Black metal may never escape the shadow of its Scandinavian roots, whose sordid and tragic history has lent an air of sensationalism about the genre to those on the outside, for whom scandal is a more tangible quality than the genre’s sonic nuances. Yet a new breed of artists, particularly in the United States, have taken great strides to update viking death marches and blast-beat whirlwind and have thus allowed the genre’s definition to evolve, as well as exist in entirely new contexts. Yet, France has had a long black metal heritage of its own, albeit one whose history is a bit more obscure, and therefore “kvlt,” the most prominent among the country’s blackened legions being Blut Aus Nord, the sole project of mysterious figure Vindisval. Nobody knows much about him – he gives few, if any interviews, doesn’t perform live, doesn’t print lyric sheets and tends to be obscured when appearing in press photos. For as much effort as the man has put into remaining anonymous, however, he’s put considerably more into continually taking black metal into more interesting and progressive territory.
Having recorded as Blut Aus Nord for 17 years, Vindisval has an ample discography under his belt, with several titles, chiefly The Work Which Transforms God, often heralded as underground classics. While rooted in black metal’s evil aesthetics, Blut Aus Nord often incorporate elements of industrial, goth and post-punk, and certain of Vindisval’s compositions would fit in easily alongside Godflesh or Killing Joke on a mixtape. Ever the ambitious conjurer of darkness, Vindisval has set a particularly ambitious path for himself in 2011 and 2012, having fully immersed himself in a conceptual trilogy surrounding the number 777. While that pesky habit of not printing lyrics does make interpretation of these albums a bit obtuse, the number itself represents the Holy Trinity in the Orthodox Church, as well as a perfect number in Judaism, not to mention its connections to the writings of Aleister Crowley and the year that Charlemagne defeated the Saxons.
Taking these facts into account, the elements of spirituality and mysticism that the ever-present sevens represent find a compelling match in the music within this trilogy thus far. The first of the series, 777: Sect(s), was more of a traditional black metal sound, with Vindisval augmented by a full band of sorts and blasting out intense bursts of epic, melodic darkness. Yet its successor, and arguably the superior counterpart, 777: The Desanctification is a slower, richer and more varied blend of gothic atmosphere and industrial throb. This approach proves quite stunning on first listen, with first track “Epitome VII” slowly shifting from atmospheric distorted riffs and grumbled vocals into a demonic choir that’s simultaneously terrifying and quite beautiful.
Though the tempo is considerably more plodding throughout The Desanctification, Blut Aus Nord still pounds out an intense storm of industro-clang with head-ringing fury. “Epitome VIII” hammers and chugs like Big Black gone Satanic, the high-pitched wail of banshees and goblins being exorcised between its turgid riffs. The melodic post-punk textures of “Epitome X” converge into a soaring majesty that’s unexpectedly catchy, and altogether glorious. “Epitome IX” offers a brief sequence of low-key ambience and graceful beauty, and “Epitome XI” takes the listener to Hell’s most exclusive dance club.
From an aesthetic standpoint, 777: The Desanctification doesn’t seem to be that concerned with black metal in a classic sense. It’s more mechanized, blasts a lot less, and leaves open vast spaces rather than overwhelming them. It is, however, thoroughly engrossing, and stunningly melodic, even at its most bleak or terrifying, which is fairly often. A bit less a Biblical version of the Apocalypse and more of a War of the Machines, it’s nonetheless an ominous and awesome vision of metal’s future.
Godflesh – Streetcleaner
Killing Joke – Killing Joke
Cobalt – Gin
Stream: Blut Aus Nord – “Epitome VIII”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.