[Cover artwork: Fluisteraars]
There are no rules in an art world where a banana duct-taped to a wall hauls in $120k and receives extensive press, and that’s a beautiful thing. Art is here to explore every corner of the imagination, and one of its primary intentions is to inspire, haunt, comfort, offend, reassure, rile, and any and all other visceral reactions with equal intent.
While the given example is both absurd and perhaps even a little unnecessary, imagine a supremely unlikely scenario involving some schmo who grew up with a recurring dream that always ended with a banana duct-taped to a wall, and then said schmo walks into a gallery in Florida as an adult and unwittingly sees that display suddenly radiating in front of them like a preposterous and potent sun. Without warning and against literally every odd, that banana duct-taped to the wall does the trick of astounding someone in a manner that’s contrary to most every other person’s reaction. To me, though, and likely to you, it’s just a flippin’ banana taped to a wall that took two minutes to put together. Art is funny and wonderful and, in best case scenarios, unpredictable that way.
How this all relates to music is likely pretty obvious, but just for the sake of dusting off the cobwebs, remember what it’s like to try and convince your Aunt Brenda that “As Flittermice as Satans Spys” is just as deserving of the “art” tag as is The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City.” No, Darkthrone wasn’t taping bananas to the wall in 1994, but according to Aunt Brenda, they might as well have been the originators of the banana taping movement in music.
What Fluisteraars bring to the gallery in 2020 that makes them unique compared to the taped bananas, hair-capes, Fat Cars and… well… “just several shades of white painted on a canvas” represented by any number of other modern black metal boundary agitators landing on the glossy covers is the fact that—and I’m going to highlight this, because it’s a fairly crucial distinction— this duo’s output still manages to sound like a black metal band that incorporates experimental rock elements, not the other way around. The iciness of the 2nd wave still lives in Fluisteraars’ veins—a little less here compared to their previous releases, sure, but Bloem sounds like a logical progression that still flashes teeth. And when the rock elements shine through, they are as lovely and charming as the album cover that pulls the eye’s attention away from the flying saucer (?) in the upper corner to those kindly poppies in full bloom and just waiting to be dried and made into a trippy tea.
Hopefully this doesn’t sound derisive: Bloem sounds youthful. Not in an “under the bright lights of an 8th or 9th-grade talent show” kind of way (although, even that occasionally hits the target), but insofar as it feels nothing like dusty fuckers “sticking to their roots” and more like something produced by individuals afforded the unique ability to listen to literally anything at any time as they formulate their plans for musical dominance. So, the foundation of bands such as Arcturus, Mayhem and Vreid ends up colored by anything from Slowdive to Dead Moon to The Dirty Three to Love’s Forever Changes as their creative minds spark and labor.
Evidence of this lands early: the second half of the second song, which blends in buried horns and glitchy electronics to a mostly aggressive front end that eventually launches into an extended post-rock stretch after a long hoooowwwwwwllll from vocalist / lyricist Bob Mollema. And that’s just the beginning. Every song that follows demonstrates a distinct commitment to imbuing the repetitive riffing character of black metal with the hypnotic lift of post-rock, but with the boldness of a record like MONO’s Nowhere Now Here.
Song three, “Eeuwige Ram” leans the hardest on rock elements, and with Mollema’s switch to a less gravelly delivery, the song resembles the best days of Sólstafir, which fits the overall direction beautifully. Closer “Maanruïne” is almost unforgiving with its warmth—pretty scuffles with gritty in the opening moments, but then a lonesome horn (provided by Thomas Chochrane, who also recorded, mixed and helped produce the record) peels off a wonderfully infectious little run that gets picked up by the guitar and a faint choir until everything eventually drifts to a quiet close.
“Vlek,” though, is the crowned jewel here; everything that’s great about Fluisteraars gets wrapped up in a tidy 7-minute package. The front half of the song spends most of its time putting your face directly into a furnace, but it ultimately gives way to a very pretty bit of acoustic guitar (with a capo? Or some instrument in the mandolin family) that sets up the melody for the remainder of the cut. Drums and guitar jump back in as the backdrop gets further prettified with strings (Bennekoms String Quartet), and then BOOM—a perfectly simple but devastatingly beautiful guitar lick comes in just after the 4-minute mark that just melts the fucking hell out of your heart. It’s such a defining moment on the record that I hesitate to include the song as a sample, but sometimes you just have to shoot that flaming arrow right at the soul to make a point.
Most of the songwriting on Bloem is deceptively straightforward in this way—take something that’s very directly harsh and something that’s absorbingly pretty, figure out how to seamlessly meld them together, and then let those two components stretch as a few embellishments get peppered into the backdrop. Each song ends up having bits and pieces that grab the listener, and there’s often one bit of over-the-top charm that ends up sticking in your head long after the song is over. It’s a very effective method in the hands of Mink Koops, who is the soul in charge of all the songwriting, guitars, drums, bass, piano and timpani on the record, and all the elegance and fury he brings to the table becomes nailed to the 2nd wave of black metal even harder via Bob Mollema’s accompanying snarl.
Is Bloem a slam-dunk for any and all black metal fans? Of course not. Nothing is. I’m sure there are plenty of rotting goblins living under a slowly disintegrating log who might consider this record yet another piece of fruit fixed to the wall compared to the endless waterfall of deliciously festering underground demo tapes available. That’s the beauty of art, though: a sin to one is a blessing to another. If, however, you’re the sort who points to the first records from Fleurety and Ved Buens Ende as necessary pieces to the comprehensive black metal puzzle, then Bloem is a record you will absolutely want for your collection.