Artistic minimalism can be a tough act to pull off convincingly. When it’s done well, the end result can be courageously focused and direct, clearly unwilling to allow anything extraneous to blur the edges of its pure vision. When it’s done badly, however, the end result is more often than not tedious, uninspired, and desperately wanting for contrast. By intentionally restricting the range of instrumentation and compositional choices, Venus Star’s third full-length album in as many years is phosphorescent with the glow of having been purified in an unforgiving forge, and presents a darkly compelling argument for eschewing musical excess.
Venus Star is a solo project of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Atvar, also of Circle of Ouroborus, Rahu, and a nearly endless list of other underground Finnish metal bands. Just like with most of his other projects, black metal is the basic nucleus around which Venus Star centers, but the genre’s tenets are never followed slavishly. Nigredo Expulsion mostly swings at a medium pace, grinding through thick, unadorned, but still inventive riffs that dance across an imaginary border between rudimentary black metal and doom/death. The listener’s ear will surely make its own connections, but it requires just as little stretch of the imagination to hear Venus Star’s affinity with Beherit, Von, or Demoncy as with Godflesh, Celtic Frost, or Valborg.
These ten songs are short and mostly simplistic, leaning heavily on just one or two riffs and controlled, propulsive drumming. Despite this sparseness, every song nevertheless impresses due to the undeniably weighty conviction behind them. This conviction comes through particularly clearly in Atvar’s wide-eyed vocals, which are a powerful, fiery snarl. The concluding chorus to “Dark Feathers” has him return again and again to the words “Lost in the shadow of the mountain,” which is delivered with such bleak devotion that is has the force of a raging furnace.
Nigredo Expulsion is a short album – barely thirty-three minutes – but to be honest, that’s plenty. The strength of Venus Star’s minimalism extends to knowing how much of this monolithic punishment the average listener can take before being drained beyond reason. That’s one of the album’s greatest charms, actually: it’s almost physically overwhelming, especially if you listen to it loudly enough for the huge, resonant tandem pulsations of the lockstep guitar and bass to rattle the ribcage and shudder the very earth on which you perch, precariously, always on the verge of some new calamity. Venus Star is a fittingly apocalyptic soundtrack to the quotidian and existential terrors of life, and it crashes down upon your head all the more effectively due to the grim economy of its art.