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Potentiam > Bálsýn > Reviews > Perplexed_Sjel
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.