There’s a lot to be said about a band that can produce albums that are radically different from each other, but still are unmistakably recognizable as a product of their arduous labor. Even more can be said when those albums are consistent in their high level of quality. Whether it’s minimalist atonal industrial sludge or tremolo-infused melodic black metal, French overlords Blut Aus Nord are masters at throwing massive curveballs, yet somehow keep their identity in check, as if each album is a malignantly misshaped branch on the same dark, regal oak tree. After a few EPs and a solo trilogy in the 777 albums, they return with the third chapter in the Memoria Vetusta series, Saturnian Poetry, their first album in two years and their first with new drummer Thorns.
As with the prior MV chapters, Blut Aus Nord did away with the industrial tinges and atonal warpings that made The Work Which Transforms God, MoRT and the 777 trilogy such grotesque works of blackened art. What you get instead is just straight-up melodic black metal with organic drums and layers upon tasty layers of tremolo guitars. First proper track “Paien” showers you with a barrage of relentless drumming and Vindsval’s trademark wall of guitar wizardry, evoking the chill of pagan winters with effortless grace. Even Vindsval’s clean vocals (which were a bit much on 777: Cosmosophy) show some improvement, but mostly the album utilizes his high rasp to full effect. Despite all the activity going on with the guitars, you can still pick out the keyboard melodies to a certain extent. Hell, even the bass makes an appearance!
As you can imagine with any Blut Aus Nord album, Vindsval’s guitar acrobatics take the spotlight, and it’s no different on Saturnian Poetry. The shimmering melodies that peppered Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars serve as a welcome break in “Forhist” at the 3:49 mark, acting as a bit of a breather between the constant barrages of impressive drum fills and non-stop tremolo. “Metaphor of the Moon” aims for (and achieves) total majesty with a well-performed atmospheric chorus and some beautiful soaring melodies. Speaking of clean choruses, “Henosis” is the best example of how much better Vindsval’s voice has gotten in the last few years, keeping to a low range, but very effective throughout the song. Once again, though, his mastery of guitar shows no limits or any signs of creative bankruptcy.
There are a few things keeping this album from achieving perfection. Despite the strong vocal performances on the album, the clean sections of “Clarissima Mundi Lumina” are a bit off for my tastes. Also, compared to the prior MV, the tracks here do blur quite a bit. In fact, while this is a strong album and a welcome return to the blackened fold, I rank this behind Dialogue With the Stars in terms of performance and the strength of the music. Still, this is one hell of an enjoyable album, especially since the production allows for each guitar track (and bass!) to be heard. Plus, that Kristian “Necrolord” Wåhlin album art is fucking SWEET.
2014 is going out with a cold, frosty bang between the new Darkspace and Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry. All of you who have waited patiently for the newest chapter in the MV saga will be rewarded handsomely, as this further cements Blut Aus Nord as leaders of their field. Essential.