BLUT AUS NORD – Hallucinogen
France’s mysterious Blut Aus Nord have been releasing quality atmospheric/ambient/avant-garde black metal since 1994 (the golden age of black metal), growing through various evolutions of sound and direction. Mostly known for their outstanding ‘Memoria Vetusta’ and ‘777’ trilogies, there have been a few adventurous missteps (2006’s ‘MoRT’ and 2007’s ‘Odinist’) but also some true successes such as 2003’s ‘The Work Which Transforms God’ which have shown just how forward-thinking and talented the band are. Fast-forward to 2019, and they hit the jackpot again, this time with the organically psychedelic ‘Hallucinogen’.
Their basic sound has always been more of a dark industrial atmosphere filled to the brim with burning dissonance, a perfect canvas for anti-religious black metal art. But, as mentioned before, Blut Aus Nord are explorers of the genre, not archivists. With ‘Hallucinogen’, there will be cries of “sellout!” from the trve hordes because there are a truckload of synth layers and clean choral parts that, whilst feeding the music here, probably won’t fit in with what certain stringent factions of black metal fandom consider to be true to style. Which is straight-up ridiculous.
The band announced that ‘Hallucinogen’ was to be a departure from their dissonant past, allowing for the music to grow and progress. And progression plays a big part here too, albeit not in the virtuoso prog metal sense – there are repeated riff motifs throughout the album, stretched to luminous areas through differing time signatures, heavy distortion, and a cleaner, more focused sound. Speaking of which, this is the production that Blut Aus Nord have been aiming for since their inception. On tracks like ‘Cosma Procyiris’ and ‘Anthosmos’, the music is full and vibrant, colourful and far easier to digest than ever before (yet another gripe for the grim hordes, I’m sure), and it makes for a truly pleasurable listen. One aspect that I’m sure is intentional and adds to the overall withdrawn psychedelia are the vocals which are kept far back in the mix. With black metal generally, the raspy vocals usually play a very important and prominent role, but here they are treated as an aesthetic instrument, which I think is absolute genius. As someone that focuses on the instrumentation in music, I love the burying of the vocals, and it adds such a key highlight to the sound. This is psychedelic black metal done with bravery and confidence.
Is it the best album that the band have ever released? No, but it is an extremely important building block for the next stage of their career and the evolution of the band. It is also an absolutely wonderful and trippy listen through a garden of black metal weirdness that will make my top albums list of the year. And the fact that it will piss off the narrow-minded is just an added bonus, because black metal should be about pushing boundaries and not regression, something that Blut Aus Nord have excelled at right here.