It has been described as the world’s most succinct word: “Mamihlapinatapai.” From the near-extinct Yaghan language, it means, “A look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire, but which neither wants to begin.” It also happens to be the name of one of the songs on Violet Cold’s new album, kOsmik. If you look at the philosophy of Violet Cold, the one-man post-black metal project of the prodigiously talented, and prolific Emin Guliyev from Azerbaijan, this word seems to sum it up perfectly. On previous albums, notably Magic Night and Anomie, he articulated a rage at humanity and its spiritual emptiness; at the isolation of being in a world built around collective groupthink and intolerance of the different and unique. Interlaced with the anger, though, was a palpable sense of sadness, articulated through beautiful and nuanced variants on the black metal theme. Now Violet Cold is back with kOsmik, its first proper follow-up to Anomie (three ambient albums Sommermorgen I, II & III were released last year to little fanfare). The good news is that it’s every bit as wondrous and beautiful as its predecessors.
With every album, Guliyev seems to be growing in confidence. Anomie was an improvement over Magic Night not simply because it included vocals, but because it was also more comfortable wearing its raw emotions on its sleeve. kOsmik is a greater improvement still. Violet Cold employs a dizzying and eclectic array of techniques and styles, from dissonant black metal (“Black Sun”), to post metal (“Ultraviolet”), to somber funeral doom (“Space Funeral”). Unlike other black metal outfits, Violet Cold is not concerned with trying to pummel you into hopeless submission. Rather, like contemporaries Alcest and Panopticon, the band uses black metal as a launching pad to explore more complex ideas. In this case, the notion of the cosmos itself, with all its cold beauty, loneliness and violence.
Fans of Violet Cold will note that the first major difference here is the song length. Anomie’s tracks were often longer than 9 minutes, and at times meandered. kOsmik generally keeps things at a manageable 5-6 minutes per song. This tightening ensures that every moment is laser-focused, with almost no bloat. Songs like “Black Sun” flow seamlessly from dissonant black metal to shimmering post-metal and back again, without becoming repetitive or uninteresting. The other major change is the introduction of clean female vocals. In the wrong hands, this could have shattered the carefully established mood, but with kOsmik, their presence feels organic and appropriate. Both “Mamihlapinatapai” and the show-stopping “kOsmik” contain moments where the beautiful vocals take already-excellent tracks—which seamlessly combine radio frequencies, blast beats, and Azerbaijan flutes—and make them soar into the sky. When the clean vocals enter at the end of “kOsmik,” it makes me wish there was a Yaghan word for “That moment when a reviewer stops assessing critically because the music has just given him goose bumps and caused a speck of dust to enter his eye.”
Complaints are few. While all 36 minutes are gorgeous, it feels like kOsmik needs one or two more songs to truly cement its stature as a masterpiece. As it is, it almost feels like an EP. The production also doesn’t do Guliyev any major favors. Most songs have DRs of 4 or 5, and this compression sometimes shows, with sections of “Black Sun,” for example, becoming virtually impenetrable. Given the overall icy tone of the songs, however, this is not a major drawback.
kOsmik ends with a gentle variation of Bach’s Orchestral Suite no. 3 in D Major. What is Guliyev trying to say? The answer may lie in an alternate translation of “Mamihlapinatapai.” According to some, it means “The look across the table when two people are sharing an unspoken but private moment. When each knows the other understands and is in agreement with what is being expressed.” This is a uniquely human connection, and cannot be found anywhere else throughout the expanse of the cosmos. Maybe it’s the most precious thing we have. A dying sentiment expressed by a dying word in a dying universe. kOsmik has it in spades. Mamihlapinatapai.