Photo by J. Nepper

On a bright and sunny Thursday morning in mid-April, this scribe was granted an exclusive peak at the upcoming full-length assault by Norwegian black metal stalwart Taake, or rather an intimate listen, as it were. Being as enamored as I am with the disquieting outputs that the intriguing musical entity has released these past three decades, it should come as no surprise that I immediately accepted the invitation when it was extended to me a few days before the actual listening session. Thoughts and something akin to worries presented themselves literally seconds later; how is one to prepare for such an event? Would it make any sense to absorb and digest the entire discography in the days leading up to the meeting in order to feel fully prepared? Then again, main man Hoest has never been prone to repeating himself nor releasing the exact same thing twice, so an open mind and a profound sense of curiosity were arguably the best way to approach our rendezvous at the Conclave & Earshot Studio and what I was about to immerse myself in. For the sake of clarity, one thing that needs to be mentioned is that superbly crafted works such as Noregs Vaapen (2011), Stridens Hus (2014), Kong Vinter (2017), and the self-titled LP (2008) rank very high on this writer’s list of essential albums and must-haves regardless of style or genre. This is merely another of stating that I did harbor an inherent desire to listen to a stately piece of work when I rang the doorbell at the aforementioned studio in a vibrant part of the city of Bergen that never quite seems to yawn itself to sleep.

      The ever friendly and laidback Bjørnar Nilsen (Vulture Industries) who is in charge of producing, mixing, and engineering Taake’s forthcoming opus was there to welcome me, and twenty minutes later we were joined by Hoest. There was a cordial atmosphere and heaps of enthusiasm present in the small kitchen where we drank coffee and talked back and forth about all manner of things regarding the new material. While some things were kept close to his chest, which is exactly what I had anticipated considering the enigmatic and alluring nature of Hoest’s musical creation, others were openly discussed and casually woven into our conversation. The record contains four lengthy compositions and a total runtime of forty-two minutes, and the talented Herbrand Larsen who has wielded his magic for Taake on many previous occasions in relation to audio mastering will be onboard for this 2023 offering as well and perform said task. With respect to the layout, a special treat for those who purchase the CD or vinyl edition will be the inclusion of lyrics in the booklet – hardly standard fare for this act as no lyrics have been printed since 2011.

      “When will Taake’s new music see the light of day?” I hear you ask, and the answer is when the temperatures in Scandinavia are cool and crisp, the leaves change colors, and all traces of summer gracefully wither and die, i.e., September. Another interesting thing that Hoest related to us was that he had hardly listened to any new music at all these past few years, meaning essentially that his latest compositions were not inspired by things outside of his own inner sphere, or his own thoughts, feelings, and reflections, if you will. In addition, the pandemic was a highly productive period in time for our main protagonist where his creative juices were flowing, thereby spawning a significant amount of material. An educated guess suggests that you and I have more than just one Taake output to look forward to in the future.

      The three of us then entered the studio itself, and the two gentlemen politely asked me to take a seat in the producer’s chair so that I was situated perfectly with respect to where the sound from the speakers was coming from. We then embarked on our blackened odyssey together . . .   

      With an ominous and dissonant soundscape that moved seamlessly into a rip-roaring and razor-sharp riff, we were off to a magnificent start. The vocals were decidedly eerie and very much used as an actual instrument as opposed to merely being placed on top of the music, which entailed that every little nuance and texture of the whole cursed endeavor complemented each other and worked in unison. This fierce piece was melancholy beyond anything I had ever heard by Taake previously, and there were countless interesting shifts and dynamics present in it that left yours truly speechless. To these ears, it came across as layered yet immediately accessible, which is obviously a balance that is rather difficult to strike, and those early black metal influences that reared their heads throughout added a grim and caustic touch to the proceedings. As the emotionally charged work writhed in agony and called forth a wintry atmosphere that was emphasized by some melodically strong flourishes, it suddenly slithered toward a glorious passage that would linger in the back of my mind for days afterwards due to its enticing sense of stark beauty and dangerously seductive aura. One could easily imagine the song going down a storm in a live setting and becoming a bona fide classic among fans and listeners. Its fittingly epic and climactic denouement had a spellbinding effect on this scribe.   

      Next up was something that can best be described as a raging tempest encompassing a vigorous and unsettling vibe of reckless wildness. One could easily ascribe that to its creative riffs and clever arrangements, but the fact of the matter was that it came across as dangerous and edgy, which is all about the ability to conceive a suitably thick atmosphere, really. The vocals felt quite introspective and were tinged with a deep-seated sense of longing throughout, but overall, the composition was incredibly varied, unpredictable, and in possession of a robust drive. In fact, it struck me as being a surprisingly memorable entry in the Taake catalog, but as with everything else on the disc, it obviously also warranted many repeated listens in order to decipher and penetrate its mysteries properly. Things ebbed and flowed perfectly, and nothing ever felt superfluous or out of place. Those slow and brooding passages that crept into the framework chilled me to the bone, and only an idiot would claim that it was not an outright intense and effective blast of dramatic black metal that embodied all the things that make Taake exceptional. On a final note, I could only marvel at the quality of the mix in that every instrument was clearly audible, yet it retained that unfiltered sense of unique rawness that is synonymous with Hoest’s charismatic sound and musical identity. It takes skill to achieve something like that.

      The third cut exploded right out of the gate and was primarily a fast-paced gem, but as you should know by now, things are rarely straightforward when it comes to Taake’s dense song material, and I was almost caught off guard by its menacing twists and turns. One of its riffs recalled the Noregs Vaapen record (think ‘Fra Vadested til Vaandesmed’), and the drums were in constant motion and consistently propelled the tune forwards. The curious thing was that it never felt even remotely like traditional black metal despite it incorporating some of the tropes and elements that one usually associates with the genre. Eerily familiar yet comfortably different. Makes sense? It had a splendid emotional pull that evoked a strange sensation of yearning in me, and with an awe-inspiring power to enthrall the listener, it will inevitably worm its way into your psyche too.  

      The closing track was . . . no, wait, I need a minute to collect my thoughts here. The short answer is that it was staggeringly passionate and formidable, but to put it in as concise terms as possible, it was a sheer triumph. Sporting one of the finest riffs ever conceived by its composer and standing tall and proud as his most cohesive and majestic work to date, it simply ticked all the pitch-black boxes for me. When trying to express and recount its soul-stirring aspects, words simply fail me, but I am perfectly okay with that as I know that you too will surrender to it in a few months’ time. Sinister, desolate, heart-piercing, and even groovy at times, it felt so ridiculously trance-inducing and elegantly hypnotic that I lost all track of time and place. It left me feeling permanently alone. As I told my hosts afterwards, this was one of the most gripping listening experiences that I had enjoyed recently, and we can only hope that it will be added to the band’s setlist one day.

      As the unsettling noise and feedback rang out, we sat in silence for thirty seconds before I looked Hoest and Bjørnar in the eyes and simply nodded in approval as I was struggling to string a coherent sentence together. Such was the effect it had on me, and one can but admire the compositional skill of Hoest as well as his impeccable knack for crafting ideas that sound fresh and forward-thinking while still retaining the essence of the past. Things are in perpetual motion but the inspiration and aesthetics that have shaped the music since the beginning remain undimmed and intact.

      What I was fortunate enough to listen to was without compromise; not an ounce of it was calculated or mathematical; everything was riddled with intuition and heartfelt impulses; the four strokes of genius formed a singular vision. What you can look forward to is a breathtaking record that resounds with meaning and purpose.

The new album will be released by Dark Essence Records in cooperation with Svartekunst Produksjoner.

Leave a Reply