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Potentiam > Bálsýn > Reviews
Potentiam - Bálsýn

Icelandic Gems Are Just As Precious. - 95%

Perplexed_Sjel, April 4th, 2009

Generally speaking, besides all that overly symphonic shit bands are still trying to sell to the audience, black metal has a reputation for being ‘cold’ music and where better to produce this cold music than in a place where the term ‘cold’ was coined? Iceland is the backdrop to our next adventure into the underground world of largely undiscovered gems. I consider it an injustice, not only to the band, but to black metal that this band is ridiculously unheard of to most, “Sorry, Potato what?”. Potentiam. Read it out loud several times over, tattoo it onto your forehead, I don’t care, just do whatever it takes to remember the name of this Icelandic band who have been circulating beneath the underground for over a decade. Its easy to see why people choose to neglect black metal as a genre of metal. The vocals take time to get used to, if you ever do that is and the styling surrounding the genre seems to have a lot of flaws in the eyes of non-believers (repetitive, too aggressive, ridiculous lyrical concepts) but when you spend enough time scouring a genre for hidden gems, you’re bound to find them in every genre of metal. That is something I’ve slowly learned down the years, despite openly stating my disgust at genres like power metal, or even progressive metal. When you take time and put some effort in, you’re going to be rewarded and this, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those times when God (or should I say the devil, given our topic?) lays a big one on you and kisses those fears away. Black metal is as productive in terms of quality as any other genre, or sub-genre of metal (in my eyes, more so). No matter where you are, or who you are, or even what you have planned after reading this atrocious review - CHECK OUT POTENTIAM!

‘Bálsýn’, the first full-length, is an oddity amongst black metal records. There are elements which seem to combine old school aggression, a splice of the dark ambient from the old LLN and even some avant-gardé (or what can only be described as that given the age of this piece). The greatest compliment to Potentiam and their fine work of art, ‘Bálsýn’ is the fact that they have longevity - a knack for surviving plague after plague of atrocious bands to surface over the years and still come out on top. Bands like Dimmu Borgir might have been taking the credit at this stage in the late 1990’s, but bands like Potentiam command the respect that acts like the so-called ‘Demon Burger’ just don’t do. Stay true to the genre whilst adding your own unique twists and you’re on to a winner in the eyes of your average black metal fan. ‘Bálsýn’ does just that. Seemingly, it should appeal to the typical black metal fan, no matter what their own particular vice is. Whether that be symphonic, industrial or even old school - Potentiam have a winning style and a winning mentality which should see them rise to glorified fame with a bit of exposure. Let me explain how this band and, in particular, this record will appeal to the average fan regardless of what they consider to be the best area of black metal. Take songs like the haunting LLN tribute, ‘Flames of Potentiam’. This song twists and turns through the realms of dark ambient, producing a sound any band of the LLN would be proud of. Reminding me of certain established acts like Amaka Hahina, ‘Flames of Potentiam’ uses simple mathematics to draw the fans in; evil + hatred + atmosphere = your standard dark ambient gem. Whilst this song obviously isn’t the highlight, it shows a side of Potentiam that has the ability to surprise. This quality gives the band an edge in the genre because many fans claim black metal is too one dimensional. Certainly not in this case, homies! (Hey, my word count just hit 666, freaky!)

Its easy in a genre like black metal to do the bare essentials and produce what the critics may call, a blasphemous spawning of Satan himself. Potentiam, as aforementioned like to shake things up a little. A little bit of this, a little bit of that and what you have on your hands is a bootylicious black metal record. Potentiam’s main objectives seemed to be creating a dynamic breed of black metal music that encased an aggressive sound in mystery and sometimes, in sparse use, sorrowful symphonies (‘Pleasures of Suffering’ is a terrific example). Potentiam don’t like to stick to one sub-genre of black metal. This was before the age where depressive black metal really took off and bands were just beginning to break away from the second wave influences by putting their own spin on the genre - which is exactly what Potentiam do. There are two guitarists, who play opposite numbers in support of one another. Its a system that has become widely used by metal bands in general. One guitarist plays one riff, usually full of effects and high pitched sounds and the other plays a lower sound, which begins to establish the backbone to the soundscapes. The first guitarist, in this instance, is in control of the diversity of the record. This guitarist on ‘Bálsýn’ is capable and commanding of his position in leading the band into unforeseen territories. Take the song ‘Voices Within’ as an example of Potentiam’s unheralded sound. One guitarist establishes a basis for the sound without ever really setting the world alight. Though his performance isn’t astonishing, it is important. It establishes a connection between the ‘lesser’ instruments with the lead guitar, which is in control of some devastatingly good solos (as ‘Voices Within’ indicates) and creates more stunning soundscapes than its brother.

