Black metal as an art form has woven itself a web of interpretive tangents of late, unwittingly (perhaps) getting all gnarled up in scrutiny. While some of the validity vetting is surely self-interested, much is warranted. The question comes down to authenticity, as elusive a construct as it is; you know it when you see it, but don’t bother trying to put it to words.
Ironically, so much of the kerfuffle in black metal has been motivated by an exodus from its center. Most onerously bearing the burden of inquiry have been those bands daring to progress. Those that survive the inquisition do so because they avoid the question of why they’re doing something different. For these bands, uniqueness is less vehicle than virtue.
And to those in relentless pursuit of the authentically distinct, whose restless spirits were born of the lonely fire at the heart of the blackened woods, Progressive Black Metal has gifted Croatia’s Johann Wolfgang Pozoj. The Pozoj brand is of the weird and wonderful moonlit forest and draws from the same liberating organic strangeness that has given us Negura Bunget and Monumension and the entirety of the Zeitgeister roster. The Pozoj story thus far is bound up in a trilogy that has seen the retelling of the first two chapters, Birth of Pozoj and Escape of Pozoj, for new label Code666 and shows the band to function more as inspirational conduit than reflection of a trend.
Although the assortment of styles found on JWP’s second effort doesn’t itself add up to anything wholly unique (it ranges from blastbeats and buzzy guitars à la traditional black metal through sickened pitchy doom to clever takes on dark neo-folk), Pozoj sets themselves apart through songwriting and execution. Escape… is clearly crafted to tell a compelling story, yet feels completely natural, unrefined. There’s a keen rhythmic flow here that suggests primal processes.
J.W. Pozoj has a talent for finding and exploiting a riff’s optimal tensile strength. By pulling and stretching a riff to its limits, its resolve is kept tantalizingly out of reach until ultimately delivered via some naturally clever twist. The effect is anticipation of the device’s next occurrence or variation, and it’s a wonderful vehicle for urgency, building expectation to sweeten the gratifying cyclical experience.
The cyclic approach is replicated across the record through circular riffing and motif development that together create a loose continuity and fullness in channeling its woodland muse. Themes introduced in opener “Prolog: Vjecno Robljem ” morph through four subsequent tracks to unfold one long, magnificent song that ranges all the styles mentioned above while maintaining adherence to design. Desperately swirling riff figures appear and reappear, at once familiar and ever changing, like fire-begotten embers shaped by the wind as it courses through the trees. Realization of the cycle is thorough; the closing track, “Prstima Prelazim Preko Tvoga Tijela…,” is deceptively consummate, ultimately recalling clearly the album’s opening notes.
Despite its impressive design, the true strength of Escape of Pozoj lies in its title’s kept promise. The reward in parsing these artistic elements from their animate sum is relatively meager. Rather, the experience of this record is a deeply phenomenal one. Allowing oneself to be absorbed by the music is to break the bonds of the flame, to be the radiant ember in the night, braced by forest winds and ever free.