For months, Hallucinogen hung on the horizon sparkling and twinkling in the dim light of the cosmos like a star ready to be born. The transmissions from that spatial quadrant were sparse, but what was being said was puzzling; the album was billed as a psychedelic, drug-induced tromp down roads ne’er before tread by Blut Aus Nord. That was shocking. From a band that’s produced blood-curdling black metal to Special K-laced trip hop, the question of how these French miscreants could possible surprise their fan base loomed large. What ultimately ends up being surprising about Hallucinogen, however, is just how unsurprising it truly is.
Here’s a surprise: the album leaked. What was originally supposed to be released October 11, 2019 was released on something of an emergency basis on September 20, 2019. This is, of course, a travesty. Within twenty-four human hours of the album being sent out to music outlets as a promotional stream, the album was pockmarking torrent sites and YouTube channels. The bubbles of mystery and surprise were popped—its contents spilling forth as hot takes and quick reactions flooding the interwebs. Everyone with a social media account spat forth their immediate take a mere six-to-seven minutes into their first listen. And while perhaps not on the level of travesty, it was certainly a shame, because Hallucinogen is not merely an album to be tossed to the e-wolves. It’s something to be heard, digested, heard again and meditated upon. Then all food should be refused for three weeks as nothing but the album plays while the subject is laid out nude on a desert plain under the scorching, dry sun. It is simply a fantastic, transcendent album.
Are there vocals on Hallucinogen? It’s a valid question, even after a few spins. The production and composition pair so seamlessly that the entire album can feel like some sort of lovely analgesic pouring over and through neural pathways like pasteurized warm cheddar. No one would be to blame if they wake up hours after Hallucinogen has ended, wondering what just happened while Cheetos PuffsTM crumbs cover their sofa and the record needle softly hops along the innermost groove of the vinyl. Yet, all would have been experienced in some sort of drugged out lucid state. The answer is ‘yes,’ there absolutely are vocals across Hallucinogen. But they are so beautiful and so perfectly layered and mixed that they’re hardly distinguishable from the weighted-blanket of music, so it actually takes a few spins to lock in where the vocals are clean, choir or harsh.
The more open aspects of the album, such as the ending passages on the second track “Nebeleste,” point toward some of the band’s best writing to date. While Blut Aus Nord have always excelled (as the French do) at the emotional aspect of life (and black metal), their latest work reaches Oranssi Pazuzu-like levels of hypnogogic trance without the need for tracks exceeding seven and a half minutes. “Anthosmos,” the second longest track on the album at seven minutes and twenty seconds, opens beautifully with a clean guitar picking a melody underlied by synthesized ambiance before the track blasts into much more characteristic (think of the Memoria Vetusta trilogy) Blut Aus Nord black metal. The guitars shred and hack, screaming over blast beats that welcome vocals so unobtrusive it’s as if they are coming from a different room. The multi-angle approach is an effective approach to hypnosis as musical paralysis sets in like some form of fish paralyzer administered to the subject’s neck by a doctor / clone.
“Haallucinählia” presents a Venn diagram of composition, as parts of the song expand and collapse on each other while the entire song spirals without relenting toward the center of a black hole. Like many of the tracks on the album (save the aforementioned “Anthosmos”), “Haallucinählia” wastes zero time with intros and foreplay. Rather, the track opens in the thick of it as guitars bend and whine above cyclical drum beats punctuated by rolling fills and the center of a very tight ride cymbal. The lack of setup is an example of composition in reverse as the bottom falls out and clean guitars sing a siren song floating above a foreboding dissonance. The opening riff is called back and redoubled in intensity, driven by a tom-heavy drum kit once again working in cycles, like a shepherd driving his flock inward toward the ever decaying crevasse that is their humbly accepted fate.
What should never be shocking about Blut Aus Nord is their ability to surprise. Certainly, that sounds like a cliché, but it remains true. This band has produced an expansive catalog dotted with brave risks, home runs and albums so stylized to personal takes (e.g. their debut Ultima Thulee) they are the basis for ongoing arguments among the closest of friends. What should also not be surprising is how polarizing Hallucinogen seems to already be. With wholly deaf takes bereft of substance adorning the internerd, it can quickly be forgotten just how absolutely great and daring Blut Aus Nord is and how influential they have been for black metal as a whole since the mid-1990s. That they do somehow eschew the cult-like following of bands like Darkthrone is something of a mystery.
Hallucinogen is another feather in Blut Aus Nord’s already well-worn beret, and it is a feather that should be worn without criticism. The album is, not to overstate the fact, a perfect work that can (and should) be returned to time and time again in both the happiest of sun-filled beach afternoons and the most depressed of winter evenings soaked in glogg, dew-laden greatcoats and wet overshoes. Hallucinogen is at once both timeless and present, emotionally mature and painfully vulnerable. It is a masterpiece of the melding of black metal sub-genres while reaching beyond.
While the album might not be as drugged-out as it claimed, what is hallucinogenic is the reaction in the listener. Like current studies of ketamine and its reactions in a depressed mind, it isn’t the ketamine itself that makes the drug effective, but the method in which the brain’s chemistry reacts to the micro-dosing. Similarly, it is not Hallucinogen itself that is trippy and intoxicating, but rather the emotive response of the listener’s central nervous system that produces the euphoric state.
Acceptance is the way to salvation.