Certain elements of the instrumentation may not seem impressive in the sense that they like to control and distort the bands sound into something we’ve never heard before, but they certainly do improve the over quality of the music. The percussion doesn’t sound hollow, thankfully. It gives a lively feel to the undertow, which is dark and brooding. The bass is faster than expected. I assumed Potentiam’s style would be slow, but steady. Instead, Potentiam like to shift between the gears, from slow to mid-paced and on to fast, then back again. There are good uses of bass, which helps the areas like the majestic clean vocals (which were also a surprise) forge a sorrowful sound, though the guitars do this best. The bass lines are creative without being overly excessive. The music doesn’t press the listener like much of black metal’s material does. It slowly surrounds them with glorious, but sparse symphonies and other surprising inclusions. Potentiam’s drive, cohesive style and charm is what really sets this record apart from the other bazillion black metal albums. This is a true joy to listen to and deserves far more credit than it receives.

The baroque starship. Amazingly strange. - 99%

Wargnattallfihrr, July 29th, 2008

Maybe you know these situations in which you get a long awaited piece of art - and just don't get behind it. This was what I got of this CD. After reading the already posted review beneath I wanted to hear it, got it and just did not understand it.

But then, in auditive unity with the best listener I know, suddenly it broke wait, I cannot say I understood "Bálsýn" better from then on, but it started to FEEL amazingly. An unseen, even unimagined picture rose in front of our eyes, a picture of emotion and voidness. Simply the fact of music having the function of an epiphany would lead me to more-than-average ratings.

The gothic-esque melodies, woven into the sound impression of black metal, which is of the unending and cold futuristic kind, neither embrace the listener nor leave him behind, I must admit, they create a brumous image of whitely powdered women dancing a round dance, slow, nearly motionless yet almost floating in their ostentatious dresses and fawning their fans. Sometimes I expect a clavichord (and I imagine one to be somewhere in it) giving the sound a delicate and brittle taste of sophisticated life around 1600.

Taking this in a whole you might not be very surprised, but we were. Adding to the already said things the speed of the music, which is very well produced by the way, the whole dancing party is on its way through the endless galaxies. In a freaking starship! And its direction seems to be called "nowhere". The structure of the songs is marginal but somehow interesting. Strange seems to be the best word.

The opener "To Know is to Die" lets you imagine to be safe of surprises, yet this only lasts for the eleven minutes the song plays, because of its clear and melodic structure with carefully placed and skillfully uttered vocals somewhere between growling and screaming. I think this track fulfills its duty as kind of a mental tranquillizer which has to open your mind for upcoming things. The function of the track "Alfabloð" in the middle of the playtime is quite similar: It works as an interlude blurring the listeners mental eyes. At the end "Fires of Potentiam" only leaves ashes behind.

Inbetween these skillfully crafted songs lies the wild, incontrollable mass of beautiful but hard to follow sounds, which are like music, but not exactly it, more an acoustic trip on several drugs. A good, charming one, though.

I highly recommend this CD to everyone of you, who is able to hear with heart, mind and fantasy. Believe me, the results are much more intense listening to it in presence of someone whose spiritual understanding of music can be combined with yours.
Fly with the baroque starship, fly with your fantasy. For 51 minutes.

An outstandin masterpiece - 99%

pdepmcp, December 13th, 2005

Bálsýn by Potentiam is one of that masterpieces that last for a long long time, but very few knows something about it. A sort of secret treasure to be hold and kept among the fews. In two words a cult masterpiece.
The music is somewhere between gothic and black metal. We could call it a sort of gothic metal with a strong black flavour.

Mid-tempos are melted with slow parts, but here and there we can find some faster parts that break in the emotional veil of balckness of this opus with a brutal and ferocious assault. A great guitar work made of good riffs and acoustic parts is the foundation for the voices that drive the listener to a melancholic world. The voice is sometimes clean and declamatory, sometimes is grim and screamed, but the most interesting parts are where it sings with a more operatic style. This style is not easy listening at all, and may be it will keep a lot of people away from this record, but listening after listening, song after song, it becomes a sort of drug we are addicted to.
Keybords help to make it all more emotional, and are very well melted in the music, but Bálsýn is not another keybord oriented gothic record. There is not any predominant instrument, this record indeed is built upon the union of every element; each instrument encounters, shatters and then merges with all the others.
The only element I can criticise is the drum, which is, technically speaking, not as good as the other instruments. Anyway it's really inspired so that's not too bad.

the songs are all very good and the differences among them are very marked, so that the listener is never bored by the listening, but they merge perfectly in a unique blend of darkness and melancholy.
In Bálsýn we can find two dark ambient and somehow disturbing tracks, a catchy instrumental track led by a trumpet melody, a very aggressive, almost death song, merged with the others more Potentiam-style songs. So this is, at the same time, a polyhedral but homogeneous piece of art.

I suggest anyone to listen to this record more than once, because it's not an easy record and it needs attention and devotion, but it's a masterpiece of rare beauty and composing maestry.