Throughout their groundbreaking career, Blut Aus Nord has shown an ever-increasing tendency to reveal different musical faces through sets of album series or groupings. Most notably, the 777 trilogy amplified the band’s blackened Godflesh traits, while the What Once Was set of EPs focused on a twisted, deeply cavernous approach to their craft. Both of these sets, however, were released in a relatively short period of time, while the band’s longest running series, Memoria Vetusta, is only now reaching its third installment, 18 years since the wondrous first, Fathers of the Icy Age.
Within the group’s musical legacy, Memoria Vetusta has long stood for something quite different from the invasive misanthropy of The Work Which Transforms God and its similar ilk. These albums are love letters and homages to Vindsval’s Norse-by-way-of-Normandy heritage, and possess a far deeper melodic expression than anything else in the Blut Aus Nord catalog. 1996’s Fathers of the Icy Age was a raw-ish, atmospheric slice of entrancing brilliance that would likely be seen as one of the decade’s most important black metal albums had it originated from Norway as opposed to France. Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars then took what Blut Aus Nord had learned in the 13 years since its predecessor, applying much of the layering, slow-developing melody, and expansive aura of the band’s darker material to the epic, folk-tinged music befitting of the Memoria Vetusta series. The result was one of the most wholly realized, perfectly composed black metal albums of the decade, and one that looks like more of a classic with each passing year.
Choosing not to wait nearly as long for Memoria Vetusta III, Blut Aus Nord comes to us now, at the height of an insanely prolific (arguably market-saturating) era, to deliver Saturnian Poetry. As on Dialogue with the Stars, the band has implemented some of the lessons learned since the previous installment in the series (most notably a refined use of clean vocals). Also like that album, Saturnian Poetry is so precisely refined in its songcraft and enchanting in its melodies and riffs that it will likely still be revealing secrets years down the line.
The most immediate notable thing about Saturnian Poetry is not necessarily the continual use of the real drums employed on the Triunity split, but rather how it differs as much from MVII as that album did from MVI. In short, this is quite possibly the single most black metal thing that Blut Aus Nord has ever put to tape, and certainly the busiest. Saturnian Poetry is an absolute deluge of riffs and ever-forming melodies, utilizing fewer of the softer passages from MVII to arrive at material that is dense, churning, and damn near intimidating in its awe inspiring and meticulous construction.
But assuming that this foray into blast-ridden, flutter-and-trem-riff-saturated black metal makes the album less unique than is expected of this band would be a grievous mistake. Sure, on the surface, the opening bars of “Paien” give off a decidedly Norwegian vibe, but the way in which the riffs are layered and melodic themes are slowly unfolded is something that is so unique to not only Vindsval and Blut Aus Nord, but to the Memoria Vetusta set specifically. The song is an absolutely torrential downpour of interwoven ideas that doesn’t let up for a second until a bit after the 5:00 mark, when an injection of introspective atmosphere lands the song squarely into the legacy of this series’ past.
Much of the album works in this way. There may be a shade of technical, busy German black metal, a hint of mid-90s Enslaved, or a clean vocal chant calling to mind Viking-era Bathory, but reminders like the tell-tale leads in “Tellus Mater” or the occasional appearance of a pinched, dissonant theme are always present to keep things distinctly Blut Aus Nord. More than this, however, is the staggering compositional prowess. Nearly every other band in existence would be more than thrilled to write a single riff at Vindsval’s typical level of execution, but unlike his peers, he is not intent on letting one single idea dominate a scene. Instead, a song introduces a motif, circles around it, warps it slightly as drummer Gionata “Thorns” Potenti adds equally to the variety, and lets it evolve naturally and take on a life of its own. Strewn throughout these acrobatics are a glut of unforgettable moments—a killer, almost unassumingly headbangable passage in “Henosis,” the blistering chills in “Metaphor of the Moon,” one gargantuan, chill-inducing chord turn shortly after the 1-minute mark in “Forhist.” The latter may best expresses how it all fits into the saga as a whole: if MVII was the majestic veneration, then MVIII is the equally majestic struggle for eternity.
For a multitude of reasons, TWWTG may likely remain Blut Aus Nord’s most famous, scene-changing album, but it so often feels like merely a step along the greater journey. By contrast, Memoria Vetusta is their endgame. Saturnian Poetry further hammers that truth, revealing that even within one of their various faces, Blut Aus Nord refuses to rest on their legacy, moving ever forward by gazing through their musical telescope into the ancient past. As with its predecessors, the initial love affair with Saturnian Poetry is hopefully only the beginning, as the time spent with it in the upcoming months and years will likely yield even greater treasures.
After each new thread is woven into Blut Aus Nord’s tapestry of a career, we are left wondering where they might go next. But after each step into the world of Memoria Vetusta, we are merely left in wonder.