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Maniac makes a mess - 50%

drengskap, May 5th, 2008

Skitliv (Norwegian for ‘shit life’) is the new project of Maniac, the infamous former singer of pioneering Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, and Amfetamin is the band’s second release, following the limited edition three-track demo CD Kristiansen And Kvarforth Swim In The Sea Of Equilibrium While Waiting. Skitliv is an extreme metal supergroup of sorts, with a changeable lineup revolving around a core of Maniac and Niklas Kvaforth from Shining.

Amfetamin opens with its title track, a slow, doomy piece with Maniac’s venomous, rasping vocals well to the fore, augmented by a vocal guest appearance by none other than Attila Csihar, Mayhem’s current vocalist, who’s also noted for his work with Aborym and Sunn 0))). Given the received wisdom that there’s no love lost between Maniac and Attila, there’ll be widespread interest in hearing the two of them working on the same track. ‘Amfetamin’ also features only guitar and vocals, with no rhythm section. ‘Slow Pain Coming (Cold Spring Mix)’ follows, a remix of a track originally released on the first demo, with a Sabbathesque riff backed with industrial ambient noise. The pace picks up a little when the vocals and drums kick in, but the end result is indeed slow and painful, sounding more like a cross between doom metal and Amphetamine Reptile bands like Helios Creed, Helmet and Cows than anything of a black metal persuasion.

After these two studio tracks, the remainder of this EP’s 44-minute duration is composed of a live set, recorded at The Underworld, Camden, in December 2007. These live tracks contain a lot of crowd noise, and the audience members don’t sound notably enthusiastic. Maniac berates them for not being able to think for themselves in his intro to ‘Virescit Volnere Virtus’, but maybe they have thought, and decided they don’t like what they’re hearing. The set is introduced not by Skitliv themselves, but by Current 93, on this occasion comprising David Tibet and Andrew Liles, whose short track, recorded especially for use as the intro to Skitliv live performances, is entitled ‘Who Will Deliver Us From Gold & Planets?’. Whilst it’s interesting in a Rock Family Trees sort of way to be able to trace a connection between Mayhem and Current 93 in this way, you’d have to be an exceptionally completist Current 93 fan to want to purchase Amfetamin just for these two minutes of vocals and effects. A live version of ‘Slow Pain Coming’ ensues, which is even harsher and more abrasive than the studio version. ‘A Valley Below’, taken, like ‘Slow Pain Coming’, from the first Skitliv demo, continues in the same sluggish vein, with dry, stripped-back guitar, bass and drums grinding out ugly, primitive metal whilst Maniac snarls and growls over the top – this is actually the highlight of the release for me. ‘Hollow Devotion’ is also doomy and desultory, but ‘Virescit Volnere Virtus’ injects some energy, with Maniac’s vocals burning with fury and hatred. The set closes with a live version of ‘Amfetamin’, which leads the listener on a tortuous path of feedback and loose jamming before the track finally gets going after a couple of minutes. Maniac sounds completely out of his head on this one, with the band’s sound literally disintegrating around him. At this point, Skitliv really leave the realms of extreme metal altogether, producing a sound altogether more experimental and dissonant, something like Gravitar.

It’s really hard to know what to make of this CD. The crumpled, slashed and soiled paper of the cover art is an apt reflection of Amfetamin’s messy and unlovely musical contents. Skitliv present the listener with two studio tracks, recorded in different studios by two different line-ups, followed by six live tracks, one of which is by a different group entirely, and the other five performed by yet another line-up. Offhand, I can’t think of a single other release that’s structured like this. An EP with five or six studio tracks and a couple of live tracks as a bonus, sure, that’s common enough, but two studio tracks and six live tracks? No relatively unknown band without an album out yet would choose to set out their stall like this. Maniac presumably believes that his cult status, and the other famous names gathered on this release, is enough to guarantee that his audience will indulge him in his eccentricities, but Amfetamin is the kind of release which trades on past glories rather than adding to them. There’s a Skitliv album with the working title Glem Aldri Korset in preparation, but it’ll have to be a lot more coherent than Amfetamin for Skitliv to be regarded as more than a curiosity.

This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine: