(Svart Records, 2014)
Growing up as a teenager in the early- and mid-nineties, the Norwegian Black Metal scene was definitely one of my favourite sources of atmospheric and intelligent music, with (among the more straightforward Black Metal acts) bands such as Ved Buens Ende, Arcturus, Thorns, and Dodheimsgard really breaking the boundaries of what Black Metal can be, or become.
Of these bands, the guitar work of Snorre W. Ruch of Thorns has been cited as one of the first paragons for the many Black Metal bands to come, and the vocals of Aldrahn (Bjørn Dencker Gjerde) were one the most powerful and original around in the mid-nineties (my personal favourites). Now these two minds have once again joined forces to create art they do so very well, with the latest release of The Deathtrip. While Aldrahn handles the vocals, Snorre is apparently responsible for (at least) the mixing of the album, a match made in hell. Still, the second main force behind The Deathrip is Host (Paul Groundwell, the general manager for Peaceville), who started the project together with Aldrahn (in 2003 if my source of information is correct), releasing two demos and a compilation before this first full-length.
The album starts with weird intro of different ambient sounds and birds and other animals voices in the background, and after this we get nine songs of exactly what we got with the previous demos of The Deathtrip, only with a better sound and general production, and possibly performance. In fact, about half of the songs are re-recordings of the songs presented on the demos. But where the demos presented a vision of second wave Black Metal when it was more about feeling than quality in performance, skill or sound, this album has the soundscapes of The Deathtrip updated to a more studio-like quality. However, this has not lessened the strong feelings in the music at all, perhaps on the contrary. Still, this is a question of taste, and my opinion The Deathtrip works fine as both “versions”.
The guitar work of Host is always quite melodic, although twisted in nature, and hypnotic in performance. The song structures are very flowing and repeating, maybe in this sense reminiscent of some Doom Metal, although the style of the riffs is naturally nothing else than pure Black Metal. The guitar sound is howling and raw enough to bring the aggressive Black Metal feelings forth, but still soft enough to let the riffs work as dreamlike and mesmerizing spells. Overlapping melodies here and there bring the feeling of more than one guitarist from time to time, without getting too flashy.
The info I’ve received states that the album has basses played by Jon Wesseltoft of Thorns, and drums performed by Dan Mullins (from an army of bands). Just like on the demos, the beats are quite simple and minimalistic, serving only as the basic pulse of the music, and it’s hard to decide sometimes if one is listening to a real drummer or a quality drum-machine, but this matters little. However, they are brought quite forth in the mix, with emphasis on the sounds. The sound is bombastic yet clear, with some reverb for atmosphere.
The tempo of the songs varies from slow and mid-tempo jamming to slowish blast-beats or Celtic Frostian thrashing. There are parts where ambient eerie synths can also be heard.
Guitars, synths and drums aside, probably the most anticipated and important aspect of the band is most likely Aldrahn’s vox. While the demos showed Aldrahn as his most demo-like, although as atmospheric as the man can be when he chooses to, the album gives an “upgrade” in the vox in the same way as in the other soundscapes. The sound is quite clear in the mix with the mandatory amount of reverb for this style. It also sounds like the man has put a lot of effort and thought in the performance, as the vox sound like studio-stuff more than something thrown with a lot of feeling and attitude at the rehearsal place. This is the best Aldrahn we’ve heard in years. Nothing but powerful and emotional chanting and cursing straight from the heart, spiced with some insane shouts here and there. The lyrics are also a work of art in themselves. The world of Deep Drone Master is filled with the cool psychological psychedelic metaphors Aldrahn has always amazed us with, the same stuff that made the earlier work for example DHG so great. Without analysing the lyrics too much, I can say people (such as myself) interested in psychedelic, alchemical, eastern and western Spiritual thought, find themselves at home in these worlds of deathly trips. Pure audial and lyrical Magick.
With Aldrahn now apparently back in DHG, and possibly in future material of Thorns, The Deathtrip serves as a magnificent stand-alone album, as well as a reminder to the old and new fans of his skills. In this day and age, it feels good to be a thirty-something person listening to the same underground artists I listened as a teenager. Nothing has changed, really. As the album ends in an outro merged with the final song, we hear the birds again from the intro with a cool sounding didgeridoo, and we think of the psychedelic and weird masks Aldrahn has portrayed in over the years, and realise once again: However “true” in nature, true art doesn’t give a fuck about close-minded borders of genres.
9/10 – Antti Mikonmäki