Most art forms have their own genres, stereotypes, and conventions. A fairly time-worn convention in literature is the idea of the “beach read.” This is typically the sort of book – often lightweight, sometimes trashy, usually full of immediate pleasures rather than opaque high modernism or scholastic rigor – that one plans to pack for leisure reading on those salt-breeze afternoons of a sun-dappled escape.
Have you ever – whether intentionally or not – made a mockery of that convention? I know I have done the standard thing and read Harry Potter and The Hobbit and Snowcrash and Dan Brown and The Hunchback of Notre Dame on vacation, but I have also attempted Don Quixote, Finnegans Wake, and, most recently, an 1100-page tome by historian Norman Davies called Europe: A History. There’s a certain perverse pleasure in such subtle subversion, but all that aside, listening to Endeligt, Nortt’s first album in ten years, is a paradoxically easy to enjoy slice of entirely despondent misery that feels like reading Primo Levi on a lakeside beach near Chernobyl.
On Endeligt, the overall approach is cleaner than on Nortt’s previous albums, with the guitar a rounder, more plaintive sound as compared to the fuzzed and decaying tones found on Ligfaerd or Galgenfrist. The songs tend to be somewhat shorter and more focused than in the past, but any change is only felt on a very small scale. Some of Endeligt’s best moments are its quietest. The dark, echoing thud of “Gravrost” is deeply unsettling, and the early album interlude “Kisteglad” features an intermittently throbbing bass pulse and some ghostly tones that might be voices or might be only the memory of voices.
As an album, Endeligt doesn’t have a particularly cohesive or sensible arc, but in a curious way, that ends up working in its favor. It just seems to stumble from one dejected rut to another. The first track burns out and stops abruptly when it just seems to have found its groove, and the opening of “Lovsang til morket” sounds like an outtake from Blut Aus Nord’s TWWTG that’s been stripped of its industrial sheen and dragged through molasses. On tracks like “Eftermaele” and “Stov for Vinden,” Nortt’s newfound cleanliness actually comes across like a spiritual twin to Earth’s HEX.
In its own peculiar way, however, Endeligt is not terribly dissimilar from a breezy beach read. Nortt’s music is utterly transparent, with very little to unravel or decode. The style is set from the very start, and it does not waver. All that it requires is that you recline and let it wash over you. Nortt’s gargled vocals are presumably testament to some grave, existential agony, but they complement the scene in the expected fashion, like a perfunctory halo on a coyly smiling 14th century icon of Jesus. Anyway, I’m reasonably certain it’s one of the Beatitudes that the dyspeptic shall inherit the blaaaaaaargh.
Ultimately, Endeligt works because you want it to. It doesn’t compel or implore or inveigh or even insist. Despite its ostentatious self-loathing, it persists. It’s only here because you’re a horrible monster who chooses to wallow in the face of a world fired anew every day by raw and beautiful life. Or maybe it’s here because you’re a hopeless romantic, and no outpouring of emotion can exist without its needing to be embraced. Or maybe it’s here for no goddamned reason to do with you at all, you addle-pated solipsist. Walter Benjamin wrote “The Work of Art in the Age of Depressive Black/Doom Metal” on the beach at Chernobyl, I’m pretty sure. Nortt was there, too, twanging his improbable hymns and gurgling a toast to nothingness.
I guess these are as good times as ever for feeling bad, so grab Endeligt and let’s go for a swim.