To fully appreciate the work of certain artists and bands, one often has to take a few steps back, pause, and try to understand the overarching plot. It’s only then, as the sight moves from narcissistic close-ups to long shots that hide details but reveal entire careers and troubled personal histories, that the moments and decisions leading to a record, the sheer artistic audacity, and the weight of concepts become clear. Norwegian trio Virus, and by extension its mastermind Carl-Michael Eide a.k.a. Czral, never steered away from oblique, almost hermetic forms that somehow seemed to cater to metal audiences while simultaneously belonging to completely different narratives. In that respect, Memento Collider is a culmination and possibly the band’s boldest statement to date.
By moving even farther from the black metal tropes found in Virus’ first record, Carheart, and by distancing themselves from the heritage of Ved Buends Ende, Memento Collider becomes the logical continuation of a path that the group has been set upon since 2008’s great The Black Flux. Rather than an aggressive metal machine such as those found in the French scene, Virus have the contours of a rambling, clinking, and tarnished apparatus that unstoppably trudges along disrupted lines fuelled by a sort of apocalyptic, surreal lyricism. A poem in motion, a vessel to deliver convoluted yet meaningful lyrics. Memento Collider is a slowly resolving art house flick, not a blockbuster. While many metal musicians will hide themselves behind either expected metal progressions and conclusions or outrageously and intentionally extravagant turns, Virus feels like a direct representation of Czral’s soul, one that uses music as an accompaniment for heartfelt recitation. Because of that, Memento Collider sounds sincere and offers glimpses of the childish playfulness of creation even when the work is seemingly so dark and serious.
Thus, thick, distorted riffs make way for sparse, spacey sounds. A very unusual, rasping guitar tone produces jangled, lightly dissonant chords that might have escaped the tyranny of a country or folk album. A weaving bass oscillates and walks up and down over uncharacteristic, progressive ridges. Drummer Einar Sjursø a.k.a. Einz syncopates his rhythms, giving the music a jazzy, raucous edge. All these elements are tied together by pronounced, almost exaggerated distances and guitar work that remains crucial despite being pushed back in the mix. The resulting style is nameless and unique. While there is a certain Voivodianess in the way that some riffs come into being, Czral’s convincing and theatrical spoken word cadence and the inescapable sense of content taking precedence over form invite me to place Virus alongside post-punk legacies and diatribes of greats such as The Fall or Wire. Still, as the grating, clicking, and reverberating start of “Afield” morphs into Morriconian panoramas and the strangely danceable galloping, spiraling rhythms of “Rogue Fossil,” it becomes clear that Virus don’t disturb themselves with questions of genre, but rather focus on delivering their own, unburdened and untainted vision.
Whether it’s a driven and driving, idiosyncratic tune like “Steamer,” the ethereal “Dripping into Orbit” or a manifestly progressive piece like “Gravity Seeker,” this vision prevails. And it’s a quirky, nigh demented vision that makes you see apparitions that you know aren’t really there, a vision that projects the retrofuturistic scenery of dystopian worlds and contemplates the apparent futility and senselessness of human existence. As Czral himself confesses in a recent interview, the underlying lyrics and themes, created with the help of English writer Johannah Henderson and indirectly inspired by the Romanian poet Celan, are intentionally tangled, hiding a multitude of undecipherable layers and meanings. There is masochistic pleasure to be found in the fruitless attempts at deciphering this keyless stream of consciousness. Not by accident, such an approach is also reflected in the array of musical ingredients that Virus uses, from the surf rock pacing of “Gravity Seeker” to the subtle touches of musical saws on “Steamer” and wood blocks on “Phantom Oil Slicks.” Ingredients whose timbres evoke the self-inflicted loneliness and tragicomic wanderings of Sergio Leone’s morally grey spaghetti western heroes and the dark, unending voyages of Lisandro Alonso’s pained and tortured characters.
As I went back and revisited the rest of Virus’ discography in the past few weeks, my appreciation of Memento Collider grew considerably. There is maturity, clarity, and purpose hidden in its notes, murmurs, and rants. There is a sense of a band that’s fully understood its purpose and calling. While ostensibly standing still, they have evolved. And they continue evolving.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Karisma Records
Websites: virus.bandcamp.com | virusnorway.com | facebook.com/virusnorwayofficial
Releases Worldwide: Digital: June 3rd, 2016 | CD: June 10th, 2016