Birth of Pozoj is a curious album with a curious story by a very curiously-named band. Johann Wolfgang Pozoj (or J.W. Pozoj; or just JWP) is a Croatian act that plays an oft-spacious, sometimes aggressive, and always adventurous take on atmospheric and progressive blackened metal (but not necessarily black metal). The band was recently (and oh-so-wisely) picked up by Code666, finally giving proper release of their two albums. Birth of Pozoj is technically their debut, but before the Code666 release they decided to re-record it with their current lineup. The resulting music is as stunning as it is challenging, often meandering but never really going off track. It promises to appeal to the same part of the brain that their label’s most famous alumnus (that would be Negura Bunget) calls home, while hopefully giving the band some momentum before the reissue of their monstrous second album arrives.
This new version of Birth of Pozoj is two tracks that together amount to nearly 55 minutes, with opener “Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes” stopping just under the 34-minute mark. More impatient metalheads should probably find the door now, as this track takes nearly 10 minutes to build methodically with clean guitar, somewhat droning keys and half-spoken clean vocals. When riffs get heavy they bring a certain blackened stoner quality, only with the darkened folk tinges of the band’s homeland. Over several movements, one of which contains its own “verse” and heavy “chorus,” the song builds to a fitting climax. Some parts meander slightly – most notably the extended ambient part towards the end – but overall this is a dazzling journey that only gets out-dazzled by its follower.
“Queen Emeraldas” hits almost right out of the gate with the kind of blackened metal familiar to fans of the band’s second album. The intense riff-craft sounds like a mixture of Negura Bunget and The Chasm, hooking the listener for nearly 21 minutes. Some sections show off a talent with textural chord progressions that are not unlike those of Drudkh, while others are fully engaged in aggressive black metal. Easily the song’s (and album’s) best passage starts just before the 9-minute mark. Ascending tremolo riffing is joined by a near-groove in the rhythm section that continues through a drop-off and hits back with some wildly cool (like, factor of 11) Hammond organ. Think Uriah Heep playing Eastern Euro blackened metal. It’ll make ya smile. Well, it makes me smile.
Undoubtedly JWP’s greatest asset is the slight swagger that many of their icier peers cannot begin to claim. Part of this comes from Ivan Borcic’s vocals, which bleed personality by managing to simultaneously possess vulnerability and confidence. But most striking is the band’s collective chemistry. Guitars weave, bass dances, and drums change it up enough to give variety and dynamics to even the sparsest moments.
A word of advice to those who would like to take on Birth of Pozoj: give it time. It will not sink in after five listens, and maybe not even ten. This is a grower that was meticulously constructed and therefore deserves a dedicated ear to fully appreciate the nuances and songwriting details. Those enjoying the band’s sound but can’t quite get over that learning curve should perhaps wait for Code666 to reissue the blistering and far more immediate Escape of Pozoj. But in truth both albums exude a sort of oddball excellence, and it is only fitting if some proper distribution slaps Johann Wolfgang Pozoj firmly on the maps of many metal fans.