Dødheimsgard – Black Medium Current Review

If you were to ask me how to do avant-garde black metal, I would point straight away to Dødheimsgard. The trajectory of their sound from raw second-wave fury to electronic, industrial, jazzy, experimental black has been nothing short of thrilling to witness. 2015’s A Umbra Omega—my personal entry point—set a new standard in the avant-garde metal scene, demonstrating the weird, wonderful depths DHG could conjure, fully realized. It also broke them into the more mainstream metal channel, meaning that these past seven years have seen much more excited anticipation than any of the lengthy inter-album gaps of the band’s past. A Umbra Omega is a tough act to follow, but Black Medium Current is a beast of its own. While each are in their own way philosophical, the latter delves into more explicitly existential enigmas: identity, freedom, and action. It brings with it, therefore, the fluctuating moods and confusions of a wrestle with the self, in a way that only DHG can express. Not with harsh and biting delirium, but anxiety-ridden and profoundly introspective musical confrontation does it besiege. It’s less immediately provocative than its predecessor, but it compensates with the staying power of a deeper impression.

The power of experimental music is its capacity to invoke an especially intense series of moods through a combination of the unexpected and the uncanny. Black Medium Current is no exception, even as it tones down the wackiness, expressing most strongly feelings of dysphoria and sadness. This is DHG’s most straightforwardly emotional album, something that is enhanced through its interplay between the bristling dissonance, subtle weirdness, and wistful melodicism. Black Medium Current also sees the band trade clanging, jazzy experimentation for a stronger emphasis on electronica, woven into their black metal frame and wrapped around classical instrumentation. This helps ramp up disquiet (“Interstellar Nexus”), or urgency (“Det tomme kalde morke”), and generally creates an eerie aura. But it also creates beautiful themes and powerful releases of tension with exhales of angst-filled sighs (“Abyss Perihelion Transit ” “Halow,” “Requiem Aeternum”). The shadow of strangeness is there to lend an uneasy flutter to one’s stomach, whether it’s Vicotnik’s characteristic growls and moans, a plunge into psych rock, or some equally bizarre tempo choices. But this shadow is smaller, and more often an integrated ingredient to overall soundscapes than a schizophrenic fickleness, compared to past records.

Black Medium Current’s strength is its undeniable flow and sense of wholeness, as abrasive and alluring combine to make these feelings of confusion and malaise so prominent. DHG take time to ease the listener in with clean plucking, soft singing, and the quiet cries of a flute, and it’s not until the final act of this opening track, “Et Smelter,” that things get weird. It’s not only that tracks manage to switch tempos and styles with stunning ease. It’s also the cohesion—and the upswells of emotion—that comes from the pronounced melodies. Just as much as dramatically scaling tremolo, punctured by whooshes or fluttering bubbles of synth (“It Does Not Follow,” “Det tomme…”) thrill as they leap out as inevitable precipitants or culminations of the surrounding composition, so do the reverberations of solemn piano and weeping cello, touched with a flutter of electronica (“Voyager,” “Requiem Aeternum”) strike with devastating sadness.1 And that unease, creeping in with dissonant chord and electronic undulation (“Tankespinnerens Smerte,” “Interstellar Nexus,” “Abyss…”), or in the layered rasps and wails that accompany even the more alluring passages (“Et Smelter,” “Abyss…,” “Requiem Aeternum”), dominates. These make those scattered moments of true escape that much more uplifting, as when the DSBM of “Halow” surges into uplifting atmo-black and a chirruping cyclical synth refrain, and opens out to beautiful echoing keys over the pulse.

The album’s success in immersion and evocation is helped greatly by its production, which is just gorgeous. The quiet resounds spaciously, and the loud beats with assured clarity. I didn’t actually check how long this was until I’d already listened several times. While I wasn’t surprised to find it’s seventy minutes long, given DHG’s proclivities, I was nonetheless taken aback at how quickly an album could make that amount of time pass. Yes, it’s an investment, but one which pays dividends and takes the listener on a journey not only through avant-garde metal, but of reflection.

DHG have continued to evolve, and now bring a new vulnerability and emotionality to their sound. Poignant, potent, and a little peculiar, Black Medium Current isn’t quite perfect, but it’s damn close.

DR:  9 | Media Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Peaceville Records
Websites: bandcamp.com/album/black-medium-current| facebook.com/DODHEIMSGARD
Releases WorldwideApril 14th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. I fully admit to getting misty-eyed over the latter.
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