French black metal behemoth Blut Aus Nord returns with Odinist: The Destruction of Reason By Illumination, an intriguing release in that since the band burst onto the larger metal stage with the phenomenal The Work Which Transforms God, they’ve been changing things up with each release, most notably on 2005’s ambient industrial instrumental EP, Thematic Emanation of Archetypal Multiplicity. The Work Which Transforms God blew your hair back with full tilt aggression, while last year’s MoRT cranked the density and creepiness factors way up, and focused on delivering a consistent slow and frosty atmosphere. Odinist was rumored to be a return to a style similar to TWWTG, but in truth it’s more like MoRT, just a bit more traditionally song-based.
While in theory this may sound like a promising development, Odinist ends up coming off as Blut Aus Nord lite. The unhinged vocals found on much of The Work and earlier efforts are long gone, in their place a one-trick creepy rasp; the drumming retains the cold mechanical presence it had on MoRT and part of The Work. There’s good and bad in both of these elements. But what really does work best here are the guitar lines. They’re in that same dissonant, vertigo style (although sometimes not as spidery), but create some very interesting melodies (see the title track and “Mystic Absolu”). While it’s true that the more guitar driven material is obviously a tool for more traditional compositions, and also that the guitar lines here typically deliver, at the end of the day the parts don’t add up to a whole that lives up to Blut Aus Nord’s high standards. Successes of past albums have grown from a collective effort, and BAN’s work has been so fantastically successful at setting an unsettling mood—this dizzying, terrible, grimy malevolence. This album all feels so consistent–the seldom varying tempos, the samey vocal delivery; Odinist seems uneventful, and that’s saying something, considering this band’s impressive talent for creating wholly engrossing and compelling, and downright spooky music.
In my review of MoRT I complained that the songs were a bit too samey but that Blut Aus Nord were so phenomenally skilled at sculpting a palpable, disturbing atmosphere that it was easy to overlook the lack of variation. Odinist is similarly single-minded, but rather than incorporating the choking, oppressive density of MoRT, focuses on shimmering dissonant melodies. It’s a simple rebalancing of ingredients; there’s nothing here you haven’t heard from Blut Aus Nord, but they don’t gain as much from what they add as they lose from what they remove. The problem isn’t with what’s here, it’s with what’s not.
As is usually the case when a talented band makes a misstep, saying that Odinist is a disappointing album isn’t the same as saying it’s a poor one. Had Blut Aus Nord’s arsenal not been so well documented (and celebrated), or if this album didn’t have the BAN name attached, it would probably be more favorably received. Songs like “Mystic Absolu” and “The Cycle of Cycles” show a hunger to break stride and tear into more dangerous territories, but those songs are near the end of the album and it would have been nice to hear more of these dynamics throughout Odinist. Early tracks like “An Element of Flesh” and “The Sounds of the Universe” are decent yet tend to run together. But the title track is one of the album’s highlights, and its nearly eastern sounding melody during some sections is likely to set its hooks into you. The following track, “A Few Shreds of Thought” is nearly as convincing, but after that, “Ellipsis” doesn’t really go anywhere. The album does end well with the previously mentioned pairing of “Mystic Absolu” and “The Cycle of Cycles”.
This is bound to be a divisive album, and some will claim that Odinist is a logical step that ties together all of the band’s weapons. To me, this is a streamlining of approach that results in music less challenging, complex, and disturbing than this band has offered. While I’ll enjoy what Odinist offers, I’ll miss what it doesn’t.