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Remember how hard your dick got when Ved Buens Ende announced a reunion? Remember how quickly you turned flaccid when it ended up falling apart? Well, fortunately some of the songs written by Czral & Co. for that were used instead on Virus' 2nd album, along with several more songs written in the wake of the debut Carheart . The result is an album that stands alone at the top of a very strong batch of progressive rock/metal releases in 2008.
An album as deeply rooted, if not more so, in jazz and art-punk as in metal, The Black Flux shows the trio exploring a more focused and refined sound, which is a logical evolution from Carheart, while setting themselves even further apart from their black metal origins. In the simplest of terms, Virus’ sound can be described as blending the oft-dissonant, space-rock-tinged riffing of Nothingface-era Voivod with the bass-driven grooves of bands like The Birthday Part and NoMeansNo. But in reality, their sound is much deeper than that.
The guitar work of Carl-Michael ‘Czral’ Eide, a veteran of the Norwegian post-black-metal scene, is the biggest draw here. Czral has developed a style that makes extensive use of dissonant alternate picking, jazzy chord progressions and chromatic open-string arpeggios to concoct riffage that cascades with texture and ambience. There’s not another guitarist in metal right now to whom this style can be directly compared. Perhaps the mellower segments of recent Deathspell Omega releases, and Gorguts’ From Wisdom To Hate are reasonable reference points, but Eide’s compositions place far more emphasis on groove and progress much more naturally. When compared with those of Carheart, both the individual riffs and arrangements on this album are significantly more complex and refined, with the exception of the poppy, bass-driven “Archives” and the mellow and dreary “Inward Bound”. If I had to choose superlatives, I would say that the final three tracks on the album feature the most exotic and involving riffs, with “Strange Calm” being straight up epic.
The bass work is another element that makes The Black Flux so special. Whereas most metal bands simply use bass largely to fill out the lower register in their sound and occasionally bleed through when the guitars momentarily halt to ease an otherwise awkward transition between riffs, Virus places special emphasis on the interplay between guitar and bass, with Petter ‘Plenum’ Berntsen’s instrument frequently assuming a role much more akin to that of a jazz bass. In “Archives”, for instance, Plenum plays a rather complex groove throughout the main verse section of the song while Czral overlays it with the repetition of a single ringing arpeggiated chord [I believe it’s an Em7M, but I can’t play by ear, so don’t hold me to it]. In other parts of the album [most notably “Lost Peacocks”] the bass assumes a role more akin to that of a lead guitar, playing melodies independent of the guitar. If you’re someone who really appreciates a band finding creative uses for an instrument that often gets lost in the mix [literally], you’d be well-advised to check out The Black Flux.
The one potential deal-breaker here is Czral’s singing, which resembles Kristoffer ‘Garm/Trixter G’ Rygg with a residual heroin buzz. It’s a pretty achromatic baritone, which seems to grate on a lot of people. Personally, I couldn’t think of a more fitting vocal accompaniment to the music here. True, there are a number of other vocalists [most notably Cornelius from Solefald] who could’ve possibly done a better job with these patterns [I don’t say Garm because, referring back to “Queen of the High Ace” from Carheart on which he sang, the difference was really pretty negligible] but it’s hardly fair to dock a band for not having a superlative vocalist when the one on hand accompanies the music on the album perfectly well.
As it stands, The Black Flux is a unique and thoroughly enjoyable album with only very minor flaws [“Intermission: The Ocean Highway” doesn’t really need to be there, much less 3½ minutes long, while “Shame Eclipse” feels like it fades out a little too soon]. This is a definite must-own for fans of Ved Buens Ende in particular, and forward-thinking, genre-defying music with ample atmosphere in general.