by Conor Fynes
The age-old ‘who is your favourite band?’ topic came up in conversation for me recently. I feel the same kind of cynicism towards that question as I would if someone asked me what type of food I’d be content eating three meals a day for a year; taste is prone to change with mood and setting, and the same is doubly true for in the case of musical tastes.
With that said, most times I’m asked that question, the answer I’ll give is Blut aus Nord. They’ve never quite matched the perfection of Deathspell Omega and may not have had the same life-changing influence on me as Yes or Voivod, but I cannot think of another band in metal that has created such consistently amazing material spanning so many emotions. Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars was a major source of uplift and comfort for me a year ago when I lost a loved one and ambled through the grieving process. By contrast, I can go to The Work Which Transforms God anytime I want the experience of having my soul drained and tormented ad infinitum by some malevolent AI program. Both sides to Blut aus Nord are equally visionary and awe-inspiring, and I cannot think of another band in black metal that could potentially never wear on me.
Unsurprisingly, whatever influence the band has had on the current state of black metal is almost entirely derived from their hellish side. Deus Salutis Meæ is nothing that Blut aus Nord fans won’t have heard before already, but it’s one of the purest expressions of their dark side that they’ve released to date.
I’ve found many of Blut aus Nord’s peers in the ‘forward-thinking’ black metal niche get overly bloated with their highbrow intellect and would probably be better off nixing their post-doctoral program in lieu of developing a bad drug habit or getting into violent crime—anything to conjure the demons lacking in their music. Blut aus Nord have never once suffered sterility in their career; their material is typically mind-bendingly cerebral, and if the tenderness on the Memoria Vetusta records says anything, I would bet that Vindsval is probably a really nice, soft-mannered man in real life. Still, the crushing darkness pervading his harsher work remains a league apart from any of the contemporary soundalikes; contrary to the “think first” attitude of a lot of these bands, Blut aus Nord sounds completely intuitive. The product may be mechanical and terrifying, but the source is rooted to a human heart and fluidity of feeling.
With Deus Salutis Meæ, that feeling of intuition is perhaps stronger than ever before. This may be a bit ironic given the style—returning to the industrial horror of The Work Which Transforms God and MoRT—but I can’t escape the impression that this work was manifested without (or I should say, created beyond) a rational endplan in mind. Two soon-to-be-released albums have been announced by Blut aus Nord, but this one appeared suddenly. Were I to guess, the inspiration for this album and style probably appeared without warning or some predetermined artistic goal in mind. There are no significant innovations on Deus Salutis Meæ, and given how dynamic the band’s history has been, the most surprising thing is the fact that it all sounds so familiar.
This latest observation sees Vindsval manifesting what is essentially a 2000s–era Blut aus Nord record with an uncompromising purity. This is the sort of angular, dystopian, psychoactive black metal that first lured me in as a fan a decade ago. For any talk of familiarity, it bears noting that Deus Salutis Meæ still sounds very fresh, if nothing else for the fact that they’ve effectively turned their backs on ten years of melodic evolution. The album comes across like some festering amalgamation of everything they did beginning with the hypnotic monotony of The Mystical Beast of Rebellion in 2001 to the quasi-melodic encroachments on Odinist.
The overtly artificial drum blasting only relents a few times for an apocalyptic nook of ambiance, and the vocals are so teched-out with post-production dirt that it’s practically indecipherable. The guitars are hardly any more welcoming either; Vindsval’s post-riffs sound like they were written with the conscious restraint of avoiding anything that might be construed as conventionally melodic or harmonious. All of this is standard for the Blut aus Nord template, of course, though it should be noted that there’s always at least something of an accessible anchor in the form of the thick grooves they get into. The time signatures may be indecipherable, and you’ll probably have to listen closely to certain parts to figure where a groove begins and ends, but Vindsval’s earhook-worthy grasp of rhythms is the keystone that keeps his music from the ‘death metal ambiance’ feeling I get listening to a lot of Portal‘s stuff.
Despite coming across as a combined average of Blut aus Nord’s most chaotic records, Deus Salutis Meæ still sounds appropriately extreme. I can still see why I felt underwhelmed at first. In some ways, I still am. The album obviously deserved my time though, and considering my initial frustration I’ve probably listened to the album repeatedly more so now than I even would have if all my ground-shattering expectations had been fulfilled. I still don’t think Deus Salutis Meæ sounds like ‘new’ Blut aus Nord, but if anything rings true now, the fact that this sound still manages to be so unsettling and cutting-edge in 2017 goes to show how timeless the design was from the start. I imagine it’s something like someone surviving a bullet wound, then having a gun pointed at them again; just because you know what to expect in advance doesn’t mean there’s going to be less of an impact the second time around.