originally written by Chris McDonald
Blut Aus Nord has taken the underground metal scene by veritable storm since the world heard The Work Which Transforms God in 2003, with each subsequent release garnering fevered anticipation and widely divided opinions from the outfit’s ever-increasing legion of appreciators. After the experiments in dissonant, industrial-themed ambience shown on The Work… and the even stranger MoRT, Blut Aus Nord attempted a “return to form” to marginally more traditional black metal with Odinist: The Destruction of Reason By Illumination last year. Some (including myself) welcomed the return to a more recognizable black metal style, while others were disappointed by the record’s short length and decreased emphasis on experimentation. Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars sees the outfit continue to draw from their past for inspiration…but not necessarily in the ways you might expect.
Blut Aus Nord has certainly come a long way since the first Memoria Vetusta album, Fathers of the Icy Age. That was back in 1996, and the outfit was just beginning to explore territories slightly beyond the largely standard, though still outstanding, epic black metal sound that served as their foundation. Now things have come full circle; in some ways, this album feels like a natural (if far more articulate) sequel to Fathers…, but this is still undoubtedly the sound of modern-day Blut Aus Nord, complete with the requisite programmed drums, glossy production, and Vindsval’s inimitable guitar-tone. Most of the songs even have two titles, seemingly referencing the two distinct period of the band’s history that have been united on this recording. But while Dialogue With The Stars borrows from all eras of the project’s discography, the end-result is a fresh step forward for the band, and opens up new dimensions to Blut Aus Nord’s sound that I never even thought were possible.
Let me start by saying that this album is nothing less than a feast of excellent riffs. Vindsval has unquestionably re-established himself as one of extreme metal’s most gifted sonic architects; the guitars churn forth intricate, heavily layered riffs and mesmerizing passages at an almost constant rate, and even the short interlude tracks glow with carefully constructed compositional touches. The shimmering, otherworldly guitar sound of the band’s last few albums is still utilized to great effect, as are the complex and ever changing programmed drum patterns. But the atmosphere of Dialogue With The Stars is far removed from the misanthropic lunacy conjured so chillingly on albums like MoRT. In fact, when you hear moments like the glorious opening riffs of “…the Meditant (Dialogue With The Stars)” or the ethereal aura of “The Formless Sphere (Beyond the Reason)”, its hard to believe this is the same band that wrote some of the coldest and most inaccessible black metal ever heard a mere few years back.
Most notably, Blut Aus Nord has never been this unrepentantly melodic. Despite the rather mechanical tone to the production, the material on Dialogue With The Stars is not only magnificent in scope, but genuinely moving thanks to the emotional fortitude of the riffs themselves. Songs like the aforementioned title track, “Antithesis of the Flesh” and the serpentine closer “Elevation” are structured around beautiful, uplifting melodic arrangements that really make you feel like you are soaring through the heavens. Even when a somewhat malevolent riff surfaces, such as in “Disciple’s Libration” or “The Cosmic Echoes of Non-Matter,” it sounds more mysterious and otherworldly than threatening. Numerous segments have an almost Middle-Eastern sound due to the eerie, spiraling lead guitar, and the ghostly keyboards add an epic grandeur to the riffs that contributes wonderfully to the breathtaking ambience of the record. While Dialogue… is lengthier than any prior Blut Aus Nord release, the genius of this album is just how easily you can find yourself completely lost in these songs, and how quickly you’ll want to return when the last track is over. This may be the most “listener-friendly” work the band has released thus far, but don’t mistake this for lack of depth. If anything, the enthralling nature of the melodies is merely the hook that pulls you in and entices you to truly explore the breadth of what has been created on this recording.
The only element of Dialogue With The Stars that can perhaps be construed as lacking is the vocals. Vindsval’s mid-ranged growls are almost completely buried in the mix and are so inconsequential to the songs overall that you might as well call this an instrumental album. The disturbing vocalizations were a big part in crafting the mood of albums like TWWTG, but honestly, the musical side of things here is so incredibly gratifying that I doubt anyone will really notice the subdued vocals that much. Nevertheless, this is perhaps the only aspect of this album that could have been improved. The mix is also fairly dry and quite devoid of heaviness, but in the end it only serves the highlight the hypnotizing power of the amazing guitar and keyboard sounds.
Once again, Blut Aus Nord have stepped boldly forward, changed the perceptions on what black metal can be, and released an amazing record in the process. Aside from being a crowing summation to all of the band’s previous outings, Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With The Stars is a riff-lover’s dream, an amazing display of musicianship and compositional aptitude, and above all, an incredibly rewarding and memorable listening experience. After hearing a work of this caliber, it is perhaps more difficult than ever to imagine where Blut Aus Nord could possibly go from here. But I for one can’t wait to find out.