The trick is to keep moving. A quarter of a century into their careers, French black metallers Blut Aus Nord have left a stunning trail of records behind, shifting in strange directions with each of them, unafraid to wander off into uncharted territories in search of the next fresh sound. They mastered filthy, industrial-tinged dissonance on The Work Which Transforms God, collided star systems with MoRT, and stretched the limits of the genre into avant-garde sfumatos on the 777 trilogy. Simultaneously, the Memoria Vetusta series anchored them to traditional black metal. Whichever the style, the quality of their output never faltered. They could and have done whatever they wanted. Yet even in such a varied discography, their thirteenth LP Hallucinogen arrives as a sharp and expectedly unexpected detour. An ascendance to a higher celestial plane.
At first glance, the delightful psychedelic cover art and album title suggest that the Blut Aus Nord masterminds, drummer and multi-instrumentalist W.D. Feld and guitarist and vocalist Vindsval, finally went completely bonkers and created an Infected Mushroom-inspired psytrance/black metal crossover. In reality, the similarities with the Israeli duo are restricted to the music’s inspiration, earthy tones, and organic feel. Hallucinogen, for most of its duration, stays rooted in black metal, but also reaches well beyond it. Springing from ariose, vibrating escapades reminiscent of Memoria Vetusta, the eight cuts become heavy mescaline hits laced with psych rock, blues, blackgaze, and funk. It is an approach that has more in common with heady trips like Waste of Space Orchestra’s Syntheosis than any of the group’s previous releases. In that sense, the opener “Nomos Nebuleam” is the perfect introduction to the new style. Incisive and melodic, Vindsval’s incredible leads and solos drive the cut. Meanwhile, tremolos buzz above and below him, frame floating chants, blossom into gorgeous melodies, and finally descend into rocking repetitions: hypnotic, mind-bending, and captivating.
The remaining seven songs adopt a similar formula, varying the amount of each style in the mixture. “Nebeleste” and “Anthosmos” compact and hone the band’s sound as chants turn into growls and things get crunchier. Melodies are crowned with thorns of blacker riffs and spread in multiple directions like poison infecting blood. There are moments of stark beauty in these two compositions: thrilling tempo changes, galloping rhythms, and alternating growled and clean vocals locked in call-and-response patterns, all of them leading into harmonically rich crescendos. Yet the oddest songs on the album, “Haallucinählia” and “Cosma Procyiris,” dazzle the most. Here, Blut Aus Nord fully embrace their psychotropic side, twirling through progressive, groovy, atmospheric, and shoegaze sections. At first, they might channel these sensitives into squealing riffs and soaring rhythmic backdrops. Then, suddenly, they send them tumbling down ritualistic, slow-paced paths. It is both a wonderful, constantly enjoyable journey and a buildup that escalates into rewarding black metal climaxes.
Although there are traces of black metal’s tumultuous history in Hallucinogen, the record has few peers within and without Blut Aus Nord’s work. After having briefly lost their way with the underwhelming Deus Salutis Meæ, Hallucinogen stands as a triumphant return and a promise of more to come. Because Blut Aus Nord never stop moving.
Tracks to Check Out: “Sybelius,” “Haallucinählia,” and “Cosma Procyiris”