When does music cross the line into noise? I play a lot of the promos to Mrs. Hollow, who often furrows her brow, grimaces, and says, “sounds like noise.” Inaccessibility is fine, as long as there is some reward in it, some sort of diamond in the rough. 2019’s best album, Abyssal‘s A Beacon in the Husk, was buried in a truly overwhelming murk of noise and ambiance, but at its core was a morbid parable of human futility. Meanwhile, there are blackened bands like the ever-controversial Stalaggh, whose noise had no purpose but to shock. Then there’s raw black metal, to which noise is inherent. I can feel the scoffs now,1 but the sub-subgenre ain’t goin’ anywhere anytime soon, ’cause there will be plenty of razor blade tremolos, trash can bangin’, and reverb-y croakin’ to be had. While excessive blackened rawness has its corpse-painted champions (Black Cilice, Pa Vesh En) in truly visceral music, its dumpster fire pioneers (Tank Genocide, Wold) are out here ruining it for everyone. Does Dutch ambient raw black metal group Dodenbezweerder rise above the noise? Or will their excessively wordsy debut simply add to it?
For those of you acquainted with the Dutch black metal scene, this is another project from Maurice “Mories” de Jong, whose sadistic tendrils puppeteer acts like Gnaw Their Tongues, De Magia Veterum, and Obscuring Veil, to name only a few. He and an anonymous member released three demos and an EP in 2019 under the moniker Dodenbezweerder,2 which attempts to fuse the sprawl and evocation of ambient black with the edge and claustrophobia of raw black, which, while commendable, suffered from mixing issues and ambiance overemphasis. Their debut full-length, the very loquaciously titled Vrees De Toorn Van De Wezens Verscholen Achter Majestueuze Vleugels,3 is a more cohesive and successful attempt to fuse these two dichotomous sounds, even if it now exposes other glaring issues.
Dodenbezweerder‘s best lies in the meditative–tracks that slow things down and let the rawness and synth-driven ambiance envelope. It’s in these songs, like the title track, “Opgeslokt door de ontzielde leegte,” and closer “Haat in het aangezicht van de verscheurde zielen,” in which Coldworld-esque ambiance and Satanic Warmaster-esque razing tremolo balance to an evocative Schrödinger’s cat of beautiful and sinister. It nearly achieves black metal bliss in strange stories driven by Mories’ distant vocals and a backbone of manic drums, while patient doom pace looms. Contrary to the demos unable to get the mix right, Dodenbezweerder‘s mixing is nearly perfect, balancing atmospheric heft, raw scorch, and a mood of sordid emptiness.
While the highlights showcase variety within its established sonic palette, other tracks tragically fall into the raw black trap: monotony. “Als het vuur van mijn toorn is ontstoken zal het branden tot in het diepste dodenrijk” is the worst example, as it loses distinctness following the title track, while simple songwriting tricks like awkward pacing holds back “Glimmende zwaarden door de mist van het evangelie.” Track “Zalf de voeten van het hoofdeloze lichaam”4 shows the only crossover into noise territory, as its “ambient interlude” quality overwhelms the mix with brutal noise a la Merzbow or Vanessa Collapsing that drones on excessively. Perhaps most glaring throughout is the sound of the drums: the toms and the double bass sound perfectly powerful and nearly doomy in their echoing quality, but the snare sounds far too similar to popping popcorn, and cannot carry more uptempo tracks.
Much of how listeners will react to Vrees De Toorn… is how each feels about raw black metal. If you’re into having your eardrums raped by razor blades and you don’t give a shit about quality, you will love Dodenbezweerder for sure. What makes this Mories project interesting, like Golden Ashes or Caput Mortuum, is that it avoids the industrial, sadistic, and torturous inclinations of his discography in favor of something a bit more fantastical. While fans may see that as a setback, it feels refreshingly straightforward and its brevity complements at thirty-seven minutes. But it’s still raw black metal: even if it is stronger than the majority of what the style offers, its purpose is its ugliness and inaccessibility. Vrees De Toorn… neither invents nor adds to the noise, leaving it in “eh, if you like raw black metal” limbo.