To say that 2016 was a tumultuous year would be an understatement akin to calling the thirty-year siege of Ceuta a “brief skirmish.” For all the trials and tribulations endured, last year did produce a heady number of quality metal albums that offered some comfort for the unfolding apocalypse. One of those albums was Magic Night by one-man black metal act Violet Cold, a bittersweet hour of instrumental blackgaze that earned a place on my year-end Top 10 list. Emin Guliyev, the sole puppeteer of Violet Cold, returns with a new album entitled Anomie, except this record re-inserts vocals for a release in line with traditional atmospheric black metal albums. I was greatly anticipating getting my hands on Anomie, but I did harbor a small measure of concern that the inclusion of vocals may spoil the delicate composition found on Magic Night. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and while both albums share structural similarities it would be wrong to assume that Anomie is simply Magic Night plus vocals.
I had initially thought that the album title was a name, perhaps in reference to the young woman on the album cover. What I discovered is that “anomie” is a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals,” a form of social disorder that was first outlined in the 1897 book “Suicide” by Émile Durkheim. Durkheim and others exhort that anomie represents a schism between the collective goal of a society and the individual’s inability to achieve it, leading to potential deviant behaviour. Anomie can also describe individuals ignored and vilified because they run counter to a society’s groupthink. It’s the latter that informs the tone on Anomie, a blistering expulsion of frustration and bitterness that contrasts against the inward melancholy found on Magic Night.
Opener “Anomie” leaves no doubt that Guliyev is upset with the current order of things, the track erupting out of the gate with varnish-stripping tremolo picking and unremitting blastbeats. It’s not long before Guliyev spits out his vocals, offering a rasp that is equal parts venom and sorrow, the equivalent of a hiss escaping clenched teeth. The shift in tone from Magic Night is noticeable but not overt, the change stemming from the heightened energy and palpable outpouring of emotion. Flourishes like middle-eastern guitar and siren ellipses displays the hallmarks of a Violet Cold release. “She Spoke of Her Devastation” is a languid stretching of limbs and though it may be redolent with synths the music buckles under the weight of cascading chords and tear-brimmed wails. Guliyev once again proves that he is an uncannily talented man, being able to play the living daylights out of any instrument he touches and then arranging it with compositional grace. There’s a rightness to the music on the album, a nourishing truth that borders on a Platonic ideal.
The music is also heavy but rather than expressing this through a battery of notes or unspeakable volume the impact comes from the outpouring of grief, rage and anxiety that is tethered to every note. Magic Night had a resigned sorrow in its bones, but the beauty buried in the blues made the experience akin to beholding a carving made from lapis lazuli. Anomie is also beautiful but rather than offering a wan smile at a hopeless situation, it twists its face with grief and lets out a howl of indignation. There’s an air of desperation to the music, as if each song may be the last. “Lovegaze” is a gorgeous track, swirling with vivacious keys, fulsome bass and zig-zag synths that wouldn’t be out of place on a Muse record, but the love feels unrequited, like the subjects know their star-crossed fate will tear them apart.
Guliyev has again delivered an album worthy of praise that stands as one of the strongest releases this year. It’s also the most emotionally draining record that I’ve imbibed in recent memory. After every listen I sat for a spell, silent, trying to summon my spirit and regain my cheer. Anomie delivers the feeling of rueful disassociation that is its namesake and does it with a grace that belies the torment therein. When final track “No Escape From Dreamland” fades out to the whistling of woodwind instruments, blastbeats, mournful synths and impotent screams, the silence in its wake leaves me deeply perturbed. I feel like I’ve lost something that I may never get back. All I want to do is return to Anomie’s shore, but it’s hard when you know your heart will be dashed against the rocks.