For someone who listens to so much black metal, I’m not big into forests. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize their beauty, importance as habitat, and role in keeping the whole planet alive and whatnot. I mean, I live in Minnesota, where every resident has a cabin “up north” surrounded by woods, woodsy people and woodsy craft stores with chainsaw sculpture bears wearing flannel. We even have two million acres of boreal forest here, part of the world’s largest land-based biome. The thing is, I grew up on the practically treeless Great Plains in a state that’s one-third sandhills—think a flatter Mongolia with more Trump yard signs—and those vast, open spaces fundamentally shaped my perception. Being in forests for extended periods makes me uneasy, because 50 feet of visibility feels claustrophobic when you’re used to seeing the point where the Earth curves away. Russian atmo-black duo Grima have no such qualms. Hailing from Siberia and that same boreal forest, “taiga” to them, they make music to “worship the elder forest…where the Grima is a supreme god…who protects only those who live in a forest, and punishes everyone who does not respect nature.” To which I say, backing away slowly, “Whoa fellas, we’re all nature lovers here. Forests, amirite?”
While I may not share their enthusiasm for solitary walks in the woods, I’m much more taken with the folk-infused atmospheric black metal of Grima‘s third full-length album Will of the Primordial. A potent mix of affecting melody, raw aggression, and compositional dexterity keeps the album moving along at an exhilarating pace despite extended atmospheric stretches. Folk elements are mainly confined to the extensive use of accordion, that quintessentially Russian instrument, ever present in their music and literature. It’s with an accordion that Rodion bludgeons the old woman to death in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In Solzhenitsyn’s One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the prisoners build accordions in their Siberian labor camp. In Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Lawrence Welk is a member of Satan’s entourage. Kidding. *Russian accent* I make joke. Facetious aside, Grima uses regionally appropriate folk influences to enhance the epic sweep of their music in much the same way as Panopticon or Saor, which is to say it’s expertly incorporated and never tips into schlock.
So much atmospheric black metal these days sacrifices bite and heft in service of weepy melody, becoming the metal equivalent of a limp handshake. This is not at all the case on Will of the Primordial. There are the usual trappings of atmo here, including (unintrusive) keyboards, but the crunch of snow and skulls underfoot remains intact. This is unsurprising, as the two members, brothers Vilhelm and Morbius, also moonlight in Doc Grier favorite Second to Sun. Vilhelm’s black rasps especially have all the cold bite of an Arctic night as the sleeping sun languishes, and when he switches to his impressive death growl on stretches of “The Shrouded In Darkness” and “Howl at Night,” it’s enough to curdle blood. For the most part, each song moves from strength to strength, making it hard to choose a stand out. That said, the one-two punch of “Blizzard” and “Howl at Night” is a fine stretch. The former is all buzzsaw tremolos while the latter weaves mournful leads with lilting accordion melodies.
Will of the Primordial‘s drawbacks are relatively minor, but do prevent it from reaching greater heights. It’s too bad “Enisey” was the first advance track, as it’s the weakest of the “proper” songs. While capably played from an instrumental standpoint, it fits the unfortunate trend of atmo-black compositions actually being doom with less interesting riffs dressed up in sticks and pine cones. Still, its crystalline intro reminds me strongly of Bjork‘s Vespertine, and that’s pretty damn cool. True to the subgenre, there are two instrumental tracks padding out the run time, but with vocal-less stretches already built into the other songs, they don’t contribute much to the overall strength of the album. One would be plenty, so if I had my druthers, I’d cut the first and leave the album closing instrumental.
One or two genre clichés aside, Grima rises well above the atmo-black fray with Will of the Primordial because they don’t sacrifice the gnarly for the epic. It soothes and terrifies in turns, and seems like appropriate music for the worship of ancient trees and vengeful forest spirits. If you find yourself without AC in the coming dog days of summer, just give this record a spin and enjoy the icy Siberian wind.