, that weave and wind through the guitars somewhat erratic progressions; the bass is what ties everything together on this release, because you are faced with two instruments that possibly wouldn't fit (so well) if it was just drums and guitar but the bass unifies everything. The drumming is without reproach and technically is comparable to what Hellhammer tries to achieve on Winds and Arcturus releases but never manages to realise, the drums are constantly shifting, evolving, even when a 'simple' beat is played, there is always something interesting happening with the right hand as it moves about the kit, issuing small but highly moving cymbal rhythms. There is an extremely jazzy feel to the drumming, often feeling like it lumbers along, speeding up and slowing down, falling in and out of an expected time signature/rhythm. Carl's vocals are something that may take some getting used to, it depends on how keen you are on strange singers, fans of Garm and Vortex should be able to find something to enjoy, there is a lot of 50's style crooning, whilst not a stellar voice, Carl's voice is unique and strangely hypnotising. Occasionally the band will break out into a blast and black vocals will be employed ('Den Saakaldte' for example - an excellent slice of black, yet still retaining the strangeness of VBE) but in all honesty they're somewhat superfluous to the bizarre qualities of his clean voice as his black voice is pretty standard.
The album makes it's way through different sections of black metal and often departs completely from the standard black metal ideals, the song 'Autumn Leaves' is the perfect example, an acoustic ballad(!?) I guess you might call it, with a duet from Carl and Lill Kathrine Stensrud whose vocals are beautifully ethereal. The outro 'Remembrance of Things Past' features an accordion in a somewhat abusive fashion, it sounds decrepit and mournful, resolutely leaving you with the sombre last notes of an extremely peculiar album.
I can find no fault with this album, it is a pinnacle in the evolution of black metal, it gave birth and inspiration to bands that would change the course of black metal for evermore, I find it of little surprise that La Masquerade Infernale and Archaic Course, by Arcturus and Borknagar respectively came out following this album, with both bands revising and changing their sound a great deal from their debuts. It is important for those that are interested in tracing black metal's roots and as mentioned before they are an oft forgotten band; additionally for anyone interested in any of the above bands that I have mentioned, should check it out, fans of Borknagar, Ulver, Arcturus, Sigh, Vulture Industries, Solefald, Korova(kill) and Chrsyt will love it.
I realize that I probably sound 'fanboy' as all get-out about this but it is an album that for me is beyond reproach, so you can suck my hairy plums.
(Originally written for baileysmmcreamy.blogspot.com)