I’ve never really been into extremely heavy music. Of course there are exceptions, I’ve enjoyed some various metal bands over the years and there isn’t any other style of music that can fulfill that certain need when I want to hear something aggressive. Generally speaking, late-era Ministry is about as heavy as I go, and even that is far more rooted in the Industrial genre than genuine Metal. With that said, I do pride myself in having eclectic taste in music as well as an open mind. There really isn’t a genre that’s off limits to me. If it’s suggested by friends, family, or peers, typically I’m willing to check it out.
Enter the sub-genre Black Metal. Being that I’m not exactly well versed in the Heavy Metal scene, it’s a given that I don’t really know what each of the sub-genres stand for or mean. Death Metal, Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, Goth Metal, etc I had no idea there was so many branches of that tree! But I’m guessing Black Metal is for those who are truly dedicated to the scene. Most bands dealing with anti-religious themes, melodies meant to bring an unsettling mood, and lyrics bent on making the listener question their own faith or belief. Not really stuff that’s in my wheel house. Of course, as a fan of music in general, I can look past most artists’ personal perspective when it comes to enjoying the music they are putting out. It doesn’t have to line up with my personal beliefs to be considered good.
A personal friend of mine who writes for a well known metal publication, kept insisting that I check out the Finland Black Metal band Oranssi Pazuzu, especially their latest record Varahtelija (I have no idea how to spell that without the aid of Google, much less pronounce it). I have to admit, I was reluctant at first. When I heard what genre it was, I was sure I’d be hearing something that would probably stain my soul or give me nightmares for the rest of the week, but he is such a good friend with impeccable taste, it was only right that I give it a fair chance.
Upon first listen Varahtelija didn’t sound exactly how I originally imagined. Sure, the intro featured all of the tension building dissonance any respectable Black Metal record should have, but at about the one minute mark of “Saturratio, I knew this record was going to be different. Instead of grinding guitars and rapid fire drumming, Oranssi Paszuzu have created a very organic soundscape of lush instrumentation and otherworldly atmosphere, without the tired “oh we’re so evil” tropes that’s on just about every Heavy Metal record that has found itself in the mainstream in the last twenty five years.
Don’t get me wrong, this is still and aggressive album with plenty of horrifying, screaming vocals, symphonic walls of guitars, and the overwhelming sense of uncertainty that fits in the genre, but it’s elevated with exotic flavorings of experimentation and psychedelica that’s unheard of in the world of Black Metal. Despite being heavy and dark, Varahtelija has plenty of moments that would fit well within projects of avant-garde or ambient genres. For example, the tribal drum patterns and unorthodox usage of vibes of “Lahja” is hypnotic, but suddenly rips into a power chord driven riff that’s not unlike something Deep Purple would have done! It’s moments like this that makes me appreciate this record for thinking outside of the box.
What really draws me in, is the alien atmosphere. The first time I gave this record a listen, I turned the lights off, put on my big puffy studio cans and listened with an open mind. I was expecting obnoxious evil, but instead I went on a strange journey with unpredictable plot twists. As much music I listen to on a daily basis, it’s not every day I can say I’m listening to something alien. Even the most pretentious jazz ensembles borrow elements of pre-existing music we’ve all heard at one point or another. Maybe it’s my lack of experience within the genre but Varahtelija but is unlike anything I’ve heard before! It has all of the elements you would come to expect, but never comes of cliche, familiar or generic. That in itself is a testimony in today’s scene.
I’m not sure if I could recommend the album to just about anyone, after all, it’s still Black Metal, a genre that’s not for the casual listener. Especially those who would probably call the likes of post-Metallica, Heavy Metal. Most of the vocals are a jarring discord and I can’t decipher one single word he’s singing or if it’s even in English. The mood goes from strange to sinister, to terrifying, to even beautiful. Something with such varied soundscapes would be lost on a casual listener who isn’t willing to commit to it. Even though it’s not my particular genre, I’m still blown away on how much I actually enjoy this record. It’s well crafted, beautifully performed, and presented as something of a higher standard. Without a cliche in sight, this album is easily one of the most unique records to be released this year. So much that I just may give other bands of the genre a listen, right after listening to the entire Oranssi Pazuzu catalog.
Vistit Oranssi Pazuzu on their Official Website
Purchase Varahtelija on vinyl at 20 Buck Spin