So far, 2020 has been gray. I mean this quite literally, as the Twin Cities, Minnesota saw a January with the least solar radiation since records began. In layman’s terms, it’s been cloudy as fuck. Winter in a Midwestern city designed around cars is already dirty with gray slush, snirt—snow mixed with dirt—and road salt everywhere, but take away the sun completely and all contrast and saturation drains out of the landscape. Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in, you’re tired all the time, but you still have to get up in the dark, go to work and drive home just as it’s getting dark again. So far, the literal grayness of my year has also extended to the albums I’ve reviewed, where I’m averaging a perfectly colorless 2.5. Heading into February, I thought grabbing some black metal might give me the contrast I crave. Can Turia‘s third album Degen van Licht jolt me out of this malaise? Judging from the decidedly gray cover, things are looking dubious.
Hailing from the Netherlands, Turia describes Degen van Licht as “an ode to the ageless lure of the unyielding mountains, and an exploration of the sweltering warmth which encompasses these heights every summer.” That doesn’t sound much like the icy forest obsessed second wave, and neither does Degen van Licht. This is immediately noticeable in the production, which has a fuller, richer sound than many a black metal album. Guitars still buzz, but it’s a warmer tone, while drums boom in the lower registers. The band cites influences ranging from Bathory to Hawkwind, and while I can certainly hear the former, I’m not sure about the latter, unless it’s in the not-very-black metal approach to the drums, which often carry more of a rock beat. There are a few trots and a few gallops across the album, but mostly the pace is a constant canter. Even the blast beats are just a bit slower than one would expect.
There’s a dominant song type on Degen van Licht that is moody, swirling and mid-paced, but the best material goes against that grain. “Met Sterven Beboet” is hypnotic as it cycles through pummeling blast beats and wind-downs to a riff late in the song that changes up the usual guitar tone for a rich, warm, almost rock-like melody. Instrumental track “II” is also a nice detour, featuring a gentle interplay between guitar and keys, but the clear standout is “Storm.” While most of the album buries simple melodies in favor of rhythmic surges, “Storm” is the kind of black metal song that meshes stark atmosphere with overt, affecting melodies to emotionally immediate effect. At five and a half minutes, it’s a bit shorter than the other non-instrumental tracks, but more importantly, it feels more concise and composed.
Which brings me to my main beef with Turia. All that mid-paced cantering plus riffs that churn and swirl, then swirl and churn in rhythmic surges means Degen van Licht is all simmer and no boil. For the most part, songs like “Merode,” “Degen van Licht” and “Ossifrage” are interchangeable. They each build an effective atmosphere, but structurally they’re amorphous. If you’re looking for music to zone out to, this will do the trick, but the nebulous songwriting often seems aimless. This is compounded by vocalist T’s delivery—yes, more black metal musicians that only go by single initials—which is often untethered from whatever else is going on in the song. With a random shriek here and a string of two or three words there, there’s no telling where she’ll interject her rasped lyrical fragments.
If you’ve been following along, “mid-paced,” “amorphous” and “nebulous” all can stand in for “gray.” Like my sunless existence in 2020, there’s not a lot of contrast in Degen van Licht. If you’re willing to submit yourself to the churning rhythms, this can be an enjoyable, if sometimes passive listen. If, like me, you’re waiting for the songwriting to let the sun break free from the proverbial clouds, you’d be better off getting a light box.