Black metal has become so diverse that the tag has practically lost all meaning. What does it refer to these days? The post-black style first whisked from Cascadia in 2007 with Wolves in the Throne Room’s seminal Two Hunters? Or the stomach-churning dissonance of Deathspell Omega? Or maybe legacy acts like Mayhem, still trudging on and attempting to rekindle the fires that burned so fiercely in the early 90s? With Czech group Kult Ofenzivy, the answer is ‘none of the above.’ They’re a purebred enigma on today’s scene – third full-length Nauky ruznic features no overblown theatrics, ‘tl;dr’ pseudo-intellectual manifestos (see: Liturgy), or grim black-and-white band pics snapped in snowy wastelands. In fact, the members of this ‘Cult of the Offensive’ are a complete mystery, and their technique is as bare-bones as second-wave black metal comes. It’s perfect music for evening autumn walks, an ominous chill in the air and the first jack-o-lanterns showing up on neighbors’ porches. In this setting, does Kult Ofenzivy provide?
Yes – but not without damning caveats. With its stripped-down nature and constant tension, the obvious comparison is Darkthrone’s infamous Transylvanian Hunger, an album I respect, though don’t totally admire, for its historic importance and engulfing atmosphere. Yet Nauky ruznic is different in several critical respects. The title’s English translation, ‘Doctrine of Discord,’ is fitting, with the chords often discordant and jarring rather than flowing and atmospheric. A negative? Not entirely, as their call-and-response style, the initial motif conflicting with the concluding half, gives the work a sense of violent urgency. “III” (non-native speakers can ignore the tracks’ Czech subtitles, they’re rendered into incoherent psychobabble upon translation) exhibits this best, its transcendent feel augmented by bombastic Carpathian-blizzard drumming.
Fortunately, this drumming isn’t nearly as one-dimensional as you’d expect. While relentless blastbeats provide the substrate from which the riffs grow, the furious cymbal flourishes and occasional fills project mad power. The vocals also contribute to this vibe. The anonymous frontman utilizes gruff croaks with a thick Eastern-European accent and nary a hint of Norwegian rasp. Sure, the Czech lyrics could be reciting a German hash cookie recipe for all I know (and considering the album cover is an image of a DNA strand juxtaposed with a profile shot of an impeccably chisel-jawed man, I’m not sure I want to know), but their feel is unique in a genre saturated with harsh shrieks. Always delivered in four or five word phrases, they’re enunciated as commanding occult recitations.
Unfortunately, this brings out one of the biggest flaws in Nauky ruznic: although it’s nearly EP-length at 25 minutes, the repetitive vocal and riffing patterns make you want to put a shotgun in your mouth before the end. Perhaps they’re attempting to recreate the same trancelike state listeners of Transylvanian Hunger claim to experience – if so, they fail. Things start out strong with ebbing and flailing tremolos on “I,” but by closer “V” the monotony becomes so dense you’ll gladly agree with whatever philosophy Kult Ofenzivy supports – as long as they promise to shut the fuck up in return.
At least the production is solid. Providing a clear picture rather than cloaking everything in a scratchy hiss, each element is given ample space to breathe. Still, the presentation is not enough to entrance you the way Transylvanian Hunger’s opening riff does. A more interesting mix supplemented with truly noteworthy riffs would have done wonders for both the mood and overall impact.
Despite its clarity and simplicity (or perhaps because of it), this album initially feels nigh impenetrable. Further listens reveal it merely as a blank slate – other than surface-level menace, it arouses only whatever feelings you project onto it. Thus Nauky ruznic isn’t a grand modern relic: it’s a passing curiosity, an ugly living fossil of a species nearly driven to extinction amidst the symphonic blasting of Dimmu Borgir. Undoubtedly this will find its niche in some dank cavity of the underground, destined to be name-dropped on obscure forums and shelved in Scandinavian record stores for years to come. Decent enough? Sure. But frankly, let the aficionados have their circle jerk while I listen to Sunbather and ignore the faint cries of ‘hipster.’ Corpse paint, church burnings, 1990s Norway – I love it all as much as the next guy, but maybe we should finally admit this style’s time has come and gone.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Website: Too Kvlt for the Interwebs
Release Date: Out Worldwide 11.17.2014