These “Journey” posts will serve as a chronological recap of the soundtrack chosen for a scenic drive through the mountains of my homeland, with the sum of the parts forming a unique chain of different emotions predicated on the music’s relationship with the weather and the time of day. These brief ruminations are not meant to be full-fledged reviews of these albums, especially since some of these are classic, perfect albums that words can do absolutely no justice to. If you’ve never listened to these, then what a perfect time to start.
Windir – Likferd
The sun was shining mightily in its midday form, calling out for adventurous souls to enjoy the beauty of the day. Perhaps Windir’s most straight-forward black metal album, the melodic sounds proved to be the perfect driving force to soak up the seemingly endless afternoon sunlight while also gaining furious momentum on the roadway. The drums have an excellent aggressive production on them, naturally driving one forward on their path with confidence and strength. The longest track, “Fagning”, is where all the elements come together on this album to create a serene piece of music. Searing melodicism and a slight undercurrent of sorrow instantly transport you to all the glories of the natural realm as you speed towards the mountains. The riffs can be relentless, yet they take a well-deserved break for brooding, hypnotic developments, notably on the tracks “Martyrium” and “Despot”, allowing space to breath for a look around at the landscapes and soundscapes that surround you. Every track on this album has become a classic in its own right as each has its own approach for a calculated attack that all adds up to be exactly what the Norwegian black metal experience is all about. A triumphant introduction to the voyage.
Krallice – Diotima
As our journey took us from the scenic, fast-paced highways into the winding forest roads, the music naturally adapted to suit the labyrinthine path. Upon first listen, this album sounds totally off the rails with riffs entering and exiting like lightning strikes in a gigantic storm. If one can get past the disorienting style and the length of the album, they will find a multitude of sonic treasures to be unearthed. I have been enjoying this album for over seven years, and while I am now familiar with all of the tracks, there are still different bits and pieces to a song that I connect with each time, and I cannot say that about too many albums. Krallice’s drummer, Lev Weinstein, has to be one of the best black metal drummers to ever play the style. He not only keeps up with the frantic pace set by the rest of the band, but he adds his own flair to these 10+minute tracks that do not contain any sort of chorus; it’s a remarkable exhibition. For all of the pummeling, Krallice know how to build up emotions and atmospheres within a song; take “The Clearing” for example, perhaps the greatest song that Krallice has ever recorded. The entire twelve minute duration is twisted descent into madness and soul crushing riffs. Listeners are left in songwriting purgatory as the expectation of what comes next is wildly unpredictable yet wholly satisfying. Much like flying down wooded paths where all there is to see is the tops of the trees while expecting something wild to pop out at any time, Krallice lurk to the sides, reaching out with its million arms and striking all around.
Forgotten Woods – The Curse of Mankind
There could not possibly be a better album to celebrate the setting sun and the coming of darkness onto the world than The Curse of Mankind. On their first album and the EP, Forgotten Woods showed immense promise with what they could achieve in a long song format, and this album proves to be the triumphant culmination of their entire career. This band possesses one of the most unique sounds in metal and music in general, and it’s always interesting to read these booklets in order to gain insight on some of their inspirations, with names such as Velvet Underground and The Doors providing some clues to how they approach their unorthodox song structures. The drumming is an underrated aspect of Forgotten Woods, but from the very first album until now, it has always been the catalyst to transcending already classic songs to new heights. The best example from this album is the final few minutes of “Starlit Waters / I, The Mountain”. When the guitars become hypnotic and monotonous to tremendous effect, the drumming is always changing and becomes more urgent as the 18-minute behemoth nears its end. The instrumental track “With Swans I’ll Share My Thirst” is brimming with emotion and is a perfect ode to the final rays of the sun, containing a final beacon of lumination before darkness charges forward, both on earth and in the second act of this album.
