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A different sort of Lugubrum - 73%

Abominatrix, October 4th, 2017

Lugubrum are today considered one of the most eccentric, "out there" metal bands, with a wonderfully unpredictable approach to creating albums that somehow always maintain a raw, dangerous and unfettered feeling. They epitomise, in a sense, what's great about this sort of music -- not so much in sound (although I'd argue for that any day as well) but in the sense that they manage to be exploratory to an extraordinary degree while never forgetting the primal essence of their music. The sense of "why not?" in their music is a really, really cool thing, and they are a very special band to me and a few others. But they didn't really start out this way, and nobody talks about their early stuff much anymore. There might be a few reasons for that, but I'm here to tell you that this debut is nothing to scoff at and still an immersive listening experience, though of a different kind.

It was 1995, and apart from a few notorious bands (especially from a certain Scandinavian nation), the phenomenon of black metal was quite an underground, hidden thing. Sometimes looking at it from today's distant plane, it can be surprising just how many obscure recordings didemerge from around this time, from all over the world, that remain relatively obscure today. This isn't always a mark of their quality, which could often equal that of their much-vaunted peers.

hang on though. I'm not going to claim that this is a long-lost black metal classic, exactly. I know a couple of people who are huge fans of this album, and I can understand why. I think it has a certain charm to it, and is a really great night-time listen. It just doesn't sound like the Lugubrum i know, which is a weird band of drunken Flemmish outsider musicians with an outlandish sense of humour who will seemingly write music without boudnaries whenever the mood strikes them. This is a much more conventional album from a band that had not yet hit their stride or indeed attained a full lineup. The drums are handled by the guitarist, and they're very basic in delivery, sticking largely to slow, simple beats, though there is some Darkthrone-esque "relaxed" blasting to be found. The cymbals are really loud, including the hat, and can be a little distracting. Guitar patterns are mostly stately and calm, and the vocals are a heavily reverberating subdued croak that completely lacks the hysteria and filth of future albums. You might almost say that in their younger days, the band was a lot more sober.

Indeed, this is a very sober, methodical album that doesn't sound like the same band you'd hear five years later. I'm sometimes reminded of Burzum, or early Forgotten Woods (I.E., without the rockish tendencies that band would develop), with, i suppose, a greater propensity toward slower tempos. There is subtle melody to be found here, mostly in the weaving chord structures and overlaid bending notes. The riffs themselves do not appear to "move" very much, and I suppose this could be considered a negative trait. The laid-back drumming, reserved vocals and natural-sounding and not-at-all-overdriven guitar give the whole thing a sound that's, dare I say it, almost pleasant on the ears. Such a contrast to something like De Totem, which could be considered the beginning of the "real" Lugubrum sound.

There's something that keeps me coming back to this thing, though, despite it not exactly being the Lugubrum I love. Maybe it's in part that "pleasant" sound I spoke of. It's all very redolent of contemplation, beautiful night-times and the kind of naturalistic aura a lot of people seem to think black metal is all about when it usually isn't. It could be that while they blend together at first, I feel there's really something in those abstracted, slightly droning yet harmonious riffs. Even the sedate drumming is kind of nice, actually, apart from those clanging sounds. There are two short and effective instrumentals: one a simple, meditative keyboard piece with what sounds like gentle bass pluckings, and the other a bass-driven riff called "Winds Enter My Mouth", which strikes me somehow as a really evocative title for an understated and neat bit of atmospheric music. And "Black Hag" is somehow a great, definitive way to end the album, so you can tell they put some work into making this thing flow like an entire, meaningful experience. That's the way you should listen to it: all the way through without much distraction other than perhaps your own creative impulses. Draw, write, think, or just enjoy solitude in the natural surroundings of your choice. If you've heard of Lugubrum as this odd, unique entity or think they are black metal's answer to Captain Beefheart or something, don't start here. On the other hand, if a very natural-sounding recording without anything fancy going on but with a genuinely thoughtful aura about it sounds like something you need in your life, you could do a lot worse than to pick this one up.