Black metal sure is one hell of a mangled corpse these days, isn’t it? Partisans of the narrowest sort are easily mollified by the diversity on offer: from the weepiest, nature-fondling scarf-wearers to the mankind-devoured-by-the-machines electro-bedwetters, from the “Satan For President” blasters to the “Razors For Everyone” bleeders, and from dark forests to decadent metropolises to frozen tundras to napalm-scorched fields and all the climates and clichés in between. All of this prattling, however, is simply prelude to the point: How can a new band ever hope to stick out from an already overstuffed and underloved field? Enter Norway’s The Konsortium, who, while not exactly blazing a bold and uncharted path, effectively blend the second and third waves of Scandinavian black metal with enough verve and vision to stake a preliminary claim in some future pantheon of lesser metal gods.
The Konsortium does start off with a bit of a frowny check in the “Goofy Ass Gimmick” column: Apart from Teloch (of Nidingr, Ov Hell, ex-Orcustus, and session live work for Mayhem, Gorgoroth, and plenty of others), and guest vocals from Kvelertak’s Erlend Hjelvik, the remaining members of The Konsortium are apparently not willing to reveal their identities, instead referring to themselves as Member 001, Member 002, and so forth. All of which is likely to have more than a few of us disguising a derisive *GHOST!* as a cough, particularly when adding in the Phantom of the Opera-ish masks-n-cloak routine, but no matter. The fact that Yanni has continued to have a successful career long after cutting his luscious Hellenic locks is proof positive that looks ain’t everything.
On the sonic front, The Konsortium plays a jittery style of black metal that is slightly avant-garde without being overbearingly so. The production on the drums and guitars gives this compellingly off-kilter debut a strong Moonfog flavor, most closely resembling Dødheimsgard, but also throwing lurid glances in the direction of post-Nemesis Divina Satyricon or a non-electronic Thorns. The band’s promotional materials try to pass this off as black/thrash, and while The Konsortium doesn’t fit that bill in the same way as genre stalwarts Desaster, Sabbat, Aura Noir, or even Destroyer 666, there is certainly enough of a tough rhythmic bit to these songs to give them a far thrashier cadence than your typical tremolo-sweeping, sea-shanty 6/8 black metal standard.
Sound-a-like-ness or stylistic nitpicking aside, The Konsortium has two primary assets that really help it go the distance: the guitars and the vocals. Teloch (and whichever the fuck other Members might be playing guitar) has a great ear for tasty riffing, as with the twisted angularity of “Lik Ulven,” the downcast, dramatic stomping of “Decomposers,” or the Bathory-in-space attack of “Onwards! Onwards!” “Under the Black Flag” storms into life like the purest progeny of Rebel Extravaganza, and even takes a peculiar Mosaic turn with the wobbling clean voice proclaiming “Tear the towers down / Let my people go.” A satisfying diversity of vocal styles pops up throughout the record, but the rather knotty thing about the whole package is that the listener has really got to work at it to squeeze all the nuances out. Plenty of the most interesting touches are nearly buried in the mix, from the spaced-out washes that are occasionally added to the guitars, to the understated clean caterwauling that’s a bit of a midpoint between Attila Csihar’s crypt-bothering and Dave Hunt’s cloud-tickling.
None of this is necessarily a fault of the album, but it does mean that a casual listen will not accurately reflect the depth and craft of this promising debut. The Konsortium’s furrows may well have been plowed before, but a little personality and a lot of wide-eyed malice go a hell of a long way toward putting to bed the notion that this beautifully rotten heap of ugliness called black metal has nothing left to give.