Beherit – Engram
As the nighttime forest drive turned from serene to potentially treacherous in the form of a multitude of animals and who knows what else crossing the road, we turn to more foreboding sounds to guide us in this uncertain time. Beherit’s legacy as a pioneering force in Finnish music history was already sealed before the release of this album. For them to return to the metallic fold after a 16 year absence, you just know that the hatred had to be much too powerful to keep inside, and pure crushing vitriol is exactly what this album brings. With a more modern yet still raw production, these songs contain a bone crushing heaviness that, in the hindsight that this album allows, is sometimes a bit lacking on Drawing Down the Moon, especially in the drum department. The acoustic interlude on “Pagan Moon” plays as a haunting reminder of all things crawling and prowling in the woods at night; the mystical glories of the unknown. The highlight of this album and perhaps Beherit’s career is the 15-minute all-encompassing horror perfectly titled “Demon Advance”. The crushing main riffs devolve into a psychedelic nightmare time and again while the drums are quite literally just advancing the song along with sheer force. At this point, my car felt like it was steering itself down the twists and turns, and if it happened to drive itself into the river in which the road ran alongside, then I would have been powerless to change the course of events. My body was on earth, but my mind and soul were somewhere else among the stars in that pitch black night. At the conclusion of this song and album, the drive went silent for a bit as I slowly returned to gain control over my body, while cruising ever onward in this darkened abyss.
Todesstoß – Würmer Zu Weinen
With the night not nearing its end anytime soon and our sanity in a questionable state, we turn to an album that is beyond bizarre. A muted drum machine provides the backdrop for genuinely lo-fi buzzsaw guitars and a variety of agonizing shrieks and spells of a madman. These songs are long and despite the zero fidelity that is present, the length of each theme really draws you in, especially on a solitary late night in the mountains. The title track is full of demonic surprises throughout its length. At times, the guitar sounds like a mountain lion crying, and there is an accordion passage later in the track that combines with stabbing keyboards to form an operatic crescendo of the most evil fashion. This is one dense listen, as sometimes you feel the songs are going nowhere, the drums are usually doing nothing interesting, and there are definitely no riffs to be found here. I’m not sure if I can say I enjoyed the experience of this album, and I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone. But if you find yourself in the right place at the right time with this band, then give it a shot. Under the right circumstances, the combination of sounds begins to make sense in the most sinister, depraved way. I will be looking out for other Todesstoß albums in the future; maybe they are all a little different. Either way, this is pure art created by a wretched soul and it is a unique experience to behold by the few. Music does not get much bleaker than this, therefore going through the late night, starry stretch of the drive proved to be an ample environment to properly dissect this album.
Abyssion – Karhun Lähde / Siniaaltoja
As home approaches, excitement stirs within the tired soul, for not only have we barely escaped alive from the wastes of Todesstoß, but we can finally get out from behind the wheel. For the final stretch, Abyssion is a great choice to lead us on the road home. The first track “2012” is the weakest Abyssion track, as the vocals are just a little too overbearing, but thankfully that’s the only bad apple. Things really get going with the main riff of “Näkymätön Muutos”, which is what I like to call the trademark Abyssion sound of chilled-out riffs that still manage to pack a punch. The song lengths really work in the band’s favor as hypnotism is their main recipe for success, and they have the creative riffs and propellant drumming to complete their mission. They are at their strongest when the vocals don’t overtake the track, and most of the time they find a great balance. This compilation is full of classic Abyssion tracks that make you unafraid of flooring the gas pedal to travel at the edge of death with a cosmic vengeance. The best is saved for last with the 10-minute opus “Homo Serpent”, beginning with a synthesized tour of our galaxy before returning to the surface a few minutes later in grandiose fashion with a soaring melodic riff. This track expertly revolves around the theme of that opening riff while exploring different sound samples and aggressive drumming that adds up to an exhibition in masterful songwriting. As the music melts away into sounds of Finnish nature and noise, my car pulls into the driveway to signal the successful completion of a mind-altering sonic and physical journey that took us from the brightest rays of the sun to the unknown spirits of the night. Many scenes and sounds changed throughout the day, but the lasting impression will be in the mind and the memories that are now emblazoned with these great albums.