Originally written by K. Scott Ross.
Here’s an interesting question: when is being boring and derivative okay? Recently, this critic lambasted Thulcandra for being both of those things. Today, we’re looking at Wende, a solo black metal project from central Washington, and it is also both those things. The Third and the Noble was released independently by multi-instrumentalist Zamiel in 2012, but is now receiving a wider reissue by Moribund Records. The sound of the album can be summed up in a single word: Burzum.
Wende sounds more Burzumy than Burzum, these days. More specifically, Wende sounds like what Burzum would sound like if Varg never developed his style beyond Filosofem. The pace is slow, the songs are long, the vocals are subsumed by lo-fi distortion. This critic’s initial reaction was that the album would be a fair lot nobler if it were a third of its length. But while repeated plays of Thulcandra’s Ascension Lost simply reinforced boredom, listening to The Third and the Noble has revealed something completely different—I actually enjoy it.
One could argue “well, you just like pagan black metal more than melodic black metal,” which is true enough. The profound difference, though, is that while Wende does sound like Burzum, it doesn’t cause the listener to wish that they were listening to Burzum instead of Wende, which other Burzum-worship bands like Galdr have been guilty of. Wende manages to build its own trance-like state around the listener, particularly with songs like “Sorrowful Journey of Ages” and “Beyond the Moon and Beneath the Stars.” It is hard to tell if the later tracks in the album are actually better than the earlier ones, or if it’s just that the listener has become more attuned to the wavelength that Zamiel is operating on.
The guitars have a great overdriven tube-amp sound, washed with a Jötunn-load of reverb. As guitar tones go, it’s much softer and more organic than the one employed by Burzum on Filosofem. The drums are mostly audible only as thin, splashy crashes. The snares and hi-hats are almost completely lost in the reverb, and the kick is so low in pitch that you have to really listen for it to realize that it’s even there. Is there bass on this album? Probably, but if you’re listening to pick out the bass, you’re experiencing The Third and the Noble wrong.
The fuzzy nature of Wende’s work alone suggests a different listening mode. This isn’t “Key to the Gate” Burzum. This is the kind of music one absorbs slowly while staring at the stars on a frigid night, or perhaps in front of the fireplace, or in a green woods during a rainstorm. The music is spiritual and meditative, and even when it increases in tempo like in “Nothingness,” it still maintains the wave-like feeling of wind and water via reverb-drenching and white noise cymbals.
The album even includes a Burzum cover; interestingly enough, it’s of the final song from Dauði Baldrs, Varg’s first pure ambient album. The song is given its English title here—“Towards Ragnarok”—and played in the same meditative black metal style as the rest of the album. It’s interesting to hear one of Varg’s ambient pieces reinterpreted in this context, and it fits well with the tone of the rest of the album.
All things considered, Zamiel’s work here is in no way groundbreaking, nor is it all that “interesting.” I can’t remember one song from another or remember which repetitive arpeggio was played in which song. But when considered in a contemplative state rather than a horns-up, headbanging one, The Third and the Noble accomplishes its goal as a piece of paganism, and was well worth the reissue by Moribund Records.