Oranssi Pazuzu narrowly missed out on Captain Ricard’s Best Black Metal Album of 2013 award (that went to Teethed Glory and Injury) with the magnificent Vaonielu. An instantly accessible yet bizarre and musically deep record, Vaonielu kept me away from my Toto loop for weeks with its sublime blend of catchy, aggressive riffs, trippy grooves, psychedelic synths, and menacing atmosphere. While (apparently) living legend Happy Metal Guy‘s assessment of the album reflected its mind-expanding nature scarily well, he uncharacteristically underrated the record, awarding a respectable but unreasonably low Good/5. When news came through to the Angry Metal Staff that Oranssi Pazuzu‘s latest was available to review, I was unusually quick in snapping it up so that I might right HMG‘s wrong by lavishing the record with suitably gushy praise and awarding them the Chpistorher Rike Medal of Valor1. So now I’ve heard it, is it worthy of such acclaim?
Well, almost. The musical elements that make Oranssi Pazuzu so unique and engaging are all present and correct, but they are ruined by the mastering. It feels like every other record I review these days has been violated by excessive compression, but it is especially damaging for a band like Oranssi Pazuzu, whose extended slow builds, warm synths and tripped-out jams need breathing space to allow the music to go somewhere other than Clipping Central, Brick Wall City when they unleash their aggressive side. This is a real step back from Vaonielu, which – while not especially dynamic – sounded very good, and is particularly galling when you listen back to some of the Krautrock Oranssi Pazuzu draw inspiration from and hear the fantastic use of dynamics to create thick, vibrant soundscapes. Värähtelijä is comparatively monochromatic, sterile, and often muffled, as if strangled by Pazuzu’s notorious serpentine schlong. It becomes such a distraction (the bad sound, not Pazuzu’s wang) that I’ve felt the need to moan about it right at the start of the review.
Musically Värähtelijä is excellent, the band continuing in the same vein as on Vaonielu. Their style is difficult to describe accurately, combining as it does such disparate influences as Tangerine Dream, Ved Buens Ende and Aborym; psychedelic black metal works reasonably as a descriptor, but it is slower, more sinister and less accessible than, for example, Hail Spirit Noir or Nachtmystium‘s (similarly over-compressed) Addicts record. Oranssi Pazuzu‘s songs tend to be based around simple and repetitive – but engaging – riffs, slowly adding many layers of synths, sound effects, guitars and harsh vocals that would provide an excellent example of how to build and release tension were the dynamics not quite so limited. The repetition works well in drawing the listener into a trance, especially given the use of slightly unusual rhythms, and despite the lengthy songs only very rarely approaches boredom.
Highlights include opener “Saturaatio,” which features an epic build and wonderful transition into a brooding close, “Hypnotisoitu Viharukous” with its dancing Aborym-esque synths, and the 17-minute epic “Vasemman käden hierarkia” that stays engaging from its Thorns-like opening, through passages of Enslaved-inspired prog metal, and a Faustian centrepiece before returning to a sludgy doom rendition of its opening. The full album is a whopping 69 minutes, and while that may be a little excessive, they make almost every one count. My only criticism is that the music doesn’t feel quite so memorable here as it did on Vaonielu; the focus is more on textures and structures than riffs, and that doesn’t lend itself well to easy recall.
It’s tough to know how to score Värähtelijä; the music is unique and wonderful, but I am put off repeated listening by the irritating sound. With a better mastering job this would be an easy 4.0, but I can’t award that when judging the whole package. I fully expect Värähtelijä to be one of the most interesting and innovative black metal albums of 2016, though, so it still deserves to be high on your shopping list.