I had trouble sleeping the other night. I woke up in that barely pre-dawn window where it’s getting light enough that you know you probably won’t be able to get back to sleep, but still dark enough that you don’t really feel like getting out of bed to do anything. Five in the morning, maybe. As I tossed around a bit, in from the open window drifted the piercing call of some goddamn bird or another. There it was, out in a tree somewhere, singing away with no particular care for whatever else was going on around it. No light, no answer, no peers to be heard; just a bird, doing whatever weird shit birds have to do because, well, that’s just how they’re built.
Furze is kind of like that, too.
Now on album number seven, this outlet for one presumably very strange Norwegian by the name of Woe J. Reaper (the J. probably stands for Johannes or Jørn or Jumbalaya) has labored in relative obscurity but pursued a curiously winding trajectory, from lo-fi black metal and dark ambient to buzzing, sideways Darkthrone blasting, and then from analog Sabbath tritone thumping to Krautrock-drenched psychedelic chicanery. On The Presence…, many of those elements are in display, but the primary flirtations here are with warmly doomed noodling, clattering forest-lurking blasting, and, yes, a somewhat restrained but nevertheless omnipresent strangeness. All of this means that Furze is great music for fans of Celtic Frost, Beherit, Black Sabbath, Darkthrone, Ride for Revenge, and eating a pile of mushrooms in the closet of a cabin in the woods.
The album-opening title track is an oddball mostly acoustic piece of ominous scene-setting, but “The Doom” gets right down to the funky business of some Darkthrone-style scooting black metal. Woe J. Reaper’s vocals are often given the same “shattered to bits and echoing through oblivion” treatment that one finds in Striborg’s earliest reverb-drenched albums, although despite their scuzzy production, they are a much stronger and more rhythmic presence than in other similar music. “In Blood By Metal” is a blink-and-it’s-over set of charmingly nimble, needling leads that combine to give the impression of some wobbly backwater black/thrash interpretation of a Russian ballet theme, which is immediately followed by the sedated Celtic Frost stomp of “Bat Cobra.” The latter is easily the all-around finest song here, with its whiplashing stop-start framework that flits from one grimy section to another.
And that’s the funny thing about Furze ca. 2018: for all the (deserved) focus on this music’s utter strangeness, The Presence is still at its heart a (mostly) very normal heavy metal record, inasmuch as it hinges entirely on The Riff. Sure, the riffs are sometimes cocooned within oddball crooning and keyboard effects, but they are strong, intuitive riffs, and the songs depend entirely on them for their structure. In fact, at times, the anything-goes riffiness of The Presence sounds like the sonic equivalent of reading Fenriz’s hilarious liner notes to some of the more recent Darkthrone records.
But yes, truly, Furze is strange music, and The Presence is a strange, satisfying, and ultimately warmly cozy album. Reaper’s drums sound absolutely phenomenal throughout – the ride cymbal a crisp clang (listen to “Soul’s Fire”!), the snare a sharp retort, the kick drum a warmly thumping wallop. “Drammadur” is a curious little synth breakdown, and then the vocals on “Space Scars” are… a bit much to stomach, frankly, because Mr. Reaper sounds like someone’s rheumatic grandmother trying to convince a door-to-door salesman to come in for some homemade lutefisk.
If you’re in the right mindset, The Presence could be a nice companion album to Faustcoven’s latest album In the Shadow of Doom, in the same way that listening to five Sigh albums simultaneously could be a nice companion to the calliope song of a carnival carousel. The closing track “Home in Hell” is a slow-burning simmer, and neatly circular in that the harmonics of the opening recall the title track that opened the album. In general, the song strolls along at a morosely lackadaisical black/doom pace, steadfastly grinding down the hours like a farmer dragging a wheelbarrow with a dead donkey in it through dry, rutted ground. It’s great! This is great! Furze is great! Please to be finding yourself a cabin in the woods and a pile of mushrooms to eat as soon as is reasonably possible. Great!