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Not long ago were the times when this fabulous trio were the talk of the town, and everyone was praising “Carheart” as one of the most inventive, most imaginative debuts of the new millennium. Everyone had to check it out, at least once, in order to be accepted into the metal society, regardless of whether he/she liked it or remained indifferent to it; a “virus” indeed, spreading quickly acquiring bigger epidemic-like proportions…
Nearly a year after its release, this latest album hasn’t attracted much attention hence the total absence of any reviews on the archives; unlike the other opuses which garnered praise much earlier. Most likely the metal fandom has realised that what Szral and Co. have been doing for the past 13 years doesn’t quite belong to their bloodstream since from the opening chords of “Carheart” down to the fading notes of the album reviewed here there isn’t much that could be labelled as metal; in fact, there’s hardly any metal to be come across at all. Not many are the outfits that can be proud of attracting the metal audience without strictly operating within the genre confines; Killing Joke, the Sisters of Mercy, AC/DC, King Crimson to an extent… not many at all.
The other reason for the relative lack of interest towards this fairly cool recording is that once one gets used to the band’s unique psychedelic dissonant brand of music, he/she knows well what would be offered on subsequent albums as the formula largely remains unaltered, at least for the time being. There’s by all means a lot to be explored inside this interesting, captivating, ultimately surreal miasma, and obviously the guys still have more to say within its canons. Those who are meeting Virus for the first time here, will find a lot to enjoy with the opening 10.5-min saga “Afield” that will take you over the “fields” and far away, into an alien “viral” world which lures you with ultimately spaced out dissonant riffs and authoritative omnipresent bass this bizarre symbiosis topped by eclectic, semi-mournful semi-recitals to a most surreal effect. Weird melodic strokes bring some “light” into this dark Bauhaus-like carnival which marches on unperturbed into a meditative balladic passage, but resumes its stride a minute later. If you know what you’re getting into, having heard some feedback from friends or having read reviews around the media, then you should be able to play along with this surreally leisurely approach to song-writing which has a lot in common with the bleak cavernous world of Bauhaus again and early Joy Division spiced with the spacey dissonant landscapes of Voivod. However, if you’ve been misled by the “progressive metal” tag sometimes attached to the band, then you may be ultimately perplexed since this is nothing like Dream Theater, or Symphony X, or Zero Hour…
“Rogue Fossil” is the next in line bizarrorama, a tad more dynamic and comprehensive, also much shorter although the eccentric riffage and the dispassionate singing are pretty much intact flowing, or rather “dripping”, into the next “Dripping into Orbit” which has overt echoes of the 70’s psychedelic rock scene, think The Doors, Grateful Dead, early Frank Zappa so expect mellower lines embedded into the rigid bassy template before “Steamer” arrives like a steam-roller and with a truckload of abstract rhythms which zigzag between the pensive ballad and the more digestible progressive dynamics, but this is so minimalistic and hypnotic in its execution that to point at any highlights would be the hardest task in the world. “Gravity Seeker” “seeks shelter” in more vivid guitars ala early Sisters of Mercy, but before this cut turns into the long lost dark wave hymn of Andrew Eldritch and Co. the guys start disorienting the listener for the umpteenth time with cavalcades of dissonance and other avant-garde gimmicks like surprisingly stylish attempts at actual leads, for example. “Phantom Oil Slick” is the definitive progressive dissonancer which will inadvertently lull you into its seductive monotonous charm also thanks to more energetic riffs that can even pass for oblivious semi-gallops at some stage nicely reminding of another similar masterpiece, arguably the first genuine experiment on full-blooded dissonance with a metallic edge, the Brits Holocaust’s “Hypnosis of Birds”; the quiet interlude is needlessly long, though, stretching this epitaph to a bit over 9-min.
Some may find this approach too blasé and anticlimactic, and definitely not much to do with our favourite metal. Szral and his comrade from Ved Buens Ende Plenum obviously want to shake off the metallic remnants from their characters, and embark on a more flexible avant-garde rock journey with a look back at the 60’s/70’s heritage, a tendency that has become quite prominent recently thanks to successful outfits like Ghost, In Solitude, Blood Ceremony and the likes. In terms of originality Virus can’t be beaten, and neither of those acts can hold a candle to their strife for innovation and eclecticism, but at the same time they won’t present a very big interest to the metal fanbase, unlike the other mentioned bands. Those who want to hear how dissonance can co-exist with more aggressive metal chords, should check Plenum’s other project, Manimalism, whose self-titled debut is a really fine addition to the avant-garde progressive metal fodder resembling doomier and less operatic Arcturus. And the hard-boiled audience who could tolerate this element in more brutal thrashy or even death metal-ish environment, will do no wrong tracking down the Russian/Ukrainian collaboration Exult and their debut “Edge”, a stunning blend of dissonant beauty and technical aggression the latter brought by the former members of the technical death metal wizards Beheaded Zombie who are also in charge there, and who also gave dissonance a very handsome, spellbinding shape on their swansong “Happiness for All”.
The virus hasn’t been killed yet; the quest for the needed vaccine is still on. I guess those whose responsibility is its extinction are frequently pacified, or plain bewitched, by its innocuous, deceptively harmless chord progressions and weird time-signatures. There’s no end to this deception since it would hardly cause any memento… sorry, memorable collisions along the smooth dissonant ride.