As we hurtle headlong into another lap around the Sun, now is about the time we all take stock and reflect upon the goings on of the past 366 days. 2016 surely was a year of contrasts. While celebrities were busy dropping like flies, and the shit was hitting the political fan and spraying in an arc across most of the western world, those of us of a musical persuasion were treated to a veritable bounty of seriously impressive fare from right across the metal spectrum. Hoping for a similarly auspicious start to 2017, I embarked upon my first assignment of the year—Ons Vrije Fatum, by eccentric Dutch outfit Laster—not really knowing quite what to expect.
Attempting to categorize Laster is like trying to catch air with a net, but in a hypothetical “pick a genre or die” kind of scenario, one would probably end up lumping them in with the blackened shoegaze crowd. To do so would be a crass oversimplification, however, as their music incorporates an absurdly diverse range of elements and influences. Black metal shrieks? Check. Catchy melodies? Check. Trippy keyboard work? Check. Bongos? Fuck it, why not? It’s 2017, Dutch atmospheric blackened shoegazing space prog is an actual thing, and Laster are leading the charge. What a time to be alive.
Musically speaking, Laster are a band with fingers in many pies, and as Ons Vrije Fatum plays out, layers of black metal, progressive rock, ambient, electronica, and noise unfurl themselves for the listener to take in. One minute, it could be an Alcest record. The next, it’s Burzum all over, and then perhaps something from the back catalogues of Anathema or Antimatter. As a complete experience, it’s as diverse an album as I’ve heard in a long time. Crucially, though, it all works really well too. Whether it’s through the catchy refrains of its eponymous opener, the reflective dreaminess of “Binnenstebuiten,” or the jagged electronic heartbeat of “De Tijd Vóór,” Ons Vrije Fatum is a record that is constantly evolving in unexpected and genuinely interesting ways. It’s rarely dull and always has a surprise up its sleeve, ready to catch out any first-time listeners who think they’ve got it sussed.
Compositionally, Laster are very clever indeed. Oftentimes, just when one is expecting a chord progression or melody to go in a particular direction, it will veer off down a different route altogether. These twists are rarely flashy—if you’re only half paying attention to the music then they’re subtle enough to miss entirely—but they contribute significantly to the record’s all-around impact. Ons Vrije Fatum has so much going on that even after numerous spins, new features and elements will still come brimming to the surface with each listen. There’s an art to writing music of such depth and character, and it’s clear that Laster have devoted considerable time and energy to crafting something special.
The largely consistent quality of music on show here is punctuated with nice balancing and wholesome production. It must be said, however, that the longer tracks occasionally do feature passages that are perhaps a little bit more drawn out than they really need to be. Despite this though, the clarity and intricacy of the sound is such that, for the most part, this ought not to substantially affect one’s enjoyment of the record; even its weaker segments are usually engaging in their own right, even if they do feel a bit overworked when taken in the context of the album as a whole.
Its minor faults notwithstanding, Laster have written a fine record here, and one that will endure for years to come. It’s creative and intelligent— an original, well-executed piece of work that is unashamedly bizarre but conducts itself with style and decorum nonetheless. I can’t promise it’ll make up for the loss of the next beloved cultural icon to shuffle off this mortal coil into the annals of history, but if Ons Vrije Fatum is anything to go by, 2017 could shape up to be another musical year to remember. Here’s hoping.