Blut Aus Nord
Hallucinogen

Shortly after its inception in 1995, France’s Blut Aus Nord started traveling two separate, but parallel paths. The first two albums Ultima Thulee and Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers of the Icy Ages fell right in with the other second wave black metal of the time: lo-fi, buzzy, fast, and melodic. Then the band split off from the pack, injecting corrosive dissonance and industrial grime into The Mystical Beast of Rebellion and its more lauded follow-up, The Work Which Transforms God. And while Blut Aus Nord has occasionally strayed back towards their melodic roots with the second and third parts of the Memoria trilogy (Memoria Vetusta II being one of my all-time favorite records), most of their output – the 777 trilogy in particular – has been more about deconstructing the genre. 

So I was intrigued to hear that with their newest release, Hallucinogen, Blut Aus Nord would be shifting direction yet again to explore new and uncharted sonic realms. Psychedelia has long been a favorite muse of stoner rock and progressive metal alike, but aside from innovators like Enslaved, Nachtmystium, Oranssi Pazuzu, and Cult of Fire, not many black metal bands have embraced that sound. But that’s where Blut Aus Nord wants to take you: inward. 

At first blush, this album could have just been called Memoria Vetusta IV. Like the previous two installements, it’s a cosmic torrent of melody and astral atmosphere, more melancholy than malevolent. Sighing choirs – a favorite element in every ‘industrial’ Blut Aus Nord album since the 777 cycle – have now been added to the mix, creating a strain of dreamy gloom. Vocals are scattered – the occasional rasp for texture – but otherwise, the songs are largely instrumental. One of the expectations of psychedelic or progressive rock/metal is that the songs explore, wander, and shift form as they progress. These are more concise and focused on the whole, though some passages fracture into soft and wandering ambiance, or crystallize into shimmering tones above syncopated drumming. So yeah, it ticks the box. Yet despite all that, I can’t say I was transported at any time. It’s all very listenable, but it lacks the sweeping beauty of MVII or the cataclysmic majesty of genre contemporary Mare Cognitum.  

But yes, as promised, there is something new here. Something fresh. Something, well, unexpected.

It happens three-quarters into the first track, “Nomos Nebuleam.” A solo twists and writhes through the song, rising up above the churn… but it’s not the kind of cold and ringing tone you might expect. After all, even MVII had solos. But this is different. It sounds like… heavy metal.

That wah-wah soloing, along with the swaggering ‘rawk’ riffs that crop up throughout the album, just seem so… off with everything else you’ve heard from the band to date – or from black metal in general. I’m all for genre-blending – in fact I love to hear new sounds and ideas in any established genre – but the juxtaposition of chuggy riffs and bent-note soloing with atmospheric black metal just feels ill-conceived and capricious. It works in black n’ roll, and it even worked in this year’s thrashy, excellent heavy/black Abbath solo album. But I dunno, it throws me off.

Now, not every track brings in those ’80s nods – and the ones that don’t, like the relentless “Anthomos” or the kaleidoscopic “Hallucinalia,” are more successful. So there’s a lot to like here. And if the songs had brought in a much more varied and surprising palette of elements, creating an unpredictable experience of shifting moods and hypnotic patterns – you know, like a psychedelic trip – then perhaps this scattering of heavy metal swagger would blend right in. But when those moments rear their mulleted heads,  I just have to grit my teeth and push through. 

So yeah, not a bad trip… but also not one I’m going to take as often as I’d hoped.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
November 4th, 2019

Comments

  1. Commented by: Indignant_N00b

    I felt the same as you at first. I am partial to the MV series and at first this feels like one of them, apart from 1-2 moments per song that stick out and almost have a bluesy vibe… which really threw me off at the beginning

    But otherwise the songs are solid, the riffs are there, and the album flows. And now that I’ve had a few weeks with it I really enjoy it and no longer feel those parts stick out. It’s a real grower and now I like it more than their last few “industrial” style ones


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