Thanks to divine intervention and a quark-sized attention span, I find myself faced with my second super-dense slab of black metal in two weeks. I could take responsibility for this and actually look at my upcoming review calendar from time to time, but I’m American and my right to complain about things I have total control over is in the Constitution. Still, perhaps I should have recognized that an album named Negative Atonal Dissonance screamed “artsy fartsy solo black metal.” Right on cue, Damjan Stefanovic crammed as much weird as he could into Perpetual Consciousness Nightmare, the 2015 debut from his MRTVI project. With NAD, Stefanovic sees no reason to wake from that terror, instead delving even deeper into the maddening expanse of a caustic hellscape.
Though I’ve heard my fair share of weird shit recently, I thought PCN would at least be a decent baseline. Nope. “As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh Part 1” is the slowest of burns, inching its way through eight minutes of dissonance and feedback, brimming with devilish spoken word contorted to emulate backmasking. The track eschews conventional instruments and barely breaches the minimums of “music,” if at all. Yet it’s discomfiting how easily the proceedings can turn your stomach. MRTVI shares a name with the Serbian word for “dead” and, like the record’s title, owns every bit of that meaning. When the claustrophobic insanity of “As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh Part 2” relieves the waiting, the pit in your stomach curdles as heinous vocals drag the rotting corpse of metal behind them.
Experimental in every sense, the long-form bulk of “Part 2” and finale “Negative Atonal Dissonance” never deigns to give you what you want. Only disjointed segments of the music, notably the first half of “Part 2,” shares traits with black metal, but the horrific hodgepodge of roars, clatter, and static place NAD firmly within noise’s boundaries. A dichotomy of silence and intense chaos reveals itself time and again, while its heights often have a throbbing, industrial quality to them. Stefanovic himself rejects “production values that serve no other purpose other than to sound recognisable and palatable.” So as NAD abrasively bends your intestines into pretzels, it’s worth highlighting that this exercise is entirely intentional. The frustration I feel listening to it for the first and the fifth times. The vice grips pressing upon my temples as Stefanovic’s layers of grinding agitation close in around me. The nightmarish confines of his mind bleeding into mine as I lay awake at night listening. It’s as if MRTVI constructed NAD with my discomfort in mind, the excision of joy the project’s raison d’être.
If I wanted to stretch for a reference, I would reach for Igorrr, but solely as a measure of strangeness. Stefanovic’s vicious croaks and the pervasive discord of his instrumentality overrule any technical comparisons. The way he lays out his work is impressive, cycling a myriad of disparate sounds and production elements into his monument to the abyss. The album’s apparent depth prospers even in its most grating moments. But despite my appreciation of MRTVI’s lofty goals, I found PCN easier to parse than NAD. For all its weirdness, PCN managed some tangibility. NAD lacks the moments that make a record and foregoes many elements necessary to retain its claim as music. It pushes the boundaries of metal, but only by ignoring metal’s corporeal aspects. The mental connection MRTVI forges feels fundamentally different from the ones that make metal so special. I admire the final product only in the way that one appreciates a piece of art from across a velvet rope – coolly, distantly, and without embrace.
A disclaimer on MRTVI’s bandcamp warns that “Negative Atonal Dissonance is not an album. It is a statement.” Under this guise, it’s quite easy to recommend this eclectic work of art. For many, myself included, it will be one of the most memorable experiences of the year. Taking a step forward and embracing the (non-)album as music is vastly more difficult. MRTVI achieves exactly what it sets out to, but the result is so off-putting that I have no desire to return. If this intrigues you even slightly, I recommend exploring the expanse of Negative Atonal Dissonance yourself. The score below and the words above cannot properly convey the experience within.